Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

State's purchase of land from senator's family criticized

TALLAHASSEE — The net worth of the Florida Senate's budget chief grew fivefold after the state purchased part of her family's ranch with the help of a program whose funding she oversees.

Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, is a shareholder of the Mabry Carlton Ranch. She is also the Senate's second-in-command who oversees the state budget. That job includes coordinating the state's recent budget cuts but also designating money for programs such as Florida Forever, the state's land-buying plan.

In December, the Southwest Florida Water Management District and Sarasota County used $20-million from Florida Forever toward a $51-million deal with the Mabry Carlton Ranch east of Myakka River State Park.

The state acquired 4,756 acres, which contribute to the area's water supply and are considered environmentally sensitive and which the water district had already purchased development rights for. The deal also included development rights to prevent houses from being built on another 7,630 acres.

Now the deal, which appears to have followed standard protocol and has been reported by local media, has drawn new criticism from the Florida Democratic Party, which questions why Carlton didn't note a conflict of interest with the Senate president.

The criticism comes as Carlton, who is term limited, is playing an active role in the District 23 Republican primary. Democrats hope to win the seat.

"As Senate appropriations chair, we trusted Sen. Carlton with our tax dollars, and she turned around to write herself a check for millions of dollars," said Eric Jotkoff, Florida Democratic Party spokesman.

Carlton, 44, disagrees. She said she "absolutely" did not use her position in any way to influence the deal. She said her mother, Barbara Carlton, president of the ranch company, started negotiations with the water district and that she became involved once her mother's estate planning became an issue.

Eric Sutton, assistant land resources director for the water district, confirmed Carlton's account and said negotiations began in late 2005 or early 2006. Carlton became the Senate budget chief in November 2006.

Carlton said Friday she wasn't aware that part of the $300-million set aside for Florida Forever in 2007 helped fund the deal.

She said she saw the land deal as an extension of a decadelong relationship her family's company has had with the district.

"It's been a long-standing relationship through the years, all of which has been in the public record," said Carlton. Her 2007 financial disclosure form shows her net worth jumped to $14.8-million, up from $2.4-million in 2006, because of increased value of her ranch stock.

The deal for the ranch land is part of a growing trend for purchases of environmental land. The Republican-led Legislature and Cabinet have embraced the idea of buying development rights as a new conservation technique to spread land-buying dollars. Republicans like that open space is preserved and the land remains on the tax rolls, but the state doesn't have to maintain it. However, such conservation often doesn't allow public access and lowers a property's value for tax purposes.

The December purchase was hailed as the largest such land deal for Sarasota County's environmental land program. The County Commission debated the deal for more than two hours Nov. 27 before approving it 4 to 1. Two commissioners wondered aloud during the meeting if the deal was worth it.

Carlton noted her family actually received less than the four appraisals the government obtained that served as the basis for negotiations.

The balance of the deal's financing came from Sarasota County, which spent $31.6-million from its environmental land program that is funded with a voter-approved quarter-mill property tax. The land-buying program had identified the properties as a priority.

Not all Democrats are critical. Sarasota County Democrat Jono Miller, who serves on the county panel that recommends environmental land purchases, said he believes the purchase was a "great addition that's going to help safeguard land in the future."

State's purchase of land from senator's family criticized 08/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 3:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Ramsberger chosen for Chief Justice Award

    Courts

    The Florida Supreme Court's Chief Justice presented Pinellas Circuit Judge Peter R. Ramsberger the 2017 Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence.

    Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Peter R. Ramsberger was presented the Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.
  2. Joint Chiefs chairman says military's transgender policy unchanged for now

    Military

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. will continue to permit transgender individuals to serve openly in the military until Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has received President Donald Trump's "direction" to change the policy and figured out how to implement it, the nation's top military officer said Thursday.

    Protesters listen to speakers at a demonstration Wednesday against a proposed ban of transgender people in the military in the Castro District in San Francisco. Demonstrators flocked to a plaza named for San Francisco gay-rights icon Harvey Milk to protest President Donald Trump's abrupt ban on transgender troops in the military. [Olga R. Rodriguez | Associated Press]
  3. Hudson accused of impersonating police officer

    Crime

    HUDSON — Pasco sheriff's deputies arrested a man on charges of impersonating a law enforcement officer after he was accused of pulling over a motorist and claiming to be an off-duty policeman.

    Scott Ziegler [Photo Courtesy of Pasco County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Duke Energy quietly builds a $1.5 billion plant in Citrus County

    Energy

    CRYSTAL RIVER — Sequestered in a remote part of Citrus County is the most expensive development project you likely haven't heard of.

    Robby Armstrong, Sr., construction specialist at Duke Energy, leads a tour through construction on the combined cycle natural gas plant at the Crystal River Energy Complex. The $1.5 billion project is the largest Duke Energy combined cycle project. Construction is about midway through and expected to be completed in 2018.
[MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
  5. Review: Get under the covers with Tom Perrotta's 'Mrs. Fletcher'

    Books

    If Tom Perrotta's new novel, Mrs. Fletcher, had a moral, it might be this: Thinking you can learn how to have a great sex life by watching porn is like thinking you can learn to be a great driver by playing Grand Theft Auto.