Hallandale Beach Blog -A common sense public policy overview offering a critical perspective on the current events, politics, govt., public policy, sports scene and pop culture of the U.S., South Florida and Europe, especially the UK and Sweden. In particular, Broward & Miami-Dade County, and the cities of Hallandale Beach, Hollywood & Aventura. Trust me when I tell you, this part of Florida is NOT the Land of Lincoln. Pictured in upper-left is Hallandale Beach's iconic beachball-colored Water Tower on State Road A1A; September 2008 photo by me, South Beach Hoosier. © 2013 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

How do you solve a problem named Kottkamp, Sansom and Odom?; The State of the State is Bad

With Gov. Charlie Crist's decision, Tallahassee escapes another close-call with economic reality!
Thank God!
Another Dollar Store and lobbyist-hangout bistro near the State Capitol can stay afloat for another six more months.

Meanwhile... Jeff Kottkamp, the Sunshine State dauphin, grows uneasy as his subjects question both his relevance and his royal prerogatives, even as some plucky subjects go so far as to say that he doesn't even exist, but is just the ghost of 
bureaucracy-run-amuck past, a particularly mean and costly ghost at that.

It would seem that Kottkamp the High-flying Ghost is obviously channeling Mervyn Dymally and Mike Curb.

Other than courts, law enforcement, and DMV, all State of Florida offices in Tallahassee should be open from
8 a.m. -6 p.m. Monday thru Thursday, because as it is, you can't get any competent govt. employee in
Tallahassee to answer their phone on Fridays after 2 p.m.
Especially if you have specific questions you want logical answers to.
Fridays there are exactly like D.C. the whole month of August, en vacances, except in Tallahassee, it's every month of the year. 

I suspect that it won't be long before we witness some national news magazine once agin giving this weird, faltering
state its proper due as an example of what happens when too many short-sighted pols have too much concentrated power for too long, and imagine themselves the Smartest Guys in the Class, even while they never bothered to ever properly plan for Plan B -what to do in a faltering economy when you are FAR too dependent on property taxes and sales taxes, and having taxes on tourists paying for your necessary programs and daily operations.

The tangible results of people not buying and not visiting will have real consequences next year, just as Charlie Crist has to decide what his immediate political future is, if any.

The crew up in Tallahassee is quite literally killing what's left of the the Golden Goose with their short-sighted public policy nostrums and and lack of logical planning.
Why do you suppose so many educated and quality people from Florida have been moving to North Carolina for the past ten years, and have said adios for the last time?
It's not the heat, it's the sheer stupidity.

I'm a longtime Orioles fan who grew-up seeing their games down here in the early '70's, seeing spring games at Miami Stadium and listening to their games on the radio, even falling asleep listening to those great teams on their late West Coast games, with my radio near my pillow.
After I moved to the D.C. area from Chicago, from 1988-2002, I made the trip up to Baltimore for about 20-25 games a year.

On Monday afternoon I'm going to my first Orioles spring-training game of the year, against the Red Sox, which should be fun now that both teams have a played a few games and gotten the early kinks out of their system.
I'll catch the taxpayer-funded Tri-Rail commuter rail in nearby Hollywood and get off at a station in Fort Lauderdale only a mile-and-a-half from taxpayer-funded Fort Lauderdale Stadium, which was the spring home of the Yankees for over 35 years.
But in the entire history of the Orioles playing in Fort Lauderdale -about 12 years- and the shorter existence of the Tri-Rail, the State of Florida, Broward County, the City of Fort Lauderdale, the Greater FTL CVB and the Orioles have yet to EVER figure out a way to shuttle eager fans from the train station to the stadium via a trolley, bus, van or other means, for either free or a buck or so.
Really.

It's clearly a very simple problem that practically screams for a private enterprise solution, or our old standby pal,
the public-private partnership.
But apparently it's TOO complicated for the people in charge to figure out during the ten months they have before spring-training starts, year-after-year.

Frankly, the half-hour walk doesn't bother me a bit, but what about families and Seniors?  And if it looks like it might rain...
Then the mass transit option is no option at all.
(Ironically and comically, there's a Florida Dept. of Transportation (FDOToffice building on the way to FTL Stadium.)

That my well-informed friends, not South Beach or Disney World or hosting a Super Bowl or BCS Title Game,
is the reality of living in Florida in the year 2009, in a nutshell.

Can't connect Point A to Point B, a mile-and-a-half away.

PARADISE LOST? SOUTH FLORIDA
Paradise Lost? South Florida 
November 23, 1981

Coming soonParadise Lost II: The Life & Times of Good-time Charlie
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Miami Herald
February 28, 2009 

Generous benefits for top government workers safe from cuts

Gov. Crist proposes increasing the amount taxpayers pay to subsidize health insurance for 26,000 top-level state workers. Salaries of the most highly-paid workers are safe too.

By Marc Caputo and Breanne Gilpatrick

HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU


TALLAHASSEE -- As mass layoffs claim Floridians' jobs and health care, state lawmakers aren't planning to cut their free health insurance premiums or the salaries of at least 1,100 state workers who earn more than $100,000 a year.

Gov. Charlie Crist's budget plan proposes to increase by $13.1 million the amount taxpayers pay to subsidize state-worker insurance. About 26,111 top-level employees -- including those in Crist's office, the entire Legislature and its staff -- have their premiums completely paid by taxpayers.

Crist's budget doesn't increase state worker salaries. But he doesn't cut wages either, unlike many private employers in the economic downturn.

About 1,190 full-time state employees will keep earning a salary of more than $100,000, according to data from the Department of Management Services. The figures don't include the Legislature, universities or community colleges, which all report their salaries through different data systems.

The Department of Administrative Hearings, which hears challenges to state-agency actions, has the highest proportion of top-paid employees, with 17 percent earning about $100,000 or more.

Crist's office, which oversees 25 state agencies, and the Department of Citrus tied for second, with 11 percent of employees in the top pay bracket.

The governor couldn't be reached for comment Friday, but said in a written statement issued by a spokeswoman: ``These public servants are at the top of their fields and lend great expertise to the administration of a state government that includes nearly 150,000 state employees. These are hard-working professionals who have chosen public service and Governor Crist is proud to have them on his team.''

Barney Bishop, president of the Associated of Industries of Florida business lobby, said it's time for lawmakers to consider running government more like a business. And businesses right now are cutting wages, staff and contributions to health plans.

Bishop said it's ''hard to justify'' the system in which taxpayers pick up so much of the cost for the workers.''

But he added: ``I could see the argument where they're not paid as well they would have been in the private sector.''

No lawmaker has filed a bill to trim the large salaries or free insurance premiums, casting doubt on legislators' repeated claims that ''everything is on the table'' to reduce state spending and close budget deficits. About 19,300 Floridians lost their jobs in January alone, keeping Florida on pace as one of the top job-loss states in the nation behind California. At least 20 percent of the state's population under age 65 is uninsured, according to a 2005 study when Florida's economy was roaring. The uninsured number today is expected to be far higher.

Bishop said he's not calling for mass layoffs or pay cuts, but noted that the salaries of middle managers in state government could stand a good trimming.

''We've got too many assistants to the assistants to the assistants,'' Bishop said.

If the state made all employees pay a portion of their health-insurance premiums, it would save the state about $44.9 million, according to DMS. State employees who have to pay a portion of their monthly premium pay $180 for family plans and $50 for individuals.

If all the employees who earn more than $100,000 received a 10 percent pay cut, the state could save about $14.1 million annually.

More than 280 of the employees making more than $100,000 are physicians, about 140 are dentists, 44 are engineering administrators and roughly 35 are administrative law judges. The state's health and prisons departments have more doctors and dentists than other agencies, and therefore have the highest number of top-paid workers.

''We have to provide this health care, so we have to bring in physicians that can do the job,'' said prisons department spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger. ``They could be making more in the private sector. They are highly educated and they are good physicians.''

Sen. Ronda Storms, a Valrico Republican, is sponsoring a bill calling for the salaries of elected and appointed officials in Florida to be cut 5 percent if they earn more than $65,000. She said she had thought about calling for a state-worker pay cut, but decided it likely wouldn't pass the Legislature.

''It's more likely that it would pass if it's just elected and appointed officials. I think regular people feel very strongly about that,'' she said. ``I'm not so sure they feel that strongly about a state or county employee who's worked 30 years.''

If lawmakers applied Storms' pay-cut formula to the state payroll, taxpayers would save $27.6 million a year. More than 6,500 full time state employees make more than $65,000 a year, according to data from the Department of Management Services.

In Florida, the median income for a family of four is roughly $68,900, according to the most recent census figures. Nearly 5,380 state employees earn more. If all of those employees took a 5 percent pay cut, the state would save $23.8 million.

Like other lawmakers, Storms acknowledged that she and her family have their insurance premiums paid by taxpayers.

Reader comments at:
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Miami Herald
February 27.2009



GOVERNMENT

Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp's travel expenses blasted

Florida's lieutenant governor, Jeff Kottkamp, is coming under increasing criticism for his travel-spending habits at taxpayer expense.


BY STEVE BOUSQUET AND ALEX LEARY

HERALD/TIMES TALLAHASSEE BUREAU


TALLAHASSEE -- Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp likes to joke about the insignificance of his second-banana job, but his self-deprecating wit only amplifies questions about why the state is spending so much money flying him around.

State leaders are preparing for one of Florida's most painful budget years in memory with the legislative session that begins Tuesday, just as Kottkamp's travel-spending habits are gaining notoriety.

''There's no question that the public perceives this as wrong,'' said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who calls Kottkamp a friend and a hard worker. ``At a time when we're struggling to balance our [budget], everyone needs to tighten the reins on spending and travel.''

State Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, said: ``The lieutenant governor job is the most irrelevant job in state government. This may be time to look at following the lead of other states and eliminating the post to save taxpayers money, particularly during these difficult budgetary times.''

Kottkamp is supporting a rival of Rivera's in an upcoming state Senate race, but the remarks come amid new revelations about Kottkamp's use of state planes and vehicles. It already was known that Kottkamp racked up $500,000 in travel in a plane and SUV, but that didn't include his use of a Piper Navajo owned by the Florida Highway Patrol.

Kottkamp used the twin-engine, six-passenger plane on 24 different days from January 2007 to December 2008. The trips were first reported Friday by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The FHP said the plane costs $270 per hour to operate, but that apparently does not include the costs of pilots' and mechanics' salaries.

FOCUS ON 2 TRIPS

Two of the trips stand out.

• On April 28, 2007, a Saturday, the FHP plane carried Kottkamp, his wife and son to St. Augustine and returned them two days later. He took those as personal days, according to his schedule.

• On Nov. 28, 2008, the plane was flown to pick up the Kottkamps in Fort Myers and they were taken to Tallahassee for the weekend. His calendar had no scheduled events for that weekend.

There was a football game between Florida State and Florida that weekend but it was unknown Friday whether Kottkamp, an FSU graduate, attended. The family returned to Fort Myers on the same plane on Dec. 1.

Last week, Kottkamp wrote the state a $3,836 check to cover the times his wife Cyndie and son Jackson were on the plane.

Earlier this month, Kottkamp reimbursed the state $6,600 for trips on other state planes after newspapers raised questions.

Kottkamp, who earns $127,399 annually, did not respond to requests for an interview that were made over the last three days. On Wednesday, during a brief public appearance in St. Petersburg, a reporter was allowed to ask only one question before Kottkamp was whisked away.

The governor's office did not make a statement Friday evening, leaving no one in the administration to defend Kottkamp. Previously, Crist had said travel was part of Kottkamp's job.

The Florida Highway Patrol defended the use of the plane and noted other state officials have used it as well. Former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings used it more than Kottkamp has so far, according to records released by FHP.

What's more, the agency said the $270-an-hour cost to use the plane is cheaper than commercial or charter air services. It also noted that Kottkamp's use of the plane has decreased from when he first took office. He has used it a total of 86 flight hours: 39 in 2006-07; 27 in 2007-08 and 20 so far in 2008-09.

The bill for 86 hours would be $23,220.

`A SERVICE'

''We provide a service for all of our state partners to use. If the lieutenant governor has a trip where he has multiple destinations, traditionally his office has allowed us to fly him,'' FHP spokesman Col. Ernesto Duarte said.

In addition to the plane, the FHP bought three sport utility vehicles at a cost of about $80,000 and positioned one each in Fort Myers, Tallahassee and central Florida for Kottkamp's use.

But even Gov. Charlie Crist doesn't have more than one vehicle assigned for his exclusive use, said Heather Smith, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. FDLE, which provides Crist's security, also prohibits the use of its three aircraft for flying public officials, Smith said.

Kottkamp's flights over the past two years have cost $400,000, and his security detail, a state trooper who owns a home in Kottkamp's hometown of Fort Myers, has billed taxpayers for $60,000 in travel expenses, mostly between Fort Myers and Tallahassee.

FHP noted Friday that it has long provided protection to those who have held the lieutenant governor job. The 1967 Piper Navajo plane Kottkamp has used was acquired in 1995 from a joint state and federal drug bust.

Clearwater political activist David Plyer has filed an ethics complaint against Kottkamp, accusing him of misusing his position for personal benefit. ''It bothered me the way money is being spent,'' Plyer said. ``They are not forced into the job. If there are some inconveniences, that's unfortunate.''

On Wednesday, Kottkamp was in St. Petersburg and spoke for 15 minutes at a utility summit conference at the Renaissance Vinoy hotel. He told about meeting humorist Dave Barry, who told him that the job is so obscure, ``Anybody can claim to be a lieutenant governor.''

St. Petersburg Times staff writers Lucy Morgan and Donna Winchester contributed to this report, and information from The Associated Press was used. 

Steve Bousquet can be reached at sbousquet@sptimes.com

Reader comments at:

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/southflorida/v-fullstory/story/925738.html?commentSort=TimeStampAscending&pageNum=1#Comments_Container

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http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics/florida/story/918381.html

Miami Herald

February 24, 2009

Kottkamp bills are nothing to sneeze at

By Fred Grimm

''Who?'' the old guy asked. He was just setting me up.

''Kottkamp,'' I repeated.

''Gesundheit!'' he whooped.

Murray Klein laughed at his own joke, then answered my question with a question of his own: ``What do I know about your lieutenant governor of Florida? I'm from New York.''

The New Yorker, at least, managed a response. Actual Floridians queried along Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale on Monday went blank at the mention of the mysterious Jeff Kottkamp. ''Never heard of him,'' said a fellow in a business suit, looking at me squinty-eyed, as if this Kottkamp fellow was just another media lie.

Not that I can claim intellectual superiority in the matter. Before the rash of newspaper stories detailing how the lieutenant governor flies around like a Wall Street executive, using the state's jet and turboprop like personal limos, I wasn't sure if we even had a lieutenant governor.

The Sun Sentinel first reported Kottkamp was costing state taxpayers outlandish amounts with his willy-nilly use of state planes, often with his wife and kid in tow. A Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times analysis tallied $402,000 in travel on state aircraft over two years, including $112,890 to send empty planes to fetch Kottkamp from his home near Fort Myers.

UTTER OBSCURITY

Kottkamp's high-flying, high-falutin' ways seemed all the more brazen after a 2008 report by the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability questioning why the state provided anyone other than the governor with planes that cost $3,500 an hour to fly. It was as if Kottkamp was determined to put a wastrel's face to that staid report.

Kottkamp has been well-positioned to weather the public outrage over his free-spending ways -- in utter obscurity. Most Floridians couldn't distinguish their lieutenant governor from a first round loser on American Idol. He invented a new truism for Florida politics: Some days, it's good to be anonymous.

On Monday, Steve Bousquet of the Miami Herald/St. Pete Times Tallahassee bureau reported that a state trooper had run up $62,000 in travel expenses (in addition to his $73,594 base pay) guarding Kottkamp. The question looming over Bousquet's story: Guarding him from whom? Sociopaths know no more about Kottkamp than the rest of us. Surely the lieutenant governor's cloak of anonymity works like an invisible bulletproof vest.

REALLY NECESSARY?

Of course, my perspective might have been warped by growing up in West Virginia, a state too poor to waste money on a state official with no particular duties until something untoward happens to the governor. In fact, in the days before state officials felt entitled to commute in luxurious private jets, Florida got along fine without a lieutenant governor (from 1889 until the state Constitution was revised in 1968).

Kottkamp, for his $127,300 a year, does make a number of public appearances. And the governor sticks him on some public boards. For example, he's chairman of Space Florida, which promotes Florida-based aerospace research and exploration -- not a position apt to fill the public with confidence during a faltering economy.

If flying between Tallahassee and Fort Myers has cost the taxpayers a bundle, imagine the expenses Kottkamp could amass on a fact-finding flight to the space station.

Reader comments at: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/politics/florida/story/918381.html?commentSort=TimeStampAscending&pageNum=1#Comments_Container

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http://www.miamiherald.com/news/columnists/michael-putney/story/920293.html

Miami Herald

February 25, 2009

FLORIDA

Charlie, do we really know you?

By Michael Putney

MPUTNEY@LOCAL10.com


In difficult times like these, it's not a bad idea for the governor to be the state's cheerleader-in-chief as well its chief executive. Charlie Crist has the cheering part down -- he's Florida's biggest booster. He's also eternally cheerful and almost depressingly optimistic. His glass is not just half-full; it's always two-third's full, which is how he sees Florida's future. But is he the right leader to move Florida to that future through the worst financial crisis of our lifetimes?


I began to wonder last week after interviewing the governor in Fort Lauderdale before a town hall, watching him conduct that meeting, listening to his comments at the national governor's conference in Washington and watching him on Meet the Press. All this hyper-Crist exposure has me asking: Is Charlie the genuinely concerned Republican moderate/populist he professes to be (``I work for the people, they're my boss'')? Or is he a slightly ditzy, disconnected lightweight who has succeeded on the strength of great political instincts, an appealing personality and a Clintonesque (Bill, not Hillary) talent for making you feel like you're the most important person in the room for however long you're with him?

He is extremely likable. Heck, I like the guy. But likability is only one small component of leadership -- and not an essential one. Some leaders -- Jeb Bush, to name one -- don't give a hoot whether they're liked or not. They'd rather be respected or, better yet, feared. Nobody, I suspect, fears Charlie Crist. He'd be a better governor if he were.

Charlie -- he's on a first-name basis with everyone in the media who covers him -- is a charming person. One of the nicest guys in politics and a worthy heir to a legacy of political civility and politesse learned at the knee of his one-time boss and mentor, Connie Mack. When Mack was first running for the Senate in 1988, he was accompanied to our interview by a personable young lawyer and staff aide, one Charlie Crist. So I've known the governor for a long time.

And yet I'm not sure I really know him. He is at once ubiquitous and hard to pin down, simultaneously transparent and opaque. He seems to be exactly what he appears to be, but then will disappear for a moment into an otherness that's hard to pierce. Watching him with NBC's David Gregory on Sunday, I was reminded of the character Chance from the classic movie Being There. Chance, played brilliantly by Peter Sellers, is a mentally challenged gardener with good manners who, on the death of the owner of the estate where he works, inherits the owner's beautiful clothes, circle of friends and speaks to them in Zen-like metaphors that make them think he's an éminence grise. In fact, he's actually a sweet idiot savant.

Which isn't to say that Charlie's an idiot or a savant. He is a superb politician whose cozying up to President Barack Obama drives the Republican right nuts, but plays well with almost everyone else. But listen to what he says about it, and you realize it doesn't withstand close scrutiny.

''He's my president, and we've got to support him,'' the governor told me of his decision to introduce Obama in Fort Myers recently. ''We're all in this together.'' And the Republicans in Congress who see him as a turncoat? ``I respect their point of view. But they see this crisis from Washington; I see it from Tallahassee.''

Well, it looks utterly reasonable in print, doesn't it? And even more so when Charlie says it with utter sincerity and a furrowed brow. Perhaps the problem is that we're all geared for irony, and Charlie doesn't have any. Nor does he even seem to have an ounce of guile. Can that really be true? My life experience and four decades of reporting tell me it's not.

The vast majority of Floridians think he's the real deal. A Quinnipiac poll out last week found that 67 percent of Floridians approve the job the governor's doing.

His approval ratings are rock steady even as the state's economy is tanking. Makes you wonder what it will take for Floridians to fall out of love with Charlie Crist. A huge promise unkept? But that's already happened. Last year he promised, famously, that property taxes would ''drop like a rock.'' They dropped, but more like a pebble. Now he's going back to the Legislature with more proposals to bring down property taxes. And he's promising that the $12.2 billion Florida will get from the economic stimulus package -- ''a real shot in the arm'' -- will fill plenty of holes in Florida's very leaky budget. Of course, the lawmakers who are trying to write the budget say that the one the governor sent over last Friday is wildly optimistic about future tax revenues.

But that's how Charlie sees his role: the wildly optimistic governor -- the decent and sincere man who will never lie and lead us into an ever brighter day. We'd all like to believe it. I just want to know if Charlie really does.

Reader comments at: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/columnists/michael-putney/story/920293.html?commentSort=TimeStampAscending&pageNum=1

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What are friends for? 

"Sansom's friend pushes for toll road through nature preserve." 
Really.

As this article nicely demonstrates, every so often it's nice to see some tangible proof that not all the truly despicable people in the Sunshine State are in South Florida.
And developer and Friend-of-Sansom Jay Odom is that proof, for today at least.

Personally, I've always felt that despite the prominence that local South Florida media has given to certain local Cuban-American businessmen, who imagine themselves the future media, energy, commodities or marketing titans who'll help re-shape the face of Cuba, after Castro's brand of Communism goes adios forever -in the Herald's case, practically lionizing guys who seem not to have accomplished very much here, but are either well-connected or Belen grads- it'll more likely be characters like Jay Odom from the Panhandle, somebody we've never heard of, who'll really make out like bandits as they propose one hair-brained scheme after another to get some money flowing into the national treasury, regardless of what it does to Cuba's heritage, environment or patrimony.

Sort of the Eastern European syndrome writ large that was taken to its most base levels in Russia, where valuable national resources were dispersed in ways that history will show led to many subsequent problems.

After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, due in part to my own longtime interests, furtive curiosity and the number of contacts I had developed with some fairly prominent people in D.C. who were quite encouraging, I desperately wanted to go to Eastern Europe and write, photograph and chronicle the very difficult choices that people there were having to make on the fly about their families and futures.

I was especially interested in the case of once-bustling industrial towns that had seen their young people leave for brighter futures elsewhere, and whether the physical and psychological environments there could adapt and change for the better, or whether the exodus would, in fact, speed up, as people simply gave up on towns, regions and industries that might become ghost towns, because they didn't have the time or patience to wait until some unknown future point could make them relevant and profitable, after an influx of investment, modern technology and new management initiatives that were practical and logical.

Because of some minor connections to the WWF, the World Wildlife Fund, and to their people in charge of Eastern Europe at the time, I was especially interested in the industrial-ecological conundrum of towns in what is the present-day Czech Republic and Poland.

Southwestern Poland, not so far the present northern Czech. Republic, is where my maternal ancestors left a Prussian-controlled farming area in 1855, emigrating to Bandera in the Hill County of Texas, becoming pioneers 19 years after the Battle of the Alamo in San Antonio to the south, where I was born, and my mother grew-up with her aunt and uncle.
Those pioneer ancestors endured much after a three-month boat ride from Bremen, that was followed by them walking from Galveston to Bandera, a trip of a few weeks, as an oxen team pulled a wagon with their meager belongings on them.

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that when the day comes when local South Florida Cubans are taking the boat ride from Key West to Cuba, it'll only be about six hours at a leisurely pace, and with an open bar.
And Jay Odom will be pitching ideas!







St. Petersburg Times


Sansom's friend pushes for toll road through nature preserve

By Craig Pittman, Times staff writer 
February 26, 2009

A developer closely linked to former House Speaker Ray Sansom is pushing for a new toll road to slice through a nature preserve that taxpayers spent $16.5 million to save from development.

"They couldn't have picked a worse place to put this road," said Matt Aresco, the biologist who manages the preserve.

The eight-member board in charge of building the toll road was created by the Legislature in 2005 through a bill sponsored by Sansom, R-Destin. Sansom's brief tenure as House speaker this year has led to a grand jury investigation.

The toll road board's vice chairman is Jay Odom, the developer whose ties to Sansom are among the subjects now being investigated by the grand jury.

The work of the Northwest Florida Transportation Corridor Authority was close to Sansom's heart. When Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed giving the authority $3 million in 2007, Sansom told the Northwest Florida Daily News that he regarded that as "about the most important $3 million in the state budget."

Odom, who built a subdivision that would benefit from the proposed toll road, did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Board chairman Randall McElhenny said he can understand why Aresco and others might be worried about seeing an authority map that shows a road being built through the middle of the nature preserve.

But those concerns are premature, he said, because at this point the routes are only conceptual.

"They're lines on a map," he said. "Those lines don't really mean anything except as a concept."

The preserve is older than Odom's road board. In 2002, real estate investor M.C. Davis bought 48,000 acres of farm and timberland east of Eglin Air Force Base called Nokuse (pronounced "Nuh-GO-zee," an Indian word for bear) Plantation. He hired Aresco to guide its restoration — filling in ditches that had drained wetlands, replanting longleaf pines, conducting controlled burns.

Three years later, Davis sold to the state the development rights on 18,000 acres of Nokuse Plantation, granting the state something known as a "conservation easement" that can never be developed. Cost to the taxpayers: $16.5 million.

Now that the taxpayers have paid to preserve it, Odom's board wants to bisect it with a major four-lane highway, Aresco said.

As set up by Sansom, the toll road board has the power to select routes for a whole series of roads and bridges across the Panhandle, condemn any property needed for construction and then borrow money to pay for the work, to be paid off using tolls.

The board is supposed to pick routes that improve travel times through the Panhandle's coastal areas, enhance hurricane evacuation and "promote economic development along the corridor," according to the authority's attorney.

Critics say "economic development" is the real reason for most of the roads being planned. The road that would cut through Nokuse would also funnel traffic to a subdivision called Hammock Bay that Odom has built outside the town of Freeport.

"I don't know how he can vote on this when he has a development in close proximity that would benefit from it," Aresco said.

The toll road system being planned by Odom's board would also benefit the state's biggest developer, the St. Joe Co. It would provide direct access to a new $330 million airport being built 20 miles north of Panama City on land St. Joe has donated.

St. Joe officials hope the new taxpayer-financed airport will spur the development of the company's thousands of acres surrounding the airport, the first to be built since Sept. 11 sent the airline industry into a tailspin from which it has yet to recover.

"We see this whole road system as a real boondoggle," Aresco said. "We've been calling it the road to nowhere that goes to the airport to nowhere."

Most of the existing highways that the new toll roads are supposed to supplement, such as State Road 20, are far from clogged, the biologist said. So the highway through the preserve "doesn't make any sense economically."

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@sptimes.com.

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Cityline on A1A and the beach

Cityline on A1A and the beach
Where Hollywood meets Hallandale Beach on State Road A1A, Hyde Beach Resort & Residences meets the iconic beach ball-colored Water Tower. © 2017 Hallandale Beach Blog, All Rights Reserved

Miami Dolphins classic logo

Miami Dolphins classic logo
What I grew up with in South Florida in the 1970's - not just an expectation for winning, but for excellence and 100% effort!

North Miami Beach High school alumni

North Miami Beach Senior High School, the Home of the Chargers

North Miami Beach Senior High School, the Home of the Chargers
Before I was a Hoosier, I was an NMB Charger, Class of 1979.

In the Heart of a Great Country, Beats the Soul of Hoosier Nation

In the Heart of a Great Country, Beats the Soul of Hoosier Nation
"In the Heart of a Great Country, Beats the Soul of Hoosier Nation." -South Beach Hoosier, 2007.