Last month, I reported that the newest member of Orange County's scandal-plagued expressway authority has major conflicts of interest.
Specifically, engineer Scott Batterson is a "project manager" for a billion-dollar development whose future lives or dies on expressway decisions — something he didn't reveal until after he was appointed.
It didn't take the public long to see the problem. Readers overwhelmingly called for Batterson to step down.
And now Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has amped up the volume, saying that Batterson never should have been appointed in the first place.
Jacobs went so far as to pen a lengthy memo to Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Batterson, asking him to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.
Scott should do precisely that — and then fix the mess he created with Batterson by getting him off the board.
It's silly that we're even forced to have these debates.
There are more than 18 million people in this state, for Pete's sake. Surely, the governor could find one whose personal finances don't mingle with the public's business.
And don't give me this baloney about how valuable it is to get guidance from people who make money off roads.
You know who makes that argument? People who make money off roads.
There are scads of Floridians whose independent counsel could benefit the public. We're talking about retired financial experts, college professors, government watchdogs, small-business men and businesswomen — people with no vested interests, except to ensure that motorists have good roads at the cheapest possible prices.
Besides, building roads has never been the expressway's problem. Bad decisions that waste toll payers' money are.
Also problematic has been the infusion of politics and conflicts — so much so that a grand jury said a "culture of corruption" enveloped the entire agency a few years back.
And politics were again involved in Batterson's appointment.
Among those championing his appointment was state Rep. Chris Dorworth.
Yet what the governor — and public — didn't know was that both Dorworth and Batterson were making money off a major development project whose fate is tied to the Wekiva Parkway.
The development is called Kelly Park Crossing.
It's a $1 billion project near Apopka, slated to have more than 600 acres of homes, stores, offices and — most importantly — the one and only planned interchange on the entire Wekiva Parkway.
As the Sentinel reported in September: "Without the parkway, Kelly Park Crossing would have to be slashed by 90 percent because local roads could not handle all the traffic it would generate, records indicate."
The project's managing partner is Jim Palmer, a major political donor who actually applied to serve on the expressway authority himself back in 2007.
He didn't get the job. (Former Gov. Charlie Crist instead appointed Palmer to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.) But now, with Batterson, Palmer has one of his project managers on the board.
Batterson was forced to disclose his job with Palmer in one of his two "potential-conflict" forms he filed after Scott appointed him. Batterson identified himself as the "project manger" for the civil-engineering portion of Kelly Park Crossing.
That's why the governor needs to get Batterson out.
He was sold a bill of goods, kept in the dark about Dorworth's and Batterson's financial ties to the project.
Dorworth, in particular, is good at that.
Last week, he penned a "My Word" column in the Sentinel, expressing outrage that I had raised questions about his financial disclosures.
In doing so, Dorworth wrote the following: "I do not have any ownership in anything related to the Wekiva Parkway project …"
He chose his words carefully. He may not have "ownership" in anything connected to the project. But he definitely makes money off it.
Palmer confirmed Friday that he pays Dorworth specifically to work on Kelly Park Crossing.
Enough with the secrets, conflicts and misleading denials.
The public deserves independent watchdogs to protect its money and interests. That's why Gov. Scott should listen to Mayor Jacobs and the public.
He should replace Batterson with someone whose only interest is serving the public — no strings attached.
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