Staff Reports - 3/58 - SaintPetersBlog

Staff Reports

Vern Buchanan talks jobs with restaurant owners

Jobs and the economy drove the discussion Wednesday when Vern Buchanan met with a group of nearly a dozen restaurant owners from Sarasota and Manatee counties.

The Sarasota Republican congressman listened as the entrepreneurs discussed some of the financial challenges facing their businesses during the meeting at the Holiday Inn Sarasota-Airport.

Buchanan’s meeting comes on the heels of a study released this week ranking Bradenton one of the best small cities in the U.S. to start a small business. According to the personal finance website WalletHub, Bradenton was ranked 114th out of 1,261 small cities around the country. Sarasota came in at 391.

Buchanan, a successful businessman before entering Congress, has called for an overhaul and simplification of the tax code to lower rates for individuals and small businesses.

“When our small businesses succeed, the Suncoast succeeds,” he told the group. “Your hard work helps to drive our economy and create jobs.”

John Horne, chief executive officer of Anna Maria Oyster Bar in Bradenton, was among the attendees.

“It’s nice to have a businessman representing us in Congress,” Horne said. “Congressman Buchanan understands these issues well.”

Buchanan represents Florida’s 16th Congressional District, which includes Manatee County, along with parts of Sarasota and Hillsborough counties.

The area’s 1,500 restaurants employ more than 29,000 people in Buchanan’s district, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Buchanan also updated the group on his “Main Street Fairness Act,” a proposal to make sure that no small business in the country pays a higher tax rate than large corporations. The legislation picked up bipartisan steam earlier this month when Sens. Bill Nelson and Susan Collins of Maine introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

“Tax reform will generate enormous economic growth and create jobs,” Buchanan said.

Buchanan (middle, white shirt) addresses the group

St. Vincent de Paul accused of racial discrimination after firing African-American employee

Michael Raposa of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul South Pinellas

A well-known Tampa Bay-area charity and thrift store operator is facing accusations of racial discrimination after firing an African-American veteran program officer.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic charity founded in France in the 1830s.

St. Vincent’s South Pinellas chapter operates a thrift store at 384 15th St. N, S in St. Petersburg, which is used for support services in Tampa for veteran families. Michael Raposa serves as St. Vincent’s executive director. Edi Erb, a former executive director of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative, serves as director of supportive services for veteran families.

St. Vincent de Paul hired Bryan Sullivan in 2015 as a program officer for supportive services in 3010 N. Boulevard in Tampa to help homeless veterans. Erb was his supervisor.

Less than three months later, executive director Raposa fired Sullivan.

According to a suit filed April 3 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Sullivan cites two reasons for his dismissal: he is an African-American at a charity Sullivan says prefers a white staff, and, as a U.S. Army combat veteran, was considered “too military.”

The termination came on the same day Sullivan told Raposa and others he had filed a discrimination claim with the federal government.

Court records suggest Sullivan could be 47-year-old Valrico resident Bryan Oneil Sullivan, who had been arrested in 2010 for sexual battery, for violating probation in 2011, and faced a complaint in 2005 for dating violence by Amanda Voigt. The dating violence petition was denied.

Also named in the suit is Modern Business, a St. Petersburg firm providing outsourced human resources. Sullivan’s complaint lists the company and St. Vincent de Paul as co-employers.

Notably, Sullivan filed his discrimination complaint not with the EEOC but with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, which provides St. Vincent de Paul federal funds to assistant veterans.

In the past, St. Vincent de Paul has faced other legal actions, including a racial discrimination suit. A chef claimed in 2014 he was fired for being African-American, as well as a store manager suing for overtime, and a cashier accused a supervisor of sexual harassment.


Pinellas nurses may have allowed spoiled vaccines to go to low-income kids

Board-certified pediatrician Stephen George Nelson

Two nurses at a Pinellas County pediatric clinic serving low-income children are accused of allowing distribution of damaged vaccines. A court filing suggests they may have also deceived state regulators of the spoiled medication.

Board-certified pediatrician Stephen George Nelson founded a pediatric medical practice in 1981. As of April 2017, Dr. Nelson, 67, has five pediatricians working for his practice with three locations in St. Petersburg and Seminole.

Pinellas Park resident Shannon Rochelle Best, 37, is a licensed practical nurse who works (or had worked) for Nelson. She now is at Peninsula Pediatrics. Mary Muhlstadt Bottieri, 53, is a licensed practical nurse from St. Petersburg who also employed by Nelson at one time. Now, she serves as a nurse manager at Peninsula Pediatrics.

Nelson issued free vaccines to low-income child patients through the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program.

Nurses Bottieri and Best were instructed to collect daily temperature data from the vaccines’ storage units, and notify a state monitoring agency if temperatures “exceeded or fell below the accepted temperature variation range,” and mark all damaged dosages ‘Do Not Use.’

According to an April 11 complaint filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Nelson claims in 2016 the two nurses intentionally did not alert state regulators of the VFC program of unacceptable temperature variations, as well as failing to mark the spoiled dosages “Do Not Use.”

Court records do not show the number, if any, of VFC patients who actually received the damaged vaccines, whether they suffered any adverse effects, and if (or when) patients’ parents were informed of the situation. Nelson is seeking damages for alleged wrongdoing.

Although the lawsuit does not indicate how the plaintiff suffered as a result of the allegedly wrongful actions, possible consequences include removal from the VFC program, lawsuits from VFC patients, federal fines and other complications.


Newspaper ad calls on Governor to appoint non-hunter to state wildlife agency

Florida animal welfare activists are calling Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a non-hunter to a vacancy on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

On Wednesday, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) ran an advertisement in the Tallahassee Democrat urging Scott to appoint either a nature photographer, a bird-watcher, or an individual with a background in wildlife conservation to the FWC.

A similar ad ran in Sunday and Monday’s papers, and also run Thursday as well, the final day of an FWC meeting in the town of Havana, north of Tallahassee.

The ad is also available at

Featuring an image of a black bear, the ad has a headline, “Florida’s wildlife belongs to all Floridians.” At this week’s meeting, the FWC will once again discuss bear management. In 2015, the FWC approved a black bear hunt despite strong public opposition. It was the first bear hunting season in Florida in 21 years.

“It is time that the FWC has a Commissioner who represents nature photographers, birders, hikers and other ‘nonconsumptive’ users of Florida’s fish and wildlife,” said Don Anthony, ARFF’s Communications Director. “Most residents of Florida are not hunters, yet the FWC has long been dominated by individuals with a hunting background.”

Nature photography, along with bird-watching, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking are the fastest-growing outdoor activities in America.

According to the FWC’s own numbers, “wildlife viewing” has a much greater economic impact in Florida than hunting.

ARFF believes the appointment of a photographer, birder, or wildlife advocate would add an important perspective to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Daniel Sohn announces Agriculture Commissioner bid

A South Florida Democrat has announced he plans to run for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018.

Daniel Sohn announced Wednesday he was throwing his hat in the race to replaced Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in two years. In a 2 minute and 30 second video announcing his intentions, Sohn he plans to meet with Floridians, business and environmental groups about how to improve the state.

“Now there is no harm in recognizing that the success of Florida’s economy lies within the agricultural industry, for after all it is Florida’s economic engine,” he said in the video. “But Florida deserves a leader that can continue focusing on the needs of our industries, while beginning to do what Florida should have already been doing best — taking care of our people.”

Sohn is expected to kick-off a statewide tour at the Democratic Veterans Caucus of Palm Beach County meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Guatemalan Mayan Center in Lake Worth. He’s expected to attend the Broward Democratic Progressive Caucus meeting in Plantation on Thursday, before attending the South West Florida Clean Water Festival in Fort Myers Beach on Sunday.

This won’t be the first time Sohn has sought public office. While he initially expressed interest in running for Dania Beach City Commission in 2016, records show he failed to qualify for the spot on the ballot. Instead he ran for the Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation board, losing that election to Matthew Bymaster.

According to the campaign’s Facebook page, Sohn current serves as the district aide to Palm Beach County Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Pat Edmonson. Edmonson, according to a news release Wednesday, is coordinating his campaign.

Sohn will be the second Democrat to jump into the race to replace Putnam, who can’t run again because of term limits. State records show Michael Damian Christine filed to run for the seat on April 11.

Republicans Denise Grimsley and Paul Paulson have already to file to run for the seat, and Matt Caldwell is widely expected to file to run later this summer.

Personnel note: Alex Burgos departing Marco Rubio’s office, joining TechNet as VP

Alex Burgos, one of Sen. Marco Rubio’s longest serving aides, is leaving Rubio’s office to join the tech industry.

TechNet, a network of technology CEOs and executives, announced Wednesday that Burgos would serve as its vice president of federal policy, government relations and communications. The move was first reported by POLITICO Florida.

“As a seasoned veteran of Capitol Hill and federal campaigns at all levels, Alex brings a wealth of policy experience, deep relationships, and strategic vision to TechNet,” said Linda Moore, the president and CEO of TechNet in a statement. “We are excited to welcome Alex to the TechNet team and believe his wide range of skills, experience, and insights will take our federal advocacy programs to new levels of success.”

Burgos joined Rubio’s team when the Miami Republican was first running for office, serving as his campaign’s communications director. He would go on to serve in the same role in Rubio’s U.S. Senate office. Prior to working for Rubio, the Miami native served as the senior communications manager for the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a deputy press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

“TechNet’s members include breakthrough startups and the most storied, life-changing technology companies on the planet, and I am excited to join the TechNet team to help keep America’s innovation economy growing and creating more good-paying jobs,” said Burgos in a statement. “Serving Senator Rubio and my home state of Florida has been the honor of a lifetime, and now I’m thrilled to partner with TechNet’s members to advance the policies that will spur the next chapter of America’s incredible innovation story.”

TechNet’s members include Apple, Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Google, Lyft, and Microsoft. The organization bills itself as a “national bipartisan network of technology CEOs and senior executives that promotes the growth of the innovation economy advocating a targeted policy agenda at the federal and 50-state level.”

Burgos first day at TechNet is April 25.

Scott Arceneaux joining Andrew Gillum campaign

Scott Arceneaux, the former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, is joining Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign as a chief strategist.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Scott Arceneaux to our growing campaign for Governor. Scott brings a wealth of knowledge and savvy about the Sunshine State to our team, and I’m excited to welcome him as our chief strategist,” he said in a statement, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida.

“Over the years he has fearlessly led the Florida Democratic Party on the fights that matter: securing and protecting affordable healthcare; standing up for every Floridian no matter where they come from or who they love; and protecting our natural resources and environment. I can’t wait for him to join us on this journey to win back the Governor’s Mansion in 2018.”

Arceneaux, who had served as the executive director since 2009, announced he was resigning in January. The announcement came just weeks after Stephen Bittel was elected chairman of the state party.

Hired in 2009 by Karen Thurman, Arceneaux stayed on as the executive director during the tenures of Rod Smith and Allison Tant.

While he was praised for setting fundraising records, expanding staff, and building a strong digital and communications program, Arceneaux was criticized for what he couldn’t do — win many statewide elections despite having a voter-registration advantage.

“I have been fortunate to call Scott a mentor and friend ever since he came to Florida. His instincts, strategy, and leadership are unmatched,” said Lydia Claire Brooks. “The Gillum team is lucky to have him — there is absolutely no one better.”

Prior to joining the Florida Democratic Party, Arceneaux served as a general consultant for the Democratic Governors’ Association, was the national political director for Chris Dodd’s presidential campaign; and has served as campaign manager for congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns.

The Gillum campaign’s announcement about Arceneaux comes just hours after Orlando Democrat Chris King announced another round of hires for his 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

Sam Rashid once again getting grief over social media, sues ex-employee for Facebook post

Sam Rashid

Tampa’s Sam Rashid is once again facing grief over social media. This time, a Facebook post by a former employee is causing trouble for the Republican firebrand.

Samad Sultan Rashid, better known locally as Sam Rashid, is a 55-year-old businessperson, conservative activist and former member of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

A native of Pakistan who converted to Catholicism from Islam, Rashid now serves as CEO and co-owner of Brandon-based Divine Designs Salon & Spa, as well as president of Plant City-based Holtec, which sells commercial-grade saws. He is married to Geri Rashid.

Rashid is suing Jacqueline Lilley, 21, a former employee of Divine Designs.

In a series of Facebook posts last month, Lilley criticized Divine Designs, her old employer, calling the owners “thieves,” and urging current staff to “GET OUT NOW.” She said the company’s owner sent a “damn email” warning staff to stop social-media contact with employees who had left the salon on “bad terms.”

Jacqueline Lilley, former employee of Divine Designs Salon

The now-deleted post received at least 39 comments and 14 reactions.

Rashid, as the owner of the salon, is complaining that Lilley’s post falsely “accused [him] of committing a crime.” In an April 11 filing in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Rashid is seeking damages for defamation.

Rashid is far from a stranger to incendiary Facebook posts.

In June 2014, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Rashid, a high-profile GOP supporter, to the Hillsborough County Aviation Board. In September 2015, Rashid, an avid anti-tax activist, attacked Tampa businessperson Beth Leytham for her involvement in the “Go Hillsborough” transportation initiative, funded by the county government. Hillsborough had been considering increasing sales taxes to build new roads, improve bridges and expand mass transit.

In a Facebook post from Sept. 2, 2015, Rashid called Leytham a “taxpayer-subsidized slut,” suggesting she had “intimately close relationships” with two county and one city officials.

After a wave of outrage and mounting pressure on Scott to remove him, Rashid voluntarily resigned Oct. 9, 2015. In his resignation letter, he did not apologize for making the slur.

“Really, you guys will simply not let the past rest,” Rashid later told the Tampa Bay Times. “Every time there’s an article or statement or my name comes up, it’s always going to refer back to this ridiculous situation.”

Rashid added that he intended “slut” to be a political slur — not a sexual one.

Tourism trends on tap at Tampa Downtown Partnership event May 2

As Florida’s largest industry, tourism is a major economic driver in both downtown Tampa and the entire region.

Official estimates put the number of visitors to Hillsborough County at nearly 22-million annually, with $3.6 billion in spending and supporting more than 48,000 hospitality-related jobs, making it a significant sector of Tampa Bay’s economy.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership will examine the latest trends in tourism and future growth in “Downtown Debriefing Series: Trends in Tourism,” scheduled Tuesday, May 2, at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 513 S. Florida Ave. in Tampa.

Trends in Tourism features a discussion with Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay and Maryann Ferenc, incoming board chair of VISIT FLORIDA.

Networking and registration begin at 7:30 a.m.; continental breakfast and program start at 8 – 9 a.m.

Members of the media are welcome to attend as guests of Tampa Downtown Partnership, with RSVPs for complimentary registration through Kelsy Van Camp.

Donald Trump’s election helped put sale of Clearwater flight school up in the air

Delays in approval from the Department of Homeland Security after the election of Donald Trump has stymied the sale of a Clearwater flight school when the prospective new owner backed out of the deal and now faces breach of contract.

Feng Jian Xin, a California resident, agreed to buy Clearwater Aviation Academy in 2016, along with its seven planes for $275,000.

Part of the deal hinged on Academy, at 4303-11 General Howard Dr., receiving certification from Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which oversees “nonimmigrants whose primary reason for coming to the United States is to be students.”

After the 9/11 terror attacks, the U.S. has put increased scrutiny, screening and tracking foreign students at flight schools, particularly after it was discovered some of the hijackers had attended flight schools in the U.S.

In March 2017, Feng told plaintiffs Clearwater Aviation and Global Aircraft Acquisitions LLC he did not plan to close the deal, possibly because Homeland Security had not yet ruled on Clearwater Aviation’s application.

According to a breach-of-contract lawsuit filed April 3 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, the flight school says Feng had no reason to abandon the deal because Clearwater was actively working to obtain the SEVIS authority through a third party.

Court documents show Clearwater Aviation had told Feng Jian Xin that “immigration upheaval” in Washington was the reason for delays in approval from Homeland Security,

“The election of President Trump has created a chaotic and unpredictable environment within DHS and upheaval regarding all immigration-related issues … Clearwater Aviation is involved in discussions with another holder of SEVIS authority that may be willing to allow that authority to be used for Clearwater Aviation Academy.”

On March 27, 2017, Steven Fox, representing Clearwater Aviation, wrote: “This transaction is not like buying a new car. You can’t just walk into the dealership, pick the model and options, pay the price and drive away. This is a living, breathing business that changes and grows from day to day. You don’t have the staff you need or even a place to do business. Going back to the new car analogy, you can’t drive and don’t have a driver.”

“I now have SEVIS authority available,” Fox added. “I think SEVIS is a non-issue.”

According to public records, Feng paid $1.75-million in 2015 for a 10-acre, 8,748-square-foot home in San Diego County. Records also show Tampa attorney Xuesong Alex Yu represented Feng in negotiations with Clearwater Aviation.

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