Phil Ammann - 3/380 - 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.

St. Pete Chamber releases legislative wish list for 2017 Session

As Tallahassee gears up for the annual 60-day Legislative Session, now a month away, the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce outlines its agenda for 2017.

Among the leading matters for the Chamber are transportation, the unification of PSTA-HART, tourism, and state regulation of vehicles for hire — including a bill (SB 340) from state Sen. Jeff Brandes setting rules to promote the growth of transportation network companies (TNC) such as Uber and Lyft.

However, at the top of the wish list is a call for greater diversity, with the Chamber supporting the Florida Competitive Workforce Act (HB 623 and SB 666) two measures would seek to create statewide anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression. Business leaders say the Act will help ensure St. Petersburg and Florida attract the best, brightest and most creative workers.

Among economic development issues, St. Petersburg business leaders are asking lawmakers to approve $3 million for the Pinellas Center for Innovation for a series of improvements in addition to the creation of a state-of-the-art 40,000-square-foot enterprise incubator facility. For the growing Warehouse Arts District, the Chamber asks $500,000 in state funds go to renovate six storage buildings, which would seek to revitalize nearly 3 acres of blighted property.

The Chamber also wants to keep Enterprise Florida – as is or with some modifications — the state’s quasi-governmental business recruitment agency, as well as VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism arm. For every dollar spent through VISIT FLORIDA, the Chamber says, returns $3.20 in tax revenue for Pinellas County – tourism being one of the area’s most critical sectors.

Nevertheless, Enterprise Florida is in the crosshairs of state legislators, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has recently referred to such state-run incentive programs as “de facto socialism.” Gov. Rick Scott, a staunch proponent of Enterprise Florida, sees it as a valuable tool in attracting business growth and jobs to the state.

As for education, the Chamber gives thumbs-up to several local proposals, including $10 million For the St. Petersburg College Student Success Center, and $2.5 million for “STEM academic programming” to prepare the region’s workforce for increasing demands in health care, science, and technology. Also on the list is early learning performance and voluntary prekindergarten (VPK), which the Chamber asks to be boosted by at least $50 per student.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg gets a pair of requests, with $1.5 million for the USF College of Marine Science Coastal Ocean Initiative to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and provide three years of operations and maintenance costs. There’s also $2 million for the USF College of Marine Science Biogeochemical Laboratory Renovation, to “enhance long-term studies of the Gulf of Mexico oil spills.” Investments in these “shovel ready” projects would have an impact beyond the school campus, the Chamber says, by improving the region’s ability to compete for federal research funds to the benefit of the St. Petersburg “marine science cluster,” which provides a regional economic impact estimated at $100 million.

Trauma centers once again on the legislative radar in 2017. The Chamber is calling for legislators to reject a proposal for the Florida Department of Health to change the language to permit a “minimum” number of trauma centers a given district.

Decrying the “fragmented and underfunded” behavioral health system, chamber leaders asks Tallahassee to continue reforms passed in 2016, and uses much money is available in the state budget to expand treatment for mental health and substance abuse. They also support protecting the $450 million lawmakers have used to offset the reduction in the federal Low Income Pool, which is “vital that the existing general revenue be maintained in the Medicaid budget.”

St. Petersburg’s infrastructure woes – highlighted by last year’s city wastewater leaks into Tampa Bay – should get some attention in the 2017-18 budget.

The Chamber asks lawmakers to pass the funding request from South Pasadena Republican Kathleen Peters (HB 2005) for $3 million to smoke test the city’s sewer pipes for leaks, remodel lateral clean-outs with removable plugs, and install and seal manholes.

Flood management, another significant issue facing both St. Petersburg and Pinellas County, is the subject of two bills (SB 112 and HB 613) that will have the Division of Emergency Management set up a matching grant program to provide up to $50 million for flood risk reduction policies and projects.

Tax cuts, another big topic for Scott in 2017, is also on the chamber agenda, with support for the governor’s call to reduce taxes on commercial rent. The group is requesting additional reform of the state’s workers’ compensation system to address rising cost of attorney’s fees and rate increases without jeopardizing employee access to workers’ comp.

The chamber also opposes any efforts to prohibit a professional sports franchise from leasing public land to build stadiums or renovate stadiums already on public lands. The legislature is also looking at two bills (HB 77SB 122) which require any public land use to build a stadium be to be sold at fair market value.

 

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Making your Super Bowl party a touchdown with ‘Fresh From Florida’ recipes

On Super Bowl Sunday, fans can beat the spread – of waistlines – with healthy and flavorful recipes and a touch(down) of Florida freshness.

For a fun and healthy Super Bowl Sunday, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is offering four quick and easy meals and snacks to prepare just before kickoff.

Each dish features delicious seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables produced here in the Sunshine State. Many of the products come with the “Fresh From Florida” label available at local grocery stores, helping everyone be ready for the big game.

“If you’re looking for a few quick and simple recipes for Sunday’s big game, these ‘Fresh From Florida’ recipes are real winners, and they feature produce grown by Florida’s farmers and seafood caught in Florida’s waters,” Putnam says.

Here is this year’s “Fresh From Florida” lineup:

Florida Corn, Tomato and Avocado Salsa

Sweet Corn and Black Bean Enchiladas

 

Florida Pink Shrimp Boil

Taco-Stuffed Florida Bell Peppers

To learn which Florida crops are in season, browse recipes and learn more about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit FreshFromFlorida.com.

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Pilot blames Gatorade heiress for ‘vicious’ dog bite

A young pilot is suing the wife of a Gatorade founder, whose dog bit him while at an airport in Tampa. The bites, he claims, sent him to the hospital.

On Nov. 21, 2015, pilot Timothy Fonseca was at the Tampa Executive Airport when he claims a German Boxer named Porsha — owned by Graciela Margarita de Quesada of Odessa — “viciously attacked” him without provocation. The bite caused puncture wounds severe enough that Fonseca was forced to go to the hospital.

Quesada, 72, is married to Dr. Alejandro de Quesada, a Cuban immigrant who was one of the four doctors credited with inventing — and becoming very wealthy from — Gatorade sports drink.

The couple lives in a 7,895-square-foot home on the edge of Lake Keystone, appraised by the county at $2.4-million.

Fonseca, 22, is president and founder of Millenial Wings, advertised as America’s only aviation club “run by young adults, for young adults.” He founded the group while attending Florida Atlantic University.

According to his Facebook page, Fonseca lives in Portugal and currently works at Eastern Air Express.

After the incident, Hillsborough County animal control officers issued Graciela de Quesada a “vicious dog” citation and fined $520. The citation said the dog was being fed when Fonseca walked by.

Although the dog bit Fonseca’s left hand, the report raises the possibility that he was reaching out to pet the animal. Charges against Quesada were later dismissed.

Tampa Executive Airport, at 6530 Tampa Executive Airport Road, offers private air-travel services. The airport is managed by Skyport Aviation, located at 6582 Eureka Springs Road in Tampa. Records also show another address for Skyport at 1519 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. N in St. Petersburg.

Tampa Executive Airport is part of a network of facilities under the umbrella of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

In a complaint filed Jan. 25, 2017, in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Fonseca is seeking damages against Quesada (as the dog’s owner), and against airport manager Skyport.

 

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Paramedic says Tarpon Springs hospital retaliated after reporting ‘rampant’ drug problem

A Pasco County paramedic is claiming a Tarpon hospital illegally fired him after he reported one of the nurses had a narcotic problem.

Holiday resident Manuel Michael Oliveira Jr., 45, says he was a paramedic – with an “excellent” record –  at Florida Hospital North Pinellas in Tarpon Springs. While there, he observed a “popular” nurse steal non-prescription narcotics. Oliveira claims he saw the nurse injecting herself with the drugs in a restroom.

Narcotics use is rampant in the hospital’s emergency department, Oliveira says, so much so that the department’s director, identified as Jennifer Segur, told him instituting a random drug test could cost half of its staff.

However, only four hours after Oliveira reported the nurse’s drug use to the nursing supervisor January 8, 2016, he was fired for “pretextual reasons.”

Afterward, Oliveira says the hospital staff retaliated when he applied for jobs with East Lake Fire Rescue and the Tarpon Springs Police Department by falsely claiming he was involved in the narcotics theft. Neither agency would hire him.

In a lawsuit filed January 24, 2017, in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Oliveira is seeking damages for defamation and protection under Florida’s whistleblower law.

Oliveira says the false statements negatively impacted his character, cost his employment and caused him to be “subjected to ridicule or disdain, and injured his reputation.”

After his firing, Pasco court records show that Oliveira had several brushes with the law. He was charged with domestic battery by strangulation in April 2016, and in December 2016, he was charged with battery on a law-enforcement officer.

Records also show that Oliveira’s license expired Dec. 1, 2016, and he is currently listed as “involuntary/inactive.”

 

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Infrastructure, taxes and business are key issues in Tarpon Springs Commission race

When Tarpon Springs voters go to the polls next month, they will see some familiar names on the ballot for City Commission, including a former mayor and a candidate for an earlier seat.

Frank DiDonato, 69, who lost a bid to return to office last year, served as mayor from 1998 to 2004.

He faces Tim Keffalas, 62, who also ran an unsuccessful bid for the commission in 2016, and 30-year-old Jacob Karr, a political newcomer.

All three are seeking Seat 1, currently held by term-limited Townsend Tarapani.

After serving as mayor, writes Megan Reeves of the Tampa Bay times, DiDonato continued his public service on the Charter Review and Budget Advisory committees.

DiDonato’s platform hasn’t changed much since his last campaign — infrastructure and lower taxes. But, this time, he’s also calling for a biking and walking trail connecting local beaches to the new swimming pool at Tarpon Springs High.

As a small-business owner and Tarpon Springs resident since the 1990s, Keffalas is running a mostly self-funded campaign.

Keffalas told the Times that despite his loss last year, he plans to focus much of his attention to the voters who supported against Commissioner Susan Slattery. His priorities are also infrastructure and responsible spending. Keffalas serves as president of the Tarpon Springs American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association and on its Sister Cities Committee.

Karr, a Tarpon Springs native, told reporters he is looking to keep the city “a great place to live” by bringing businesses to downtown and better communication between citizens, state and local officials. He serves on the city’s Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation boards. Karr works as a purchasing manager in Clearwater.

DiDonato, the candidate with the most experience in municipal government, said perseverance is the key: “We need to set out to get solutions rather than just give up when things get hard,” he told the Times. “We need to not be afraid to look at all the options of working with our county, state and federal governments.”

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Burrito Boarder accused of defaulting on 2011 small-business loan

Burrito Boarder, a St. Petersburg-based chain of “extreme” Tex-Mex restaurants, is being accused of defaulting on a 2011 small-business loan which the company’s founders personally guaranteed payment.

In 2008, Lisa and Giorgio Bertrand opened the first Burrito Boarder restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg at 17 3rd St. North, which is still in operation. The eatery’s corporate owner was (at one time) listed as Burrito Boarder Group LLC, formed in 2008 by manager Lisa Marie Bertrand, but was dissolved by the state of Florida in 2013 after failing to file its annual report.

Burrito Boarder’s corporate offices are at 2220 34th St. S in St. Petersburg.

In 2011, Burrito Boarder opened a second outlet in Carrollwood, which has since closed. Burrito Boarder’s website says there is also a location in Tallahassee. That year, Burrito Boarder Group obtained a small-business loan for $287,300, with both Lisa and Giorgio Bertrand personally guaranteeing repayment.

A lawsuit, filed by Regions Bank Jan. 19 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, claims Burrito Boarder defaulted on the loan the following year.

Regions is seeking repayment of $237,392 in principal, plus interest and late fees.

It is not the first time the Bertrands drew local attention.

In 2005, the Tampa Bay Times highlighted the couples “eye-catching” Pasadena Yacht & Country Club waterfront home, saying the couple also operate CiCi’s restaurant franchises. The home, originally a basic Cape Cod style, was remodeled into a sleek, modern “two-story wall of powder-coated aluminum [which] pours down the front of the house like a waterfall.”

Court records show the Bertrand’s lost the house in 2014 through a foreclosure to Regions Bank, as successor to AmSouth Bank.

Complicating matters is that Giorgio Bertrand, a native of Argentina, was killed in a 2015 boating accident in the Virgin Islands, where two people died and two were injured after the inflatable center-console boat allegedly struck a rock.

According to the St. Thomas Source, the couple and their children had been living in the Virgin Islands since 2013. There, they owned an establishment called Dinghy’s Bar and Restaurant.

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Shuttered Clearwater charter school accused of leaving unpaid bills, rent

Pinellas West Coast Academy, a Clearwater charter high school that closed permanently in December 2016, is now being sued by its landlord for months of unpaid rent.

West Coast Academy – also known as 21st Century High School of Pinellas Inc. – was formally Newpoint Pinellas High and originally managed by Newpoint Education Partners.

Newpoint education is a charter school company with locations in several Florida cities; due to financial troubles, it was recently forced to close four of its five schools in Pinellas County.

According to a Tampa Bay Times report on the closings: “Newpoint Pinellas Academy, which shared a site with Pinellas Westcoast, closed about six weeks into the school year, and Windsor Preparatory Academy and East Windsor Middle Academy voluntarily terminated their charters over the summer. Enterprise High School, which separated from Newpoint in 2015, remains open.”

In May 2016, an Escambia County grand jury indicted Newpoint, accusing it of “fraudulently billing schools for supplies, equipment and services with federal startup grant funds for charter schools and laundering that money.”

The following month, the Pinellas County school board approved a one-year renewal of Newpoint’s charter, as well as its name change to West Coast. Typically, charter renewals are either for three or five years, but because of Newpoint’s financial difficulties, the Board only allowed an extension of a single year.

Plaintiffs Clearwater Collection 15 and Clearwater Plainfield 15 are two limited liability corporations owned by Colorado-based GDA Real Estate Services, which owns dozens of shopping centers in multiple states.

Court documents show Pinellas West Coast signed a 5-year lease in 2012 on a Clearwater shopping center location. The center was later purchased by the plaintiffs.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 24 in Pinellas County Civil Court, the two plaintiffs accuse Pinellas West Coast of failing to pay rent since October 2016.

They are asking the court to help them collect unpaid rent, as well as “all other charges due under the lease, special damages, late fees, prejudgment interest, attorney’s fees and court costs.”

 

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Charlie Crist named to three key financial services subcommittees

Charlie Crist, as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, was tapped to serve on three of its principal subcommittees.

The freshman St. Petersburg Democrat has been named to:

— Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, which covers all matters relating to banking, including oversight of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, mortgages, and federal regulators of financial institutions;

— Monetary Policy and Trade, which has jurisdiction over the Export-Import Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, which impacts access to capital and interest rates; and

— Oversight and Investigation, which is tasked with overseeing administration actions relating to financial services to promote good governance in this sector.

These assignments will serve as a complement to Crist’s work on the full committee, such as ensuring flood insurance is more affordable and enacting Wall Street reform.

“Our work on the Financial Services Committee — and particularly these subcommittees — will have a direct impact on residents of Pinellas County,” Crist said in a statement. “I look forward to having the opportunity to affect policies to increase access to capital for small businesses, particularly women- and minority-owned businesses that drive our local economy, as well as defending the Export-Import Bank, which has supported $200 million in exports from Pinellas County businesses since 2012On the Oversight Subcommittee, I will be a faithful watchdog on behalf of the people and their hard-earned tax dollars.”

More information on the roles and responsibilities of Financial Services is available on the committee website.

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Tampa man accuses judge of retaliating over fabricated anti-Semitic remarks

Former judge Bernard Charles “Bernie” Silver

A Tampa man, fighting a protracted legal battle with family over his dead mother’s estate, is suing one of the judges in the case claiming he was falsely blamed for making anti-Semitic comments.

Those fabricated statements led the judge to retaliate by ruling against him on several motions.

Darryl Martin Schneider, 55, was in a contested legal battle with his sister, Cyrie Schneider, among others for the estate of their mother Gloria C. Schneider, who died in 2012.

in 2014, Darryl filed a lawsuit – without the help of an attorney – against Cyrie and others in Hillsborough County.

One of the judges in the ongoing case was Bernard Charles “Bernie” Silver, 71 first elected to the bench in 2006. Silver served the court through 2015, and is now in private practice.

Kim Cash

Schneider’s lawsuit said, at the time, Kim Cash was Silver’s judicial assistant. Cash now serves as the court’s media liaison.

In a suit filed January 27, Darryl Schneider accuses Cash of libel, saying her actions cost him an estimated $1-million in damages. Cash “destroyed” Schneider’s relationship with Silver, by suggesting Schneider made anti-Semitic comments about Silver during the 2014 lawsuit he brought against his sister.

Schneider argues that Cash fabricated “slanderous” lies to boost her self-esteem – something he says “low-level employees” do to feel superior.

According to the suit: “[Cash] had stated slowly to the Plaintiff [Schneider], ‘How dare you discriminate against the Jews,’ then laughed in the PIaintiff’s ear because she had just thought of this good lie to tell the Defendant’s secretary about the Plaintiff, putting Bernard [Silver] and the Plaintiff at odds with each other. Spiteful and shameless Kim Cash proudly shared her illegal plan with the Plaintiff for increased gratification.”

Silver — described in the lawsuit as an “unscrupulous” and “vindictive” “racist … looking to hurt someone white” — retaliated against Schneider by ruling against him on multiple motions as well as refusing to recuse himself.

After one hearing in the 2014 case, Schneider says Silver “walked out of court after giving [Schneider] a dirty look as if to say, you wanted to fight with a Jew, so this is what you get.”

Court transcripts show Silver telling Schneider he “needs to do a better job of arranging hearings.” Silver dismissed the claim he was holding Schneider to an unfair standard.

“Not everybody else calls my JA [judicial assistant] names and makes threatening accusations,” Silver says.

Schneider is seeking damages for defamation.

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Tampa woman claims false arrest over warrant with wrong name, race

Pamela Elaine Orellana

A Tampa woman claims she was falsely arrested on a Virginia warrant, despite it having the wrong name and race.

Pamela Elaine Orellana, a 49-year-old Tampa woman formerly known as Pamela Elaine Mullins, was arrested in Pinellas County in 1996 on a charge of performing a lewd and lascivious act in the presence of a minor under the age of 16.

Mullins eventually pleaded “no contest.” Adjudication was withheld, but she was required to register as a sex offender.

Since then, Pamela Mullins has had several brushes with the law.

In 2005, Mullins — now Orellana — was charged in Hillsborough County with failing to register as a sex offender, a charge that court records suggest was also dropped. Her husband, Joshua Paul Orellana, sued Pamela for divorce in 2006. Pamela Orellana was also arrested for DUI in 2013.

After a minor traffic accident on Dec. 10, 2014, Orellana, who is African-American, claims to have been sitting in her car when a Tampa police officer handcuffed her and took her to jail. There, she was strip-searched and held on a warrant out of Virginia.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 25 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Orellana accused police of acting negligently since the warrant was for a white woman in the name had a different middle initial.

“Despite not matching the description of the alleged warrant,” the suit says, “the Defendant yee publicly humiliated and arrested the Plaintiff, leading to the Plaintiff being forced to strip down in front of other people, and the Plaintiff being deprived of her freedom.”

Orellana is asking the court for damages for false imprisonment, battery, negligence, and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Orellana’s suit does not indicate which Virginia county issued the arrest, exactly who was named in the warrant, nor why it was issued.

One possibility is that if the Virginia warrant concerned a sex crime — as Mullins/Orellana had been a registered sex offender — Tampa police may have held her as a precaution.

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