Wednesday, April 15, 2009

'We Be Prosecuted Now, Bro?'

Brice Harris, the once-upon-a-time state employee who slaved away on a $70,000 state salary to see that half a million dollars in taxpayer money was appropriated for a "space tourism" program in Gulf Breeze, and then took the top job himself for $150,000 a year, has resigned.

Too late. Harris' resignation comes hours after state investigators concluded the 31 year old Pensacola native "likely violated state law" by taking a job he was "substantially" involved in creating on state time with state money.

The Orlando Sentinel, which broke the original story last January, has the latest details ["Space tourism project likely tainted by official's ethics violation"].
The investigators said that they examined approximately 5,000 e-mails from Harris – many sent from his home computer -- that showed he had helped design and draw up the proposal for the program. He even negotiated to set the director’s salary at $150,000 – and then resigned his $70,000-a-year government post last summer to take the job.

Setting up the project “consumed most of Harris’ e-mail communications and work time while he was employed with” Crist’s office, the investigators wrote, and “was disproportionate to his time expended on his various other … duties.”

* * *

Besides overseeing the project’s contract dollars, Harris rewrote large portions of a $60,000 study by the University of West Florida to make the business case for creating a commercial-spaceflight-research center in the Pensacola area.

He approved photos for the project and even picked out logos for lapel pins and shoulder patches the would-be space tourists would wear. In late June, he and Andrews Director Joe Story met with Navy officials in Pensacola to explore use of the Naval Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory.

In fact, the investigators found he was so close to the project that at one point, after Space Florida and the Andrews Institute signed an agreement not to talk about their plans to create it, Harris sent Story a message from his BlackBerry. It said: “We be rollin’ now brother!”

Bejeebus! For $150,000 a year, you'd think the Andrews Institute would want someone who doesn't get his kicks emailing parodies of uneducated ghetto residents.

The full report of the Chief Inspector General is available in pdf format here.

We be facin' legal problems now, bro? Well, Governor Crist has asked for an "ethics investigation" -- which, too often, is Tallahassee-speak for "let's sweep this one under the rug."
In the Ethics Commission, at worst Harris would face "a $10,000 fine and be forced to pay back money to the state," the Sentinel says.

Yeah , right. What ought to happen is a grand jury should start looking into all the shenanigans that misled the state into committing $500,000 a year for this insane project.

Barney Bishop, a member of the Space Coast Economic Development Commission, has it right.

"There’s no reason to be spending state dollars to subsidize rich people who will be flying on future flights into space," he told the Sentinel. "I would hope they’re going to cancel this contract, because it makes no sense on the face of it and now there are questions about how it was set up in the first place."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Brice Harris cleared of any wrongdoing; no violations occurred!|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|p