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Watchdog group criticizes Enterprise Florida

Posted Apr 25, 2012 by William March

Updated Apr 25, 2012 at 01:29 PM

Integrity Florida, a new state government watchdog group, says the state’s economic development arm, Enterprise Florida, carries a risk of corruption because some of its operations are secret and it’s governed in part by companies that are also vendors or recipients of its tax incentives.

Dan Krassner of Integrity Florida said the group’s report, issued today, “doesn’t show corruption, but shows the risk, potential indicators of possible corruption.”

But Enterprise Florida spokesman Stuart Doyle denied the thrust of the report, which he said is “not thorough and misrepresents the work Enterprise Florida does.”

Among those indicators cited in the report:

—Companies can get seats on the Enterprise Florida board of directors by giving $50,000 to the organization.
—Some board members companies are vendors that sell to Enterprise Florida, or companies that have received tax incentives from the organization.
—The accounting firm Ernst & Young, which has received Enterprise Florida tax incentives in the past, is responsible for calculating whether incentives provide a good return on the investment of tax money.
—Some Enterprise Florida incentives are given on a confidential basis.
—Materials for Enterprise Florida board and committee meetings aren’t available to the public online.

“We saw a number of red flags and not much access to information for the public,” Krassner said.

Doyle responded that public notice is provided for all Enterprise Florida board meetings—the report contended that doesn’t always happen—and that all meeting materials are available, though not online, which he said isn’t required by law.

“Basically we’re an open book,” he said. “We comply with state processes and procedures ... in accordance with the legislation that created Enteprise Florida in 1996.”

He said there is no conflict of interest involving Ernst & Young, because the incentive it received was years ago, and the company has been doing its evaluation work for Enterprise Florida for years.

He said if a company contributes to Enterprise Florida or has a board seat, “It doesn’t mean they’re going to receive special consideration” for incentives.

“There’s a very stringent process that a company goes through in order to receive state incentives,” he said. “Most are performance-based – they’ve got to produce the jobs to receive any tax rebate or incentive.”

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