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Set ombudsman program free, don't tighten the leash

20 November 2011

Raise the white flag. Put the nail in the coffin. The fat lady has sung.

Pick whatever colloquialism you want to fill in the blank, but a vote by the governor's assisted-living facility "task farce" recently all but sealed Gov. Rick Scott's decision to tighten the leash on Florida's lone watchdog group designed to safeguard nursing-home and assisted-living facility residents from abuse and neglect.

By shackling these volunteer advocates, our governor endangers residents.

For the past few months, Florida's Office of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman has been under intense media and political scrutiny after a federal investigation lambasted the state, namely the Department of Elder Affairs, for breaking federal laws that protect long-term-care facility residents. Yet the scrutiny has not changed the way the department does its business.

The report, by the Administration on Aging, criticized how the department fired volunteers, muzzled information meant to alert consumers about poor care in facilities and scuttled legislative proposals that would have improved resident safeguards. Florida law prohibits "willful interference" but also classifies it as a crime, warranting a second-degree misdemeanor for offenders.

I am one of those wrongfully fired volunteers who advocated for the elderly.

While each of these issues is disheartening, collectively they are part of a much bigger problem, ombudsman independence.

You see, for an ombudsman program to be truly effective, it must have the liberty to be the town crier when nursing-home conditions decline, when regulatory agencies fail to do their jobs, and when laws must be changed to protect residents from poor care. If it doesn't have that freedom, residents have no advocate.

This administration's meddling was so blatant in stymying the ombudsmen that the feds charged, "The State of Florida, as openly asserted by Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) leadership, does not support the spirit of the Older Americans Act that the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman has the independence to take positions representing the interests of long-term-care facility residents, which may be contrary to the positions of DOEA, sister agencies or the governor."

Since the report's release, numerous editorials have beckoned the governor and the Legislature to create a more independent ombudsman.

The Legislature seems to be helping.

On Thursday, lawmakers questioned state officials about ombudsman independence as part of a joint-committee hearing seeking to improve assisted-living-facility quality. Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, demanded that the ombudsman program be unhampered in its defense of residents' rights, especially in its ability to communicate information to the media.

In response to legislators, Elder Affairs' Secretary Charles Corley boasted about altered policies that will guarantee ombudsman independence. However, policies can say one thing today and be altered to say something else tomorrow.

Revised procedures just don't cut it.

Residents, families, consumers and volunteer ombudsmen must have confidence in their advocate. Firewalls must be erected legislatively to protect the program from any future political sabotage.

An executive order by the governor would offer some protection until independence is cemented in Florida law. Until that happens, it will be open season on the ombudsman program.

I plead with the governor to hear the cry of the residents and their families and release the volunteer watchdogs.

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Florida "reformers" use decoys, spread unions thin to shield their virtual schooling efforts, new report claims

17 November 2011

The Nation magazine has just published an investigative report, How Online Learning Companies Bought America's Schools, that is sure to get Florida's education and policy communities talking.

In it, the reporters describe Florida as ground zero for an assault by business entities seeking to take over public schooling. Patricia Levesque, who heads Jeb Bush's education foundation, plays a key role in the story, advising corporate leaders on how to win their battle by overwhelming the opposition with decoy legislation to allow the true mission to fly "under the radar."

"Despite the clear conflict of interest between her lobbying clients and her philanthropic goals, Levesque and her team have led a quiet but astonishing national transformation. Lobbyists like Levesque have made 2011 the year of virtual education reform, at last achieving sweeping legislative success by combining the financial firepower of their corporate clients with the seeming legitimacy of privatization-minded school-reform think tanks and foundations. Thanks to this synergistic pairing, policies designed to boost the bottom lines of education-technology companies are cast as mere attempts to improve education through technological enhancements, prompting little public debate or opposition. In addition to Florida, twelve states have expanded virtual school programs or online course requirements this year. This legislative juggernaut has coincided with a gold rush of investors clamoring to get a piece of the K-12 education market. It's big business, and getting bigger: One study estimated that revenues from the K-12 online learning industry will grow by 43 percent between 2010 and 2015, with revenues reaching $24.4 billion."

"In Florida, only fourteen months after Crist handed a major victory to teachers unions, a new governor, Rick Scott, signed a radical bill that could have the effect of replacing hundreds of teachers with computer avatars. Scott, a favorite of the Tea Party, appointed Levesque as one of his education advisers. His education law expanded the Florida Virtual School to grades K-5, authorized the spending of public funds on new for-profit virtual schools and created a requirement that all high school students take at least one online course before graduation."

Many of these same players popped up this week with a new $30 million charter school startup fund that they are backing, along with money from the state's Race to the Top grant. Visit the Gradebook this weekend for an interview with one of the leaders of the Florida-Charter School Growth Fund.

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Fla. hired law firm with ties to Gov. Scott

15 November 2011

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida has spent nearly a half-million dollars - and could spend even more - with a large, well-known law firm that has connections to both the Republican Party of Florida as well as Gov. Rick Scott.

Since August the state has paid nearly $400,000 to the law firm of Alston and Bird to defend a new state law that requires public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to the state pension fund.

The firm was hired at the urging of the Scott administration which asked Attorney General Pam Bondi to approve paying the firm hourly rates at $495 an hour or nearly $300 more than what is normally allowed.

The Scott administration and Bondi have defended the hiring of the firm, saying it specializes in the kind of litigation that the state is now involved in.

But the firm's roster also includes a one-time business associate of Scott.

While not working directly on the lawsuit, a senior counsel with the firm's Washington D.C. office is Thomas Scully. Scully is also a general partner with the New York investment firm of Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe. That's the investment firm that this June purchased Scott's shares in Solantic, a chain of urgent care clinics the governor started back in 2001.

Scully, who once led the Federation of American Hospitals, was appointed to the board of directors of Solantic back in 2008.

Scott last year valued his shares in Solantic at $62 million. He initially transferred his ownership interest to his wife's revocable trust prior to taking office in January. But then Scott sold the shares amid questions as to whether he could benefit financially from state efforts to privatize Medicaid and require drug testing for welfare recipients. Scott maintained that Solantic would not seek state contracts and said he was just too busy as governor to spend time overseeing business interests.

Scott, the former head of the massive Columbia/HCA hospital chain, said that he has known Scully for 20 years. But he said on Tuesday that he didn't know that Scully worked for Alston and Bird.

"I knew that he was with a firm in D.C. but I didn't know the name of the firm," Scott told The Associated Press.

Alston and Bird has offices in Brussels and across the nation, including Atlanta, but none in Florida. The firm is involved in a wide-range of areas, ranging from work it did as an examiner on the bankruptcy of Enron to lobbying in Washington D.C.

The firm conducted a forensic audit last year on behalf of the Republican Party of Florida that concluded that former Gov. Charlie Crist and former party chairman Jim Greer had misspent party money. Crist, who bolted the Republican Party last spring to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent, blasted the audit at the time and denied he let the party pay for vacations he took.

Federal campaign records from last year and early this year show that the Republican Party paid nearly $200,000 to Alston and Bird for its work.

Alston and Bird was first hired by the state back in early August after the Florida Education Association, other public employee unions and several individual workers asked a court to strike down the law that requires public employees to start contributing to the Florida Retirement System

Bondi's office - which is responsible for defending the state in lawsuits - signed off on a request from the Scott administration to hire the firm and to pay it more than normal hourly rates.

"We thought they were best," said Bondi when asked about it.

But State Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, sharply criticized the hiring and questioned why the state couldn't at least hire a law firm that has offices located in the state.

"Did we have go all the way to D.C. to hire attorneys who get paid at more than twice the normal pay?" Rich said.

The contract between the state and the law firm caps the total compensation at $500,000. So far the state has paid out $391,000, a spokesman for the Department of Management Services said.

But Jason Dimitris, general counsel for the agency, said the state is likely to offer Alston and Bird a second contract since the first one only covered the trial at the circuit court level. Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford has not yet ruled on the pension lawsuit, but the case is expected to be appealed by the losing side.

Dimitris said that everyone involved in the litigation agreed on hiring Alston and Bird initially because of the "complex" nature of the pension lawsuit.

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Scott’s job czar to lawmakers: Don’t judge us by adding up jobs

15 November 2011

Although Gov. Rick Scott told voters during his campaign to hold him accountable for whether he hits his goal of creating 700,000 jobs in seven years, his top economic development director is telling lawmakers they shouldn't use the same logic to evaluate Florida's tax-incentives for businesses.

Gray Swoope, head of Enterprise Florida and Scott's newly named Commerce Secretary, told Senate budget-writers Tuesday morning that evaluating the state's dozen different financial-incentives can't be judged on whether the total number of jobs created over the last 15 years doesn't add up to what was promised when the deals were announced over the years.

"The math simply didn't work," Swoope told the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Committee.

Swoope and his team are on the defensive because the agency is asking for $230-million in business incentives next year - up from this year's $93 million - even though the governor's new Department of Economic Opportunity is having trouble reconciling the tracking systems for the millions of dollars the state has paid out to businesses that haven't met their job-creation targets in recent years.

Six weeks ago, new DEO director Doug Darling said "millions of dollars" had been paid out to companies that hadn't fulfilled their contracts. The agency then released figures showing that the state paid out $738 million over the past 16 years as part of more than 1,600 job-creation deals signed with companies.

The deals were cumulatively projected to generate more than 224,000 new jobs in exchange for $1.7 billion in tax credits, rebates and other incentives. About 40 percent of them never resulted in a single job, and the companies were paid nothing. Many other deals were only partially successful. In all, agency officials can confirm that only about one-third of the promised jobs were actually created, though many of the contracts are still considered "active" and may add to those numbers.

The agency also provided inaccurate data that suggested some companies had received $23 million in tax dollars and not met their job-creation targets, when in fact most of that money was sitting in escrow accounts and had not been paid to the companies.

"There was a lot of room for improvement," Swoope told lawmakers. "We've looked at a lot of things... We've learned that our system and the way we account for things is outdated."

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, took exception at the meeting with the disclosure of one of the companies - St. Petersburg-based Jabil Circuit - which state data originally said had been paid $12.4 million in state closing fund dollars for a new headquarters it hadn't built. The agency has since admitted it erred in releasing the inaccurate information, although Latvala blamed the Orlando Sentinel for the confusion.

"As we move forward, we're cleaning these programs up so we'll have better accountability and better tracking," Swoope said.

Several lawmakers on the panel - including Senate President-Designate Don Gaetz, R-Niceville - asked Swoope to develop a Web site that would break down how many companies had been paid, and how many jobs they had created.

Gaetz helped drive through the job-agency reform last spring and included requirements for the new jobs agency to do a more complete analysis on the return-on-investment for the last three years that is due next month.

Swoope said he'd rather wait until that December report is completed before committing to building a new Web site.

But Gaetz also took exception with the preliminary look at the performance over the last three years. Senate staff used the data DEO released to suggest that the state had entered into contracts to create some 40,000 jobs when only about 6,000 had been delivered. Although money wasn't paid to many of those companies, the cash committed to them often sits in an escrow account for years.

"We're tying up an extraordinary amount of cash," Gaetz said. "Shouldn't there be from time to time a re-look at deals that haven't matured at all, where nothing has happened, or where very little has happened?"

Swoope defended the tie-up of cash because "a lot of those are still open contracts," and "we have made a conscious decision" to sign contracts with them.

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Rick Scott, Florida Governor, Confused By Tampa Bay Region Name: 'Is That What It Calls Itself?'

3 November 2011
Florida Gov. Rick Scott appeared confused about the Tampa Bay region, the state's second largest metropolitan area, in an informal meeting with reporters Tuesday. The governor was told that the St. Petersburg Times would be changing its name to the Tampa Bay Times.

"Does the region call itself the Tampa Bay region? Is that what it calls itself? The region does?" he said to a few reporters in the governor's office, according to the paper's Buzz blog.

Scott, originally from Illinois, moved to Naples, Florida in 2003. He barely met a seven-year residency requirement when he ran for governor in 2010.

The Tampa Bay region is familiar to many because of its sports teams: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Southwest Airlines, the largest airline flying into Tampa International Airport, lists the destination as Tampa Bay.

Scott's office said his comment "was simply small talk," adding that the governor had thrown out the first pitch at a Rays game and spent time with Buccaneers players. The St. Petersburg Times reporter present, Steve Bosquet, said Tampa Bay "didn't roll off [Scott's] tongue."

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Gov. Rick Scott, Mayor Bob Buckhorn talk convention cash in Tallahassee

2 November 2011
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn met with Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday in Tallahassee to exchange pleasantries, swap details of their upcoming trips to Israel and seek help in providing security at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.

"It was good. I'm sort of doing my first tour up here as mayor," Buckhorn said after he met with Scott and the governor introduced him to key staff members. "I've met him (Scott) socially before, but this was my first real chance to sit down with him."

With former Gov. Bob Martinez, the city's lobbyist, at his side, Buckhorn sought Scott's intervention in Tampa getting $55 million from the federal government to help defray the costs of security at the GOP event in August. The mayor said the city will need to hire 4,000 law enforcement personnel, a $25 million expenditure.

"We're hoping the federal government will get moving and get moving quickly on it," Buckhorn said. "I don't have $55 million lying around."

Scott later told reporters he has already raised the issue with several members of the Florida congressional delegation and will continue to do so.

Buckhorn, a Democrat, was asked how Scott, a Republican, is doing. "On the issues that I care about, in terms of job creation, I think he is somebody I can go to if we have a project, and I think he'll move mountains to help us get it done," Buckhorn said. "As a mayor, on the economic development front, I couldn't be happier."

"He's got the same issues I've got: growing jobs," Scott said of Buckhorn.

By coincidence, both men plan trips to Israel in the coming weeks. Buckhorn heads there in late November, Scott in December.

Scott backs pension fund head

The governor expressed confidence Tuesday in Ash Williams, executive director of the State Board of Administration, which manages the pension fund for state employees.

Williams is up for reappointment soon by the SBA trustees (Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and CFO Jeff Atwater). Williams could "do a better job of presenting" information, Scott said, but overall is doing his job well.

"If you think about his job, his job is to get the best returns we can without taking more risk than he should. That's not easy," Scott said. "So today I think he's doing that."

The balance in the pension fund was $121 billion as of Monday, a 1.2 percent increase since January but a $7 billion decline from the pension's highest value this year, Williams told the trustees.

Casino foes issue a warning

A coalition of religious and antigambling groups said it will mount fierce opposition to legislation to authorize "destination resort" casinos in Florida, including holding lawmakers accountable for their votes.

The groups said they will not only provide a vocal opposition to the bills being shepherded by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, and Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, but they will score and publish the voting records of all committee members, mail pledge forms to all 160 legislators, create an online "wall of shame" and research the financial contributions from the gambling industry to lawmakers and the governor.

"We will not sit back idly as the gambling industry attempts to buy out Florida and her elected officials with the corrupting influence of gaming money,'' said John Stemberger, lobbyist for the conservative Florida Family Policy Council, which will host the legislative report cards on its website.

The group joined Florida Casino Watch, the Florida Catholic Conference, the Florida Baptist Convention and Reps. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, in announcing their opposition to the proposal.

Times/Herald Staff Writers Alex Leary and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.

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Scott struggles to find good news on jobs front

20 October 2011
With Florida's employment market stagnating and budget revenues declining, Gov. Rick Scott jumped on the good economic news he could find Thursday, touting a new biotech company's decision to move to the Tampa Bay area.

But the firm's addition of 40 new jobs will hardly put a dent in Scott's promise to create 700,000 positions in seven years, and the billing of Thursday's event as a "major" jobs announcement underscored the yearning for positive economic signs.

After declining for the first five months of Scott's administration, Florida's unemployment rate has been stuck in neutral for three months, at 10.6 percent. September unemployment numbers released today could indicate whether Florida's economy is reviving or sliding back into a funk after a strong start to 2011.

But the signs don't look good. Sales tax collections are down, and state leaders are preparing for another yawning budget gap between projected revenues and spending needs.

Scott is facing increasing questions about his ability to deliver on his campaign job creation promise. Hoping to jump start economic growth, he is on a trade mission to Brazil.

The governor has also eagerly promoted any news of companies moving to Florida, although even Scott joked that he wished the 40 jobs relocating to St. Petersburg by IRX Therapeutics were closer to 400.

The company, which is entering the final clinical trial phase for an anti-cancer drug developed with technology patented at the University of South Florida, has the potential to create more than 280 jobs if the trial goes well and the drug progresses to the manufacturing stage.

The state contributed $600,000 in economic incentive funds to lure IRX from New York City. St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and USF provided another $600,000 in cash and incentives.

Scott said he flew to New York to personally recruit IRX to Florida and noted the deal would help him deliver on a promise to boost employment in Florida.

"It's one of the things I ran on, my seven steps to 700,000 jobs," Scott said in announcing the deal.

But in recent weeks, Scott has seemed to hedge on the jobs pledge when confronted with questions about the struggling economy and his campaign commitment reach his jobs goal in addition to 1 million positions state economists forecast will be created regardless of who is leading Florida.

Scott told a conservative radio host last week that, "I could argue that I don't have to create any jobs. I just have to make sure we don't lose jobs."

Scott told the audience of about 100 people at the Nelson Poynter Memorial Library at USF St. Petersburg that Florida has "turned a corner" and is no longer losing jobs, with 87,200 private sector positions added since December.

But outside the library, where a group of protesters had gathered, Amy Ritter with the liberal group Florida Watch Action criticized Scott's "job killing, anti-middle class policies," including deep cuts to the public sector workforce, reductions in social services and rejection of federal funding for various programs.

Florida still has nearly 1 million unemployed residents. Federally funded initiatives — including a proposed high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando — would have brought thousands of jobs to the state, Ritter said, but were rejected by Scott because of Washington money.

The latest jobs announcement seemed ironic given that the city of St. Petersburg used an economic redevelopment program that has received federal funding to help lure IRX, Ritter added.

The debate over job creation will continue through the legislative session that begins in January, with Scott announcing last week that his agenda will again include a mix of tax cuts, deregulation and economic incentive policy proposals.

Scott wants to phase out the state's corporate income tax and roll back regulations he views as bad for business.

Asked if he would reevaluate his policies if the unemployment rate continues to stagnate or worsens, Scott focused on the positive trends.

"Every month since I've been in office we've generated jobs but one," he said. "Unemployment dropped for the first five months."

"We are on the right track," he added.

Thursday's announcement was also an important showcase for USF's science and research programs. Florida's 11 public universities are drawing increased scrutiny from Scott, who announced last week that higher education reform would be one of his top priorities next year. The governor has been especially critical of universities for failing to devote enough resources to math, science, engineering and technology programs, the so-called STEM disciplines.

Scott praised USF's research programs Thursday.

"This is exactly what ought to be happening in St. Pete and around USF," Scott said. "It's research, it's teaming up our research and the talent in our universities with the private sector."

USF President Judy Genshaft said universities need to do a better job showcasing their science and research programs.

"It's our responsibility to continually teach leaders what universities, and particularly research universities, are all about," she said.

By Zac Anderson

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Scott: Occupy Wall Street protesters ‘frustrated with where the world is going’

18 October 2011
In an interview on Fox 13 this week, Gov. Rick Scott said that Occupy Wall Street protesters are "frustrated with where the world is going" and compared them to his supporters, who "believe government kills jobs."

While there is not one agreed-upon message among protesters rallying in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, politicians and pundits have tried to pin down the group's beliefs. Conservative pundits and politicians have referred to the movement as a "communist plot" or "class warfare."

In his interview on FOX 13, when asked about the protests, Scott said he thinks "people are frustrated with where the world is going."

"In my race," he said, "the biggest frustration people had is jobs - and they are frustrated because they believe government kills jobs, whether it's taxes or regulation or permitting."

He also said he won his race because he had "a plan for jobs." His plan, however, has been the center of attention because he recently walked back from a central metric for his plan.

"I think we are going to solve these issues (and I am glad people come out and tell us what they think) by creating an environment where people can get jobs," Scott told Fox.

According to the Independent's Virginia Chamlee, protesters at Jacksonville's Occupy Wall Street-inspired rally singled out Scott as a protest target:

Though the protesters were initially more concerned with the growing divide between the country's most wealthy 1 percent and the rest of Americans, the movement has begun directing anger at current Florida policy-makers - none of whom are bearing the brunt quite like Gov. Rick Scott.

One small group of protesters waited outside the Jacksonville Omni Hotel, where Scott was acting as guest speaker of a gala. Holding signs that read "We are the 99 percent" and "Pink Slip Rick," the handful of protesters proclaimed their dissatisfaction with Scott, whom one woman said was more concerned with "looking out for corporate interests" than with representing average Floridians.

Occupy Wall Street rallies took place in several cities in Florida this past weekend, including Miami, Orlando, Sarasota, Tallahassee and Fort Lauderdale.

Watch Scott's appearance:

Scott: I want Florida to be science, tech hub: MyFoxTAMPABAY.com

Ernst: Local attorneys join Rick Scott email suit

15 October 2011

Remember the search for Gov. Rick Scott's missing emails, the ones generated during the transition between his election in November 2010 and his inauguration in January? They're public record, but when the media requested them in January, they were nowhere to be found.

Scott blamed Rackspace, a Texas company hired to keep the records on its servers, although the company says it warned Scott's office it was deleting the files and was instructed not to keep them.

In August, the governor requested an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Three weeks ago, Scott's attorneys admitted that transition email records have also been erased from the governor's iPad and Blackberry.

Not only has the FDLE been unable to retrieve the documents, but unless its agents find evidence of criminal intent, no one will be held accountable for the destruction of public records.

That often happens in these types of cases.

But this time, things may be different. The nonprofit, nonpartisan First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee is preparing a civil lawsuit backed by attorneys from Sarasota and New York, as well as an unlikely source, Yale Law School.

Attorney Andrea Mogensen and paralegal Michael Barfield lead the Sarasota contingent. Their reputation for pursuing public records cases started in Venice in 2007. That case cost the city $1.5 million, and led to policy changes statewide involving how governments handle electronic communications.

Barfield sees at least four parallels between the Venice case and the governor's: Emails were deleted; officials claimed the deletions were inadvertent; the communications were maintained at a foreign, third-party location; there was debate about whether open-records laws pertain to officials-elect.

Sarasota attorney Morgan Bentley also has joined the cause. He might appear to be an odd choice. Bentley successfully defended former Sarasota County sheriff Bill Balkwill against charges that he purposely destroyed public documents on a computer as he left office. Bentley also represented Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta, who was cleared of wrongdoing involving the state's Government in the Sunshine Law and negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles.

If nothing else, Bentley may cushion the First Amendment advocates from charges of zealotry. "No one's pointing fingers like this is Watergate or something," he says. "But there are unanswered questions, such as what's your exposure when passive third parties and web providers destroy public records?"

Media lawyer David S. Bralow comes to the fight through the Tribune Co. of New York, which owns, among other newspapers, the Orlando Sentinel.

The Sentinel was one of several media to request the Scott emails. Bralow connected the First Amendment Foundation to a recently formed Yale Law School organization called the Media Freedom and Information Access Practicum.

Known as "the Mafia," MFIA comprises law students and recent graduates who, under the direction of experienced lawyers, defend the public right to access through litigation and policy work.

Since its founding in 2010, MFIA has worked with media such as the New York Times and the Hearst Co.

In Florida's case, MFIA is preparing the civil complaint, which will be reviewed by media attorneys before being filed. The legal team continues to refine its strategies, arguments and remedies for the lawsuit.

So why all the fuss about emails exchanged before Gov. Scott even took office?

That's easy to explain. If Florida professes to have open government, then people deserve to know what government is doing and why. In Scott's case, where he instituted dramatic changes in policy after the election, it might be important to understand the influence that powerful people such as Wayne Huizenga or Jeb Bush, as Scott's informal advisers, had on those changes.

The emails might show it.

It's a bit of a fishing expedition, to be sure, but it's legal to fish. It's not legal to destroy the fish so no one can look.

And that raises a theme underlying some of the pending legal action: the sneaking suspicion that the erasure of records didn't go down quite as innocently as portrayed. Barfield had a good quip with a local reference.

"A series of unfortunate coincidences have stricken the governor," he said in an email. "Not only was the server erased, but his iPad and Blackberry suffered the same fate (all on different dates and under different circumstances). Maybe the governor has employed our former sheriff, Bill Balkwill, as his new IT manager."

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Florida Gov. Rick Scott: 'I could argue that I don't have to create any jobs'

14 October 2011

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday added more nuance to his campaign promise to create jobs, questioning the validity of the state's economic forecast and saying he just has to stop unemployment from rising.

"The bottom line is, I could argue that I don't have to create any jobs," Scott said on 540-AM in Maitland. "I just have to make sure we don't lose jobs."

Scott faced questions Thursday about his shifting position during an interview on Bud Hedinger Live, a conservative talk radio program.

Hedinger pointed to a Times/Herald video that shows Scott promised to create 700,000 jobs in seven years beyond estimates for job growth over the same span. State economists last year predicted Florida would add 1 million jobs in that time.

Scott did not dispute the 1 million figure during the campaign. But now, Scott said he does not want to be held to that benchmark.

"And now we have you on tape saying, no, it's just 700,000 jobs," Hedinger said. "It doesn't seem to square, sir."

"No economist can tell us where the economy is going," said Scott, who paid $170,000 to Arduin Laffer Moore Econometrics president Donna Arduin to craft his "7-7-7" plan.

Democrats jumped on Scott's comments, saying his jobs plan "was just another fraud."

"After days of back tracking on his 700,000 jobs pledge, Scott now claims he doesn't have to create any jobs at all," Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said. "This positive attitude about Florida's unemployment is sure to help his rock-bottom poll numbers."

Scott stressed accountability and measurement from the campaign trail. But he has not said how he would like Floridians to hold him responsible for his jobs plan.

On the radio, he juxtaposed job growth under his administration with "unbelievably slow job growth" in the national economy and the historic job loss in Florida in recent years.

"So tell me what normal growth is," Scott said in the radio interview. "I mean, I'm saying is, whatever the economy does, I'm working on 700,000 jobs over the next seven years because if you look at the last four years in our state, we've lost jobs."

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