Is it “your” candidate of choice or “theirs”?

 

How does the average voter make a decision on who is the best candidate. Do you read the information on their website? Does the number of signs influence your decision? Does the number of mailers or radio commercials sway you? Do you listen to the debates or candidate interviews? No doubt, it can be a cumbersome task in this busy world. But even the most informed voter may miss a very important piece of information and that is to check and see who are the contributors to a specific campaign.

 

There are two candidates running for State Senate in the Republican primary. Political newcomer, businesswoman, Monique Miller is running against incumbent Thad Altman. What if I told you that the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) and special interests are donating huge amounts of money to help current Senator Thad Altman keep his seat. It’s probably no surprise to you that the ‘good ole boys’ are heavily involved but I’ll bet you are surprised to hear about the RPOF donations just as much as I was.

 

RPOF has a rules stating that they will not endorse or financially assist one Republican over another in a primary race. Imagine my surprise this morning when I opened my email only to find that the RPOF party contributed close to $30,000 dollars to the Thad Altman campaign earlier this month. Leslie Dougher was just elected Chairman of the RPOF last month. When she was asked why one Republican primary candidate is being supported over the other, her written reply was “The RPOF will continue to support and promote the excellent work done by Governor Scott, the Cabinet, Senate and House.”

 

To summarize, Republicans elected a woman to the top seat of their party in Florida, and one of her very first actions is to break her own rules to undermine the campaign of a female candidate for State Senate. I never thought I would say this, but maybe the Democrats are right when they accuse Republicans of being at war with women. After all, if elected, Ms. Miller would be the first female Republican Senator to represent Brevard County in history.

 

Shouldn’t the GOP be using your contributions to fight against the Democrat party and not another Republican? Is there a hidden agenda in which the RPOF must fight to protect? Can it be that all the rumors are true and that the Republican party is rejecting true conservatives and doing everything they can to just keep the status quo? After all, this is a primary and shouldn’t all the Republican candidates be treated equally until after the voters decides who is to be the winner? Are you feeling just a little manipulated?

 

I would like to add two other important points:

 

1.  The local Brevard Repubican Executive Committee (BREC) did not play a role in the $30,000 donation to Thad Altman.

 

2. The Space Coast Liberty Caucus, which is a fund created to support Thad Altman, is not in any way affiliated with the Republican Liberty Caucus, a group that stands for true Republican values. One can only surmise Altman’s fund’s name was chosen to confuse you, the electorate. The Space Coast Liberty Caucus has been largely funded by the Protect Our Liberty leadership fund, which is associated with Senator President-designate, Andy Gardiner. Altman’s fund has received nearly about $110,000 in its one-month existence. Now you can understand why your mailbox is full and the commercials are running almost every hour. What threat does conservative Monique Miller pose to the Republican establishment? Is there more here than what meets the eye?

 

No matter how much money they throw at their candidate, the real power still lies with us, the voters, should we choose to exercise it. We can no longer tell the GOP apart from the ‘good ole boys’, so on August 26, I’ll be voting to send a smart lady to Tallahassee instead.

 

7/26:  I have received an update that the amount donated by the RPOF to the Thad Altman campaign is estimated to more like $60,000 than the $30,000 amount noted in this article.

 

Campaign contributions can viewed by going to:
http://www.votebrevard.com/Candidates/Candidate-Contributions-and-Expenditures.aspx

and

http://election.dos.state.fl.us/campaign-finance/contrib.asp#cand

 

Alarm Bells Are Ringing

 

Sticking its nose in other Brevard Co. Government agencies business is beginning to become a habit for the Brevard County Commission.  Just like they attempted to sue the School Board, it is now positioning itself to choose sides against Scott Ellis, Brevard County Clerk of the Courts and his lawsuit against the Economic Development Commission.

Unclear as to who solicited this action, attorney Scott Knox has placed on the July 8th County Commission agenda a resolution in which he is requesting the board to consider filing an Amicus Curia brief in support of the Economic Development Commission.  An Amicus Curia (friend of the court) is someone who is not a part to a case, who offers information that bears on the case but who has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court.

The stated reason for this proposed resolution is as follows:
The County Attorney’s Office has reviewed the final judgment entered by the Circuit Court in Ellis v. Economic Development Commission.  After careful consideration, this office holds the opinion that the Final Judgment entered in the case is so sweeping,  a District Court decision upholding the lower court ruling will result in precedent that will put Brevard County — and perhaps the entire State of florida–at a severe disadvantage when competing against other states, other economic development organizations and other local governments in their attempts to attract business.  This office is concerned that the final judgment will allow another state, county, city of economic development organization to make public records requests of the Economic Development Commission that will expose a broad range of documents such as client contact lists; telephone records; sensitive email correspondence; and text messaging that will reveal EDC strategies, contracts and potential project information–particularly in situations where the EDC is engaged in exploratory discussions with prospects before any project has been confirmed and before any confidentiality agreement has been requested by a prospect.

This all began with the BlueWare scandal and Scott Ellis asking the EDC (who were very instrumental in bringing BlueWare to Brevard) for their records regarding their dealings with them.  The EDC claimed that it would be a violation of their confidentiality agreement that they had with BlueWare so they refused to produce the records.

However, in regards to the EDC and according to their contract, the nonprofit company is a contractor whose “records, books and accounts” are subject to state public-records laws.  Last November the Brevard County Commission voted unanimously to ask the EDC to release the documents requested by Ellis “to the extent it’s allowed by law.”  At that same meeting, Scott Knox questioned whether those records could legally be released and suggested that the EDC seek a court ruling on the matter.  Then in March of this year, Judge Moxley ruled that the EDC is subject to the Florida Public Records Act when working on behalf of the County as its economic development agency.  The EDC is currently appealing that ruling.

So why is the Brevard County Attorney asking the County Commissioners to get involved in this case by requesting them to file an Amicus Curia?  Is any of this setting off alarm bells with you?  If not, it should be and here’s why……

  • Judge Moxley’s ruling has NOT changed the state statute detailing what is public record…he only sustains the law.  All privileged information will still remain protected so why do we need to invoke this vote from the county commissioners?
  • Since the county attorney serves to the please of the board, who requested that he pursue this action and why?  If he is doing this on his own, then it also begs the question as to why he continually is protecting the EDC.
  • Should the EDC and Brevard County government be permitted to “cover-up” possible corrupt practices in the name of “growth and development” now or in the future?
  • Was there someone else in the county that may have been involved or complicit in the embezzlement of clerk’s funds?
  • Would the revelation of these documents somehow effect the upcoming county commission elections?
  • Is it time to evaluate the mentality of our County management?  Just who are they representing, we the people or their special interests?

Quoting Matt Reed, Florida Today, “You’ll only look as if you have something to hide, as the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast has shown in its court fight to seal records related to the BlueWare scandal.”

I, for one am disgusted with the lack of transparency in our government and all the cover-ups.  I don’t understand why our elected commissioners and staff would want to keep it a secret on how they interact with organizations that receive and give away our tax money as business incentives.  After all, it is OUR money, not theirs.

So I propose that rather than taking a vote for a Amicus Curia, how about it if the county commission take a vote to cut off the 1.4 million dollar subsidy to the EDC and remove the EDC employees off the County’s employee health insurance program?  They could then operate as the private agency they want to be and would no longer have to be concerned about revealing any information that would come from future public records requests.

In the meantime, before the EDC claims to have a computer hard drive crash, like the IRS, they should stop wasting everyone’s time and produce the records!

The truth about “All Aboard Florida”

 

Part 1: Hedge Fund Railroad: The Truth about ‘All Aboard Florida’

In 2007, Fortress Investment Group, a multinational, financial investment firm, which, as of December 2013, has over $61 billion in assets under management, purchased two Florida-based companies: Flagler and Florida East Coast Railway. Flagler is largely a holding company for real estate, which includes a railroad corridor that runs along Florida’s east coast, from Miami to Jacksonville. Florida East Coast Railway operates rail service, transporting freight between the Port of Miami, Port Everglades and Jacksonville.

From these and other investments, Fortress now owns a massive shipping, infrastructure and rail conglomerate called Florida East Coast Industries (FECI), LLC. Among the companies under this umbrella is All Aboard Florida, which is FECI’s only consumer business.

All Aboard Florida is a high-speed passenger rail service between Orlando and Miami that is scheduled to begin operating in 2015. Initially, the service was going to offer many stops along the way, but as the company’s plans crystalized, many along the rail corridor have learned that the train would merely be going through, rather than to, their area.

FECI owns the rail lines and rights of way along the proposed route for the new passenger service. Flagler acquired the land for the rail corridor in the late 1800s and, as Florida’s coastal communities developed, they local governments were granted the right to build and maintain road crossings to traverse the corridor’s train tracks. Today, this arrangement is still in place, so, provided their projects meets building code and land-use requirements, it’s perfectly within FECI’s right to expand and upgrade its rail service. However, as the launch of the passenger service approaches, Flagler’s old arrangement is causing new problems.

County and city taxpayers are responsible for upgrades and maintenance to the rail crossings. When the regional planning groups approved this project, they understood that passenger trains would be stopping in their area, bring tourists and providing a valuable service to their residents. Then, FECI disclosed that the trains would only be stopping in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Orlando. The cities and counties in between were left with large, ongoing costs and no benefits.

Despite growing anger and frustration in areas that will not benefit from the 32 high-speed trains going by each day, there is little recourse available, if the facts about FECI and Flagler’s legacy arrangement are true. Or is there?

All Aboard Florida makes a point of describing itself as a “private company”, perhaps as a means of preempting challenges to its property rights. However, a private company, whose projects are not privately funded, is not the same thing and does not enjoy the same privacy rights as a private company.

As it turns out, despite FECI’s enormous wealth, the vast majority of their projects and those that their projects depend on to be successful are highly subsidized by federal, state and local government taxpayers. For example,

  • It’s hard to have a successful passenger rail service without a train station. The passenger line’s terminus in Orlando will be entirely paid for by Florida taxpayers to the tune of $230 million.1
  • According to Progressive Railroading, In November 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded a $14 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER V) grant to FDOT to cover a portion of the project for FECI.2
  • Because the railroad needs to connect to other public transportation to be useful to consumers, FECI’s value is dependent on its ability to link to South Florida Rapid Transit Authority (SFRTA) lines at South Florida stops. Fortunately, the taxpayers spared FECI from having to make that investment as well by committing $600 – 800 million of their own money to expand SFRTA and connect the two lines.3
  • In an attempt to offset some of the costs to local governments along the rail corridor for the rail crossing upgrades, the Florida legislature allocated $10 million in the 2014 – 2015 budget. Now all Floridians are helping to pay for rail service most cannot use. Unfortunately, the upgrade estimates for just one county,Broward,  are over $13 million, so the small appropriation from Tallahassee is not going to have much of an impact on the cost for Broward and the other five counties involved.4
  • All About Florida, as its own entity,  a limited liability corporation (LLC), has applied for federally subsidized Railroad Rehabilitation & Improvement Financing (RRIF) loan for about $1.5 billion in taxpayer money.  These loans do not require the borrower to provide collateral.5

Why all the subsidies? Find out in the next segment: Was it ever about passenger rail? Connect the dots…and the ports.

Part 2: Was it ever about passenger rail? Connecting the dots … and the ports

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If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen – H. Truman

I have never been a fan of anything authored by someone hiding behind the name of anonymous or a false ID. It makes it too easy to lie, exaggerate and possibly even slander good people.

Being that this is an election year and a there is heightened political awareness, it seems the silly season has begun. Last week a somewhat anonymous email was sent out by Brevard.county.rumors@ blag.com. Anonymous because there is no name associated with this email. Basically it accused Curt Smith, candidate for D4 County Commissioner, of having his campaign manager approaching the RLC to put out a “sexist” hit piece on Lisa McDermott, another candidate in the same race. If this weren’t so derogatory it would be laughable as anyone who knows Curt knows that he is nothing but respective and kind, especially to woman. How else would he have stayed married for so long?

The author of the hit piece also stated that the reason for this alleged mass mailing, which supposedly would slander Lisa McDermott, is because “they are afraid she will win the District 4 due to the number of candidates in the race and she being the only woman”. Just like the statement ‘war on women’, that accusation completely disgusted me. I have worked in the corporate world and my own personal experience was that if a woman is well qualified and does her job and does it well, she will be able to hold her own. If the voters of Brevard are so ignorant of the issues that they would vote for someone just because she is a woman, than this county is in bigger trouble than I thought.

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What you need to know about All Aboard Florida

by Barbara Knick

This information was taken from AC4PR and Florida Not All Aboard

 


A private corporation, Florida East Coast Industries (part of the Fortress Asset Management Group), has applied for a $1.5 billion loan in taxpayer money to install additional tracks from Miami to Orlando in order to run high speed rail trains through our counties at 110 m.p.h. for a total of 32 times per day.


The taxpayers of the respective counties will be required to pay for all of the upgrades to 350+ crossings estimated at $600,000 average per crossing. Costs to the taxpayer include but are not limited to:  laying new tracks, upgrades to crossings, additions of new bridges and new safety standards requirements, building concrete abutments, additional gates, continuous fencing, and combined construction and maintenance costs which will exponentially add debt to every city and county taxpayer along the Space Coast. The Florida and Federal Departments of Transportation and the US Coast Guard will use tax dollars to pay for the reconstruction of 3 bridges and many other rail and road projects caused by All Aboard Florida’s interruption of commercial marine traffic and pleasure boating along the Intracoastal Waterway in the Indian River county.  


Not one passenger Rail Service in the United States is solvent. Tri-Rail that runs commuter service from Miami to Palm Beach reported an operations deficit of $85 million in 2013 and continues to operate at a loss. Amtrak’s Silver Star operating between Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Orlando reported a loss of $100 million for 2013.  This is the future of All Aboard Florida, which intends to operate 32 trains per day through residential streets throughout our area, affecting the transit of tens of thousands of vehicles per day.  When this loss-on-investment plan fails, the burden of cost will fall on the taxpayers.


The high speed passenger trains (32 per day) and an increase in 2-mile long freight trains (for a total of 50 trains per day) will cause major traffic tie ups affecting the transit of thousands of vehicles per day. Residents on the East side of Brevard’s tracks will be cut off from hospitals, medical emergency vehicles and first responders. 50 horn blasts day and night will cause declining property values, loss of business revenue and the overall destruction of our Vero Beach natural environment. Population redistribution will negatively impact our quality of life in Brevard and elsewhere, while an increase in ad valorem taxes will be required to pay off the debt.  

         


In the end, FECI will be left with 1.) modernized double tracks to expand their freight business in competition with CSX and  2.) prime commercial real estate holdings in the 4 cities where they are developing terminal complexes – Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Orlando.  Governor Scott has earmarked $215 million for the AAF terminal at the Orlando airport and the state senate passed a preliminary budget with $10 million for crossing upgrades. Now all of Florida will be paying for FECI’s capital improvements with no ceiling on projected costs in sight.   

  

Our quality of life along the Space Coast will not survive this intrusion of over-development.
            

So the questions are:
1. How much will automobile drivers be inconvenienced with crossing gates closing every half hour?

 

2. How much will businesses be impacted by potential customers avoiding the railroad inconveniences?

 

3. How much will real estate values be impacted by the addition of the noisy trains?

 

4. If it is a private enterprise why are taxpayers being asked to spend millions of dollars for quiet zones?

 

5. What will that “private enterprise” want taxpayers to fund next? A second track parallel to the existing single track to make possible the 32 trains moving daily in opposite directions? Or perhaps a third parallel track so the passenger trains can move at high speed without being encumbered by the existing slower speed freight trains?

 

6. The planned government loan leaves taxpayers at risk for failure. Why not private financing?

 

7. With only two stops from Orlando to Miami, local residents will suffer all the costs and receive little benefit.

 

8. Is the real purpose of the train to serve the gamblers in orlando and Miami and the airports they use?

 

In response to Matt Reed’s Florida Today article “Hear those trains a-comin” dated 4/26/14

Matt Reed basically stated in his article that AAF is going to do whatever it wants no matter how much it disrupts the life and safety of every town it passes through!   What he neglected to mention in his article is that the Florida Railroad Administration (FRA) produced a safety report of all crossings between Miami and Harbor Branch, that included Brevard County.  They condemned AAF for refusing to adopt their crossing safety recommentdations.

In that same article Matt Reed also stated that the company does not need our money.  If AAF doesn’t need our tax money why have they applied for a Federal DOT $1.6 billion loan? Isn’t that tax money? And when AAF fails, which is likely, who gets stuck with the bill? The taxpayers!

 

Advocates working to stop the train will be speaking before the County Commission this Tuesday, April 29th.  Please try to attend the meeting and tell the Commissioners that the citizens of Brevard County are NOT on board with this plan.  This is not a done deal and many counties are already making their opposition known.

 

Sample letters you can send can be found at:
www.floridanotallaboard.com/official-letters.html
Sign the petition at:

 

Follow “NotallonboardFlorida’  on their facebook page :
 www.facebook.com/floridanotallaboard

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Is the proposed increase for Storm Water Utilities necessary?

The Brevard County Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, April 3 at the Viera government Complex to consider a proposed increase in the storm water utilities. All affected property owners are invited to voice their opinions at this meeting.

 

Recently, a member of the Brevard Co. Citizens Coalition contacted Ernie Brown, Director of Brevard County Natural Resources Management, and asked for his assessment of the proposed fee increase.  Mr. Brown’s reply was distributed to a small number of people that kept growing with every response.   Although I used specific comments from some emails, I left others emails intact as it was too difficult to break down on such an intense subject.

I want to thank everyone that contributed their comments and questions. You all expressed opinions and facts much better than I ever could. Hopefully it will give the readers a better understanding of the problems we are facing and whether or not they feel the proposed increase in storm water fees is necessary.
Ernie Brown, Brevard County Director of Natural Resources

I am giving you a data dump of information that hopefully will be useful to provide the technical detail to support our conversation. Most of the answers to the questions raised are provided in published documents that I have either attached or provided links too.

One of key points brought up was that this is a multifaceted problem that will require a multifaceted solution. It is also helpful to understand where we have been to know where we are going. So with that, If I may, I would like to provide a bit of history and our possible way forward.

In 1991, Brevard County implemented the Stormwater Utility program and fee to address water quality improvements and flood mitigation projects within the unincorporated County. Since that time, these resources have been dedicated to constructing more than 450 projects across the County to address the priority water quality and flooding problems. None of these funds are used to maintain the ditch systems but rather they were specifically allocated to water quality and flooding issues.

It has been recognized by many in the scientific and aquaculture community that declines in water quality of the Indian River Lagoon have been occurring for decades. However, as you may recall, beginning in 2011, significant declines in the Indian River Lagoon system became overtly obvious. This included unprecedented algal blooms, 60 percent loss of sea grass beds, hundreds of dolphin, pelican and manatee deaths far above what is normal, and impacts to water dependent industries from Volusia County to St Lucie. This included the recreational fishing guides, commercial fisheries (Crabs, Clams, Oysters, etc.) and ecotourism. As the Indian River Lagoon is the nursery ground for 100’s of commercial fish species harvested all along the United States’ east coast, the long-term impact to our seafood industry is still unknown. Read the rest of this entry »

Open Letter About the Miracle City Mall

Before the Miracle City Mall closed, you may remember the peculiar smell, or the plastic tarps hanging from water-stained ceiling tiles. Do you think there was a mold problem inside the Mall? Do you suspect that there was an asbestos problem in the Mall? Do you think that there could be other environmental problems with the Mall?

In September 2012, according to timelines posted by the Greater Titusville Renaissance, J C Penney representatives met with County Commissioner Robin Fisher at his Division One Office in Titusville. The J C Penney officials were there to discuss “serious concerns about the health and safety issues of their employees at the Mall. They announce they will have to vacate at the end of their lease extension in February”. The Miracle City Mall closed its doors in February 2013.

In the same month as the J C Penney representatives presented their grievance to Commissioner Fisher about the Miracle City Mall, Commissioner Fisher meets a developer whose name is Allen Goins. This proves to be an important meeting due to the fact that Allen Goins later obtains an option to purchase the Miracle City Mall in November 2012, for approximately $6 million.

Here is where the story gets interesting.

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Should Red Light Cameras Be On a Road In Your Life?

Good intentions sometimes mask poor legislation. That’s the case under Florida’s red light camera law. Here’s why.

1. Automated traffic cameras are clearly an invasion of privacy. The citizens of Florida don’t want to be watched by cameras operated by government agencies or for-profit vendors. We believe that citizens do, indeed, have an expectation of privacy from Big Brother’s monitoring.

2. The cause of the problem, in most cases, is inadequate timing of traffic lights and an unwillingness on the part of the government to fix the problem. There’s a better, more effective solution than red light cameras. In other states, setting the clearance interval (the yellow-light period, plus the all-red period, if any) to accepted engineering standards has resulted in an immediate and permanent decrease in red light violations of over 90%. It requires no expensive equipment, very little expense to government entities and no interference in the life of the average motorist. There are other techniques, such as adding metal backers to traffic signals to make them more visible, but adjusting the clearance interval is the most effective.

That isn’t new information. Read the rest of this entry »

The City of Satellite Beach vs. the First Amendment

In the Florida Today, you will find a letter from Council Member Dominick Montanaro responding to the Councilwoman Sheryl Denan’s message to the citizens of Satellite Beach that was published on eyeonbrevard.org and also the Florida Today.  He states that the citizens of Satellite Beach deserve the truth and I agree.

I attended the last Satellite Beach meeting on Feb 5th because they had the audacity to publish a personal email that was sent by Greg Billman to me.  In the email Gregg was asking for the help of the Brevard Co. Citizens Coalition to encourage legislative help and that of other citizens to write and ask for audits of CRA’s.  Even though this was part of a chain of emails, it had no real relevance to the agenda item.  I suggested to the council that the only reason they may have had in publishing it was because the BCCC was investigating CRA’s and the corruption behind them.  The vice-mayor Lorraine Gott responded by saying that although we have the right to express our opinion about wrongdoing and misappropriation of funds and all of this nonsense she said the simple fact is the following.  “No competent legal authority has ever found wrongdoing by the city of Satellite Beach or it’s CRA and that’s the fact and the rest is opinion”.    “It’s opinion and speculation that some don’t want to let go of”. 
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A message to the citizens of Satellite Beach

Is it not my constitutional right and duty as your elected official to keep YOU, the tax payers and citizens in Satellite Beach, informed on what is happening in our city, and to contact whoever I need to in order to conduct due diligence with respect to decision making on issues that come before me? Isn’t that what you expect from your elected official?  Of course it is!!! Yet on February 5 the Satellite Beach City Council discussed censuring me. My censuring came up during agenda Item 13, the use of Councils personal e-mails accounts and the public records retention period for the emails.   It was put on the agenda for discussion after a citizen requested all of my personal emails “related to the city” since I was elected in 2011.

Even though censuring was strongly discouraged by legal counsel, the council went further and discussed removing me from office for corresponding or acting as a conduit with other non-city elected officials (specifically the Brevard County Board of County Comissioners), other agency offices and citizens.  This also did not bode well with legal counsel who advised that removal from office is determined by the voters during the election process. When all else failed the Councilwoman Gott requested that legal counsel (at tax payers expense) review the Charter to see if there was anything that would support my removal.

It was made very clear by legal counsel that council members can discuss any issue with anyone or any outside entity.  But a discussion with others on the council would be a violation of the Sunshine Law.

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