The Bay and the 'Burg Archives - Page 4 of 564 - SaintPetersBlog

Jeff Brandes bills keep Enterprise Florida, but with tight leash

State Sen. Jeff Brandes‘s new economic development proposal would continue operations of the embattled Enterprise Florida and state Department of Economic Opportunity, but on tight leashes.

Senate Bills 1110 and 1112 spell out a new way of doing business for two of Florida’s major economic development programs that have been under fire for accountability, particularly through their spending and penchants for luring out-of-state business with incentives in cases that go awry.

Brandes’s bills focus more on fostering small businesses and startups already in Florida, with tighter controls on EFI’s spending and salaries. That includes creating a grant program for new business incubators and accelerators.

The plan behind the bills calls for full funding for Gov. Rick Scott‘s budget recommendations for Enterprise Florida and protection for current incentive programs. After that, though the rules will change.

Brandes’s bills could become the counter offer to what may come out of the House of Representatives, where Speaker Richard Corcoran is targeting Enterprise Florida for elimination due to concerns over its lack of accountability. House Bill 7005, introduced Tuesday, would abolish Enterprise Florida and strip to bare-bones another state-chartered economic development corporation, VISIT Florida.

Brandes is calling for redirection for Enterprise Florida. It does not address VISIT Florida.

“The focus of economic development should be on Florida’s small businesses,” Brandes stated in a news release. “Fostering a startup culture in our state and encouraging small business development will create a better ecosystem where opportunity can thrive. This legislation provides greater oversight and safeguards over our current economic development programs. This bill recasts our focus on new businesses that breathe the entrepreneurial spirit and diversify Florida’s economy.”

Among the proposals, Brandes’s bills would:

— Require the return of $117 million currently held in escrow for the Quick Action Closing (QAC) Fund to the State Economic Enhancement and Development (SEED) to increase the rate of return on those funds.

— Sanction businesses that relocate from the state within three years of receiving final incentive payments, and prohibit the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) from making material amendments to incentive contracts.

— Restructure Enterprise Florida Inc.’s board to be broader based, including reserving seats for the president of CareerSource Florida and someone from the Small Business Development Network, and requiring it to include at least one member with expertise in rural economic development.

— Prohibit any employees at Enterprise Florida from being paid more than the governor, and restricting bonuses, while requiring Senate confirmation for the president of Enterprise Florida.

— Establish a “Startup Florida Grant Program” within DEO, providing $50 million per year for the development and operation of small business incubators and accelerators throughout the state. The grants would be limited to $5 million a year.

— Establish the Small Business Information Center (SBIC) within the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network Lead Center of the University of West Florida. It would serve as a clearinghouse for small businesses seeking help from DEO.

— Require the DOE to provide, to the governor and the Florida Legislature, annual reports on the estimated contractual obligations of the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund.

— Require two-thirds board votes for any contracts involving any board members who might have conflicts of interest with the companies involved.

— Limiting new incentive contracts to ten years.

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Wistful memories of Tampa Trib that no wrecking ball can change

The final demolition of the venerable Tampa Tribune building has begun. Workers began taking down the grand old downtown structure on Parker Street along the Hillsborough River, with plans to replace it with an eight-story apartment building.

Forgive, please, my momentary wistful pause.

The Trib was my work home for nearly 42 years until the company was bought and immediately shuttered by our blood rival, the Tampa Bay Times.

I was in that building on the day it opened, Oct. 18, 1975.

I was in that building on the day it closed, May 3, 2016.

You know, it’s just a building – brick, mortar, desks, carpet and so on. Buildings get demolished all the time in the name of progress. Memories last forever.

The old lady has a lot of stories to tell, too, starting with the day we moved in. I was a member of the Trib’s sports department then, and it was in the middle of football season. On Friday night, with dozens of prep football games to cover, we produced the last paper in the smoky old building in another part of downtown.

Moving in on the weekend was supposed to help the newsroom ease into its new home, but that didn’t matter to the sports department. The day our bosses chose to move us in coincided with the Florida-Florida State football game, which is kind of a big deal every year.

The Gators won, by the way, 34-8. We barely had time to notice our new home.

Eventually, it became a place that was much more than just an office to work. It is where we gathered to celebrate our wins, complain about our bosses, suffer our losses, and mourn for members of our family who left us too soon. There were far too many of those.

It’s where we learned an enthusiastic and gifted young reporter named Todd C. Smith had been murdered while researching a story about drug trafficking in Peru.

It’s the place where senators, governors, mayors and too many other local and state officials to count came to visit and try to curry favor. It’s where I would pick up the phone in the Trib’s sports department and hear George Steinbrenner bellow, “Get me McEwen!” He meant Tom McEwen, the legendary sports columnist.

It’s the place where I was working the night the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won their first game ever, and we were going crazy. A guy called over from the Metro desk, “Hey, sports … any of you guys expecting a call from the White House?”

I was. I had called the press room so we could get official White House reaction to the historic occasion. I was stunned that they actually called back.

It’s the place where a former sports editor, after overseeing coverage of the first Super Bowl played in Tampa, had his car break down on the way home and had to hitch a ride with – wait for it – a circulation truck from the St. Pete Times.

I know of at least one fistfight that happened between a reporter and his editor over a story. It wasn’t me, by the way.

It’s where a former publisher, who was noted for frugality, invited all employees to celebrate coverage of one of the Super Bowls in Tampa. Unfortunately, he told us after a week of producing extra-large papers that were crammed full of expensive ads, we had to pay 50 cents for each hot dog.

It’s the place where a couple of mischievous editors took a portable swimming pool into the office of another editor who was on vacation and filled it with water. When that traveling editor returned, well … ever try to move a filled pool in the middle of an office while maintaining your dignity?

It’s the place where former publisher Doyle Harvill used to wander through the newsroom and put out his ever-present cigarettes in potted plants on various reporters’ desks.

In later years, it was a place where we huddled together as our numbers shrank because of layoffs. We hugged colleagues who had gotten the news. We were sometimes secretly jealous of others who got out while the getting was good.

And, yeah, it’s the place where the owners of Revolution Capital told us they had purchased the Trib from Media General and promised us they were in for the long haul. I think we all knew better. Those guys didn’t know much about running a newspaper and didn’t appear too interested in learning.

They got what they wanted when they sold our building to the group that had plans for the site that didn’t include a daily newspaper. We’re seeing the fruits of that now.

You know what, though? You can knock the building down, and you can even close the Trib, and life goes on. But a bunch of us know what we did, how much fun we had, what we meant to each other, and that we made a difference.

We were the Trib.

We were Tampa.

No wrecking ball can change that.

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Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition pushes for statewide bill to get passed this year

Last year in the Florida Legislature, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create statewide regulations regarding ridesharing, but the bill died ignominiously in the state Senate.

Similar bills are winding their way through committees in both chambers already in 2017, and on Wednesday, the group Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition announced their support for that legislation, being sponsored in the House by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

“We fully support legislation that embraces innovation, and legislation that creates predictable regulatory climate across the entire state for ridesharing companies,” said Frank Walker, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce on a conference call.

Florida is one of only 12 states in the nation that has yet to create a statewide law regarding ridesharing, or transportation network companies (TNC’s) as they are also known.

In 2016, the drama was in the Florida Senate, where Uber blamed Senate PresidenAndy Gardiner for the inability for the ridesharing legislation to advance. He’s been succeeded by Palm City Republican Joe Negron, who has praised the current legislation.

“I think you’ve got two different bodies then you had last year,” said Walker, when asked why he’s more optimistic that the bill will pass this year. He also said that there is simply more demand for Uber and Lyft. “Environment plays a big role, and so does demand,” he said.

No region of the state has more interest in seeing a ridesharing bill passed than in the Tampa Bay area. That’s because of the large unpopularity with the body charged in Hillsborough County to regulate Uber and Lyft, the Public Transportation Commission.

Over the years, PTC officers have cited numerous Lyft and Uber drivers for operating illegally. Those actions ceased after the PTC finally passed a bill last fall bringing the two companies into compliance.

“Local regulations at best have been problematic and dysfunctional, and have not been helping to foster and grow the local economy, and that’s why we need a statewide regulation,” said Bob Rohrlack, President/CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack blamed “the status quo,” meaning the taxicab industry predominantly, for putting up roadblocks to protect, and not grow markets. “The local regulations penalize entrepreneurs. That’s something that none of us should be accepting,” he said.

In previous years, there has been criticism that the ridesharing companies have not been accommodating towards the disabled. But Kim Galban-Countryman, Executive Director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend, says the TNC’s are helping people with disabilities, especially those living with vision loss.

“Convenient transportation options are an absolute necessity for people with vision loss, and ridesharing introduces a simple affordable means to get around,” Galban-Countryman says.”Through various voice activated systems and services, individuals with visual impairments who otherwise would not have access to convenient transportation options can maintain their independence, and call a Lyft or Uber driver to take them where they need to go.”

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition was formed before the 2016 legislative session.

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Lisa Wheeler-Bowman endorses Barclay Harless in St Pete City Council District 2 race

District 7 St. Pete City Council Member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman is endorsing Barclay Harless in the race for City Council District 2.

“We need to make our city better in all corners and give all residents an equal playing field and opportunities. Barclay has worked in Midtown, and he understands we need to improve neighborhoods throughout our city by working to improve transportation, eliminate food deserts, bring sustainable jobs into all areas and give our kids the skills to compete for livable wage jobs,” said Wheeler-Bowman in a statement issued out by the Harless campaign.

“I know we have a lot of challenges and I need another fighter like me on city council to get things done for all of St. Pete and work to eliminate disparities in any neighborhood, that is why I am endorsing Barclay Harless and look forward to working with him on behalf of St. Pete residents and small businesses.”

Harless is a commercial banker and former aide to state Representative Darryl Rouson. He’s opposed by real estate agent Brandi Gabbard in the race to succeed the term-limited incumbent, Jim Kennedy.

“We have so much to celebrate, yet our community faces serious challenges today. I’m ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work. I am running to tackle the tough challenges and provide meaningful results; I am not interested in finger-pointing or playing the blame game,” said Harless. “Having worked across the aisle in the Florida Legislature, with local leaders on the Pinellas County Charter Review Board, with the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce and with the small businesses that have revolutionized our urban core, I am ready to take on the issues facing our city. I thank Lisa for her leadership and I’m looking forward to working with her on city council.

“The two together will be a powerhouse for progress on council,” says Nick Janovsky, Harless’ campaign manager.

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Defense cites Stand Your Ground law in theater shooting case

A Florida judge is hearing evidence to determine whether a retired police officer acted in self-defense when he shot a man in a movie theater in 2014.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan Barthle is being asked to decide whether Curtis Reeves should be immune from prosecution under Florida’s controversial stand your ground statute. The hearing started Monday and continued Tuesday.

The law says a person has no duty to retreat when faced with a violent confrontation and can use deadly force if he or she fears death or great bodily harm.

Reeves shot 43-year-old Chad Oulson during an argument over cellphone use as movie previews played.

Prosecutors say the 74-year-old Reeves provoked the confrontation. Reeves’ attorneys say Oulson’s actions made him think he was in danger of serious assault.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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City of Tampa to host public meetings regarding potential expansion of streetcar

The city of Tampa and the Florida Dept. of Transportation are currently conducting a $1.6 million study to explore the idea of expanding the Tampa Historic Streetcar, a system that has previously been considered something of a white elephant since it began operating 15 years ago.

As part of that study, city officials will hold the first of three public meetings next month to get input from the community.

With no prospects for any new sources of funding to pay for transit on the horizon, FDOT announced in 2015 that they would conduct the study in conjunction with the city of Tampa, evaluating the potential extension of the streetcar system from its current western terminus at Whiting and Franklin Street in downtown, up through to the Marion Transit Center and potentially to Tampa Heights.

The first meeting with the public will take place on Tuesday, March 7 at the Tampa Bay History Museum from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. City officials are calling it a “community brainstorm session” where residents will hear about the planning process and then provide input back to the planning team about the purpose of the project and about the needs of the downtown Tampa community for transportation options.

“Our urban core demands more transportation options. The streetcar system is an underutilized asset and we are taking a hard look at its future. A potential extension of the system through downtown could open up connections to new neighborhoods, jobs, and entertainment.,” said Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “The goal of this planning process is to take the first step towards creating another viable transportation choice for Tampa.”

Other meetings are scheduled for April 4 and May 2. The first phase of the study is expected to be completed early this summer.  If the results of the feasibility analysis are positive, a second phase will be initiated to select a preferred alternative and refine plans and strategies.

The $2.7 million Historic Streetcar system opened in 2002 and has struggled ever since to build ridership. Part of the problem some official said is the lack of frequency of routes. Traditionally the service doesn’t begin until 11 a.m. , but there is a pilot project that has been ongoing for months experimenting with beginning service at 7 a.m.

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Mike Suarez sounds like he’s running for higher office during speech to Hillsborough Democrats

In what could be a preview of things to come, Tampa City Council Chairman Mike Suarez promoted his prescriptions for a progressive city during a speech to the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Council.

The mood were notably different than the last time Suarez addressed the DEC in the same venue. In early December, he and several of his City Council colleagues were denied the opportunity to vote in the local party’s reorganization meeting, which led to Suarez angrily taking to the floor to defend his bona fides as a Democrat.

All of that was forgiven Monday night, however, as Suarez owned the floor in his ten minute address.

Beginning by discussing how he had recently participated in a meeting with organized labor, he quickly segued into referring to his own proposal that the council passed in 2015 that calls for all new contracts with Community Redevelopment Agencies to require that twenty percent of jobs are fulfilled by apprentices.

“What has happened over the past year, and what has happened in last November’s election, is that we need to make sure to get as many folks as ready and able to work, because right now having small minimum jobs are not enough to carry us over. We need more high paying living wage jobs and until we have that, we’re not going to get out of the hole that we’re in,” he said.

Suarez then switched on a dime to talking about the Council’s upcoming vote on an ordinance that would ban mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors. The issue was workshopped last week and will come back for a vote on March 2.

“How many people here who are gay, and have converted to something else?” he asked the crowd. “If you are born gay, you’re gay. If you’re born straight, you are straight. If you are someone who wants to covert for whatever reason, that is your prerogative as a human being, and your human rights should not be denied, because someone is going to tell you that you have a psychological problem, when in fact, you were born the way that you were.”

The proposal is opposed by conservative activist Terry Kemple, who vows that the city will be subjected to a lawsuit if it passes. Others, including a Democrat in the audience Monday night who said it wasn’t a psychiatric issue, have questioned the need for such policies. Nevertheless, the all Democratic City Council appears determine to pass the proposal.

“We’re not going to stand for it in this city,” Suarez continued. “We are about uplifting people. We are not about degrading people. We are about making sure of promoting people who want to be the best person that they possibly can be for them, for the city. Everyone knows we are a progressive city, a city that looks forward and doesn’t look back.”

He then talked about immigration and sanctuary cities, saying that the city of Tampa wasn’t going to do anything that make immigrants feel unwelcome.

Last month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that would strip federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities. Bob Buckhorn has said repeatedly that while detaining undocumented immigrants is a function of Hillsborough County and not the city of Tampa, he will not direct members of the Tampa Police Department to help Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) to round up the undocumented. Suarez used the opportunity to bash Republicans, who he said were hypocritical in not standing up for local control.

“I know that what Republicans love to talk about is like to talk about unfunded mandates – don’t put a burden from the federal government onto the  cities and states,” he said. “Let me just tell you something, when they say ICE is going to have to use our police force or our sheriff deputies or our jails in order to capture people who they believe should be sent back to their country of origin, that is an unfunded mandate, and let me tell you, we won’t stand for that here in the city of Tampa,” eliciting another whopping round of applause.

“We want to make sure that our police force, those men and women who work hard for the city of Tampa, have the tools necessary to fight crime and catch criminals, and not to worry about whether or not someone has an expired tag or a license that’s been expired who may be from another country. To me, that is unconscionable.”

Suarez used that same adjective to describe the Florida Legislature’s reluctance to support a proposal backed by Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and plenty of others in the Tampa Bay area at least that would change state law to allow large cities to hold their own tax referendums. Current Florida only allows counties to have that authority. It’s an issue that has been discussed for several years now, as those cities have shown much larger support for public transit referendums than in the surrounding counties.

However, whether anybody locally is pushing Florida lawmakers to pass such a law isn’t clear just weeks before the regular legislative session commences. Nevertheless, it’s another talking point that Democrats have maintained over the past year on the campaign trail.

“We have a Republican legislature that loves to talk about freedom, they love to talk about what’s right for you and your home, but they refuse to let you have the freedom to vote for your own transit needs, and to me, that is wrong,” Suarez said.

Suarez is one of more than half a dozen serious names being discussed as a potential mayoral candidate in Tampa two years from now, when Buckhorn is term limited out of office.  He has never indicated that he isn’t interested in the position, and his short speech on Monday night seemed if anything a preview of the message he might carry when that campaign gets serious, which won’t really happen until after the 2018 midterm elections.

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Gus Bilirakis holding third health care town hall in Wesley Chapel

Tampa Bay Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis will host another public listening session on the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday in Wesley Chapel.

During the two-hour event, Bilirakis said he would take feedback and ideas from constituents about the direction of the U.S. health care system, including the repeal and replacement of the ACA.

The six-term congressman has held similar sessions in Palm Harbor and New Port Richey this month, both of which packed with supporters of the health care law angered at Congressional Republicans’ plan to repeal the law without a replacement.

Following those events, Bilirakis signed on to a bill that would keep the ACA provisions protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions after its repeal.

“I heard a clear message from my constituents at recent town halls: people with pre-existing conditions need the peace of mind of knowing that they can get — and keep — health care,” Bilirakis said in a statement. “At events in Palm Harbor and New Port Richey, I listened to folks share personal stories about themselves and loved ones who were denied access to coverage because of a chronic illness. I made a promise to gather input from the people of Florida’s 12th District about the future of our nation’s health care, and I am keeping that promise with this legislation. We will protect those with pre-existing conditions and put in place a health care system that works for everybody.”

The Wesley Chapel will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Wesley Chapel High School Performing Arts Center on Wells Road. The event is open to the public.

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HART poised to to soon select marketing agency

Hillsborough Regional Transit Authority (HART) CEO Katharine Eagan says that the transit agency’s marketing budget became a budget casualty when the Great Recession reduced funding years ago, but HART’s evaluation committee will soon be selecting a marketing agency to help with their marketing and communication strategic plan in 2017.

“We are in the active evaluation of a firm for a communications plan,” Eagan told members of the Finance and Audit Committee meeting on Monday.

The announcement came a day after the Tampa Bay Times reported on the desultory state of public transit in the Tampa Bay area. The story reported that out of the top 30 largest metro areas in the U.S., the Tampa Bay area ranks 29th in four of six ways that the government measures public transit coverage and usage.

Listening to the fact that nearly a third of the agency’s fleet of buses have transitioned from diesel to ones that run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), board member Mickey Jacobs said it would be beneficial to get the word out about their CNG fleet, which reduces thousands of dollars in annual fuels costs and significantly limits harmful emissions.”It’s a story that we need to tell,” said Jacobs.

Eagan concurred. “We have probably 80 things we want to talk about, and how do we distill that to about three or four messages, which are the most effective to tell folks really what we’re doing with their money, in a way that doesn’t make a taxpayer feel that we’re wasting their money to share this information?” she asked.

Board member Pat Kemp said that far from being negative, she thought the Times piece showed that the agency is performing well with the limited funds it possesses. “It’s really important to know that it’s one of the least funded agencies that they found around the nation,” she said about the board that she now serves on.

“That’s a fair comment,” added committee chairman John Melendez.

 

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Marco Rubio to attend meetings in Europe this week – not in Tampa

While federal workers get Presidents’ Day off, Congress takes off the entire week.

For some lawmakers, that means coming home to host townhall meetings, which for many GOP lawmakers have become contentious affairs.

Others are traveling overseas this week, such as Florida’s U.S. Senator, Marco Rubio.

The recently re-elected Senator is traveling to Europe to speak with officials regarding the U.S. relationship with the European Union, NATO operations and Russian aggression in Europe.

That’s according to Rubio’s Facebook page. The post says that, “Senator Rubio is traveling overseas this week to attend multiple bilateral meetings with heads of state and senior government officials in Germany and France, two countries with upcoming elections who are facing concerns about Russian interference. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Appropriations Committee, and Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Rubio is conducting this official oversight trip to discuss the U.S./E.U. relationship, NATO operations, counter-ISIS activities, foreign assistance programs, and Russian aggression in Europe.”

What that means is that Rubio won’t be attending any townhall events, including one that was created by activists who had hoped he would attend this Wednesday night at the Tampa Letter Carriers Hall.

“Sadly, we have all grown accustom [sic] to our absent Senator,” writes Melissa Gallagher, who created the event on Facebook. She says that the townhall will go on without Rubio.

“The fact his team refuses to even consider him skyping in or connecting with us is beyond disappointing,” she writes.

“As part of the strategy of disruption outlined in their online activist manual, the organizers are deceiving people by falsely advertising this event, which is not connected to us in any way,” responds Rubio spokesman Matt Wolking.

“The protesters – some of whom failed to show up for meetings they scheduled with our staff – continue to fundraise off of it even though we informed them days ago Senator Rubio will not be there,” Wolking says. “We have been fully accessible and responsive to constituents, and our staff has already met with dozens of these liberal activists at our offices across Florida. As their manual reveals, their goal is to flood offices with calls and emails, disrupt our ability to respond, then complain to the press that they aren’t getting a response.”

Organizers had created a GoFundMe page to rent the hall for Wednesday, and as of Monday morning had raised $2,242, short of their $3,000 goal. The original fee was much lower, but Gallagher says that it was increased “after the venue received several calls from police in Tallahassee and Orlando.”

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