Phil Ammann - 2/389 - 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 His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

Florida retailers expect record breaking Mother’s Day in 2017

Florida retailers believe moms will get a lot of love this year, as consumers are set to spend record numbers for Mother’s Day in 2017.

According to the Florida Retail Federation (FRF), consumers will spend more than ever on gifts for Mother’s Day this year, reaching $23.6 billion. The state’s leading retailer trade association expect a whopping $186.39 per mom on average this year, up from last year’s $172.22 average.

“We are extremely encouraged by the record high projections for Mother’s Day shopping this year which not only shows the great appreciation we have for moms but also the overall confidence of our consumers and strength of our economy,” said Florida Retail Federation CEO and President R. Scott Shalley. “Florida’s retailers are constantly rising to meet the demands of their consumers and that will be no different this year as they are preparing for this very exciting and busy holiday.”

A review from the National Retail Federation, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, show per-person spending in 2017 will be the highest in the survey’s 14-year history.

Estimates say shoppers will spend $5 billion on jewelry, $4.2 billion on special outings such as dinner or brunch, $2.6 billion on flowers, $2.5 billion on gift cards, $2.1 billion on clothing, $2 billion on consumer electronics, and $1.9 billion on personal services.

The most significant increases from last year are in jewelry spending, which is up 19 percent, and personal services, up 15 percent.

Shopping habits also differ based on the age of both the consumer and the recipient.

For example, the survey shows “gifts of experience,” such as concert tickets, will have a 28 percent rise — with nearly half the consumers surveyed under 35 years of age plan on giving such a gift.

Thirty-five percent of consumers will shop at department stores; 31 percent will head to specialty stores such as florists, jewelers or electronic stores; 24 percent will shop at a small local business. Thirty percent of consumers expect to buy online, up from 27 percent last year.

The survey asked 7,406 consumers about Mother’s Day plans, conducted April 4-11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 points.

Rick Baker sets first major fundraiser for mayoral bid on May 23

Former two-time St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker is hosting the first official fundraiser kicking off his bid for a third term against incumbent Rick Kriseman.

The reception is Tuesday, May 23 beginning 5:30 p.m. at the Morean Center for Clay St. Pete’s Warehouse Arts District.

Baker, who served two terms as mayor from 2001-2010, officially filed paperwork for his campaign Monday, making the formal announcement on the steps of City Hall the next day.

On April 11, Baker supporters registered Seamless Florida, the political committee tied to Baker’s campaign. The committee’s name is a take on one of Baker’s books on governing.

RSVPs for the event are at, by contacting Rick Porter at (407) 849-1112, or with Gretchen Picotte at (407) 849-1112,

Morean Center for Clay is located at 420 22nd St. S. in St. Petersburg.

Gwen Graham works a shift with Operation New Hope, helping ex-offenders

Gwen Graham’s latest Workday focused on efforts to find affordable housing, workforce training and family reintegration for ex-offenders.

The newly announced Democratic candidate for governor worked Wednesday with Operation New Hope in Jacksonville.

“The ex-offenders I met today are working to put their lives back on track. They just want a second chance at becoming contributing members of their community — and Operation New Hope is giving them that chance,” Graham said in a statement. “Operation New Hope serves as an example for reintegration programs throughout our state and nation. Jacksonville is fortunate to have such a great organization, and I am fortunate to have spent the day working with them.”

As part of the Workday, the former North Florida congresswoman worked alongside Jarvis Guthrie, an ex-offender who now works with Operation New Hope as a recruitment coordinator. Guthrie spoke with Graham about the importance the program has had in his life.

“I am not a label of crime, but a product of second chances,” Guthrie said.

Founded in 1999, Operation New Hope placed more than 2,500 ex-offenders back into the workforce. The organization helped to “break the cycle” for as many as 7,200 children of ex-offenders, who are more likely to become offenders themselves. Operation New Hope also helped to build or restore 80 homes.

“Gwen has proven through her leadership that she has concern and care for all of Floridians,” said Kevin Gay, CEO and founder of Operation New Hope. “She understands Operation New Hope does more than help individuals — it’s an investment in our entire state’s future.”

Bay News 9 to launch new weekly Sunday roundtable with Florida’s opioid crisis

Allison Walker-Torres

Florida’s growing heroin opioid epidemic is the debut topic of “In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres” a new 30-minute public affairs program from Bay News 9.

In Focus will be a weekly roundtable beginning Sunday, May 14, at 11:30 a.m. on Florida’s Spectrum Networks Bay News 9 in Tampa and News 13 in Orlando.

On her first show, Walker-Torres will discuss the opioid epidemic which led Gov. Rick Scott to recently declare a statewide public health emergency. She will be joined by Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Assistant State Attorney Dan Faggard to discuss what is being done and will need to happen to make progress on the crisis.

Part of the program will also feature a mother’s firsthand account of the effects of drug addiction on families; she had lost both her son and grandson to the epidemic.

During the show, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office will also air a special message.

In Focus will tackle one topical issue per week, and feature a weekly roundtable of newsmakers to provide a range of perspectives, including local officials and expert analysts. In Focus will re-air Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on Channels 9, 1009 and Channel 1209 in Tampa.

Walker-Torres is a three-time Emmy-award winning reporter/anchor, who has been with Bay News 9 since 2007. After serving as weekend anchor desk at Bay News 9, she has become a full-time reporter/field anchor for Bay News 9, and a contributor to News 13 in Orlando.


Suncoast Tiger Bay to perform 2017 Session post-mortem

As the 2017 Session grinds to a halt, with only one piece of unfinished business left for Monday, lawmakers now enter the traditional post-mortem phase.

On Thursday, The Suncoast Tiger Bay Cub hosts its 2017 Legislative Wrap-Up, the annual gathering for members and constituents to ask questions and (hopefully) get some answers on the 60-plus-day Session, and how it will impact both the region and Florida.

This year, Session went into overtime at 63 days, as lawmakers return to the Florida Capitol Monday to vote on a final state budget of $83 billion.

Held at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater in North St. Petersburg, the discussion – moderated by SaintPetersBlog’s Peter Schorsch – will include several members of the Tampa Bay-area delegation. Confirmed attendees include state Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, and South Pasadena state Rep. Kathleen Peters.

Networking for the event begins 11:30 a.m.; luncheon and the program are from Noon to 1:15 p.m. the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater is at 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. In St. Petersburg. Admission is $25 for members; $35 for guests. RSVP deadline is Monday, May 8; more information and reservations are at


Coral Gables plastic bag ban will force lawsuit — exactly as planned

As A-Team’s Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith often says: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

If current momentum holds, starting May 9, Coral Gables will become the first Florida city to ban single-use plastic shopping bags.

It’s a move directly contradicting Florida law, which gives the state regulatory purview over the issue.

And Coral Gables’ ban, if successful, will no doubt provoke a lawsuit — exactly as planned.

Why? Among those happiest over the prospect of lawyering up — beyond trial attorneys, that is — are environmentalist groups, most notably the Surfrider Foundation.

Certainly, taxpayers will be less than enthused.

A lawsuit is one of two ways Surfrider sees Florida’s “ban the bag” movement going its way.

For Surfrider, Coral Gables in a lawsuit waiting to happen is fairly low stakes and low commitment, compared to traditional legislative channels.

In fact, Surfrider is so “stoked” about the prospect of having its day in Miami-Dade court that it offered to help with legal expenses.

With luck, one of Florida’s more activist judges will hear the case.

If not, well, it’s no big deal. Surfrider has a choice of 39 other Florida communities for legal provocations to ban the bag.

Eventually, they’ll win, right?

Surfrider, as with other similar activist groups, made its name by bringing lawsuit after lawsuit, litigating its way into the headlines.

But, remarkably, Surfrider does its work as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, which is prohibited from engaging in significant direct lobbying — something Surfrider does while paying next to nothing to do so.

Nevertheless, Surfrider does not hide the fact it is openly playing lawsuit roulette in Florida.

Also, Surfrider continues its local and state campaigns, in Florida and around the country, to force product bans (think bags, straws, balloons, water bottles and Styrofoam), energy moratoriums and other prescriptive policies. This is accomplished with impunity as a tax shield, effectively subsidized by the communities and taxpayers it seeks to regulate.

Surfrider engaged a similar tactic when it targeted Portsmouth, New Hampshire. As reported by the New Hampshire Political Buzz website, the group’s clear playbook was to search out a community willing to contradict state statutes, thereby drawing a lawsuit.

Coral Gable’s bag ban — on which the City Council votes Tuesday — includes a regressive bag tax on any paper bags grocers continue to distribute to shoppers.

Violations of the ban and tax requirements will be met, after an initial grace period, with $50 fines, which could graduate to $500 fines for repeat mistakes.

What about taxpayers and business owners who don’t like the prospect of Coral Gables thwarting Florida’s regulatory framework, while repressing consumer choice and bilking taxpayers for even more money?

Activists promise THEY’LL GET USED TO IT.

And maybe, just maybe, if the inevitable lawsuit breaks favorably, it will embolden other Florida activists, giving them a green light to pursue similar bans and tax policies in communities throughout the state.

Just as planned.

St. Pete to provide free grocery shuttle from Midtown to nearby Wal-Mart starting May 13

To address food insecurity in South St. Petersburg, the city will start offering free transportation from Midtown’s Tangerine Plaza to the nearest Wal-Mart supercenter at Central Plaza.

In February, Wal-Mart closed its Tangerine Plaza Neighborhood Market, one of the few major grocery stores servicing Midtown. The city will offer the free 13-week Midtown Grocery Pilot Program beginning Saturday, May 13 and continue Saturdays in May, June, July and August.

A mini-shuttle bus will transport up to 25 passengers from Tangerine Plaza, 1794 22nd St. S. to the Wal-Mart Supercenter, at 201 34th St. N., about 2.5 miles.

In a statement Tuesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the shuttle will be for those residents “facing transportation challenges,” and who relied on the former Tangerine Plaza Wal-Mart. The project is part of an effort to focus on food insecurity as the city measures the demand for a future grocery store in the Plaza.

The shuttle schedule will be between the hours of 9:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. every Saturday starting May 13. There will be four pickups at Tangerine Plaza, unless there is a traffic delay: departing the Plaza on the hour at 10 a.m.; 11 a.m.; Noon; and 1 p.m. The mini-shuttle will leave from the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the half-hour: at 10:30 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.; 12:30 p.m.; with the last departure at 1:30 p.m.

A driver will arrive at Tangerine Plaza at 9:45 a.m. and wait for passengers in the parking lot area near the overhang of the former Wal-Mart Neighborhood Store.

Kriseman said the city will distribute “Healthy St. Pete” cloth shopping bags four shuttle passengers along with a voluntary rider survey, to gauge need and usage of the service.

Gwen Graham calls on Rick Scott to veto ‘education-eviscerating’ budget

Hours after Florida lawmakers approved the new state spending plan, Gwen Graham is demanding Gov. Rick Scott veto the Legislature’s “education-eviscerating” budget.

In a statement Tuesday morning, the newly announced Democratic candidate for governor said, if elected, she would veto any budget that shortchanges Florida schools in favor of the “education industry.”

“For decades, Floridians have pleaded with their elected officials to support our public schools — but year after year, the legislature and governor abandon their responsibility to our children,” Graham said. “As a mother and PTA president, I saw firsthand how important every dollar is to Florida’s schools.”

Late Monday evening, legislators ended an extended 2017 legislative Session by approving an $83 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. Critics argued the proposed spending plan is a significant blow to public education, with a modest $25 increase in PreK-12 schools per-student funding, much less than the $200 increase per student Scott requested.

Graham discussed her most recent “Workday” event last week at Miami Carol City Senior High, where the former congresswoman from Tallahassee worked alongside teachers “who struggle to pay off their personal student loans,” while spending their own money on school supplies.

“Once again, Republicans say this budget increases funding for students — but any teacher or parent can tell you it’s a lie,” Graham continued. “We haven’t yet recovered from Rick Scott’s first year of devastating education cuts, and now they want to reduce per-student funding to school districts even more.

“This terrible trend should end today with Governor Scott’s immediate veto of the budget and policy bill.”

“As governor,” she added. “I will veto any budget or policy that shortchanges our schools in favor of the education industry. I’ll cancel the legislature’s summer vacation and demand they start over from scratch. We no longer have time for rhetoric or games.

“Now is the time to hold Tallahassee politicians accountable and finally give our children the education they deserve.”

If Scott vetoes the entire state budget, lawmakers would have to return for a special session to recalculate. The governor has previously criticized cuts to incentive programs like VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida but has not gone as far as to publicly say he would veto the budget outright.

“I’m going to look at my options,” Scott told the Tampa Bay Times during a tour stop in Tampa Last week. “That’s an option I have. But what I do every year is I go through (the budget) and say what’s good for our Florida families? I represent everybody in the state, so I’m going to do what’s best for every family in the state.”

Tampa-based Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick law firm launches Shumaker Advisors Florida

Ronald Christaldi

Tampa-based Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, an Am Law 200 firm, is extending its public affairs arm with the launch of Shumaker Advisors Florida.

The group will offer legislation advocacy, issue management and business-to-government and business-to-business services. Shumaker employees more than 260 lawyers and operates five offices in Toledo and Columbus, Ohio; Tampa and Sarasota; and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Heading the new Shumaker Advisors is partner Ronald Christaldi as president and CEO.

“Launching a public affairs practice at Shumaker complements the distinguished legal services that our law firm has provided over the last 90 years to a wide range of clients throughout the state and nation,” Christaldi said in a statement. “Shumaker Advisors will allow us to better serve our clients from an advocacy perspective and help them navigate challenging regulatory policies and legislative matters. We have assembled a top-notch team to begin working for clients immediately and are actively adding new members to it.”

Christaldi, whose practice specialty is business law and commercial litigation, is a past chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and recently traveled with other Tampa Bay-area civic leaders on trade missions to Panama, Chile, Toronto and Cuba. He also serves as co-chair of the health care practice group in Shumaker’s Tampa office and is one of the Top 50 Lawyers in Florida by Florida Super Lawyers magazine, as well as named one of the Best Lawyers in America and a Florida Legal Elite by Florida Trend magazine.

Joining Christaldi on the newly created Shumaker Advisors team are public affairs specialists Patrick Baskette, Ed Miyagashima and Carlye Morgan.

Ben Pollara’s emotional mea culpa on John Morgan split, marijuana bill failure

Ben Pollara, executive director of Florida For Care, spoke out Monday afternoon over the well-publicized split with Orlando uber-attorney John Morgan over the failed medical marijuana implementation bill.

On Friday night, the Florida Legislature killed HB 1397, a bill to enact the medical marijuana amendment approved by 71 percent of voters in November. Morgan, who spearheaded and bankrolled much of Amendment 2 in both 2014 and 2016, puts blame for the bill’s failure squarely on Pollara’s shoulders.

“Ben Pollara fucked the patients,” Morgan told bluntly Saturday morning. “The person who strengthened the cartels (the seven existing licenses permitted to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana in Florida and opposed Florida for Care as the Legislature debated implementing Amendment 2) the most is Ben Pollara.”

In a lengthy, emotional email Monday Pollara explained some of the motives behind what happened, and why the bill ultimately died — taking some (qualified) responsibility.

Much of the friction behind the final approval of the bill came in part from disagreement over the number of allowable medical marijuana treatment centers under the law. Lawmakers could not agree on how to best balance the needs of patients with that of licensees — refer to by some as “cartels” — authorized by the state to produce and distribute medical pot.

“The initial bill out of the House was horrendous,” Pollara wrote. “Partially drafted by Mel Sembler and Drug-Free America, it was severely restrictive and not only banned smokable, edible, and vapable forms of marijuana, but it also added onerous restrictions on patients, such as a 90- day waiting period and recertification period.”

Pollara said the House then took a position that strengthened the position existing licensees, allowing them to open unlimited storefronts around the state. On the other hand, the Senate attempted to limit the number of retail facilities a single MMTC (Medical Marijuana Treatment Center) could operate, so that “a more diverse, freer market” could develop.

“I advocated strongly for the Senate position, believing — as I still do — that it would result in better access for patients,” Pollara said. Unfortunately, it set off a “very intense lobbying battle on both sides” leading to neither side coming to terms in the end.

“Morgan is livid over this and blames me entirely for the failure to pass legislation this session,” Pollara continued. “I accept that I deserve some of that blame … However, the choices we faced were ‘bad,’ ‘worse’ and ‘the worst.’”

What happened, Pollara wrote, was “the worst.” And either way, there would be litigation.

Pollara expressed deep sadness over both the failure of the bill, and Morgan’s take on what happened.

“I love and respect John, without whom we would have never passed Amendment 2,” he said. “We’ve had very heated arguments in private over policy and strategy in the past, but in the end, we recovered and kept our eyes on the goal.”

Though “devastated” by Morgan’s anger, Pollara said he thoroughly understands it, and if their relationship never heals, “it will not erase the many years of fighting together [for] an incredibly important cause.”

Despite that, Pollara vows to continue the fight for “those principles until the will of 71 percent of Floridians is finally realized in this state.”

Signed “with love and sorrow,” Pollara concludes his letter by apologizing to all those he let down.

“And I want to — from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of everyone at Florida for Care — thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do to advance this cause.”

Read it Pollara’s entire letter here:

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