Drew Wilson - 4/32 - SaintPetersBlog

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.

Donald Trump could be forcing out U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley

President Donald Trump has asked for resignations from 46 U.S. Attorneys appointed by former President Barack Obama, possibly including A. Lee Bentley of the Middle District of Florida.

The Tampa Business Journal contacted multiple sources to see if Bentley had been asked to step aside, but did not get a confirmation as of Friday evening.

Bentley was sworn in to the position just a year ago, and was appointed based on the recommendation of Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio. Before becoming U.S. Attorney, Bentley spent 15 years as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the same district.

The Middle District of Florida is headquartered in Tampa.

U.S. Attorneys generally step aside when the presidential administration changes parties, but the process usually takes place gradually to ensure replacements are lined up for a smooth transition.

Miami U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer, also an Obama appointee, announced his resignation last month.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, equated asking for the resignations to an “abrupt firing.”

“Under previous administrations, orderly transitions allowed U.S. Attorneys to leave gradually as their replacements were chosen,” she said. “This was done to protect the independence of our prosecutors and avoid disrupting ongoing federal cases.”

Feinstein said she is “very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”

USFSP names new vice chancellor for advancement

Deborah Read will take over as Vice Chancellor for Advancement at USF St. Petersburg, the university announced Friday.

Read was appointed by USF St. Petersburg Regional Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska and joins the school from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, where she worked as vice president for university advancement and CEO of the Cal Poly Foundation.

“Deborah brings extensive experience to her role, having served as a major gifts officer for nearly 20 years at public and private research universities, regional universities, and a private liberal arts college,” Wisniewska said. “I look forward to working closely with her as we continue to develop our own culture of philanthropy.”

Read earned her bachelor’s degree in government and politics at the University of Maryland, College Park, and has also completed graduate coursework in education, policy, planning and administration.

“I am honored to be joining the University of South Florida St. Petersburg,” said Read. “As a vibrant institution with a strong commitment to excellence, as well as its students, faculty, staff, and its work in the greater St. Petersburg community—the mission of USFSP resonates with me.”

Before joining California Polytechnic State University, she was vice president for university advancement at the University of Dayton in Ohio, the University at Albany State University of New York, and Northern Kentucky University.

During her career, Read has successfully run fundraising campaigns in the $350 million to $500 million range. At USFSP she will be responsible for developing and implementing a strategic agenda to advance USFSP’s mission and Vision 20/20 goals around sustainable funding.

Bill limiting property tax assessments ready for House floor

A bill that would extend a constitutional amendment to stop large spikes a property’s taxable value is ready for a floor vote in the House.

HJR 21 cleared the House Commerce Committee with a 24-2 vote, and previously made it through the House Ways and Means Committee with a 16-1 vote.

Back in 2008, Florida voters approved an amendment that capped the increase in assessed value for non-homesteaded residential property at 10 percent a year, except when it comes to taxes to fund schools.

That amendment is set to expire in 2019, and a bill moving through the House would put an extension for the amendment on the ballot in 2018.

One of the two votes against the bill came from Loxahatchee Republican Rep. Rick Roth, who said the cap should be lowered.

“I don’t understand why we had so many people in the audience waive in support who represent business communities,” he said. “The idea of a ten percent tax increase every year… thankfully we haven’t had that for the past seven or eight years.”

The bill now moves to the House floor.

HJR 21’s senate companion, SJR 76, cleared the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax with a unanimous vote last month, but still needs approval from the Appropriations and Rules committees before its ready for the chamber floor.

Rick Scott says ACA replacement is a work in progress

Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday that he thinks Florida would be treated unfairly under the current version of congressional Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill.

Scott did not tell reporters he opposed the bill after meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Washington, D.C., though he did say the repeal bill needs to be fair for states like Florida, which did not expand Medicaid. He also said the bill needs to give autonomy to run their own Medicaid programs.

States like Florida which didn’t expand can’t get treated unfairly,” he said. He also called the current plan “a work in progress.”

The newly unveiled proposal would allow states that expanded Medicaid to keep their extra federal funds for the next few years until the program phases out in 2020. The bill would also tie Medicaid funding to the number of enrollees in each state.

States that did not expand Medicaid would get an extra $10 billion over the next five years under the bill and would also have spending cuts for safety net hospitals lifted in 2018, 2 years ahead of Medicaid expansion states.

Chief academic officer resigns from Hillsborough County schools

The chief academic officer of Hillsborough County Public Schools resigned Wednesday, reports Marlene Sokol of the Tampa Bay Times.

Elizabeth Agresta resigned her post due to personal reasons according to district spokeswoman Tanya Arja. Superintendent Jeff Eakins accepted Agresta’s resignation and extended his best wishes.

Agresta said the following to her employees in the district’s Office of Teaching and Learning:

“This afternoon, Jeff announced to the cabinet members that I have made the decision to resign from my position as Chief Academic Officer.  I wanted to reach out to each of you as well. Jeff shared with me that the philosophy and ideas behind the reorganization will be continued.

What excited me the most when I accepted the position was the vision of us all uniting to identify and meet challenges together, and break through the ‘normal work mode’ to model and implement new practices with forward thinking, innovation, and a renewed spirit of excellence.  During this time of change, I encourage you to keep moving forward and don’t let anything or anyone stop you from delivering your very best.

Please know that I wish the district only the very best in the years to come and I am pulling for each of you to have great success!”

Her exit leaves another empty position under Eakins. The district has not yet replaced T.G. Taylor, who left his position as chief of community relations in November.


Lyft now offering rides in Tallahassee

Ridesharing company Lyft earned praise from Tallahassee officials Wednesday after announcing that it was open for business in the capital city.

“Tallahassee was proud to be one of the first cities in the state to approve favorable ridesharing laws, and we are excited that Lyft is now expanding into the Capital City,” said Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. “So many areas of Florida have benefitted from the opportunities that ridesharing represents, for both passengers and drivers.

Gillum’s sentiment was echoed by Leon County Commissioner John Dailey and Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Sue Dick, who said Lyft’s arrival “shows that Tallahassee remains at the cutting edge.”

Jaime Raczka, Lyft’s head of early stage markets and expansion, said the company is “excited to bring Lyft’s affordable, reliable rides to Tallahassee. Whether you use Lyft while enjoying a night out in Midtown, coming home from a Seminole game, or rushing to a meeting downtown, we look forward to being a part of the Capital City community for years to come.”

Lyft, like competitor Uber, allows customers to book rides that are less expensive than traditional taxis through a mobile app.

One of the few major differences between the two transportation networks companies is Lyft has an in-app option to tip your driver. The company said drivers have brought in more than $150 million in tips since Lyft started up.

As part of the expansion into Tallahassee, the company is offering riders $5 off their first ride if they use the code LYFTLOVE17. Lyft is also encouraging those interested in driving to view the “Drive with Lyft” page on its website.

House bill could transfer millions from FHP to Pinellas, Polk sheriffs

The Florida Highway Patrol came out against a proposed committee bill Wednesday that would hand over agency funding and jurisdiction in two counties.

CRJ 17-01 from the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee could give the Pinellas County and Polk County sheriff’s offices a combined $6 million to handle crashes on state roads within county borders.

FHP Lt. Col. Mike Thomas said the move “would be a stark change to our business model” and that FHP hasn’t “had the chance to really evaluate any of the fiscal impacts as well as the impacts on the public.”

FHP has jurisdiction to investigate crashes on state roads in many Florida counties, though sheriffs say they end up doing a lot of the heavy lifting because FHP doesn’t have the boots on the ground to handle the case load.

“We’re already doing it,” Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said in an interview with the Times/Herald. “I believe we can do it faster, better, cheaper.” He added: “The citizen doesn’t understand why the guy in the green uniform goes by five times while they’re sitting there waiting for the guy in the brown uniform.”

Under the bill, FHP would be required to enter into a contract with the Pinellas and Polk sheriff’s offices if  requested, while the sheriff’s offices would be required to employ displaced FHP troopers unless they decide to transfer locations or leave to pursue another job.

The bill also requires payments to the sheriff’s offices to be less than the cost of having FHP do the work. The cap for Pinellas County is $2.8 million a year, while the cap in Polk is set at $3.2 million.

Bill to fund a $1M in-state marketing campaign clears House committee

A House panel unanimously approved a bill that would grant $1 million to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association for a tourism marketing campaign.

HB 3343, sponsored by Panama City Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull, would give $1 million in non-recurring general revenue to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to contract with FLRA to develop the marketing plan.

According to the appropriations project request filed by Trumbull (879), a similar program was funded at $2.5 million in last year’s budget.

The tourism marketing campaign uses a private matching program and will be conducted statewide, which the request form says are guaranteed in writing.

The request form shows that FLRA head Carl Dover requested the money and that his organization is represented by lobbyist Andy Palmer of Metz, Husband & Daughton, PA.

The appropriations request also shows that $20,000 of the money will go to event staff, $40,000 will go to event travel and another $40,000 would go to marketing professionals and videography and photography services.

The detailed information on who is requesting the funds is a new requirement for the 2017 Legislative Session which requires all funding requests to have a legislative paper trail, unlike past sessions.

The House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee voted 14-0 in favor of the bill, which now moves on to the full House Appropriations Committee.

Report: Port Tampa Bay lagging behind other Florida ports

Port Tampa Bay is lagging behind other Florida seaports when it comes to the throughput of shipping containers, reports WFTS Tampa Bay.

Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson exuded plenty of positivity during his 2017 State of the Port address, bragging about “over 37 million tons” of containers coming in, and calling the port “the number one port in the state of Florida.”

While it is the largest port in the state, land-wise, WFTS reporter Jarrod Holbrook says Port Tampa Bay is far behind other Florida ports when it comes to the number of containers shipping out.

In 2015, the most recent year of data available from the Army Corps of Engineers, the port shipped out just under 40,000 containers compared to more than 700,000 a piece from JAXPORT, Miami and Port Everglades.

Area businesses even prefer using other ports over Port Tampa Bay.

“Being in Tampa is a disadvantage in my business,” said Omer Ozer, who along with his brother owns Stonemart, one of the biggest importers for stone and tile in Florida. The brothers say Port Tampa Bay is more expensive than other ports and it all stems from a lack of competition.

Rooms To Go, Kanes Furniture and Badcock all report shipping more out of Jacksonville than Tampa despite being much closer to Port Tampa Bay.

Still, Anderson said the port is about more than just the number of containers moving through.

“Listen we have been in a growth of our business here.  We have the most diversified port in the state of Florida,” Anderson tells WFTS. “That’s something our citizens are so happy for.  It’s like your portfolio of your 401k.”

John Morroni endorses Barclay Harless for St. Pete City Council

Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni endorsed Barclay Harless for the St. Petersburg City Council District 2 seat Monday.

“In order to have seamless cooperation on big-ticket projects, we need elected officials who understand how the different layers of government interact. I was proud to appoint Barclay to the Pinellas Charter Review where he championed a ballot amendment—which ultimately passed countywide—that stipulates citizen-drawn redistricting for the County Commission. This is a testament to his work ethic and vision for our community. I proudly stand with Barclay in his campaign for St. Pete City Council District 2,” Morroni said.

Harless, a commercial banker, is a former aide to Darryl Rouson during his time as a state Representative. He is running against real estate agent Brandi Gabbard for the seat currently held by term-limited council member Jim Kennedy.

District 2 encompasses the Gateway and North St. Pete areas.

“Having worked across the aisle in the Florida Legislature, with local leaders on the Pinellas County Charter Review Board, with the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce and with the small businesses that have revolutionized our urban core, I am ready to take on the issues facing our city,” Harless said in a campaign press release. “I was raised with two basic fundamentals: one, be direct and honest in dealing with others. Two, tackle problems with a can-do, pragmatic approach.”

Harless has served on the board of R’Club Childcare, Inc., and the Louise Graham Center for Regeneration for three and half years. Barclay has been the state policy chair in the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and has served on grant boards for the Suncoast United Way.

Primaries for the City of St. Petersburg municipal races are Aug. 29; general election at-large voting is Nov. 7.

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