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Five reasons you should care about the Orange County Commission textgate scandal

The state investigation may be concluding, but it’s far from over

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If there’s anything an organized business lobby is good at in battling citizens’ initiatives, it’s pulling together self-funded economic studies to reflect dubious – and often undesirable – outcomes. In early September, the Central Florida Partnership (the umbrella group for the regional chamber of commerce) released a study it commissioned through Rollins College, authored by economics professor William Seyfried. That study sought to debunk an oft-cited report authored by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research on the effects a paid sick-leave ordinance had on San Francisco following its enactment in 2007. The IWPR study claimed that there were minimal effects on business and that most employees opted not to use all of their earned sick-time benefits. Seyfried’s study, meanwhile, hewed to the position held by the conservative National Federation of Independent Business, which believes that by its very nature, offering more benefits to workers undercuts businesses. The money has to come from somewhere.

A July 4, 2013, New York Times story, however, found that many businesses in areas that have adopted sick-time policies (for example, Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; Connecticut and now New York City) have rejected the front-end fear-mongering of trade groups and big businesses as all bluster with little bite. A recent audit by the District of Columbia found that 90 percent of businesses polled said that they would not leave Washington, D.C., because of the sick-time program enacted in 2008.

“I think what we are in some ways recognizing is that the price of the success that we’ve had across the nation is greater attention from these organized, well-funded corporate interests who continue to suggest that the sky will fall if these laws are passed,” says National Partnership for Women and Families director Vicki Shabo.

Mayor Jacobs made reference to the San Francisco study – at least in a roundabout way – in texts released from her phone that were sent during the Sept. 11 commission meeting. “Disappointed no one researched what happened in San Francisco,” she wrote to chief of staff Graciela Noriega Jacoby, some moments before texting lobbying law firm BakerHostetler attorney and Jacobs advisor Kevin Shaughnessy, “Please help me with a written explanation of my position. This is most distressful for me.”

“There are dirty tactics everywhere, but this was a uniquely soap-opera-ish story that played out in Florida,” Shabo says. “In other places, where people are more reasonable, we’ve seen businesses and people come together to craft a policy.”

Killing the messenger

If Jacobs was attempting a public-relations coup, appearing calm and dignified as the specifics of textgate were sputtering out slowly via public-records requests, her late-September brawl with the Orlando Sentinel all but ended it. Throughout that month, Jacobs made it clear that, though she thought the sick-time initiative was a mistake, she also respected the county charter and supported it being on the ballot.

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