Orlando Archives - Florida Politics

Florida Chamber of Commerce endorses John Newstreet for House District 44

The Florida Chamber of Commerce today announces its endorsement of of one of its own, Republican candidate John Newstreet, a Kissimmee chamber executive running in the special election for House District 44.

“John Newstreet understands the importance of free enterprise, and is committed to standing up for jobs and economic growth. He believes in putting Florida’s long-term economy ahead of short-term political fixes, and will work to secure Florida’s future,” Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy for the Florida Chamber, stated in a news release issued by the chamber.

Newstreet is president and chief executive officer of the Kissimmee/Osceola Cunty Chamber of Commerce.

He faces Winter Garden small businessman and former city commissioner Bobby Olszewski, small businessman Bruno Portigliatti, and emergency room physician Dr. Usha Jain in the Aug. 15 Republican primary to fill the HD 44 seat vacated when Republican state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle resigned to take a judicial appointment.

In its press release, the Florida Chamber called Newstreet,  “fully engaged in helping make Florida more competitive” and said it “is proud to endorse him for the Florida House.”

“I am honored to receive this endorsement,” Newstreet said in the press release. “The Florida Chamber of Commerce and I share the common goals of making Florida the best state in the country to do business, create jobs and to provide a world class education that prepares our young people for a bright future.”

Prosecutors seek to keep charge against Pulse gunman’s wife

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to keep an obstruction charge against the wife of the Orlando nightclub shooter.

Prosecutors this week filed a response to a request from Noor Salman to dismiss a count she’s facing.

Salman was charged with aiding her husband, and obstruction for allegedly misleading investigators.

The obstruction charge was filed in a federal district that covers Orlando, but she’s accused of misleading investigators during an interview in Fort Pierce, which is in the Southern District of Florida.

Salman argued that the obstruction charge was filed in the wrong venue.

Prosecutors say Orlando is the proper place since that is where the investigation and court proceedings are taking place.

Forty-nine people were killed after Salman’s husband, Omar Mateen, opened fire at the Pulse nightclub last year.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Stephanie Murphy, Democrats, ask Donald Trump for overdue, mandated national security statement

Winter Park’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and other leaders of the Democrats’ House of Representatives national security task force have issued a request that President Donald Trump issue a national security policy statement that is mandated by law and overdue.

“Given the rapidly-changing threats to our nation, this administration must demonstrate it has a comprehensive strategy to protect the homeland and our nation’s interests abroad,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by her office Wednesday.

Under federal law, within 150 days of taking office, a new president must provide Congress—and, by extension, the American public—with a report that sets forth “the national security strategy of the United States,” according to her release. That deadline passed on June 19, 2017, it points out.

Murphy, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is one of three chairs of the recently-formed Democratic Caucus National Security Task Force. She and the other two chairs, U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Jimmy Panetta of California, sent a letter to Trump on Monday reminding him of the missed deadline and urging him to get the statement to Congress. They have not received a reply.

“We are growing increasingly concerned that you have yet to delineate a strategy to guide foreign policy decision-making and have yet to nominate or achieve confirmation of individuals for key national security positions who are needed to develop and execute that strategy,” the trio stated in the letter.

The trio cited U.S. Code – Unannotated Title 50, War and National Defense § 3043, entitled, “Annual national security strategy report.”

“As envisioned by Congress, the National Security Strategy is intended to be a practical document that guides the real-world conduct of our military planners, intelligence officials, homeland security professionals, diplomats, and aid workers. To craft the National Security Strategy, a new presidential administration must identify our national security objectives with precision, prioritize those objectives, and then present a realistic, whole-of-government plan to achieve those objectives with the resources available,” the letter reads. A good National Security Strategy will explain both the broad principles that underlie the administration’s approach to foreign policy and the specific steps that the administration intends to take to address discrete threats.

“In light of the complex web of challenges that the United States confronts, the need for your administration to swiftly prepare and submit a National Security Strategy is acute,” the letter continues. “We are particularly interested in the administration’s strategy to deter and denuclearize North Korea; to defeat ISIL and its affiliates on the field of battle and in the realm of ideas; to stabilize Syria and Iraq; to ensure that Iran complies with its nuclear-related obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and reduces its support for terrorist organizations; to counter Russian aggression pursued through both military and non-military means; to turn the tide in Afghanistan; and to address emerging national security threats, such as cyberwarfare and climate change.”

“Without this document, we’re essentially flying blind with no sense of priorities,” Murphy stated in her release. “I urge President Trump to submit his national security strategy as soon as possible so that we can work together more effectively in keeping America safe.”

Court grills Aramis Ayala lawyer over avoidance of death penalty

A dubious-sounding Florida Supreme Court shellacked Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s lawyer during oral arguments Wednesday, questioning her prosecutorial “discretion” in not seeking the death penalty.

“I don’t even see a gray area,” Justice R. Fred Lewis said. “It seems to me that ‘discretion’ is not to ignore Florida law.”

Justice Barbara Pariente also raised concerns over “equal enforcement of the death penalty statute,” suggesting that Ayala created a legal oasis in which murderers will never face the ultimate punishment.

Ayala, elected last year, unilaterally took “the death penalty off the table in the 9th (Judicial) Circuit … (and) she didn’t run on that platform.”

Attorneys for Ayala, who attended Wednesday’s hearing in Tallahassee, and lawyers for Gov. Rick Scott debated Ayala’s request that the court order the governor to return capital punishment cases he reassigned to neighboring 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

Ayala is a Democrat; Scott and King are Republicans.

Her attorney, Roy Austin, argued that no law requires her to seek an execution in any given murder case. Austin, who’s been a civil-rights lawyer with the U.S. Justice Department and aide to President Barack Obama, said Scott should be ordered to return the 24 death penalty-eligible cases he took away from her office.

But Justice Charles Canady, a member of the court’s conservative-leaning minority, countered: “That discretion has to be exercised on a case-by-case basis, rather than a blanket policy … It’s a very absolutist position you are taking.”

Florida Solicitor General Amit Agarwal, who argued his case without notes, represented Scott. He told the court there was “no prinicipled (way) to defend a blanket policy.”

The conflict fight began in March when Ayala said her office would no longer seek the death penalty, explaining the process is costly, it’s not a crime deterrent and it drags on for years for the victims’ relatives. House Republicans soon castigated her and moved to strip funding from her office.

She announced her decision as her office was starting to build a case against Markeith Loyd in the fatal shooting of an Orlando police lieutenant and his pregnant ex-girlfriend.

“No one individual has the right … to make a policy judgment that has practical effect of nullifying” the state’s capital punishment scheme, Agarwal said. “… No one has done what the petitioner has done here, to say ‘in my mind, (the death penalty) should never be enforced.’ “

Agarwal also said Scott gave Ayala an opportunity to recuse herself from death penalty cases, which she declined.

“And reassignment doesn’t let the governor tell prosecutors how to pursue a case,” he said, adding that Scott can’t “micromanage” murder prosecutions.

After the hearing, Austin told reporters “the law is very clear here.”

“There’s nothing that requires a case-by-case decision,” he said. “There’s nothing in the law that requires her to seek the death penalty.”

Ayala spoke briefly, defending her decision to abstain from seeking executions as punishment, saying she was never “given a blueprint.”

The justices did not give a timeline on when they will rule.

(This post includes background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.)

Rick Scott, Aramis Ayala fight heads to state high court

Does Florida’s governor have the power to take away a prosecutor’s case if he disagrees with a decision not to seek the death penalty?

The state’s highest court will hear arguments Wednesday over that question in a legal fight between Gov. Rick Scott and State Attorney Aramis Ayala, whose district covers the Orlando area.

Their fight began in March when Ayala, a Democrat, said her office would no longer seek the death penalty, explaining the process is costly, it’s not a crime deterrent and it drags on for years for the victims’ relatives. Ayala announced her decision as her office was starting to build a case against Markeith Loyd in the fatal shooting of an Orlando police lieutenant and his pregnant ex-girlfriend. With her decision, Ayala, intentionally or not, thrust herself into the forefront of the anti-death penalty movement.

Scott, a Republican, responded by reassigning her office’s death penalty cases to a prosecutor in a neighboring district, and top Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee announced budget cuts to Ayala’s office.

A spokeswoman for Ayala this week said she wouldn’t be talking about the case before the hearing.

In court papers, Ayala argued that it was unlawful for Scott to take away her cases since she is independently elected by voters, and that he could only remove her from cases for “good and sufficient reason,” none of which were present in their disagreement over the death penalty.

“Removing an elected prosecutor from a case because of a disagreement over her exercise of discretion is unprecedented,” Ayala’s attorneys said in court papers. “Every day state attorneys here in Florida make important decision on who to charge, what to charge, and what to prioritize. Giving the governor the tremendous and unfettered discretion to interfere in that decision making, would be unprecedented and could undermine the entire justice system in Florida.”

Scott argued in court papers that Ayala is refusing to follow Florida law by making a blanket decision not to seek the death penalty, and that her decision sets a dangerous precedent.

“The novel and extraordinary constitutional authority Ayala asserts, if accepted, will not just apply to prosecutors who decline to enforce the state’s death penalty laws. It will also apply to prosecutors who disagree with other kinds of criminal laws and penalties, including, for example, hate-crimes enhancements, laws that ban the open carrying of firearms and campaign finance regulations,” Scott’s attorneys said in court papers.

Florida’s death penalty has been in flux for the past year or so.

Executions in Florida ground to a halt last year after the U.S. Supreme Court declared the state’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges. The Florida Legislature responded by overhauling the law to let the death penalty be imposed by at least a 10-2 jury vote. The state Supreme Court struck down the law and required unanimous jury decisions for capital punishment. Earlier this year, the Legislature passed a bill requiring a unanimous jury recommendation.

Ayala, who previously worked as a public defender and prosecutor, was a virtual unknown when she ran for state attorney last year. With an infusion of more than $1 million from a Washington-based political action committee with ties to liberal Hungarian-born U.S. billionaire George Soros, Ayala unseated the incumbent state attorney in the Democratic primary and became Florida’s first African-American state attorney.

In her campaign, she promised to listen to communities that hadn’t had a voice in the past. Given that Florida’s death sentence was in a legal holding pattern at the time, capital punishment never came up during Ayala’s campaign.

A host of civil rights activists and legal scholars have come out in support of Ayala. Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Florida House, and other state attorneys, have denounced her decision.

“Ms. Ayala effectively abolished the death penalty … by implementing a hard-and-fast rule that removes her decision-making on a case-by-case basis, which is beyond the scope of her prosecutorial independence and discretion,” the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys said in court papers.

Ayala has also sued Scott in federal court, but asked it to wait until the Florida Supreme Court lawsuit is resolved.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Teresa Jacobs outlines $5 million ‘sports bid fund’ for Orlando

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has outlined her vision for a “sports bid fund” that would use the $5 million approved last year to try to attract major sporting events to Orlando, like January’s NFL’s Pro Bowl Game, which was snagged last year in an ad-hoc manner leading to the desire create such a formal fund.

That means Orange County and Orlando will have up to $5 million available to spend to bid on big sporting events, or small ones, for that matter.

Jacobs’ released a memo and an outline of fund rules Monday afternoon, a work day after the next opportunity for a sports event bid came to light, and too late to do much about it. Nonetheless, on Friday she and the rest of the Orange County Tourist Development Commission pushed forward an interim plan that could make up to $350,000 available to organizers to try to attract the 2019 Major League Soccer All Star game to Orlando.

The Orange County Sports Bid Fund would tap into tourist development tax money set aside for the opportunities. Last November the county approved $5 million for start-up money, and committed $2 million a year for subsequent years.

“This level of sports incentive funding significantly increased the county’s commitment in attracting major athletic events,” Jacobs declared in her memo.

The idea emerged last year when Jacobs found herself in a spring- and summer-long battle with tourism leaders and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer about how how to spend the county’s robust tourism money, which the county controls, but which the city and various sports, arts, convention, entertainment, tourism marketing, and hospitality organizations want more of. During that battle Orlando and Orange County got the chance to attract the NFL Pro Bowl Game away from Hawaii, and did so. But the infighting led to a rework of the county’s tourism tax plan.

That rework included the notion of creating a permanent fund to go after such sporting events with dedicated money, and presumably with less bickering and more concrete process.

Under Jacobs plan unveiled Monday, the fund would be available for sports organizers to request, to cover promotion, marketing, programming, advertising, bid fees, and direct incentive payments, and to backstop certain event losses. It could not be used for general expenses, capital costs, debt, hospitality functions, travel and lodging costs, or transportation.

Events would be judged on their potential to draw visitors and add to the economy. Small events, those that project less than $10 million in economic impact, could seek up to $25,000 in tax dollar assistance. “Regular” events, those that project $10 million to $50 million in economic impact, could be eligible for up to $137,500. “Signature” events, those envisioning more than $50 million in economic impact, would have no explicit limits on what they could seek, and would be funded on a case-by-case basis.

Event attendees and hotel room nights also would be factored into the equations to determine how much money an event organizer could seek. Also to be considered are media exposure prospects, broadcast reach, social media opportunities, hotel capacity at that time of the year, and any incentives for future events.

The MLS All Star Game bid organizers, including the Central Florida Sports Commission and the Orlando City Soccer Club, came in last week asking for up to $350,0o0 guaranteed, to backstop potential losses, should they attract the 2019 MLS All Star Game. The timetable for that bid is too tight for the entire process Jacobs introduced Monday, especially since she delayed release of the Sports Bid Fund guidelines for months. So she and the council agreed to ask the Orange County Board of Commissioners to consider the request at an August meeting.

She also expects the framework she released Monday to be adopted at that meeting.

After that, such requests would go through a Sports Bid Fund advisory board Jacobs outlined.

She caught criticism Friday when word got out that she was intending to announce the program this week, after it had sat in limbo for months, and too late for it to be fully used for the MLS All Star Game opportunity.

Jacobs had defended her decision Friday, and did so again Monday in her memorandum, by saying that the Florida Legislature was considering proposals this spring that could have affected how tourist tax money could be spent. So she wanted to wait until the Legislative Session and the Special Session ended before launching it.

“I would like to point out that the Sports Bid Fund evaluation criteria contained in this memo are based on strong accountability and transparency measures as were discussed during the 2017 Legislative Session,” she wrote in the memo. “We now are at a point where we can start to provide the necessary structure for this new program.”

The framework she released outlines what she called accountability, transparency and governance rules, which she said would include “robust reporting and post-event audit requirements.”

The guidelines also outline the goals, which include attracting “best” events, supporting the tourism industry, and bringing events for local citizens.

An advisory council, which would report to the Orange County Board of Commissioners, would hear the proposals and oversee their evaluations. The council members are to include a chair appointed by the mayor, and six specialists appointed by the commission: a citizen representative, a theme park representative, a financial or accounting representative, a Visit Orlando representative, a Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association representative, and an International Drive Chamber of Commerce representative.

Critics on Friday questioned why she

Stephanie Murphy seeks to rework ESOL funding to account for Puerto Ricans in Florida

Democratic U.S. Sen. Stephanie Murphy said Monday she intends to introduce legislation that would rework how the federal government provides funding for English as a second language programs, in order to account for incoming Spanish-speaking students from Puerto Rico.

Appearing at a Puerto Rico forum in Orlando Monday morning, Murphy, of Winter Park, said the current federal formulas weigh students moving in from foreign countries who do not speak English, but do not account adequately for Spanish-speaking students who move from Puerto Rico.

Last year more than 1,200 new Puerto Rico students enrolled in English as a second language programs in Orange County alone.

“Puerto Rico, of course, is not a foreign country. So students who move from the island to Florida are not sufficiently counted in that formula,” Murphy told the gathering. “And therefore Florida and Central Florida specifically does not receive the amount of funding it should. In the coming days I will file a bill in Congress to fix this formula. Our children deserve a first-class education, and I hope this bill, if enacted into law, will help.”

The panel discussion, which included Democratic state Sen. Victor Torres of Orlando, Orange County School Board Member Joie Cadle and Republican Anthony Suarez, president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Central Florida, provided a broad chat on issues ranging from statehood, to equality in federal funding, to migration to Florida, but not much depth.

Murphy reiterated her position of supporting statehood as “the next logical step for Puerto Rico,’ cautioning, however, “you’ll never hear me criticize those who support independence.”

Torres raised questions he said Puerto Ricans are asking about the potential of statehood – notably, will it help or hurt islanders?

Citing curiosity from his uncle recently visiting from Ponce, Torres offered, “What we need to know in Puerto Rico is, what is statehood gonna do to us? What is the benefit of statehood? Is this deficit going to be addressed? The Medicaid problem? The other issues we face here?”

Observer Peter Vivaldi, a Republican who ran against Torres last year, expressed disappointment afterwards that Murphy continues to express support for statehood but said she offers no action on the issue.

Prior to the panel discussion, when a reporter asked what Congress might do about potential statehood,  or what she might do to promote it, Murphy did not answer specifically. When another reporter asked about a Republican-dominated Congress showing no interest in Puerto Rico becoming a 51st state, she replied, “I believe that now that they [Puerto Rico voters] have overwhelmingly voted for statehood, it’s not a question of whether Puerto Rico becomes a state, but when. I look forward to supporting the government of Puerto Rico as well as their delegate in Congress as they try to seek to advance that.”

Vivaldi said he thought there would be more discussion about statehood, but much of the panel discussion covered other Puerto Rico topics.

“I heard the congresswoman’s statement, where she stands. I understand she is for the people of Puerto Rico…. She understands the issue going on, but I also would like to hear more of the fight in her,” Vivaldi said. “Just coming out and doing a press conference, or doing statements is not enough. We want to see the vote. We want to see Congress in action.”

That also underscored an exchange earlier between Torres and Suarez, with Torres blaming Republicans for holding up any Puerto Rico action in Congress, and Suarez reminding him that the Republican platform actually calls for statehood for Puerto Rico.

“The proof will be in the pudding,” Suarez said.

Teresa Jacobs not talking about possible CD 7 run, but expresses a glimmer of interest in CFO run

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said Friday she’s not currently talking to anyone about running for Congress against Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy and expressed little immediate enthusiasm for the prospect.

While also disclosing no immediate activity for either race, Jacobs appeared to show at least a glimmer of interest in running for the Florida Chief Financial Officer position in 2018.

Jacobs, who is term-limited out at the end of 2018 from the mayor’s position, has been widely viewed as a Republican with higher office potential in her future, and in recent weeks has been widely rumored to be a possible candidate in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, the northern Orange and Seminole counties district where Murphy won an upset over 12-term Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica last fall.

Jacobs also is known as a politician who keeps her political ambitions tightly guarded.

On Friday, following an Orange County Tourist Development Commission meeting, she dismissed any immediate ambitions and insisted she has not decided yet what she would like to do after her mayoral term expires.

“I’m not asking around. I haven’t made any decisions at this point about what I mean to do when I leave,” Jacobs said.

When asked if she has any interest at all in running for Congress, she said, “I think it’s premature to answer that question.”

Other Republicans considering a run have expressed far more immediate interest, but no one has filed yet. On Thursday state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park said he is “seriously considering” the prospect. This spring state Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs said he was “98 percent certain” he would run.

What about CFO in 2018?

“I’m not certain. I haven’t ruled that out, but the only thing that I know is whatever I do whether it’s public sector or private sector, my goal is to do something that is meaningful,” Jacobs said. “I mean, I had a job for ten years (in banking) in the private sector; paid well, but I didn’t come home at night feeling I was having a positive impact in people’s lives. And that’s what I’ve been able to do for the last seven years.”


HD 44 special election candidates debate health care, education, marijuana, tourism support

Stark differences of policy positions were evident between the one Democrat and three of the four Republicans running to fill the open Florida House District 44 seat but the differences between the Republicans proved more subtle in a debate Friday, boiling down to who claimed the strongest ownership of particular GOP positions.

The debate sponsored by the West Orange Chamber of Commerce in Ocoee, pitted Democrat Paul Chandler and Republicans Usha Jain, John Newstreet, and Bobby Olszewski, while Republican Bruno Portigliatti sent his regrets.

A few hours after the debate, the West Orange Political Alliance, the political arm of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce, announced it had endorsed Newstreet.

With a question asking how they expected to address the estimated 13 percent of Floridians who are without medical insurance as the Affordable Care Act faces repeal, Olszewski said the state needs to focus on “smart business principles.”

“We need to assure that we have less regulation, to be able to work closely with our insurance companies and our providers. And I think the focus needs to be on preventive medicine. We have a shining example of that here in our own community, with Healthy West Orange, and how they are partnering with West Orange Community Health Care District, and working with our local hospitals and community organizations like the YMCA,” Olszewski said. “When we open up the insurance with competition, and work with our providers with preventive medicine, working with opening up the insurance borders, I think we’ll see a better result here in our home state of Florida.”

Newstreet pointed to his experience as a veteran working within the Veterans Affairs health system.

“As a chamber executive [president of the Kissimmee-Osceola County Chamber of Commerce] I have five hospital facilities within Osceola County and I interact with their CEOs. With the state legislature angle, it’s important we begin with the end in mind. In that regard, I think if the aim to lower costs, to improve outcomes, there definitely is some more work to be done there,” Newstreet said. “Some of the things the Legislature looked at this past session that I think will merit further scrutiny, direct primary care, telemedicine, and as alluded to earlier, preventive care and well-being care programs.”

Jain pointed out that while Olszewski and Newstreet may know hospitals and doctors, she is a doctor — an urgent and emergency care physician in the community for 37 years.
“I have been associated with this issue more than anybody because I see these patients crying; they do not have insurance, they have been waiting in the hospital for many hours,” she said. “That is one of the reasons I am running. I cannot see patients being turned away for not getting care. If you don’t get care, you’ll die. Every citizen should have the right to choose their insurance. We have to have competition. And I want to have a state facility where people can be treated whether you have insurance or not.”

Chandler, who owns a medical billing and data management company, said the answer still lies with getting Florida to include the Medicaid expansion offered in Obamacare. “And the second thing I want to work on is expanding mental health resources and support for mental health treatment centers. Florida is the third most-populous state in the country, yet we’re last in mental health spending,” Chandler said.

The four all pledged support for public education and insisted they consider education critical, with Olszewski and Newstreet pointing out they are the sons of teachers and are married to teachers, and Chandler pointing out he used to be a teacher.

Jain responded with empathy for teachers, saying that her “heart goes out to the people teaching our kids. Where they are, they are not getting enough … Everybody should be paid according to what they do.”

Newstreet and Jain both expressed their personal opposition to medical marijuana and while accepting that it is the law in Florida, both said they would work to keep the program from expanding. Newstreet and Olszewski both said the state must work closely with local governments to make sure they have the tools they need to have local safeguards in place.

“As a Coast Guard veteran where my comrades to this day continue to interdict and fight the drug trade, I can’t support this,” Newstreet said. “But it is the law of the land.”

One of the state’s licensed grower-producer-marketer of marijuana products, Knox Medical, is located in Winter Garden, within HD 44.

Chandler expressed strong support for the medical marijuana program and chastised Republicans for not making more of a priority of last fall’s overwhelming approval of Constitution Amendment 2.

And, Chandler added, medical marijuana should be more available to help people reliant on addictive “painkillers and opiates, which have overdoses and kill people.”

All four expressed strong support for funding for Visit Florida, which the Florida Legislature nearly cut by $25 million amid reports and allegations that it had become an out-of-control and unaccountable agency.

House District 44 is home to Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Orlando.

“I think we have a couple of theme parks in House District 44, don’t we?” Olszewski said when asked if he supported Visit Florida. “There is no doubt we need to fund VISIT Florida, but being financially responsible.”

Chandler said VISIT Florida marketing actually contributed to his decision to move to Florida from St. Louis 15 years ago.

Newstreet called tourism the area’s “lifeblood,” and said the tourism community “will have no better friend in Tallahassee than me.”

Orlando may make pitch for 2019 Major League Soccer All-Star Game

Orlando is readying a pitch to attract the 2019 Major League Soccer All-Star Game but organizers could need $350,000 in backing from public funds and if they get that they’ll have to do it Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs‘ way.

At Friday’s Tourist Development Council meeting, which Jacobs chairs, she lashed out at organizers for coming in late and through what she described as inappropriate protocol seeking county tourism tax support for the bid.

The bid must be filed with the league by August 25.

Jacobs’ refused to allow the council, an advisory board to the Orange County Commission, to vote to support any financial backing for the project.

Even while doing so, she insisted that she very much wants to see Orlando apply for and host the game, which would be sometime in July or August of 2019.

Instead, she worked out an alternative way the county could offer tourist tax guarantees to cover any possible losses up to $350,000, and the council voted unanimously to encourage the county commission to “take whatever actions deemed appropriate and necessary to bring the MLS All-Star game for 2019 here to Central Florida.”

That alternative cuts public notice timetables to the bear minimum; if they’re not met, the arrangement could force her to call a special meeting of the Orange County Commission in late August, and she said she’d be willing to do so.

She also made it clear that she has no intention of just giving organizers the money, and will require an audit to show that any losses up to $350,000 are legitimate.

The Central Florida Sports Commission, backed by the Orlando City Soccer Club, came in Friday with a request for county backing that would have had the Tourist Development Council vote to support the deal committing $350,000, and then have the county rush the proposal as an ordinance amending the county’s tourism tax plan in time for the August 25 deadline.

No, Jacobs said, as Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Tourist Development Council member who argued briefly for that deal, looked on. Jacobs, who last year found herself at odds with Dyer, Orlando’s big theme parks, Orlando’s big hoteliers and others who wanted pieces of the tourism tax, has insisted on being a stickler for county rules and she held that position again Friday, even as she expressed her own enthusiasm for the MLS soccer game.

“We didn’t think we were in a position to do that because we didn’t really know they were coming in with this until, literally, Monday,” Jacobs said later. “And when did realize they wanted a commitment of $ 350,000 we didn’t have the time at that point to get the information we needed to analyze it the way would normally do to bring it forward with a recommendation. So one, it fell short of the timeframe for publicly noticing it that we adhere to, and it fell short of the timeframe we needed to thoroughly evaluate the request.”

The alternative funding process has been in the works since last year, a proposal to create a special “Sports Marketing Bid Fund” to make tourism tax available for just such opportunities. Five million dollars was allocated to that fund. But the proposal has been mired for months, and awaits an advisory board that is no where near ready to be appointed. This time – a one-time only situation, Jacobs said – she would support giving the MLS proposal backers the opportunity to dip into that fund without going before an advisory board, but only if Visit Orlando reviewed the proposal and made a staff recommendation as to whether it would make sense.

That could be approved at the August Orange County Commission meeting. The commission is not scheduled to meet on August 8 or 15 due to the typical August recess.


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