Foreclosures put spotlight on Sink

May.May 29, 2009 01:41 PM

The state’s top accountant, Democrat Alex Sink, has worked in tandem with Attorney General Bill McCollum amid the collapse of the state’s property and construction market. Now they are likely rivals for the governorship of Florida.

Sink, 60, who has headed the Florida Department of Financial Services as the state’s Chief Financial Officer since 2007, announced her bid for the governor’s office in mid-May.

Sink is the former Florida president for Bank of America, where she worked for more than two decades. Her husband Bill McBride, a lawyer in Tampa, also ran for Governor of Florida, losing in the 2002 election to Jeb Bush.

She started the Florida Housing Help initiative, designed to help foreclosed homeowners, and the Financial Action Team, which sought advice from government and the private sector on how the state should use federal funds from the Housing and Economic Recovery Act signed last summer.

The Financial Action Team had several different missions, said Robert Weissert of Florida TaxWatch, a state government accounting watchdog and member of the Financial Action Team.

“The underlying mission was how to best capture and utilize federal dollars — some actions were to be taken on how to work with the federal government to ensure the formulas were written in such a way that Florida’s situation was fully accounted for,” Weissert said. “The second mission was that Florida would receive the maximum amount of money, working with individuals who may be eligible for that assistance from the federal government, and ensuring that those eligible are aware of the assistance and how to receive it. This was her way to combat proactively the potential problem that we wouldn’t receive our fair share, and to make sure we did.”

Sink’s Florida Housing Help initiative also holds workshops to put consumers together with mortgage lenders and other housing authorities for counseling and education. 

Weissert mentioned that the Department of Financial Services (DFS) was one of several state agencies involved beginning in January 2009 in discussions on the status of excess state-owned buildings, and a call for review as to what properties could be consolidated and sold.

Sink was also heavily involved in the creation of the Florida Attorneys Saving Homes program, a joint program with the Florida Bar, the Florida Bar Foundation, Florida Legal Services Inc. and the Real Property Probate and Trust Law Section of the Florida Bar. The program was created to match pro bono lawyers with distressed homeowners.

According to the Sink campaign, the CFO met with the Florida Bar Board of Governors in spring 2008 to suggest the program. She urged banks to appoint ombudsmen and advocated for the program until the Board of Governors formed it in the summer of 2008. The DFS has been working with the program since it was formed last summer. 

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