Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 21st 2014

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The Buzz 9/29/11

POWELL GIVES UP JOB John Powell, a Republican candidate for Escambia County Sheriff, resigned on Sept. 14 from his position as the director of the Florida Division of Alcohol, Beverage & Tobacco after an investigation of a planned fundraiser disclosed that the event would involve lobbyists for the industries that ABT regulates.

Scott Miller, whose company, Political Matrix, helps manage Powell’s campaign, denied on Rick’s Blog that his candidate’s resignation had anything to do with the fundraiser.

“John Powell resigned because he cannot run an effective campaign and give his post as the head of the ABT the attention that it deserves,” wrote Miller. “There is no credible source that would say otherwise and you should know better.”

The credible sources are the documents that Powell posted on his campaign website, JohnPowell4Sheriff.com. There is a “Point Paper” that shows, in August, Powell was approached by two lobbyist — Nick Iarossi and Scott Ross — who offered to host a fundraiser for Powell in Tallahassee on Sept. 14.

Iarossi lobbies for several clients, including the casino Las Vegas Sands Corp. Ross also lobbies for Las Vegas Sands.

Powell told the investigator that he and his campaign manager had no oversight over the invitation list. He said Iarossi and Ross were told of the restrictions prohibiting him from accepting any contributions from individuals, companies or businesses regulated by his division. The email invitation included the disclosure.

Powell met with senior leadership on Sept. 7 to request additional guidance. The upcoming fundraiser was discussed but no specifics given about the invitees. “Powell was advised to err on the side of caution and consider perceptions when making campaign decisions,” wrote the investigator.

The fundraiser was cancelled on Sept. 13. No contributions were accepted in conjunction with the event.

“Subsequent research indicates the organizers of the fundraiser are registered to lobby for at least one tobacco company, one alcohol beverage company, one casino company and an association that runs multiple internet sweepstakes cafes throughout the state.”

The Department of Business & Professional Regulations had three options: retain Powell as director; demote him for the duration of the campaign or permanently; or resign from the Department.

Powell resigned.

PAIR MADE THE DIFFERENCE Governor Rick Scott, Enterprise Florida and the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce announce the expansion of Ascend Performance Materials, LLC. Ascend plans to add 102 employees over the course of 3 years and invest approximately $50 million in capital improvements.

The Ascend expansion would have never happened, but for the work of then-Escambia County Commission Chairman Grover Robinson and Chamber Chairman Collier Merrill. Several Ascend executives came to the Chamber’s economic development recruitment event at the Hilton during the 2010 Blue Angels show. Collier and Grover helped get the project rolling during a private meeting with their executives that Friday morning. The state provided a Governor’s Closing Fund incentive and tax incentives for the project.

Apparently the announcement of the expansion was delayed by the company for competitive reasons, according to my sources.