Phil Ammann - 4/393 - 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.

Pinellas County wage-theft law challenged as unconstitutional

A Largo executive search firm is challenging the constitutionality of Pinellas County’s recently enacted wage-theft ordinance.

KLA Industries is an Ohio-based executive search firm located at 801 W. Bay Dr., Suite 203 in Largo.

Zachary J. “Zach” Burns, 30, is a Madeira Beach resident and former KLA employee who recently moved from West Chester, Ohio. State records show Burns incorporated the recruitment company Stratus Search in March 2017. Stratus Search has its office at 3530 1st Ave. N, Suite 203, in St. Petersburg.

In 2015, Pinellas County Commissioners voted unanimously to enact a “wage theft” ordinance. In effect as of Jan. 1, 2016, the law allows local workers who believe an employer has illegally denied them wages to file a complaint with the county’s Office of Human Rights, which also fields complaints on housing, employment and disability discrimination issues.

If successful, employees are awarded treble damages. Much of the ordinance came from a similar one enacted by the City of St. Petersburg in 2015.

According to a complaint filed May 23 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, shortly after Burns resigned from KLA Industries in 2016, the company placed a recruit with one of his former clients and obtained payment for doing so.

When KLA refused to pay Burns the $5,400 commission, he filed a wage-theft complaint with the Office of Human Rights.

While the hearing will not take place until July 17, KLA is being proactive, filing a suit where the company denies Burns is entitled to the commission, and accuses him of trying to steal its clients.

KLA is contesting the constitutionality of the county’s wage-theft law on several grounds: It sets up an impermissible court outside the supreme court, district courts of appeal, circuit and county courts; it does not allow trial by jury and does not allow an employer to pursue counterclaims or assert any set-off defenses against the amount owed or against the imposition of treble damages.


Walmart to give $125K to Tampa Bay-area nonprofits for hunger relief

As part of a commitment to fight hunger in Florida, Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Foundation is giving $125,000 to hunger relief programs in the Tampa Bay area.

In a statement Wednesday, the company announced it will give $940,000 in total grants to 17 nonprofits across Florida.

Local grants include $50,000 for Sarasota’s All Faiths Food Bank for its Food Bank – Backpack Program. and $75,000 to the Homeless Emergency Project, Inc. in Clearwater for its HEP Meal Services Program for Homeless Adults and Children.

“Wal-Mart is uniquely positioned to help fight hunger here in Florida and create a long-lasting, positive impact in communities across the state,” said Monesia Brown, Wal-Mart’s State Giving Program Council Chair. “Supporting local hunger-relief programs is one way in which we are doing just that, helping Florida children and families have access to nutritious food.”

Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Foundation have pledged to offer 4 billion meals to people in need between 2015 and 2020. The Arkansas-based global retailer plans to reach this goal through grants to charitable organizations and hunger-relief programs, as well as through food donations from Wal-Mart stores, Sam’s Clubs and distribution centers.

Wal-Mart employs 108,000 people in Florida, through 375 retail units and online with Wal-Mart Grocery Pickup, and

During Fiscal Year 2017, Wal-Mart and the Wal-Mart Foundation helped Florida communities with more than $82 million in cash and in-kind contributions to nonprofits statewide. Wal-Mart donated nearly 45 million pounds of food to local Florida food banks – equivalent to more than 37.5 million meals.

To take part in the program, prospective grantee organizations must submit requests through the Wal-Mart Foundation State Giving Program’s online application. Eligible applicants must have a current 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status to meet the program’s minimum funding criteria.

Additional information about the program’s funding guidelines and application process are available online at

Other grant recipients in the Florida State Giving Program Cycle 1:


— America’s Second Harvest of the Big Bend, Inc., Tallahassee, received $78,000 for its Healthy Food for Hungry Neighbors program.

— Food for Thought Outreach, Santa Rosa Beach, received $50,000 for its Food for Thought Backpack Program.

— Panama City Rescue Mission, Inc., Panama City, received $50,000 for its Meal Program.

— The School of Arts and Science, Tallahassee, received $40,000 for its Garden Program Expansion.

 Northeast Florida

— Christian Service Center of Columbia County, Inc., Lake City, received $50,000 for its Hunger Relief Project.

— IM Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, Inc., Jacksonville, received $60,000 for its Sulzbacher Meals Program.

Central Florida

— Christian Service Center, Orlando, received $75,000 for its 2017 Love Pantry Program.

— Jewish Family Services of Greater Orlando, Inc., Winter Park, received $40,000 for its Pearlman Emergency Food Pantry.

 Southwest Florida

— Community Cooperative Ministries, Inc., Fort Myers, received $60,000 for its Community and School Mobile Pantry Program.

— Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida, Inc., Fort Myers, received $42,000 for its Fighting Hunger, Feeding Kids program.

— Meals of Hope, Naples, received $50,000 for its a Year Without Hunger Project.

— Midwest Food Bank, Fort Myers, received $80,000 for its Warehouse Food Distribution program.

 Southeast Florida

— Food of Life Outreach Ministries, Homestead, received $50,000 for The Emergency Food Assistance Program.

— Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, received $45,000 for its Project Breakfast program.

— United Against Poverty, Inc., Vero Beach, received $50,000 for its UAP Protein Initiative.


Major grant helping All Children’s Hospital, All-Star Children’s to develop child abuse care facility

A Sarasota-based foundation is giving a major boost for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the All-Star Children’s Foundation in a joint program to treat abused children.

A $1 million, four-year grant, from the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation, will move All-Star Children’s Foundation closer to its goal of offering the latest treatment for childhood trauma based on the latest neural research.

The money will be used to set up a director of pediatric psychological trauma and intervention at Johns Hopkins in St. Petersburg and train trauma-certified licensed therapists at All Star’s Sarasota facility.

In April, the Barancik Foundation board of directors approved more than $3.4 million in grants and initiatives — including the All-Star endowment — for over $6 million in 2017.

The All-Star program will develop therapeutic interventions for abused children, with a goal of setting the standard for building resiliency skills and healing childhood trauma.

“Adverse childhood experiences are a major public health threat,” said All-Star co-founder Graci McGillicuddy. “According to latest brain research, untreated early childhood trauma can have a lifetime impact. The good news is that early treatment gives traumatized children a chance to grow up into well-adjusted, high-functioning adults.”

Long-term plans include a comprehensive center to offer a safe and trusting physical environment and staff, as well as treatment programs.

All-Star is developing a “Campus of Caring,” which incorporates a trauma center with clinical services for abused children aged 0-18. Siblings will be kept together, and parents and other caregivers will have a range of innovative services based on the latest medical research. The Barancik grant will allow top staff from Johns Hopkins All Children’s to care for children in Sarasota County.

Set for completion next year, the campus will also be home base for All Star’s community outreach program, an outpatient service for children and families in the area’s child welfare system and their families.

“We’ll be giving traumatized children the help they need,” McGillicuddy said in a statement. “But we’ll also be producing research on the most effective care for these children while training the next generation of clinicians.”

The grant will set All Star apart from other foster care treatment programs in Florida. Child trauma interventions will be available from both All-Star’s Sarasota County campus and its other regional outreach programs.

“This vital grant will allow our team to work in collaboration with the experts and researchers at Johns Hopkins,” McGillicuddy added. “We’ll join forces to design a program to heal childhood trauma employing the latest research in brain science and neuroplasticity.”

Barancik Foundation’s president and CEO Teri Hansen said: “This program will set the gold standard in healing childhood trauma and developing children’s resiliency. We’ll be able to treat children and teens who would not have been helped otherwise. And that’s what really matters.”

In bid for Attorney General, Ashley Moody already has one key supporter – Pam Bondi

Even though Ashley Moody has not yet officially announced a bid for Florida attorney general, the former Hillsborough Circuit judge already has one key endorsement – current Attorney General Pam Bondi

Bondi said Moody is her preferred choice to be her successor and will support her when she enters the 2018 race.

“I’ve known her most of her life,” Bondi told the Tampa Bay Times Monday. “I don’t think there could be a more qualified candidate for attorney general in the entire state of Florida. I wholeheartedly support Ashley and I’m proud of her for wanting to sacrifice so much for our state.”

Bondi went Stetson University College of Law with Moody’s mother, Carol. The Attorney General first met the future judge when she was a teenager. They have been close friends ever since.

Moody spent a decade as a circuit judge in Hillsborough for 10 years, before resigning abruptly in April. After Moody’s resignation, Bondi encouraged her to run for attorney general.

Moody filed a campaign for the office last week with the state Division of Elections and is expected to officially announce her bid Tuesday.

Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Jay Fant and Democrat Ryan Torrens of Tampa have already entered the race.

“No one will outwork Ashley Moody in this race,” Bondi told the Times.

Pinellas Young Republicans to host annual convention in St. Pete this weekend

A host of top GOP leaders, including a couple of statewide candidates for 2018, will speak to a group of up and coming Party members this weekend at the annual Florida Federation of Young Republicans Convention.

Presented by the Pinellas County Young Republicans, the convention is June 9-10 at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

Among the weekend’s speakers are state Sens. Jack Latvala and Denise Grimsley, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, as well as presentations from Grow PAC and Innovate Florida. Putnam is now running for Florida Governor, Grimsley is looking to replace him as Agriculture Commissioner. Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who serves as Senate Appropriations chair, is also rumored to be considering a run for governor.

The weekend will feature a welcome reception Friday at the nearby Vinoy Renaissance Hotel, followed that evening by a brewery tour; business meetings and presentations will be Saturday, followed by a dinner event open to the public with Putnam as keynote speaker.

Tickets for the conference are $150, and a spot at the Putnam dinner reception is $100, available at

A portion of the convention will include elections for new members of the FFYR Executive Board.

Announced candidates are Robbie Foster for chair, Megan Roach for vice chair, Kelley Treon for secretary, Nicholas Primrose for treasurer, Anibal David Cabrera for assistant treasurer, Matthew Oberly for assistant secretary, Paul Skinner for national committeeman, and Elizabeth Granite for national committeewoman, as well as Jessica Fernandez for executive director and Erik Arroyo for general counsel.

Latvala and Putnam are both Presenting Sponsors of the event, as well as Joe and Jo Ann White of the White Family Foundation, according to the invite.

Lincoln Sponsors include Reps. Chris Sprowls and James Grant, state Sens. Jeff Brandes and Bill Galvano as well as Innovate Florida, Young Floridians for Opportunity PAC, and former Ambassador Mel Sembler and his wife Betty.

Reagan Sponsors are state Sens. Grimsley and Greg Steube, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, state Rep. Danny Burgess, former Sen. Paul Neal, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Mikurak, LJ Govoni, Pinellas County Tax Collector Charles Thomas as well as the Marone Law Group, Grow PAC, Spoor Bunch Franz CPA Reusable Transport Packaging, the Republican Party of Hillsborough County, the Republican Party of Florida, the Manatee County Young Republicans, and the Orange County Young Republicans.

The St. Petersburg Yacht Club is at 11 Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete.

St. Pete gets Army Corps of Engineers OK to build new Pier

St. Petersburg has finally received the official OK to rebuild the Pier.

This city received a permit Wednesday from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the last step to clearing the way for construction on the new Pier.

“The ‘New St. Pete Pier’ will be a dynamic extension of our iconic waterfront park system, and is sure to be enjoyed by residents and visitors from throughout the world for generations to come,” St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said in a statement. “My thanks to my team, our government partners, and our community for getting us to this point.”

The 26-acre Pier District includes the pier, which will span 1,265 feet into Tampa Bay. The district also includes the pier approach from Spa Beach to city’s downtown boundary and along the waterfront from Pioneer Park and Beach Drive up to the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club.

“With this permit in hand, the next stage of important work begins on our new St. Petersburg Pier,” said City Council Chair Darden Rice. “This is one of many critical steps to ensure the pier will be built in a sound way compatible with lessened impacts on the bay. Like so many others, I am excited to see construction begin on our pier.”

Council Member Karl Nurse added: “St. Pete has gone through an incredibly long process to build our fourth-generation pier. I believe our community will be happy with the new pier and uplands.”

As one of the world’s largest public engineering, design and construction agencies, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is behind many of the nation’s biggest public works projects such as dams, canals and flood protection.

A target date for completion of St. Pete Pier project is the end of 2018.


Rick Scott signs DOT reform bill

Among the five bills signed Wednesday by Gov. Rick Scott is HB 865, an omnibus measure that reforms several areas in the Florida Department of Transportation.

LobbyTools reports that the bill, in part, mandates the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority to get DOT approval on contracts before receiving department money.

The department must also submit a report examining district boundaries and headquarters, as well as changes allowable weight for vehicles fueled by natural gas on interstate highways.

Advocacy groups blast CRC Chair Carlos Beruff for ‘throwing shade’ on process

Florida’s vicennial Constitution Revision Commission is drawing fire for a lack of transparency in scheduling a vote on a package of procedural rules for changes to the state’s constitution.

A letter Wednesday from a coalition of advocacy groups said CRC Chair Carlos Beruff is throwing shade on the process by disbanding the eight-person Rules Working Group, and instead scheduling a meeting in Orlando June 6 of the full commission to consider and vote on a “complex and lengthy set of rules” he proposed.

The CRC meets every 20 years to hear public input and propose changes to the Florida Constitution.

“We are pleased that you see the urgency of moving forward with adopting rules,” the letter said. “However, we write to question your method of moving forward and urge you to rethink your plan.”

Among the progressive and labor groups signing the letter include leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Florida Common Cause, Florida AFL-CIO, Florida Policy Institute, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Planned Parenthood, among others.

“To observers of the May 17 meeting of the Rules Working Group,” the letter continues, “it was clear that a supermajority of members recognized that Florida’s open government laws guide the way we do government in Florida, are respected throughout the country and should not be watered down in the CRC rules.”

Citing the rules agreed on the last time the commission met, in 1997-1998, the letter said amendments proposed by Beruff seem “calculated put the power of the CRC in your hands and in the hands of a very small group of insiders who you choose for important committees.”

The group also objects to several proposed amendments that they say were “calculated to allow some CRC work to be done out of the Sunshine.”

The letter also points to several draft rules that deviate from previous CRC’s, relating to a lack of transparency and respect for the Sunshine Rules; a lack of articulated provisions for meaningful public engagement; the potential for leverage and influence over commission members; and an unclear track for approval of proposals.

The letter concludes with a suggestion that the only viable solution is for the Commissioners “to reject any change to the 1997-1998 rules that worked so well for the last CRC and adopt them ‘as is’ for the important work you are undertaking.”

The full letter is available below:

St. Petersburg College names first woman, African-American president

Dr. Tonjua Williams will become the next president of St. Petersburg College, in a unanimous vote of the school’s board of trustees.

The board chose SPC’s seventh president during a special meeting Wednesday.

The 53-year-old Williams, a 30-year veteran of SPC, is currently serving as Sr. Vice President of Student Services, a position she has held since 2013. She will be the college’s first woman and first African-American to serve as president.

Trustee Deveron Gibbons said it was clear Williams was the obvious choice.

“I came with two names today, but I’m only submitting one: Dr. Tonjua Williams,” he said.

Trustees all agreed Williams was impressive during her interview.

“She didn’t have to sell me on SPC. I was more excited to be part of this institution after hearing her speak about it than I have been in maybe the past few years,” said trustee Nathan Stonecipher. “She is passionate about St. Petersburg College. That bleeds out of her.”

Williams previously served as vice president of Academic and Student Affairs and Provost of the Tarpon Springs Campus.

The three other candidates were Frank A. Biafora Jr., 52, dean and professor of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg; James Henningsen, 51, President of the College of Central Florida in Ocala and Stan Vittetoe, 62, who serves as provost of the SPC Clearwater campus.

Williams earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Barry University, a master’s degree in Counselor Education from University of South Florida, and a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Humanities from Clearwater Christian College.

Former President Bill Law, who has led the school since 2010, announced in November 2016 that he would be retiring at the end of June 2017.

SPC’s Search and Screen Committee narrowed the pool down from an initial 51 candidates, and voted in March to advance nine semi-finalists. In April, the committee voted to advance five finalists to the board for consideration.

“The Board members also want to express our gratitude to all of the highly qualified finalists for the time and dedication they have shown throughout this rigorous process,” said Bill Foster, chair of the SPC board of trustees.

Port Tampa Bay slated for $9M in federal budget

Port Tampa Bay is one of three Florida seaports that could advance harbor deepening projects in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spending plan announced last week.

Port Tampa Bay would get $9 million in congressionally-approved discretionary funds, as well as $17.5 million to JAXPORT and $2.8 million for Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale.

“Since 2011, we have invested over $1 billion in state funding in our 15 world-class seaports and we appreciate the Trump Administration understanding the important role our ports have in supporting our economy and creating jobs,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a statement Wednesday.

The Tampa Bay money would go to deepen the Big Bend Channel to 43 feet from its current 34 feet, a project that could cost as much is $55 million. The JAXPORT project would deepen Jacksonville Harbor from 40 to 47 feet, allowing it to handle larger ships.

“This funding is a great start to the needed dredging at JaxPort, which will allow economic growth and trade to prosper in Northeast Florida,” U.S. Rep. John Rutherford said in a statement.

Despite the spending, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson warned about further transportation cuts in Donald Trump’s proposed budget, announced this week.

Trump’s budget, which still needs Congressional approval, ends Amtrak passenger train service in Florida.

Nelson said in a statement: “Eliminating Amtrak service in Florida not only affects the nearly 1 million Floridians who ride the train each year, it would have a real impact on our tourism-driven economy by making it harder for folks to come visit our state.”


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