10:21 PM EDT, October 1, 2011
Gov. Rick Scott faced a big decision when deciding whom to appoint to the scandal-plagued Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.
The agency, after all, has been rocked with controversies in recent years. A grand jury went so far as to describe a "culture of corruption" filled with insiders inappropriately mixing private dealings with public money and a bevy of conflicts of interest.
So whom did Rick Scott appoint?
An insider with multiple conflicts of interest.
His name is Scott Batterson. He's a developer and road engineer. And his conflicts are so significant that Batterson recently had to fill out "potential-conflict disclosure" forms to detail all the ways he makes money off the agency now oversees.
All of which prompts me to ask the following learned and erudite question:
Are you bloody kidding me?!?!
Florida has 18 million people. And you're telling me the best guy you can find is someone who literally makes money off the agency you want him to guide?
Apparently what Batterson lacked in independence, he made up for with political connections. His top two references were Seminole County GOP legislators Chris Dorworth and Jason Brodeur.
It's particularly rich that Dorworth would try to shape the toll-road agency, seeing as how, just last year, Dorworth failed to pay so many tolls that the state started to suspend his license.
Batterson's first "potential-conflict form" discloses that one of Batterson's clients pays his company, IBI Group, to "coordinate with the Expressway Authority representatives."
One imagines Batterson will be able to "coordinate" quite nicely for his clients, now that he's one of the five members controlling the authority.
Even more troubling, though, was Batterson's second conflict of interest: one where Batterson identifies himself as the "project manager" for a massive development called Kelly Park Crossing, controlled by big-time landowner and GOP donor Jim Palmer.
The expressway is poised to spend millions of dollars on Palmer's and Batterson's project for the construction of the Wekiva Parkway.
In fact, the Sentinel recently ran a front-page story describing Palmer as potentially "the biggest beneficiary of the planned $1.8 billion Wekiva Parkway."
Now Palmer's very own "project manager" is a member of the board that will decide how much to pay him.
Sure, there are laws supposed to prohibit Batterson from actually voting on a deal that would put money in his own pocket.
But he's still directing an agency full of staffers who make recommendations that could benefit his clients.
And that is simply ridiculous.
Many Central Floridians already distrust this agency, which has engaged in shady financial deals, leaned on contractors to make political donations and raised tolls smack-dab in the middle of a recession.
This agency needs someone to rebuild the public's trust — not someone whose personal business is already tied to it.
I asked Batterson about all this, and he was peppy in his response.
"Thanks for writing," he responded. "I'm a huge fan."
I figured Batterson might be less of a fan once I told him I thought he should resign. But he seemed unfazed.
"I am WELL aware of the state's ethics laws," he wrote in an email, "and can assure you and all your readers that I will meticulously obey both the spirit and letter of those laws."
Batterson may be the nicest, smartest, most honest and most experienced 36-year-old Florida has to offer.
He still has no business serving on this board.
And anyone with a lick of sense — or an ounce of commitment to good government — knows that.
That was supposed to be what Rick Scott was all about.
In fact, just last week, I offered the governor unabashed praise for trying to clean up the mess at Workforce Central Florida. Yet now he's now creating a whole new one.
There's a remote chance Scott didn't know how conflicted his new appointment truly was.
Though Batterson's original application included several references to potential conflicts, he didn't fill out the detailed conflict forms until two weeks ago — after he was appointed in July and after the Sentinel highlighted the money Palmer was expected to pocket.
OK, governor, now there is no doubt.
Now the conflicts are out there for everyone to see.
And now you can do what you should have already: Get him out of there.
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