by TC Palm’s Lisa Broadt
November 17, 2016
Two weeks before All Aboard Florida revealed its new financing plans, a high-ranking railroad official met privately with the newest member of the state board that could issue nearly $2 billion in tax-free bonds for the project.
According to emails obtained by Treasure Coast Newspapers, Florida Development Finance Corp. board member J. Nelson Bradshaw met Oct. 12 over lunch in Jacksonville with Husein Cumber, executive vice president, corporate development, of Florida East Coast Industries, the parent firm of All Aboard Florida.
Cumber asked a mutual friend, Jacksonville attorney Patrick Kilbane, to set up the meeting.
Kilbane, in a Sept. 28 email, congratulated Bradshaw on his recent appointment to the Finance Corp. and introduced him to Cumber.
“On this message, I’ve copied my close friend Husein Cumber. Husein is the Business Development Manager for Florida East Coast Industries … and a super guy to know,” Kilbane wrote. “He called this morning and asked if I could link you two together. If you’re inclined, I’d like to get us together for lunch at your convenience in the near future.”
Cumber’s invitation came just one day after Bradshaw was appointed to the Finance Corp., the agency that last year approved approved $1.75 billion in tax-free bonds for All Aboard Florida. It’s the potential issuer of the railroad’s new request for $600 million in tax-free bonds.
The three men met at J. Alexander’s restaurant. The emails did not indicate what was to be discussed.
Ray Casas, Finance Corp. spokesman, emphasized that the meeting did not violate Florida’s Sunshine Law.
“Board members can meet with the public or whoever they want,” Casas said Thursday.
Bradshaw could not be reached for comment. Cumber declined to comment.
Opponents of the passenger railroad on multiple occasions have expressed concerns about the Finance Corp.’s private meetings and alleged conflicts of interests.
Bradshaw and Cumber’s lunch is a prime example, according to Brent Hanlon, president of CARE, a citizens group fighting All Aboard Florida’s expansion through the Treasure Coast.
“Obviously there is a pattern of these one-on-one meetings and communications with no public record,” Hanlon said Thursday. “We’re disappointed FDFC … is not conducting its business by agenda and meeting in public where all can hear and participate.”
The Finance Corp. faced further ethics questions last year when it was found to be improperly constituted, a violation that apparently stretched back several years. Gov. Rick Scott in March made three new appointments and the corporation’s board relaunched operations.
All Aboard Florida in late October said it wanted to scrap its current $1.75 billion financing plan and instead pursue separate allocations of $600 million for the first phase of the project and $1.15 billion for the second phase, a strategy that could shut down a federal lawsuit filed by Martin and Indian River counties.
For more than a year, the counties have argued in federal court that issuing the bonds to All Aboard Florida before a final environmental report was completed violated the National Environmental Protection Act. [READ MORE]