SUGGESTED SALARY – PLUS $300 MONTHLY CAR ALLOWANCE, AMONG SIGNIFICANT OTHER BENEFITS – FOR FORMER STATE REP. STEVE PRECOURT, R-ORLANDO, SHOULD HE TAKE OVER THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR POSITION AT THE ORLANDO-ORANGE COUNTY EXPRESSWAY AUTHORITY AS WAS, UNTIL RECENTLY, EXPECTED. FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR MAX CRUMIT WAS PAID $225,000
PRECOURT’S ANNUAL SALARY AS A STATE REPRESENTATIVE UNTIL HE RESIGNED THE POSITION ON JAN. 9, AHEAD OF BEING TERM-LIMITED IN NOVEMBER 2014.
AMOUNT COLLECTED IN TOLLS BY THE TROUBLED EXPRESSWAY AUTHORITY LAST YEAR
“WHAT I PERCEIVE AS A LACK OF A CANDOR AND QUESTIONABLE LAPSES IN MEMORY WHICH WE EXPERIENCED IN RECENT INTERVIEWS OF WITNESSES ONLY REINFORCES MY SUSPICIONS. WHILE THE INVESTIGATION IS NOT COMPLETE AND I WILL NOT PREJUDGE ITS FINAL CONCLUSION, I HAVE SEEN AND HEARD ENOUGH TO COUNSEL CAUTION IN MAKING ANY CHANGES IN THE LEADERSHIP OF AN ORGANIZATION AS IMPORTANT TO THIS COMMUNITY AS THE ORLANDO-ORANGE COUNTY EXPRESSWAY AUTHORITY.”
– STATE ATTORNEY JEFF ASHTON IN A
JAN. 17 LETTER
SOURCES: Orlando Sentinel, Jeff Ashton’s office
Just as last week came to its chilly close amid the acrid surges of political inevitability, a sort of stop-stick was tossed out onto the temporal freeway, forcing at least one fast-tracking, smooth-talking career politician into the median of uncertainty. State Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando – he of last year’s home-rule pre-emption parade – had to tone down his camera-ready smile for a minute and realize that maybe the decision to resign on Jan. 9 and hop to the front of the Expressway Authority bus was a bit premature. Sure, those with their good money on good things might have advised him that his new position wasn’t exactly a done deal, regardless of what his majority of cronies presently sitting on the board had drafted. After all, those cronies have been under investigation by State Attorney Jeff Ashton’s office since September. Look before you leap?
But even that tangled web of inquiry, which currently stretches all the way up to the Florida Department of Transportation – a web that, by nature, includes a “lack of candor and questionable lapses in memory,” according to Ashton – doesn’t tell the full story of Precourt’s precious gamble. Amid all (un)due fanfare, Precourt and his fellow Republicans praised their new ethical complexion last year when they passed Senate Bill 2, a 64-page omnibus that would effectively preclude opportunists like Precourt from accepting what amounts to a lobbying position (like the one he is trying to accept right now) for at least two years. Hell, even ethically challenged Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who likewise sits on the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority, understood that when she tried to vote (in the minority) against his employment at the agency earlier this month.
So, what does it all mean? Well, beyond the clear fact that the Expressway Authority is at best unnecessary (and at worst, fraudulent), it’s also incredibly confusing and not very sexy to the public, something we’d suspect Precourt was banking on when he tried to grease the wheels that got him here. But in reality, there are so many tentacles flapping around from this five-headed local politics monster that it may just do itself in.
Three board members – Marco Peña, Scott Batterson and Noranne Downs – stand at the center of the State Attorney’s investigation, in which they’ve been accused of plotting to remove former executive director Max Crumit from office behind closed doors (he resigned in October after a vote of no confidence), thereby violating the state’s sunshine laws. At least one of the accused, former Republican legislative candidate Peña, has been defensively vocal about his distaste for the good-old-boy shenanigans that led to the investigation. As befits this staged drama, he even showed up at Val Demings’ mayoral campaign announcement earlier this month, presumably as a jab against an inter-party warring faction that includes Jacobs. Things are getting ugly in this Peyton Place rabbit hole.
With Precourt’s future in limbo (don’t worry about him; he still maintains a financial interest in his former firm Dyer, Riddle, Mills and Precourt, which has taken in more than $10 million from the Expressway Authority since 2004), Jacobs’ once-safe seat in trouble, $1 billion in expressway projects pending and a special election (starring Precourt’s buddy Eric Eisnaugle) to fill the vacant legislative seat, everything is starting to feel very uncertain. And exciting?
“Though the investigation is still in its infancy, I can state that those records raise in my mind a reasonable suspicion that Florida statutes may have been violated and that further investigation, which may involve a Grand Jury, is warranted,” Jeff Ashton wrote in his Jan. 17 letter to the Expressway Authority’s general counsel. Just grand.
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