Sunday, November 19, 2017
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott's top adviser arranged $5 million no-bid contract in Senate

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TALLAHASSEE — When the Florida Senate was looking for someone to put its budget data online, it set aside $5.5 million and turned to the business partner of a close friend of the Senate's chief of staff at the time, Steve MacNamara.

The developer of the program, Anna Jo Mattson, owns a software company with Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist Jim Eaton, MacNamara's long-time friend. She also owns Spider Data Services, the company that developed the software program licensed by the Senate. She said Tuesday the companies are not related.

MacNamara did not respond to requests for comment.

MacNamara negotiated the contract with Mattson in February 2011 when he worked for Senate President Mike Haridopolos. He left the Senate to become Gov. Rick Scott's chief of staff in July. To date, Mattson has been paid $5 million for development of the no-bid project. Another $2.5 million has been set aside in the governor's 2012-13 budget to pay for access to her patented program next year.

"What we've got is state of the art in terms of budget transparency programs,'' said Craig Meyer, who succeeded MacNamara as Senate chief of staff.

He said making the state's budget process more openly accessible was Haridopolos' priority after a grand jury accused former House Speaker Ray Sansom of misusing the process. He said the no-bid contract was needed because only Mattson had the patent to her unique program.

"It didn't come together as quick as we hoped so we could roll it out" during Haridopolos' term, he said.

When launched, the program will provide the public and budget analysts the ability to drill down into detailed levels of the budget and pull out employees, contracts and vendors associated with each line item, Meyer said.

The launch of the program has been so quiet that even the Senate budget chief did not know about the contract.

"It seems like a large amount of money, but I wasn't aware of that,'' said Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, who said he supports the idea.

The money came from the Senate's $9.2 million Information Technology discretionary budget in 2010-11. That same pot of money allowed MacNamara to hire Abraham Uccello as a consultant for the Senate's Web-based technologies.

The two computer projects are not related, Meyer said.

Neither of the projects, however, was put out for bid and both were given to people closely associated with MacNamara.

MacNamara served on the board of Uccello's family-owned company, Sarasota-based Sign Media Systems, a brand-marketing company. Uccello has been paid $360,000 for helping the Senate shift its computers away from mainframe technology. Meyer said that project has saved the Senate $12 million.

Unlike state agencies, the Legislature is not bound by a state law that requires single-source contracts topping $195,000 to undergo a vigorous multiphase review by procurement officers.

Mattson, a former House budget analyst who has been developing her budget access program for several years, formed Ali Data Link with Eaton on Nov. 30, 2010. Two months later, in January 2011, Mattson formed Spider Data Services and, a month later, signed the contract with MacNamara to give the Senate access to her patented budget analysis program.

Mattson is barred by the contract from discussing the software program without Senate permission, but she said that the company she formed with Eaton "involves a separate software application related to local government systems." She said she and Eaton are working "to market that application to local governments in Florida and elsewhere."

Meyer, the current Senate chief of staff, also has a link to Eaton, who is also a lobbyist for The Geo Group, the private prison company that lobbied aggressively for a Senate plan to privatize dozens of Florida prisons.

Eaton and Meyer's daughter, Michelle Brittle, own a Tallahassee condominium together. Another daughter, Melissa Akeson, is also a lobbyist for The Geo Group.

Meyer said the condominium was intended as an investment and his daughter, a schoolteacher, now lives there. Eaton did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, Mattson's budget transparency program is "95 percent complete,'' Meyer said and will now be turned over to the governor's office in July.

In 2002, Mattson and her business partner, Sherri Taylor, filed a lawsuit filed against then-Gov. Jeb Bush's budget director and the directors of the House and Senate budget office accusing them of intellectual property theft when they launched Bush's Web-based E-budget.

The suit alleged that keystrokes, program features and the concept of placing the line-item details of the state budget on the Internet were stolen during meetings the women had with Bush budget director Donna Arduin and legislative staff.

With famed intellectual property lawyer Willie Gary as her lawyer, Mattson's case was settled in her favor for about $450,000.

The contract MacNamara negotiated with Mattson allows her to retain all rights to the software and repay the state $250,000 if she sells licenses to other states. Marc Slager, who left the Senate to work in the governor's office with MacNamara, was the contract manager.

Meyer said the Web-based program will be complete by the end of the year and will provide access to data systems throughout state government, from budget and personnel to contracting and planning.

Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.

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