Teamsters try to block prison privatization, file ethics complaint against Gov. Rick Scott
originally found here.
TALLAHASSEE — Florida policymakers’ push to privatize a huge part of its prison system has drawn the wrath of the Teamsters, which announced Wednesday that it had filed an ethics compliant against Gov. Rick Scott.
The complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics says Scott’s privatization push is “tainted” because he has accepted cash for his inagurual committee from the two largest companies vying for the contracts, the GEO Group and Corrections Corp. of America.
But the complaint is vague as to how that would violate Florida’s ethics law. Florida’s ethics laws generally preclude state employees from leaving government service and lobbying for entities they worked with on state time, or on contracts they had a part in negotiating as state employees.
“The governor clearly has a conflict of interest with both CCA and GEO bidding to secure contracts for prison management,” said Teamsters International Vice President Ken Wood, who filed the complaint.
“Using either GEO or CCA to manage prisons doesn’t make sense either financially or ethically for the state,” Wood said. “We are urging the ethics commission to take action in this matter and find that the governor violated his responsibilities to the people of the state of Florida.”
Responded Scott spokesman Lane Wright: “There’s no ethics violation here. Between two and three hundred companies and individuals donated to the inauguration fund. And that money went to the Republican Party of Florida … not to Gov. Scott directly. Besides, the prison contract is going to go to the lowest bidder, whoever that is. Gov. Scott has nothing to do with the selection process.”
Scott, a Republican who pledged to cut spending on the nation’s third-largest prison system by one-third during his campaign last year, has had to pull back some of the privatization plans in recent weeks after dismissing his corrections secretary, Ed Buss, over “differences in philosophy and management styles … which made the separation in the best interests of the state.” Scott officials were angry that the department failed to run several high-profile decisions through the governor’s staff.
Florida already has seven privately run prisons, and the new push to privatize in 18 south Florida counties was designed to save $22 million annually. The nation’s two largest private prison companies competing for the business — including Boca Raton-based GEO Group — recently told investors the shift of 29 facilities and 16,000 inmates to private management was an “unprecedented” opportunity.
Over the summer, the Department of Corrections said it is already $25 million in the red on the effort. Those costs come from the comp time, vacation and sick leave the agency would have to pay to some 3,800 workers in those facilities if they lose their jobs, according to internal email that suggests lawmakers were warned the privatization push would come at a cost.
DOC Chief Deputy Secretary Daniel Ronay wrote in a May 13 email that “this amount was NOT taken into consideration by the legislature; even though they were made aware.”
He went on to note in the email to another department executive that “with the additional closing of another facility (yet to be determined) … this payout may just cripple the agency for next FY,” or fiscal year.
Lawmakers have since scoffed at those concerns.
But the Police Benevolent Association, which represents prison corrections officers, has filed a lawsuit to block the privatization.
The PBA, which endorsed Scott’s Democratic opponent Alex Sink in the fall election, said that the Legislature broke the law by inserting the massive privatization plan into the budget, rather than passing as separate legislation. Making substantive changes to state law through the appropriations process is unconstitutional, it argued.
The suit also charges that according to state law, the state could enter into a private prison contract only if it offered substantial savings in the per-diem costs for inmates. But, it says, the state has not yet determined the baseline per-diem cost of the state running these facilities.
Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford will hear the first part of the case on whether the privatization order is unconstitutional on Sept. 29. The second part, on whether it saves the state money, will be heard on Oct. 25.