Phil Ammann - 2/384 - 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 includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, 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 phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

Another Clearwater competitive bid error proves devil is truly in details

After awarding more than $16 million in the past decade to consultants without going through competitive bidding, the city of Clearwater had finally corrected a gross misunderstanding of Florida law governing the process.

While that may be indeed admirable, another potential problem could be on the horizon, as small print in a recent Request for Qualifications for Clearwater consulting services could lead to big headaches for the city.

Florida law has allowed governments to hire professional services — such as architects and engineers — without competition, but only if total project construction costs are less than $2 million.

Last year, officials in Clearwater corrected a misinterpretation of the law had continued for more two decades. Previously, as the Tampa Bay Times noted, Clearwater city leaders believed that if design contracts met another requirement in the statute — an agreement for particular work that has a fixed end date — design companies chosen with no bids, even for construction projects over $2 million.

“We weren’t trying to do anything wrong,” Director of Engineering Michael Quillen told the Times. “It’s confusing language in the Florida statute.”

Citing a confusion in the language of the law, Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “an apparent ambiguity exists” for when governments can use a firm on a continuing contract. It all rested on the word “or.”

According to the law, governments can give contracts to a company when construction costs are under $2 million; if design fees are less than $200,000; or for specific work that has an end date.

The word “or” implies a choice, Bondi asserted. It led to governments “circumventing the selection process,” when the $2 million limit should apply in all cases.

Good catch, but that might not be all.

In the Florida Statutes, there is the Consultants’ Competitive Negotiation Act (CCNA), a law that applies to the procurement of certain professional services, such as architecture, engineering, landscape architecture and the like.

CCNA instructs agencies to use a multistep process to select professional services — more than a simple dollar figure — where the qualifications of those who will provide the service are as important (or more) than just the costs.

Among the factors to be reviewed in qualifying firms, the agency has to consider the capabilities, adequacy of personnel, past record, and experience.

In these cases, the lowest bid is not necessarily the best way to go. Assigning a dollar figure to intangibles like experience and qualifications works against the intent of the CCNA.

It is for that reason a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from the City of Clearwater raises more than a few red flags.

On March 30, the city issued an RFQ for an engineering firm to offer consulting services for its Wastewater Collection System Master Plan.

The company selected would help update the Clearwater’s plans for the wastewater collection system, which currently includes approximately 8,287 manholes and 389 cleanouts; 1,951,179 feet (370 miles) of gravity sewers; 199,811 ft. (about 38 miles) of primary force lines and 73 pump stations. The system has three service areas associated with the city’s three water reclamation facilities.

The proposal format gives very detailed instructions for interested firms, on the format, experience, qualifications and technical expertise.

Buried on Page 16, however, are specific criteria:

— “Schedule to complete the Master Plan including estimated number of hours per task, by personnel/position.”

— “Project Methodology. Demonstrate project understanding and ability of proposed approach to meet the needs of the City. Provide a detailed work plan, including a tentative schedule to complete the Master Plan including estimated number of hours per task, by personnel/position.”

Each notation attempts to put a number on something subjective, which is forbidden by the CCNA — and Florida law.

Companies under consideration could manipulate such by-task estimates, handing the city a shortcut in the bidding process by enumerating what is not supposed to be quantifiable.

All it takes is for the Clearwater screening committee to use that number, which is only an estimate and can be lowballed, to give an unfair advantage to the “lowest” bidder.

That was exactly what lawmakers sought to prevent when passing the CCNA in 1984, to keep from throwing good taxpayer money after bad when a winning bid turns out to have unreliable qualifications or expectations.

It should be noted the criteria with theses phrases appear in a single Clearwater RFQ (so far), and it only pertains to a section of the request worth 20 points out of a possible 100. But even a slight, intentional change in that number could prove just enough to tip the scales for one company over another.

And for Clearwater, after 20 years circumventing the legally required competitive bidding process for certain city projects, the devil is truly in the details.

Lauren Book unveils display on resilience, triumph over sexual abuse in Capitol rotunda

Book

Child advocate and state Sen. Lauren Book‘s inspirational story will be featured in Sheryl Sandberg‘s newly launched initiative on themes of resilience through tragedy.

On April 19, Book — a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who became an internationally renowned activist — will exhibit an installation decorating the Capitol rotunda, made up of more than 750 shoes worn and submitted by sexual assault survivors of all ages throughout Florida. The display will be up through April 21.

Book also plays a role in  Option B, Sandberg’s imitative on resilience that arose from the unexpected death of her husband. Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer turned author, had spent several months examining resilience as a way for her two sons to cope with tragedy, adversity and loss. She is now using those lessons learned to serve others thrive through challenging times. As part of the Option B community, Sandberg features inspiring voices of resilience and triumph, including that of Book — an advocate, author, state Senator and new mother. Book’s story of surviving child sexual abuse is also on the Option B website, under “Expert Talks and Advice.”

Book’s Capitol display also coincides with National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention month. Book’s organization Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV) are hosting the display, which asks viewers to “walk in the shoes” of survivors.

Both Book, of Plantation, and State Rep. Kristin Jacobs of Coconut Creek are supporting the event, which is intended to raise awareness and end stigma surrounding sexual violence, giving victims, families and those affected by the issue a larger voice in Tallahassee.

The display’s presentation will be at a news conference Wednesday, April 19, at 12:30 p.m. in the Capitol rotunda. Fifteen child victims — now survivors — will “unveil” the display in the Capitol rotunda and speak with legislators. In addition, members of Bikers Against Child Abuse Florida (BACA) will attend after biking across Florida in solidarity.

Eyeball Wars rage as dozens of medical groups oppose optometrists, claiming ‘serious threat’ to care

A growing number of medical professionals have joined forces in a wave of disapproval of optometrists in Florida’s “Eyeball Wars,” which is now making way through Tallahassee.

HB 1037, which seeks to allow optometrists to perform surgery and prescribe opiates, among other things, now sits on the agenda of the House Health & Human Services Committee.

This week, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at University of Miami School of Medicine became the latest medical group to publicly oppose the bill, adding its name to a list that now stands at two dozen.

Each of these highly regarded medical professionals — which include the American Medical Association, the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, and the American College of Surgeons (ACS) — strongly argue that the passage of HB 1037 would pose a serious threat to the health and safety of millions of Floridians.

The bill seeks to expand optometry further into the practice of medicine and laser surgery, a move fiercely opposed by ophthalmologists, who raise concern over the comparative lack of instruction for optometrists. HB 1037 would expand the scope of optometry compared to ophthalmologists — who have the required training and education — to include the practice of medicine and surgery, as defined by both the ACS and Florida Statute.

In the letter released Tuesday, Bascom Palmer Ophthalmology Chair Dr. Eduardo Alfonso, joined by Vice Chair Dr. Steven Gedde and Medical Director Dr. Stephen Schwartz, warn:

“There are no shortcuts to learning to safely perform eye surgery. Ophthalmologists complete four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical education, one year of internship, and then three years of ophthalmology residency training, such as that provided at Bascom Palmer.”

“In summary, we believe that HB 1037 and [Senate companion] SB 1168 represent a serious threat to patient safety, public welfare, and quality of care … The citizens of Florida deserve far better than the superficial and inadequate ‘training’ that is provided for in these bills.”

Ophthalmologists — licensed to practice medicine and surgery — contend that HB 1037 (as Dr. David Hoyt, executive director of the American College of Surgeons, wrote recently) works against the “interest of patient safety and maintaining the highest standards of surgical care.”

Professional medical groups so far opposed to HB 1037 include:

Florida Society of Ophthalmology

American Academy of Ophthalmology

Bascom Palmer Eye Institute

Florida Medical Association

American Medical Association

American College of Surgeons

Florida Chapter of the American College of Surgeons

Florida Society of Anesthesiologists

Florida Osteopathic Medical Association

Florida Chapter of the American College of Physicians

Florida Society of Plastic Surgeons

Florida Radiological Society

Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgeons

Florida Society of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgeons

Florida Orthopaedic Society

Florida Society of Nephrology

Florida College of Emergency Physicians

Florida Orthopedic Society

Florida Society of Rheumatology

Florida Society of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians

Florida Chapter American Academy of Pediatrics

Florida Academy of Family Physicians

Florida Society of Interventional Pain Physicians (FSIPP)

Florida Psychiatric Society

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Florida Society of Pathologists

 

Over 18K ballots returned so far for St. Pete’s Al Lang referendum

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark has posted the vote by mail numbers for the St. Petersburg Special Referendum election Tuesday, May 2.

As of Monday morning, of the 66,840 mail ballots sent, just over 26 percent – 18,072 – have returned.

The SOE website says there are 168,145 registered voters eligible to vote in this election: 46,658 Republicans, 77,825 Democrats and 43,662 No Party Affiliation/other. The City of St. Petersburg will not conduct early voting as provided in Florida Statute.

Residents will decide whether to allow the City Council to approve extending the Al Lang Field lease with the Tampa Bay Rowdies for up to 25 years, part of a plan by the Rowdies to attract a Major-League Soccer expansion team.

According to the referendum language: “These conditions include but are not limited to: term not exceeding 25 years; primary but not sole purpose is a home field for a Major-League Soccer expansion team; and City funding shall not be used for stadium upgrades or expansion proposed in bid for expansion team or required for award of expansion team.”

Rowdies owner Bill Edwards is also paying for the referendum itself.

Mail ballots must be received by 7 p.m. election day at one of the Pinellas elections offices: 315 Court St, Room 117, in Clearwater; 13001 Starkey Rd, Largo (Starkey Lakes Corporate Center) and 501 1st Ave. N (5th St. N Entrance), St. Petersburg. Office hours are Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Election day hours are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

 

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ trailer drops with an ominous teaser

Fans of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” received a foreboding message this weekend.

“Jedi must end,” Luke Skywalker says darkly in the first teaser, which premiered Friday at the Star Wars Celebration in Orlando.

Premiering Dec. 15, the movie follows Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, who had last tracked down Mark Hamill’s Skywalker, at the end of 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

The two-minute trailer shows Rey handling a lightsaber to Luke, and a brief shot of Ray using the Force, followed by Skywalker’s ominous words.

“I only know one true thing,” Luke says offscreen. “It’s time for the Jedi to end.”

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, the 65-year-old Hamill confirmed that it was indeed his voice in the quote.

“There’s a difference between teaser and a trailer,” Hamill said. “A teaser is supposed to show you dynamic images that heighten your awareness and make you want to see the trailer, but avoid all story points if at all possible. [But] I think that’s the only story point that’s in the teaser, which is Luke saying it’s time for the Jedi to end.”

Hamill admits he was “as surprised as anyone” that Luke would say something like that.

“It was as shocking to me to read what Rian [Johnson, the director of “Last Jedi”] had written as I’m sure it will be for the audience,” he said.

When asked about the possibility Luke turns to the dark side, Hamill said: “It’s possible, anything’s possible.”


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Charlie Crist to be ‘carved up’ at Suncoast Tiger Bay After Hours April 20

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club often likes to “carve up” politicians for lunch. Next week, they will have one for dinner, too.

Congressman Charlie Crist is the special guest for the Club’s “Tiger Bay After Hours” event Thursday, April 20. The St. Petersburg Democrat will appear at a special evening meeting, which begins 6:30 p.m. at The Hangar Restaurant at the city’s waterfront Albert Whitted Airport downtown.

There will be appetizers and a cash bar. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

As seating will be limited, organizers have announced a firm RSVP deadline of Monday, April 17 – walk-ins will not be accommodated. Tickets are free for Tiger Bay Club members, and $10 for guests.

Reservations are available online. The Hangar is at 540 First St. SE in St. Petersburg.

Models accuse Tampa strip club of using photos without permission, payment

Six models are accusing Skin Tampa strip club of using photos in various online promotions without permission or payment.

The women are Kimberly Cozzens of San Jose, California; Cielo Jean Gibson of Santa Monica, California; Irina Voronina of Los Angeles; Sara Underwood of Columbia County, Oregon; Kara Monaco of Orange County, California and Alison Waite Jordan of Los Angeles County, California.

SKN Trading LLC, doing business as Skin Tampa, is at 1620 E. Adamo Drive, is owned by Maytham Zahedi.

Gibson, also known as C.J. Gibson, is a 33-year-old Clearwater native and model who has lived in Tampa.

In a complaint filed March 27 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, the women accuse Skin Tampa of copying their photos and using them without permission or payment, on the club’s Facebook page, Twitter feed and other social media sites.

Among the charges in the suit: “The image of Cozzens which featured her in a pirate costume was used out of context … to advertise the strip club and free admission. Specifically, the image of Cozzens was posted along with the lewd and salacious phrase, ‘COME PLUNDER SOME BOOTY.’”

The lawsuit argues Skin’s unauthorized actions harmed the women’s reputations by associating them with stripping and sex acts, by failing to compensate, and by not giving an option to not allow the use of their images.

The women are asking the court for damages.

In 2015, two of the six women who are now suing Skin Tampa had filed a similar lawsuit against Clearwater’s Diamond Dolls strip club. The case is ongoing. Court records show Diamond Dolls’ denying any wrongdoing.

Similarly, in January 2016, three models filed a lawsuit against the Thee Dollhouse strip club in Tampa, which is also ongoing.

Two attorneys at Casas Law Firm – Sarah M. Cabarcas and Ludmila Khomiak – have filed all three lawsuits.

 

Tampa health care tech firm starts cracking down on delinquent providers

Dr. Ricky Poole Lockett

Tampa-based CareSync is cracking down on delinquent medical providers, asking a Hillsborough County court to help collect money owed from an orthopedic practice in default.

CareSync is a fast-growing health care technology company headquartered at 14055 Riveredge Dr., Suite 600 in Tampa.

According to the CareSync website, the company builds “easy-to-use technology, and combine it with exceptional services to help people better coordinate care.”

Dr. Ricky Poole Lockett is medical director and owner of Orthopedic Injury Management in St. Petersburg. According to his bio, Lockett “practices pain management, neuromusculoskeletal medicine and physical medicine & rehabilitation.”

In August 2015, Orthopedic Injury Management, at 1501 Fifth Ave. N in St. Petersburg, entered a “chronic care management services agreement” with CareSync, which billed Orthopedic by the month, with amounts ranging from $5,460 to $7,476.

In a March 27 filing with the Hillsborough County Circuit Court, CareSync is hoping to collect more than $53,000 in back payments.

This filing is the latest effort by CareSync to crack down on delinquent practitioners. Court records show CareSync brought an action against eight medical clients in Hillsborough over a five-day period March 24-28. These were the first filings in Hillsborough County.

In December 2016, the firm announced plans to hire 350 more employees in 2017, increasing its current workforce to 500. Margie Manning of the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported the expansion was Tampa Bay area’s second-largest job announcement for the year. Jobs will include clinical care coordinators, product developers, human resources, information technology and administration.

Manning writes: “CareSync, previously headquartered in Wesley Chapel, has received several rounds of venture capital funding, including $18 million in the last three months of 2015.”

Travis Bond is the company’s founder and CEO.

 

Polk County civil rights activists sue USF over public records

A Winter Garden civil-rights activist group is suing the University of South Florida over access to public records.

Among the requests made by the Poor and Minority Justice Association Inc. (PMJA) to the USF board of trustees include University President Judy Genshaft‘s travel expenses, police use of derogatory words and others.

According to its website, PMJA, is a nonprofit civil-rights group founded in 2012 to protect minority communities in Polk County from “profiling, harassment and abuse by police” and to “attack inequality and injustice with the use of nonviolent direct action.”

Clayton Allen Cowart, the 45-year-old pastor of Church of God the Bibleway, is PMJA’s founder and president.

PMJA claims to have collaborated with, Joel Chandler, an infamous Lakeland public records advocate who has filed dozens of lawsuits against Florida government agencies for open-records law violations.

The number of ‘nuisance’ lawsuits filed by Chandler (and others) has prompted Florida lawmakers to propose legislation. A bill (SB 80) filed in 2017 by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, sought to crack down on “serial records abusers” who attempt to lure public officials into public record violations to extort a settlement.

In 2013, the Lakeland Ledger reported on an undercover operation of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office that spied on a 2012 PMJA meeting At the Church of God the Bibleway.

The Ledger wrote that PMJA was started by pastor Clayton Cowart after he pleaded to a misdemeanor stalking charge May 31, 2012, in what was then described as an “affair with a parishioner gone wrong … He is still fighting to overturn his conviction. The group, about 90 percent black, meets weekly.”

On Feb. 10, PMJA emailed eight separate public-records requests to the University of South Florida, seeking records on:

– Judy Genshaft’s travel expenses.

– Procurement of graduation gowns.

– Contracts with food service giant Aramark or subsidiaries.

– Information collected regarding the infamous Dozier School for Boys.

– Use by USF Police Department employees of any of more than 200 pejorative terms, including:  “butt pirate … jungle bunny … Hebrew … sand nigger … slut … wetback … tranny … wheelchair jockey … terrorist.”

– Payment of membership contributions, dues and cellular phone service.

– Procurement of products or services offered by Safe Restraints Inc.

Since the requests, PMJA had received no more than an acknowledgment of the records request.

In a complaint filed March 26 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, PMJA is suing for unconstitutionally withholding public records. It seeks a court order requiring USF to make the requested records available.

However, five days after filing this lawsuit, PMJA abruptly dismissed the case with prejudice, and now cannot file another suit based on the same claims.

St. Pete preservation announces May Movies in the Park series

Conservancy group St. Pete Preservation has unveiled its latest lineup in the annual Movies at the Park series.

Movies in the Park is a free showing of film classics and live music set for each Thursday night in May at St. Petersburg’s North Straub Park on Beach Drive between Fourth and Fifth Avenues NE. The fun begins with music at 7 p.m., movies begin at dusk. Parking is available at the Museum of Fine Arts on Beach Drive, with participants encouraged to arrive by a Coast Bike Share, which has a hub less than a block away.

The list of movies was unveiled last week at a Movie Announcement Party, a celebration held in the courtyard of the Ale & the Witch brewpub in downtown St. Petersburg.

In addition to weekly Movies in the Park, SPP has also added a special Movies to Midtown event for Thursday, April 27, in the garden at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African-American History Museum, 2240 Ninth Ave. S, in St. Petersburg. The movie is “Red Tails” (2012), with music provided by Tremain Lamar.

In commemoration of the May Movies in the Park series, local artist Carrie Jadus created an original poster that will be on sale at the SPP tent at Movies in the Park and at the Saturday Morning Market, held in the parking lot of Al Lang Field.

The scheduled May Movies in the Park:

– May 4: Charade (1963) with music by Rayzilla’s Hippie Slayers.

– May 11: Princess Bride (1987) with music by Mezzu’ Mare.

– May 18: Footloose (1984) with music by The Joe Milligan Project.

– May 25: Top Gun (1986) with music by Funk Shui.

For more information on the Movies in the Park series, as well as other events hosted by St. Pete preservation, visit www.stpetepreservation.org.

Founded in 1977 as an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, St. Pete Preservation seeks to “keep St. Pete special,” through acquisition, preservation, restoration and maintenance of various historical, natural and scenic sites throughout the city.

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