Staff Reports - 7/58 - SaintPetersBlog

Staff Reports

Tampa Bay Rowdies MLS chances improve as St. Louis rejects soccer stadium plan

Chances St. Petersburg will get a Major League Soccer expansion franchise improved Tuesday after voters in St. Louis rejected a proposal to use public money for a new soccer stadium.

For a city that just lost the NFL Rams, St. Louis residents could just not justify spending $60 million for a new stadium. The stadium plan lost by 3,000 votes, 47 to 53 percent.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, MLS commissioner Don Garber said he was “’confident’ St. Louis would get an expansion team in the league if the stadium got public financing.”

The league is looking to grow from 24 to 28 teams; two new clubs will be announced this year, teams will begin playing by 2020.

St. Louis was one of about dozen cities, including St. Petersburg, vying for an expansion team.

MLS representative Dan Courtemanche told the Post-Dispatch that the defeat was “clearly a significant setback for the city’s expansion opportunity and a loss for the community.”

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards promised the City of St. Pete that no taxpayer money would be used to expand Al Lang Stadium in his bid for an expansion slot.

Edwards also said he would pay the $150 million expansion fee.

St. Pete is holding a referendum May 2 to ask voters to allow the city to negotiate with Edwards for up to a 25-year lease for Al Lang Stadium. It is an essential part of the Rowdies receiving the MLS bid.


Jose Mallea raises $50K in three weeks in HD 116 race

Jose Mallea is starting off his state House run strong, raising more than $50,000 in three weeks his campaign announced Wednesday.

The Miami Republican announced in March he was running to replace Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. According to Mallea’s campaign, he raised $50,000 since filing to run for office on March 9. Campaign finance records weren’t immediately available on the state’s Division of Elections website.

“We are off to a strong start,” said Mallea. “I’m so grateful for the friends and community members who are excited about partnering with us in this campaign. I’m looking forward to continuing to work hard to get our conservative message of fiscal responsibility and job creation out to the hardworking families of District 116.”

Mallea, the owner of JM Global consulting, ran Sen. Marco Rubio’s successful U.S. Senate campaign in 2010. Prior to that, he served as chief of staff to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz. He’s also served stints with the federal government, working at the U.S. Department of State and the White House.

State records show Republican Daniel Anthony Perez has also filed to run for the seat.

Personnel note: Cynthia Hefren named CFO of VISIT FLORIDA

Cynthia Hefren is coming home: She will be VISIT FLORIDA‘s next chief financial officer, President & CEO Ken Lawson announced Wednesday.


Hefren most recently was Assistant State Audit Supervisor for the North Carolina Office of the State Auditor.

But she’s a Florida state government veteran, previously serving as:

— Director of Auditing for the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation.

— Executive Director of the Florida State Boxing Commission.

— Operations & Management Consultant Manager for the Florida Department of Children & Families, and

— Professional Accountant Specialist for the Florida Department of Corrections.

She starts her new job next Monday.

Hefren, a Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Information Systems Auditor, “has more than 25 years of experience in managing and leading audits to improve performance of government operations coupled with executive management experience in providing cost-effective oversight,” a press release said.

“As we work to increase transparency and accountability at VISIT FLORIDA, I am proud to appoint Cynthia as our new CFO,” Lawson said in a statement.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran targeted the state’s tourism marketing arm for stricter oversight after it refused to reveal a secret deal with Miami rap superstar Pitbull to promote Florida tourism, later revealed to be worth up to $1 million. The ensuing controversy cost former agency CEO Will Seccombe his job.

“While working with Cynthia at the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation, I saw first-hand her ability to effectively use taxpayer dollars,” Lawson said. “Cynthia’s decades of experience will help our organization remain competitive and continue to attract more visitors to Florida.”

Florida consumer sentiment in March hits pre-recession level

Consumer sentiment among Floridians rose last month to the highest level in 15 years, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey.

The reading of 99 in March was the highest since March 2002 and the second-highest since November 2000. The 5.2-point increase in March followed a dip in February, which ended the month with a revised reading of 93.8.

All five of the components that make up the index increased.

Perception of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago ticked up four-tenths of a point, from 88.1 to 88.5. Perceptions as to whether now is a good time to buy a major household item such as an appliance rose 3.8 points, from 99.7 to 103.5.

“The increase in these two components shows that current economic conditions improved among Floridians in March,” said Hector Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “In particular, women and those under age 60 displayed more optimistic perceptions.”

Expectations of personal finances a year from now rose 7.8 points from 99.5 to 107.3. Opinions of anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next year increased 7.2 points, from 92.0 to 99.2. Similarly, expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years rose 7.2 points, from 89.5 to 96.7.

“Overall, Floridians are far more optimistic in March than the previous month. The gain in March’s index came mainly from consumers’ future expectations about the economy. Importantly, these views are shared by all Floridians, independent of their demographic characteristics and socioeconomic status,” Sandoval said. “These expectations are particularly strong among women and those with an income under $50,000.”

Consumer sentiment at the national level also remained positive in March at 96.9, according to the University of Michigan’s survey of consumers.

In Florida, consumer sentiment may have been lifted by good economic news. The Florida labor market has continued expansion, adding jobs on a monthly basis for more than six years.

The unemployment rate in Florida remained unchanged at 5 percent in February, the most recent figure available. Over the last year, the unemployment rate has remained stable: Between March and December 2016, the unemployment rate was 4.9 percent, and since January the rate has been 5 percent.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Florida ranked third of all states in the country in personal income growth, with a growth rate of 4.9 percent in personal income between 2015 and 2016. The main contributor to this change came from net earnings, which includes wages, salaries and supplements but excluding contributions for government social insurance.

Nationwide, economic activity and the labor market has continued to expand and strengthen, and household spending has risen. As a consequence, last month the Federal Open Market Committee decided to raise the federal funds rate to a target range of 0.75 to 1 percent.

“In general, the economic outlook is very positive and the positive sentiment will aid the economy to expand even further,” Sandoval said.

Conducted March 1-30, the UF study reflects the responses of 507 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross-section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at

Longtime Pasco Property Appraiser’s Office employee retires

Pasco County’s Property Appraisers office is announcing the retirement of longtime Customer Service Representative Virginia “Ginny” Orlando.

Orlando, a Port Richey resident who has been with the office for 10 years, retired as of March 24, 2017.

According to a statement from Pasco Property Appraiser Gary Joiner’s office: “Over the years, Ginny contributed a lot to the organization. She has been an outstanding professional of the Property Appraisers Office. She has a helping nature and always dedicated to the customers as well as her co-workers. Ginny contributed to our success in many ways. Although, we all will miss her in the future, she now deserves time for family and personal interests. On behalf of the whole staff, we wish her a happy future.”


HART, trucking company face off over public records for evidence in 2015 crash

A 2015 accident between a tractor-trailer and a Hillsborough County bus has set off a legal dispute over the right to access public records.

As part of the disagreement, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority Agency is claiming footage shot inside the bus during the crash, necessary to help exonerate the owner of the tractor-trailer, is confidential and cannot be released.

ArcBest is an Arkansas-based publicly traded transportation logistics company, with revenues of $2.7-billion in fiscal year 2016.

On Sept. 2, 2015, a tractor-trailer owned by ArcBest was involved in an accident with a HART bus near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and N. 40th Street in Tampa.

Two claims arose from the accident, faulting ArcBest.

As part of its defense, the company asked HART to provide several pieces of evidence – including video footage shot inside the bus. In response, HART had produced “minimal” records January 30, 2017, with other documents issued March 16. However, no video evidence was provided.

In a suit filed March 21 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, ArcBest alleges HART admitted such video exists, but rejected ArcBest’s request three times, saying the footage is confidential and exempt from Florida’s Sunshine Laws pertaining to public records.

According to the suit: “The video footage from the inside of the bus on the date of the accident is critical to determine the facts related to the alleged injuries sustained by the claimants against Plaintiff and represent the only and best evidence of how such alleged injuries were sustained.”

Court records obtained from HART by include detailed descriptions of the accident, names of both drivers and those of several passengers claiming injury and/or sought compensation, as well as photos of the bus’s exterior damage, correspondence between attorneys and ArcBest, and other info.

In addition, records suggest police blamed the accident on the tractor-trailer driver.

Nevertheless, ArcBest is asking for the court to force HART to release the video, saying it “could prevent unnecessary litigation and the costs associated with same for both Plaintiff and the two claimants.”

Sarasota County, Airbnb agree on rental tax collections

Sarasota County has reached an agreement with online lodging and hospitality company Airbnb for the collection of Tourist Development Tax (TDT) for short-term rentals, a deal that will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue for the county.

The Sarasota County Commission Monday approved the voluntary collection agreement, in which the Sarasota County Tax Collector will begin the reporting, collection and remittance of applicable TDT funds, otherwise known as the “bed tax,” on Airbnb’s short-term rentals and accommodations starting May 1.

“We are pleased to have reached this agreement in collaboration with Tax Collector Barbara Ford-Coates,” said Sarasota County Administrator Tom Harmer. “This is an important revenue source the county uses to promote tourism and encourage economic growth for the benefit of our residents.”

Based on 2016 data, Airbnb has indicated that TDT revenue from bookings made in Sarasota County on the Airbnb platform were approximately $355,000.

“This agreement levels the playing field for all short-term rentals in Sarasota County by requiring Airbnb to collect and remit the Tourist Development Tax,” said Ford-Coates. “I’m glad we could reach this agreement, which will bring hosts into compliance and generate additional dollars for our community.”

The typical Sarasota County host earns $7,000 in annual supplemental income from sharing their home. Airbnb hosts throughout the state often utilize this supplemental income to pay their mortgages, settle student debt or fund their own personal vacations.

“Our 700-plus Sarasota County hosts want to pay their fair share in taxes, and we want to help,” said Tom Martinelli, Airbnb Florida Policy Director. “This deal will bring valuable new revenue to the county while making the tax remittance process seamless and easy for our host community.”

Airbnb has entered into voluntary collection agreements with the Florida Department of Revenue, which collects for 22 counties that do not collect their own tax, as well as individual agreements with Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk and Orange counties, and municipalities, including Orlando.

Hillsborough sheriffs look to keep drugs, money siezed after tasing suicidal man

Andres Eduardo Javage

After telling friends on Facebook he was suicidal, a Tampa man was tased by sheriff’s deputies, who found marijuana and money in the home. Now the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office is going to court to keep the cash.

Andres Eduardo Javage, 30, is a self-employed mechanic and the founder of Auto Nutrition in Tampa, which offers vehicle maintenance service at customer’s homes.

On Feb. 15, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call at 11422 Wheeling Dr. in Tampa, a home owned by Carlos Javage, for “possible domestic violence or a mentally ill person.”

At the scene, deputies say they noticed broken glass scattered around the southernmost window, and learned Andres Javage was inside the home, where he was warning friends through Facebook that he “planned to shoot himself.” A police report says that he also sent a message to a family member outside the home that he was “going to kill anyone that attempted to enter his residence.”

After Javage allegedly threatened the deputies, they decided to detain him “for his own protection” under Florida’s Baker Act.

When Javage didn’t fully comply, Deputy Dana Graham tasered him, and officers arrested him on charges of battery and assault on a police officer, possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, and intent to sell marijuana. A criminal report says Javage threw books out the door at police, suggesting it may be a reason for the ‘assault on a police officer’ charge.

Even though he was arrested, court records are not clear whether Javage ever was involuntarily committed under the Act. An online arrest report lists his address as 11217 Wheeling Dr., a home owned by Carlos and Carmen Javage.

“Given the nature of Javage’s threats,” deputies searched the residence, and found two large zip-lock bags containing nearly 1 pound of marijuana — which Javage explained was medical marijuana legally acquired in California — as well as $2,066, stacked and bound with rubber bands.

In a March 22 filing with the Hillsborough County Circuit Court, the HCSO is asking to keep the marijuana and cash under the state’s Contraband Forfeiture Act. As of March 28, Javage is still in jail awaiting trial.

Poll shows Floridians undecided on 2018 gubernatorial options

If the results of a new poll are any indication, Floridians just aren’t that interested the 2018 gubernatorial election.

The survey — conducted March 28 through March 29 by Gravis Marketing for The Orlando Political Observer — found 36 percent of Democratic voters and 63 percent of Republicans said they were uncertain who they would vote for in their respective primaries. The survey also showed many voters were still “uncertain” in several hypothetical head-to-head general election showdowns.

The poll of 1,453 registered voters, which was conducted using automated phone calls and web responses of cell phone users, has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

The poll found 24 percent of Democrats said they would pick former Rep. Patrick Murphy in the Democratic primary; while 23 percent said they would choose Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Orlando attorney John Morgan received 9 percent support, followed by former Rep. Gwen Graham with 8 percent support, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine with 1 percent.

On the Republican side, 21 percent of GOP voters said they would pick Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, while 5 percent support went to former Rep. David Jolly and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Sen. Jack Latvala received 4 percent, followed by former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker with 2 percent.

In a head-to-head match-up between Putnam and Gillum, Putnam would receive 32 percent of the vote to Gillum’s 31 percent. The poll found 37 percent were uncertain.

Morgan would best Putnam, 34 percent to 33 percent; however, 32 percent of voters said they were uncertain. Graham would defeat Putnam 34 percent to 32 percent; but in that instance, 35 percent said they were uncertain.

Gillum has a clear lead over Corcoran, 33 percent to 26 percent. But again, the poll found a significant number of voters — in this case 42 percent — said they were uncertain who they would vote for.

In a match-up between Morgan and Corcoran, Morgan would receive 39 percent of the vote to the Land O’Lakes Republican’s 27 percent. The poll found 34 percent were undecided. Graham, the poll found, would best Corcoran 34 percent to 29 percent; but 38 percent were undecided.

Florida Poll: Bill Nelson 52%, Rick Scott 37% in hypothetical 2018 U.S. Senate race

Sen. Bill Nelson holds a significant lead over Gov. Rick Scott in a hypothetical 2018 match-up, according to a new poll.

The survey — conducted March 28 through March 29 by Gravis Marketing for The Orlando Political Observer — found Nelson leads Scott, 52 percent to 37 percent. According to the poll, 12 percent of respondents said they were unsure who they would pick.

The poll of 1,453 registered voters, which was conducted using automated phone calls and web responses of cell phone users, has a margin of error of 2.6 percent.

That 15-point margin represents the largest spread Nelson has enjoyed in early polling. A recent Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted on behalf of the Florida Hospital Association showed a much closer race between the two men come 2018, with Nelson at 46 percent to Scott’s 44 percent.

Meanwhile, a poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce released in March showed Nelson had a 6-point lead over Scott, 48 percent to 42 percent.

That margin was similar to one predicted in a UNF Public Opinion Research Laboratory survey released earlier in the month that found Nelson would take 44 percent to Scott’s 38 percent. A Mason-Dixon survey showed Nelson with a 5-point edge over Scott, 46 percent to 41 percent.

Scott, who was elected in 2010, can’t run for governor in 2018 because of term-limits. He’s been boosting his national profile in recent months, and is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run.

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