Florida government corruption
|Report It •||The Good •||The Bad •||The Ugly|
Gainesville, FL This past week a Florida's 8th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Victor Hulslander issued a ruling ordering that the University of Florida open up student senate meetings to the public. The case originated when a UF alumni, Frank Bracco, filed suit, alleging that the University was in violation of the Florida Sunshine Law for failing to make the records of meetings of the student senate available to the public. The University argued that the records and meetings were exempt under FERPA. The court rejected this argument, siding with Bracco. The University has not announced if it is going to appeal the decision.
Include your description here.
"Florida Gulf Coast University didn’t follow state open records law or its internal bidding procedures when selecting a firm for the school’s highest-profile project, experts said.
But the university insists it did nothing wrong during this summer’s short-listing process to choose a company for its $17 million solar energy farm.
At a September public meeting, FGCU’s eight-member selection committee narrowed the 10 firms that applied for the project by oral vote alone. There were no minutes taken during the meeting and committee members didn’t rank the firms.
Both were required, experts said."
Dr. Mendelsohn helped oversee three different PAC's in Florida. Most notably, he served as the chief fundraiser for the Florida Medical Association's PAC..
Dr. Mendelsohn allegedly told contributors to the PAC's that their money would be spent on political and media campaigns. The over two million dollars of contributions that he received, however, were not all spent for this purpose. Some three hundred and fifty thousand dollars was diverted by Dr. Mendelsohn for personal use.
South Florida Community Blood Centers, based in Lauderhill, funded the scholarship fund. It announced it will try to contact high school graduates dating to 2007 who were supposed to receive the college scholarships, but did not.
Tallahassee, FL The Florida Supreme Court this week rejected an appeal by two Pensacola citizens concerning the rights of citizens to comment during open meetings. In rejecting the decision, the court left an appellate court decision to stand which established that the Florida Open Meetings Law only guaranteed public access and not public participation.
The City of Venice, has paid nearly $600,000 in legal fees for violating the Sunshine Law and Public Records Act. It is now being billed for an additional claim for $2.2 million in legal fees from the Plaintiffs' attorneys in the landmark case.
Lorenzo submitted the bill to Circuit Judge Robert Bennett. If Bennett decides after a September hearing that the fees are reasonable then it will bring the bill upto a landmark $3 million dollars.
TALLAHASSEE, Florida: On October 1, Judge Philip Padovano of the Florida First District Court of Appeal wrote a 26-page ruling which says that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) must release the documents it used in the course of deciding the sanctions it ultimately levied against Florida State University’s athletic department over a cheating scandal. The documents had been requested by several Florida newspapers under the Florida Sunshine Law. The NCAA argued that the documents were private because the NCAA is a private organization. Padovano, however, said the documents must be made public because “The appeal by the university is a matter of public concern. It is not transformed into a private matter merely because the documents the university lawyers used to prepare the appeal reside on a computer owned by a private organization.”
In August, circuit judge John Cooper ordered the NCAA to release the information. The NCAA appealed Cooper's decision. Padovano's ruling upheld Cooper's decision.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida Last week Florida circuit judge Robert Rouse ruled that personal calls made from publicly funded cell phones are in fact public records and cannot be redacted from phone logs which also contain public business. The ruling came in response to a suit filed by Bill of Rights Inc. for the phone records of the New Smyrna Beach police commander, Bill Drossman.  While the court ordered the release of the majority of the records, the court maintained that certain personal calls on police phones, like calls to family or informants, would fall under other exemptions protecting the police and their informants.
Miami, FL Tens of thousands of boxes of public records produced by the city of Miami, FL are being held by "Iron Mountain Information Management" at a warehouse in Broward County. Iron Mountain refuses to release the records, alleging that Miami owed them over $340,000 in fees associated with their contract to store records, which came to an end in 2009. The city alleges that they only owe $22,000 and the city attorney has requested permission to employ any legal means necessary to regain the files. 
- This story has been deemed Blog worthy!
North Miami Beach, FL This past week, the North Miami Beach city council voted to end a $100 flat rate fee for records request submitted to the Building Department. The flat rate fee runs counter to the Florida Sunshine Law, which only allows reasonable fees to be charged for duplication and copying. The fee had been in place since 2007.
HALLANDALE BEACH, Florida: On November 4, 2009, Patti Englander Henning, a judge of the Florida Seventeenth Circuit Court, ruled in favor of the City of Hallandale Beach, Florida in a case the city had brought against blogger Mike Butler.
Butler wanted a list of recipients of an email sent by Mayor Joy Cooper on February 17, 2009 from her personal America Online account. The subject line of the e-mail was "Mayor Cooper's Update." The e-mail included attachments to three columns written by Cooper for a weekly community newspaper addressing city policies. The e-mail included Cooper's city hall address and phone number. These characteristics of the e-mail led Butler to conclude that the e-mail was a public document, even though it had been sent on Cooper's personal email account.
The city responded with a lawsuit against Butler. On November 4, 2009, Judge Henning ruled in favor of the city.
Butler characterized the ruling from Henning as "shocking" and said that it runs counter to an advisory opinion issued in 2007 from Bill McCollum, Florida's attorney general, which says that e-mails from public officials "that are intended to communicate, perpetuate or formalize knowledge" are public records, regardless of whether or not they are sent using a public or governmental e-mail address.
Mayor Cooper said, "You're under the assumption that he's a good guy and he's the victim. But the victim is the city commission. I feel like my privacy has been raped."
Crist has called for an eighteen member grand jury, which would last for a year and would be filled by citizens. The grand jury would be created in order to respond to two felt needs in Florida; outing corrupted public officials and toughening the corruption laws. The jury would have the authority to indict any public officials who are suspected of corruption and to recommend changes to the current corruption laws .
Crist says that corruption is a problem state-wide, but it is worst, he says, in South Florida. In the last month alone, many South Florida politicians have been the subjects of corruption cases. The list includes a Broward County Commissioner and School Board member, and three Commissioners from Palm Beach County. It also includes a political fundraiser and former Crist backer, Alan Mendelsohn, who is from Hollywood, Florida .
In the midst of the corruption scandals, the Florida Attorney General has expressed dissatisfaction with the current corruption laws in the state, which are much less strict than the federal corruption laws. The lenient corruption laws in Florida make prosecution difficult .
The agents slipped more than $40,000 in cash to the politicians while posing as corrupt businessmen. The FBI released hidden tape recorders entangling Commissioner Eggelletion, School Board member Gallagher and former Commissioner Salesman, but more arrests are expected.
Agents went public and questioned many people involved in Broward County's lucrative school building program, including lobbyists, school district employees and construction contractors.
"We are not done," said acting U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sloman.
Beverly Gallagher is a school board member for Broward County Public Schools, Florida, representing District 2. Her term is supposed to expire in 2012, which may change pending these charges.
Gallager is also the administrator for the scholarship foundation funded by the Community Blood Centers of South Florida, which recently revealed that its scholarships had not been distributed to students.
She was arrested for extortion, wire fraud and bribery after undercover FBI agents passed $12,500 to her in return for making arrangements for them to get school construction contracts.
According to the Federal Complaint, in 2005, Gallagher met with the undercover officers and told them "they could make a lot of money together." The charges say that in one meeting, she put $2,000 in a day planner and in another she left with $1,500. According to the charges, Gallagher helped steer a $71 million building contract for Hollywood Hills High School to supposedly benefit the undercover agents.
The Hillsborough County School Board, the nation's eighth-largest school district, imposed a travel moratorium on itself until it can set up both guidelines and a travel budget. The board currently does not have guidelines in place, with it's seven members spending $40,000 annually on travel costs.
"We have people who are spending more than their fair share," Chairwoman Jennifer Faliero told fellow board members in pushing for the moratorium. Later she confirmed she was referring to member Susan Valdes' expenses.
Valdes spent $13,513 in 2006-07 and $10,503 in 2007-08 on travel, school district records show while other board members spent an average of $1,500 to $7,500.
Valdes defended herself, saying she has cut back her spending after earlier criticism. As a rookie board member, she said, she had been encouraged by other members to travel to gain experience.
Back to School Florida is a Sunshine Review sponsored project to bring the issue of Transparency to the forefront in Florida. Sunshine Review has concentrated its efforts in this state over the past months, collecting data, sending out FOIA requests to local governments, and evaluate the level of Transparency withing the Sunshine State. We chose the month of September, when so many are heading back to school, to provide information to Floridians not only about how Transparency their government bodies are, but also to educate them on how they can become Transparency Activists.
- Lafayette School District had the largest increase in “A” grades for academic performance on the FCAT from 2008 to 2009 while having the smallest budget in the state.
- Five school districts passed with an “A” for transparency, while seventeen others received failing grades.
- Palm Beach County School District was one of three schools to answer public records requests on lobbying. Find out how much Palm Beach spent here.
Acevedo has been charged with three felony counts of misconduct. He allegedly covered up theft by his wife, former Adult Education Coordinator Monique Acevedo. Mrs. Acevedo is charged with four felonies alleging nearly $200,000 in theft of district funds and has a scheduled October trial date.
The trial is before Judge Mark Jones at the Freeman Justice Center in Key West, Florida. The judge said the media coverage of this case would be significant, including a potential radio simulcast and television coverage.
One of the charges against Acevedo results from a meeting with district finance director Kathy Reitzel in October 2007. In this meeting, Reitzel reportedly presented Superintendent Acevedo with a packet of information that detailed his wife's improper spending of the district's funds. Mrs. Acevedo allegedly purchased sunglasses, plane tickets and shoes with a district credit card.
Allegedly, Mr. Acevedo reimbursed the district with his personal checking account for the plane tickets.
Reitzel said that last February she delivered to Acevedo more evidence of roughly $30,000 in illegal credit card purchases made by his wife.
Prosecutors say Acevedo signed a letter in 2008 stating that he knew of no fraud happening in the district. Reitzel signed the document only after stating an addendum that her finance staff was looking over some of Mrs. Acevedo's charges.
Manuel represented the Ponte Vedra Beach area and must choose between pleading not guilty and entering trial or pleading guilty and resigning. The trial would begin a few weeks from his decision in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville.
In December, the governor appointed Ponte Vedra Beach developer Phil Mays to temporarily fill Manuel's seat. If Manuel must resign, Mays could continue the rest of the term through 2010 should the governor decided.
"The actual appointment letter is for the duration of the suspension," said County Attorney Patrick McCormack.
The deadline for Manuel's decision is an the second extension that U.S. District Judge Marcia Howard granted. Howard allowed an extension on 20 July as she did in June because of a health concern with Manuel's heart, said his attorney, Gray Thomas. In 2002, Manuel had a heart transplant.
The secretary that Waters spoke with, along with the former superintendent, and the newly-elected superintendent all declared they had no knowledge of who ran her plate. The officials said their office was still on high alert from weeks prior, when a man came in and demanded personal information on an employee. They said he appeared belligerent and seemed like a "stalker."
"All I wanted was just an e-mail. It wasn't like we were asking for family records," Waters said.
New Superintendent Bill Brumfield also noted that on the day Waters made the request there was an orange terrorist alert. However, he did admit that his employees were not well informed on open records law.
Something notable that this audit brought to light is the tendency of government agencies to respond differently to citizen requestors than they do to reporters. As one reporter who did not identify herself as such discovered: "(She) was told that she would have received prompt attention if the custodian of the record had known she was a reporter."  All requestors should be treated the same way under Florida law.
<ref>tags exist, but no
<references/>tag was found