4:22 PM EDT, October 6, 2011
Sunday's column revealed that Gov. Rick Scott's new appointment to the beleaguered Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority has multiple conflicts of interest with the agency he now oversees.
Specifically, engineer Scott Batterson has private business agreements that help him make money off dealings with the very agency he now helps run.
It's an obvious conflict of interest — as evidenced by the "potential conflict disclosure" forms Batterson had to fill out.
But Scott's office responded this week that the governor is OK with all that — and will simply "keep an eye on the guy."
Said spokeswoman Amy Graham: "Our position is that, just like anyone else we appoint, we expect him to follow the law."
A better idea
Anyone with a lick of good-government sense knows the public is best served by someone without financial ties to the agency they're running. (For evidence of what can go wrong, just check out past scandals at Florida's Blood Centers, Workforce Central Florida and the "culture of corruption" a grand jury found at the expressway authority itself a few years back.)
What the public truly needs is a genuine watchdog with no vested interest — someone like former Orange County Commissioner Fran Pignone.
You may recall that Pignone was the one boat-rocker on the "blue ribbon" task force, which swept many of the expressway authority's systemic problems under the rug instead of fixing them.
Pignone was smart and fearless. She unearthed bad business and bond deals that were costing toll-payers millions.
But the status-quo insiders had no interest in derailing the gravy train. So they bypassed serious reform for big talk and Band-Aid improvements.
Pignone was, of course, later proven right. (From the July 26 Orlando Sentinel: "Shaky bonds could cost toll agency $50 Million.") So you can see why watchdogs like her aren't welcome.
Perhaps you caught Thursday's story where state officials were trying to understand why Orlando's toll roads cost more than the state's. Expressway Executive Director Mike Snyder said that, among other reasons, we have better landscaping and nicer road shoulders.
The Sentinel's Tallahassee bureau chief Aaron Deslatte confirmed that Snyder said so without laughing.
Kudos to State Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, who lit into the state's Elder Affairs division this week for its muzzling, ousting and generally mistreating the volunteer watchdogs who try to prevent abuse and neglect in assisted-living facilities.
As I've been writing for a while, this story is one of our state's greatest shames. We should protect our frail and vulnerable seniors — not those who neglect them.
Fortunately, a growing number of people in power are waking up to this issue and demanding answers. For a recap of Tuesday's tense hearing about the ombudsman program, visit orlandosentinel.com/takingnames.
Said the muzzled voice on the other end of my phone line: "Ah unk oo ah oo id."
I'm sorry, I say. I didn't quite get that.
"Ah unk oo ah oo id!"
You know, I'm afraid we have a bad connection. Please, one more time?
"I THINK YOU ARE STUPID!"
I realized I'd not only requested he insult me three different times, but probably proved his point in the process.
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