Lynda Weatherman, President of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast (EDC), announced last week that the EDC will cease participation in Brevard County’s group health insurance plan on January 1, 2015. The EDC had participated in the County’s health insurance plans since 1991.
The move comes in the wake of the Florida Sunshine Law case brought by Brevard County Clerk of Court, Scott Ellis, against the EDC for documents related to the Blue Ware scandal. Ellis’ attorneys argued that, in addition to several other factors, the EDC’s participation in the County’s health insurance plan created a “significant level of involvement in the EDC” by the County which would subject the EDC to Florida’s public records law.
“…the mere fact that the EDC’s participates in the Health Plan does not makes the EDC subject to Chapter 119 [Florida Public Records Law],” EDC attorney, Kimberly Rezanka, countered in her closing arguments.
Although the County didn’t pay for the EDC’s premiums, the EDC participated in the plan because it is less expensive than purchasing health insurance in the private market, according to trial testimony.
Also last week, the Brevard County Commission voted 4-1 to substantially modify the existing service contract between the County and the Economic Development Commission of Florida Space Coast (EDC) in an attempt to evade the responsibilities of the new requirements of Florida’s Sunshine Law.
Former Brevard County Clerk of Court Mitch Needelman entered into a $6.1 million loan with Hewlett Packard after losing the primary election to Ellis in 2012. Needelman then used the loan proceeds as an upfront payment to BlueWare before the company ever fulfilled its scanning contract with the Clerk’s office.
BlueWare is the company caught up in a public corruption criminal case brought by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and State Attorney Phil Archer against former Clerk of Court, Mitch Needelman, his former business partner Matt Dupree, and BlueWare CEO Rose Harr.
Ellis continues to assert that the loan done by Needelman, BlueGEM, Harr, and Hewlett-Packard was illegal and unconstitutional in repeated legal actions brought by HP against the Clerk’s Office for repayment of the loan.
The EDC helped BlueWare and some of its affiliated companies to qualify for various government programs and other “workforce incentives” that could have totaled nearly $2 million in taxpayer money. In 2013, Ellis repeatedly requested that the EDC turn over its BlueWare documents so that he could defend the lawsuits brought by HP. However, the EDC refused to hand over all of its BlueWare documents to Ellis.
After the Clerk’s office learned from a Brevard Times investigative article published on August 26, 2013 that State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity officials said that BlueWare’s confidentiality had lapsed and Governor Rick Scott’s Office stated to Brevard Times that the BlueWare incentive contract was canceled on April 5, 2013, the Clerk sent his auditors to the EDC in Rockledge the next day to request a copy of the EDC file on BlueWare. When the EDC refused to comply with that last public records request, Ellis then filed the lawsuit which is now on appeal.