A PEEK INSIDE JESSE'S WORLD....Jesse Panuccio, the Harvard trained lawyer in charge of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, has managed during his nearly three year stint to weather several storms including the highly troubled roll-out of the state's unemployment assistance online system.
Panuccio has been consistent at echoing Gov. Rick Scott's talking points about the economy as evidenced by his routine appearances at Cabinet meetings where he talks about the jobs picture in Florida. (This is something that was not done prior to Scott's arrival.)
But as a member of the Scott administration Panuccio is considered one of those who might be the most endangered.
Like other Scott appointees Panuccio needs a confirmation vote by the Florida Senate in 2016 in order to hang onto his job. Some of his most recent appearances before legislative committees have not gone smoothly, which has helped ramp up speculation about his future.
Lately however Panuccio has tried to change the agenda beyond criticism of the unemployment assistance system.
Instead he has maintained that the state needs to get aggressive cracking down on fraudsters who are using fake identities in order to lay claim to jobless benefits. He has written op-eds about the growing "crisis" of fraud and has asked state legislators for $3.5 million for a whole array of programs in his own agency to go after those seeking to rip off the unemployment benefits.
"What we are seeing in our estimation is an astounding amount of fraudulent claim activity,'' Panuccio testified to a Senate committee in early October.
When he's mentioned the fraud problem - which DEO estimates is as high as 12 percent of all claims - Panuccio has talked about criminal rings and organized conspiracies to obtain personal identifying information.
But apparently Panuccio's agency is also worried that its own employees could be thieves as well.
In March of this year DEO adopted a sweeping security policy entitled "Protocols for Protecting Personal Information." Download Policy1 11
The policy was basically enacted a couple of weeks before it was revealed that a Miami woman had been able to access personal information through the Department of Children and Families database.
The policy says that employees who work in the Bureau of Reemployment Assistance Program can't have a cellphone at their desk. They can have a phone in their desk or purse but they can't answer it if it's ringing. Other parts of the policy state employees can't use non-network printers or insert their phones into their work computers.
Apparently some DEO workers thought this new policy went too far, and was not family-friendly. One anonymous worker tried writing a letter this summer to Gov. Scott to complain.
"I can understand the no use of state phones for personal reason, however I have small children and family with heath issues. if I can't have my state phone I should be allowed to have my cell phone on my desk so that I can see if they call and I need to step outside and call them back,'' wrote the employee who said they worked in Tallahassee.
"I have been employed with the state for many years and have NEVER been treated this way," the letter goes on. "Moral(e) is pretty much GONE! If they don't trust us, they need to get rid of us."
The letter was kicked back to DEO's Inspector General who took no action because of the IG supports the department's enacted security policies.
But mandates and edicts at DEO are nothing new.
Shortly after Panuccio took in 2013 over he enacted a dress code for the department. Download Policy1 09
His dress code outlawed everything from jeans, flip-flops, even "athletic type jerseys" with the names of sports teams. The policy made it clear that the dress code was to be followed even on Fridays.
"Employees should always look neat and professional, in clean, pressed clothing,'' states the policy.
Recently another DEO employee contended that there was another policy in place at one of DEO's offices.
A report from Scott's own chief inspector general cited an employee who complained that all employees were required to keep their office doors open and that she was reprimanded because she violated the policy. For the record, a spokeswoman for the agency, Erin Gillespie maintained she's unaware of any open door policy.
BUDGET TRANSPARENCY MOVES AHEAD....During the spring House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Rep. Richard Corcoran put in place a formal process that required House members to answer questions about projects they wanted funded in the state budget.
That process is getting even more involved heading into 2016. Last week the House even had a webinar/training session to explain how it would work.
A memo from Corcoran explains that while the "technical process" has changed that the content of information is the same as before. "However, the timeliness of your submission will be a factor in making budget decisions since it my expectation that all budget issues need to be thoroughly vetted," Corcoran wrote.
One of the more interesting factors about the new system is that House members who want to make a budget request must do it online with a computer owned by the House. The online links used will automatically assign a number to the member who makes the request.
The big question then for the House will be this: Once the requests are received will all of them be placed online so members of the public can see them?
If that's done then the Legislature will have fully reinstated the "Community Budget Issue Request System" even if it has a different name. That system was eliminated during the Great Recession when legislators were cutting budgets, but it was never reinstated once the economy began to turn.
RECORDS SHOW THAT PARTY AFFILIATION WAS STRESSED IN APPOINTMENT OF ELECTIONS OFFICIAL...Late last summer a reporter with The Apalachicola Times asked for documents regarding a decision made by Gov. Scott to appoint Franklin County Commissioner Pinki Jackel as the new elections supervisor in the small coastal county. Scott had made the decision to appoint Jackel even though the outgoing supervisor Ida Cooper Elliott (who died from cancer earlier this month) had recommended that the governor tap her assistant supervisor Heather Riley for the job.
"I fully support and hope that Heather would be considered for appointment,'' wrote Elliott. "I have the utmost confidence in her and her abilities to run this office."
The governor's office waited two months before they handed over those records.
And what did they show?
That Jackel - and some of those boosting her appointment - stressed her Republican ties as one of the reasons Scott should pick her for the job of overseeing elections.
Jackel's own application for the job stated: "When elected in 2008, I became the only Republican in Franklin County since reconstruction. I was re-elected in 2012 with 67% of the vote. I remain the only elected Republican and have been a registered Republican since 2004 when I moved back to Florida. I have never changed my party affiliation."
Jackel put down the chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party as one of her references for the position. Ned Pooser, a GOP state committeeman, also wrote a glowing endorsement letter for her appointment that pointed out that the county party backed her.
"She is extremely bright, and a fierce advocate of the 'let's get to work ethic,' wrote Pooser. "The Franklin Republican Executive Committee unanimously endorses her appointment; and I echo that sentiment. The county will benefit by her appointment, as will our party."