Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FIRST LOOK: Brevard School Board, District 1 Candidates

TITUSVILLE, Florida - Three candidates have currently filed to run for the Brevard School Board, District 1 (which encompasses Mims, Titusville, Port St. John and parts of Cocoa).  Brevard Times submitted the same four questions to each candidate – with a 150-word limit for each answer.  The election will be held on August 26, 2014.

1 - Do you support the referendum for a ½ penny sales surtax to fund the capital budget? Why or why not?
Misty Belford - I support continuing to find efficiencies in the school system to ensure responsible spending with the greatest positive impact for our students. Citizen oversight of spending is crucial to that goal.

Even with increased efficiency, our schools desperately need additional funding to meet the needs of our students and counter declines in funding streams including property tax and PECO dollars.  The surtax will bring that funding with minimal cost to our residents and benefiting from visitor spending.  All of the surrounding counties have a school surtax.  We support their schools when we spend in neighboring counties.  Visitors to Brevard contribute nothing to our schools.  The cost of the surtax to Brevard residents will be minimal ($25 per year for the average family) but the return on investment is significant when you consider funds generated by visitors as well as the impact of high quality schools on our local economy.
Paul Chinaris - The ½ penny sales tax referendum has not been written yet, which means that there are some questions unanswered. How long is the term? Will the School Board publish a specific list of capital repairs if approved? Likewise, will there be a detailed published list of cuts and school closures should it fail? The Board needs to publish its definite plan so that the public can make an informed decision.

Many of the school districts in Florida have surplus sales tax to help fund their schools. With our beautiful beaches and the busy cruise terminals, our tourist could help fund our schools if the sales tax is voted in.
Shana Lynn Moore - It is important to start spending money to maintain the physical plants of the schools, avoiding greater expenses in future years.  If the surtax is approved, it will be my priority to ensure that the funds are used correctly.

2 - The latest budget cut list for FY 2014-15 has 25 items and saves almost $18 million dollars.  Would you change any priorities on that list?
Belford - The two items dealing with IB and AICE funding should move to second and third place on the list.  These are choice programs that generate funding intended to be used to support the administration of the programs.

Class size is a constitutional amendment that should be followed.  If the district refuses to follow class size, we should fill classes equally (instead of significantly overfilling one class within a grade to avoid fines in multiple classes) and eliminate intentionally small classes from the calculation of average.  This cut should be as far down the list as possible.
Almost all of the proposed cuts will have a significant negative impact on students and teachers and should be avoided if at all possible.  I encourage cutting at the district level and minimizing the impact at the school level or looking for school level cuts that do not impact students to such as extent.

Chinaris - Everything on the proposed cut list is at the school level, either a program at schools or personnel in direct contact with our students. I believe that there are still administrative cuts that can be made at ESF with less negative impact on our students. I believe it is time to take a closer look at the entire structure of the administration. The idea “that’s just the way we have always done it” is not a valid excuse to avoid change.
 The proposed cut of 82 school media specialists and 70 media assistants is disconcerting. This would effectively close school libraries. That doesn’t seem to be in keeping with “serving all students with excellence as the standard.” Also, the idea of eliminating campus monitors at schools where the facility is not set up for one entry-exit point potentially puts our children in harm’s way and should not be considered in today’s climate.

Moore - I am opposed to eliminating art and music education in the elementary schools.  Perhaps the pay-for-play concept can be used to help save the art and music programs.  Research proves that these classes improve students’ cognitive skills in other subjects.  Some cuts, such as campus monitors, make complete sense to me.

3 - The current budget cut list for FY 2015-16 contains school closures, outsourcing custodial services and pay-to-play for sports.  If this had to be implanted, do you agree with those priorities?  Do you believe that a list of potential specific school closures should be made public as part of budget negotiations?
Belford - I encourage a thorough evaluation of district level cuts that could be made prior to these cuts being implemented as well as a cost/benefit analysis of the proposed cuts.  For example, I would not endorse closing two schools, knowing the impact on students, to save $400,000.  The cost would outweigh the proposed savings.  I would not endorse pay to play without a contingency plan for students who could not truly pay to play.  We must consider the overall impact, not just the immediate financial savings.

Regarding school closures, recommendations should be shared with the public as soon as possible.  This would allow time for research on the options as well as time to begin processes that could potentially save neighborhood schools.  The district has stated repeatedly that this information would be shared prior to a vote on the surtax.  To do otherwise would be disingenuous.
Chinaris - As I said potential school closures should indeed be made public. And, as I believe the 2014-15 cut list needs to be re-evaluated, that would certainly mean a new 2015-16 list as well.

Moore - I don’t have a problem with the pay-to-play; the sliding scale is in place for economically disadvantaged students, and booster clubs can help as well.  Outsourcing, in addition to costing jobs, usually does not save as much money as advertised; the controversy with the Clerk of Court’s office comes to mind.  I do believe the list of schools to be closed should be made public; parents, students, and the Board need all the information available to make the best decisions possible
4 - What is your opinion of the new Florida Standards? 

Belford - Moving away from rote memorization and teaching our children to be higher level thinkers is critical to their future success.  Unfortunately, the current Florida standards and the current implementation plan will not achieve that goal.  We need standards that are developmentally appropriate and created with input from individuals who are specialists in child development and child education, those on the front line of education.  We need to develop standards based on sold research and thoughtfully implement those standards without a rush to meet arbitrary deadlines that are counterproductive to the end goal.  Standards must be field tested before a mass rollout.  We must provide the resources to support the successful implementation of the plan.  And finally, we must provide opportunity for the standards to be implemented and adjusted as necessary before we attach potentially detrimental consequences to the outcomes including teacher evaluations, school funding, and school calendar requirements.
Chinaris - The new Florida Standards are just the Common Core standards with different numbers and a few additions. Of course I believe that rigorous standards are essential; however, there have been issues and concerns with the common core, especially in elementary math. Revision is called for before high stakes accountability testing is implemented.

I support state and local control of our curriculum and programs.
Moore - The new standards are not radically different from the original Sunshine State Standards.  The issue in the classroom is currently not that there are standards; it’s that classes are structured around loading and regurgitation of testing material.  Teachers need to be held accountable for preparing students for life and work, not for this year’s testing fad.

 

Monday, April 21, 2014

FIRST LOOK: Brevard School Board, District 2 Candidates



MERRITT ISLAND, Florida - Three candidates have currently filed to run for the Brevard School Board, District 2 (which encompasses Cape Canaveral, Cocoa Beach, Merritt Island and portions of Cocoa).  Brevard Times submitted the same four questions to each candidate – with a 150-word limit for each answer.  The election will be held on August 26, 2014.

1 - Do you support the referendum for a ½ penny sales surtax to fund the capital budget? Why or why not?

John W. Craig - I support a sales surtax for a four to six year period with stringent oversight by a committee of non-partisan community members.  Since the administration has not provided the language for the ballot initiative or a defined plan for oversight, I do not know if I will support the actual proposal come November.
The current BPS financial situation is tenuous, with long-term debt service requirements creating a shortfall in the capital budget.  We cannot compromise the health and safety of our children and teachers.  We must provide a proper learning environment or we are failing our primary mission.  A sales surtax will provide revenue required to repair our infrastructure and give us some breathing room while a new School Board creates a long-term strategic plan for fiscal solvency. 

Robert A. Mentillo - Financially our school district seems to be in dire straights.  But the current leadership has shown a lack of ability to properly spend the money they have.  So giving them more does not seem like a good idea, unless the money is allocated to a specific need for a specific time.  Or the leadership is changed.  Or both.  We have a huge debt and our needs are growing faster than the money provided by the state.  We need to work on getting the state to better fund our schools, and they are not willing to do that at this point.  We need to work on that too.  I believe the school district should specify that this money be spent on debt reduction and matched by district level cuts, not school level cuts. 
So, I support the ½ penny sales tax if certain stipulations are met.     

Keith Yarbrough - Whether or not the surtax passes is totally dependent on the level of trust that Brevard citizens have in its school board. At present, that level is extremely low and the superintendent and board have no one to blame but themselves.

2 - The latest budget cut list for FY 2014-15 has 25 items and saves almost $18 million dollars.  Would you change any priorities on that list?

Craig - The potential cut list is focused entirely on areas that directly affect children and teachers in the classroom.  I’d like to see a more balanced approach with District level cuts leading the list before any classroom items.  We need to reevaluate how BPS operates and look for efficiencies using sound business practices.  An example is a needed reevaluation of the employment relationship with the BPS attorney.  This individual works as a consultant and is paid hourly for his services.  Negotiating a service contract or hiring a full-time staff attorney could save several hundred thousand dollars. 
As for the current list, I would remove number 18 (Increase Class Sizes to Move Toward School Wide Average – Eliminate 10 Annual Contract Teachers).  We cannot afford to eliminate teachers and we cannot ignore the state class-size law.  I also would move number 12 (Elementary Strings elimination) to at or near the bottom of the list. 

Mentillo - Several. I think we need to look at what programs we had 7 years ago when we were one of the top 5 school districts in the state and then take a hard look at everything we have added since then.  That should be the starting point of this list.
The biggest missing item I see on this list is that not a single high-level administrator is on it.  The district leadership has mandated that secondary teachers work an additional 15% without pay.   That means that at the district level you should reorganize with two less departments.  Our current leadership has not been willing to do this.  We have added several “teachers” to the district payroll.  In our current situation is this really necessary?

Once you take these steps it is more palatable to address school level issues.
Yarbrough - Our current board believes that it is philosophically and ethically correct to eliminate teaching positions and as a result, increase class size. I disagree because not only is such an approach wrong educationally, but it is in clear and deliberate violation of the Class Size Amendment.

3 - The current budget cut list for FY 2015-16 contains school closures, outsourcing custodial services and pay-to-play for sports.  If this had to be implanted, do you agree with those priorities?  Do you believe that a list of potential specific school closures should be made public as part of budget negotiations?

Craig - I believe school closures are an absolute last resort.  BPS still owns and maintains the facilities that were closed last year.  And there is no report of the real savings achieved nearly a year later.  Closing a school for self-inflicted budgetary issues sends a clear signal to individuals and companies looking to relocate – that BPS can’t properly manage its’ money.  As the Brevard economy evolves with new jobs and strong economic development, a strong and financially sound public school system is critical.  And those closed schools may very well be needed in the near future. 
Outsourcing custodial services needs further examination using a projected services model and savings analysis compared with potential negatives.  On the face, I believe a well-constructed request for proposals will produce competing bids for evaluation and a determination of suitability for BPS can come from that process.  In addition, BPS needs to consult with other districts of similar size that outsource and study their lessons learned.

I am a huge fan of and proponent of scholastic athletics.  I played organized sports through college and recognize the importance of these activities with regard to leadership, discipline and teamwork.  These are not required activities though and I believe a participation charge used to offset program costs is appropriate in today’s environment.  I also believe we need to foster more partnerships with the business community to offset these costs.  A small participation charge combined with business and community support allows BPS to offer these important programs while not impacting the classroom.
There needs to be complete transparency in all School Board dealings.  If the Board is going to perform a closure analysis, then it is their responsibility to inform the public of those findings immediately. 

Mentillo - I do not.  Based on the list presented to the public, it is difficult to believe that this list was based on what is best for students.  Closing schools should be based on student needs, not on arbitrary discussions.   Closing schools that continue to be owned by the school district will not save enough money to offset the affect it has on students in those schools.  Schools should be closed when student populations decrease dramatically or the school is no longer fit for students to use and renovating it is not cost effective.  We have other areas we can address to save money before we close schools that are serving our students with excellence.  There are several buildings being used to house district personnel, outside of the Educational Services Facility in Viera.  We should look to close those down, move the personnel into existing and empty classrooms in the under-capacity schools instead of closing the schools. Look at the Psychological Services offices in Cocoa Beach, most of the people with offices there are only there for one day a week, they spend most of their time out in the school’s they service.  Why can’t they have an office in an unused classroom, it has AC, Internet, phone and space? Makes more sense to relocate adults and close an office building than to move students and then fill that school with offices (Clearlake MS).
In the last part of your question:  if you need to close a school it should be made public – when and why.

Yarbrough - Our current school board has demonstrated that it will use school closures as an initial option in dealing with budget disarray. I disagree with this philosophy. This board has unfortunately developed a reputation for questionable and closed-door decision making. To hide specifics concerning future plans for closing schools is unacceptable.

4 - What is your opinion of the new Florida Standards? 

Craig - Florida Standards are the law and the School Board is bound to uphold that law regardless of personal opinions on the subject.  Much like the class size amendment, we cannot choose to ignore the law. 
I believe in the absolute best education for my children.  I believe teachers are most effective when they are allowed some leeway in how they translate their subjects to students and that strict guidelines are often detrimental to the overall learning process.  If Florida Standards offer teaching methods and resources that improve the educational experience for my children, then I don’t really care what it is called or the politics behind it.  My concern is that the state has built the testing model before outlining the actual curriculum process and doing due diligence on the product.  And the state has not provided the appropriate funding for implementation at the local level.

Mentillo - I support having a standard that teachers teach to.  Sadly, that is not what the implementation of the Florida Standards is about.   Some company is going to make lots of money selling standardized test, study material and remediation.   Based on past experience with the state in these matters, the test will not be scrutinized by anyone outside of the company.   What makes this so disconcerting is that the College Board has proven a method, over time, of how to give standardized tests, how to grade them and how to make sure they are truly assessing what you want them to.   FCAT did none of these things, and from what I have heard, neither will this new set. The new standards themselves are just that, standards, a guide for teachers.  These standards want the students to think, to go deeper into concepts, that is what teachers want for their students also.
Yarbrough - I am a firm and relentless believer in local control of our public schools.

 

Friday, January 3, 2014

FIRST LOOK: 2014 Candidates for Canaveral Port Authority District 3

PORT CANAVERAL, Florida – Two Republican candidates have announced for the 2014 Canaveral Port Authority District 3 position: one-term incumbent Frank Sullivan and Brevard political newcomer Wayne Justice.

District 3 encompasses parts of Cocoa, Rockledge and Viera.  The four-year term pays $10,083.72 per year.

Brevard Times sent a list of four questions to the candidates and asked that the answers be 250 words or under.   Answers for Questions 1 and 2 have been combined.  The candidates' answers are listed alphabetically.

Question 1:  Name the top three challenges that Port Canaveral faces in the next five years and give brief background as to why they are challenges.

Question 2: How will you address these challenges?

Justice:
1.     Cruise Industry growth. Port Canaveral has embraced the growth potential and now has a challenge to rapidly deliver infrastructure to accommodate this growth.  Ensure laser focus on the delivery of new Terminal 1. It's on time/on budget procurement will signal to all concerned the capability of the Port to manage growth and set the tone for next steps.
2.     Cargo Industry growth. Port Canaveral wants to embrace the growth potential for cargo but again has infrastructure challenges including the lack of a rail head.  Set and monitor realistic expectations for more/diversified cargo capacity based on the steadily improving handling capabilities. Improvements should include on time/on budget cranes, re-consideration of the barge/train option, and maximum effort to get the rail line all the way to the Port.
3.     Cove growth.  Port Canaveral has an ambitious Cove Development Master Plan. I believe its success is interwoven with regional businesses successes. Is the Port willing and ready to engage?  Ensure the growth decisions are based on published policies that are supportive of regional interests. "A rising tide floats all boats."

Sullivan:
1.     Continuing the close working relationship we have enjoyed with our major cruise lines.  We as a port work hard to have a smooth, safe, secure and efficient operation of embarking and debarking their passengers.  Happy passengers make happy cruise line executives.  Their ships are given easy in and out access to docking, fuel and resupplies.  We have just authorized staff to engage contractors to build a new terminal complex on the south side of the port to serve new 6000 passenger ships.  We must work diligently to continue that relationship. 
2.     Diversify our business plan to attract a substantial increase in cargo tonnage.  With our soon to be implemented plan on channel widening and deepening, and our new container cranes being installed in 2014 we will be working hard with cargo interest to show the advantage Port Canaveral has to bringing their products closer to their customers.  We have recently expanded our staff in the cargo area to work toward identifying and showing our commitment to new potential customers.  We must continue our working relationship with NASA to extend their rail to the port.  Rail access is a vital part of our cargo expansion.  In the interim our inland port concept will be vital to serve customers until full rail access to the port is completed. 
3.     With a new terminal on the south side of the port and the opening of our new and dramatic Exploration Tower we now need to select a dynamic and experienced developer to take our Cove area expansion to the next level of development.  This will serve our community well by bringing new attention and visitors to the Space Coast.  All our construction will mean local jobs, jobs, jobs and a reason for cruise passengers – currently at 4 million passengers yearly – a reason to spend a few more days in our area or to come back on vacation.  The challenge is continuing to make wise decisions in the Cove expansion.  We have the staff on board to give us their knowledge and experience.  

Question 3   During the last few years, the port has maintained a substantial positive ratio of revenue against expenses – due mostly to the increase of cruise passengers.  As well, the port is a taxing district and could raise additional funds through that.  Why – then- does the port seek federal and state grants when the federal debt and deficit are de-stabilizing the economy and the state budget struggles to pay teacher and first responders a living wage?

Justice:   Port Canaveral is a regional entity whose economic engine benefits thousands of citizens in and beyond the Port District.  Federal and State grants for Port development have been produced for exactly that reason!  The "many" outside of this (and all) Port Districts should support the few Ports this nation has.  Port Canaveral should not take local tax $ from its District, leaving them for the County and School Board to spend (on teachers/1st responders etc.).                

Sullivan:  As a commission we operate our port as a public/private business for the benefit of our port district residents in particular, and the residents of Brevard County in general.  Our excess revenues are used for supporting bond issues we obtain for capital improvements and to use as matching funds for federal and state grants. Because we have kept expenses below budget and revenues strong while continuing expansion as necessary we have not collected taxes from district residents in 27 years.  Our port stakeholders and others in Brevard County send many tax dollars to Tallahassee and Washington.  Port Canaveral needs large influxes of revenue to continue to grow our economic impact on Brevard County, which now stands at 2 billion dollars.  Our state and federal governments see the wisdom of investing what I call our tax dollars back in successful growth and service opportunities.  With our port’s potential for growth and the 17 thousand jobs the port now accounts for I feel it is a wiser investment of our tax dollars than some of the areas on which our government now spends our tax dollars.  That said, as we continue to grow jobs, continue to bring millions of visitors to Brevard, continue to grow our economic impact to our county more dollars will become available to strengthen budgets for others.

Question 4. Why should the voters choose you?

Justice: Throughout my Coast Guard career, I learned and espoused the belief that the heart of attaining exceptional performance is setting high standards, coupled with ensuring people have the training and properly maintained equipment to reach those standards. I strive to maintain that philosophy in leadership positions here in Brevard County. My ship commands; federal policy, acquisition, and capabilities knowledge; extensive law enforcement and security expertise; along with participation in numerous trials and congressional hearings, has provided the broad experience needed to help direct the Port Canaveral Authority.  I supported thousands of Coast Guard men and women during my military service. I would like to continue public service by applying my uniquely suited experiences while supporting the residents and businesses in Brevard County as one of their Port Commissioners.

Sullivan:  As a lifelong resident of Brevard County I have tried to do my part in its growth and development through my business and my years of volunteer service to my community.   Over the years I have given back in time and what talent I have to such organizations as the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Cocoa Village Playhouse, Wuesthoff Memorial Hospital, KBB, 4-H Foundation, Brevard County Fair and my church.  Five years ago Brevard County Commissioners honored me with the Jefferson Award for Voluntarism.    I was always interested in someday serving on the Port Canaveral Commission.  I set some goals for myself.  First, I needed my family to approve because I knew that public office put different pressures on family life.  Second, my only agenda would be to continue to use best business principles to make our port one of the most productive economic engines for Brevard County ever.  Now after one term on the board, one can look at my record and decide whether I have done the job I set out to do.  I look forward to another term as we have great opportunities to bring more business, jobs and economic successes to Brevard County and all of central Florida.        

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Charles Parker: Brevard Schools Needs Strategy Change to Win Half-Penny Sales Tax

I need to tread lightly as I am a school board employee.  But I must speak up – as I have done before – regarding a Brevard Public Schools potential proposed half-penny sales tax.

Even though a similar measure was defeated 52-48% in November 2012, BPS is back – mainly because the problems have not gone away.

They have a deficit in their capital funds and have been using operational funds to band-aid problems.  They have HVAC units that are literally pieced together with duct tape.  They have school buses that high school seniors rode on when they started kindergarten.

But, at the same time, they have serious perception problems and they are, frankly, political peons.

First – the perceptions.  I took a look at my property tax bill the other day.  Using some rounding, approximately 70% of my school taxes go to Tallahassee (of which I assume some comes back).  About 7% goes to local general operating funds.  About 23% goes to capital expenditures.

Reality bites…I am already taxed more on school capital expenditures than I am taxed for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Department.  And now they want more.  And their detailed charts and graphs do not fix the perception that they already get enough of my money…maybe too much.

Next – the politics.  Last go round, they made a political decision to divulge a cut list of people and programs that would go away if the sales tax vote fell short.  However, they didn’t divulge the school closure list.  They said they didn’t want to spark a parochial battle of school v. school.  And, of course, that eventually happened anyway.  And it was ugly.

But, in the end, the sky has not fallen.  The students from closed schools have settled in elsewhere, secondary teachers are figuring out how to do more work with less time like elementary teachers have always done, some busing was eliminated, some programs ended.

So what does BPS need to do to get this tax passed?  Deal with perceptions and change their politics.

First, the perceptions.  We already know that they are using some funds from the operating budget to prop up the capital budget.  So they need to make a grand statement that they are spending the operating budget wisely so they can justify the transfer and win trust.

What should that grand statement be – you ask?  BPS needs to make a major overhaul in their organizational chart to be more efficient in management and delivery of programs.  If I were Superintendent Dr. Brian Binggeli, I would call in executives from Harris Corporation, Health-First, and some other major players and ask them to develop a new structure that is leaner and meaner.

It doesn’t even have to have a lot of cost savings.  It just has to show the reluctant voter that BPS is serious about streamlining government bureaucracy.  I guarantee a move like this would sway some moderate hearts and minds.

Second, the politics.  They need three actions in this column.

Number one – they need to put out another cut list – and this time they need to name the schools that will close and how it will impact other schools.  Parochialistic fights be damned.  If they really want this money, it is time to play hardball.

Number two – Binggeli needs to lighten his tone and change his tune.  His doom-and-gloom, almost threatening attitude does not ring true for his target voter – middle-aged retired folks who may not have kids in school. They are already suspect of the politics of intimidation by others that always say kids and old people will starve and cops and firefighters won’t show up.  As well, air conditioners and buses are not sexy.  Stop talking about them.

Number three – they need to run this like a political campaign because that is what it is.  They should take out advertising and have yard signs.  Maybe have a pithy saying or two.  And they need someone other than themselves to run this campaign.

Wait…I have an idea…How about they give a politically-knowledgeable teacher a leave-of-absence in 2014, a stipend and modest budget and let him run the campaign for them…wonder who that could be?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Charles Parker: Back On The BlueWare Beat

I spent the better part of a year reporting on the BlueWare/Mitch Needelman/Rose Harr/Matt Dupree/Scott Ellis/scanning contract story.  In case you haven’t been paying attention, Needelman, Harr and DuPree were arrested for bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and bid tampering in September.

On November 5, 2013, Needleman and his attorneys filed a motion to move the trial out of Brevard County.  In his “Motion for Change of Venue,” many articles from Brevard Times were noted because of Ellis’ frequent and unencumbered characterizations of Needelman, Harr, and DuPree.  Needelman says he cannot get a fair trial in Brevard because of this.
Quickly, let’s take a look back at the coverage.
The first story I wrote was an opinion column in May 2012 about a debate between Needelman and Ellis.  I’m sure BlueWare was mentioned in the debate…however, I did not mention it in the column.  I recall Ellis had begun to bang the BlueWare drum, but it seemed too much speculation and too few facts.

Next, I wrote two columns in June 2012 about the two candidates.  In Needelman’s story, BlueWare was not mentioned by name.  However, he did reference his interest in scanning court documents.  And he said, “We are still negotiating a contract for these services. This would be an incredible advancement for my office.”

Potentially problematic…

In the column I wrote about Ellis’ candidacy, he talked about BlueWare…again and again and again.  He said, “The whole office is for sale. Everything he touches is corrupt. The whole point is to give Blueware millions of dollars. Digitizing those old records is a waste of time and money.”

Prescient…

From July 2012 until September 2013, I wrote about 20 news stories and four opinion columns referencing the case, including the inclusion of the Brevard County Economic Development Commission’s role (or lack thereof) in the mess.

During that time, I was accused of being on Needelman’s side and then of being a lackey for Ellis.  I was invited and then dis-invited to both a tour of the BlueWare facility and then also to a BlueWare garden party.
And now my name is appearing in the court documents.
There are other issues as well that Needelman claims in his filing - Ellis’ role as caretaker of court documents and his relationship with local judges - to be specific.  But much of the motion for change of venue references comments by Ellis and those of Brevard Times readers.

While other media outlets came to the fete late with videos of perp walks and recountings of stories Brevard Times had published months prior (including some of our direct work product without attribution, but that is another story for another time), Brevard Times was always out in front as the publication-of-record.

The next hearing in this case will be in January 2014 when the judge considers the change of venue request.  I think I’ll take a day off of my day job and show up at court. 
Stay tuned…

 

 


 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Charles Parker: Obama Feckless and Reckless

Today I was accused of hating President Obama because I am critical of his foreign policy.  For the record – I do not hate him.  But let me elaborate on his policies regarding Middle East intervention.

When President Obama was a US senator, he said consistently that a president needs congressional approval before engaging in warring activities.  I actually give him a pass for that misgiving for two reasons.
First, it was one of the few times he actually took a stand on anything when he was a US Senator.  And second, it is historically accurate that most folks who become president find out that the job is much different than they expected when they get in there – and thus, much of what they said prior is exposed as simple political posturing.

After he became president, his tune, however, certainly changed. 
He ordered our military to strike at Libyan air defenses and government forces without the approval of Congress.  He sent them a letter.  The letter said he did not need their approval because averting the humanitarian crisis in Libya was within the scope of our national security goals and interests.

I will not even go into the mess that that created (can you say “Benghazi?”).
Then, he turned an eye to Syria.  He had already drawn the red line and President Assad had already crossed it.  But he drew it again….and Assad crossed it again.

So, Obama had to do something.  He made a couple of calls to allies while at the same time directing his surrogates to leak that he would bomb Syria – without seeking congressional approval.  Prime Minister Cameron got on board, called his legislators back from holiday and then abruptly disembarked after Parliament said “No.”
Obama then took a walk with his Chief of Staff (yeah – that’s the guy who gives him political advice).  He quickly decided that this situation was not so urgent, that he would seek congressional approval, and that he would wait a couple of weeks to give Congress a chance to hold hearings, hold floor debate, and vote.

When asked what Obama would do if Assad crossed the line a third time – while he is waiting for Congress to give him something he and most don’t think he needs – Secretary of State Kerry said he was sure Obama would act quickly and not wait for Congress to vote.  What?
I have heard others call this debacle “Amateur Hour.”  However, I am a writer and love words.  “Feckless” comes to mind…and maybe a little reckless too…

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Charles Parker: Is Xun Energy the EDC's Next BlueWare?

It is time to take a closer look at another deal brought to you by the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast now that former Brevard County Clerk of the Court Mitch Needelman and BlueWare, Inc. CEO Rose Harr have been arrested on bribery and other charges related to an ill-fated $6 million scanning contract.

To review - the EDC offered BlueWare a confidential package to lure the company to Brevard from Michigan.  As the case has unfolded over the past year, the EDC has refused to disclose their offers to BlueWare, even though the company has been in the midst of scandal - and BlueWare certainly has not lived up to its promises.
But – as with most everything in the BlueWare case – when the onion was peeled back there was even controversy in the confidentiality.  Clerk of the Court Scott Ellis accused the EDC of tampering with documents so that they could keep the BlueWare deal secret. That ball is still up in the air…somewhere.

But - now – enter Xun Energy, Inc.
The EDC is proposing that the Brevard County Commission offer a tax abatement deal to this energy company.   In a recent story in Brevard Times, it was said that “according to documents prepared by the EDC, Xun Energy, Inc. is a manufacturer of flywheel technology for the storage of electricity including frequency regulation that is considering locating at 425 North Drive in Melbourne, Florida with plans to create 308 new jobs with an average wage of $82,750 and invest $22,000,000 in new capital expenditures.”

Red Flag Number One – Nowhere on www.xunenergy.com – does it mention “flywheel technology.”  In a related search, the NY Times notes that “Xun Energy, Inc. (Xun Energy) is a development stage company. The Company is engaged in the business of oil and gas exploration and production of crude oil. The Company has three oil and gas leases in the State of Kentucky and 30 oil drilling locations in Pennsylvania.”
Red Flag Number Two – Xun Energy admits that it is not in a very good financial spot – even though they have told the EDC that they will make a $22 million capital investment in Melbourne if they open up shop.  On its website under the title “Risk Factors,” it says, “We have extremely limited assets and ceased generating revenue. We have little assets and have had limited revenues since inception. We will not receive revenues until we complete funding through debt, equity, or Joint Venture financing…We will need to raise additional capital...”

Red Flag Number Three – It is important to note that they have recently raised some capital, but it is through a precarious venture called “reserve equity financing.”  I’m not smart enough to know what that is so I looked it up.  According to Will Gish of EHow, Reserve equity financing constitutes a specialized form of equity financing in which an investment firm enters into a long-term relationship with a fledgling or otherwise small company looking to develop and generate capital through public markets. Reserve equity occurs only when a small business does not possess the resources to publicly trade equity.”
So basically, just within the last month, Xun has made a deal with AGS Capital Group to receive funds in exchange for the selling of up to $15 million in company stock to AGS.  I’m not a stock market guy, but currently Xun Energy is selling at $0.0015/share.  Either AGS is really smart…or…

Red Flag Number Four (and you can’t make this stuff up) – the proposed site of Xun Energy is about two miles from the current site of BlueWare. Not Titusville, not Merritt Island, not Palm Bay…basically the same industrial area in Melbourne.
A purported $1.2 million in tax breaks for these guys?

We should be saying to Xun Energy and others…if within one year you make the capital investments, hire the people, pay them what you say you will pay them – then we will give you the tax breaks retroactively to your start-up date – and also even give you a free membership to the Chamber of Commerce and a seat on the EDC board.

For more from Brevard Times on this story, click the following link:

http://government.brevardtimes.com/2013/08/tax-abatements-for-two-companies-on.html