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Commissioner claims patronage at lottery

A state lottery commissioner who charges Gov. Lawton Chiles has turned the department into a "candy store" of patronage jobs wants to fire those he says were hired solely for their political connections. Commissioner David Eller, who wrote his complaints in a letter to the governor, charged Chiles ran a campaign on false promises.

"I am appalled at the way the lottery has become a candy store for rewarding political activists since your election," the Deerfield Beach man wrote.

"I remind you that you ran on a campaign of higher ethics in state government, and these kinds of appointments are wholly inconsistent with the positions you took during the campaign," he said.

Julie Anbender, Chiles' press secretary, said the governor had not received the letter and wouldn't comment until he had.

Three of the other four commissioners said they share Eller's concerns and will discuss patronage at a June 11 meeting.

While the commission can make recommendations, it can't force Chiles or Lottery Secretary Marcia Mann to do anything.

"But we'd certainly get their attention," said Commissioner Jim Stelling of Orlando.

Mann, who replaced former Secretary Rebecca Paul, said Eller was "shooting from the hip."

"Yes, they helped on the campaign," she said of the disputed Lottery Department employees. "But they are strong people, they are qualified people and they are exemplary employees."

Among the lottery employees hired since Chiles took office are:

Assistant Secretary Robert W. McKnight, a former Democratic state senator from Dade County and friend of Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay.

Educational liaison Katherine Gibson, daughter of the chief counsel to former Democratic Gov. Bob Graham and a member of a young Democrats club called Chiles-MacKay 2000.

Legislative affairs manager David L. Weiss, who helped raise $780,000 for Chiles in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Product manager and staff assistant Whitney E. Staed, a Chiles campaign worker and daughter of Thomas W. Staed, finance chairman for Chiles' Senate and gubernatorial campaigns.

Product manager and lottery information specialist Kathi Jo Saunders, sister of Dean Saunders, a Lakeland real estate salesman who raised money for Chiles and is now his agricultural adviser.

Tampa district director Melinda Lopez, a friend of Mann's and former director of an alcoholism rehabilitation program in Tampa.

None of the hires had previous lottery experience, and several did not fit the department's guidelines for their positions.

All four commissioners who want to discuss the issue are Republicans appointed by former Gov. Bob Martinez. But the commission isn't acting as a partisan body, Commission Chairman Bob Morrison said. "If we had been on some kind of witch hunt and raised these concerns with no basis or premise, then someone might try and draw some conclusion about it being partisan," Morrison said.

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