Phil Ammann - 5/389 - 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.

Legislature renaming part of U.S. 19 to honor Tarpon Springs officer killed on duty

Officer Charles ‘Charlie K’ Kondek Jr.

Florida lawmakers are seeking to rename a section of Alternate U.S. 19 in northern Pinellas County after a Tarpon Springs police officer killed in the line of duty in 2014.

On Thursday, the Florida Senate unanimously approved changing the name of a stretch between Tarpon Avenue and the Pasco County line to the Officer Charles ‘Charlie K’ Kondek Jr. Memorial Highway.

The House passed a companion Wednesday, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

Kondek had responded to a noise complaint in December 2014 when the 45-year-old officer was shot and killed.

Police later charged Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., with the shooting. The 23-year-old had been released from prison that March and was wanted for alleged probation violation.

“I thought this would be a very good way to remember his service and his sacrifice,” Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala told the Senate before passing the measure.

Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls sponsored the House version.

Senate passes health insurer regulations, while House stalls

Two health insurer regulations passed the Senate floor unanimously Thursday, while similar House measures stall in committee.

LobbyTools reports that Senators passed SB 102, which prohibit health insurers and health maintenance organizations from retroactive claim denial after verifying the eligibility of a patient, which usually occurs during a post-payment audit.

Members also passed SB 182, a bill preventing insurers from removing prescription medications from coverage after the contract is signed.

But according to LobbyTools, House versions of the two Senate bills remain stuck in the committee process as time runs out.

Tampa’s Thee Dollhouse sued for allowing drunk dancer drive to death

A Tampa strip club dancer, plied with free drinks before leaving work, died last year after her car hit a tree.

Now her estate is suing both the club and its valet service for letting her drive to her death.

Cindy Marleny Montes was a 23-year-old dancer at Thee Dollhouse strip club at 1010 N. Westshore Blvd. In Tampa.

On Jan. 16, 2016, Montes left work, taking her keys from Shamrock Valet, and drove off.

Soon after, Montes — a 2011 graduate of Madera South High School in California and attending Hillsborough Community College pursuing a liberal arts degree — crashed into a tree.

Ejected from the vehicle, Montes died four days later from her injuries.

A lawsuit filed April 27 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court by Erik Montes, a relative bringing action for Montes’ estate – argues that Cindy was very drunk at the time of the crash after customers and/or staff of Thee Dollhouse gave her several free drinks beforehand. The suit alleges it was a customary practice at the strip club.

At the time of her crash, Montes’s blood alcohol level was purportedly at least 0.23 percent – nearly three times Florida’s legal limit.

Shamrock Valet (which provides valet services to club employees) and O.C. Food & Beverage (which allegedly owns and/or manages Thee Dollhouse) are named as co-defendants responsible for Cindy’s death. They are also accused of “negligently failing to educate, train, and/or supervise employees as to how to handle intoxicated persons.”

Nevertheless, the suit is not entirely clear who, in fact, owns Thee Dollhouse.

Erik Montes’ complaint suggests that owners of the strip club are co-defendant O.C. Food & Beverage – managed by St. Petersburg millionaire William Hunter Bullard, Dunedin resident Harold R.E. Johnson, and Orlando resident Randy Beasley.

However, earlier legal action has named JBM Management of Tampa as the owner. JBM’s president is also William Hunter Bullard.

William Hart is president of Shamrock Valet.

Chris Nocco, Will Weatherford to headline Mike Moore campaign kick-off event

Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and former House Speaker Will Weatherford will be headlining a campaign kickoff fundraiser next month for County Commissioner Mike Moore’s re-election effort.

Moore, the founder of a medical supplies business which he later sold, was first elected to District 2 in 2014 and has served as vice-chair of the county commission board since 2016. He will also become chair in 2017.

The event is Wednesday, May 17, at Seven Oaks Clubhouse, 2910 Sports Core Cir. in Wesley Chapel. Reception begins at 6:30 p.m.

According to the invite, more than three dozen Pasco County leaders comprise the host committee, including Michael and Jessica Corcoran of the Corcoran & Johnson lobbying firm, architect Rich Bekesh and his wife Laura, developer J.D. Porter and Southwest Florida Water Management District Board Member Randy Maggard and his wife Colleen.

In addition to the county commission, more also sits on the boards of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, Circuit Conflict-Sixth Judicial Circuit, Dependency Drug Treatment Court Planning Steering Committee, Government Operations Committee, Insurance Selection Committee, Public Safety Coordination Council, Habitat for Humanity, CARES, the Boys and Girls Club and chair of the Homeless Advisory Board.

Also in 2014, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Moore to the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, and then- Speaker Weatherford named him to the Florida Department of Elder Affairs Advisory Council.

RSVP with mike@votemikemoore.com or (813) 777-6171.

Tampa Bay region under Phase I water shortage alert

Several Florida counties, including those in the Tampa Bay area, are now under a Phase I water shortage, which comes with the possibility of future watering restrictions.

During its board meeting Tuesday, the Southwest Florida Water Management District announced 16 counties affected by a Phase I water shortage. The counties are Charlotte, Citrus, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Marion, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and Sumter.

A Phase I water shortage alerts the public on possible forthcoming watering restrictions. It also requires local utilities to review and apply procedures for year-round water conservation and water shortage restrictions, including measures for reporting enforcement activity.

While Phase I water shortage order does not affect existing watering schedules, it prohibits “wasteful and unnecessary” water use.

In deciding to declare a water shortage and restrict water usage by the public, SWFWMD checks several factors, including natural water resource conditions and the viability of public supply.

Over two decades, the district has been working on developing alternative water supplies, and officials assure there is sufficient water available to the public, despite drought conditions.

April is one of the driest months of Florida’s dry season, which runs October through May. The SWFWMD website WaterMatters.org offers tips and suggestions to reduce water usage and encourage conservation year-round.

Dueling lawsuits embroil Tampa power broker Don Phillips, wife in fierce divorce battle

Tampa power broker Don Phillips

An epic divorce battle years in the making has embroiled Tampa Republican heavyweight Don E. Phillips.

Despite claims of a “devoted family,” Phillips and his wife Erin spent the past few years firing off waves of competing lawsuits, complete with dramatic accusations of computer hacking, identity theft, domestic violence, stalking and serial infidelity among others.

A North Carolina native, Phillips, 51, moved to Hillsborough County in 2003 and is the man behind Tampa-based Phillips Development & Realty (PDR), an influential firm building multifamily rental housing throughout the Southeast.

Phillips’ personal website describes him as the “son of a real estate developer who died in an airplane crash at the age of 37,” and that Don “was inspired by love and admiration for his father, as well as his father’s successes in the business, to enter the same career.”

PDR’s local projects include Tampa’s Casa Bella on Westshore, Phillips International Drive, and Tuscano at Suncoast Crossing In Lutz.

As his political stock began to rise, Phillips deftly played both sides of the aisle, switching parties briefly in 2006 to vote for Democrat Al Fox for Congress. His first donation in the Tampa area was 2004, for the County Commission campaign of Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat who would later become Tampa Mayor.

Buckhorn had once called Phillips a “breath of fresh air.”

But by 2008, according to a profile by the Tampa Bay Times, Phillips had “raised some expectations that he might be the next Republican power player in Hillsborough County.”

“He’s certainly stepped up to the plate,” said Jim Greer, then-chair of the Republican Party of Florida. “Don is someone who has been a supporter of the Republican Party not only financially, but from a grassroots perspective.”

At that time, Phillips’ office on the corner of Bayshore Boulevard and Platt Street also housed the John McCain for President campaign headquarters, as well as a satellite office of the Florida Republican Party.

Phillips “donated at least $70,000 to the state Republican Party and GOP candidates,” the Times wrote in 2008, resulting in then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointing him to the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority.

In 2011, Phillips hosted a fundraiser for Pasco Republican Will Weatherford, then a House Speaker Designate. Phillips had also served on the board of Enterprise Florida.

A 2013 article quoted him talking about Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who had a controversial relationship with Gen. David Petraeus.

Erin and Donald Phillips (Photo courtesy donaldphillips.com)

In 2005, Phillips met Erin Rachelle Willmore, now 37. Born in California, Willmore’s first marriage was to Cory Allen St. Clair of Rocky Point, North Carolina.

Records show that in 2008, Willmore gave $5,000 to the Heartland Values PAC, controlled by Phillips’ hunting buddy, South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune. The same year, Phillips also donated money to Heartland.

At that time, Phillips and Willmore were engaged and living together in south Tampa with the couple’s two-week-old baby and two children from Willmore’s previous relationship. Records show Phillips also had another child from an earlier relationship.

The couple married March 2009 at the St. Pete Beach home of prominent family law attorney Joseph Melendi. About two months later they bought home at 5905 Beacon Shores Drive costing about $2.1 million. Erin Phillips gave birth in 2011 to their second child, a boy.

Phillips’ personal website promotes him as a “devoted husband” with a “beloved family … of his wife Erin and their five children,” Brendan Allen (14), Collin Allan (13), Kodee Renee (8), Cole Edmund (6) and Cooper.

By 2015, however, the Phillips marriage began to show signs of serious strain.

Trouble in the Phillips household began in April 2012, when Don Phillips pleaded “no contest” to leaving a child unattended in a vehicle; he was also arrested for DUI July 2013. At that point, Don was serving on the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and applied for a seat on the Hillsborough County Aviation Board.

On New Year’s Eve 2014, Erin Phillips surrendered her stake in the couple’s marital home, leaving Don as the sole owner.

In the first of two divorce proceedings, filed Jan. 9, 2015, Erin claimed Don promised to pay Erin $300,000 plus interest in early 2020 in exchange for her relinquishing her interest in the home.

Documents show the couple entered a settlement agreement, but Erin countersued Don, asking the court to set aside the settlement. Erin Phillips argued that she signed the agreement “under duress, coercion, overreaching by Husband,” a result of “fraud” and “deceit.” Erin added that the agreement was “manifestly unfair” since she was unaware of the extent Don’s assets, income or liabilities.

In addition, Erin claimed Don held tight control of finances; her job was to be a full-time homemaker, caregiver and to go with her husband to “events and business functions.”

Erin said it was indeed her who had asked for the divorce Dec. 12, 2014. After that, she said Don began to “stalk and harass” her. She also alleges that as Don tried to get her to reconcile, he warned of “consequences” if she continues with the divorce — threatening both suicide and “the life of a third-party” with whom Erin turned to for emotional support.

She also called Don a “serial philanderer,” having numerous affairs during their marriage and spending money on “paramours,” which included renting apartments for them and “lavishing them with expensive gifts.”

By March 2015, the Phillips agreed to postpone the divorce for two months; the court dismissed the case June 30, 2016, for lack of prosecution.

Nevertheless, by August 2016, the Phillips were back in divorce court, with Don filing this time in a case that is now ongoing. While Don requested the filings be placed under seal, court dockets show the case proceeding in a way similar to the first attempt — Erin again countersuing and asking the court to set aside the marital settlement agreement.

In a domestic violence injunction petition filed Jan. 26, 2017, Erin Phillips accused Don of hacking into her email, spying on her communications, including those with her attorneys; stealing her identity to get text messages and call histories from AT&T; putting a tracking device on her car, and installing tracking software on her computer.

The petition also alleges Don had “over 100 fire armes [sic]” saying he had made her feel she as if she was “in imminent danger of becoming a victim of domestic violence.”

A recent lawsuit, filed April 18 in Hillsborough County court, by PDF Assets of Florida — a company controlled by Don Phillips — accused Erin Phillips of gaining unauthorized access to corporate emails and digital records. The “presumed intent was to unlawfully gain leverage in the divorce proceedings to which she is a party, and to conduct unlawful clandestine unilateral discovery.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction, as well as the return of all “misappropriated” information, and attorney’s fees.

After federal judge dismisses wrongful-death suit against Tampa police, widow sues city again

Last month, a federal court dismissed the wrongful-death lawsuit against the Tampa Police Department after a diabetic man died in 2014 during a police stop.

The man’s widow is now suing the city of Tampa and in Hillsborough County Circuit Court.

On April 16, 2014, Tampa police stopped Arthur “Art” Green Jr., a 63-year-old community activist, after responding to a call about a wrong-way driver. Officers pulled over Green, who was visibly disoriented and forcibly removed him from the vehicle when he refused to leave.

Restrained on the ground, long drawn out process sure stopped breathing within a couple of minutes. CPR attempts failed to revive him, and Green died at St. Joseph’s Hospital within the hour.

Green’s widow, 70-year-old Lena L. Young — also known as Lena Leanora Young and Lena Young Green — filed a federal wrongful-death suit, accusing the TPD, Officer Andrew Portman and others involved of violating Green’s constitutional rights by negligently not providing him with immediate medical care during a hypoglycemic incident.

Young also serves as executive vice president of LIFT Health, a Tampa-based nonprofit to develop “true solutions for health issues and lifestyle inadequacies for our youth and their families.”

In 2016, the City of Tampa filed a motion to dismiss Young’s suit; U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven dismissed all eight counts March 6, 2017, but gave Young the option to pursue two of the counts against the Tampa in a local court.

Scriven ruled that even though Portman was aware that Green might be suffering from a medical issue at the time, he lacked the medical ability to know the nature of the issue, its seriousness, or whether Green needed immediate medical attention.

Even if the officers’ actions amounted to “gross negligence,” Scriven said they did not show “deliberate indifference.” Also, although methods used to restrain Green might have contributed to his death, police did not use “excessive force.”

Scriven concluded that even with 29-million diabetics in the U.S., the TPD is under no obligation to train officers to recognize signs of hypoglycemia.

As a result, Lena Young filed a two-count wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Tampa April 7, 2017. The suit, in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, attempts to pursue two of the eight claims made in the federal lawsuit.

After Art Green’s death, his family set up the Arthur Green Jr. Memorial Foundation, which has supported an effort to change the name of Tampa’s Robles Park Center to the Arthur Green Jr. Community Center. The nonprofit also sponsored a health fair with LIFT Health, as well as a “community conversations series” titled “Injustice & Inequality in Tampa’s African-American Community in the Buckhorn Era.”

‘Join the club’ — Tampa Airport CEO welcomes Tom Lee’s proposed audit

TIA chief Joe Lopano

Tampa International Airport’s chief executive officer welcomed the possibility of an audit as suggested by state Sen. Tom Lee last week.

“We get audited all the time,” Joe Lopano said last week at a meeting of the St. Petersburg City Council.

The Tampa Bay Business Journal reported Lopano was on hand to present the $543 million Phase 2 of TIA’s three-part expansion.

Council member Charlie Gerdes addressed Lee’s call for an audit: “I’m not asking this to ask you to defend yourself. What is that all about?”

“That’s the elephant in the room, right?” Lopano said, explaining airport officials “expect to be held accountable” for state money.

“The reality is that the state has given us a grant which we’ve been very grateful for,” he explained.

TBBJ notes that the state awarded $194 million in grants to develop SkyConnect, a mostly automated people mover project as part of Phase 1 of TIA’s master expansion plan.

“We expect an audit,” Lopano added. “We get audited all the time.”

Lopano pointed out that TIA is audited by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Transportation Security Administration and both external and internal auditors.

“To be audited by the state is fine,” he said. “Join the club.”

Completion of Phase 1 of the expansion — costing $971 million — is scheduled for next year.

Lopano told the Council that Phase 2 will be less expensive than originally planned.

“It was already 5 years old,” he said. “And as you know the world changes a lot in five years.”

In that time, projected costs rose from $1.7 billion to over $2 billion, leaving airport officials to overhaul Phase 2 to make the project affordable.

“By taking some things out, we reduced the cost estimates by 20 percent,” Lopano said.

Phase 2 — now at about $543 million — includes $194 million for curb expansion and $121 million for the Gateway Development, a 17-acre site for hotels, office and retail space.

Business leaders lobby Tampa Bay-area lawmakers on regional transit

As for discussion over a proposed Senate regional transit bill for the Tampa Bay region, it’s all about timing.

A group of a dozen local business executives arrived for a lobbying trip to Tallahassee just one day after a contentious Senate committee meeting where three Tampa Bay lawmakers clashed over a bill seeking to overhaul the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA). The nonprofit Tampa Bay partnership arranged the trip.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that in a heated meeting of the Senate Community Affairs Committee, Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala watched in frustration as Republican colleagues Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Tom Lee of Thonotosassa amended the bill.

The bill, originally approved April 17, was changed to require legislative approval for any local spending proposal that would include a light rail system and also prohibit TBARTA from financing a voter referendum on light rail.

Many saw the amendments as a significant blow to the TBARTA’s independence.

“The timing could not have been better for this trip because the bill was at a critical point,” Tampa Bay partnership president Rick Homans told the Times.

Among those in the business delegation were Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik; University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft; Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes; Ron Wanek, founder of Ashley Furniture; Tampa attorney Rhea Law, as well as Tampa executives of TECO Energy, BlueGrace Logistics, the BayCare Health System, PNC Bank, Vology and Florida Blue.

While the group’s agenda included supporting Latvala’s transit bill, ride-sharing legislation, and a creation of a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Times noted that TBARTA received special emphasis.

“It’s not dead,” Homans said. “It’s very much alive.”

The amended bill now includes a feasibility study ahead of any forward movement of a light rail system, and would require approval by a majority vote of each Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) of the county or counties where the investment would be made. If a rail project is planned for Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, for example, each of the affected counties would need to approve the project.

Also, any rail project must get preapproval from the Legislature – since Tallahassee would be fronting much of the money anyway.

“They were not poison pills,” Brandes explained. “They were logical, reasonable steps that would largely have to be followed.”

Tampa Bay Business Journal President Bridgette Bello named St. Pete College Trustee

Tampa Bay Business Journal President Bridgette Bello is the newest member of the St. Petersburg College District board of trustees.

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced Bello, 46, of Seminole will fill a vacant seat for a term ending May 31, 2019.

Bello, a veteran advertising and media professional with more than 20 years’ experience, has been the publisher of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, a part of the American City Business Journals network, since February 2007. She is the first woman publisher in the newspaper’s 25-year history.

According to her bio, Bello is a five-time winner of the prestigious Eagle Award, an annual competition within American City Business Journals.

As the TBBJ advertising director, Bello consistently ranked in the top three in the company, and as publisher, she managed the No. 1 market ACBJ chain for 2010 and 2011, setting records in 2012 and 2013.

Bello also serves on the Florida Economic Education Business Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee, Board of Fellows for the University of Tampa, the board of directors for The Spring of Tampa Bay, the St. Petersburg College’s College of Business Advisory Committee and volunteer fundraiser for Rock Solid All-Star Cheerleading.

Bello was named St. Petersburg Chamber Business Woman of the Year for 2011 and Best Moms of the Bay for 2012.

Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

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