Florida Watchdog’s Best of 2013
Around the State
Missing stimulus funds, billions in federal spending for a “free” lunch program and a golden business deal greased with taxpayer money. If that sounds like a lead-in to a bad Hollywood film, it’s not.
It’s some of the waste, fraud and abuse Florida Watchdog uncovered this year in our quest to expose government largesse. As 2013 comes to a close, here’s a look back at some of our top stories.
Investigative reporter Marianela Toledo spent hours combing through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or stimulus, records to see if taxpayers were in fact getting their money’s worth.
But when she came across a Tallahassee-based firm called the Emperor Organization, she found more questions than answers.
After receiving three-quarters of a million dollars, Emperor seems to have vanished — along with the cash.
Yep, school lunch is now free for all students in many public schools
A new federal program known as the Community Eligibility Option is giving Florida’s public schools a way out of verifying whether students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
The solution: expand subsidized meals to include all students whether they can afford to pay or not.
Except, it’s not free. The program is part of a multi-billion federal effort to further expand into public schools. Watchdog.org counted 179 participating schools in just three Florida counties.
Hertz gets golden deal in Sunshine State
If you’re a large business and you want to relocate near the beach, then boy does Gov. Rick Scott have a deal for you.
While Florida’s chief executive was posing for photo ops and scratching another notch on his jobs-belt, Watchdog.org found that roughly $85 million in taxpayer incentives were used to grease the slide for Hertz Corp. to move to a state with existing superior tax and market advantages.
This three-part series explores the deal and what one expert calls “press release jobs.”
Miami police union to applicants: You don’t want to work here
Let’s face it, living in paradise has its price. Just ask the Miami Fraternal Order of Police. Florida Watchdog found a local video of the police union telling would-be cops not to apply there.
Why? Because the pay and benefits are terrible!
Then again, the union went public with their “Do Not Apply” campaign a week before their contract negotiations with the city.
U.S. Supreme Court sides with Florida man against oppressive permitting fees
This story received a lot of positive feedback, even if the end result was partly too little, too late for the Koontz family.
Twenty years ago the Central Florida family was denied a permit to build on its own land because Coy Koontz, Sr. refused to pay a massive permitting fee intended to fund an unrelated government project.
Instead of backing down, he fought back.
Koontz, Sr. died in 2000, but his son picked up the cause and continued the fight for their property rights.
Watchdog.org reported the results of their long-awaited day in court at the U.S. Supreme Court.
(This story has been the first in a two-part series.)
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