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Front Page » Top Stories » Secretary Of State Shuffle Prompts Changes At Coral Gables International Affairs Office

Secretary Of State Shuffle Prompts Changes At Coral Gables International Affairs Office

Written by on September 12, 2002

By Paola Iuspa
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An office that former secretary of state Katherine Harris initiated to promote trade and bring the headquarters of a proposed hemispheric trade accord to Miami-Dade County is becoming part of the governor’s office.

The Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development is taking over international affairs, including a satellite office in Coral Gables, said Pamella Dana, agency director. Her office assists the governor in working with the legislature, state agencies and representatives of business and economic development engines.

Opened soon after Ms. Harris’ election in 1998, the division of international affairs is being transferred from the secretary of state’s control before a January restructuring that will make the entire Department of State part of the governor’s office. At that time, the governor will appoint the secretary.

"It was the governor’s decision to transfer it," said state department spokeswoman Jenny Nash, referring to the change in international affairs.

The cabinet restructuring was decided by voters in the late-1990s and Ms. Harris resigned last month to run for US Senate. Now headed by Jim Smith, the Department of State’s other functions, including elections, division of corporations and cultural affairs, are likely to remain the same until year’s end.

The Office of Tourism, Trade & Economic Development maintains partnerships with Enterprise Florida Inc., the state’s economic development agency, the Visit Florida marketing campaign and the Florida Film Commission, Ms. Dana said.

"Jim Smith wants to put all his focus on elections and make sure they were properly held. So he went into contract with our office to manage this function," she said of international affairs. "We will manage expenditures and activities. For example, if there is a conference, it will be my decision to move forward or not. "

While Mr. Smith and Ms. Dana signed a memo to transfer the division, any formal change must be made by the Legislature. The state’s international affairs division, with the Gables office run by Under Secretary of State Hugh Simon, operates on a $3 million annual budget, Ms. Dana said, which includes Mr. Simon’s and his assistant’s salaries.

Mr. Simon’s title remains the same unless changed by the legislature. He said he will still work from the Gables office, provided by the city in the Biltmore Hotel. That site, he said, will continue promoting trade and garnering support to make Miami-Dade County home to the secretariat of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, to be signed among 34 nations by 2005.

Ms. Harris was known for pro-trade efforts and almost a year ago was named chairwoman of Florida FTAA Inc., a nonprofit based lobbying for free trade.

Until the mid-1990s secretaries of state were only periodically involved in international affairs, Mr. Simon said. In the late ’90s, the legislature added the trade function and later Gov. Jeff Bush asked Ms. Harris to lead the FTAA initiative to promote private-sector support, facilitate negotiating talks and promote Greater Miami as host for a trade-treaty headquarters.