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Thursday, Jul 24, 2014
Commentary

You may fleece, but you can't hide


Published:

With just three years of service in the state Legislature, Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, has already found himself embroiled in the middle of a questionable business deal.

Grant, 30, is a lawyer by training but has little real-world experience in the law or business. That didn't stop Grant from seeing himself as a mini-Donald Trump who would apply the little knowledge he has in business from helping the good people of Hardee County, one of the poorest counties in the state, with economic development.

So far, so good. Members of the Legislature often support bills to help their constituents.

But Grant didn't sponsor a bill, and the people of Hardee County are not his constituents - he represents voters in Hillsborough.

Instead, as WTSP Channel 10 investigative reporter Mike Deeson first reported in March, Grant's company, LifeSync Technologies, received a $2.6 million sweetheart grant for economic development. The company made a proposal to Hardee County officials to create a cloud-based medical records company that would bring jobs to the county.

Grant was apparently assisted in this effort by state Rep. Jason Brodeur from Orlando, state Rep. Ben Albritton of Hardee County and his brother, Hardee County insurance agency owner Joe Albritton.

Joe Albritton is on the board of the Hardee County Industrial Development Authority, the public agency that gave Grant's company the money.

Problem is, Albritton is also a part-owner of LifeSync. Grant has repeatedly denied that Albritton was part of his company, but public records show that Albritton is, in fact, part owner. Albritton's uncle, Jim See, also happens to be the chairman of the authority.

The $2.6 million grant has created only 10 jobs, and of those, three went to relatives of those handing out the grant.

The state's auditor general has since concluded Grant's company should have never received the grant for a multitude of reasons.

In late May, Deeson made several public record requests for Grant's June schedule. According to Deeson, Grant's office ignored his two verbal requests, so he put them in writing. Grant's office then stalled the request by turning it over to the House Office of Open Government. It is worth pointing out that the Office of Open Government is proof that the Legislature has a sense of humor. Why else would they name the office that stalls open government, the Office of Open Government?

Here is how the Office of Open Government responded to the scheduling request in an email: "Our office will respond to your request in a reasonable time. If we anticipate this request resulting in 'extensive use' of information technology resources or extensive clerical or supervisory assistance, we will provide an estimate for approval prior to processing the request."

The email then referenced the Florida Constitution, Florida Statutes and House rules, the latter stating that "each house of the Legislature is exclusively authorized to adopt rules governing the enforcement of the public records with respect to its own public records."

In essence the Office of Open Government said go pound sand to the scheduling request.

At the end of the day, nothing will likely happen, and Grant will get re-elected next year because voters are easily fooled by slick mail and 30-second campaign ads.

It is worth noting that it doesn't appear that Grant broke any laws. But his actions don't pass the smell test as taxpayers are out of $2.6 million for 10 jobs created in Hardee County with an average cost of $260,000 per job. Where do I send my resume?

What Grant should learn from all this is, as a legislator, if you can't openly talk about what you've done in business, you probably shouldn't be in business.

Grant and fellow politicians also should know this: If a reporter asks for something as benign as your public schedule, give it to them. You may choose not to, and have the Office of Open Government help you stall, but eventually, you're just raising another red flag, and reporters are going to be more determined to find what they are looking for.

Besides, if you have nothing to hide, why hide?

Chris Ingram is a Republican political consultant and political analyst for Bay News 9. Follow him on Twitter @IrreverentView.

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