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At BP's shareholder meeting, a major Florida investor votes 'no' to protest management failures

BP and Florida are starting to look like a dysfunctional married couple. One keeps saying "Trust me" while the other keeps asking for more money.

Not the most encouraging relationship.

This morning in London, BP holds its annual shareholders meeting. The gathering of BP execs and investors takes place less than a week before the one-year anniversary of the April 20 BP gulf oil spill. It's been a calamitous 12 months. BP's reputation is so tarnished, its shares are down 28 percent. And Florida is still tallying how badly and how long its economy will be hurt.

At BP's meeting, two large shareholders will vote against the energy company's management to protest BP's handling of the spill. One of those shareholders is the Florida State Board of Administration (SBA), which will also vote against the re-election to BP's board of four directors, including the head of BP's safety, ethics and environment assurance committee.

The Florida SBA oversees $156 billion in assets that include the state's public pension fund. Its stake in BP is worth about $240 million.

Florida's protest is in good company. Also voting against BP is Calpers (California's Public Employees' Retirement System), the nation's biggest public pension fund.

Florida SBA spokesman Dennis MacKee says usually the SBA won't comment on how it votes on resolutions.

With a major oil spill so close to home, this is different.

SBA adviser Glass, Lewis & Co. says BP directors should be held accountable for a "failure of management." The Florida SBA apparently agreed.

Of the compensation BP's thrown at Florida, much of it has gone directly to the Panhandle where the spill most directly hurt commercial fishing and tourism. Some BP money has gone to produce extra tourism ads saying, contrary to early misperceptions, Florida's beaches are not soaked in oil.

And plenty more money flows to BP's own public relations barrage of feel-good ads in newspapers, on TV and radio, and online via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

"Soon a year will have passed since the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf," said one BP ad on Wednesday. "This was a tragedy that never should have happened. Our responsibility is to learn from it and share with competitors, partners, governments and regulators to help ensure that it never happens again."

BP's message? We're spending a ton of dough in Florida on the environment, seafood safety and economy. Trust us.

At this point, Florida's eager to keep squeezing BP for every penny. While BP's paid for a range of clean-up and claims costs, most of the big bucks remaining are in a multistate, $20 billion fund that BP raised through U.S. asset sales.

Earlier this week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced that BP will send a three-year, $30 million grant to promote tourism in seven Panhandle counties. Scott says he wants to hold BP accountable. Yet Scott has balked at suing BP for claims of up to $2.5 billion in lost sales and bed taxes, declines in property values and environmental damage.

That $30 million from BP is "chump change," complains Tampa attorney Steve Yerrid, who's pushing to sue. He was named oil spill counsel for the state by then-Gov. Charlie Crist but now his role under Scott is unclear.

How long will the BP-Florida marriage last? Until either the trust is gone or the wallet is empty.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

At BP's shareholder meeting, a major Florida investor votes 'no' to protest management failures 04/13/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 11:29pm]
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