Volume 6 Number 22 May 29, 2009
We are now just days away from the start of hurricane season, and I encourage you all to get prepared now! This week, I talked with Floridians about sensible steps they can take to prepare their families and communities in the event of a major storm.
On Tuesday, I joined with AARP to announce a new initiative, Operation Hurricane Prepare, which encourages Floridians to reach out to their neighbors with ways they may be able to provide assistance. Operation Hurricane Prepare will target AARP members and Floridians of all generations, offering step-by-step instructions to help coastal residents prepare for hurricane season, and encouraging AARP members to get involved in group and community preparedness activities.
Also this week, we launched a new online Insurance Library to provide Floridians with comprehensive information on financial and insurance issues, and will continue to offer weekly preparedness advice in eViews. This weekend, please take the time to make sure your home is secure and review your insurance coverage -- and for more hurricane preparedness tips visit our Web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink and AARP Florida State Director Lori Parham on Tuesday joined state agency leaders, elder advocates and volunteer organizations in announcing a new initiative, Create The Good/Operation Hurricane Prepare, to encourage Floridians to help neighbors and communities get ready for the 2009 hurricane season.
“All Floridians should be prepared as we approach hurricane season,” CFO Sink said. “I commend AARP’s new Operation Hurricane Prepare initiative. It is intended to empower millions of AARP members and other Floridians to strengthen not only their personal preparedness but that of their neighbors and communities.”
Among those present to endorse the new initiative at Tuesday’s Capitol news conference were CFO Sink; Parham; Florida Elder Affairs Secretary E. Douglas Beach; David Lynn, president of the Florida Council on Aging; and Alex Amparo, director of emergency services for Gov. Charlie Crist’s Commission on Volunteerism (Volunteer Florida).
“AARP’s founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, challenged Americans to ‘to live up to our better selves, to believe well of our fellow men and perhaps by doing so to help create the good, to experiment, to explore, to change and to grow’,” Parham said. “In this inspiring spirit, AARP is reaching out to our 3 million members and all Floridians to engage their neighbors and their communities in preparing for the 2009 hurricane season. As the 2009 hurricane season begins, we hope Operation Hurricane Prepare will persuade many Floridians to help make their communities stronger and better prepared.”
Operation Hurricane Prepare (www.aarp.org/hurricaneprepare/) begins with a Web site created within the Create The Good initiative targeted to AARP members and Americans of all generations living along the Gulf and South Atlantic Coasts. Online resources at the site offer step-by-step instructions in English and Spanish to help coastal residents prepare for hurricane season.
AARP is also reaching out to nearly 8,000 neighborhood and community associations, local government organizations, disaster-preparedness officials and others to share information about Create The Good/Operation Hurricane Prepare. AARP also is publicizing the initiative through AARP Bulletin, which reaches about 2.3 million AARP members in Florida alone, plus outreach to AARP members in other Gulf and South Atlantic states. Every Florida legislator will receive information on the initiative, as will local governments, business groups and other organizations. Later in 2009, AARP plans additional national efforts to promote the Create The Good initiative.
“Florida’s elders have always been resilient, but sometimes they can use a helping hand. It’s critical that as good neighbors, we assist those who might not be able to prepare for a disaster. We must all be ready to help our neighbors and ourselves, if and when that time comes,” said Elder Affairs Secretary Beach.
Beach noted that AARP’s initiative augments the department’s Disaster Preparedness Guide for Elders, a 24-page tabloid publication containing numerous tips to help seniors prepare for and respond to a wide range of emergencies. Some 240,000 copies of the guide were distributed this month, and it is also available online at http://elderaffairs.state.fl.us/english/disasterguide/2009.pdf.
Whether coastal residents have five minutes, five hours or longer, Create The Good/Operation Hurricane Prepare offers ways to engage:
“This initiative has real potential to have an impact,” Parham noted. “In Virginia, an initiative focused on winter home weatherization in 2008 engaged 20,000 people and made a significant difference in the lives of many more.”
In Florida, Operation Hurricane Prepare will be the first Create The Good initiative, but the Association will continue to promote the resource for a broad range of community-engagement initiatives, Parham noted.
The Florida Cabinet on Wednesday recognized Jacksonville State Trooper Joshua Earrey as the 2009 Florida Trooper of the Year. The resolution was sponsored by Florida CFO Alex Sink. An eight-year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol, Earrey is assigned to the Troop G Contraband Interdiction Team as a K-9 handler and he is a member of the North Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force.
“It is an honor to recognize Joshua Earrey as Florida’s Trooper of the Year,” said CFO Sink. “His public service serves as an example to every law enforcement officer and every citizen of our state. Because of his valuable work, Florida is a safer, better place to live.”
On October 17, 2008, Trooper Earrey observed a driver of a vehicle driving in a reckless manner raising his suspicions of criminal activities. Trooper Earrey learned that the driver of the vehicle had just performed an armed carjacking from a mother and her child and had fled from officers of the Jacksonville Sheriff Office. Trooper Earrey was able to apprehend the suspect on foot and was able to locate the suspect’s discarded firearm all without harm to the public.
Noted in CFO Sink’s resolution, “Over the past year, Trooper Earrey has made more than 1,200 traffic charges and 280 drug-related charges.” Serving as a member of the North Florida High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force, “Trooper Earrey has seized 10.5 kilograms of powder cocaine, 1.5 pounds of crack cocaine, 83.5 pounds of marijuana, 2.5 ounces of heroin, 250 grams of MDMA (methamphetamine) and 23 firearms worth $277,454.”
Trooper Earrey was recognized during today’s meeting of the Florida Cabinet with a resolution honoring him as Florida’s Trooper of the Year. Before the meeting, he was greeted by CFO Sink at a breakfast reception in the Office of the Chief Financial Officer along with his wife Jennifer and his parents Duke and Diane.
Every day, state employees do extraordinary work on behalf of the citizens of Florida. But once a year a special program is dedicated to recognize those employees who go above and beyond the call of duty to measurably increase public service productivity and promotes innovative ideas.
This year marks the 21st year of Prudential Financial Davis Productivity Awards. The group responsible for making it happen include Dominic Calabro, shown above left, Florida TaxWatch; Mike Jennings, Prudential; Barbara Foley, MAXIMUS; John Thomas, Brandt Information Services and Awards Judge; Chuck Cliburn, ACS Government Solutions; Clarissa Dunlap, Florida TaxWatch; Deborrah Harris, Florida TaxWatch; Paul Lewis, Progress Energy; Steve Evans, Florida TaxWatch; and Diana Calabro, Assistant, Prudential – Davis Productivity Awards.
Since its inception, the Davis Productivity Awards - presented by Prudential Financial - has received more than 15,000 nominations for state employees who have produced $6.3 billion dollars of added value to Florida’s taxpayers.
CFO Sink commended the Davis Productivity Awards program at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, and Florida TaxWatch in particular, for the excellent work done in empowering state employees to be entrepreneurial in improving the efficiency of government.
"I couldn’t be more proud of the employees in my department, the Department of Financial Services, for their 39 nominations in the 2009 competition," CFO Sink said.
Agencies recognized for their achievements: Agriculture & Consumer Services – 15 nominations, Environmental Protection – 38, Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles – 42, Legal Affairs - 21, Revenue – 4, Law Enforcement – 10; and Insurance Regulation – 8.
"To continue the savings, I have asked the Directors within my Department to review the TaxWatch report of the top 20 “Most Adaptable Achievements” from the Davis Productivity Awards and get back to me on how they can be applied to find even more cost savings," said Sink.. "The recommendations from my staff are already coming in, and I encourage all the other agencies to do this as well."
The Prudential-Davis Achievement Awards celebrate the outstanding achievements of so many hard working employees who use innovation and hard work to improve state functions and save money for Florida taxpayers.
Continuing her efforts during Hurricane Preparedness Week, Florida CFO Alex Sink on Thursday announced that the Department of Financial Services has developed an online Insurance Library to provide Floridians with comprehensive information on financial and insurance issues.
The Insurance Library also has information to assist citizens as they prepare for Hurricane Season, which begins Monday, June 1.
“Our online Insurance Library is a convenient place for Floridians to find useful information when making informed decisions regarding their family’s insurance needs, something especially important on the brink of hurricane season,” said CFO Sink. “The Insurance Library explains terms you are likely to read in your insurance policy or hear in your insurance agent’s office, allowing Floridians to be better informed and prepared so they can get the coverage they need.”
The Insurance Library, available at MyFloridaCFO.com, addresses a variety of consumer and insurance issues from auto insurance to disaster planning. It was created by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Consumer Services and is partially based on questions received from more than 300,000 consumers who called the Department last year.
The Insurance Library provides tips and definitions associated with various insurance topics, including disaster preparedness, rates, premium finance companies and workers’ compensation. It also gives detailed explanations of terms used for life, health, home, auto and travel insurance. Clicking on a general topic will take Floridians into detailed categories of information and links to other useful Web sites and resources.
Here are some examples of how Floridians can use the Insurance Library:
Also available on the Consumer Services section of MyFloridaCFO.com are more tools to understanding insurance coverage, including consumer guides that provide comprehensive overviews of specific lines of insurance. Consumers can file an insurance complaint online, search our Complaint Comparison to check out different insurance companies, and learn more tips for purchasing insurance.
The online Insurance Library is the latest step CFO Sink has taken during Hurricane Preparedness Week to help Floridians get ready for the 2009 hurricane season. Earlier this week, CFO Sink and AARP announced a new initiative, Create The Good/Operation Hurricane Prepare, to encourage Floridians to help neighbors and communities prepare for storms. Operation Hurricane Prepare will target AARP members and Americans of all generations living along the Gulf and South Atlantic Coasts and offer step-by-step instructions in English and Spanish to help coastal residents prepare for hurricane season.
CFO Sink greeted many of the 175 members of the 779th Engineer Battalion and wished them well on their upcoming deployment to Iraq after a send-off ceremony Tuesday in the Capitol courtyard. As she walked around the courtyard, CFO spoke individually to the troops and their families, thanking them for their service.
One of the national guardsmen she met was the son-in-law of a Department of Financial Services’ employee. The Tallahassee-based troops will ship out after a couple weeks of training in Wisconsin, and this is the 2nd largest deployment for the Florida Guard.
Sending off were Wendy Worden of the Department of Highway Safety, the wife of SSGT William H. Worden of the 779 Engineer Battalion, CFO Alex Sink, Mother-in-law Karen Vaughn, Aunt Sandra Stephens (all three with the Department of Financial Services) and son William Worden Jr., age 5.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday announced that she is naming Robyn Blank Jackson as her newly appointed Sunshine Attorney for the Department of Financial Services (DFS). Jackson, an Assistant General Counsel in the Department of Financial Service’s Legal Division, will assist with public records requests and other open government issues.
“Floridians deserve a government that is open and accountable to them,” said CFO Sink. “I have made a commitment to transparency, and by naming Robyn Jackson as my new Sunshine Attorney, our Department will have one more way to be as open as possible to the people of Florida. I know Robyn will bring her sound judgment and dedication to service to the position, acting as an openness advocate for Florida’s citizens.”
“I’m honored to be named by CFO Sink as her Sunshine Attorney, and eager to help Floridians in this new role,” said Jackson. “CFO Sink’s strong emphasis on transparency is evident, and I am hopeful that as her Sunshine Attorney I can make our open government process even more efficient and effective.”
Robyn Blank Jackson, a Tallahassee native, received her JD from Florida State University and her Bachelors Degree from Emory University. Member of the Florida Bar, Jackson was Staff Attorney for the Second Judicial Court of Florida and a Law Clerk for the Department of Financial Services before her current position. Jackson is also a member of the Phi Alpha Delta International Law Fraternity, a member of the American Bar Association and on the Planning Board and Judges’ Committee of the HERC Holocaust Essay Contest.
CFO Sink’s strong commitment to openness and transparency has recently been demonstrated by her Sunshine Attorney appointment, her call for state plane travel to be posted online, and her recent unveiling of Florida’s Checkbook, at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/transparency, which puts all of her tools to bring more accountability and transparency to government spending and contracting in one place.
As part of her ongoing Safeguard Our Seniors initiative, Florida CFO Alex Sink is revoking the license of a southwest Florida insurance agent who convinced a senior investor to surrender $70,000 in annuity policies and then placed the money into his own personal bank account. The situation underscores the need for CFO Sink’s Safeguard our Seniors legislation, which offers better financial protections for Florida’s seniors.
Shane D. Watkins, 37, formerly of Fort Myers, was arrested May 12 in North Carolina on a charge stemming from investigations by the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud, the Division of Agent and Agency Services, and the Division of Legal Services. In addition to license revocation, Watkins will be permanently banned from Florida’s insurance industry; if convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
“Financial fraud has devastating consequences, especially for seniors who live on a fixed income,” said CFO Sink. “This is a perfect example of why I created the Safeguard our Seniors Task Force -- to develop solutions to better protect senior citizens from becoming victims of financial fraud. I applaud the hard work of those in the Department of Financial Services who were able to stop this scam, and will continue to fight for tougher penalties against unscrupulous agents who prey on Florida’s seniors.”
Watkins allegedly convinced a senior over the age of 65 to surrender two annuity policies worth $70,000 and then advised the consumer that he would establish an investment account to provide a larger monthly income. Watkins, who was associated with Bankers Life and Casualty Company, instead placed the funds acquired from the sale of the original annuities into his personal bank account. When confronted by the victim, Watkins fled the state.
During the 2009 legislative session, CFO Sink pushed for Safeguard Our Seniors legislation that increases the penalty for unscrupulous agents who defraud senior investors to a third degree felony and establishes better disclosures and protections upfront for seniors who invest in these products. The legislation passed unanimously in the Florida Senate but was not heard in the Florida House.
Senior Floridians who believe they may have been the victim of annuity fraud should log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call 1-877-My-FL-CFO. For information on CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force and initiative, visit www.FLseniors.net.
This week’s Hurricane Financial Checklist is about the importance of safety before, during and after a storm. Disasters can happen year round and without warning. Planning ahead by having the necessary knowledge and supplies will better protect your family and may even save a life.
Before Hurricane Season:
Create a Health and First Aid Kit that includes a book on basic first aid and items such as:
Create a Supply and Tool Kit that includes:
Prepare yourself and your family with CPR and first aid training. Check your smoke and carbon dioxide detectors and fire extinguishers to make sure they are in working order. These items save lives and reduce property damage.
During a Storm:
The local media will be your primary source of information as they work with the Emergency Operation Centers to provide up to date information that will ensure your safety. Stay informed about weather conditions, hazards, road closures, curfews and relief center locations by staying tuned in with your weather radio. Additionally, telephone and electrical lines may go down. Dangerous weather conditions may prevent emergency vehicles from responding to emergency situations. Keep your family safe by adhering to evacuation and other guidelines provided by local law enforcement.
After a Storm:
Most hurricane related injuries occur after the storm during the clean-up process. Wear the proper safety gear and ensure you know how to properly use power tools and machinery prior to use. Never work alone! Work together with a neighbor or other family member before lifting heavy tree limbs and other debris. Never try to repair electrical lines yourself. While it may take several days or even weeks, trained crews will begin work as soon as they can to restore power and other services.
Check back with us next week for more ideas.
An eViews reader says: I have read about the significant efforts to protect seniors from unscrupulous insurance agents selling annuities. In fact, the public would be better served with an educational program and crime watchdog program that seeks to prevent abuse by stockbrokers. I personally know of no one who has been ripped off by an insurance agent. In fact, there are those who are pleased they purchased an annuity and avoided completely the financial losses attributed to the stock market (one is over 85 years old).
On the other hand, not a day goes by that I don't hear someone bemoaning the fact that their IRA or other assets have decreased substantially during the market's long decline. Some have lost half. For the second time in 8 years. Some have gone back to work. Who is looking out for them?
Education and knowledge are of utmost importance in protecting the financial assets of your family. You must know that your financial advisor, insurance agent or securities broker's credentials are legitimate when you are discussing your financial future. The Department of Financial Services' Consumer Helpline is staffed with specialists to answer financial questions of all kinds. The Web site has many resources, especially the company search and agent search - to make sure you are dealing with professionals and/or companies with Florida licenses. The site is www.MyFloridaCFO.com.
For the sale of stocks and bonds, information is available from Florida Office of Financial Regulation. At http://www.flofr.com/Consumer/index.htm you can find resources to verify a professional license, file a complaint or request a speaker to discuss topics of interest at a meeting with your friends.
This week, we provide tips provided by one of our readers, Mary Pitman. Thank you, Ms. Pitman.
While this column has discussed various ways to heat water for home use, we have not provided tips on making existing water heaters more efficient. To increase the efficiency out of an existing unit, first, make sure you have adequately insulated your water heater. Do this irrespective of the age of your water heater. Second, if your water heater is a 1998 model or older, installing a timer may save you electricity. The timer can be set to automatically turn off when you go to work, then back on right before you come home, off after you go to bed, and on again right before you get up. A timer can save about 25kWh per month for a family of four that uses about 80 gallons a day. Just note that water heaters built after 1998 are much more efficient and only run about 1.3 hours per day as compared to older ones that run more than 3 hours, and so a timer may or may not be cost effective. Timers can be bought at most home improvement stores for less than $40.
On the air-conditioning front, a new product on the market that readers say can save up to 33% on your electric bill is one that can easily be attached to the top of an existing outside AC unit. When the AC unit begins running, a flap on the device goes up and an ultra fine mist of water is sprayed into the air. The water evaporates almost instantly and literally sucks heat out of the air. This process, called "adiabatic saturation," is a scientific principle that has been used for years to lower air temperature in outdoor zones. The result of this constant, immediate evaporation is a substantial drop in ambient temperature without wetness. The air temperature near the misting system is automatically lowered by as much as 30 degrees, thus not making the AC work as hard to lower the temperature.
While this column does not endorse one product over another one such device has the brand name “Cool-N-Save™ “ and has been rated by the US Department of Energy and EPA as an ENERGY STAR PARTNER. Costing only around $100, and by reducing energy consumption and CO2 emissions, such a device can be a wise investment decision this spring as we head into the hot summer months when air-conditioning becomes so important to our comfort.