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Failed Eureka Garden HUD inspection: whose fault is it?

The Eureka Garden complex has been a focus of politicians in the last couple of years, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Sen. Marco Rubio, Jacksonville City Councilman Garrett Dennis, and Rep. Al Lawson all demanding rehab of the facility and reform of the HUD process.

A new management group, which is looking to buy the property, promised changes. That group promised to bring capital to the complex pending transfer of title.

But delivery has proven more elusive, with politicians frustrated and hamstrung by the glacial pace of ownership transfer.

As Lynnsey Gardner of News4Jax was first to report Wednesday, Eureka Garden failed its most recent HUD inspection — with a score of 59.

Politicians describe the conditions with the strongest possible language.

And the current ownership, Global Ministries Foundation, asserts that the issue is the fault of “decades of neglect.”

Who is right?

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Rep. Al Lawson offered the strongest statement of the four pols who commented, decrying “atrocities” at the complex.

“Failing inspection is completely unacceptable. Like most Americans, the residents of Eureka Gardens want a clean, affordable, and safe place to raise their families and to call home. It is my firm belief that people who pay rent, regardless of their income, neighborhood, or whether they live in privately owned or public housing, have the right to expect and get routine maintenance. No one should be forced to live under conditions that threaten their health or safety,” Lawson asserted.

“I am renewing my call on federal officials at HUD to launch an investigation into how Global Ministries Foundation was not held accountable sooner for units falling into disrepair and how we plan to work together to do everything in our power to prevent these kind of atrocities in the future. The residents of Eureka Gardens deserve better,” Lawson continued.

Sen. Marco Rubio, so pivotal in starting the reform discussion on the Senate floor, brought a depth of perspective to the ongoing issues at the Jacksonville complex.

“This is more evidence of why I remain deeply concerned about the health and safety of the people living at Eureka Gardens,” Rubio asserted.

“On the one hand, it’s important that the HUD inspections process is no longer handing out passing grades to apartment facilities that clearly don’t deserve them. However, it’s been 18 months since the terrible conditions at Eureka Gardens first came to light, and we’re still not seeing the kind of progress we need to see to ensure all residents are living in a safe environment,” Rubio added, vowing to move forward on reform.

Councilman Garrett Dennis pinned the blame for the current conditions on the still-current owners.

“I’ve consistently said, even though there is an active sales contract with Millenia Corporation, Global Ministries Foundation is still the owner and the responsible party for the living conditions for the residents at Eureka Gardens,” Dennis told News4Jax.

On behalf of Mayor Curry, spokesperson Marsha Oliver had the following to say: “We are aware of the inspection results and maintain our commitment to working with HUD officials on a resolution that addresses the needs of residents.”

“Mayor Curry has been an advocate for improvements to this property,” Oliver added, “leading to a change in management.”

Meanwhile, Audrey Young, speaking on behalf of the current ownership of Global Ministries Foundation, issued the following statement that suggested a better score may be rendered yet.

“We are working closely with HUD on an appeal and fully trust that HUD will make warranted adjustments based on our appeal,” Young asserted.

Young also blamed Eureka Garden’s evolution into a “problem property” and a “burden” to the city on “decades of neglect by previous owners.”

GMF has put in $3 million since acquiring the properties in 2012, in an effort to remedy “decades of neglect and decay under previous owners.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Marco Rubio summed up in 2016 the profit that GMF ownership made from their 40 property portfolio.

“Where does all the money go? What are they doing with all this money that they make?”

“Well, you can look at their 990 tax forms, which are available for all 501(c)(3) organizations. Let me tell you about the 2014 tax year, which is the most recent one that’s available. In the year 2014, the Reverend Richard Hamlet paid himself $495,000 plus $40,000 in non-taxable benefits,” Rubio said

“Also in 2014, the Reverend Hamlet’s family members were paid an additional $218,000. By the way, he had previously failed to disclose his family members’ compensation on tax forms, which is in violation of IRS rules that require CEO’s to disclose the compensation of all family members who work for an organization,” Rubio added.

“The IRS reports also show that between 2011 and 2013, Global Ministries Foundation, the landlord that owns all of these units in all of these buildings that your taxpayer money is paying for, they shifted $9 million away from the low-income housing not profit to its religious affiliate,” Rubio continued.

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A reality underneath the anticipated sale to Millennia Housing Management: HUD properties are big business.

The subsidies are generous and guaranteed, but the flip side is that capital needs for the buildings recur.

Older apartment complexes have issues — and Eureka Garden has them especially.

From mold issues and poor ventilation to appliances old enough to have midlife crises, some of the units look closer to the Third World than the First.

The city would like to accelerate the transfer of title. Congressional leadership feels the same way. And yet, the process is dragged out.

The payments come through from the Feds. Even as the tenants — the expected beneficiaries — suffer.

2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission

Carlos Beruff: Constitution Revision Commission won’t waste taxpayers’ money or time

The newly-formed Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) won’t spend time on changes that can’t pass at the ballot box, its chairman said Monday.

“If the public doesn’t feel overwhelmingly supportive of (a proposed amendment), then why do it?” said Carlos Beruff, the Manatee County homebuilder appointed by Gov. Rick Scott. The panel held an organizational meeting in the Capitol.

“It just doesn’t make sense (when) we have a threshold of 60 percent,” he added. “We don’t need to waste the taxpayers’ money or their time with proposals we don’t think are going to meet that.”

The 37-member panel meets every 20 years to suggest rewrites and additions to the state’s governing document, but its suggestions have to be approved by 60 percent of voters during the next statewide election.

When asked if he’ll authorize polling to know what will make the cut and what won’t, he said, “That’ll probably be part of the plan but I’m not sure.”

He quickly added with a laugh: “I’m not much on that stuff, though. I spent money on polling; I know how that works.” Beruff, a Republican, unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in last year’s primary election.

He did announce the schedule for the first of a series of public hearings for ideas for amendments: Next Wednesday in Orange County, April 6 in Miami-Dade County, and April 7 in Palm Beach County. Times and exact locations are yet to be decided, he said.

Beruff also postponed a vote on the commission’s rules, including already contentious provisions on public records and open meetings.

The First Amendment Foundation (FAF), an open government watchdog, earlier Monday asked Beruff to apply open meeting standards to any meeting of commissioners, not just meetings of three or more.

The current draft rule tracks the Legislature’s rule that two people can meet without requiring notice and availability for public attendance.

Former Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, an appointee of Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, said she was concerned there was no provision for a vice-chair.

“There’s no continuity in the event that he, for some reason, cannot act,” she said of Beruff. “That affects how people feel about the integrity of the process.”

As governor, Scott chose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and selected the chairperson. Richard Corcoran, as House Speaker, got nine picks, as did Joe Negron as head of the Senate. Chief Justice Labarga is allotted three picks. Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as the state’s Attorney General.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to have been selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Powerful Florida panel that could bring big changes gears up

A powerful panel that has the power to alter the Florida Constitution is getting down to work.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission is holding its first meeting on Monday.

The 37-member panel meets every 20 years and is allowed to propose changes to the state constitution. The commission’s amendments will go before voters during the 2018 election.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott appointed Carlos Beruff, a Manatee County homebuilder as chairman. Beruff unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in last year’s election.

The members of the commission are appointed by the governor, the president of the state Senate, the speaker of the Florida House and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Attorney General Pam Bondi is automatically a member of the panel.

Reprinted with permission of The Associated Press

Marco Rubio hitting the slopes this weekend to raise money

Still trying to think of a spring break getaway?

How about a ski trip with Marco Rubio?

As first reported by the Montana Cowgirl Blog, the Miami Republican is one of the several federal lawmakers taking part in a two-day fundraiser at Big Sky Resort in Montana to benefit Daines Big Sky Committee, a joint fundraising committee that benefits Sen. Steve Daines and Big Sky Opportunity PAC.

The $3,000 a person fundraiser is billed as a “weekend in the Montana mountains” with Daines, Rubio, and Sens. John Hoeven, and Lisa Murkowski, and Rep. Luke Messer.

The fundraiser is scheduled for today through Sunday.

Few warm greetings from Florida for Donald Trump’s budget

There seems to be something for almost everyone to dislike in the budget proposal President Donald Trump unveiled Thursday morning.

“The plan doesn’t make any sense,” stated Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“I do not support the proposed 28 percent cut to our international affairs budget and diplomatic efforts led by the State Department,” stated Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The president’s proposed budget, released early Thursday, drew a handful of responses from Florida’s 27 members of House of Representatives, mostly from Democrats, and most of them went much further than Nelson in their condemnations, citing proposed deep cuts ranging from the arts to the Coast Guard, cancer research to the TSA, or schools to seniors’ programs like Meals on Wheels, jobs training to Everglades.

“The Trump budget is an immoral affront to nearly all of our most important priorities,” declared Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

So far only Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in Florida’s congressional delegation has spoken out in strong support, though Rubio did point out something he liked in the budget: Trump’s incorporation of Rubio’s ideas to expand school choice with tax credits. But the senator cautioned to not take Trump’s budget too seriously, because, “it is Congress that will actually set the nation’s policy priorities and fund them.

“I will continue to review all the details of this budget proposal for areas of common interest,” he concluded.

Ross, of Lakeland, said the budget was true to Trump’s promises and a snapshot of “a strong conservative vision for the size and role of our government.”

“In addition to a renewed focus on the military, this proposed budget keeps the President’s word to prioritize border security, veterans’ health care, and school choice, as well as reduce burdensome regulations that harm small businesses and economic growth,” Ross continued. “With our national debt quickly approaching $20 trillion, we cannot afford to waste any more taxpayer dollars on duplicative and ineffective government programs.”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart took a similar tone to Rubio, saying the budget “attempts to focus on our nation’s real fiscal challenges” and presents an opportunity for conversations about national priorities and the national debt.

Then he concluded, “I look forward to Congress exercising its oversight role and ultimately making funding decisions.”

Not many areas of common interest were cited by Florida’s 12 Democrats, including Nelson.

“You’re going to cut some of our most important agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, which is working to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, the Environmental Protection Agency, which keeps our air and water clean, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which is working to restore the Everglades,” Nelson stated. “I agree that we must do whatever is necessary to keep our country safe, but cutting all of these important programs to pay for things, such as a wall, just doesn’t make any sense.”

In a Facebook post, Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando called Trump’s proposal an “irresponsible budget which decimates investments in America’s future to fund tax cuts for the rich. He proposed cuts to our Coast Guard (border security?), scientific research, commerce, state department, environment protection, agriculture and our nuclear program among countless others. We will fight to protect our future!”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg declared “Budgets are statements of our values as a people. The statement made today by the Trump Administration is that climate change isn’t real, our environment is not important, diplomacy is a waste of time, medical breakthroughs aren’t beneficial, the poor are on their own, and the arts, despite their small price tag, aren’t of significance.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa went into far more detail, arguing from the start that the budget fails to deliver on Trump’s campaign promises to help the middle class and create jobs.

She cited deep or complete cuts in after-school programs, college students’ PELL grants, transportation projects such as Tampa’s Riverwalk, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s efforts to improve marine biology health, and the EPA.

“It is clear that Trump’s budget is not balanced in a way that our community needs and expects.  It shifts even more economic burdens onto the shoulders of working families, guts important services and investments in our economy, attacks vital education programs and hurts Tampa Bay’s sensitive natural resources,” she concluded.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Al Lawson of Tallahassee said a budget should reflect society’s values, and that this budget does not reflect those of his district.

“President Trump’s budget calls for extreme cuts to vital funding for job training, clean energy, medical research, and public education,” Lawson stated. “It is a shortsighted plan that seeks to give tax breaks to the wealthiest while taking away lifelines for those who need it most.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando responded only by retweeting a post from Congressional Black Caucus chair U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat who noted that African Americans “have a lot to lose under this administration” and the budget proposal “is proof.”

Wasserman Schultz provided the strongest language in her condemnations.

“Aside from the horrific health care cuts that will push tens of millions of people into higher-cost plans, or no coverage at all, this budget proposal sacrifices too many safety, environmental, labor and health protections, all just to ultimately deliver grotesque tax breaks to the wealthy,” she stated in a release issued by her office. “It weakens or eliminates funding for, among many other things, transportation, clean energy, health research, public education and housing, legal services, national diplomacy, the arts and humanitarian aid. And while Trump’s budget purports to improve our national security, it reportedly starves crucial aspects of it by putting our coasts and airports in dire jeopardy. This budget proposal is a gut punch to America’s families, their needs, and their values.”

House Democrats demand Rick Scott speak up on CBO’s scoring of GOP health care plan

Since the Congressional Budget Office said the Republican health care plan would raise the ranks of the uninsured by 14 million people next year earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott has been silent.

Florida House Democrats are now calling him out for his sudden reluctance to weigh in on a subject he’s never been shy about talking about before.

The governor has been a major critic of the Affordable Care Act and traveled to Washington last week to meet with President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, and House Speaker Paul Ryan to discuss the American Health Care Act.

Scott told reporters later he was “encouraged” about the Act, adding that it was still a “work in progress.”

But after the CBO came out with their score card earlier this week that said that the GOP plan would raise the number of uninsured to 24 million over a decade and could have a huge impact on Florida’s Medicaid program, the governor has been silent.

Florida House Democrats now say it’s time for him to speak up.

“Rather than acting as a leader, the Governor took the path of a typical politician and ducked the question entirely,” says House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz. “If Governor Scott isn’t prepared to defend ‘Trumpcare,’ he at least owes Floridians an explanation about what exactly he’s been discussing with Republican leadership during his taxpayer funded trips to Washington DC.”

“Trumpcare would rip the rug out from under the millions of Floridians who have gained access to quality, affordable health care under the ACA,” says Coral Gables Rep. Daisy Baez. “This would be incredibly harmful to the overall health and well-being of all Floridians, and they deserve to know where Governor Scott stands on this issue.”

Democrats note that Florida leads the nation in those finding coverage through the insurance exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act, with over 1.6 million Floridians signing up during this year’s open enrollment period. They also not that the plan will be financed in part by cutting $880 billion to Medicaid, which could have a huge impact on states like Florida, which opted not to expand Medicaid under the ACA.

“Florida’s Medicaid system is already lacking the resources necessary to provide the level of care our citizens deserve, and these proposed cuts would be devastating for our state’s working families,” said Miami Rep. Nick Duran. “I would encourage the Governor to consider carefully how many Floridians stand to lose from the proposed billions of dollars in cuts to the Medicaid program.”

A former health care executive before entering the political stage, Scott savaged the ACA even before it was signed into law by Barack Obama in 2010, and his criticisms have never stopped.

“Other than President Obama and a few stragglers, everyone now realizes that Obamacare was a terrible notion,” Scott wrote in an op-ed in USA Today last fall. “It was sold on a lie. It was invented by liberal academic theorists who have no interaction with real families and businesses and therefore it doesn’t work.”

“This is no time for Republicans to go wobbly or get weak in the knees about repealing Obamacare,” the governor wrote in another column for CNN.com in January. “If we refuse to roll back the welfare state, what real purpose do we serve?”

However, a number of congressional Republicans, including Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are expressing serious doubts about the House proposal in the wake of the CBO report.

Marco Rubio: ‘Snoop shouldn’t have done it’ on video featuring fake Trump assassination

Noted hip-hop aficionado Marco Rubio is weighing in on rapper Snoop Dogg’s controversial new music video “Lavender,” that features the rapper firing a toy gun at a clown dressed as Donald Trump.

“Snoop shouldn’t have done that,” the Florida senator told TMZ Monday. “You know we’ve had presidents assassinated before in this country, so anything like that is really something people should be really careful about.”

“I think people can disagree on policy, but we’ve got to be really careful about that kind of thing, because the wrong person sees that and gets the wrong idea, and you can have a real problem, so you know, I’m not sure what Snoop is thinking.

“He should think about that a little bit.”

The song is a remix of the electro-psych tune by BadBadNotGood and Kaytranada.

Snoop (whose real name is Calvin Broadus) elaborated on the video concept in an interview with Billboard

The rapper criticized police brutality and Trump’s policies, saying:

“The ban that this motherfucker tried to put up; him winning the presidency; police being able to kill motherfuckers and get away with it; people being in jail for weed for 20, 30 years and motherfuckers that’s not black on the streets making money off of it — but if you got color or ethnicity connected to your name, you’ve been wrongfully accused or locked up for it, and then you watching people not of color position themselves to get millions and billions off of it.”

 

Search for Florida Democratic Party’s next Executive Director continues

An official with the Florida Democratic Party says that while the search to find a successor to Scott Arceneaux as executive director of the Florida Democratic Party does include Jonathan Ducote and Josh Wolf, it is by no means limited to those two candidates.

Juan Penalosa, who is working with newly elected FDP Chair Stephen Bittel on his transition team, tells FloridaPolitics that the search to replace Arceneaux remains a national search, and goes beyond Ducote and Wolf. He does say that the two are definitely in the mix, however.

On Sunday, FloridaPolitics had reported that sources said that the race to replace Arceneaux was down to Ducote and Wolf. Penalosa says that that there are several other candidates being considered.

Ducote has served as political director for the Florida Justice Association since 2014. He previously served as campaign manager for Loranne Ausley’s unsuccessful 2010 bid for CFO, as financial director for Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown’s 2011 election victory, and as campaign manager for Barbara Buono’s unsuccessful challenge to Chris Christie in the 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election.

Wolf most recently served as campaign manager for Patrick Murphy‘s U.S. Senate bid. Prior to that, he served as campaign manager for Steve Grossman’s unsuccessful 2014 campaign for governor in Massachusetts. In 2012, he managed U.S. Rep. Ami Bera‘s successful campaign in California.

Arceneaux’s departure after more than seven years as Executive Director was announced in January, shortly after Coconut Grove developer and fundraiser Stephen Bittel was elected as chairman. Arceneaux’s tenure had been contentious in recent years, as some Democrats openly wondered why he had maintained his position while the state party continued to lose statewide elections.

Arceneaux was initially hired during Karen Thurman‘s term in 2009. He lasted through the regimes of Rod Smith and Allison Tant.

2016 proved to be another desultory year for Florida Democrats. After being a blue state for two successive presidential elections, Republican Donald Trump eked out a narrow, but clear-cut victory over Hillary Clinton, while Marco Rubio easily defeated Murphy to maintain his seat in the Senate.

Protests at Marco Rubio’s office say focus is on access, not booting him

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio lost leases on his offices in Tampa and Jacksonville in part because of landlord’s impatience with the incessant barrage of protests out front.

Is Orlando next?

The plaza in front of the downtown Orlando office building housing Rubio’s Central Florida office was the site of another protest Tuesday, as it has been almost every Tuesday this year.

This time, it was For Our Future and other groups pressing a combination of state, local and federal liberal causes as part of the statewide Awake The State rallies.

The building itself was occupied by protesters for most of a day and night last July when more than a hundred people staged a sit-in, demanding that Rubio consider gun restrictions in response to the horrific massacre at the Pulse nightclub just a couple miles away. Ten protesters were arrested for refusing to leave that night.

On Monday to the Florida Times-Union (and again Tuesday morning for FloridaPolitics.com), a Rubio spokeswoman in Jacksonville charged that the leases were yanked not because protesters were explicitly targeting the Republican senator but because they were targeting President Donald Trump,  using Rubio’s offices as a platform.

“For the second time in another major region of the state, the unruly behavior of some anti-Trump protesters is making it more inconvenient for Floridians to come to our local office to seek assistance with federal issues,” Christine Mandreucci asserted in a statement she had earlier provided to the Times-Union.

Orlando’s protesters aren’t entirely disputing that Rubio is not the primary target of their ire, but said as long as the senator refuses to respond to them they would assume he is doing nothing to address their concerns. Tuesday’s protest, for example, largely focused on state lawmakers and Trump, though most speakers called on Rubio to get involved in issues ranging from health care to Muslim bans, and from abortion to Israel.

“We would like to remind people like Marco Rubio who said that he would be a check on Donald Trump. He refuses to met with people, he refuses to have a town hall, he refuses to talk to us, so we’re holding it here,” said Mitch Emerson of For Our Future.

And they said they have no interest in causing the senator any problems with his landlord — Seaside Office Plaza is managed by Highwoods Properties.

“Truthfully, the one goal that I have, and the one goal that we have in general, is we would like our voices to be heard,” said Melanie Gold, a primary organizer of the Tuesday rallies.

 

‘Anti-Trump’ protesters blamed for impending Marco Rubio Jacksonville office move

President Donald Trump apparently is the gift that keeps on giving for Sen. Marco Rubio.

On Monday evening, the Florida Times-Union reported that for a second time in a week, protesters have forced Sen. Rubio from one of his regional offices.

Rubio’s team is working to find new space in Tampa, and now faces a similar challenge in Jacksonville, after a decision was made to terminate the Rubio office’s lease because of what the T-U calls “daily protests” outside.

Worth noting: Rubio’s Jacksonville office is located next to a children’s behavioral clinic, a location which apparently factored into the decision-making matrix.

Rubio spokesperson Christine Mandreucci, meanwhile, suggests that the protesters aren’t exactly protesting the senator after all.

“For the second time in another major region of the state, the unruly behavior of some anti-Trump protesters is making it more inconvenient for Floridians to come to our local office to seek assistance with federal issues,” Mandreucci asserted, in a statement she had earlier provided to the Florida Times-Union.

The statement goes on to assert (a few sentences later) that “those who disagree with President Trump and Senator Rubio certainly have a right to exercise their First Amendment rights…”

However, the construction of the statement is worth noting, in light of the gap some perceive between Rubio’s campaign-trail promises to act as a “check and balance” against the president.‎

When we asked for examples of meaningful daylight between the positions of Rubio and Trump on issues of concern to protesters, or examples of what the T-U story was missing in terms of context, they were not immediately forthcoming.

Rather, we were re-referred to the Tampa Bay Times article linked above, and told that “protesters are part of the Indivisible group, a liberal group that literally follows a guide that outlines ways to resist President Trump and his ideas.”

Are protesters objecting to Sen. Rubio? To the Trump agenda? Do they see Rubio as an effective “check and balance” on the president that beat him by 20 points in his homestate presidential primary? Or do they see him as an exponent of Trump’s agenda?

These, apparently, are open questions.

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