Phil Ammann - SaintPetersBlog

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range included covering news, local government and nightclub reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for an online metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

Florida demands Largo anti-bullying nonprofit to stop fundraising

A Largo anti-bullying nonprofit is under fire by the state of Florida, demanding it stops fundraising after its solicitation license lapsed.

On the Gulf Coast Giving website, the charity — incorporated in 2009 by Nick Foley of Largo – had said its “main mission is to provide underserved schools and nonprofits with updated technology and training to maximize their efforts; and to provide cyberbullying awareness, prevention and intervention programs to secure a brighter future for our community’s youth.” Gulf Coast promises to donate a portion of its fundraising proceeds to groups such as Habitat for Humanity, the Clearwater Seaquarium, Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, Cornerstone Campus Ministry and others.

 As recently as last week, however, the website still included a ‘Donate Now’ button and a ‘Giving’ menu selection. On Monday, the website has been taken down.

As of Sept. 23, 2016, the Florida Division of Corporations had dissolved Gulf Coast Giving for failing to file an annual report. Charities in Florida cannot solicit funds unless registered with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In the 2015 report, Gulf Coast listed three directors and/or officers: Foley, Anthony Foley and Paul J. Burns. Jessica Moody-Shafer is listed as operations manager.

Gulf Coast, located at 12597 Walsingham Rd #2 in Largo, claims it had established a partnership with the City of St. Petersburg and Mayor Rick Kriseman to screen the documentary “Bully” and host a discussion about bullying. Allegedly attached to the event were boxer Winky Wright, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and St. Petersburg Police Chief Tony Holloway.

In a 2013 article in the Tampa Bay Times, Gulf Coast – described as a group that “promotes volunteer work” – organized a bully-awareness week at local schools.

However, after Gulf Coast Giving allowed its registration to lapse, FDACS filed a complaint about illegally soliciting contributions. In an order issued Aug. 16, the department demanded Gulf Coast to stop seeking donations and pay a $500 fine. A lawsuit filed by the state in Pinellas County Circuit Court Jan. 5 says the Gulf Coast has done neither and is asking the court to intervene.

The home page of Gulf Coast Giving. As of 1/11/2017, the website still included a ‘Donate Now’ button. Image courtesy of BayLawsuits.com
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Aegis Technologies celebrates 20 years of helping businesses with all things tech

Twenty years ago, Pam Butler and Brad Mitchell saw an opportunity in North Florida.

With no qualified tech consultant to serve the region’s growing business community, the pair founded the Tallahassee-based Aegis Business Technologies to fill the gap.

Since 1997, Aegis has transformed into a one-stop-shop for all things tech – obtaining, installing and supporting tablets, laptops, servers, firewalls, wireless, email, cloud storage, websites, cabling – just about anything technological a business might need.

“We are a Managed Services Provider (MSP),” explained CEO Blake Dowling, a regular tech columnist for FloridaPolitics.com. “We manage all of your tech, including serving as a liaison to all third-party providers (software, printers, etc.)”

“We take care of it all,” Dowling said. “And act as your trusted adviser.”

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, Aegis received armfuls of awards, including a five-time Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Technology Company of the Year. Aegis has been ranked nationally as a high-performing MSP by organizations such as Ingram Micro, Channel2Channel Magazine and MSP Mentor. There’ve also been recognized for excellence by the Jim Moran Institute, Best of Tallahassee and Tally Awards.

“I often say I have more courage than brains, and my advisers over the years have said that I am the most persistent creature they’ve ever known,” said Butler, who now serves as Aegis’ chair. “That’s why I have surrounded myself with a brilliant partner, the most skilled CEO, learned advisors, trusted customers and a supportive community.”

Butler pointed out that the company, located at 1310 Thomasville Rd. in Tallahassee, is “as vibrant as ever.”

Looking forward to the next 20 years, Butler said Aegis and her team are committed to providing the latest solutions and support for businesses of any size.

“For this, I will be forever grateful,” she added vibrantly. “We changed our stars.”

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tourism

For-profit ‘Florida Tourism Bureau’ sued over $15K defaulted loan

A newly formed business called “Florida Tourism Bureau” is facing court action by a creditor who fronted several thousand in startup costs.

The Clearwater company — founded June 2016 by Tim Gahagen and Richard Dawes — is somewhat unusual in that tourism bureaus are traditionally quasi-governmental entities and not outright for-profit businesses.

John Edward Eder, a 55-year-old Margate resident, loaned Gahagen and Dawes $15,000 just one week after the Florida Tourism Bureau was incorporated. The Bureau is located at 300 S. Duncan Ave., Suite 164-A in Clearwater.

The pair promised to pay Eder back within six months, in monthly installments. Filings show that the money was a “friendly” loan, since the agreement shows Eder would not charge the two any interest.

Nevertheless, Eder argues that neither defendant paid back a dime of the loan. He is now seeking relief from the court, filing a suit Dec. 30 in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court for Pinellas County.

State records show this was not Gahagen’s first foray into the tourism industry.

In 2013, Gahagen founded the Florida Travel and Tourism Bureau, as well as the Florida Tourism Council in 2007. And in 2003, Gahagen incorporated the Orlando Central Tourist Bureau. A cursory search by Baylawsuits.com finds no “meaningful information” about any of the Gahagen companies created over the past two years.

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Swimmer sues Brandon L.A. Fitness after chlorine gas mishap in pool

During a morning swim at a Brandon LA Fitness, two patrons were harmed when poisonous chlorine gas was discharged into the pool.

Around 6:20 a.m. Dec. 14, 2015, William Cordova was in the pool when the gas began coming out of the pool jets. The gas came without warning, he says.

Cordova claims to have suffered serious injuries in his eyes, skin, respiratory passages, lungs and ears.

The gas was described as a “yellow-colored substance,” presumably chlorine gas. Hillsborough fire crews responded to the incident.

Cordova is now suing the Irvine, California-based LA Fitness, and the pool maintenance company, Sharper Image Pools of Tampa, for negligence. Because he was subjected to dangerous conditions, he is seeking damages more than $15,000 for hospitalization, medical costs, loss of earnings, and loss of ability to earn money.

LA Fitness and Sharper Image, allegedly, planned, controlled and maintained the pool. The gym owed its patrons a duty to protect them from dangerous conditions.

The LA Fitness in question is located at 2890 Providence Lakes Blvd. in Brandon.

According to iClubs.com, two similar incidents occurred in Georgia and Connecticut.

News Channel 8 reported: “Two people were transported to a hospital after too much chlorine was put in a pool at the Brandon LA Fitness health club …”

 

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New video from Richard Corcoran boasts ‘We are One House’

A new video produced by the Florida House seeks to remind citizens of the Sunshine State that lawmakers, who will soon convene for the 2017 Legislative Session in March, are united in service to all Floridians.

In the clip from Speaker Richard Corcoran’s First Principles Production, group of Florida House members show that — despite political differences — “We are One House.”

The 90-second video — which begins with the passing of the gavel between former Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Corcoran — features a stream of House members such as Republican Reps. Jose Diaz (HD 116), Alexandra Miller (HD 72), Michael Grant (HD 75), Dane Eagle (HD 77) and Democrats Sean Shaw (HD 61) and Matt Willhite (HD 86) among others.

Each lawmaker talks about how the are representing all Floridians, first responders, seniors, veterans and those in need.

“I am so thankful to our colleagues who participated in our ‘One House’ project,” Corcoran said in a statement.  “With this video, we aimed to show the public, the press, and each other, that we share many broad goals and in the end, we are no different, and no more important than any of the people we collectively represent.

“Because, as the video says, ‘all of them, are all of us,’” he added.

Corcoran encourages everyone to watch, share, and participate in the next video, as well as “always remain honored — even when we disagree — to serve together.”

 The video is available on YouTube.

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Philip Levine announces final term as Miami Beach mayor, to launch statewide listening tour

Philip Levine will not be seeking another term as mayor of Miami Beach.

In a video “state of the city” address released Thursday, Levine talked about how he “rolled up his sleeves and got to work” on such issues as sea level rise, traffic congestion, the Zika virus and lower property taxes.

With that, Levine adds that this will be his last term as mayor.

“Now I look forward to ways of how best to serve my community and my state,” he says in the nearly 3-minute video. “How to make Florida a 21st-century leader in the world economy.”

Levine, an entrepreneur in the cruise industry and media, was first elected to office in 2013. As a multimillionaire, many insiders speculate Levine — as a popular South Florida municipal leader — would possibly seek higher office.

Levine adviser Christian Ulvert says: “Over the coming months, Mayor Levine will travel across Florida to listen to Floridians on how best to serve the state he loves. He will be making a final decision on his plans for continued public service in the spring.”

The video is also available on YouTube:

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Boutique lobbying firms join forces to buy historic building in downtown Tallahassee

A pair of boutique lobbying firms is making a significant move by jointly purchasing a historic building in downtown Tallahassee, just a few steps from the Florida Capitol.

Liberty Partners of Tallahassee and RSA Consulting partnered up to buy the 17,000-square-foot, four-story structure, which, according to the Leon County Property Appraiser’s Office, was built in 1930.

The building, at 113 E. College Avenue, boasts a fully furnished basement, offices, kitchen, a balcony with a wrought iron railing and views of the Capitol from all floors.

“Tallahassee has been my home for over 25 years, and since I don’t see the Capitol building moving anytime soon, this was an easy long-term business decision,” said Liberty Partners President Jennifer Green, co-owner of Frog Dog Real Estate Holdings.

From 1977, the building was owned by Annette’s, Inc., which then sold it to the Florida Medical Association in 1995. In 2005, the Florida Association of Community Colleges purchased the building, making several significant upgrades and renovations during the last 10 years.

“This type of real estate opportunity does not come up frequently and gave us the ability to diversify our business portfolios while continuing to expand our current consulting firms,” said Ron Pierce, also a co-owner of Frog Dog Real Estate Holdings and president of RSA Consulting.

Green founded Liberty Partners of Tallahassee in early 2007 with former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack. Pierce, who was featured in the fall 2016 edition of Florida Politics’ INFLUENCE Magazine, launched RSA Consulting in 2009.

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Airbnb reaches out to help travelers affected by Ft. Lauderdale shooting

Airbnb is activating its local Disaster Response Tool to assist travelers impacted by the shooting at the Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

On Friday, a lone gunman –  identified as former Army veteran Esteban Santiago, 26 — pulled a gun from checked baggage after landing, loaded it in a restroom and began shooting, killing five people and injuring eight others.

As part of the response, Airbnb is asking hosts to offer housing to displaced neighbors and relief workers deployed to help during the tragedy. Authorities have not yet established Santiago’s motive, and told the press “it looks like he acted alone.”

During times of emergency, Airbnb emails local hosts with information on how to offer extra space to affected community members. Hosts are still covered by the Host Guarantee, and Airbnb’s fees are waived.

“Our hearts and thoughts go out to the community of Ft. Lauderdale and all those impacted by today’s horrific and senseless violence,” Airbnb spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a statement. “Through the tool, travelers whose journeys have been interrupted or otherwise delayed will be able to connect with local hosts who are opening up their homes at no charge between now and Jan. 9.

“We are hopeful that the Ft. Lauderdale Airbnb community will come together to open their homes for those in need.”

To reserve a listing, or list a space through the tool, visit www.airbnb.com/disaster/ftlauderdale.

“In addition to our hosts,” Shapiro added, “we also want to thank all of the emergency responders and law enforcement personnel who are working around the clock to investigate this tragedy and restore a sense of normalcy at the airport and to the broader community.”

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Gus Bilirakis celebrates Tarpon Springs Epiphany commemoration with video greeting

As Greek Orthodox Christians gather around the world in celebration, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis shared a video tribute to honor annual Epiphany commemoration and cross dive.

Bilirakis, himself a Greek Orthodox Christian, represents Florida’s 12th Congressional District, which includes Tarpon Springs, the location of the largest Epiphany gathering in the Western Hemisphere.

Below is the text of Bilirakis’ message, which is also available online.

“Good afternoon, today is Epiphany Day, Jan. 6.  We have a large celebration, the biggest celebration of Epiphany in the Western Hemisphere, and it takes place in Tarpon Springs, Florida.

“It’s a wonderful, wonderful day symbolizing the baptism of Christ in the River Jordan, but also the manifestation of God. I want to wish everyone well, and I want to congratulate the Cross Retriever, Joseph Cooley.

“I happen to know him and his family, they’re wonderful people. Joseph actually was an alter boy in the church growing up. He’s got a tremendous family. I know his mother and his grandmother, and I know they’re so very proud of him.

“Hopefully I’ll be with you next year, but I have to fulfill my duties here in Washington, D.C. God bless everyone. Xronia Polla!”

Epiphany is celebrating its 111th anniversary in Tarpon Springs. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people are expected to attend the event Friday afternoon at Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs. Any male age 16 to 18 baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church – and a member in good standing in any of the Tampa Bay Area Parishes – can participate in the cross dive. Whoever retrieves the cross is said to receive a year of good luck.

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Florida softball league is 87 – many players are even older

Irwin Abelson runs to catch a softball and puts on his glasses before throwing the ball to second base. Abelson’s arm is strong, and the man in his 80s on the opposing team is out.

“My doctor said recently, ‘I’d never guess that you were 91 years old,'” shrugs Abelson, a former life insurance salesman and a player for the Kids & Kubs senior league in St. Petersburg. To be eligible, players must be at least 75 — so it’s often called the “three-quarters league.”

Abelson is one of five active players over 90, and in the scheme of things, he’s something of a youngster. One player is 97.

Kids & Kubs is a Depression-era creation. It began in 1930 and quickly drew crowds. In the 1940s, some 5,000 people packed the bleachers. Black-and-white newsreels highlighted the “energetic grandpas.” (The 70-member league is now co-ed; a few women play).

The 97-year-old player, Winchell Smith, says: “The place was mobbed then. They didn’t have anything else to do.”

Today, only a handful of people watch. St. Petersburg was once known as the mecca of “the newly wed and the nearly dead,” but now that hipsters have moved in with their craft beer, kombucha and indie markets, few relics of the past survive. Kids & Kubs still has an office next door to the city’s shuffleboard club, but young people have claimed that, too.

Kids & Kubs is a holdout of old Florida. Players arrive before 9 to stretch and practice in the warm winter sun. Most are veterans, with many having served in combat in World War II. Dugout talk often consists of hospital visits and arthritis. Some topics are more serious: One longtime player lost his wife recently. Each year, two or three teammates die.

But they don’t dwell on the inevitable. While they’ve updated their dress white uniforms — they wear shorts and polo shirts and no longer are required to don bow ties — they still play robust doubleheaders three days a week.

“Play ball,” calls out Don Osborn, the 90-year-old announcer. He’s the league’s scorekeeper, announcer and website manager. He’s also the only one who still wears a bowtie when the Kids & Kubs play.

The origin of the league name is unclear. Player Clarence Faucett, 89, thinks it has something to do with when the team used to fundraise for a local children’s hospital, decades ago. The players were the kids; the children in the hospital were the “kubs.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Faucett said. “That mystery will probably never be solved.”

Smith, a team captain who played second base when he was younger, is now a Kids & Kubs catcher. He credits his longevity to healthy eating and playing ball.

And while exercise and clean eating clearly help people stay healthy, longevity experts say friends and camaraderie are important, too.

Relying on others, and knowing others rely on you, gives life meaning, said Nick Buettner, who works for the Blue Zone Project in Minneapolis and who has studied longevity and aging.

“A reason to get up in the morning,” he said. “I’m guessing for a lot of these people, the softball team gives a strong sense of purpose.”

Smith said the league “keeps me going, the only thing really,” he said. “If I didn’t have this, I’d be sitting in a rocking chair ready to die.”

Wayne Hill, a 75-year-old who splits his year between Michigan and Florida, said he’d been waiting 30 years to join the league. He’s had a triple bypass, aortic valve surgery and a hip replacement but says playing ball is the best thing he can do for his body — and mind.

“The challenge of still playing. The challenge of going after a ball, throwing a ball, hitting a ball. It’s unbelievably great,” he said, grinning. “It’s just the thrill of the game. I’m not in it to win or lose, I’m in it to play.”

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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