Phil Ammann - 4/380 - 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.

Rick Scott spending plan sets DEO budget at nearly $1.3B

Gov. Rick Scott is recommending a $163 million increase in funding for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in his proposed 2017-18 budget.

LobbyTools reports that the boost will bring the DEO budget to nearly $1.27 billion. Scott announced his budget proposal Tuesday morning at a Tallahassee news conference.

Scott’s ask includes $85 million in economic incentives – a contentious issue with some lawmakers.

Last year, Scott made a similar request, asking for $250 million for the “Florida Enterprise Fund;” which lawmakers rejected for 2016-17.

Florida’s public-private partnership programs would get about the same amount as it did in previous years; Scott wants $76 million for Visit Florida. $23.5 million for Enterprise Florida and $19.5 million for Space Florida.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a longtime critic of incentive funding – which he calls “corporate welfare” – has suggested his chamber will consider all the governor’s requests.

Scott’s budget will also give DEO $300 million from settlement money for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. LobbyTools notes that the House has so far resisted using BP Oil Spill money for economic development.

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Dunedin woman, center of infamous 1979 kidnapping, now owes lawyer $12.6M

In 1979, 19-year-old Elizabeth Strother of Dunedin broke into the home of her doctor’s bookkeeper with a friend. At the time, she was high on cocaine and other drugs.

The pair threatened the woman with a toy gun, tying her to a bed while they ransacked the woman’s house. They drove the woman’s car to the doctor’s office, used her keys to enter the office, and filled large trash bags with drugs.

Police arrived and arrested the two.

Strother, now 57, was charged in Pinellas County with kidnapping, burglary, grand theft and use of a firearm during a felony.

The St. Petersburg Times, in articles published between 1987 and 1995, reported that various psychiatrists determined Strother was psychotic and/or a paranoid schizophrenic.

With that diagnosis, Strother was able to avoid prosecution for many years, spending part of that time in a mental institution.

Nevertheless, in 1986, Strother revealed she was faking insanity at the advice of a doctor and two lawyers, including S. Grant Halliday. She announced she would be filing suit against them.

Strother’s allegations resulted in a federal grand jury inquiry and investigation of Halliday and co-counsel Thomas F. “Tom” Granahan II by the Florida Bar.

While her suit was eventually dismissed, Halliday and co-counsel Granahan countersued Strother in 1991 for defamation and harm to their reputations and businesses.

The defamation suit also named Strother’s mother, Frances Strother, and grandmother, Elizabeth Keeley.

In 1997, a jury ordered Strother to pay Halliday damages totaling $4.3-million. Twenty years after that jury order, Halliday is filing a new lawsuit, claiming most or all of the judgment — no exact amount was given — remains unpaid.

In the suit, filed Dec. 27 in Hillsborough County, Halliday argues that, due to interest and subsequent court sanctions, the total is now $12.6-million. Halliday is asking for payment from Strother and/or the estates of her mother and grandmother. Frances Strother died in 2000; Elizabeth Keeley allegedly died in either 1996 or 1997.

Halliday’s court battle with Strother has remained active in the past few years. Documents filed from 2011-13, show Halliday continuing to insist Strother is hiding assets, which Strother denies.

In one 2011 filing, Strother claims she has not held a job since 1998, and did not file state or Federal income-tax returns from 1993-2010, did not own or lease a vehicle, have a safe-deposit, nor owned any stocks or bonds.

Responding to requests from the two lawyers, Strother denied ever applying for a U.S. passport under a false name, holding stock in a Mexican bank, or traveling to Texas for a financial transaction.

Strother did admit to using a false name — “Ellie Golder” — more than 20 years ago. In 2016, Strother was sanctioned by the court after leaving a deposition prematurely.

Although the St. Petersburg Times described Strother in 1987 as the product of an “affluent Dunedin family,” she currently lives in her late mother’s home in Dunedin, which was appraised at $123,000.

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Veteran nonprofit executive sues Tampa YMCA for age discrimination

Kathryn Short Rabon

A veteran nonprofit executive is suing the Tampa YMCA for age discrimination, saying they have a history of forcing out older individuals to maintain a “younger workforce.”

Kathryn Short Rabon, 59, serves as executive director of Suncoast Hospice Foundation, the fundraising arm of Suncoast Hospice.

According to a news release, Rabon has a long resume working for several prominent nonprofits, including as CEO of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce; vice president of development and communications at the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA; chief development officer at the Girls Scouts of West Central Florida; The clearwater beach resident was also executive director of the Ruth Eckerd Hall Foundation and deputy director of development at the Salvador Dali Museum.

By 2013, Rabon had been working at the Tampa YMCA for just over 5 years – since May 2013 – when she received a “90-day-probationary period with a coach for guidance.”

Although neither the guidance coach nor the YMCA raised any issues during her probation, Rabon was fired May 2013, just before the end of the 90 days. She was replaced by a younger person.

In a lawsuit filed December 20 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Rabon accuses the YMCA of a long history of age discrimination, claiming the only reason she was fired was the organization wanted a “younger workforce,” and forcing older individuals out of those positions.

Rabon is accusing YMCA on four counts: Age Discrimination in Employment Act violation, ADEA retaliation; Florida Civil Rights Act violation and FCRA retaliation.

“Younger employees were also given time to pursue other jobs prior to termination,” the suit says. Rabon argues her termination was effective immediately.

Rabon seems to have had several other roles since leaving the YMCA. Included in her LinkedIn bio is a six-month stint at the Girl Scouts of West Central Florida (May-October 2013).

A news release said Rabon was named chief development officer for Ruth Eckerd Hall beginning September 30, 2013, and joined Suncoast Hospice Foundation as of June 2014, just eight months later.

Rebounds lawsuit does not mention the name of who replaced her at the YMCA.

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Citizinvestor’s Tony DeSisto takes on new challenge, launches Simple Greek franchise

Tony DeSisto, the Tampa-based civic activist, is rising to accept a new challenge — restaurateur.

The co-founder of Citizinvestor, an online crowdfunding platform for public and community infrastructure projects, will open the first Florida franchise of The Simple Greek, an innovative fast-casual concept that seeks to transform the idea of a traditional Greek restaurant.

Starting in mid-February, The Simple Greek – with a Chipotle-goes-to-Athens vibe – will be serving customers an interactive experience, using simple ordering (described as a “build-your-own assembly line-style”), open kitchens and only fresh, high-quality ingredients.

As the company website says: “We want our guests to experience The Simple Greek as if they were traveling to Greece the very first time.”

The idea for Simple Greek began in 2004, when Mike Ference and Kathleen Kamouyerou-Ference opened a small Greek pita stand out of a garage in McMurray, a small town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After attempts to franchise a few locations with sons Andreas and Michael, the family reached out to Marcus Lemonis, host of the CNBC show The Profit.

Lemonis – who is of Greek descent and always expressed an interest in sharing his culture and love of the food from his ancestral home – made a deal with the family, which they accepted.

“Marcus came in, invested in the company and took a majority,” DeSisto says, “rebranding it and turning it into the concept it is now … an open kitchen feel, fresh, healthy build-your-own meal-style.”

A critical element for the success of any small business is having the right staff in the right roles. Knowing this, Lemonis brought on a management team to work alongside the Ference family, giving each distinct functions and responsibilities within the organization.

DeSisto first learned about The Simple Greek through The Profit, where Lemonis preaches simple advice for future franchisees: “Know your numbers, trust the process, and remember we are working together to build something special.”

DeSisto was hooked.

“I’ve always been interested in the restaurant business,” DeSisto says, “particularly in franchises.” Although he admits he has no restaurant experience, DeSisto says he had been looking at new opportunities for quite some time, and Simple Greek offered just the right business model, with an excellent fit and a “great company behind it.”

And coupling that open, interactive concept with Greek food was a “really good spin,” he adds.

“I looked at [franchises] over a number of years,” DeSisto says, “But, for one reason or another, never went through with it – the content didn’t work or the numbers didn’t make sense.”

“With [Simple Greek], I thought it was a great concept. I think it’s the way we’re moving … people love eating healthy, fresh food that they can see prepared as they go through the line.”

After investing to secure the territory of South Tampa, Channelside and Ybor City through Hillsborough County, DeSisto selected the Carrollwood location — at 12908 N. Dale Mabry Highway near W. Fletcher Avenue — for the first Simply Greek in Florida. DeSisto is also beginning construction on another on in Rhode Island, his family home.

Currently, Simply Greek has three locations in Pennsylvania; one in Wichita Falls, Texas; and about 20 more expected to open soon on the East Coast, in Texas, Chicago and Arizona. The North Tampa location, which can be reached at (813) 264-0050, also has an active presence on Facebook, asking friends and followers to #shareyourinnergreek.

As for why he chose that particular plaza – which includes Side Splitters Comedy Club – there’s nothing that matched the healthy Simple Greek approach.

“I think the great thing about that [Carrolwood] location is its high traffic area,” DeSisto says about the neighborhood, “with people going up-and-down Dale Mabry all day. There’s a number of fast casual restaurants there, and demand for that kind of food.”

Now about two weeks from grand opening, DeSisto anticipates his new venture will become a solid starting point for future Simple Greek locations throughout the Tampa area.

“If we deliver a good product,” DeSisto says, “we will be successful.”

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No fries: Florida wants students to whip up healthy dishes

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is looking for the state’s best student chef.

Putnam wants high school students around the state to enter the “Fresh from Florida Student Chef Cook-Off.” The deadline is Feb. 2.

Putnam says the goal is to encourage children to prepare healthy meals.

The contest rules require students to create an original recipe that includes one fresh fruit or vegetable grown in the state.

Finalists will be chosen to compete in five regional cook-offs which will be held in March and April. The regional winners will participate in a statewide cook-off at the Florida School Nutrition Association annual conference.

The ultimate winner will be invited to serve with a professional chef at one of the department’s future events.

On the web: http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Food-Nutrition-and-Wellness/Fresh-From-Florida-Student-Chef-Cook-Off.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Partners face off over former St. Pete mental health clinic, now a nightclub

Marcus Lloyd Anderson

Business partners, who are the joint owners of a South St. Petersburg nightclub once the site of a behavioral health clinic, are going to court over accusations of mismanagement and shady operations.

The Porch St. Pete, owned by Blue Oasis LLC, is a bar and nightclub at 1239 4th St. S in St. Petersburg. Porch obtained its liquor license in August 2016, opening sometime soon after that.

Half of Blue Oasis is allegedly owned by plaintiff Fulltrot Investments, with the other half owned by defendant Marcus Anderson Investments.

Sanford resident Nwabufo Chinedu Chidolue, 41, owns Fulltrot Investments. Marcus Lloyd Anderson, a 32-year-old St. Petersburg native, holds Marcus Anderson investments. Anderson is also listed as CEO and director of Tampa Bay Behavioral Health Centers, a mental health service provider and assisted living facility.

Anderson, a member of the St. Petersburg Alumni Chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, was the subject of a 2014 profile in the Weekly Challenger newspaper, which wrote, “he has owned and operated several local living facilities since 2009.”

Records show that the Tampa Bay Behavioral Center was the previous tenant in the space now occupied by The Porch St. Pete. This suggests that Anderson turned the mental-health clinic he owns into a nightclub, possibly operating two vastly different establishments at the same time. Bruce and Julia Gramaila jointly own the strip mall where The Porch is located.

However, it should be noted that Tampa Bay Behavioral does now operate at a different address, 3455 58th Ave. N in St. Petersburg.

Nwabufo Chidolue is suing Anderson, accusing his business partner of shutting him out of the operation of The Porch, as well as selling Porch-purchased liquor at private parties – keeping the money for himself. He also says Anderson refuses to pay certain vendors “while secretly enriching itself at the expense of Blue Oasis,” and continues to sell alcohol, despite his claim that Porch’s liquor license was recently suspended.

Chidolue also suspects Anderson of fraudulently diverting Porch revenue to a personal bank account.

In the lawsuit, filed Jan. 24 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Chidolue is asking the court either appoint a custodian to manage The Porch, or put the business in receivership and have a receiver shut it down and liquidate assets.

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Well-known Tampa Bay chef Jeannie Pierola accused of stiffing seafood wholesaler out of $17K

Jeannie Pierola

One of Tampa’s most respected culinary artists is now facing accusations that she stiffed the bill from a St. Petersburg seafood distributor.

Jeannie Pierola, owner of edison: food+drink lab gastropub on W. Kennedy Boulevard in South Tampa, is considered one of the most inventive chefs in the Tampa Bay area.

The Tampa Bay Times ranked edison one of 2016’s Top 10 restaurants in the region, and No. 1 in the ‘American Upscale’ category. For 10 years, she served as head chef for the iconic Tampa steakhouse Bern’s and SideBern’s.

In 2015, the Times reported Pierola, now 54, became only the fourth area chef ever to “be invited to do a whole dinner at the former home of James Beard.”

Sammy’s Seafood — led by Emilio Sosa as president and Vice President Kathryn Sosa — is a seafood wholesaler headquartered in St. Petersburg. According to the company website, the environmentally and sustainably-focused Sammy’s is “committed to sourcing our fresh seafood from local commercial fishermen, shrimpers and crabbers, environmentally friendly fisheries and sustainable aquaculture farmers, and we believe that educating our customers as to why we’ve chosen each supplier is just as important.”

In 2012, the year she launched Edison, Pierola submitted a credit application with Sammy’s, where she personally guaranteed any future outstanding debts to the supplier.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 12 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Sammy’s claims it sold Pierola’s company $17,504 in seafood for July and August 2016, but never received payment.

Sammy’s is asking the court to force Pierola, as guarantor, to settle the debt.

State records do not show a specific parent company for edison: food+drink lab; neither a corporation nor fictitious group listing exists by that name.

Pierola is also shown as owner of Chef Driven Restaurant Group LLC, which uses edison’s as its address.

The master chef is no stranger to controversy. Bern’s Steakhouse sued Pierola in 2008, alleging she made personal expenditures on company credit cards.

In 2006, Pierola purchased a $1.28-million home in Beach Park.

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Sean Spicer says 20 percent tax on Mexican imports just an option

The Latest on President Donald Trump (all times EST):

4:50 p.m.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer now says slapping a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico is just one of several options on the table for paying for a wall along the southern border.

Spicer says President Donald Trump has yet to make a final decision about how the U.S. will recoup the costs of his proposed border wall.

Spicer had said earlier Thursday that Trump wanted to slap a 20 percent tax on all imports from Mexico and predicted the tax would generate $10 billion a year.

He had told reporters on Air Force One that Trump has discussed the idea with congressional leaders and wanted to include the measure in a comprehensive tax reform package.

But Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus said later that the administration has “a buffet of options” to pay for the wall.

___

4:45 p.m.

President Donald Trump still knows how to win a television time slot.

ABC reached 7.5 million viewers for its Wednesday night interview special of the president speaking to anchor David Muir. It was billed as Trump’s first network television interview since his inauguration last week.

The special beat every other program competing at 10 p.m., according to the Nielsen company. CBS’ “Code Black” drama came in second with 5.6 million viewers.

___

4:45 p.m.

A Democratic congressman says he got a call from President Donald Trump, who wants to meet with him to discuss the price of prescription drugs.

Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings said Thursday he received the short but cordial call a day earlier “to my surprise.”

Cummings says Trump told him they would not agree on everything, but they could find some common ground on trying to address the rising costs of prescription drugs.

Cummings says he’s looking forward to the meeting, which hasn’t been scheduled yet.

Cummings also says Trump asked about the congressman’s special assistant, Katie Malone, who was injured in a fire at her home this month that killed six of her nine children. Cummings says the president said he wanted to make a contribution to help the family and expressed sincere sympathy.

___

4:40 p.m.

President Donald Trump has signed his first presidential proclamation, declaring this week “National School Choice Week.”

The proclamation states that because education is important, parents should have the right to a “meaningful choice” about where their children goes to school.

Charter schools and school choice are expected to be major elements of federal education policy in Trump’s administration.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary, has spent more than two decades advocating for school choice programs. Such programs provide students and parents with an alternative to a traditional public school education. DeVos is awaiting a Senate vote on her nomination.

The proclamation adds that a renewed commitment to expanding school choice can make a great education possible for every child in America.

___

3:35 p.m.

President Donald Trump wants to pay for his proposed southern border wall by slapping a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer says Trump has discussed the idea with congressional leaders and wants to include the measure in a comprehensive tax reform package.

Spicer spoke to reporters on Air Force One as Trump flew back from a Republican retreat in Philadelphia. He says that taxing imports from Mexico would generate $10 billion a year and “easily pay for the wall.”

Spicer says discussions are continuing with lawmakers to make sure the plan is “done right.” But he says it “clearly provides funding” for the wall.

___

3:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist says that the media should “keep its mouth shut.”

In an interview with The New York Times, published Thursday, Bannon said that the media is the “opposition party” of the new administration and “should be embarrassed and humiliated” by the unanticipated election result.

The article cites Bannon as referring to himself at one point as “Darth Vader.”

Asked if he was concerned that press secretary Sean Spicer lost credibility after a forceful opening press conference peppered with false information, Bannon replied, “we think that’s a badge of honor.”

He adds, “The media has zero integrity, zero intelligence and no hard work.”

___

3:15 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence is offering Republican lawmakers a preview of the upcoming Supreme Court pick. He says President Donald Trump will nominate a “strict constructionist” to the high court.

Pence is speaking to House and Senate Republicans at a retreat in Philadelphia. He notes Trump plans to announce the Supreme Court pick next week and says he can “already tip you off.”

Pence says the choice will be a “strict constructionist,” or a jurist who supports a narrow reading of the U.S. Constitution.

The vice president says the choice will have a “top-notch legal mind” and a “commitment to the Constitution.”

___

2:45 p.m.

The United Nations hopes that any measures President Donald Trump takes on refugees are temporary, citing U.S. leadership in resettling people forced to flee their homes.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Thursday that taking in refugees is especially important when the world has seen the largest movement of migrants since World War II.

He said it’s a basic principle of the United Nations that “refugees need solidarity and need help,” and at this time there’s never been a greater need for their protection.

A draft executive order obtained by The Associated Press shows Trump intends to stop accepting Syrian refugees and to suspend the United States’ broader refugee program for 120 days.

According to the U.N., refugees total nearly 21.3 million, half of them under age 18.

___

1:45 p.m.

President Donald Trump is claiming that he and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto agreed jointly to cancel their planned meeting over disagreements about who will pay for Trump’s promised southern border wall.

Trump says during a Republican House and Senate retreat in Philadelphia that, “The president of Mexico and myself have agreed to cancel our planned meeting scheduled for next week.”

Trump says that, “Unless Mexico is going to treat the United States fairly, with respect, such a meeting would be fruitless, and I want to go a different route. I have no choice.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said earlier Thursday that the administration would be looking to reschedule the meeting in the future and would “keep the lines of communication open.”

___

1:40 p.m.

President Donald Trump is opening his speech at an annual Republican policy retreat with a familiar tale: his election night victory.

Addressing members of Congress in Philadelphia on Thursday, Trump says “it’s nice to win, it’s been a while.”

He launched into a riff that he used frequently on his postelection thank you tour to some of the battleground states he won in November.

Trump portrayed Pennsylvania as “the one that got away” from Republicans in previous elections and plugged his own victory there.

He then touted how, with Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress, that “now is the dawn of a new era.”

___

1:30 p.m.

A Senate committee has again postponed the confirmation hearing of President Donald Trump’s nominee for labor secretary.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee already has postponed fast food CEO Andrew Puzder‘s nomination at least twice. A spokeswoman for committee Chairman Lamar Alexander says he pushed it from Feb. 2 to Feb. 7 to give Puzder time to turn in his questionnaire and other paperwork. Puzder is the chief executive of CKE Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr. and other fast food eateries.

Alexander said he wanted to give committee members time to review the paperwork when it does come in. Democrats complained about another in a series of delays. Trump announced Puzder’s nomination Dec. 8.

___

1:15 p.m.

The Republican veterans affairs panel chairmen are calling on President Donald Trump to clarify whether his federal hiring freeze applies to veterans health care.

In a letter Thursday, Sen. Johnny Isakson and Rep. Phil Roe note that more than 6 million veterans rely on VA care. They say Trump’s lack of clarity could hamper the VA’s ability “to recruit high-quality clinicians” to meet veterans’ immediate health care needs.

The freeze has stirred concern among some organizations that question Trump’s commitment to veterans.

Acting VA Secretary Robert Snyder says the department intends to hire anyone necessary for “public safety, including front-line caregivers.” But the White House has yet to say whether it agrees.

Trump issued the order Monday and the White House has said the freeze applied to the VA.

___

12:55 p.m.

President Donald Trump is holding a joint news conference Friday with British Prime Minister Theresa May, his first Q-and-A with journalists since taking office.

May and Trump plan to answer journalists’ questions after they meet for the first time in the Oval Office.

Trump’s most recent news conference was in New York on Jan. 11, more than a week before last Friday’s inauguration. It turned into a combative and freewheeling affair.

___

12:35 p.m.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says the Trump administration “will keep the lines of communication open” with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto after he canceled a planned visit to Washington.

Pena Nieto tweeted that he was scrapping the White House trip, set for next week. That word came hours after Trump tweeted that their meeting should be canceled if Mexico refused to pay for a border wall.

Spicer says the administration will “look for a date to schedule something in the future.”

___

12 p.m.

Mexico’s president says he’s informed the White House he has canceled a trip to Washington to meet with President Donald Trump amid tension over a border wall.

Trump had tweeted Thursday morning that if Mexico is unwilling to pay for a wall along the U.S. border, “then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”

The developments come the day after Trump said he will jump-start construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and cut federal grants for immigrant-protecting “sanctuary cities.”

___

11:47 a.m.

President Donald Trump will sign an executive action Thursday to launch an investigation into claims of voter fraud.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer said onboard Air Force One the president will sign the order in the Oval Office. He didn’t give more details.

Trump has repeatedly said he believes there was widespread voter fraud in the November election and that scores of people were on voter rolls in multiple states or after they died.

The president also says he believes many voted more than once and that “none” of those ballots were cast for him.

There is no evidence to support Trump’s claims.

___

11 a.m.

NASA says it’s “business as usual” on social media despite the emergence of a “rogue” Twitter account claiming to have been set up by government workers to speak out about climate change.

The “Rogue NASA” account on Twitter has gained more than 300,000 followers since it began Wednesday. It describes itself as the unofficial ‘resistance’ team at NASA. Its tweets have focused on climate change and criticism of President Donald Trump.

The account was launched days after tweets related to climate change from Badlands National Park were deleted. The National Park Service says they were posted by a former employee who still had access to the park’s Twitter account.

NASA spokeswoman Karen Northon says the agency has “heard nothing” from the Trump administration regarding social media use.

___

9:28 a.m.

President Donald Trump says NAFTA “has been a one-sided deal” with jobs and companies suffering as a result.

The president’s tweet early Thursday is directed at Mexico and comes one day after he said he would jump-start construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall and cut federal grants for immigrant-protecting “sanctuary cities.”

Trump referred to a meeting he has planned next week with Mexico’s president, saying, “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting.”

Trump also says he wants to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal with Mexico and Canada. He said Thursday the deal has resulted in “massive numbers of jobs and companies lost.”

___

8:19 a.m.

President Donald Trump says it’s “terrible” that convicted Army leaker Chelsea Manning “is now calling President (Barack) Obama a weak leader.” But that is not what Manning said.

In an opinion piece published Thursday in The Guardian, Manning says Obama’s biggest shortcoming was a tendency to compromise, because opponents would call him weak.

Manning writes, “what we need is an unapologetic progressive leader.”

She says, “We need someone who is unafraid to be criticized, since you will inevitably be criticized. We need someone willing to face all of the vitriol, hatred and dogged determination of those opposed to us.”

Trump reiterated his belief Thursday that Manning “should never have been released from prison,” calling her an “ungrateful traitor.”

Obama commuted Manning’s prison sentence in his final days in office.

___

7:14 a.m.

A top aide to President Donald Trump is asserting that his critics are “cherry-picking” in questioning his claims of election fraud last November.

“I hardly think it’s an ego issue,” senior adviser Kellyanne Conway told NBC’s “Today” show Thursday.

Trump has repeatedly argued that as many as 3 million to 5 million votes in the presidential contest were cast fraudulently. Earlier this week, he said he’s seeking an investigation into possible fraud.

Trump won the election by collecting 306 Electoral College votes, well above the 270 needed, but he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes to Hillary Clinton.

“I think everybody’s cherry-picking to call this an ego trip,” she said. “Why not have an investigation. What’s everybody afraid of?”

___

7:10 a.m.

A senior adviser to President Donald Trump says White House officials are looking forward to meeting with Mexican leaders next week to discuss U.S. plans to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kellyanne Conway concedes in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that details on financing the project remain unclear. But she said that Trump won’t likely provide that in advance of the get-together.

A senior administration official said that Trump’s announcement Thursday has led his Mexican counterpart to reconsider the visit.

Conway said Trump is holding back on some specifics of his plan until the U.S.-Mexican meeting.

“He wants to give deference to his meeting with the Mexican president and other Mexican officials before she announces that,” she said.

Conway said that in pressing forward with immigration changes, the president “made good on a centerpiece of his campaign for the White House.” —Julie Pace

___

7:00 a.m.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says she is ready to register as Muslim in a show of solidarity.

Albright tweeted Wednesday: “I was raised Catholic, became Episcopalian & found out later my family was Jewish. I stand ready to register as Muslim in #solidarity.” Albright also tweeted Wednesday that “America must remain open to people of all faiths & backgrounds.”

President Donald Trump during his campaign proposed a temporary ban on foreign Muslims entering the U.S. and at one point suggested requiring Muslims already in the country to register. While those proposals evolved, Trump never explicitly took a Muslim ban off the table.

Albright served under President Bill Clinton. She didn’t say where or how she would register as a Muslim.

___

6:30 a.m.

President Donald Trump is expected to turn back to the economy Thursday, signing a notice to Congress that he plans to start bilateral trade negotiations with most of the countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact. That’s according to a White House official. On Monday, Trump moved to pull the U.S. out of the 12-nation Pacific Rim agreement, which he said would be damaging for American workers. Instead, he said he wanted to negotiate with countries individually.

The official insisted on anonymity in order to confirm the executive action ahead of Trump’s announcement.

— Julie Pace

___

6:00 a.m.

President Donald Trump is making his first flight on Air Force One Thursday.

Trump is traveling to Philadelphia to address Republican lawmakers gathered for a party retreat. Vice President Mike Pence will also attend the GOP event.

Trump flew to Washington for the inauguration on one of the government’s blue and white planes. But the planes are only considered to be Air Force One when the president is on board.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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PSTA, St. Pete cop wrestle over responsibility for a 2014 police cruiser crash

Jereme John Hayes

In 2014, a St. Petersburg Police cruiser collided with a county bus at an intersection in St. Pete Beach. Now the cop and the bus driver are facing off in court over who actually caused the wreck.

Jereme John Hayes, 33, was serving as a St. Petersburg police officer at the time. In an October 2013 divorce affidavit, he claimed to earn $4,449 per month, plus overtime.

Hayes was driving a police cruiser Jan. 9, 2014, along Gulf Boulevard in St. Pete Beach with its lights flashing and siren blaring. As he began turning left near the 5900 block, Hayes claims a Pinellas County Transit Authority bus traveling in the opposite direction struck the vehicle on the right side.

Raymond Albert Thornton, now 62, had been driving the bus at the time. According to a divorce affidavit dated April 2014, the St. Petersburg resident said the PSTA paid him $20.99 an hour.

A search of the Pinellas County online traffic database shows neither party was cited in the crash in question, and Thornton has never received a driving citation in the county.

Nevertheless, the PSTA is blaming the accident on Hayes.

In a letter dated Jan. 28, 2014, Lynette Jones, a Liability Claims Adjuster for the Brumbelow Drechsel Law Group, the firm representing the Transit Authority, said: “Our investigation of this accident finds that PSTA is not at fault for the accident, as Mr. Hayes drove his vehicle into the path of the bus. Therefore, we must respectfully deny your claim for damages …”

A complaint filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court Jan. 17, 2017, says Hayes accuses Thornton of negligent failure to yield, which caused the crash that left him with injuries to his “cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine and headaches,” among other things.

Hays is seeking damage from both Thornton and PSTA for damages, costs, interest, prejudgment interest and “any other relief the court deems appropriate.”

This is not Hayes’ first lawsuit over an auto accident. In 2015, he sued a woman named Anthonetta Ireland over a 2012 crash. In that instance, Ireland received a citation for “careless driving.”

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Bayfront patient sexually assaults another, may have attacked Tampa man two months earlier

A woman recovering at St. Pete’s Bayfront Hospital was attacked by a fellow patient with behavioral problems who may have committed another attack in Tampa two months earlier.

Judith Conrad was recovering from surgery at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg August 7, 2016, when she says fellow patient David Weber “violently and sexually attacked, assaulted and battered” her.

Police arrested David Andrew Weber, 53, a St. Petersburg transient who is listed as residing at the Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee, a mental-health facility owned by the Florida Department of Children and Families. Weber was charged with felony attempted sexual assault.

In a suit filed January 16, Conrad is accusing Bayfront of failing to protect her, even though Weber “had demonstrated signs and symptoms of his propensity for violence and aggression.”

Bayfront, at 701 6th St. S in St. Petersburg, is owned by the publicly traded Community Health Systems based in Franklin, Tennessee. Community owns 158 hospitals throughout 22 states, including 24 in Florida.

Records show a man named “David Andrew Weber” – possibly the same Weber as in the Bayfront incident – was arrested in Tampa about two months earlier than the attack on Conrad in St. Petersburg.

In that episode, Weber had allegedly punched and kicked a wheelchair-bound man who suffered from a previous brain injury. Weber was charged with one count of abuse of an elderly or disabled adult. The case docket shows he was found incompetent to proceed with the prosecution, and the court committed him to Florida DCF care.

The David Weber who allegedly attacked Conrad gave his birth date as April 15, 1963, while the David Weber in the Tampa case claimed to have been born one day earlier, April 14.

It should be noted that since Weber could be the same person involved the previous attack, and had expressed violent tendencies, questions arise on what further precautions Bayfront might have taken to protect other patients.

 

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