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Legal briefs due soon in Florida Lottery appeal

Initial briefs are due early next month in the Florida Lottery’s appeal of a Tallahassee judge’s decision that invalidated its $700 million contract for new equipment.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers in March had invalidated the Lottery’s arrangement with IGT (International Game Technology), agreeing with House Speaker Richard Corcoran that the agency went on an illegal spending spree when it inked the deal last year.

Corcoran had filed a “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

His suit faulted the Lottery “for signing a contract that spends beyond existing budget limitations.” Gievers eventually agreed with House general counsel Adam Tanenbaum, who had said the deal broke state law.

Because Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie “lacked the legal authority to enter into the IGT contract, (it) must, therefore, be found to be void and unenforceable,” Gievers wrote.

Delacenserie tendered his resignation last week, effective June 2. His letter did not give a reason.

Gievers faulted the agency for, among other things, not first seeking the Legislature’s permission to enter into a deal that committed the state to as much as two decades’ worth of funding.

The new deal provides much more than equipment, with provisions for in-store signage, self-service ticket checkers and upgraded security in the communications network.

Lottery proceeds go into the state’s Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, which helps pay for public education.

Remembering men like Bob Clark is what Memorial Day is about

There has long been a well-meaning, but wrong, impression of Memorial Day. While the gesture of “honoring our veterans” in late May is a kind thought, veterans are not the ones to be cherished on this day.

The fundamental difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day is that veterans served until they became veterans. Those we collectively remember on Memorial Day gave their lives for this country. They were not able to choose when their military service would end.

The overwhelming majority of those sacrifices came from men who had not been men for very long. In today’s military, more women are being remembered for their sacrifices as well.

My father, whose name I share, returned from World War II after surviving a kamikaze attack that sunk his LST in 1944. His cousin, Harold R. “Bob” Clark survived that war, but not the next one.

Clark was called back into the Army in 1950 to fight in the undeclared Korean War. On February 12, 1951, he and others were captured after a fierce battle near Hoengsong, South Korea.

Over the next two months, the captives were marched to what was called permanent Camp 1 near the Yalu River in North Korea, just across from China. According to the Department of Defense, Bob died “from exhaustion and possible incipient pneumonia” shortly after arrival.

A precise date of death is not known, but he may well have died on Memorial Day, 1951. He was buried by fellow soldiers near the camp’s clinic.

In 1954, the North Koreans returned the remains of soldiers from Camp 1, with one tagged as Clark. Those remains were later positively identified as those of another soldier.

Bob Clark is still over there and among the many forgotten 8,200 missing and “presumed dead” from Korea. A national monument stands in Honolulu containing the names of those Americans, including PFC Harold Robert Clark. His family does not have the opportunity to plant a small flag next to his grave.

While the purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those we lost, we should also think about the survivors left behind. Clark, not even 30 years old, left behind a young widow named Geneva and an infant son, Harold, Jr.

Memorial Day is also about the tens of thousands of others like Geneva and Harold, Jr., those who carry on after tragedy strikes their family.

Clark’s son never had the opportunity to know his father. Geneva remarried and returned to her home state of Kentucky from Indiana. Harold, Jr. turned out well, spending his entire career working for a major university in Kentucky after earning a degree from that institution.

After spending years looking, I was able to finally locate him. We recently spoke, mostly about his father and some about mine, both natives of Seymour, Indiana. Both were part of the “Greatest Generation,” but only one had the chance to influence their baby boomer children.

Bob Clark knew a little something about growing up without a parent. In fact, he had it worse. His mother died unexpectedly when he was only 7 years old and his father had that title only in a biological sense.

So, to those of you sending good wishes to veterans like me or my late father for Memorial Day, thank you. But could I request that you embrace a kind thought for heroes like PFC Harold Robert Clark and the multitude of others who laid down their life in service to our country?

Together, we don’t have enough capital to repay them. All we can do is remember what they did.


Memorial Day Weekend brought to you by these lobbyists and associations

Summertime is here — well, almost.

While Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died while serving in the country’s armed forces, the holiday also marks the unofficial start to summer. And for many people, that means it’s time to start thinking about summer vacation.

More than 39.9 million Americans are expected to travel more than 50 miles away from home this Memorial Day, making one of the highest volume of travel since 2005, according to AAA – The Auto Club Group. A record number of Floridians are also expected to travel this weekend, with more than 2 million expected to take to the road, sky and water for a weekend getaway.

Planning a last-minute getaway? Maybe AAA’s in-house government affairs team of Kevin Bakewell and Karen Morgan can help you get a TripTik to help plan your trip and make sure your membership is up-to-date before you hit the road this weekend.

But AAA is about more than just roadside assistance. It has a huge advocacy program, reaching out to lawmakers to make sure the roads are safe for travelers. In Florida, that means enlisting the help of Chris Dudley, Paul Mitchell, and Monte Stevens with Southern Strategy Group; and Jennifer Wilson with Adams and Reese.

If air travel is more your thing, you aren’t alone. More than 2.9 million Americans are expected to travel by air this weekend, up 5.5 percent from last Memorial Day, according to a recent AAA report.

With millions of people flying into (and out of) the Sunshine State on a regular basis, Airline for America, the trade organization representing the principle U.S. airlines, has tapped Fred Baggett, Gus Corbella, Hayden Dempsey, Leslie Dughi and Fred Karlinsky with Greenberg Traurig to represent its interests before the Florida Legislature.

Once you get to your destination, you’ll need a place to stay. With hotels across the state, chances are there’s a Marriott brand wherever you’re headed this weekend. If you want some tips about where to stay, you might want to check with the company’s legislative lobby team of Slater Bayliss, Al Cardenas and Stephen Shiver with The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners; and Pete Dunbar, Martha Edenfield, Brittany Finkbeiner, and Cari Roth with Dean Mead.

If you’re looking for a place with a homier feel, then perhaps a vacation rental is more your style. State lawmakers tried to deregulate vacation rentals this year, but couldn’t get the measure across the finish line. Need some help finding a vacation rental this summer? Tom Martinelli and Viviana Jordan with Airbnb might be able to offer you some advice. When Martinelli and Jordan need a hand, they turn to Brian Bautista with Impact GR; and William Rubin, Amy Biscgelia, Christopher Finkbeiner, Matthew Sacco, and Heather Turnbull with The Rubin Group.

Vacationers can also head to HomeAway to the perfect rental for a weekend trip. If you’re looking for booking tips, maybe the company’s legislative lobby team of Jennifer Green, Melanie Bostick and Timothy Parson with Liberty Partners of Tallahassee, and Ron Pierce and Natalie King with RSA Consulting can offer up some suggestions.

If you want to spend the long weekend planning a getaway where everything is taken care of, then maybe cruising is for you. According to a recent report from the Florida Ports Council, Florida is home to the top three cruise ports in the world, with 62 percent of all U.S. cruisers sailing through a Florida port. The report found Florida seaports handled 15.5 million passengers in 2016.

Since the industry has such a big economic impact on the Sunshine State, it’s no wonder Cruise Lines International Association, the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, tapped Brian Ballard, Carol Bracy, David Browning, Bradley Burleson, Nelson Diaz, Matthew Forrest, and Sylvester Lukis with Ballard Partners; and Edgar Castro with Southern Strategy Group to represent it during the 2017 Legislative Session.

Whatever you do this weekend, take a moment to remember the real reason for Memorial Day. Originally called “Decoration Day,” the holiday was borne out of the Civil War and the desire to honor those people who died in service of the United States.

New York was the first state to officially recognize the holiday in 1873. It was officially dubbed Memorial Day under a federal law passed in 1967, and was moved to last Monday in May in 1971.

While the holiday commemorates those who have died in service to the country, it’s still fair to give a shout out to Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion? Bill Helmich with Helmich Consulting represents the Florida departments of the American Legion Auxiliary and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths for preschoolers

Florida ranks highest in the nation for drowning deaths of children under the age of four. A grim statistic to consider before heading out to the beach, lake or pool this Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the official start of the summer season and the best time to remind parents of the importance of teaching children about water safety.

Florida had the highest drowning rate in the nation for the under four age group with 7.5 per 100,000 population, according to 2013 statistics from the Florida Department of Health. Enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown each year in Florida and do not live to see their fifth birthday.

Most of those incidents occur in backyard pools and studies have shown that usually an adult was nearby, but not watching the child when they fell in the pool

Children growing up in Florida are surrounded by water, whether it’s a backyard pool, canal, lake or the ocean. That’s why Kelly Whittemore, founder of Swim Life, has devoted her career to teaching children how to swim.

Whittemore said children die in Central Florida because parents don’t realize how easy it is to get distracted when watching their children around water.

“A child can drown in the seconds it takes to return a text message,” said Whittemore, who has been teaching swim lessons for 25 years. “Hollywood has done us all a big disservice. They’ve made it look like there’s lots of splashing and noise involved. In reality, a child can slip in without a splash and there’s no noise. That’s how quickly and silently it happens.”

Whittemore said she believes every parent has the best of intentions when watching their children in the water, but there are so many distractions, like cellphones, text messages, alcohol and conversations with friends that interrupt their watch.

“So many parents sign up for swim lessons after a near miss,” she said. “They say, ‘all I did was answer a text or run inside because the oven was beeping.’”

Those interruptions are the reason Whittemore suggests every parent enroll their child in a water safety program early and often. She said swim lessons should be refreshed every year because as the child grows, so does their body.

“And before you open your home and pool to guests, be a responsible homeowner, host and parent — set pool rules, have life jackets on hand for kids who can’t swim and ensure they wear them at all times,” said Whittemore, who founded Swim Life, which has swim schools in seven states and Okinawa, Japan. “When pool barriers are open, an adult, one who can swim well, should be perched on deck with no phone and no alcohol in them, so their eyes can be on the pool and the kids in and around it.”

Swim Life offers lessons at several Central Florida locations. The 15-minute, one-on-one lessons are held four days a week for five weeks for a total of 20 lessons. The cost is $80 a week plus a $60 registration fee. Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the lessons.

The survival swim school started in 2012 with two locations in Lake Mary. Due to demand, they are expanding this summer and adding a third pool in Sanford, which will be indoor for year round lessons.

May and June are the most popular months for swim lessons and some of Swim First’s 21 instructors are already booked through July.

 Top 5 Tips for Pool Safety

— Designate a responsible adult to be a “water watcher” to ensure constant, attentive supervision of the pool — phone and alcohol-free

— Put a life jacket on anyone who can’t swim and float independently

— Use pool fences and latched gates at all times — never assume a child won’t wander into the pool unsupervised

— If a child goes missing, check the pool first. And make sure at least one adult knows CPR

— Enroll kids in lessons that teach independent swimming and floating — people don’t drown because they can’t swim; they drown because they can’t breath

Top 5 Tips for Beach Safety

— Look for a lifeguard stand, only swim on beaches with a lifeguard and swim as close to one as possible

— Put young or inexperienced swimmers in a life jacket

— Parents set up on the beach with a direct line of site to the water, and take a picture of your child in whatever he’s wearing — bright colors are easiest to spot on a busy beach

— Educate kids who can swim about rip currents by practicing with them how they should swim parallel to the shoreline

— Avoid swimming near plants and marine life

Photos courtesy of Swim Life.

Boats in Florida inching up after slumping all decade

Almost a decade after the number of boaters in Florida took a nosedive, the number of registered vessels is inching its way back up.

Florida Today reported Saturday that there were more than 95,000 fewer registered vessels in 2016 than a decade earlier.

That’s a 9.3 percent dip.

The number of boats in Florida bottomed out in 2013 at almost 897,000 vessels.

It has gradually increased over the past three years and that figure now stands at more than 931,000 boats.

Michele Miller of the Marine Industry Association of Florida says the number of boats tracks economic conditions.

It declined during the Great Recession and has bounced back with improving economic conditions.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Swan statue stolen by naked man has been found in Florida

A large, black-and-white checkered statue of a swan that was stolen in Florida by a naked man was found on Friday.

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says the statue was found by a 32-year-old man who was fishing on a pond in Lakeland. The man returned home from fishing Thursday and told his family about the statue. When they saw the news of the stolen statue on TV Friday, they called authorities.

Officials say the swan doesn’t appear to be damaged.

Surveillance video from May 19 showed a man holding a white bucket in front of his nude body as he tried to open doors at a storage center in Lakeland. The video showed him driving away from the storage center in a stolen truck with the swan.

The man was arrested in nearby Tampa, according to law enforcement. He’s charged with the theft of the truck – but isn’t talking about the swan, said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, during a news conference Friday.

The swan is named “Aspyre” and is valued at $25,000.

Investigators say they’ve found the truck that was reported stolen in a nearby county, but they still don’t know why the man was naked as he apparently tried to break into Lakeland Cold Storage. Ronald Thompson, 47, being held at the Hillsborough County Jail, with bail set at $2,000, and is being investigated for the swan theft.

During the news conference, Judd had a message for anyone who knew the swan’s whereabouts.

“Look folks. Where are you going to hide a five-foot tall, checkered swan? If someone’s harboring this swan and not telling us, we’re going to put them in jail. And we hope when we find them, they have clothes on,” Judd said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

‘Bad neighbor’ unplugs bounce house at girl’s birthday party

A Florida woman wants to know why someone unplugged a bounce house, causing it to deflate with nearly a dozen young children inside during her daughter’s first birthday party.

CBS 12  reports two children suffered minor injuries after they were briefly trapped under the heavy plastic during the May 21 party in the backyard of a home in Port St. Lucie, about 114 miles north of Miami.

The home’s surveillance video shows an older man briefly standing at the fence looking at the partygoers before unplugging a cord from an electric outlet on the side of the home as he walked toward the street.

Police canvassed the area but couldn’t identify the man in the video. The video has been posted online under the heading Bad Neighbor.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Technology elevates new theme park experiences

For more than a moment, you feel the way “Avatar” hero Jake Sully felt plunging down the side of a floating mountain and coming just close enough to a giant wave to feel the mist on your face – all while on the back of a flying banshee that then swoons and soars high above the land of Pandora.

Flight of Passage, the new signature ride of Disney World’s $500 million Pandora-World of Avatar experience, has been designed to make riders feel like they are in an alien land. And it delivers.

Not to be outdone, however, all of the major theme parks in Orlando are using technology this year to give park-goers that immersive feel of a simulated reality. Guests can speed through the streets chasing “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon at Universal Orlando on the new Race Through New York attraction. Young theme park visitors can karate-chop their way to victory at Legoland’s Ninjago World. And next month SeaWorld will unleash its first virtual reality roller coaster when Kraken reopens.

“Technology is really playing a key role,” said Arthur Levine, a theme park expert for About.com. “All of these things are really incorporating technology to be able to tell stories in very unique ways.”

Easily the most powerful and immersive experience is Disney’s Flight of Passage, where riders are thrust into the land of gigantic Na’vi aliens with the use of state of the art 3-D simulated technology. Sure, you are strapped onto a motorcycle-shaped seat in front of a blue screen, wearing 3-D glasses, but you feel like you are there in Pandora experiencing a Na’vi rite of passage.

“It creates a new sense of immersion for guests where they really have a sense of place,” said Jon Landau, executive producer of the movie “Avatar,” which inspired Disney’s Pandora land, located at Animal Kingdom. “You are literally going to another world, figuratively and literally.”

Levine says without question Disney has raised the technology bar with Flight of Passage.

“Like all motion simulations, you really don’t move more than a couple of inches in any direction, but the experience is so convincing,” he said. “This is the ultimate to this point.”

But the technology revolution isn’t just on the rides. Visitors to Universal’s new water park Volcano Bay will get an experience they’ve never had in a packed amusement park: No lines! There are no areas to stand in line because park-goers will be in line virtually, thanks to new wearable technology, TapuTapu, that will allow them to enjoy the rest of the park until it’s their turn. The Jimmy Fallon ride will also have virtual line capability.

Here’s a look at some of the best new attractions in Florida this summer.


Pandora-World of Avatar

Walt Disney World’s 12-acre land inspired by the “Avatar” movie opens in Florida in late May at the Animal Kingdom park. The marquee attraction at the half-billion-dollar land is Flight of Passage, where a 3-D simulator plunges riders into a cinematic world. You feel like you’re riding on the back of a banshee, a bluish, gigantic, winged predator that resembles something out of the Jurassic era. At night, Pandora transforms into a sea of color with glowing lights on artificial plants and even in the pavement. The enormous blue Na’vi aliens from the “Avatar” movie appear sparingly, really just on Flight of Passage and a second attraction called Na’vi River Journey.


Volcano Bay

Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando’s new water-themed park with a huge, exploding volcano as its centerpiece. The resort is calling Volcano Park its “third park,” after Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Universal closed the nearly-40-year-old Wet ‘n Wild water park to make way for the more intensely-themed Volcano Bay, whose story line is that visitors are entering a Pacific island belonging to the Waturi people. The opening of the water park in May marks the debut of the TapuTapu wearable wristband which can pay for food, open lockers, trigger special effects, set spending limits on the kids and eliminate waiting in lines by sending alerts when it’s your turn for a ride.

Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

At the Jimmy Fallon attraction, which opened in April, visitors enter an area made to look like the lobby of a Rockefeller Center building. On display are photos, videos and memorabilia from decades of past “The Tonight Show” shows. The ride is pioneering the use of virtual lines, which allows visitors to watch live entertainment or hang out in a lounge instead of waiting in line. When it’s their turn to go on the ride, visitors are alerted. The 3-D simulator ride gives visitors the experience of drag-racing through the streets and in the clouds above New York City.



Virtual reality is coming to a roller coaster at SeaWorld’s Orlando’s Kraken 17-year-old ride. Visitors wanting the virtual reality experience can choose to wear a virtual-reality headset that make them think they’re going on a deep-sea mission alongside sea creatures. It is SeaWorld’s first digitally-enhanced ride experience and is set to debut June 16.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Blake Dowling: Ransomware, the Mob catching up with the times

Attending a Florida Public Relations Association professional development session, seeing many of the state’s best PR pros in the room was thrilling.

Nanette Schimpf from Moore Communications Group; my man Rick Oppenheim (from RB Oppenheim Associates) and the main sponsor of the event, the rock-solid team at Sachs Media Group represented by Ryan Cohn and Jon Peck.

The event began with a breakfast that featured the most spectacular bacon, so I was ready for anything – bacon is power, bacon is motivation. (#BaconIsLife)

Speaking was Sandra Fathi, president of the public relations, social media and marketing firm Affect.

She is a Pro, who has been featured all over the news – CNN, Forbes, etc.

Fathi dove into a presentation on hacking, discussing the response should be from a PR perspective. Your client could be an elected official, airline, restaurant etc.

What happens when you are breached?

Fathi discussed the basics of cybercrime at first offering clear definitions of spear phishing, ransomware, DDOS attacks etc. and what they were.

She talked about the WannaCry ransomware from earlier in the month.

Then she lost me.

Fathi said something like, it is OK to pay the ransom from terrorists if infected.


In my opinion, you should never pay the ransom from these criminals. It only encourages them, encourages more people to get involved, (think organized crime in our state).

Hypothetically, the Genovese Crime Family launches a cyberattack using ransomware, they collect 50k in bitcoin and use the money to buy a couple of kilos of cocaine resale.

You get the picture; the domino effect of paying these types of things ravages our communities eventually.

The alternative is to invest in your technology. Dictate strict policies to your team in regard to password management, install antivirus/antispam products, set your firewall to geo-block rogue nations, you know who, the “Stans” (Pakistan or anything with “stan” in it), Russia, China etc.

And if all that fails, have a redundant backup protocol (on-premise and cloud), so that if you are infected, you can make a clean start with a wipe and reload of all things.

Sandra’s message was to individuals in the PR game, and her message about crisis management was on point. But make no mistake about it, paying criminals only encourages them.

Also, Fathi mentioned that criminals generally give you the means to get your data back, after you pay them.

After seeing several local examples where the ransom was paid – and they got nada.

These are criminals, after all. That’s kind of what they do.

Am I right?

The Mob caught up with the times, and it’s no longer like what Tony Soprano said in 2002 about surfing the net: “Log off. That ‘cookies’ s**t makes me nervous.” Classic.

I hope everyone has a fantastic day, and your week is crisis free.

But if one pops up, you can let me know. I’ll point you in the right direction.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies and can be reached at Dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com

2 southwest Florida cities among nation’s fastest-growing

Two southwest Florida cities were among the nation’s fastest-growing last year.

The U.S. Census Bureau on Thursday said Bonita Springs and Fort Myers respectively had the 8th and 15th fastest growth rates in the nation.

Both cities are located in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metro areas, and both had growth rates just under 5 percent.

In pure numbers, the city of Jacksonville and the city of Miami were among the nation’s leaders in population gains from July 2015 to July 2016.

The city of Jacksonville increased by almost 13,500 people, and the city of Miami increased by almost 13,000 people.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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