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Subcommittee accepts complaint against Alan Clendenin, but he remains eligible for Fla. Dem Chair

Blame it on the fog of internal byzantine party rules, but Alan Clendenin remains eligible for Florida Democratic Party chair.

Late Friday afternoon, this website reported that Clendenin was ineligible to compete in Saturday’s vote, after an FDP subcommittee voted to accept a complaint filed against him regarding his move last month from Hillsborough County to Bradford County to make himself eligible for the election.

However, the entire state committee will be asked to accept or reject the subcommittee’s vote on Saturday morning before they vote for party chair. The complaint that was approved on Friday approved nullifying Clendenin’s election as State Committeeman in Bradford County last month, where he had rented a mobile home. The vote was five members in favor, with two abstentions.

FDP officials initially did not relay that information to this reporter.

The party members can accept the vote of the subcommittee, and move on. Or they can disapprove the vote, and there are apparently a number of Democrats who aren’t even fans of Clendenin who believe that he still deserves an opportunity to run for party chair. After all, the man widely considered the top dog in the race, Miami area developer and fundraiser Stephen Bittel, was the subject of a second complaint that was also heard on Friday. The judicial subcommittee rejected the complaint filed against him, however, keeping him eligible.

That vote on Bittel is also up for a review by the state executive committee.

Nevertheless, the subcommittee vote was a huge blow to Clendenin’s candidacy. In 2013, he lost to Allison Tant in an intense, one-on-one battle to take over the reigns of the party, which at the time was relatively in high spirits, following Barack Obama’s narrow victory in Florida over Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election. He was named vice chair at the time, but immediately set his eyes on the prize after Tant announced in November that she would be stepping down in January.

However, in order to be eligible to run for party chair according to the party’s bylaws, the candidate pool can only come from someone currently serving as a county party chair, or state committeeman or state committeewoman.

Clendenin needed to be elected to committeeman at the Hillsborough County’s December 6 re-organization meeting, but was defeated by Russ Patterson 52-40. The vote was considered extremely controversial, however, after Hillsborough DEC Chair Ione Townsend ruled that all locally elected officials in nonpartisan races (such as mayor, city council and school board) were ineligible to vote, setting off an ugly exchange at that meeting. Whether Clendenin would have won if those elected officials were allowed to vote remained questionable, it left a foul taste with many DEC members.

Clendenin laid low in the immediate aftermath, and then stunned the world when he appeared in Bradford County on December 20, where that local DEC had an opening for committeeman. At that December 20 meeting, Clendenin was elected to be Bradford County’s state committeeman, thus making him eligible once again for the party chairman election.

But then Bay County State Committeewoman Patricia Byrd filed a complaint with the FDP, challenging Clendenin’s residency in Bradford. In her complaint to party chair Tant, Byrd wrote that Clendenin had “disingenuously played a shell game with residences and homestead exemptions in total violation of state election laws and state homestead laws for the sole purpose of positioning himself to be eligible to run for the state party chairman.” To prove her point, she stated that Clendenin actually had two separate homestead exemptions on file for residences in Hillsborough and Manatee Counties, and thus truly wasn’t a resident in Bradford County.

Clendenin immediately labeled the complaint “baseless,“and said that the homestead exemption in Manatee County actually belonged to his partner, John Peccio, though tax records listed both men as co-owners of both houses. And he said that Byrd was a supporter of Stephen Bittel, one of his opponents in ther race.

“Like other candidates in this race, as well as the past four FDP Chairs, I qualified for this position within our current rules,” Clendenin said in response to the complaint at the time. “I know that these rules do not make sense to many people which is why I’m calling for them to be changed and will make this a top priority if elected. This complaint is nothing more than an unnecessary distraction from talking about how we move this party forward.”

Interestingly, a third candidate in the race, former state Senator Dwight Bullard, did the exact same thing as Clendenin did to remain viable in the election. After losing to Bittel for state committeeman in Miami-Dade in late December, Bullard relocated to Gadsden County, where he was elected as a committeeman there. But no one has filed a complaint against him.

The race remains between  Clendenin, Bittel, Bullard, Lisa King and Leah Carius. 

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Lightning loses despite retiring the jersey of Marty St. Louis

Turns out, maybe the Tampa Bay Lightning should have brought back Marty St. Louis … and given him a uniform.

Despite the charge the team got from retiring the jersey of St. Louis – the only retired number in franchise history, the Lightning could not maintain its energy and fell, 3-1, to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Bolts started well, getting off a season-high of 19 shots  in the first period, and taking a 1-0 lead on Jonathan Drouin’s goal. But the Blue Jackets came back to take a 2-1 lead on a power play goal by Nick Foligno. Josh Anderson and Boone Jenner also scored for the Jackets.

“First of all, they’ve got a really good team,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whose team fell to 20-20-4. “They reeled off 16 in a row for a good reason. It’s too bad that we only had the 1-0 lead (after the first period). I thought we deserved a little bit better fate. I thought we played well. It was just tough for our guys to sustain it. They turned up their game a notch. We tried, it was just a little tougher for us to get the inside after a while and we weren’t getting our shots through. It was a little bit of bad breaks. We had a tough turnover there on the first one, but, ultimately, it’s a wide shot by 20 foot that goes off our back, lands in front and it’s 1-1. And then ultimately, it came down to special teams. They got the big goal on the power play, and we couldn’t kill it off. And then we couldn’t get the power-play goal when we needed it at the end.”

The Bolts have now lost five of their last six.

“We had a good first (period), you know, and then it was pretty ordinary after that,” said the Bolts’ Brian Boyle. “You know (Alex Killorn) stands in there and does a great job, fighting is something he doesn’t do a whole lot of. The power play after that wasn’t good enough. I think we kind of lost momentum there, and after that we just weren’t quite as good as we were in the first.”

“Results are really all that matters, and we’re working at it. They’re certainly not blowouts, but I mean we’re not setting the bar that low. We need to change our attitude a little bit and kind of find our mojo and carry ourselves with a little bit more confidence and know that we can score quick goals, we can come from behind and we can jump out to leads.”

After Ben Bishop’s return Thursday night, Andrei Vasilevskiy returned in front of the net. He stopped 28 shots, but it wasn’t enough. Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo stopped 31 shots.

The Bolts now have a six-game road trip, starting with Monday afternoon’s game against the L.A. Kings.

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In Madeira Beach, seven seek three seats for mayor, City Commission

At the close of qualifying Friday, seven candidates are stepping forward to run in municipal elections.

Three seats are up for grabs: the mayor and two commissioners:

Mayor

Travis Palladeno is seeking re-election. He’s being opposed by Margaret Black.

Palladeno has served as Madeira Beach mayor since 2011. He represents the city on and is current chair of the Pinellas County Emergency Medical Services Advisory Board. He also represents the city on the county’s Tourist Development Council and the Barrier Island Government Council, or Big C. He is vice president of the Big C. He is the retired owner of Live Wire Fishing Charters.

Black is married to Jim Black, a part-time volunteer coordinator with the city. She is a graduate of Towson State College and has taken banking and finance courses. She says she has been told by several people that she is the “voice of reason.”

Black adds, “I hope to be that, but mostly I want the peoples’ voice to be heard.”

District 3

This seat was held by Elaine Poe until her resignation in December. Ingrid Ferro-Spilde was chosen to fill the seat until the March 14 election when she will be one of the voters’ options. Her opponent is Nancy Oakley.

Before her appointment to the commission, Ferro-Spilde served on the Planning and Zoning board. A Pinellas County native, she is a certified clinical research coordinator.

Oakley is a former Madeira Beach city commissioner, having served on the commission for six years. She has a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University in computer science with a minor in math and business administration.

District 4

The seat is held by Housh Ghovaee, who was appointed last summer after Pat Shontz resigned.

Ghovaee, owner of Northside Engineering in Clearwater, is running to retain the seat. He is opposed by John Douthirt and David Hitterman.

Douthirt holds two bachelors’ degrees, one in business from Florida State University, the other in accounting from the University of Cincinnati. Hitterman is a business owner who has lived in Pinellas County since 1979.

The election is March 14.

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Kevin Beckner is open to running for local (and maybe state) office in 2018

Kevin Beckner has moved on since a disappointing loss to Pat Frank in the Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Clerk of the Court.

Beckner says he is currently studying to get his license to sell real estate in Florida. But he also acknowledges another run for political office isn’t out of the realm of possibility — and could come possibly as early as next year.

When asked if he was considering a run against Al Higginbotham in the countywide District 7 race, Beckner said it was a possibility, before dropping this minor bomblet about his former colleague.

“I just heard that Commissioner Higginbotham is going to be retiring and not running for re-election,” he told this reporter on WMNF 88.5 FM Thursday afternoon. “That’s what I just heard. We’re keeping all of our options open.”

(SPB contacted Higginbotham that afternoon, but he did not return our request for comment. He did speak, however, to the Tampa Bay Times about his decision).

Before being elected to public office in 2008 as a county commissioner, Beckner’s background was as a financial planner, which had prompted speculation in the past that the Florida Democratic Party has considered him to be a viable candidate to run for Chief Financial Officer.

“I don’t rule that out as well,” he said when asked about that possibility. “There’s a lot of needs on the state level. From the CFO’s position, one of their largest responsibilities is the stability of the insurance markets and the protection of our financial interests in Florida, and I think there’s a lot of work to be done, especially as it relates to homeowners insurance and making sure that we’re going to have financial stability when the next disaster hits the state.”

The first openly elected member of the LGBT community ever to be elected in Hillsborough County, Beckner enjoyed a sterling reputation among progressives for his work on the board over the past eight years, but some consider that reputation marred by the aggressive campaign he ran against the 86-year-old Frank last year. Though the two were considered friendly before the primary, Beckner went hard at Frank for what he said was an abdication of her responsibilities in the twelve years that she had served as clerk.

Four months after his stinging, 18-point loss to her, though, he says he regrets nothing about the campaign he waged.

“I think sometimes we don’t want to really realize that, especially when you’re dealing with a long-term serving public servant, sometimes you just view that person as an icon and that nobody should have the right to run against her or to challenge that individual. And to those who know what’s going on inside the clerk’s office, and is still going on in the clerk’s office, there are a lot of issues,” he said, specifically referring to what he called the mismanagement of funding and a lack of advancement for minorities in the office.

“She just wasn’t coming to work, and I think that was well known inside the organization, but a lot of people just didn’t want to hear the facts,” he says.

Frank turned the other cheek when asked for comment.

“The election is over, and the voters spoke loud and clear,” she said. “I thank them for their confidence in me. I am focused on four more years of public service.”

Beckner did add that he sent an email to Frank after her victory wishing her the best. “As far as I’m concerned, we made amends,” he says, adding that it was never personal, and only about the issues. “There are some media outlets that tried to portray that everything was about her age, which it was not.”

Speaking of media outlets, the former commissioner also reserves some scorn for the Tampa Bay Times, which he maintains did him wrong during the campaign, both in reporting and its editorial pages.

He said the paper didn’t print his rebuttals to their editorials, and ignored the claims he was making.

“When I went into the editorial board, I gave them the whole file of everything that we had, and they told me that was a moot point,” he said. “And although they reported on that in the past, it was not relevant today, but I’m sorry, but I have a strong disagreement with that, because when we’re running for public office, especially when you have never had the opportunity to be re-evaluated and to be one the ballot like Miss Frank had, because she had always gone unchallenged, you know, that’s part of your job history, so you’re competing for a job, so you better be able to answer or not answer to what you’ve done or not done while you’ve been on the job. You’re responsible.”

FloridaPolitics.com did reach out to the Tampa Bay Times editorial page for a response. If they do reply, we will update this post immediately.

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Daniel Webster gets seat on Science, Space Committee

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster of Clermont has been appointed to a seat on the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee, essentially replacing former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson as Central Florida’s second member of that committee.

Webster, whose Florida’s 11th Congressional District includes parts of Lake County plus most of west-central Florida, joins fellow Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Posey of Brevard County on the committee that reviews the NASA budget and initiatives, including programs at Kennedy Space Center. Grayson, a Democrat from Windermere, often pushed minority positions on that board, particularly pressing for NASA to be more involved in direct management of the human space programs.

“Congressman Webster is a great addition to the Science Committee. His degree in engineering and his many years of public service speak to his expertise that will be an asset to our team. I look forward to working with him, and I know he will make the 11th District of Florida proud,” committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, stated in a news release issued by Webster’s office.

Webster also joins the Committee on Natural Resources, and will continue to serve on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

“Continuing to serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee provides me the opportunity to advance innovative solutions for increasing connectivity of our nation’s infrastructure and transportation systems, balance transportation budgets and eliminate government waste. I’m excited to join these additional committees and look forward to working with my colleagues on policies that will improve opportunities for Floridians, protect our vital natural resources and strengthen America’s position as a world leader in space, science and technology,” Webster stated in the news release.

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Charlie Crist pleads case of Michael Morgan, unjustly jailed for 23 years, to Barack Obama

Michael Morgan

Charlie Crist is calling on President Barack Obama to intervene on behalf of one of his constituents, a St. Petersburg man imprisoned for 23 years for a crime a growing number of people believe he did not commit.

On Friday, the freshman St. Petersburg Democrat sent a letter to the White House telling the story of Michael Morgan, who has been unjustly serving three life sentences for crimes that many — including reporters, a former Pinellas County Commissioner and even a juror who voted to convict — now say he is innocent.

More than two decades ago, Morgan, 18 years old at the time, was in St. Petersburg riding his bicycle home from school. After encountering a man with a large dog, who began yelling and chasing him, Morgan went to a neighbor’s house and called his mother, Vel Thompson, to help.

When Thompson arrived a few minutes later, police had Morgan in handcuffs.

That day, officers were looking for a black male suspected of the assault and attempted rape of Felicia Fuller 12 days earlier. Fuller’s father, Earnest Fuller, was an officer for the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Felicia Fuller had been shot in the buttocks during what was described as a “drug deal gone wrong.” Cocaine was found at the scene. Fuller claimed that two African-American men assaulted her: one with a gold tooth and another who was clean-shaven.

Morgan had an alibi for Fuller’s attack — he was at a school dance with friends, something corroborated by multiple witnesses. He also did not fit the description of either man, having a full mustache and no gold tooth. Nevertheless, Morgan was arrested.

After going to trial three times, Morgan was ultimately convicted and sentenced to three life sentences and has been in prison for the past 23 years. Three years ago, supporters created a Change.org petition to request the Florida Clemency Board to consider his clemency request. The petition, which now has 337 signers, asks the Governor to waive the rule preventing the board from hearing Morgan’s request because of his life sentences.

In January 2015, WTSP’s Mike Deeson highlighted Morgan’s case in a nine-minute video summarizing the problems with both the case and his conviction, which came about without DNA or other physical evidence. The video, which is available on YouTube, also shows Morgan meeting with former Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche in the effort to gain clemency.

In Crist’s letter, he invoked Obama’s campaign for criminal justice reform, where the president granted clemency to more than 1,300 people over his two terms in office.

“I applaud your valiant efforts to reform our nation’s criminal justice system; ending juvenile solitary confinement, banning the box for federal employees, and reducing the use of federal private prisons,” Crist writes. “In that same vein, your support for people serving unjust or excessive sentences has brought justice and hope to thousands of nonviolent offenders and their families.”

Crist then related his time as Florida Governor, during which he worked to streamline the state’s clemency process.

However, Obama cannot just grant Morgan a pardon, since presidential commutation powers are restricted only to federal crimes. Any change in Morgan’s sentencing lies in the hands of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who would need the agreement from two cabinet members who are also statewide elected officials.

“I only wish Michael Morgan’s case fell within federal jurisdiction,” Crist writes. “Our Chief Executive in Florida has the power to grant clemency, but to date has not chosen to take action on this case.”

Now, Crist is asking for Obama to help — in his few days left as president — to right this injustice.

“Mr. President, your kind attention and willingness to lend your voice to this grave injustice would be incredibly helpful,” Crist writes. “Thank you again for all that you have done to improve our criminal justice system and restore the lives of the unjustly accused. It is my hope that your efforts lead to freedom for Americans, like Michael Morgan, who sit in prison today for crimes they clearly did not commit.”

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Ken Reecy named interim head of Florida Housing

Ken Reecy has been named Interim Executive Director of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), according to a press release.

Cissy Proctor, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, announced the move on Friday. Reecy currently serves as the agency’s Multifamily Program Director.

“Ken has extensive experience and is committed to helping Florida families secure safe, affordable housing in communities all across our state,” Proctor said in a statement. “He has a strong understanding of the unique programs used to meet different needs for affordable housing in Florida and is a respected leader at the agency.”

The release added, “A national search for a permanent Executive Director is underway.”

Steve Auger, the previous executive director, resigned after a scathing audit of the organization, the steward of state and federal affordable housing money, disclosed lavish spending on events for lenders and board members.

Auger oversaw expenses for “a $52,000 dinner (for lenders) that featured filet mignon, broiled lobster tails and a bar stocked with deluxe brand liquors,” the audit revealed. 

The agency also put on a board reception, spending “$300 for a bartender, $425 for a pork carving station and $420 for a Spanish charcuterie station.” It also awarded nearly $443,000 in bonuses to its employees.

Last year, federal prosecutors OK’d a criminal plea deal to an alleged $36 million housing fraud that involved the FHFC.

Prosecutors had alleged 70-year-old developer Lloyd Boggio of Carlisle Development Group and others defrauded the government out of millions that went through the FHFC.

They did so by padding South Florida affordable-housing projects to get federal tax credits and grants, then keeping the excess, according to case documents.

The audit also noted the agency “did not require sufficient documentation from underwriting agencies to support their denial of mortgage assistance to some applicants” and “did not take adequate steps to ensure that electronic fund transfers were going to authorized recipients.”

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Who knows best, parents or teachers’ union?

In a recent POLITICO article, Florida Teachers’ Union President Joanne McCall said the following: “We believe that those closest to the students should be making the decisions about what is best for the students they serve.”

At issue was the controversy surrounding the state Board of Education’s efforts to turn around Florida’s worst performing public schools. McCall was stressing her belief in local control of schools, saying that her members are bogged down with state requirements and don’t have enough freedom in the classroom.

It’s a shame that McCall doesn’t always follow the belief she articulates. She and her union have sued to shut down the state’s tax credit scholarship program and evict nearly 100,000 poor, mostly minority children from schools that fit them better than their assigned district schools.

Both a trial court and an appeals court have ruled that the union didn’t even have the right to bring the case, but McCall has appealed to the Florida Supreme Court. Like a hungry dog with a piece of steak, she just refuses to let go – even though it’s far past time to drop the suit and let the focus return to where it belongs: the kids.

To McCall’s point, I would ask her this: Who is closer to a student than his or her parent? Why don’t you believe these poor parents should be making the decision about what school is best for their children?

Finally, why do you persist in this misguided lawsuit whose aim is to keep kids away from the best educational opportunities available to them?

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Claudia Rodriguez: Motorola Solutions salutes Florida first responders

This week, Floridians are taking pause to recognize and thank the men and women who protect us as we celebrate First Responder Appreciation Week. First responders make countless sacrifices and put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. Motorola Solutions Florida employees salute them for their endless support to those in need each day and during times of crisis.

At the same time, our hearts go out to the families and friends of Master Sgt. Debra Clayton of the Orlando Police Department, and Deputy First Class Norman Lewis of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, who were killed in the line of duty this week.

Our thoughts and prayers are also with the families that were impacted by the shooting last week at Fort Lauderdale International Airport. Our hearts go out to the victims and their loved ones. We are thankful that through the cooperation of first responders across city, county and state agencies, many lives were protected during this time of tragedy and chaos.

Police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel have gone above and beyond not only to educate the public about safety risks but also to protect us from harm during several major emergencies over the past year, including Hurricane Hermine. We thank first responders for their actions during the state of emergency declared by Gov. Scott for this hurricane. With their hard work, lives were protected and communities were able to recover quickly.

Not a day goes by when we don’t hear about the bravery of one of Florida’s 125,000 first responders across the Sunshine State. There are not enough thanks we can give our men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis to keep us safe.

 ___

Claudia Rodriguez is a corporate vice president of Motorola Solutions in Plantation.

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Professional services firm announces HQ relocation to Tampa from North Carolina

BlueLine Associates, a professional services firm, is relocating its global headquarters from Cary, North Carolina to Tampa.

For the move., BlueLine expects to invest more than $2 million in the local economy, and create 150 new jobs, paying an average wage of $71,909. While the firm currently has offices in Tampa, the relocation of its headquarters will expand the company’s footprint to include its financial, legal and human resources groups.

Gov. Rick Scott hailed the move as “great news.”

“We were competing with North Carolina and Louisiana, but ultimately BlueLine Associates chose Florida for their new headquarters,” Scott said in a statement. “I look forward to BlueLine Associates continued success in our state.”

BlueLine provides consulting, managed services and staffing solutions to small, mid and large companies in a variety of industries. In 2015 and 2016, BlueLine was recognized on the “Best Places to Work” lists of both Consulting Magazine and the Triangle Business Journal.

“This move gives us access to Florida’s strong talent pool and allows us to continue the strategic expansion of our business,” said BlueLine President Rocky Silvestri. “Our company culture is at the core of our business success, our client’s satisfaction, and the happiness of our people.  We are excited to bring those guiding principles to Tampa.”

According to Scott’s office, the project was made possible through strong partnerships between Enterprise Florida, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Several state and local leaders added their voices to applaud BlueLine’s decision.

Chris Hart IV, Enterprise Florida president and CEO, said: “Blueline Associates has chosen Florida because it is the best place to do business. The talent and the strong, business-friendly climate in Florida continue to attract growing businesses. Hard-working Floridians are getting jobs that could have gone to other states, but they ended up right here in Florida.”

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor added: “BlueLine Associates’ relocation to the Tampa area is yet another example of a business recognizing the unique opportunities for growth in Florida. Our state boasts a strong and talented workforce, a business-friendly, low tax environment and fewer regulations that enable companies to grow and succeed.”

“Hillsborough County offers BlueLine Associates a deep bench of information technology consulting, staffing and management consulting talent, as well as the amenities that will make it easy for them to recruit exceptional candidates to the area,” said Hillsborough County Commission Chair Stacy White.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn pointed out that the move is further proof that Tampa’s star “continues to rise.”

“As millennial talent flocks here and our downtown undergoes a historic and exciting transformation,” Buckhorn said, “Tampa is gaining a national reputation as the place to be for companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500 corporations. We wish BlueLine Associates a prosperous future here.”

Candidates interested in a position with BlueLine Associates can visit blueline-associates.com, for more information on available positions.

 

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