Florida's Jobs Recruiter May Get Hefty Bonus for Work
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida's top official in charge of recruiting jobs to the state could be getting a $70,000 bonus.
Enterprise Florida, the organization set up to lure companies to the state, will consider the bonus for president and CEO Gray Swoope when its board of directors meets Thursday. The board - which includes Gov. Rick Scott - will also consider more than $630,000 in bonuses for other agency employees.
Swoope, who was lured from Mississippi by Scott when he first took office, received a $70,000 bonus last year. The bonus comes from private contributions, but some groups are questioning whether or not the bonuses should be handed out.
One key complaint: Enterprise Florida is supposed to be partnership between private and public money, but taxpayers actually pick up more than three-quarters of the cost of running it.
"Enterprise Florida was created by the Legislature and is primarily funded with taxpayer dollars, the organization's board seems to have forgotten that," said Dan Krassner, executive director of a group called Integrity Florida.
Integrity Florida joined with the Tea Party Network and Progress Florida in asking Scott and other state elected officials to delay any vote on executive bonuses. The letter questions the criteria, including counting jobs that have been promised instead of actually created.
Swoope, who has an office next to Scott's, has a base salary of $230,000 a year.
Members of the Enterprise Florida committee board that oversees compensation said Wednesday that Swoope and others deserve the bonuses. Several Enterprise Florida board members even suggested renegotiating Swoope's contract to enable him to earn more money.
They pointed out the bonus pool of $630,000 - while the largest amount of bonuses handed out in the last five years - would be spread among 80 people. Enterprise Florida officials will determine how much individual employees receive.
Swoope himself hailed the work being done by his staff.
"This organization is winning and it's being noticed," Swoope said.
Sean Helton, a spokesman for Enterprise Florida, said bonuses helped Enterprise Florida "attract and retain highly qualified professionals and maintain a high-performance culture."
Helton said the bonuses were based on "stellar" performance and pointed out that Enterprise Florida employees do not get "merit pay." He defended using projected jobs as criteria for bonuses since the projects will take years to fully ramp up.
"EFI is recognizing exceptional performance in achieving those contracts today that will yield jobs over the next five to ten years," Helton said in an email to questions.
But the move by Enterprise Florida comes after legislators balked at the amount of money Scott wanted in the state budget to help Enterprise Florida lure companies. Lawmakers also passed legislation designed to bulk up the amount of oversight over business incentives used by the state.
Part of the backlash stemmed from the high-profile failure of Digital Domain. The company last year filed for bankruptcy and shuttered its facility in Florida after it accepted incentives, including $20 million from the state. Two other companies that got help have also declared bankruptcy; the state is demanding the return of money from other companies that did not fulfill promised jobs.
Officials with Enterprise Florida have pointed out that Digital Domain received assistance outside of the state's normal process and should not be used to judge the state's efforts.
Alan Becker, a prominent South Florida attorney and chairman of the Enterprise Florida finance and compensation committee, said during a Wednesday meeting it was "demoralizing" for Enterprise Florida employees to hear criticisms from legislators.
Becker warned other committee members that Scott was concerned Swoope would leave his job because of the criticism he was getting from the Legislature.
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