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Lenny Curry is INFLUENCE Magazine’s Florida Politician of the Year for 2016

It’s fair to say Lenny Curry had one heck of the year. He did everything from addressing the public pension funding shortfall to bracing his community for a 100-year storm. And now the 46-year-old Jacksonville mayor can add one more thing to his list of 2016 accomplishments: INFLUENCE Magazine’s 2016 Politician of the Year.

The biggest issue in Jacksonville in recent years has been the pension shortfall, something that piqued Curry’s interest early on. Mayors had come and gone, unable to solve the problem. But the Curry administration found a fix: an unprecedented referendum extending a half-cent infrastructure tax past its 2030 sunset, creating a stable funding source for the obligation.

“It intrigued me,” he said. “There was great and significant political risk pursuing this in the first term, specifically within the first year, but if you want to do big things, you’ve got to play big ball.

He did his homework and decided to move forward, saying he “wasn’t going to let it sit for four years.” The decision to move forward was the right one; voters overwhelmingly approved the measure earlier this year.

But that wasn’t his only challenge in 2016. As Hurricane Matthew barreled toward Florida, Curry was one of dozens of elected officials up and down the state’s east coast urging their residents to stay out of harm’s way. The community was spared a direct hit, but the impact from the storm was severe.

Curry said he was “completely and totally at comfort and at ease in handling the decision making, the preparation, and the communication” before, during and after the storm. And he looked to Gov. Rick Scott, a long-time friend and political ally, for advice and encouragement.

With 2016 in the rear view mirror, Curry is now looking toward the future. That means focusing on downtown revitalization efforts and discussions about social legislation.

Want to know more about our 2016 Politician of the Year? Check out AG Gancarski‘s profile of Curry in the 2016 winter edition of INFLUENCE Magazine, available online now.

Rick Scott announces 14 board appointments

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott announced 14 appointments to a variety of state boards and commissions.

Pinellas County Housing Authority

Scott began by reappointing Joseph Triolo and Michael Guju to the Pinellas County Housing Authority.

Triolo, 59, of Saint Petersburg, is a program manager for Duke Energy. He is reappointed for a term ending Jan. 21, 2018.

Guju, 57, of Palm Harbor, is the president of Guju Law Firm and Equity National Title. He is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 1, 2020.

Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board

Scott then announced one reappointment and two appointments to the Florida Real Estate Appraisal Board, a nine-member panel based in Orlando that enforces Florida’s real estate appraiser license law.

Janet Rabin, 60, of Fort Myers, is an appraisal analyst for DiTech Financial. She succeeds Matthew Simmons and is appointed for a term ending Oct. 31, 2019.

Fran Oreto, 65, of Hudson, is a staff appraiser for Title Source, Inc. She is reappointed for a term ending Oct. 31, 2019.

Christy Conolly, 37, of Palm Harbor, is the senior vice president of quality control and compliance for Nationwide Appraisal Network, Inc. She fills a vacant seat for a term ending Oct. 31, 2019.

These three appointments are subject to Florida Senate confirmation.

Environmental Regulation Commission

Next, Scott announced the appointments of Jim McCarthy and Frank Gummey to the Environmental Regulation Commission, a seven-member board that represents agriculture, developers, local government, the environmental community, citizens and members of the scientific and technical sectors.

McCarthy, 65, of Ponte Verde Beach, is the executive director of North Florida Land Trust. He succeeds Anna Dooley and is appointed for a term beginning Dec. 16, 2016, and ending July 1, 2019.

Gummey, 71, of Daytona Beach Shores, is the City Attorney for the City of New Smyrna Beach.  He is filling a vacant seat for a term beginning Dec. 16, 2016 and ending July 1, 2017.

Both appointments are subject to Florida Senate confirmation.

North Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners

Scott named Bev Capasso to the North Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners, District 1 seat.

Capasso, of Parkland, is the former senior vice president and chief executive officer of Jackson Memorial Hospital. She received a nursing degree from Saint Vincent’s College of Nursing, a bachelor’s and master’s degree in health care administration from Kennedy Western University, and a Bachelor of Science in nursing from Sacred Heart University. Capasso previously served in an at-large seat. She succeeds Maureen Canada for a term ending Dec. 13, 2020.

Florida Board of Accountancy

Scott also named three to the Board of Accountancy, which is a nine-member panel responsible for the regulation of certified public accountants and accounting firms.

David Skup, 64, of Plantation, is the chief financial officer for Guarantee Insurance Company. He succeeds Maria Caldwell for a term ending Oct. 31, 2019.

Jesus Socorro, 41, of Miami, is the managing principle of risk advisory services for Morrison, Brown, Argiz and Farra, LLC. He succeeds Cynthia Borders-Byrd for a term ending Oct. 31, 2019.

Mindy Rankin, 36, of Lynn Haven, is a certified public accountant for Warren Averett, LLC. She succeeds Stephen Riggs and is appointed for a term beginning Dec. 16, 2016, and ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Each of these three appointments are subject to Florida Senate confirmation.

Campbellton-Graceville Hospital Corporation

Scott appointed Chris Jernigan to the Campbellton-Graceville Hospital Corporation, located in Jackson County in the Florida Panhandle.

Jernigan, 50, of Graceville, is the president and chief operating officer of Arnold Lumber Company. He succeeds Alice Pate for a term ending Aug. 21, 2020.

Indian River County Housing Authority

Lastly, Scott announced the appointments of Johnny Thornton and Willie Richardson Jr. to the Indian River County Housing Authority.

Thornton, 67, of Vero Beach, is the director of alternative education for the Saint Lucie School District. He is appointed for a term ending June 14, 2020.

Richardson, 59, of Vero Beach, is a pastor at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church. He is appointed for a term ending June 14, 2019.

Visit Florida housecleaning continues: Rick Scott calls on chief Will Seccombe to resign, board to publish business

Gov. Rick Scott called on Visit Florida’s Executive Director Will Seccombe to resign Friday afternoon, continuing a bloodbath at the pseudo-state agency that saw two other top executives fired earlier in the fallout from how it handled a marketing contract with Miami rapper superstar Pitbull.

In a letter the governor sent to Visit Florida’s board chairman, Scott called for a complete overhaul of how it does business, telling the board he wants to see it publish details about how it spends money, including contracts.

And to do so, Scott said that Seccombe has to go.

“The major changes outlined above require new leadership and ideas at the agency, and I believe it would be best for the future efforts of Visit Florida for Will to step down and allow new leadership to come in at this critical time,” Scott wrote to Visit Florida Chairman William Talbert III of Miami. Seccombe was also sent a copy of the letter.

“The notion that Visit Florida spending would not be transparent to the taxpayers is just ridiculous,” Scott wrote. “We must have major reforms at Visit Florida in the weeks ahead that require new leadership.”

The action comes just hours after Scott confirmed that Seccombe had fired two of his top executives, Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps.

Seccombe has been president and chief executive officer since Nov., 2012, of Visit Florida, a non-profit company set up by the state to promote tourism to Florida.

Scott did extend some credit to him.

“The mission of Visit Florida is crucial to the economic growth of our stature, and Will Seccombe has played a major role for many years in helping Florida attract record numbers of tourists,” Scott wrote.

However, Scott concluded, “Visit Florida’s mission is imperative to the continued success of Florida’s economy and record growth in tourism, but in order to achieve that success, the organization must be run in an open and transparent manner, which will demand major reform.”

Concerns about how Visit Florida conducts business, particularly veiled in secrecy at times, have exploded this week, over inquiries into the $1 million contract it signed with Pitbull. Earlier this week House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued Pitbull’s company to get the contract publicly released. Pitbull himself publicly released it on Thursday, and the suit was dropped. However, the concerns over Visit Florida continued into Friday’s housecleaning.

Corcoran responded Friday with an ominous statement, suggesting Visit Florida’s very fate is at stake.

“Our job is to decide if Visit Florida should exist and if so how much should it be funded,” he said in a statement. “We’re not engaged in their hiring and firing decisions.”

Visit Florida gets $76 million a year in state money, though $74 million of that comes from a tourism trust fund.

Scott made it clear in his letter to Talbert that he thinks of Visit Flordia as “a steadfast part of Florida’s amazing record growth in tourism over the last six years.” But he expressed the same frustration that Corcoran and others have held about secrecy. His recommendations to Talbert were all about transparency and accountability.

He urged Talbert to consider reforms that would lead the corporation to publish, online, externs reports detailing public spending; all reports that include metrics and return on investment calculations; employee position and salary information; an organizational chart; relevant audits, tax returns, financial reports and summaries; statutory required reports; and public expenditure details by vendor and contract, with all contracts provided online.


Rick Scott touts 31K new jobs added in Florida in November

Florida added another 31,600 private-sector jobs in November, the 56th consecutive month of job growth in the Sunshine State, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday.

Orlando continued to lead the state in job growth in November, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate went up slightly since October and held at 4.9 percent in November, but that’s two-tenths of a percent lower than it was the previous November.

Florida’s labor force grew by 174,000 over the year, increasing by 64,000 over-the-month in November, and exceeding the national labor force growth rate.

“It’s really good news that we’re continuing to add jobs in the state. The key here is it doesn’t matter what zip code you from, what country you come from, you should have the opportunity to live the dream of this country right here,” Scott said.

Scott made the announcement Friday at the offices of HostDime, a cloud-hosting service in the Orlando suburb of Eatonville, which is Florida’s oldest historically black town. HostDime’s current Central Florida, 120-worker operation is in a modest light-industrial rooms in the back of a furniture warehouse, but the company has broken ground on a shiny, new seven-story office building to be constructed not far away, still in Eatonville, pledging to add another 50 jobs after it opens in a couple of years.

Scott, who will be attending a rally with President-elect Donald Trump later Friday, also said, “Next month we will have a new president, Donald Trump, who is laser focused on growing American jobs and turning around our national economy like we have done in Florida.”

Over the year, construction and leisure and hospitality led the state in job growth, with the construction sector adding 23,200 jobs, increasing its employment by 5.3 percent, and the tourism industry adding 57,300 more jobs, increasing its employment by 5 percent. The professional and business services sector, which includes HostDime, and the education and health services sector, also each added 50,000 jobs in the past year.

“Businesses all across the state in the past year have added jobs at a  pace that is more than double that of the nation, and that families all across the state, actually 250,000 in the past year, now have a job and can go to work every day,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor.


Rick Scott says Visit Florida firings are holding people accountable

Florida’s beleaguered tourism promoter has fired two of its top executives in the wake of revelations and criticism of a $1 million contract with Miami rapper Pitbull, an action that Gov. Rick Scott said was a matter of holding people accountable.

Scott confirmed Friday morning in Eatonville that Visit Florida’s President Will Seccombe has fired Chief Operating Officer Vangie McCorvey and Chief Marketing Officer Paul Phipps.

And then the governor called on Seccombe to resign, and Visit Florida Board Chairman William Talbert III to reform the state agent company that has come under fire for keeping public business secret.

The pair of top executives are taking the fall for the Florida tourism marketing contract Pitbull got with Visit Florida in July 2015, particularly because of concerns by top lawmakers and others that the contract and its terms were kept secret until after House Speaker Richard Corcoran sued Tuesday to have it declared public. Pitbull himself released it publicly Thursday morning.

Scott did not indicate that he played any role in advising Seccombe about the firings or the fallout. But speaking at a jobs event in the Orlando suburb of Eatonville, Scott declared his said he wants transparency.

“I believe in transparency in contracts. If you’re going to do business with the state, your contract has to be transparent,” Scott said.

Scott also said he was not aware of any other job actions at Visit Florida, saying “those were the only two.”

He also praised Pitbull for his cooperation and efforts to support Florida.

“Pitbull is a great Florida entertainer, a great Miami entertainer. He clearly supports our state. I wanted to thank him. I visited his charter school, and he’s a great community supporter,” Scott said.

Seccombe suddenly postponed a quarterly staff meeting scheduled for Friday morning to the afternoon. He and Visit Florida have not responded to requests to comment.

The governor also praised Visit Florida, the state-chartered non-profit company that plays the role of the state’s tourism promotion agency.

“At the same time, you’ve got to hold everybody accountable. I know that’s what’s happening right now at Visit Florida,” Scott said.

Visit Florida, formally known as the Florida Tourism Marketing Corporation, receives $74 million a year in tourism trust funds from the state of Florida, plus another $2 million in general revenue funds. After receiving notice from Visit Florida that Pitbull’s production company, PDR Productions, considered virtually the entire contract to be trade secrets, and threatened to sue of Corcoran or anyone else disclosed any of its provisions, Corcoran sued first, seeking to get a circuit court judge in Tallahassee to rule invalid any such claims.

Pitbull responded Thursday by releasing the entire contract, via a tweet.

Later Thursday Corcoran withdrew the suit, getting a voluntary dismissal.

But the issue remained whether Visit Florida should offer any of its contractors the opportunity to keep their contracts secret, and Corcoran reserved the right to refile.

Scott appeared Friday to agree with Corcoran’s concern.

“It’s somebody’s money. It’s your money. it’s every taxpayers money. You should know how your government spends your money. So contracts need to be transparent,” Scott said.

Corcoran responded Friday with an ominous statement, suggesting Visit Florida’s very fate is at stake.

“Our job is to decide if Visit Florida should exist and if so how much should it be funded,” he said in a statement. “We’re not engaged in their hiring and firing decisions.”

Visit Florida gets $76 million a year in state money, though $74 million of that comes from a tourism trust fund.

Scott made it clear in his letter to Talbert that he thinks of Visit Flordia as “a steadfast part of Florida’s amazing record growth in tourism over the last six years.” But he expressed the same frustration that Corcoran and others have held about secrecy. His recommendations to Talbert were all about transparency and accountability.

He urged Talbert to consider reforms that would lead the corporation to publish external reports detailing public spending; all reports should include metrics and return on investment calculations; employee position and salary information; an organizational chart; relevant audits, tax returns, financial reports and summaries; reports required by statute; and public expenditure details by vendor and contract, with all contracts provided online.

Rick Scott to appear at Donald Trump rally in Orlando

Florida Governor Rick Scott will appear at Friday night’s “thank you” rally in Orlando for President-elect Donald Trump.

The governor’s schedule has him slotted for a 6:00 p.m. appearance at the Trump event, to be held at the Central Florida Fairgrounds’ Orlando Amphitheater.

Trump’s event officially starts at 7:00 p.m., however.

Friday night’s gubernatorial appearance at the Trump rally in Orlando will be the first one for Gov. Scott in some time.

Scott introduced Trump at a June rally in Tampa, but the governor made no other appearances with Trump on the campaign trail.

Scott ran a Super PAC for Trump, Rebuilding America Now, so he was still involved heavily in Trump’s path to the White House.

“I’ve known Donald for about 20 years, long before either of us ever ran for office. He is a businessman and an outsider and he will bring the major change to Washington that our country needs right now. Donald’s race is also a lot like my race for Governor. No one said I had a chance of beating the career politicians when I ran, but I won anyway. We are going to win this Presidential race too,” Scott predicted over the summer.

Scott, termed out in 2018, is eyeing his own next move.

A Senate run has been rumored, and Scott’s own state PAC, Let’s Get to Work, is fundraising appropriately, with a $442,500 haul reported in November.

Trump’s rally was described by Randy Ross, the Orange County chairman of his 2016 campaign, as having an “eye on 2020.”

The crowd reaction for Gov. Scott, whose eye is on 2018, will be worth noting.

Our own Scott Powers will be on hand at the Trump rally Friday night; check back with FloridaPolitics.com and its sister site, OrlandoRising.com, for coverage from the event.

Gov. Scott will also make his monthly jobs numbers announcement in Orlando Friday morning, and Scott Powers will be on hand for that one as well.

Husband’s cancer is a factor in Gwen Graham’s decision to run for governor

Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham says she wants to run for governor, and she plans to run for governor. But there’s one very important factor that’s weighing on her decision: her husband has cancer.

“Every part of me wants to run for governor, that’s what I feel passionate about, that’s what I know I need to do for the state of Florida, but things happen in life that could take me off that path. I hope not,” Graham said Wednesday evening while conducting her last “work day” as a congresswoman — helping sell Christmas trees at an outdoor stand.

The work days were a signature of her father Bob Graham‘s time as Florida governor and a U.S. senator. Like her father, she spends time experiencing different jobs as a way to reach out to constituents and voters.

She decided not to seek a second term in Congress after the Florida Supreme Court ordered new congressional districts be drawn so that don’t favor incumbents or political parties. Graham’s district became far more Republican and she decided to explore a 2018 run for governor rather than risk re-election.

She sounded a lot like a candidate when talking with reporters outside the Christmas tree stand, saying she plans to campaign in all 67 counties and discussing her campaign strategy. But she said she’s waiting to see how treatment progresses on her husband Steve Hurm‘s prostate cancer.

“He absolutely wants me to run. He’s very supportive of that and I couldn’t do it without him by my side,” she said. “I wouldn’t do it without him by my side.”

Republican Gov. Rick Scott is leaving office in 2019 due to term limits. Among other Democrats believed to be considering a run are Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and trial lawyer John Morgan. Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is also considering a run.

The Republican Governors Association is already preparing for a potential Graham candidacy, wasting little time after this year’s election to begin attacking Graham in news releases. The association called Graham “just another Washington politician.” Graham hadn’t held elected office before winning her House seat two years ago.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Personnel note: Rick Scott makes judicial appointments, in Palm Beach, Dade

Sherri Collins, a prosecutor from Loxahatchee, has won an appointment to the Palm Beach County Court.

Gov. Rick Scott announced the appointment Thursday.

Collins has been an assistant state attorney for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit since 2004. Earlier, she prosecuted cases in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit.

She holds a law degree from the University of Florida Frederic G. Levin School of Law.

In April, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission named Collins its prosecutor of the year. The award recognized her training programs for prosecutors handling wildlife cases.

Collins replaces Judge Daliah Weiss, appointed by Scott to the 15th Judicial Circuit Court in July.

Also on Thursday, Scott named administrative judge Victoria del Pino to the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court.

Del Pino, of Coral Gables, has served on the Miami-Dade County Court since 2007.

She holds a law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law.

Del Pino replaces Judge Stanford Blake, who stepped down in August after 22 years on the bench.

Federal judge asked to block part of Florida abortion law

A federal judge is being asked to block additional parts of a contentious Florida abortion law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a lawsuit late Monday on behalf of several ministers, rabbis and organizations that provide abortion counseling services to women.

The lawsuit contends that the law violates constitutional rights by requiring groups to register with the state and pay a fee if they advise or help women seek abortions. The lawsuit also challenges a provision requiring groups to tell women about alternatives to abortion.

Legislators passed the sweeping abortion measure during their 2016 session. A federal judge already blocked two parts of the law this summer, and the administration of Gov. Rick Scott didn’t appeal the decision. One part of the law required increased abortion clinic inspections.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Nearly 40 apply to Joe Negron for Constitution Revision Commission

A former Senate President, Secretary of State, and state Supreme Court Justice have applied to Senate President Joe Negron for a seat on the panel that reviews the state’s constitution every 20 years.

At last tally, 39 people had applied for one of Negron’s nine picks to the Constitution Revision Commission, according to a list provided by his office. They include:

— Former Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who was term limited out of office this year. Gaetz also served as Senate President 2012-14.

— Lobbyist and former lawmaker Sandra Mortham, who also was the elected Secretary of State 1995-99. One of the changes from the last commission was making the position appointed by the governor.

— Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells, who was on the bench 1994-2009. Wells also was chief justice during the 2000 presidential election challenge and recount.

This will be the fourth commission to convene since 1966, and the first to be selected by mostly Republicans, suggesting it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.  

Both Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have said they want the commission to revisit redistricting, for instance, specifically, a rewrite of voter-endorsed amendments from 2012 that ban gerrymandering — the manipulation of political boundaries to favor one party.

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson.

Negron and Corcoran each get nine picks. Pam Bondi is automatically a member as attorney general, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks.

Under law, the next commission is scheduled to hold its first meeting in a 30-day period before the beginning of the Legislature’s 2017 regular session on March 7.

Any changes it proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Others who applied to Negron are former state Sen. Dennis Jones, a Republican, and former Sens. Eleanor Sobel and Chris Smith, both Democrats.

Ed. note: This post was originally based on a list released Monday evening. The Senate provided a new list on Tuesday, in which the list has grown to 39 applicants, including new Sens. Dana Young and Gary Farmer, and Magdalena Fresen, sister of former state Rep. Erik Fresen. That list is below:

Berger Jason Martin
Boggs Glenn Leon
Christiansen Patrick Orange
Crotty Richard Orange
Cullen Lisa Brevard
Curtis Donald Taylor
Dawson Warren Hillsborough
Duckworth Richard Charlotte
Edwards Charles Lee
Farmer Gary Broward
Fresen Magdalena Dade
Gaetz Donald Okaloosa
Gentry WC Duval
Hackney Charles Manatee
Heyman Sally Dade
Hoch Rand Palm Beach
Hofstee Michael St. Lucie
Ingram Kasey Martin
Jackson John Holmes
Jazil Mohammad Leon
Jones Dennis Marion
Kilbride Robert Leon
McManus Shields Martin
Miller Mark Martin
Moriarty Mark Sarasota
Mortham Sandra Leon
Plymale Sherry Martin
Rowe Randell Volusia
Schifino William Hillsborough
Scott Anne Martin
Smith Chris Broward
Sobel Eleanor Broward
Specht Steven Escambia
Stargel John Polk
Thompson Geraldine Orange
Wadell Gene Indian River
Wells Charles Orange
Winik Tyler Brevard
Young Dana Hillsborough
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