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One phone call prunes Tampa senator's job

By JO BECKER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- Sen. John Grant had a nicely feathered nest awaiting when term limits forced him from office. Then Gov. Jeb Bush stepped in, and it got a little less cushy.

At the end of this legislative session, the Tampa Republican will become the executive director of the statewide Public Guardianship Office. Bush appointed Grant to the job in November.

It was a pretty good deal then and it was about to get sweeter after a colleague of Grant's decided that Grant deserved a bigger salary than the governor and should be allowed to work from his hometown of Tampa.

Rep. Larry Crow, R-Palm Harbor, filed a bill that would have set Grant's salary at $125,000 a year and expanded the program he will oversee. Over the objections of Democrats, committees in both the House and the Senate signed off on the idea.

Then Crow got a call from the governor.

On Thursday, Crow killed his own bill.

"The governor was adamant -- he said, "If you pass it, I will veto it,' " Crow said. "He thought the public perception was bad."

Grant will receive a salary of $75,000, according to Bush spokeswoman Elizabeth Hirst. He will, however, be able to work from Tampa because of a deal worked out with the University of South Florida.

Grant, 56, said he has been asked not to speak about his new job until after the session ends May 5. He said he was not involved in Crow's efforts.

"The whole thing has been blown out of proportion," Grant said.

The new guardianship program Grant will lead is designed to help some of the state's most vulnerable citizens conduct their daily lives.

Public guardians are appointed to handle the financial business and make decisions for certain elderly or disabled citizens who can no longer handle their own affairs. Reports of theft and abuse on the part of guardians have been widespread for years.

Grant will review the needs of the state's 67 counties and complete a report on the situation by Jan. 1, 2001. Legislators envision the appointment of a guardian in each of the state's 20 judicial circuits.

Crow's bill would have expanded the program and allowed Grant to move forward immediately with changes. Crow defended the provision in his bill that would have set Grant's salary at a level equal to the amount received by the public defender in the Tampa area.

"When you have a talented lawyer in private practice, they make double what the proposed salary was," he said. "It was probably underpaying, if anything."

But the governor was opposed to expanding the program, Hirst said.

"The Governor's Office let him (Crow) know that it was inappropriate to call for a massive expansion of the guardianship program," Hirst said. "The governor feels the needs ought to be adequately studied first."

Grant, who has served in the Legislature since 1980, has been a guardian and attorney for guardians in his private legal practice. He has been designated as a probate and guardianship specialist by the Florida Bar.

Rep. John Cosgrove, a Miami Democrat who criticized giving Grant the higher salary, said the $75,000 the governor plans to pay is more reasonable. "He's qualified to do the job and the taxpayers will be getting a bargain," Cosgrove said.

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