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3/31/2010

Columns > Happytown

Happytown

 

The region’s political climate went up in smoke last week in a manner not seen since the heyday of the Clinton ‘90s. At issue were a series of “No Name Club” gatherings of local powerbrokers of the male persuasion, and whether or not these modern times could support a literal good old boys’ network. Well, duh. 

The Sentinel’s David Damron broke the story on March 16, reporting that in addition to other musty suits, Orange County mayor Rich Crotty, county commissioners Bill Segal and Scott Boyd, maybe city commissioner Robert Stuart and Florida Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp attended a number of these exclusive testosterone confabs put on by Republican lobbyist and GrayRobinson power lawyer Fred Leonhardt. Worse still, the parties – which were held in skeezy places like the Amway Arena’s Monte Cristo Club and glorified car showroom Luxautica – had sponsors and boasted invites that said, unoriginally, “What happens here, stays here.” Reportedly, attendants were showered in sea bass, liquor and cigars, a fact that probably pushed the political notables – specifically Segal, who is running for county mayor – over their legal $35 gift limit. 

It might have gone unnoticed had Leonhardt not pissed off a lady, according to the Sentinel; a model agency owner, Jackie Haven, was asked to bring three pretty raffle ladies, and then not invited back. Hell hath no fury like a … whatever.

There are a lot of balls in the air on this one – Leonhardt’s lobbying for convention center caterers Centerplate won the company a $300 million contract with the county, the implied sexism, the fact that two Sentinel editors attended the parties – but the current queen of ball tossing is none other than Segal’s mayoral opponent, Linda Stewart. In addition to making references to cigars in late-night thread non sequiturs on our Facebook page, Stewart’s been milking this one for all it’s worth. 

On March 18, Stewart – copying county comptroller Martha Haynie – sent out a memo putting Centerplate on the hot seat. “I feel very strongly that there may have been a serious breach of the public trust by a vendor with a county contract and its lobbyist through either a misrepresentation of our current contract or an oversight of Orange County’s professional expectations with our current contract,” Stewart huffed.

Segal has since paid $150 for the three parties he attended after county attorney Tom Drage issued some official legal advice (Crotty paid $100 for his two parties). The ladies of the mayor’s race – Stewart, Mildred Fernandez and Teresa Jacobs – are certain to make it cost a bit more than that in political capital. Girl power!

Did The Mouse just get pissy with a nonprofit that criticized one of its products? That’s what the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood is saying happened, and why they are now looking for new offices, according to a story published March 18 in Pennsylvania’s Valley Advocate.

In the past, the Boston-based CCFC has pressured companies to stop marketing to kids, helping quash things like Bratz dolls in Scholastic Books catalogs and closed-circuit radio on school buses. And when the CCFC took on Baby Einstein, a Disney-owned producer of kid vids, they had some success. Baby Einstein agreed to take the word “educational” off its products.

But last month, the CCFC was notified by the Judge Baker Children’s Center, a Harvard-affiliated children’s mental health center where it was officed, that it needed to look for new digs. The CCFC says Disney got huffy and put the screws to its landlords. Disney and the Judge Baker Center deny that, according to the Valley Advocate story.

In any case, the CCFC is vowing to continue fighting companies that sell to kids. “We know that Disney – and Nickelodeon, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Scholastic and all of the companies whose profits are threatened when we stand up for children – would love to see CCFC go away,” CFCC officials wrote in a letter to supporters. “But we are more determined than ever to continue our important work.”

As you might have guessed from our flab and propensity for musicals and mangotinis, the “sports” beat is not our forte. But we can’t resist calling for a meek, safe-distance “stop that, please” on University of Florida football head coach/bully Urban Meyer.

A video made the rounds this week showing Meyer, whose blood pressure issues are well known, ripping into Orlando Sentinel sports writer Jeremy Fowler for a March 22 blog post in which Fowler quoted Gators receiver (that means he catches the ball, right?) Deonte Thompson as saying the Gators’ new quarterback was, like, better than Tim Tebow. 

Apparently, Thompson forgot that Meyer and Tebow are totally gay for each other, and Meyer wouldn’t let Thompson’s mild criticism – “lot of things didn’t go the way as planned,” Thompson blabbed – go unpunished. 

“If that was my son, we’d be going at it right now,” Meyer finger-pointed, but it was unclear whether he meant Thompson, the new quarterback or maybe Tebow. The video was picked up by ESPN and has made national news. 

Fowler stood his ground against Meyer, but has faced some questions over the blog post in question. Many commenters at the Sentinel’s website have pointed out that the post has since been rewritten many times for clarification and, reportedly, backtracking purposes. (Basic ethics call for a disclosure and explanation of any changes made, even to blogs.) 

Either way, Meyer was out of line. And if we worked out more, we’d tell him so ourselves. 

Two big unions are wrestling for the chance to represent the nation’s 40,000 transportation security officers, including those at the region’s two biggest airports, though for the moment neither one could collectively bargain on TSOs’ behalf.

Last month the American Federation of Government Employees petitioned the Federal Labor Relations Authority to allow a vote among TSOs to make it their sole representative. On March 17, the National Treasury Employees Union asked for the same thing.

There are about 1,100 TSOs at Orlando International Airport and 100 at Orlando Sanford International Airport, says regional TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz. 

NTEU is an independent union representing about 150,000 federal employees, while AFGE is an arm of the AFL-CIO. Both claim substantial membership among TSOs, and represent workers in other branches of the Department of Homeland Security.

AFGE represents nearly 13,000 airport screeners in matters like internal discipline, worker’s compensation and discrimination claims, says Cathie McQuiston, assistant director of AFGE’s membership and organization department.

The NTEU has three Florida chapters, in Fort Lauderdale, Tampa and Miami, says union president Colleen Kelley.

“We have not chartered a chapter in Orlando yet, but we’re on our way there,” she says. In early March the NTEU helped a TSO get a disciplinary report for an off-duty incident removed from the personnel file, Kelley says.

TSOs have the right to join a union even if they can’t bargain collectively, McQuiston says. “They’re two collective and distinct legal principles.”

The TSA is unique in that its administrator is the only person who can OK collective bargaining rights for its employees, McQuiston says. President Bush’s choice for the job, James Loy, refused to grant that, she says.

The unions hope for a reversal of that decision from President Obama’s choice for TSA administrator, but that may take time. Two nominees – Erroll Southers and Robert Harding – have withdrawn from consideration.

“We believe that TSA will get those rights under this administration,” McQuiston says.

When that comes, the AFGE wants to be ready to move, she says. And so, Kelley says, does the NTEU.

This week’s report by Jim Gaines, Billy Manes, Justin Strout and Bob Whitby.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com
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