A look at government actions around the Gulf Coast.
Investigation, resignation embroils county
LEE COUNTY — Sexually explicit e-mails being investigated by the FBI have led to the resignation of Don Stillwell as county administrator.
Department of Human Services Director Karen Hawes has been named interim administrator and a search for a permanent replacement is underway. Hawes has been with the county 24 years.
Three other high level county employees, including Deputy County Manager Bill Hammond, are also part of the investigation that led to Stillwell's May 5 resignation. Holly Schwartz and Pete Winton, assistant county managers, are also part of the investigation, which focuses on the alleged forwarding of the sexually explicit e-mails using county computers.
Stillwell, who had a $248,000 salary, accepted a three-month, $153,000 severance package that included a leased Lexus and fuel.
Councilman Jamie Bennett under political fire
ST. PETERSURG — City Councilman Jamie Bennett, who is one of nine candidates for mayor and the city's longest serving councilman, was already under fire over the common practice of doling out some of the city's Tampa Bay Rays tickets to neighborhood leaders.
As a response to the allegations, Bennett fired his campaign manager, Peter Schorsch, allegedly for his involvement.
Now, Schorsch is firing back. He claims that his former boss' intention was to influence neighborhood association presidents and community leaders with the Rays' tickets and that Bennett conspired with him to discredit other candidates. Schorsch further alleges that Bennett supervised efforts to put down an opponent by mailing out 150 flyers pointing out problems with the opponent's driving record and that he led attempts to disrupt other candidates' events by hiring protestors.
County officials hope to ease Lehman pain
SARASOTA COUNTY — Sarasota County officials are lobbying Capitol Hill to put the burden of the county's $40 million investment loss in Lehman Brothers bonds on the nation's taxpayers.
Local and state government officials nationwide are joining Sarasota officials in pushing for the Treasury Department to purchase government-owned Lehman assets; the investment banking company filed for bankruptcy last fall. The officials are lobbying congress to support a bill that would allow Troubled Asset Relief Program dollars to purchase the Lehman assets.
Sarasota County continues to hold the bonds, which represent less than 5% of the county's investments and are being carried as an “unrealized loss” on the county's books. Clerk of Court Karen Rushing says the loss prevents the county from potentially building or staffing a fire station, two libraries and new parks.
Ag Commission seat in hot demand
FLORIDA — Five candidates have already decided to run for state agriculture commissioner and three more are rumored to be entering the race for the cabinet post.
The youngest, 34-year-old U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Bartow, has raised $486,358, according to the first quarter report. The next closest in fund raising are gun shop owner and state Sen. Cary Baker, R-Eustis, with $40,200, and former House speaker pro tempore and citrus grower Marsha “Marty” Bowen of Haines City, who has raised $37,950. Bowen is a Republican, too.
Other candidates for the position are former House member and Republican O.R. “Rick” Minton, Jr. a Fort Pierce Realtor who has raised $1,750, and rancher/optician James “Jimmy” Harlan Carter of Live Oak. Carter, of the Real Food Party of the United States of America, did not report any contributions for the first quarter.
The agriculture commissioner is one of three cabinet seats and oversees the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Baker, for one, should be very familiar with its operations: as chair of the Senate's General Government Appropriations Committee, he oversees the department's budget.
Others reportedly interested in the seat, now held by Charles Bronson, are state Rep. Debbie Boyd, R-High Springs; Audubon of Florida lobbyist Eric Draper; and Randy Hatch, a former Suwannee County commissioner. Bronson is term-limited out and has announced plans to run for governor.
The agriculture commissioner election will be held in 2010.
The Charlotte County Industrial Development Authority meets Wednesday, May 20 at noon in the SunTrust building, 18501 Murdock Circle, Suite 502 in Port Charlotte. For more information call Kathy Knee at (941) 627-3023.
County officials are soliciting public input for a variety of revenue sources, including the half-cent sales tax, the community investment tax and the indigent health care surtax.
These revenues are expected to fall significantly below budgeted levels for fiscal year 2009. The proposed fiscal year 2009 budget reduction to be considered at the hearing total $42,407,756.
The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, May 20 at 2 p.m. at The County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa.
The Land Development Code Rewrite Stakeholder Committee meets Wednesday, May 20, 4-6:30 p.m. at the Land O'Lakes Community Center, 5401 Land O'Lakes Blvd. (US 41) in Land O'Lakes. The next meeting is June 17 at the same time and place.
The Pinellas County Planning Council meets Wednesday, May 20 at 1 p.m. in the 5th floor assembly room of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.
Proposed changes to the City of North Port's Unified Land Development Code will be presented in a public meeting to be held in the North Port City Commission Chambers at North Port City Hall, 4970 City Hall Blvd. The meeting is Wednesday, May 27, 10 a.m. to noon.