Phil Ammann - 6/393 - 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 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.

Two foreclosure actions face former Nelson Poynter estate, Tampa Bay’s classiest ‘party house’

Fazal Abbas Fazlin

Two friends are facing off in court over a defaulted loan secured by an old estate of the late St. Petersburg Times owner Nelson Poynter, once valued at nearly $10 million.

Fazal Abbas Fazlin is a 66-year-old engineer and a native of Pakistan.

In 2008, a New York Times column by Roger Cohen profiled Fazlin, a millionaire entrepreneur, Muslim, Republican and Richard Nixon fan who backed Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.

In 1999, Fazlin and then-wife Christina Marie Fazlin paid just over $2-million for a five-acre, 10,442-square-foot waterfront home in St. Petersburg’s Jungle Shores neighborhood once owned by Poynter.

Christina Fazlin relinquished her share of the home to Fazal in 2002, as part of their divorce. Christina, who now serves as president of Backbone Worldwide, married Burke Francisco Hedges in 2005, taking the name Christina Hedges.

Around 2014, Fazlin put the estate — which the Tampa Bay Times called Tampa Bay’s classiest ‘party house’ — up for sale, asking $9.9-million. The 2015 Times article reported the asking price had lowered to just under $6-million.

The Tampa Bay Times described the mansion as featuring “a football-field-long coastline, an infinity-edge pool, an air-conditioned five-car garage and a 250-foot dock,” with a “massage room and sauna, a home theater, custom his-and-her closets and a 1,200-bottle wine cellar.”

Kelly Schmidt

Kelly Schmidt, 56, lives in a Belleair Shores home appraised by the county at $2.6-million and priced at $4.6-million, according to Zillow.com.

Tampa Bay Magazine reported that Kelly Schmidt and her husband Bob Schmidt — the current mayor of Belleair Shores — sailed from Brazil to St. Petersburg with Fazal Fazlin and another couple.

In 2015, Bob Schmidt sued Kelly for divorce; the case is unresolved as of May 2017.

In 2016, Kelly Schmidt issued a short-term, $232,000 loan to her friend Fazal Fazlin. The original terms of the loan were that it would be paid off within four months.

Fazlin used his mansion as collateral for the loan.

Nevertheless, according to a lawsuit filed May 5 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Schmidt says Fazlin never made any payments. Kelly Schmidt is seeking the whole sum, plus interest.

However, Pinellas court records show that Bank of America previously filed suit on Fazlin’s mansion, after Fazlin secured a $2-million line of credit in 2002, also using the home as collateral. He later defaulted on the credit line.

A complaint in January 2016 said Fazlin, along with his ex-wife Christina Hedges, owed $2-million in principal plus more than a year’s worth of interest and late charges. It is unclear whether Hedges deserves to be named in the suit since she was no longer on the deed.

Despite that, the lender was able to obtain a default judgment against Hedges. The ongoing foreclosure case against Fazlin is on the docket for a nonjury trial scheduled Sept. 28.

Since Bank of America — or its successor — holds the first mortgage on Fazlin’s waterfront mansion, it’s unlikely Kelly Schmidt will successfully foreclose.

Ryan Yadav mulling Democratic run for attorney general

Winter Park attorney Ryan Yadav said Tuesday he is contemplating a Democratic run for Florida attorney general.

Yadav ran unsuccessfully last year for the House District 30 seat. Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes won re-election, beating him, 53 to 47 percent.

“I have recently been contacted by people throughout the State encouraging me to run for Attorney General in 2018. I am seriously considering the venture and will make a decision over the summer,” Yadav declared in a message to Orlando-Rising.com. “Based upon my qualifications, trial experience, and fire in the belly — If I run I will win!”

The only declared candidate in the attorney general’s race so far is Republican state Rep.  Jay Fant of Jacksonville.

Yadav’s race against Cortes last year was largely self-funded, with $75,000 in personal loans, plus about $23,000 in donations. Cortes hugely outspent him, with more than $370,000, and also received indirect support from the Republican Party of Florida and other organizations. Yadav received a few endorsements, including from school groups and unions, but little money.

Yadav, who turns 33 at the end of the month, has his own law firm in Sanford, practicing mostly criminal defense law, though he said he also practices a wide range of law.

“I feel that I have, in all candor, more legal experience, varied legal experience, than the past three attorney generals combined. And the Republican candidate has only done legal work for a bank,” he said, referring to Fant.

But Yadav also cautioned that he has a lot to contemplate before deciding to run, including whether he can assemble fundraising and grass-roots support for a statewide race.

“I’m not naive to the challenges of running a statewide campaign,” he said. “But I think it is within reason.”

Rick Scott announces seven state board appointments

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced seven appointments and reappointments to a variety of state boards.

Florida Real Estate Commission

Scott began by naming Randy Schwartz to the Florida Real Estate Commission, a seven-member board that administers and enforces real estate license law.

Schwartz, 67, of Winter Springs, is a private practice attorney. He fills a vacant seat for a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Florida Citrus Commission

Scott then reappointed Francisco Pines to the Florida Citrus Commission, a nine-member panel to represent citrus growers, processors and backers.

Pines, 41, of Miami, is the co-owner of Pines Ranch, Inc. and a managing partner at Francisco J. Pines, P.A. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from St. Thomas School of Law. Pines is reappointed for a term beginning ending May 31, 2019.

District Board of Trustees, St. Johns River State College

Scott next appointed Samuel Garrison to the District Board of Trustees, St. Johns River State College.

Garrison, 40, of Fleming Island, is an attorney at Kopelousos, Bradley and Garrison, P.A., and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney of the 4th Judicial Circuit of Florida. He received his bachelor’s degree from Samford University and his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. Garrison succeeds Cranford Coleman for a term ending May 31, 2018.

District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville

Scott announced one appointment and one reappointment to the District Board of Trustees, Florida State College at Jacksonville, a nine-member board of appointees.

David “Hunt” Hawkins, 58, of Jacksonville, is the CEO of Stein Mart, Inc., and previously served as a member of the program advisory council to DECA, Inc. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee and his master’s degree from the University of West Florida. Hawkins succeeds Thomas Bryan for a term ending May 31, 2019.

Thomas “Mac” McGehee, Jr., 57, of Jacksonville, is the executive vice president at Mac Papers, Inc., and received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. He is reappointed for a term also ending May 31, 2019.

All the above appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority

finally, Scott reappointed Dr. Peter A. Wish and John Stafford to the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority, the public agency that operates and manages the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport.

Wish, of Sarasota, is the president of Gulfcoast Healthstyle Corp. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in psychology from Boston College. Wish is reappointed for a term ending Nov. 17, 2020.

Stafford, of Sarasota, is a former chairman of the board for FCCI Mutual Insurance Company and previously served on the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children. He is reappointed for a term also ending Nov. 17, 2020.

Florida retailers expect record breaking Mother’s Day in 2017

Florida retailers believe moms will get a lot of love this year, as consumers are set to spend record numbers for Mother’s Day in 2017.

According to the Florida Retail Federation (FRF), consumers will spend more than ever on gifts for Mother’s Day this year, reaching $23.6 billion. The state’s leading retailer trade association expect a whopping $186.39 per mom on average this year, up from last year’s $172.22 average.

“We are extremely encouraged by the record high projections for Mother’s Day shopping this year which not only shows the great appreciation we have for moms but also the overall confidence of our consumers and strength of our economy,” said Florida Retail Federation CEO and President R. Scott Shalley. “Florida’s retailers are constantly rising to meet the demands of their consumers and that will be no different this year as they are preparing for this very exciting and busy holiday.”

A review from the National Retail Federation, conducted by Prosper Insights and Analytics, show per-person spending in 2017 will be the highest in the survey’s 14-year history.

Estimates say shoppers will spend $5 billion on jewelry, $4.2 billion on special outings such as dinner or brunch, $2.6 billion on flowers, $2.5 billion on gift cards, $2.1 billion on clothing, $2 billion on consumer electronics, and $1.9 billion on personal services.

The most significant increases from last year are in jewelry spending, which is up 19 percent, and personal services, up 15 percent.

Shopping habits also differ based on the age of both the consumer and the recipient.

For example, the survey shows “gifts of experience,” such as concert tickets, will have a 28 percent rise — with nearly half the consumers surveyed under 35 years of age plan on giving such a gift.

Thirty-five percent of consumers will shop at department stores; 31 percent will head to specialty stores such as florists, jewelers or electronic stores; 24 percent will shop at a small local business. Thirty percent of consumers expect to buy online, up from 27 percent last year.

The survey asked 7,406 consumers about Mother’s Day plans, conducted April 4-11 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.2 points.

Gwen Graham works a shift with Operation New Hope, helping ex-offenders

Gwen Graham’s latest Workday focused on efforts to find affordable housing, workforce training and family reintegration for ex-offenders.

The newly announced Democratic candidate for governor worked Wednesday with Operation New Hope in Jacksonville.

“The ex-offenders I met today are working to put their lives back on track. They just want a second chance at becoming contributing members of their community — and Operation New Hope is giving them that chance,” Graham said in a statement. “Operation New Hope serves as an example for reintegration programs throughout our state and nation. Jacksonville is fortunate to have such a great organization, and I am fortunate to have spent the day working with them.”

As part of the Workday, the former North Florida congresswoman worked alongside Jarvis Guthrie, an ex-offender who now works with Operation New Hope as a recruitment coordinator. Guthrie spoke with Graham about the importance the program has had in his life.

“I am not a label of crime, but a product of second chances,” Guthrie said.

Founded in 1999, Operation New Hope placed more than 2,500 ex-offenders back into the workforce. The organization helped to “break the cycle” for as many as 7,200 children of ex-offenders, who are more likely to become offenders themselves. Operation New Hope also helped to build or restore 80 homes.

“Gwen has proven through her leadership that she has concern and care for all of Floridians,” said Kevin Gay, CEO and founder of Operation New Hope. “She understands Operation New Hope does more than help individuals — it’s an investment in our entire state’s future.”

Bay News 9 to launch new weekly Sunday roundtable with Florida’s opioid crisis

Allison Walker-Torres

Florida’s growing heroin opioid epidemic is the debut topic of “In Focus with Allison Walker-Torres” a new 30-minute public affairs program from Bay News 9.

In Focus will be a weekly roundtable beginning Sunday, May 14, at 11:30 a.m. on Florida’s Spectrum Networks Bay News 9 in Tampa and News 13 in Orlando.

On her first show, Walker-Torres will discuss the opioid epidemic which led Gov. Rick Scott to recently declare a statewide public health emergency. She will be joined by Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood and Assistant State Attorney Dan Faggard to discuss what is being done and will need to happen to make progress on the crisis.

Part of the program will also feature a mother’s firsthand account of the effects of drug addiction on families; she had lost both her son and grandson to the epidemic.

During the show, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office will also air a special message.

In Focus will tackle one topical issue per week, and feature a weekly roundtable of newsmakers to provide a range of perspectives, including local officials and expert analysts. In Focus will re-air Sundays at 8:30 p.m. on Channels 9, 1009 and Channel 1209 in Tampa.

Walker-Torres is a three-time Emmy-award winning reporter/anchor, who has been with Bay News 9 since 2007. After serving as weekend anchor desk at Bay News 9, she has become a full-time reporter/field anchor for Bay News 9, and a contributor to News 13 in Orlando.

 

Suncoast Tiger Bay to perform 2017 Session post-mortem

As the 2017 Session grinds to a halt, with only one piece of unfinished business left for Monday, lawmakers now enter the traditional post-mortem phase.

On Thursday, The Suncoast Tiger Bay Cub hosts its 2017 Legislative Wrap-Up, the annual gathering for members and constituents to ask questions and (hopefully) get some answers on the 60-plus-day Session, and how it will impact both the region and Florida.

This year, Session went into overtime at 63 days, as lawmakers return to the Florida Capitol Monday to vote on a final state budget of $83 billion.

Held at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater in North St. Petersburg, the discussion – moderated by SaintPetersBlog’s Peter Schorsch – will include several members of the Tampa Bay-area delegation. Confirmed attendees include state Sens. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, and Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, and South Pasadena state Rep. Kathleen Peters.

Networking for the event begins 11:30 a.m.; luncheon and the program are from Noon to 1:15 p.m. the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater is at 12600 Roosevelt Blvd. In St. Petersburg. Admission is $25 for members; $35 for guests. RSVP deadline is Monday, May 8; more information and reservations are at tigerbay.org.

 

Coral Gables plastic bag ban will force lawsuit — exactly as planned

As A-Team’s Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith often says: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

If current momentum holds, starting May 9, Coral Gables will become the first Florida city to ban single-use plastic shopping bags.

It’s a move directly contradicting Florida law, which gives the state regulatory purview over the issue.

And Coral Gables’ ban, if successful, will no doubt provoke a lawsuit — exactly as planned.

Why? Among those happiest over the prospect of lawyering up — beyond trial attorneys, that is — are environmentalist groups, most notably the Surfrider Foundation.

Certainly, taxpayers will be less than enthused.

A lawsuit is one of two ways Surfrider sees Florida’s “ban the bag” movement going its way.

For Surfrider, Coral Gables in a lawsuit waiting to happen is fairly low stakes and low commitment, compared to traditional legislative channels.

In fact, Surfrider is so “stoked” about the prospect of having its day in Miami-Dade court that it offered to help with legal expenses.

With luck, one of Florida’s more activist judges will hear the case.

If not, well, it’s no big deal. Surfrider has a choice of 39 other Florida communities for legal provocations to ban the bag.

Eventually, they’ll win, right?

Surfrider, as with other similar activist groups, made its name by bringing lawsuit after lawsuit, litigating its way into the headlines.

But, remarkably, Surfrider does its work as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, which is prohibited from engaging in significant direct lobbying — something Surfrider does while paying next to nothing to do so.

Nevertheless, Surfrider does not hide the fact it is openly playing lawsuit roulette in Florida.

Also, Surfrider continues its local and state campaigns, in Florida and around the country, to force product bans (think bags, straws, balloons, water bottles and Styrofoam), energy moratoriums and other prescriptive policies. This is accomplished with impunity as a tax shield, effectively subsidized by the communities and taxpayers it seeks to regulate.

Surfrider engaged a similar tactic when it targeted Portsmouth, New Hampshire. As reported by the New Hampshire Political Buzz website, the group’s clear playbook was to search out a community willing to contradict state statutes, thereby drawing a lawsuit.

Coral Gable’s bag ban — on which the City Council votes Tuesday — includes a regressive bag tax on any paper bags grocers continue to distribute to shoppers.

Violations of the ban and tax requirements will be met, after an initial grace period, with $50 fines, which could graduate to $500 fines for repeat mistakes.

What about taxpayers and business owners who don’t like the prospect of Coral Gables thwarting Florida’s regulatory framework, while repressing consumer choice and bilking taxpayers for even more money?

Activists promise THEY’LL GET USED TO IT.

And maybe, just maybe, if the inevitable lawsuit breaks favorably, it will embolden other Florida activists, giving them a green light to pursue similar bans and tax policies in communities throughout the state.

Just as planned.

St. Pete to provide free grocery shuttle from Midtown to nearby Wal-Mart starting May 13

To address food insecurity in South St. Petersburg, the city will start offering free transportation from Midtown’s Tangerine Plaza to the nearest Wal-Mart supercenter at Central Plaza.

In February, Wal-Mart closed its Tangerine Plaza Neighborhood Market, one of the few major grocery stores servicing Midtown. The city will offer the free 13-week Midtown Grocery Pilot Program beginning Saturday, May 13 and continue Saturdays in May, June, July and August.

A mini-shuttle bus will transport up to 25 passengers from Tangerine Plaza, 1794 22nd St. S. to the Wal-Mart Supercenter, at 201 34th St. N., about 2.5 miles.

In a statement Tuesday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said the shuttle will be for those residents “facing transportation challenges,” and who relied on the former Tangerine Plaza Wal-Mart. The project is part of an effort to focus on food insecurity as the city measures the demand for a future grocery store in the Plaza.

The shuttle schedule will be between the hours of 9:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. every Saturday starting May 13. There will be four pickups at Tangerine Plaza, unless there is a traffic delay: departing the Plaza on the hour at 10 a.m.; 11 a.m.; Noon; and 1 p.m. The mini-shuttle will leave from the Wal-Mart Supercenter on the half-hour: at 10:30 a.m.; 11:30 a.m.; 12:30 p.m.; with the last departure at 1:30 p.m.

A driver will arrive at Tangerine Plaza at 9:45 a.m. and wait for passengers in the parking lot area near the overhang of the former Wal-Mart Neighborhood Store.

Kriseman said the city will distribute “Healthy St. Pete” cloth shopping bags four shuttle passengers along with a voluntary rider survey, to gauge need and usage of the service.

Gwen Graham calls on Rick Scott to veto ‘education-eviscerating’ budget

Hours after Florida lawmakers approved the new state spending plan, Gwen Graham is demanding Gov. Rick Scott veto the Legislature’s “education-eviscerating” budget.

In a statement Tuesday morning, the newly announced Democratic candidate for governor said, if elected, she would veto any budget that shortchanges Florida schools in favor of the “education industry.”

“For decades, Floridians have pleaded with their elected officials to support our public schools — but year after year, the legislature and governor abandon their responsibility to our children,” Graham said. “As a mother and PTA president, I saw firsthand how important every dollar is to Florida’s schools.”

Late Monday evening, legislators ended an extended 2017 legislative Session by approving an $83 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year beginning July 1. Critics argued the proposed spending plan is a significant blow to public education, with a modest $25 increase in PreK-12 schools per-student funding, much less than the $200 increase per student Scott requested.

Graham discussed her most recent “Workday” event last week at Miami Carol City Senior High, where the former congresswoman from Tallahassee worked alongside teachers “who struggle to pay off their personal student loans,” while spending their own money on school supplies.

“Once again, Republicans say this budget increases funding for students — but any teacher or parent can tell you it’s a lie,” Graham continued. “We haven’t yet recovered from Rick Scott’s first year of devastating education cuts, and now they want to reduce per-student funding to school districts even more.

“This terrible trend should end today with Governor Scott’s immediate veto of the budget and policy bill.”

“As governor,” she added. “I will veto any budget or policy that shortchanges our schools in favor of the education industry. I’ll cancel the legislature’s summer vacation and demand they start over from scratch. We no longer have time for rhetoric or games.

“Now is the time to hold Tallahassee politicians accountable and finally give our children the education they deserve.”

If Scott vetoes the entire state budget, lawmakers would have to return for a special session to recalculate. The governor has previously criticized cuts to incentive programs like VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida but has not gone as far as to publicly say he would veto the budget outright.

“I’m going to look at my options,” Scott told the Tampa Bay Times during a tour stop in Tampa Last week. “That’s an option I have. But what I do every year is I go through (the budget) and say what’s good for our Florida families? I represent everybody in the state, so I’m going to do what’s best for every family in the state.”

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