Phil Ammann - 5/384 - 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.

After nearly 50 years in news, Mike Deeson announces retirement

In a sudden announcement, longtime WTSP investigative reporter Mike Deeson says he is retiring from the Tampa airwaves, effective immediately.

“I know this will come as a surprise to many of my friends in Tampa Bay,” Deeson says in a Facebook post published Monday, “but I have decided to retire from Channel 10 effective today.”

Deeson, named one of the INFLUENCE Magazine’s top 100 Florida influencers in 2015, will use the time to “put more effort into many of other projects I have been trying to juggle while working full time … Maybe I’ll even improve my golf game.” He explains that he had been thinking about retiring for a while “especially because of the changing landscape of TV news.”

The 68-year-old Chicago native is one most highly awarded reporters in Tampa bay region. According to his WTSP bio, Deeson has been recognized with 6 Green Eyeshade awards (one of the oldest journalism contests in the country), more than 50 AP, United Press International and Society of Professional Journalist Awards including several Outstanding Individual Achievement in the state and Outstanding Individual Achievement in the Southeast.

As for his seemingly sudden announcement, Deeson says he “didn’t want the long goodbye tour,” instead “ripping off the bandage” and go forward immediately.

“My nature is to come to a conclusion and act on it quickly without looking back,” he says.

Deeson also talked about finishing up a book of his nearly half a century in the news business, which he promises will be “extremely frank.” Deeson and his wife have plans to travel overseas, and he wants to “finalize this life changing decision beforehand” so it wouldn’t distract from his journeys.

“I want to thank all the people who have been so kind to me over the years,” he writes. “The viewers, my colleagues, the friends I have made. I have loved every minute I’ve spent with all of you.”

 

Rowdies, Orlando City rivalry ‘adds value’ to St. Pete MLS bid, says commissioner

Rivalry is good for soccer, and that’s good for the chances of the Tampa Bay Rowdies securing a Major League Soccer franchise.

In January, Rowdies’ owner Bill Edwards delivered the team’s expansion application to MLS headquarters, after being named one of the 11 candidates in the running for an expansion team. Tampa Bay currently is the largest media market in the U.S. without an MLS franchise.

Sports Illustrated recently hinted that Orlando City SC’s proximity also could prove a negative, “especially if City objects to an MLS team a little more than 100 miles away.”

But that may not be the case, particularly in the view of MLS Commissioner Don Garber.

In a video clip posted on Twitter by Fox13’s Kevin O’Donnell, Garber believes that the Rowdies having Orlando City nearby actually “adds to the value of its bid.”

“I think it helps,” Garber says. “I’m a big believer in ‘concentrate your teams’ and have close rivals.”

“It worked in New York and, work next year in Los Angeles,” he adds. “Rivalries are what drive our sport. I think the fact that there is a candidate not that far from here adds to the value of their bid.”

Some of the strongest parts of Edwards’ bid are extensive community support and plans for a privately-funded, $80 million expansion of Al Lang Stadium, which Patrick Brennan of Cincinnati.com says is “essentially ready-made for the expansion, which would upgrade the facility and increase capacity from 7,200-plus to about 18,000.”

Having a built -in rivalry with Orlando wouldn’t hurt, either.

Last month, the St. Petersburg City Council approved a citywide referendum May 2 for a lease expansion for Al Lang, which takes a major step in the Rowdies MLS expansion plan by signing a 25-year lease with the city to begin renovations.

 

St. Pete to spend $16M on Northwest sewage plant upgrades by summer

Sewage continues to be a nagging problem for St. Petersburg, after two summers with huge wastewater discharges into Tampa Bay and surrounding waters.

At the center of the debate, reports Charlie Frago of the Tampa Bay Times, is whether to reopen the shuttered Albert Whitted Wastewater Treatment Facility, as well as expanding the Southwest sewage plant.

Getting not nearly as much press is the city’s Northwest plant, which also suffered a massive spill after Hurricane Hermine, dumping sewage in neighborhoods along 22nd Avenue N and into Boca Ciega Bay.

Although the city posted some warning signs, residents weren’t notified of the spillage.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman explained warnings were not necessary since the 58 million gallons of sewage was “reclaimed water,” a statement he later admitted was wrong and reclassified the wastewater as “partially-treated sewage.”

After a series of missteps over the spills, which Frago describes as “enraging residents and eroding trust” in Kriseman, the city is now looking at spending $16 million to upgrade the Northwest plant ahead of the upcoming summer rainy season.

Previously, the plant had no problem with overflow. But after Hermine, which Frago says “caused a bottleneck to develop at the plant’s filters preventing the water able to be treated.”

“The city plans to drill two new injection wells to dispose of treated sewage deep underground and add more filters to increase the plant’s capacity to treat sewage from 40 million gallons a day to 55 million gallons a day,” Frago writes. Work is scheduled for completion by the summer.

Among the work needed at the Northwest plant is a repair of one of the clarifying tanks, which allow solid waste to settle. During Hermine, one of the tanks was out of commission. Frago notes that the city will dig to new injection wells, which will require drilling rigs to operate around the plant 24/7 for about a year, with noise that could be heard by residents nearby.

Residents did complain about some work recently, but chief plant operator Sylvia Rosario tells the Times that it is a necessary trade-off for improved performance.

“They have to make a choice: do they want to put up with the noise for a year or risk another overflow?” she said.

Frago reports that Kriseman is committing $304 million through 2021 to fix the city sewage system, with almost $59 million for the Northwest plant. But rebuilding trust may be another challenge.

Enterprise Florida CEO Chris Hart resigns, citing lack of ‘common vision’ with Rick Scott

Citing a lack of “common vision” with Gov. Rick Scott, Chris Hart IV has resigned as Enterprise Florida’s president and CEO.

Hart, who had previously served as the president and CEO of CareerSource Florida, was unanimously selected November 30 by the enterprise Florida board of directors for the job that paid between $175,000 and $200,000 a year. He had officially been in the position since January 3.

According to his letter of resignation, posted on Twitter by POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon, Hart “knew at that time there would be significant work to be done to restore the corporation’ s reputation as a highly competent economic development organization, and that much of the initial effort would be directed at members of the legislature.”

“The professionals I have encountered are best are best described as stewards of their mission, who have both personal and professional integrity, and seek to deliver value for the state of Florida and the communities they represent with a high degree of competency, every single day.”

Hart continues: “Unfortunately, during the same time period, I’ve come to realize that Gov. Scott and I do not share a common vision or understanding for how enterprise Florida, Inc. Can best provide value within his administration.”

“This difference of opinion,” Hart writes, “is of such a critical nature that I no longer believe I can be effective in my position.”

Since there had not been either a consensus, formal agreement or contract, Hart resigned effective immediately.

“It is odd that Chris Hart never shared any differences of opinion or vision with the Governor until we first read that he had them in his resignation letter,” said Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for the governor, in a statement. “The future of EFI and its role in creating more jobs in Florida as we compete with other states is more important than one person’s sudden change of opinion or position, no matter how surprising.”

Bill Edwards to help raise money for Rick Scott in Pinellas next week

St. Petersburg entrepreneur Bill Edwards will be helping raise money next week for Let’s Get to Work, the political committee closely tied to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

The reception begins 6 p.m. Thursday, March 9, at The Club at Treasure Island, 400 Treasure Island Causeway in Treasure Island. Minimum suggested contribution for the VIP reception is $5,000; tickets to the General Reception are $2,500.

Edwards, CEO of The Edwards Group, has been a longtime supporter of Scott and Republicans. He gave $1 million in 2013 for Scott’s re-election effort, as well as about $4.6 million to support Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012. In 2015, Edwards also gave $350,000 to the political action committee supporting former Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential bid.

Joining Edwards on the host committee are former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Jay Beyrouti, Joe White and James Holton, president of real estate development firm Holton Companies. Beyrouti sits on the board of directors for both Space Florida and Enterprise Florida, the state’s job incentives arm currently under fire by the Florida Legislature. Baker, who serves as president of the Edwards Group, is also seen as a potential candidate this year for his old job as St. Petersburg mayor.

As owner of the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Edwards is behind the latest effort to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to St. Petersburg. Edwards will be covering the entire cost of a May 2 special election to vote for giving the St. Pete City Council the authority to negotiate a long-term use agreement for Al Lang Stadium, home of the Rowdies and a key part of bringing MLS to the city.

Although Scott cannot run for re-election, many consider him a likely candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018 against Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. According to the Florida Division of Elections, Let’s Get to Work raised nearly $1.7 million in January.

RSVPs are through Debbie Aleksander at 850-339-8116 or Debbie@flfstrategies.com.

Linda Stewart, Amy Mercado introduce bills to protect bears, their food and habitat

As state Rep. Amy Mercado declares, Florida’s now-annual black bear hunt has become a “slaughter.”

Mercado and fellow Orlando Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart laid out bills Wednesday to ban the hunts for 10 years, as well as steps to keep bears happy enough in the forests and stop raiding neighborhoods.

“The bears, we’ve encroached on their homes,” Mercado said. “They were here first. And a slaughter of the bears is unacceptable.”

Mercado’s House Bill 491 and Stewart’s Senate Bill 1304 would call for the state to stop the harvest of the bears’ primary food before they go into winter denning season, saw palmetto berries, on state lands. They also seek to redirect controlled burns so that they do not affect bears’ habitats at the wrong times of the year and channel some money from the state’s Non-Game Wildlife Fund into grants to purchase bear-resistant trash cans for neighborhoods near bear habitats, such as the Wekiva Springs neighborhoods of Orlando plagued by numerous wandering bears in recent years.

It also would have state officials run more bear census studies.

The bills, entitled “The Florida Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act,” would also place a 10-year ban on bear hunting, which was resumed three years ago due to the assumption that Florida’s bear population had grown so much that it was forcing bears into the suburbs.

“What has been happening is that people have been going out into the forests, our public lands, and they have been harvesting the palmetto berries. And that is one of the primary foods of the black bear. So when you see the bears coming into your neighborhood and swimming in your swimming pool, they are looking for a food source,” Stewart said. “If we can just keep them where they are supposed to have their habitat by not infringing on their habitat, then that is what we should attempt to do.”

Similar bills including one by then-state Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando were introduced last year but died.

Stewart and Chuck O’Neal, co-chair of The League of Women Voters Florida environmental committee, said he and Stewart’s staff have worked with state officials to try to alleviate some of their concerns, and have made five significant changes from Soto’s bill.

O’Neal said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has agreed to some parts of the bill, including the funding. Of other disagreements from last year, he said “the sharp edges have been shaved off,” though that does not necessarily mean the Commission now supports them.

“There was no buy-in by the FWC last year. This year Sen. Stewart’s staff has worked with the FWC,” O’Neal said. “So with their buy-in this year we hope it passes.”

O’Neal claimed that 90 percent of Floridians want to protect black bears, and the issue is garnering worldwide attention.

“So the eyes of the world are on Florida,” he said. “Are we going to do the right thing?”

“We want to see this bill scheduled. We want to see it heard. And we want the people of this state to have the opportunity to come to the stand and testify before the Legislature that they want this bill passed.”

Florida Blue Symposium to ask ‘what’s next’ with ACA, politics of health care

With the Affordable Care Act certain to remain a leading issue throughout 2017 and beyond, hundreds of leading health care professionals will gather this spring to discuss the question: “What’s next?”

“Affordable Care Act: Where Do We Go From Here — The Politics of Healthcare” is the featured roundtable at the Florida Blue Foundation’s annual Community Health Symposium and Sapphire Awards held April 19-20 at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee.

The two-day conference will host more than 400 Florida-based, regional and national health professionals there for the opportunity to know more about a wide range of issues, including health issues, policy, reform and engagement. Executives on hand will be from a wide range of private sector, government, universities, nonprofit organizations and more.

One of the highlights will be the April 20 panel discussion moderated by Dr. Daniel Dawes a leading health care strategist and attorney. As a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, Dawes serves on the boards of several organizations that seek to improve health care access and outcomes. He is written several publications on health reform and equity, as well as the book “150 years of Obamacare,” published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Among the panelists are Tom Feeney, the president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida; Dr. Antonia Novello the former U.S. Surgeon General; Jason Altmire, senior vice president of public policy and community engagement at Florida Blue; Dr. Susan McManus, the distinguished professor of government and international affairs at the University of South Florida; and Alan Levine, President and CEO of the Mountain States Health Alliance and a former secretary for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

Later that day, the symposium will conclude with the Sapphire Luncheon and Awards ceremony at 12:30 p.m. April 20. With Patrick Geraghty, the CEO of Guidewell Holding Company, as keynote speaker.

Online agenda, registration and information on the location and special group hotel rates are available online. The Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center is at 6000 W. Osceola Pkwy. in Kissimmee. To make reservations by phone, call 877-491-0442.

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Tampa developer sues Housing Authority over public records for ‘Encore’ renewal project

A Tampa developer is suing the Tampa Housing Authority, claiming officials are holding back documents related to a sprawling urban renewal in the neighborhood between downtown and Ybor City.

Pinnacle Holdings Group is accusing the THA of withholding key documents from public records for the “controversial handling” of Encore, the ambitious mixed-use project to replace Central Park Village. Frank Donald DeBose is president of Pinnacle Group, located at 4830 W. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 600 in Tampa.

Encore is the name of the plan that combines public housing, retail and commercial buildings with market-value condominiums.

In March 2016, the Tampa Tribune reported that Pinnacle Group was interested in purchasing to downtown parcels for $7.4-million as part of the Encore project.

Among Pinnacle’s tentative plans were a 20-story hotel and a 28-story residential tower. Other community features include an urban farm, museum, middle school, solar park and a renovated Perry Harvey Park, with an amphitheater and displays to honor Central Avenue’s history.

In November 2016, Pinnacle Group submitted a public records request to the THA, asking for “all documents pertaining or relating to the planning and development of Encore since November 2, 2010.”

The request specified documents and correspondence concerning developer Related Group – the private Miami-based developer also involved with the Encore project – as well as those involving Pinnacle Group itself.

Pinnacle claims documents received in December from the Authority were “insufficient,” and a subsequent request for “missing” items made January 10 provided not much more.

In a lawsuit filed February 17 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Pinnacle is suing under Chapter 119 of Florida Statutes (otherwise known as the “Public Records Act”). The company asks the court to set an immediate hearing and order the THA to “allow the inspection and copying of the requested public records.”

Donald Trump, Month Two: Talks on health care and on tax overhaul

As President Donald Trump begins his second month in office, his team is trying to move past the crush of controversies that overtook his first month and make progress on health care and tax overhauls long sought by Republicans.

Both issues thrust Trump, a real estate executive who has never held elected office, into the unfamiliar world of legislating. The president has thus far relied exclusively on executive powers to muscle through policy priorities and has offered few details about what he’ll require in any final legislative packages, like how the proposals should be paid for. The White House also sent conflicting signals about whether the president will send Congress his own legislative blueprints or let lawmakers drive the process.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told The Associated Press that he expects a health care plan to emerge in “the first few days of March.” Pressed on whether the plan would be coming from the White House, Priebus said, “We don’t work in a vacuum.”

On Sunday, White House advisers held a three-hour meeting on health care at Trump’s South Florida club, their third lengthy discussion on the topic in four days. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs banker now serving as Trump’s top economic adviser, and newly sworn in Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have been leading talks with Republican lawmakers and business leaders on taxes. Neither man has prior government experience.

Republicans long blamed Democrats for blocking efforts to overhaul the nation’s complicated tax code and make changes to the sweeping 2010 health care law signed by President Barack Obama. But with the GOP now in control of both the White House and Congress, making good on those promises rests almost entirely with the president and his party.

To some Republicans’ chagrin, both issues were overshadowed during Trump’s first month. The president spent more time publicly fighting the media than selling Americans on his vision for a new health care law. Fresh questions emerged about Trump’s ties to Russia, particularly after national security adviser Michael Flynn was fired for misleading the White House about his conversations with a Russian envoy. The White House botched the rollout of a refugee and immigration executive order, Trump’s most substantive policy initiative to date, and the directive was quickly blocked by the courts.

Priebus said the distractions did not slow down work happening behind the scenes on the president’s legislative priorities.

“Obviously with the White House staff, you’re able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” Priebus said. “The economic team isn’t screwing around with the legal case and the lawyers aren’t screwing around with tax reform.”

One of the biggest questions on Capitol Hill is how involved Trump plans to be in legislative minutia. One GOP leadership aide whose office has been working with the White House described the president as a “big picture guy” and said he expected Trump to defer to Capitol Hill on health care in particular. The aide was not authorized to speak publicly and insisted on anonymity.

Priebus said he expects Congress to pass both a tax package and legislation repealing and replacing Obama’s health care law by the end of the year. But the White House’s outward confidence belies major roadblocks on both matters.

After spending years criticizing “Obamacare,” Republicans are grappling with how to replace it and pay for a new law. While some lawmakers worry about getting blamed for taking health insurance away from millions of people, others worry the party won’t go far enough in upending the current system.

“My worry now is that many people are talking about a partial repeal of Obamacare,” Rep. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said. “If you only repeal part of it and you leave it some sort of Obamacare light, which some are talking about, my fear is the situation actually gets worse.”

Trump has said he wants to keep popular provisions like guaranteeing coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions and allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26. He’s also raised the prospect of allowing people to buy insurance across states lines, which is not part of the law.

On taxes, Republicans have a potentially more vexing impasse. House Republicans want to scrap the 35 percent tax on corporate profits, which is riddled with exemptions, deductions and credits, and replace it with a “border adjustment tax.” The system would tax all imports coming into the U.S., but exclude exports from taxation.

House Speaker Paul Ryan‘s office has been vigorously promoting the idea to Trump, who has called the system “too complicated.” Some House aides have privately voiced optimism that the White House is coming around, though Priebus would only say that border adjustment was “an option we’re all discussing and debating.”

The president has said he plans to release a “phenomenal” tax plan in the coming weeks.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

WTSP exposé examines Florida’s ‘weakest in nation’ texting, driving laws

Florida lawmakers will probably not make texting while driving a primary traffic offense in 2017, although it is the law in 41 other states.

Right now, Florida doesn’t allow officers to pull over drivers for texting and driving unless they notice another potentially dangerous or deadly offense at the same time.

In an interview with Noah Pransky of WTSP, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran suggested that legislators may need more information before they decide to change the law, perhaps by seeing what such a change had accomplished in other states.

“You need to have evidence,” Corcoran said in a brief clip posted on Facebook. “Let’s look at what those other 41 states are doing … the number of incidents they have related to texting and driving and what it has done [for] their safety … comparisons based on population, based on demographics, based on cities.”

Corcoran added that by studying the data, the Legislature could come to an “objective decision” whether to make texting while driving a primary offense.

In another Facebook video, Pransky says gives three reasons legislators are in no rush to change “some of the country’s weakest distracted driving laws.” They claim texting isn’t dropping in the states where texting while driving laws are in place; banning such activities could represent a potential threat to civil liberties and police could abuse those rules to pull anyone over, for practically any reason.

Pransky calls those ideas simply “excuses” for lawmakers dragging their feet.

St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway tells WTSP that his department needs a driving while texting law to crack down on this dangerous behavior effectively.

“We need that tool in our toolbox so we can educate our people,” Holloway said.

Pransky will have a two-part report on Florida’s texting while driving and distracted driving laws Monday and Tuesday night at 11 p.m. on WTSP.

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