Good Thursday morning.
Florida TaxWatch announced its 2022-23 Board of Trustees members and new executive officers, including Piyush Patel as Chair.
“It’s an honor to assume the role of Florida TaxWatch Chairman — especially following in the footsteps of U.S. Sen. George LeMieux — and such a great privilege to have these well-respected men and women join the board of trustees,” said Patel, the founder and CEO of Kyra Solutions.
“Together, we can continue to support the important work of Florida TaxWatch’s world-class research team, which serves as an invaluable resource for taxpayers and policymakers alike.”
The rest of the executive team includes President and CEO Dominic Calabro, Chair-elect James Repp, Treasurer Marva Brown Johnson, Secretary David Casey and immediate past Chair LeMieux.
The new board members are Prime Meridian Bank CEO Sammie Dixon Jr., Figgers Communication CEO Freddie Figgers, Whitman Family Development CEO Matthew Lazenby, The Desoto Group CEO Sonya Montgomery, ODIN CEO Sumanth Neelan, Broward Health CEO Shane Strum and BBX Capital Partners President Randall Vitale.
“Florida TaxWatch’s success is dependent on thoughtful guidance from our leadership. Having said that, we’re thrilled to announce our executive officers, serving under the formidable leadership of Chairman Piyush Patel, as well as seven new board members from across the Sunshine State,” Calabro said.
“We welcome the unique ideas and suggestions they will certainly bring to the table, ultimately allowing us to continue producing high-quality work proven to have a significant impact on Florida taxpayers.”
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
—@MarcoRubio: We have a historically unpopular Dem President, record inflation, a violent crime wave & total chaos at the border & not only did we fail to win a majority, we lost a seat And the Senate GOP response is going to be to make no changes?
—@TheRickWilson: The House Majority Leader election is already over. Marjorie Taylor Green is the Speaker. No matter who has the gavel, they’re just her meat puppet.
—@ChrisLHayes: What’s become really clear in the last few weeks is that all the “Big Tech” anger from the right is really just the latest iteration of the “liberal media” critique that stretches back to (Barry) Goldwater, and indeed New-Deal-Era right-wingers.
— Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) December 7, 2022
— Danny Martinez (@Danmartinez305) December 7, 2022
— DAYS UNTIL —
‘Avatar 2’ premieres — 8; Military Bowl with UCF Knights against Duke — 20; Cheez-It Bowl with FSU against Oklahoma — 21; final Broadway performance of ‘The Music Man’ with Hugh Jackman — 24; last day to ride Splash Mountain before remodeling — 45; The James Madison Institute’s Annual Dinner — 48; 2023 FAC Access 67 Broadband Summit — Florida Association of Counties begins — 49; Bruce Springsteen launches 2023 tour in Tampa — 55; ‘Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania’ premieres — 71; final performance of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ on Broadway — 72; city of Tampa Municipal Election early voting begins — 81; Ron DeSantis’ ‘The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival’ released — 82; ‘The Mandalorian’ returns — 83; Tampa Municipal Election — 89; 2023 Legislative Session convenes — 89; World Baseball Classic finals begin in Miami — 93; ‘John Wick: Chapter 4′ premieres — 106; Taylor Swift ‘Eras’ Tour in Tampa — 126; American Association of Political Consultants Pollies ’23 conference begins — 141; 2023 Session Sine Die — 148; ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3’ premieres — 148; ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ premieres — 176; Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ premieres — 225; ‘‘Captain Marvel 2′ premieres — 232; Dune: Part Two’ premieres — 330; ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’ Part 2 premieres — 477; ‘Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes’ premieres — 533; Opening Ceremony of the 2024 Olympic Games — 596; ‘Thunderbolts’ premieres — 596; ‘Blade’ reboot premieres — 638; ‘Deadpool 3’ premieres — 701; ‘Fantastic Four’ reboot premieres — 799; ‘Avengers: The Kang Dynasty’ premieres — 876. ‘Avengers: Secret Wars’ premieres — 1,065.
— TOP STORY —
“Joe Harding indicted on wire fraud, money laundering charges” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — A federal grand jury has indicted Republican Rep. Harding of House District 24 on six felony counts, including money laundering and wire fraud, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
The indictment alleges that between Dec. 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021, Harding committed two acts of wire fraud through a scheme to defraud the Small Business Administration (SBA) and by obtaining COVID-19-related small business loans through false and fraudulent pretenses.
It alleges he made fraudulent applications for Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans, including by using the names of dormant businesses. It also alleges Harding obtained fraudulently created bank statements for one of the dormant businesses, used as supporting documentation for one of the loan applications.
“By this conduct, the indictment alleges that Harding fraudulently obtained and attempted to obtain more than $150,000 in funds from the SBA to which he was not entitled,” a U.S. Department of Justice wrote in a news release.
“Harding is also charged with two counts of engaging in monetary transactions with funds derived from unlawful activity related to his transfer of the fraudulently obtained (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) proceeds into two bank accounts and two counts of making false statements to the SBA.”
A trial for Harding is set for Jan. 11, 2023, at 8:30 a.m. at the U.S. Courthouse in Gainesville. United States District Judge Allen Winsor will preside.
“Today, I pleaded not guilty to federal charges that state I improperly obtained and used an EIDL loan issued by the Small Business Administration. I want the public and my constituents to know that I fully repaid the loan and cooperated with investigators as requested. On advice from counsel, I will be unable to say anything more specific about the legal proceedings until a later date and refer any questions or concerns related to this matter to my attorney. I ask that you keep me and my family in your prayers as we work for a fair and just resolution. Thank you, and may God bless you.”
Speaker Paul Renner’s response:
“After consultation with Rep. Harding regarding his indictment, I am temporarily removing him from his committee assignments to allow him time to focus on this matter. In America, we adhere to the rule of law, and as such, Rep. Harding is presumed innocent and will have the opportunity to plead his case before a court. Since the indictment does not relate to any aspect of his legislative duties, any further questions should be directed to his legal counsel.”
—”Harding deletes Twitter account after Justice Department wire fraud indictment” via Jesse Scheckner of Florida Politics
— DESANTISY LAND —
“Ron DeSantis to huddle with donors after thumping re-election victory” via Isaac Stanley-Becker of The Washington Post — Invitations went out this week for an “intimate dinner” on Sunday in Miami with DeSantis and his wife, said two people familiar with the details who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview a private event. The invitations were addressed to the Governor’s “strongest supporters.” One person said added gatherings may take place in other parts of the state. A DeSantis campaign spokesperson declined to comment. The dinner — the Governor’s first known gathering with donors since last month’s Midterms — isn’t explicitly about the 2024 race, knowledgeable people said. Rather, the invitation describes it as a chance to toast the victory notched by DeSantis — in which he achieved the largest margin by a Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate in modern history — and discuss the road ahead.
“COVID-19 could be DeSantis’ secret weapon in 2024” via Caitlin Owens of Axios — DeSantis — should he run for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination — has an opening to attack former President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 response from the right. The big picture: The federal COVID-19 response has become a red-meat issue for the party’s base, and DeSantis’ 2020 actions are much more aligned with the GOP’s tone today. DeSantis has even said he wishes he’d been more vocal in speaking out against the Trump administration’s calls for lockdowns early in the pandemic.
“Former Ronald Reagan campaign manager wants U.S. voters ready for DeSantis” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Decades ago, Ed Rollins saw the potential for a Republican Governor in a large, diverse state to excite voters nationwide. He worked for Reagan’s successful 1980 presidential campaign, then became the White House Political Director before managing the Republican’s re-election campaign in a landslide 1984 victory. Now, Rollins sees similar hope in DeSantis. He heads the Ready for Ron Super PAC, which aims to build infrastructure and support in the event DeSantis pursues an expected White House run of his own.
“Surgeon General repeats opposition to COVID-19 vaccines” via Cindy Krischer Goodman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — As federal health officials embarked on a campaign this week to get more Americans boosted for COVID-19, Joseph Ladapo is digging in on social media on an earlier claim that the mRNA vaccines are unsafe and linked to deaths from myocarditis. “mRNA COVID-19 vaccines are far less safe than any vaccines widely used,” Ladapo tweeted on Dec. 2. He claims a new study of 35 deaths out of Heidelberg, Germany is “consistent” with the results of a Florida analysis of deaths. A small German study shows 5 out of 35 people who died within 20 days of a COVID-19 vaccine had myocarditis as a cause of death.
“DeSantis announces return of Michelle Branham to Elder Affairs agency” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — DeSantis’ administration in his second term continues to take shape, with the Governor announcing Branham will return as the Secretary of the Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA). DeSantis made the announcement on Twitter, which has become the go-to outlet for him to proclaim the comings and goings of agency Secretaries. Before heading the agency for nine years, she served as the vice president of Public Policy for the Alzheimer’s Association.
—“Email insights: Democrats drag DeSantis for endorsing ‘losers’” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics
—”Analysis shows DeSantis’ map kept Jax seat red, but cost GOP a shot at a Tampa seat” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics
“Joe Gruters announces bid for RNC Treasurer” via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Gruters is launching a bid for Treasurer of the Republican National Committee. “We have had tremendous success here in Florida,” Gruters told Florida Politics. “My whole focus is getting Florida represented at the national level.” Gruters previously secured support from RPOF members to move the state party’s executive board elections to Feb. 17 and 18. That effectively extends his own tenure as state Chair until next month, which in turn makes him eligible to be a national officer. RNC bylaws require candidates to be voting members of the RNC at the time of their election, but Gruters will not need to return to the state Chair if elected to the post.
“Florida Justice Association: Lawsuits serve as ‘scapegoat’ in Florida property insurance crisis” via Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics — Florida’s property insurance crisis, which has seen six companies fail this year as premiums have drastically increased and other companies have canceled policies, isn’t the fault of rampant lawsuits, the Florida Justice Association (FJA) said. The trial lawyer group reacted to the proclamation from legislative leaders for a Special Session to deal with the property insurance issue by saying lawsuits, which insurers have blamed for their billions of dollars in losses in recent years, are the result of companies not paying claims. “Litigation isn’t the problem — it’s the scapegoat,” the FJA’s property insurance section Chair Amy Boggs said in a released statement. The proclamation issued Tuesday included reducing lawsuit costs among the issues for lawmakers to address during the weeklong Session that begins Dec. 12.
“Speaker eliminates a House health care panel” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Signaling that health care may be less of a priority in the House for the next two years, Speaker Renner eliminated one of the chamber’s health care panels. Since 2012, the House has had a Health and Human Services Committee and three subcommittees under its auspices. But under Renner’s two-year term, there will be just two health care subcommittees: Children, Families and Seniors, and Health Care Regulation. Renner released Tuesday night the names of the House members who will serve on nine main committees, 23 subcommittees, five joint committees and one select committee over the next two years.
“Corey Simon and Jason Shoaf to steer education budget, goals in Florida Legislature” via James Call of the Tallahassee Democrat — Two Leon County Republicans will begin to decide how billions of taxpayer dollars for education will be spent when the Florida Legislature begins committee meetings later this month for the 2023 Session. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo included first-term Sen. Simon in her leadership team as a committee Chair for the next two years. Simon will lead the Senate in writing the $24 billion budget for the public school system. In the House, Rep. Shoaf will move into the suite of offices for the Higher Education Committee as Chair.
“Gallop Franklin lands six committee assignments” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Newly elected Rep. Franklin, a Tallahassee Democrat, was named to six committees this week. Those include the Education & Employment Committee; Education Quality Subcommittee; Insurance & Banking Subcommittee; Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee; Health Care Regulation Subcommittee; and the Select Committee on Hurricane Resiliency & Recovery. “As a newly-elected House Representative, I am pleased to be assigned to these diverse committees, as I will be able to influence legislation in the important areas of insurance, banking, education, and health care,” Franklin said.
“Push to put partisanship in Florida school board elections revived” via Christine Jordan Sexton of Florida Politics — Fresh off an election where school board candidates backed by DeSantis and Republicans won key races, a GOP legislator is launching another effort to make School Boards races partisan. Several Republican legislators unsuccessfully pushed for the change, and now Rep. Spencer Roach is embarking on a fresh effort to put it before voters. Voters back in 1998 overwhelmingly voted to make school board races nonpartisan. Roach filed a joint resolution that would require county School Board races to return to being partisan beginning with the 2026 election cycle.
“Legal drama in Florida Supreme Court hearing whether police names can be kept secret in deadly shootings” via Fresh Take Florida — Florida’s Supreme Court wrestled during a hearing in Tallahassee over questions about whether a new law protecting the rights of crime victims can be used to keep secret the identities of police officers who kill a suspect in the line of duty. The immediate case involved separate, fatal shootings by police officers in Tallahassee whose identities are still secret, but the implications of the court’s ruling would go far further than Florida’s capital city. The city moved to name the officers involved in the shootings in May 2020 until the officers sued in court and asserted they were victims of imminent threats of harm whose identities should be protected under the so-called Marsy’s Law.
New and renewed lobbying registrations:
Brian Bautista, Rachel Cone, Mary DeLoach, Nelson Diaz, Nicole Kelly, Sheela VanHoose, The Southern Group: Urban SDK, Indian River State College Foundation, Performance Services, Young Circle Property
Matthew Choy: Renew Financial Group
Claudia Davant, Adams St. Advocates: AllHealth CHOICE
Angela Drzewiecki, Ryan Matthews, GrayRobinson: City of Rockledge
Brennan Garcia, Ashley Spicola, Continental Strategy: Continental PLLC, Eagle LNG Partners, Florida Chiropractic Physician Association, Knack Technologies, UiPath
Andrea Gheen, PinPoint Results: Health and Hope Clinic
Lori Killinger, Chris Lyon, Lewis Longman & Walker: Boca Raton Airport Authority
Darrick McGhee, Johnson & Blanton: Empower Florida
Vivian Young: 1000 Friends of Florida
— D.C. MATTERS —
“Bidens toasted a 2024 campaign with Emmanuel Macron at the state dinner” via Katie Rogers and Annie Karni of The New York Times — Jill Biden, the First Lady, told President Macron of France at the White House state dinner last week that she and her husband are ready for his re-election campaign, according to two people with knowledge of the discussion. Joe Biden then joined the French President and the First Lady in a playful toast. It was a lighthearted moment — and Biden still intends to make a formal decision about whether he will run again after the holiday season — but the fact that the Bidens were willing to signal to an important foreign ally about the President’s plans hints at how committed they are to a second term.
“Justices skeptical of elections case that could alter voting” via The Associated Press — In arguments Wednesday, both liberal and conservative members of the high court appeared to take issue with the main thrust of a challenge asking them to essentially eliminate the power of state courts to strike down legislature-drawn, gerrymandered congressional districts on grounds that they violate state constitutions. Republicans from North Carolina who brought the case to the high court argue that a provision of the U.S. Constitution known as the elections clause gives state lawmakers virtually total control over the “times, places and manner” of congressional elections, including redistricting, cutting state courts out of the process. The Republicans are advancing a concept called the “independent legislature theory,” never before adopted by the Supreme Court but cited approvingly by four conservative justices.
“Rick Scott: Herschel Walker ‘will continue to be a leader’ in GOP for ‘years to come’” via Brittany Bernstein of the National Review — Scott said that despite a loss in the U.S. Senate runoff in Georgia, he believes Walker “will continue to be a leader in our party for years to come.” “Over the last year, I’ve gotten to know Herschel and have seen firsthand the movement he built in his home state,” Scott said in a statement. “Herschel’s story and message inspired millions in Georgia and across the country. While Herschel came up short last night, I know he will continue to be a leader in our party for years to come.”
“Congress set to rescind COVID-19 vaccine mandate for troops” via The Associated Press — The COVID-19 vaccine mandate for members of the U.S. military would be rescinded under the annual defense bill heading for a vote this week in Congress, ending a directive that helped ensure the vast majority of troops were vaccinated but also raised concerns that it harmed recruitment and retention. Republicans pushed the effort, confirmed Tuesday night when the bill was unveiled. House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy personally lobbied President Biden in a meeting last week to roll back the mandate. Rep. Mike Rogers, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said the removal of the vaccination requirement was essential for the defense policy bill to move forward.
“Rubio confirms he met with indicted ex-Florida lawmaker over Venezuela” via Gary Fineout of POLITICO — Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged on Tuesday through a spokesperson that he met with indicted ex-Rep. David Rivera to discuss a potential deal to normalize relations between the United States and Venezuela — but didn’t know that his one-time friend and longtime political ally was working on behalf of strongman Nicolás Maduro. Rubio’s dealings with Rivera emerged Monday night after federal authorities arrested and charged the former Miami lawmaker with eight criminal counts, including money laundering, conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent for work allegedly connected to the Maduro regime.
“Maxwell Frost, first Gen Z Congressman, gets his bearings on Capitol Hill” via Stephanie Lai of The New York Times — He is a fan of early-2000s rock, which was popular when he was in kindergarten. He is still working to get his undergraduate degree. And he is couch surfing to save money as he starts his new job, which is representing Florida’s 10th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. Frost, a 25-year-old Afro-Cuban progressive activist from Orlando, is about to be the youngest member of Congress. He has swapped the megaphone he once used to lead protests for a seat in one of the nation’s most powerful institutions, where he will be the first member of Generation Z to serve.
Spotted on The Hill’s annual list of top lobbyists, Brian Ballard and Dan McFaul of Ballard Partners. The pair were included in the “Hired Guns” category of the list, which recognizes lobbyists “who leveraged their expertise and connections to make a difference in the nation’s capital this year.”
“Senate confirms Mark Lapointe as Miami U.S. Attorney. He’s first Haitian American in post” via Jay Weaver of the Miami Herald — Lapointe was confirmed by the United States Senate as the U.S. Attorney for South Florida, making him the first Haitian American lawyer to serve in the region’s most powerful federal law enforcement position. Lapointe, a former U.S. Marine and ex-federal prosecutor raised in Haiti and Miami, was nominated in September by Biden to fill the position, which is responsible for directing about 250 prosecutors in a district extending from Key West to Fort Pierce. It is considered one of the busiest districts in the country because of the region’s steady stream of financial fraud, drug trafficking and internet crimes.
— EPILOGUE TRUMP —
“Donald Trump is unraveling before our eyes, but will it matter?” via Thomas B. Edsall in The New York Times — In the weeks immediately surrounding the Midterm Elections, Trump called for the “termination” of constitutional rule, openly embraced the conspiratorial QAnon movement, pledged support for the Jan. 6 rioters and hosted, over dinner at Mar-a-Lago, the White supremacist Nicholas Fuentes and Ye (once known as Kanye West), both of whom are prominent antisemites. Does every step Trump takes off the deep end make him a greater liability for the Republican Party, potentially leading to a second Biden term, the loss of the party’s precarious control of the House, and an across-the-board weakening of Republican candidates up and down the ticket — from the U.S. Senate to local School Boards? Will Trump’s wrecking ball bid for the presidency fracture his party?
— LOCAL: S. FL —
“Made in Miami: How a South Florida plot to oust Haiti’s Jovenel Moïse led to his murder” via Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald — There is a saying: “In the heart of every Haitian, there’s a sleeping President.” Haitian authorities say that was certainly true of Christian Emmanuel Sanon. And he had devotees in South Florida — and Haiti — willing to help him achieve his vision. Sanon, a Haitian American preacher and physician who split his time between Florida and his homeland, became the central character around whom coalesced a plan to topple Haitian President Moïse and install him, Sanon, as the leader. No hard evidence has been presented in support of the insistence by Haitian police that his plan, his goal, involved an assassination. But over several months, a sprawling array of characters became entangled in a complex plot to get rid of Moïse.
“Miami judge rejects another DeSantis voter fraud case” via Lawrence Mower and David Ovalle of the Tampa Bay Times — A Miami judge has tossed out another voter fraud case brought by DeSantis’ elections police, the third case to fall apart since the Governor announced the arrests. On Wednesday, Circuit Judge Laura Anne Stuzin reached the same conclusion as another Miami judge did in a different voter’s case, saying that statewide prosecutors didn’t have the ability to bring charges against Ronald Lee Miller. Because he was convicted of second-degree murder in 1990, Miller, 58, was ineligible to vote. But after his voter registration application was cleared by the Florida Department of State, Miami-Dade’s supervisor of elections issued him a voter ID card, and he voted in November 2020.
“Conservative organization sues school board over sex-ed curriculum” via Zac Howard of The Florida Standard — The Miami-Dade chapter of County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF) is suing the board of Miami-Dade County Public Schools for allegedly violating the Florida Sunshine Law requiring governmental transparency. County Citizens Defending Freedom is an organization that advocates for the protection of traditional American principles with an emphasis on civic engagement on the local level from ordinary citizens. CCDF currently has more than a dozen chapters in Florida. The organization claims that an unelected committee tasked with reviewing textbooks for the district’s sex ed curriculum “exercised substantial governmental decision-making authority during meetings closed to the public.”
“Laura Dominguez wins Miami Beach Commission runoff to succeed her late partner Mark Samuelian” via Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — Dominguez will succeed her life partner, the late Samuelian, on the Miami Beach City Commission after winning a runoff election. Dominguez defeated disability-rights advocate Sabrina Cohen to win the seat, according to unofficial results posted by the Miami-Dade elections department. Dominguez had over 61% of votes with all ballots reported. Voter turnout was around 17% with more than 8,700 ballots cast. Dominguez will be sworn-in on Monday. “I am honored to be able to continue Mark Samuelian’s legacy of residents’ first leadership,” Dominguez said in a statement. “I intend to be a unifier and a voice for good government.”
“Miami Beach pays $130K to Black tourist knocked unconscious by police during arrest” via Aaron Leibowitz of the Miami Herald — A Miami Beach police officer elbowed a Black tourist in the face multiple times during a 2019 arrest, seemingly knocking him unconscious and triggering a lawsuit the city has now settled for $130,000, according to documents and video footage obtained by the Miami Herald. Cody Wade, a 29-year-old North Carolina man, sued the city and two officers in federal court over an incident that began with security at Mango’s Tropical Cafe on Ocean Drive asking police to escort Wade away from the nightclub due to “disorderly behavior,” and ended with police tackling and handcuffing him after he ran across the street minutes later.
“Winner of Sunny Isles Beach Mayor runoff could change as rejected ballots are cured” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — A heated race for Sunny Isles Beach Mayor has reached a tentative conclusion as challenger Larisa Svechin received just over two dozen more votes than incumbent Dana Goldman. But that result still depends on certification and could swing the other way, depending on how many rejected ballots are cured. With all five precincts reporting Tuesday night, Svechin had 49.6% of 3,276 ballots cast in her favor compared to 50.4% for Goldman. As of Wednesday morning, those numbers remained: Just 26 votes separated the two candidates.
“Sheriff Gregory Tony faces more scrutiny from ethics panel over lies, omissions on forms” via Lisa J. Huriash of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Broward Sheriff Tony must now decide whether to fight a decision by a state ethics panel — which for the second time in recent months agreed that further review is warranted to look into accusations he gave false information on official forms, his attorney said Monday. The Florida Commission on Ethics, with a unanimous 8-0 vote, found probable cause Friday to pursue a case into the Sheriff’s providing false information, or not disclosing information. The action came in a closed-door confidential hearing, the results of which are expected to be made public Wednesday. Louis Jean-Baptiste, the Sheriff’s attorney based in Tallahassee, said Monday that Tony has not decided yet on their next move.
“Ex-School Board member Donna Korn cleared in ethics probe related to beach house stay” via Scott Travis of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel — Former Broward School Board member Korn and district administrator Shawn Cerra have been cleared in an ethics probe related to their weekend stays at a vendor’s beach house. Both had acknowledged they had stayed on multiple occasions at the home of Chuck Puleri, the Broward Herff Jones distributor who for years was the exclusive vendor of caps and gowns for Broward schools. Korn had voted on his contracts while Cerra oversaw graduations in his role as director of student activities. Korn was a School Board member from 2011 until DeSantis suspended her in August related to a grand jury report that focused on issues related to the Parkland shooting and a district construction program.
“Former Palm Beach County firefighter accused of stealing from cystic fibrosis charity” via Julius Whigham II of the Palm Beach Post — A former Palm Beach County firefighter is facing federal charges after authorities alleged she misappropriated more than $150,000 in funds from a North Palm Beach-based charity. Elizabeth Genna Suarez, also identified as Elizabeth Mirson Suit, faces four counts of wire fraud, according to a criminal complaint filed this month by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. If convicted, Suarez faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The complaint alleges that Suarez withdrew money from bank accounts belonging to the Piper’s Angels Foundation Inc. for personal use, including spending on cosmetic surgery, sunglasses and car improvements.
“Famed Miami detective Mike Gonzalez dies at 95. ‘Solved more murders than anyone else” via David Ovalle and Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — For four decades, police detective Gonzalez was Miami’s undisputed master of solving murders. Long before DNA tests and video surveillance, Gonzalez cracked cases the old-school way, chasing down leads, working witnesses and cajoling suspects into confessions. He tracked down a man who refused to pay a 10-cent toll, then shot and killed a Florida Highway Patrol trooper. He uncovered a vast cocaine network during another homicide probe. And more than a decade after a woman’s body was found naked and strangled in her bed, the murderer not only confessed to Gonzalez but admitted to another murder two years earlier.
— LOCAL: C. FL —
“Michael Brunscheen wins Altamonte Springs Commission seat in runoff election” via Martin E. Comas of the Orlando Sentinel — Brunscheen — a 13-year Altamonte Springs resident, who campaigned on the issues of smart growth and increasing multimodal transportation options — was elected to the District 2 Commission seat on Tuesday in a citywide runoff election. Brunscheen garnered just over 55% of the 2,987 votes cast to defeat his opponent, Guerdy Remy, a nurse and community organizer. There are 31,740 registered voters in Altamonte Springs and the turnout for the runoff was just over 9%. Brunscheen will be sworn in on Friday to a 2-year term during a special City Commission meeting. He will replace Lucius Cushman, who did not seek another term.
“Hurricane center says system still at 50% chance to develop” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — The National Hurricane Center kept its odds overnight that a system in the Atlantic Ocean could form into a tropical or subtropical depression or storm. In its 9 a.m. tropical outlook on Wednesday, the NHC said the low-pressure area was found about 900 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and was still producing a large area of showers and thunderstorms. “This activity has become somewhat better organized this morning, though frontal features remain attached to the low,” forecasters said. “Environmental conditions appear marginally conducive for development and a subtropical or tropical storm could form within the next day or so.”
“Project Opioid sends double-strength naloxone to downtown Orlando amid rising overdoses” via Caroline Catherman of the Orlando Sentinel — As powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl continue to drive overdose deaths in Central Florida, traditional overdose-reversal methods aren’t working anymore. Naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, has been used for years to temporarily reduce the effects of opioid overdoses, restoring breathing and consciousness to an unconscious person within minutes. It can be injected or used as a nasal spray. However, synthetic opioids are so powerful that a single naloxone dose sometimes isn’t enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, for example.
“Brevard Commissioners reject tourism grant for April’s Cocoa Beach Air Show” via Dave Berman of Florida Today — Brevard County Commissioners have unanimously rejected a proposal to give the Cocoa Beach Air Show $87,852.20 in a major event grant for its upcoming show. The show is scheduled for April 14 and 15 along the beach in Cocoa Beach and will feature as headline performers the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, which also performed there in 2021. The advisory Brevard County Tourist Development Council and the Council’s Cultural Committee recommended the grant. The Tourist Development Council consists of nine people appointed by County Commissioners. Six of the nine engage in hotels or other aspects of the tourism industry, many having worked in tourism for years.
“Volusia County splits largest department, promotes 2 longtime employees” via Sheldon Gardner of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — The Volusia County Council approved leadership and structural changes in a key piece of its operation on Tuesday. The Council voted 5-0 to confirm Mark Swanson as the permanent director of the Public Protection Department and Jim Judge as the director of the Emergency Services Department. Swanson had been serving as the interim director of public protection. Judge had been serving as the interim director of emergency management and interim deputy director of public protection. The Council approved taking some services from the Public Protection Department ― emergency medical services, emergency management, emergency medical administration, and fire rescue ― and creating the Emergency Services Department to oversee those areas.
“Volusia gets $5M for emergency sand placement” via Sheldon Gardner of The Daytona Beach News-Journal — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has awarded Volusia County $5 million to help patch up the coastline after Tropical Storms Ian and Nicole. The county is still figuring out where to place the sand, but officials will first help areas that received the worst damage, the county’s Coastal Division Director Jessica Fentress said. Fentress spoke about the grant at Tuesday’s County Council meeting. The Council voted unanimously to accept the grant, which doesn’t require any funding from the county government. In November, DeSantis directed the FDEP to use $20 million for emergency sand placement to help local governments address dune and beach erosion from Tropical Storms Ian and Nicole, according to a news release.
— LOCAL: TB —
“Florida prods Hillsborough schools on policies regarding race, LGBTQ students” via Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times — State education officials have put the Hillsborough County school district on notice that its policies have not kept up with Florida’s new laws on gender identity and racial issues. The concerns were outlined in a Nov. 18 letter from Jacob Oliva, the chancellor of public schools for the Florida Department of Education. It’s the latest in a series of moves by state officials to bring districts in line with the new “Stop WOKE” Act and the parental rights law that critics nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay.” Hillsborough school officials issued a written response, due to the state on Friday, saying they are working to make sure they comply. The School Board will discuss the matter at its meeting Tuesday.
“As elections near, a restive Tampa City Council flexes its muscles” via the Tampa Bay Times editorial board — Tampa Mayor Jane Castor filed for re-election and if history is any guide, she should cruise to a second term. But irrespective of Castor’s re-election prospects, municipal elections in March could bring a new power struggle to City Hall. Castor, who turns 62 today, is a Democrat and former Tampa police chief who captured 73% of the vote in the 2019 mayoral runoff election. As the first woman named to be Tampa’s chief of police, she was widely credited for overseeing a drop in violent crime and for making the police force more community oriented.
“Janet Cruz to kick off City Council campaign Dec. 13” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — Former Sen. Cruz is officially launching her campaign for Tampa City Council with a kickoff party Tuesday, Dec. 13 at the Ulele restaurant found at 1810 N. Highland Ave. near downtown Tampa along the Hillsborough River. Cruz, last month, lost her Senate re-election bid to Republican Jay Collins amid a red wave in Hillsborough County and throughout Florida. Shortly after, she announced she would run for City Council against appointed incumbent Lynn Hurtak in District 3.
“Tampa’s ex-police chief still gets nearly $80,000-a-year pension” via C.T. Bowen of the Tampa Bay Times — Former Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor’s resignation Monday does not affect her previously earned annual pension benefit of nearly $80,000. O’Connor, 52, currently receives $5,923.16 monthly in base pension benefits, plus $710.78 in cost-of-living adjustments for a total monthly payout of $6,633.94, according to information provided by the Tampa Fire & Police Pension Fund. Under the city’s contract with the police and fire departments, employees can retire at age 46 if they have worked 10 years, or they can retire anytime if they have accrued 20 years of service. O’Connor was an assistant chief when she retired in 2016 after 22 years with the department.
“Tampa lobbyists pushed for state law on Tampa wastewater discharges” via Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times — Last week, when Tampa public works officials told skeptical City Council members that a new state law required the city to divert the 50 million gallons a day of highly treated reclaimed water it now dumps into Tampa Bay, they presented it as fait accompli. In fact, city lobbyists helped craft the legislation that will require Tampa to find some other use for the wastewater by 2032. Lauren Rozyla, a spokesperson for Castor, said she would have to seek a legal opinion because it was “complicated.” Asked to confirm “yes or no” if the city lobbied for Senate Bill 64, which became law in 2021, the city did not respond until Monday, when it issued a lengthy statement.
“Pinellas transit agency: Where’s our $600,000?” via Olivia George of the Tampa Bay Times — Every day, hundreds rely on Pinellas County’s on-demand transportation service for the elderly and people with disabilities to get around town. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority works with the Washington-based software company GOIN’ to coordinate those rides, including collecting co-pays and working with providers like Uber and Lyft. But for over a year, the company has held on to passengers’ fares instead of remitting them to the county transportation agency, leaving the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority owed more than $600,000, agency officials said. Now, PSTA is considering legal action to recoup the funds.
“Citrus County Republicans overwhelmingly back Chair’s re-election” via Mike Wright of Florida Politics — Members of the Republican Executive Committee packed the annual meeting Monday night and voted overwhelmingly to keep Mike Moberley as Chair over Stephen Mecler, an Inverness resident aligned with the “America First” movement. Citrus County Clerk of Courts Angela Vick was voted in as Vice Chairman over Billy Cayce, president of the Citrus County Republican Club 45. Moberley, whose involvement with the county party includes stints as a state committee member and four prior years as Chair, said the vote solidifies his belief in an inclusive Republican Party in Citrus County. “My philosophy is similar to Ronald Reagan — we are under one big tent and it’s OK to have various opinions,” he said. “We’re working together toward a common goal.”
“Polk County Commissioners reject racetrack plan near Frostproof” via Paul Nutcher of The Ledger — Polk County Commissioners voted 5-0 to overturn the Planning Commission’s approval of a conditional use for a private racetrack on the south shore of Lake Walk In Water. Dressed in red T-shirts, the residents and business owners from the communities around the lake had asked the County Commissioners to vote against a private racetrack. “That’s what we were aiming for was all five,” said resident Brenda Lang after the hearing. Lang and fellow Walk in Water Lake area residents had organized a petition drive, held two community meetings, posted protest signs, hired an attorney, and requested an appeal of the Polk County Planning Commission since its Oct. 5 recommendation to approve the track.
— LOCAL: SW. FL —
“Red tide forecast to cause respiratory irritation in Sarasota, Manatee and Pinellas” via Jesse Mendoza of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune — The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science forecast 36 hours of elevated risk for respiratory irritation caused by red tide along the shores of Sarasota, Manatee and Pinellas counties for 36 hours beginning 9 a.m. Wednesday. The centers also caution that red tide is present in Charlotte and Lee counties and that it could cause respiratory irritation in those areas as well. The red tide bloom originally took hold off the shore of the same communities directly affected by Hurricane Ian’s landfall in October and has continued to spread north along Florida’s Gulf Coast in recent weeks.
“Charlotte County Election Supervisor Paul Stamoulis resigns” via the Port Charlotte Sun — Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections Stamoulis is resigning his position. “It is with great sadness that I submit my resignation as Charlotte County Supervisor of Elections due to health issues, effective immediately,” Stamoulis wrote in a letter to DeSantis on Wednesday. “Hurricane Ian apparently has caused more damage here than that which it inflicted on our homes and voting locations.” Stamoulis credited his staff and 450 poll workers for “pull(ing) off the near impossible” after the hurricane, with 93,000 voters casting ballots for a turnout of 61% — the second-largest Midterm turnout in Charlotte County in more than 20 years.
“Lee County manager, lawyer get pay hikes to more than $300K” via Bill Smith of the Fort Myers News-Press — It what has become an annual event, Lee County Commissioners heaped praise — and significant pay raises — on its top employees Tuesday. County Manager Roger Desjarlais and County Attorney Richard Wesch received 6% increases in pay. Actual dollar salaries were not publicly discussed during the public meeting, but based on prior salary rates and increases, Desjarlais and Wesch will now earn salaries of more than $303,000. Desjarlais will mark his 10th anniversary as County Manager next July 1. The vote to boost pay was 4-0 with Cecil Pendergrass absent. Mike Greenwell, who joined the board in August, did not take part in the annual review.
“Manatee County leaders name 2023 board officers. Here’s who won leadership positions” via Ryan Callihan of the Bradenton Herald — County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge will serve as the Chair of the Manatee County Commission for the second year in a row. On Tuesday, board members voted unanimously to have Van Ostenbridge, who has served in the position since January, lead the board again in 2023. As Chairman of the board, Van Ostenbridge presides over public meetings and signs certain documents on behalf of the board. In recent years, the Chairman position has rotated from one board member to the next. The last time a Chairman went back-to-back was in 2013 and 2014 when former Commissioner Larry Bustle held the title, according to a county spokesperson.
“Sarasota County’s plan to eliminate septic tanks on hold” via Bob Mudge of the Venice Gondolier — Sarasota County still wants to replace septic tanks with sewer system connections, but it won’t be pushing conversions for a while. Before its “Septic to Sewer” plan can be implemented, its sewage treatment plants need to be upgraded to advanced wastewater treatment, Utilities Director Mike Mylett said during a water quality webinar Monday. And that won’t happen for several years at least. Construction of an AWT facility to replace the existing Bee Ridge facility is underway, but won’t be completed until December 2025, said Jill Dallmann, a utility project manager. The cost is $280 million. The Venice Gardens treatment facility is going to be converted to AWT at an estimated cost of $150 million-$200 million, she said.
“‘I promised Diego a home.’ Manatee Habitat for Humanity steps up house-building effort” via James A. Jones Jr. of the Bradenton Herald — Manatee County Habitat for Humanity has not been immune to the problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, including lockdowns, supply chain issues, and the escalating price of land and building materials. In the last six years, Habitat has averaged building two new homes a year in the Bradenton area. This year it built seven — all in Palmetto — and hopes soon to start building 10 homes a year, Bernie Quinn, Manatee Habitat’s president and CEO, said this week. Habitat now has 58 families on a waiting list for homes, and receives 83 inquiries a month, Quinn said. Such is the demand.
— LOCAL: N. FL —
“Jacksonville ‘quality of life’ committee previews final recommendations” via A.G. Gancarski of Florida Politics — A Jacksonville City Council Special Committee charged with “quality of life” issues discussed the draft version of its final report Wednesday, an aspirational document which will be available to the public by the end of the week. The five-person panel, which includes four Republicans and one Democrat, was charged with considering paths forward to address issues like housing insecurity and health care woes. Among the larger recommendations: referendums for “sustainable solutions” for health care, homelessness, and affordable housing issues, such as a recent successful one in Colorado; public-private partnerships to address one or more of these issues; wraparound services; a more aggressive pursuit of dedicated funding, including outside grants; work to remedy transportation shortfalls.
“For bicentennial, a thick new snapshot of Jacksonville’s architecture from Wayne Wood” via Mark Wood of the Florida Times-Union — When I walked across Jacksonville, I asked Wood to join me as I neared the original city boundaries — the 18 acres that Isaiah D. Hart purchased 200 years ago. Wood was a natural walking partner, particularly for this part of what grew into, and is still, the largest city in the contiguous United States. While his career was in optometry, Wood has spent decades looking at Jacksonville’s architecture — researching, writing and thinking about what used to be, what still is, and what could be. We started that leg of my walk north of those original city limits so Wood could show me what he described as “one of the least-known, strange, cool buildings in Jacksonville” — a structure in Brentwood Park that looks like a miniature Parthenon.
“Fernandina Beach pursues Amelia River bulkhead, further shoreline stabilization” via Wes Wolfe of Florida Politics — Fernandina Beach is working through a mixed plan of gray infrastructure using brute force against nature, and sustainable shorelines meant to work in concert with the adjacent environment to mitigate flood risk. The focus this week went to the sea wall component. “The city staff (has) been working with several property owners on North Front Street, and what was presented to the property owners on Aug. 30 was a letter indicating a general desire to work collaboratively for preliminary design and permitting for the location of a bulkhead, as part of the city’s resiliency plan,” City Manager Dale Martin said at the last City Commission meeting.
—“Pensacola Mayor D.C. Reeves asks City Council to recognize Juneteenth as city holiday” via Jim Little of the Pensacola News Journal
— TOP OPINION —
“William Mattox: Florida needs a new A+ Plan in K-12 education” via Florida Politics — More than 20 years ago, Florida adopted an A+ Plan for K-12 Education, under the leadership of Gov. Jeb Bush. This ambitious initiative included Florida’s first K-12 scholarship program and proved to be an extraordinary success.
It helped set up Florida as a national leader in student outcomes.
While the impact of that original A+ Plan has been incredibly far-reaching, some Florida families have yet to benefit directly from school choice — or to benefit fully from all that a skillfully-crafted education choice policy could bring.
Thus, a New A+ Plan is needed — and it should be designed to provide universal coverage for all students, real choices for families that lack them, and new opportunities for those living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Specifically, Florida’s New A+ Plan for K-12 Education should offer flexible-use scholarships to all Florida families (that’s the A) with weighted funding for special populations, including those living in Title I neighborhoods that need revitalization (that’s the Plus).
Such a policy would be especially well-suited for today’s post-COVID “new normal,” in which parents are exploring new ways to educate their children.
Research points to an often-overlooked benefit of school choice — it can help localities attract and/or retain upwardly-mobile residents that significantly contribute to the life of the community. And the long-term effects of such policies could be even more powerful if state policymakers were to make scholarship programs more flexible.
— OPINIONS —
“DeSantis’s war on woke puts BlackRock on the front line” via the Financial Times editorial board — The moves are pure political theater. Regardless, for BlackRock, they have created a policy nightmare and a patchwork of liability across the U.S., let alone the rest of the world. There are signs that such posturing is having its desired effect. Vanguard, a rival to BlackRock, announced Wednesday that it is leaving the financial alliance that aims to tackle climate change and which has attracted Republican ire. Financially, the moves risk harming the ordinary working people that DeSantis and the 19 state attorneys general claim to be fighting for. If pension funds have to sell their holdings to exit BlackRock during the current downturn in the market, that will only lock in losses for pension holders. States could face lawsuits if pension holders took a hit.
“DeSantis derangement syndrome is getting stronger by the day” via Rich Lowry of National Review — DeSantis is gaining ground, not just in the polls and among Republican donors, but by another key measure — the derangement primary. An important and unmistakable sign of the potency of a Republican presidential candidate is the kind of treatment that he or she gets in the press and among antagonistic commentators. If it is muted or even respectful, it’s a sign of weakness; if it is feverish and absurd, it’s a sign of strength. By this metric, the Florida Governor is getting bigger practically by the day.
“Investigations, scandals suggest Florida should think twice — at least — before paying company $1.5M” via Peter Schorsch of Florida Politics — As we enter the season of giving, it seems that employees of a Mississippi-based accounting firm with a lucrative Florida contract have allegedly been caught gifting themselves funds intended to help citizens in need. The firm, Horne LLP, is currently facing possible investigation following reports that some employees intentionally mismanaged the administration of a federal $147 million relief fund for Louisiana homeowners, receiving money themselves from the very grant program they were contracted to administer for individuals in actual need.
“Former Assistant State Attorney shows integrity by quitting” via John A. Torres of Florida Today — Earlier this year, Judge Steven Henderson declared a mistrial in a felony battery trial due to prosecutorial misconduct by prosecutor Byron Aven. Assistant State Attorney Chris Cusmano was helping Aven in the case, serving as the second chair, when it was revealed that Aven knowingly presented false information that contradicted a surveillance video he refused to show in court. The judge ordered the video played and then declared a mistrial, setting the defendant free. Cusmano waited for Aven to be dismissed from his job but when that didn’t happen, Cusmano said he saw no other choice but to resign himself. He said he couldn’t work in the same office as Aven anymore.
— INSTAGRAM OF THE DAY —
— ALOE —
“Relativity Space’s 3D-printed rocket gets set for Space Coast launch” via Richard Tribou of the Orlando Sentinel — Relativity Space has its mostly 3D-printed Terran 1 rocket on the pad as it looks to complete final tests and get the OK to go for its first launch ever. “Everything that needs to fly with that rocket right now is on that rocket,” said Patrick Svatek, Relativity’s Cape operations and launch site director. He was at Launch Complex 16 on Tuesday with the white fuselage over his shoulder preparing to go vertical for the first time. The Long Beach, California-based startup company’s first entry into the rocket industry is composed of 85% 3D-printed parts, including both stages, the nine first-stage Aeon 1 engines and a single Aeon vacuum engine on the second stage.
To get a glimpse at the 3D-printed rocket, please click on the image below:
— HOLIDAYS —
“Christmas ornament honors gingerbread White House tradition” via Darlene Superville and Nathan Ellgren of The Associated Press — This year’s Christmas ornament from the White House Historical Association honors the tradition of displaying a gingerbread model of the Executive Mansion as part of the holiday decorations at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The 2022 ornament, a gingerbread house shaped like the mansion, honors President Richard Nixon’s administration. It was First Lady Patricia Nixon who first put a gingerbread house on display in the State Dining Room for the holidays. That was long before the talented White House pastry chefs began making hundred-pound replicas of the Executive Mansion. Now, holiday time at the White House would feel incomplete without one.
— HAPPY BIRTHDAY —
Our deepest apologies for missing the great Anna Alexopoulos Farrar‘s birthday yesterday. Best wishes to Allison Ager, our friend Mike Deeson, MSNBC’s Joy-Ann Reid, and Ben Smith.
Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Daniel Dean, Renzo Downey, Jacob Ogles, and Drew Wilson.