Long before the advent of "#floridaman" or even the super-secret negotiations that brought us Walt Disney World, Florida was a hotbed of unscrupulous behaviors and negotiations, all gelling into the sort of primordial ooze that lines the Everglades or the bedpans of the state's notorious good ol' boy network. This year, like every year, brought us our own share of onerous governmental embarrassments, though apparently not embarrassing enough to change anything in the November elections. Here are a few of our (least) favorites.
Though everyone's favorite litigious absurdity – and, ostensibly, the most powerful woman in the state – Attorney General Pam Bondi may have easily won re-election over a half-hearted Democratic campaign for George Sheldon in November, she did so while standing atop a steaming heap of questionable professional practices. In September 2013, Bondi effectively delayed the execution of convicted murderer Marshall Lee Gore (with Gov. Rick Scott's approval) in order to kick off her re-election campaign in Tampa. But that was just one of the more obvious gaffes in Bondi's questionable tenure. She's taken her battle against marriage equality to absurd and expensive levels by professing that she's just doing her job defending the state's gay marriage ban, while simultaneously trying to punt the issue to the U.S. Supreme Court – probably because some of her best friends are gay. (As of press time, Bondi has lost this battle; gays are scheduled to be allowed marriage licenses.) Just prior to the election, Bondi caught serious (and national) ethical fire for her cozy relationship with lobbyists, because attorneys general are the new hot target for corporate influence, the New York Times reported.
Gov. Rick Scott handily defeated former Gov. Charlie Crist – a recently reformed Republican – in November, but not before suffering his own slew of controversies. Scott's continued ambivalence on the issue of Medicaid expansion (and ongoing distaste for all things related to President Barack Obama) still stands as the greatest signifier of a leadership strategy focused on assisting fat-cat businesses while ignoring the state's most needy. No news there. But it was a late-year public records scandal that saw the governor withholding nearly 200 pages of emails from his private Gmail account which would almost be his end (were anyone to care about such things). The governor denied the existence of the emails – in which public business matters were discussed – for 18 months, just long enough for his staff to call the matter an "oversight." The state has reportedly spent $54,000 in taxpayer money defending the governor over the issue.
Orlando's mayor continued to make negative headlines this year (as mayors generally do) when a certain juxtaposition of vaunted venue legacy projects against a $30 million budget deficit called into question his "live, work, play" mantra. Naturally, Dyer blamed it on property tax reform and then raised property taxes. It wasn't the only black eye that the mayor took in 2014. Dyer's serial placation of Rich DeVos and his Orlando Magic resulted in a sweet deal for the latter to move its headquarters downtown into something called a "sports and entertainment development." Meanwhile, as activists grumbled, the mayor greenlit the destruction of racially historic Tinker Field at the Citrus Bowl, was forced to relocate the future soccer stadium farther west into Parramore because a church balked, and then grinned among the boosters at the opening of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, even though most local arts leaders remain skeptical about the venue.
Jacobs' dropped box
You would think that just one year after being scolded by the state attorney's office for running afoul of public records laws, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs would have learned a thing or two about that "transparency" that allegedly rests at her governmental core. You would be wrong. A lawsuit brought by activist group Organize Now resulted in the county losing again after it tried to conceal the contents of a previously unknown Dropbox account. Jacobs insisted that it was just so she could work remotely, but the fact that records discussing public business were initially withheld speaks volumes.
But even louder coming from the mayor's office this year was a will-she-won't-she battle to see if Republican Jacobs, who has now attended a total of two Come Out With Pride parades, would finally go on record as somebody who supports marriage equality (she voted for the marriage ban in 2008). After an initially tepid toe-dip into the issue – and some not-so-hidden consultation with local gay Republicans – Jacobs finally relented, probably well aware that her future conservative political ambitions can't hang on that near inevitability.
Come out with what?
Just as this year's Come Out With Pride parade was about to make its Lake Eola rounds in October, local gay media hero and parade organizer Mikael Audebert surprised the community by stepping down from his post as president of the Metropolitan Business Association, the gay chamber of commerce that serves as parent company to Pride. Details are still sketchy on just where this local tale will end – some pretty heavy allegations of financial wrongdoing have been issued, then retracted, then issued, then retracted – but it's safe to say that there will be an upheaval in the newly challenged MBA, and Pride's future hangs in the balance. Audebert, it should be noted, was one of the gay consultants working with Mayor Jacobs. Follow the money.
Demings the breaks
When Democratic former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings threw her red power-skirt-suit into the mix to run against Mayor Jacobs early in the year, local party leaders huddled around her and lifted her upon their shoulders. The term "rock star" was thrown around, as was quite a bit of state party money. She was, the party thought, its next great hope. But things started off with a stutter and ended with an outright departure from the race (and from town, temporarily) in May. Reportedly, Demings was scared off by Washington, D.C., consultants, some comparably low fundraising, and a lack of support from some of the city's key players, her former boss Mayor Dyer included. That said, she did stand a chance, even if the moneyed Dems were lined up behind Jacobs in order to ensure continued financial support for the Dr. Phillips Center. She just gave up.
Expressway to nowhere
This publication has been calling for an end to the bloated financial pretzel known as the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority for more than a decade, but problems with the toll agency date back to before this publication even started. In May, however, State Attorney Jeff Ashton took the agency to task by releasing documents that showed just how bad this whisky-and-cigars roadshow really is. That investigation resulted in some pretty high-profile charges of Sunshine Law violations and backroom deals, which should have made the problems go away. Instead, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill in June only making the agency bigger and giving it more power; the Central Florida Expressway Authority also includes Osceola County, which should be a convenient source of that sweet Disney cash. As of December, Gov. Scott was still handpicking the next winners for the expanded nine-member board. Surely nothing will go wrong.