— Tampa Bay ranks third statewide in job creation —
Tampa Bay added 28,000 new private-sector jobs in the last year, the third-highest number of jobs among all Florida metro areas.
In a statement this week from Gov. Rick Scott, Tampa Bay’s unemployment rate had dropped to 3.4 percent, down 1.1 percentage points from the same period last year.
Statewide, Florida businesses created nearly 30,000 new jobs in December and 1,497,100 new private-sector jobs since December 2010.
“Last year ended strong with 28,000 new jobs created in the Tampa Bay area,” Scott said. “Statewide, nearly 1.5 million jobs have been created since December 2010, and it is clear that we are on track to making Florida the best place in the nation for families to find new opportunities.”
Industries with the highest growth in Tampa Bay were professional and business services (7,000 new jobs) and education and health services (6,100). The Tampa area remained first among the state metro areas in job demand in December with 40,143 openings. The region also continues to rank first in the state in demand for high-skill, high-wage STEM occupations with 13,179 openings in December.
— Dennis Ross blasts conditions at Bill Young VA Medical Center —
U.S. Rep. Ross, the Lakeland Republican who serves as Senior Deputy Majority Whip, sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin demanding answers about the conditions at the CW Bill Young VA Medical Center in Pinellas County.
A portion of the facility has no heat or hot water and veterans in the residential units have either had to take cold showers or walk across a parking lot to take a hot shower in a mobile unit.
“Although this facility is located in Pinellas County, several of my constituents in Hillsborough, Polk, and Lake counties receive care there and regularly interact with the employees and other Veterans there,” writes Ross, who represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District. “I would like to join my colleagues in the Tampa Bay delegation in requesting that these Veterans be provided with an alternative living space with working heat and hot water and for all reasonable steps to be taken to finish the repairs to Building 102 in the most efficient manner possible.”
— House hurricane panel suggestions include Suncoast Parkway extension —
A House committee formed in response to Hurricane Irma announced a list of suggestions to deal with future hurricanes — including extending the Suncoast Parkway to the Georgia line, and not rebuilding in “high-risk” areas.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran appointed the 21-member state House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness in September, tasked with reviewing response and making recommendations. The committee issued 78 recommendations last week covering 10 policy areas: energy, shelters and vulnerable populations, housing, beaches and more.
To help with evacuations, the panel recommends extending the Suncoast Parkway — a 42-mile stretch between Tampa and northern Hernando County — to continue about 150 more miles to the Georgia state line.
On Oct. 12, Gov. Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation to review improvements to I-75 from the Florida Turnpike interchange to the state line.
The House report also suggests the FDOT order an independent evaluation of strategically located petroleum distribution centers. Scott also directed state FDOT to examine ways to increase fuel supplies during hurricanes.
— Tampa Water Street project seeking public art submissions —
Tampa is seeking a professional artist to contribute to its multibillion-dollar Tampa Water Street project.
The City of Tampa’s Art Program Division and Strategic Property Partners, developer of the Water Street Tampa project, along with The University of South Florida Art in State Buildings Program, is issuing a call to professional artists to Commission a “site-specific exterior artwork” to be placed or integrated in the open plaza of the site.
Budget for the project is $600,000, which will include all costs associated with the public art venture.
The Plaza will be between the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and Heart Institute and a planned high-performance office tower.
For consideration, artists must send a proposal that includes a written statement, professional resume, digital images and a digital image ID sheet. Images can be uploaded to hightail.com/u/TampaArtPrograms or email a link from Dropbox or other file sharing service to firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail submissions to: Water Street Tampa/USF Health, Art Programs Division, City of Tampa, 306 East Jackson Street 5N, Tampa, FL 33602. For more information and submission requirements, email ArtPrograms@tampagov.net, tampagov.net/Arts or call (813) 274-8531.
Application deadline is 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23.
— Former state Rep. Heather Fiorentino endorses Ardian Zika for HD 37 —
“Ardian Zika is a compassionate conservative who will fight for our children and will strive to make sure our teachers have the resources they need to provide a high-quality education to each Pasco child,” said Fiorentino, who now serves as superintendent of Pasco County Schools. “Over the years, I’ve been impressed by Ardian’s commitment to our community. He has been a tireless volunteer and I am grateful he is willing to now continue that service in our state capitol.”
Zika is seeking the Republican-leaning Pasco County HD 37 seat vacated by term-limited House Speaker Corcoran. In recent years, Gov. Scott named Zika to the Florida Council on Homelessness, the Pasco Hernando State College board of trustees and the CareerSource Florida board of directors.
Also running is New Port Richey Democrat Tyler Sambucci.
— Hillsborough Commissioner Al Higginbotham endorses Joe Wicker for HD 59 —
“Hillsborough County needs effective leadership in the state House and I can think of no one better suited to represent District 59 than Joe Wicker,” Higginbotham, who represents Hillsborough Countywide District 7, said in a statement.
“Joe served his country in Iraq and came home and began his own small business — living the same American Dream he fought to protect overseas. I’m proud to endorse Joe and I hope residents of East Hillsborough County will join me in supporting Joe Wicker for State House.”
Wicker, a Republican, is currently the only candidate in the race to replace Ross Spano of Dover in HD 59, which covers most of Brandon, as well as Valrico, Dover, Seffner, Riverview, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.
“Hillsborough County is well-served each and every day by the leadership of Commissioner Higginbotham. He embodies all the values and qualities we hope to see out of our elected officials. A true servant of his community, I’m humbled Commissioner Higginbotham has lent his name and support to our campaign,” Wicker said.
— Largo Mayor Woody Brown, Commissioner Curtis Holmes endorse Nick DiCeglie for HD 66 —
“I’m pleased to offer my support to Nick DiCeglie for my home district, Florida House District 66,” Brown said in a statement. “Nick cares about this community and has a solid record of community involvement.”
“I seldom voluntarily endorse any candidate but there are occasions when the qualifications displayed by a would-be leader are so outstanding that it’s warranted and that is why I wholeheartedly endorse Nick DiCeglie to be the next representative for Florida House District 66,” said Holmes. “I’ve worked with Nick on many occasions, he’ll do a great job for Largo.”
Holmes and Brown’s endorsement follows support from former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Seminole Vice Mayor Chris Burke. DiCeglie chairs the Pinellas County Republican Party and runs Clearwater-based trash removal and recycling company Solar Sanitation.
— Seminole Councilmember James Quinn endorses Berny Jacques for HD 66 —
“Berny is a person who cares, and he will make the best decisions and protect all he plans to serve,” said Quinn in an announcement. “My endorsement for Berny is based on observing him serve our community as a member of the City of Seminole Developmental Review Board and as a member of the Sheriff’s Advisory Board.”
In addition to a seat on the Seminole City Council, Quinn also serves on the Sheriff’s Advisory Board, is a member of the Florida League of Cities Energy & Natural Resources Committee, and a member of the American Legion.
Jacques, a St. Petersburg attorney, responded that he was honored by Quinn’s endorsement, calling him “someone who fights daily for the residents of our city and I look forward to bringing the same fighting spirit to Tallahassee when representing the people of House District 66.”
— Mariella Smith kicks off Hillsborough County Commission run —
Smith, a Ruskin Democrat, will hold her kickoff fundraising event for the countywide Hillsborough Commission District 5 seat beginning 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 23, at The Italian Club, 1731 E. 7th Ave. in Ybor City.
Suggested donation is $100 for attendees, $500 for a spot on the host committee. For info, to RSVP or host: email@example.com or (727) 619-4145.
District 5 is an open seat since being vacated after eight years by Republican Ken Hagan, who has announced he is running for an added four (and possibly eight) years in District 2.
Smith is the fifth Democrat to enter the race, following Elvis Pigott, Mark Nash, Jae Passmore and Corey L. Reynolds.
— Pinellas County vote-by-mail schedule announced —
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark announced a new tentative mailing schedule for vote-by-mail ballots in the March 13 Municipal Elections.
Voters will cast ballots in several municipalities countywide: Belleair, Belleair Beach, Clearwater, Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Madeira Beach, Pinellas Park, Redington Beach, Safety Harbor, South Pasadena and Treasure Island.
Clark said mail ballots will start going out Jan. 26 to absent military and overseas voters who have to date requested ballots. State law requires ballots for absent military and overseas voters to be mailed at least 45 days before an election.
On Feb. 6, mail ballots will go to domestic voters who have requested ballots to date. State law requires domestic ballots to be mailed between 35 and 28 days before an election.
The deadline to request sending a vote-by-mail ballot is March 7 at 5 p.m.
Mail ballots must be received at one of the Supervisor of Elections Offices by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Voters should allow at least one week for a ballot to be returned by mail to the Supervisor of Elections Office.
Vote-by-mail ballots may also be dropped off at any Supervisor of Elections Office; hours and locations can also be found at VotePinellas.com.
— Pic of the week —
— Clearwater Chamber PAC endorses David Allbritton, Hoyt Hamilton —
ClearPAC, the political action committee affiliated with the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, endorsed Albritton and Hamilton for Clearwater City Council Seats 4 and 5, respectively.
“Mr. Allbritton has demonstrated his commitment to the future of Clearwater by his long history of service on various boards and committees, and is dedicated to moving Clearwater forward,” said ClearPAC Chair Ray Ferrara. “Mr. Hamilton’s outstanding record of public service to this city and his commitment to new business development in downtown Clearwater while keeping a historical perspective will serve our citizens well.”
The Chamber endorsed the pair, in part, because both candidates fully support the Imagine Clearwater waterfront redevelopment plan, approved by an overwhelming majority of Clearwater voters in November’s referendum.
“A 75-25 split is more than just a mandate,” Ferrara added. “This needs to happen. Our citizens are tired of waiting. We are pleased that both candidates recognize this, and are committed to ensuring that the Imagine Clearwater project gets done.”
— Clearwater schedules City Council meet-the-candidate forum —
The Clearwater Downtown Partnership is hosting a City Council meet-the-candidate forum Monday, Feb. 5 at the Capitol Theatre in downtown Clearwater.
Confirmed to appear are David Allbritton, Tom Keller and incumbent councilmember Hoyt Hamilton.
Allbritton and Keller are facing off to replace Councilmember Bill Jonson in Seat 4. Hamilton is running for re-election to Seat 5. His opponent, John Funk, declined to appear.
The primary focus of the event will be issues facing the downtown community, but topics will not be limited to downtown only. Organizers are restricting that discussion to policy or issues, with no personal questions allowed.
Doors open at 5 p.m., forum begins 5:30 p.m.; the event is open to the public. The Capitol Theatre is at 405 Cleveland St. in Clearwater.
— Two Madeira Beach City Commission races draw four candidates —
Four candidates are seeking a pair of seats on the five-member Madeira Beach City Commission.
Incumbent Terry Lister faces challenger Deby Weinstein for District 1; incumbent Nancy Hodges faces Eric Breslin.
The Madeira Beach elections are March 13, the same day Pinellas County holds its municipal elections. In addition, the communities of Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach, Kenneth City, Pinellas Park and Treasure Island will hold mayoral elections.
Residents can learn which district they live in at the Madeira Beach website.
— Safety Harbor candidate forum gets venue change —
The 2018 Safety Harbor candidate forum has received a venue change, moving from the City Commission Chambers at City Hall to the Baranoff Theater at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa.
The event is still set to start at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 1, with a meet-and-greet in the foyer, followed by a two-hour question and answer period in the 150-seat theater.
According to officials for the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the forum, the venue change was necessitated by the large candidate field — six candidates qualified to run for the three open commission seats Tuesday, March 13.
Also, with the forum now taking place off city property, some of the restrictions surrounding the event have been lifted. Whereas campaign materials were prohibited at City Hall, those materials, including pamphlets and campaign signs, will be allowed to be displayed at the Spa. The venue change also forced the city to scrap plans to livestream the event, as they don’t have the capability to stream events outside City Hall. According to City Manager Matt Spoor, a video of the event should be up on the city’s website by Monday, Feb. 5.
— Charter Communications celebrates Brian Aungst Sr. career, retirement —
In celebration of a 30-year career in the public and private sectors, Charter Communications is honoring Aungst with a retirement reception Tuesday, Jan. 30.
Citing family health issues, Aungst is ending his stint as director of Government Relations for Charter-Spectrum Communications — formerly Vision Cable, Time Warner and Bright House Networks. During that time, he served as chairs of the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association, Clearwater for Youth and the Bright House Clearwater Super Boat National Championships as well as other groups.
Since moving to the area in 1988, Aungst has been active in the community; he also served two terms as Clearwater mayor starting in 1999.
The event begins 6 p.m. at the Marina Cantina, 25 Causeway Boulevard in Clearwater. “Your present is your presence! Please, no gifts,” says the invite. RSVP by Jan. 26 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aungst and his wife of more than 40 years, Karen, live in Clearwater and have a son, Brian Jr., who is an attorney at the firm of MacFarlane Ferguson & McMullen.
— Personnel note: RSA Consulting Group adds up-and-coming lobbyist Kaitlyn Bailey —
Bailey becomes the firm’s newest associate for Government & Community Affairs. As one of the region’s leading full-service consulting firms, with offices in Tampa and Tallahassee, RSA specializes in government, legislative and community affairs, strategic planning, media and public relations.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Kaitlyn to our growing team,” said RSA founder and President Ron Pierce in a statement. “Since Kaitlyn joined us as an intern in 2016, we’ve been impressed by her professionalism, her willingness to jump right in and her strong aptitude for understanding the process and policies we work on.”
Bailey is a Florida State University graduate with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Hospitality and Political Science. She first joined RSA two years ago as an intern, later becoming a part-time associate for the 2017 Session. Before RSA, Bailey served as turf coordinator for the Republican Party of Florida during the 2016 presidential election cycle, working with the Field Director on strategy, data analysis and canvassing in Northwest Florida.
— Christopher LaBruzzo, Frederick Pollock named to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court —
On Friday, Gov. Scott announced the appointments of LaBruzzo and Pollack to the 6th Judicial Circuit Court, which serves Pinellas and Pasco counties.
LaBruzzo, 42, of Tampa, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit. He fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge John A. Schaefer.
Pollack, 45, of Clearwater, is a partner at Hunter Law, P.A. He has previously served as a Family Law General Magistrate and Child Support Hearing Officer for the 6th Judicial Circuit. Pollack fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Mark I. Shames.
— Swope, Rodante attorney named America’s most influential —
The Trial Lawyer magazine recognized civil trial practice firm Swope, Rodante P.A. attorney Elizabeth Zwibel as a member of 2017’s The RoundTable: America’s Most Influential Trial Lawyers. Her inclusion in the annual list is Zwibel’s second in a row.
Every year, The Trial Lawyer magazine identifies a select group of remarkable trial lawyers who have met the challenges of the legal profession and achieved extraordinary success in the courtroom. Zwibel regularly presents seminars across the nation and is recognized for her ability to handle the complexities of catastrophic cases. In addition to the RoundTable, she is also a member of The National Trial Lawyers: Top 100, has been inducted into the Florida Verdicts Hall of Fame by the Daily Business Review, was featured for her stellar achievements in the Ex Parte of Brevard County, and was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by America’s Top 100 Attorneys.
— Local courts roundup —
Vinoy sued for theft of $300K Ferrari — In July 2017, Orange County resident James “Skip” Fowler, 73, stayed at the Vinoy St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club, leaving his 2014 Ferrari 458 Spider, with a valet. While there, Levi Miles — another Vinoy guest — obtained the keys to the Ferrari from a valet and drove off. Hours later, Miles was discovered with the stolen Ferrari; he was arrested for Grand Theft Auto, cocaine possession and driving with a revoked driver’s license. Fowler is suing Vinoy owner Marriott International Inc. and Seven One Seven Parking Enterprise Inc. (which runs the Vinoy valet service) for negligence and for repairs to the car, worth roughly $300,000.
Florida nursing homes face class-action lawsuit — From December 2016 until just before her death in January 2017, 74-year-old Shirley Cox resided at Woodbridge Care, a Tampa nursing home that is one of 22 Florida facilities purportedly owned by New York residents Eliezer Scheiner and Teddy Lichtschein. According to a proposed class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Cox and roughly 3,000 other residents, the nursing homes provided more than $900-million in “unlicensed skilled nursing services” because their licenses were obtained via “fraud and deception.” Cox’s estate and two other plaintiffs say the owners of the 22 homes — currently on the market by defendant Marcus & Millichap — operate them as a single entity for all practical purposes, extracting maximum profit while providing “substandard” care. But in dealings with the state’s licensing agency, the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, the owners portrayed each of the 22 homes as individually owned to minimize liability to creditors. The plaintiffs accuse Marcus & Millichap of being “fully aware of the deception” and are misleading in marketing the homes for sale.
Tampa man accuses Hertz of threats, harassment — On Oct. 4, 2017, Dwayne Ross, a longtime customer of car rental firm Hertz, went to a rental location in Tampa to close out one contract and enter into a new, one-month contract for an Infiniti QX80. After signing the contract, he left briefly and returned to give the staff a gift “to thank them for their service.” According to a Jan. 10 lawsuit, Ross says an unidentified location manager screamed, swore and threatened him for signing an underpriced contract, demanding Ross tear it up and sign a new one at a higher rate. Instead, Ross left and confirmed with a supervisor the contract was valid. Several days later, Ross complained to an unidentified Hertz Tampa Bay area regional manager about how he was treated. Instead of sympathy, the manager allegedly called Ross “boy,” demanding he pay a previously unknown 13-year-old debt; he also placed Ross on a “do not rent” list. The manager then repossessed the Infiniti in New York — stranding Ross and his family, who were there visiting a sick relative. Ross is seeking damages for intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of Florida’s consumer debt-collection law.
MacDinton’s Irish Pub blamed for tossing patrons through glass door — Dominic Gallone says he was at MacDinton’s SoHo on April 1, 2016, when a bouncer named Marques Delliott Smith threw him through the bar’s glass front door “without justification or provocation.” As a result, Gallone suffered substantial injuries (and Smith was sent to prison for felony battery). In a lawsuit filed Jan. 5, Gallone says the tossing was not an isolated incident. He claims ejecting “patrons they deem troublesome” by tossing them through a glass door is a “pattern” at MacDinton’s.
Brain booster manufacturer sues over faulty capsules — In 2016, Elixir Zenith hired Tampa-based Peak Nutritional to manufacture two nutraceutical products in capsule form: a brain booster called “Neuro” and a sleep formula. Elixir began an “extensive marketing campaign” for the products, which were sold as a package. After Elixir began shipping the products, customers began to complain and demand refunds. Peak’s allegedly faulty manufacturing process allowed the capsules’ powdery contents to be “contaminated by an unidentified liquid,” which caused the powder to begin dissolving, solidify, and generate black and brown spots. In a lawsuit filed Jan. 8, Elixir accuses Peak of delivering “defective and noncompliant products.”
Pasco teacher blames Dillard’s for battery, malicious prosecution — Christine Lallier, a 50-year-old Pasco County teacher, says she was wearing a black and tan Le Mystere 38D bra when she went shopping at the upscale Dillard’s store at Citrus Park Town Center Nov. 14, 2016. After trying on (but rejecting) a similar bra, Lallier, a resident of New Port Richey, bought a pair of pants for her son and left the store. A security guard allegedly stopped her for “stealing” the $65 bra she came in with and was still wearing. In a back room of the store, a loss-prevention officer named Jeffrey Ruiz and a female employee (identified only as Victoria) allegedly proceeded to falsely accuse Lallier of stealing the pants she bought for her son, a used lipstick she had in her bag, and the bra she was wearing. Despite proof to the contrary, Victoria ordered Lallier to stand up, lifted her shirt without consent, and pulled down the cups of her bra while Ruiz watched. Later, the pair demanded a police officer arrest and jail Lallier. Lallier pleaded “not guilty” and hired a defense attorney. The prosecution continued for five months. On the day of a scheduled nonjury trial, Ruiz failed to show, leading prosecutors to drop the case. In a lawsuit filed Jan. 5, Lallier says Dillard’s knew from the surveillance tapes that there was no evidence against her, but continued to push for a conviction anyway. She says the prosecution — as well as a threatened lawsuit by Dillard’s seeking $475 — caused her anxiety and humiliation and made her fear losing her teaching job.
— Save the date: St. Pete event to highlight plight of DREAMers —
The League of Women Voters St. Petersburg Area’s Immigration Action Group will hold an event Wednesday, Jan. 24, to showcase the plight of nearly 2 million young adults and millennials brought to the U.S. as children, 790,000 of them temporarily protected by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They all faced deportation unless Congress acts to reauthorize the DREAM Act.
The event — free and open to the public — begins 6:30 p.m. at Empath Partners in Care, 3050 1st Ave. S. in St. Petersburg. More information at lwvspa.org/immigrationactiongroup.
— If you read one thing: A parent’s notes on foster care —
It’s difficult to raise children — arguably more so when they’re not your own.
Foster care parents occupy a unique space, absorbing all the difficulties of parenting while knowing the product of their care will eventually return to a parent or family member. Shannon Colavecchio, a former Tampa Bay Times reporter, published in her alma mater journal entries she kept during her brief time with fostered child Princess Pigtails, a nickname for a 3-year-old girl with “big green eyes, blonde hair and freckles” who had been pulled from her home and her mother was arrested and taken to jail.
It’s a must-read, providing insights to foster care, parenting, faith and love. It’s also a feel-good story, leaving the reader optimistic about Pigtails’ future with her biological mother, to who Pigtails is ultimately returned.
Here are some great excerpts:
The little things: Colavecchio, who now works with Moore Communications Group in Tallahassee, searches for reassurance that her brief tenure as a parent is working well. She writes, “I cling to little things — like a good note from her teacher, or how she has learned to start each meal by saying grace — as a sign that she and I are navigating this thing okay. ‘Deah Word (Lord). Fank you food. Amen.’”
Homesick: “ … this morning before school, she just plopped down onto the floor and hugged her knees to her chest and sadly declared, ‘I miss my mom. I want see her. I sad,’” writes Colavecchio. And later: “Things that are true but not easy to be told: ‘You no mom. You Shannon.’”
A happy ending: Colavecchio hears from Pigtails’ biological mother after the two are returned. The mother struggled with addiction, but Colavecchio remains hopeful. She writes, “She’s not the monster I wanted to think she was. I’m not the stranger who tried to take her daughter. I tell her that Princess Pigtails is worth fighting for. Worth cleaning up her life for.”
More: There are an estimated 24,000 foster care children in Florida at any given time, to learn more visit myflfamilies.com.
— Tampa Bay Rowdies sign attacker Junior Flemmings —
Adding another dynamic young attacker, Flemmings joins the Rowdies ahead of the 2018 United Soccer League season. The signing is pending league and federation approval.
“I’m very happy to join the Rowdies family and I’m looking forward to meeting my new teammates and coaching staff,” Flemmings said in a statement. “I’m excited to play alongside players who I’ve admired and watched growing up like Joe Cole, Marcel Schäfer and Neill Collins.”
Flemmings, 22, played the last two seasons with the New York Red Bulls II. He scored 16 goals in 52 matches, helping the Red Bulls to a USL Championship in 2016 and the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2017. Last season, Flemmings was twice named to the USL Team of the Week.
“Junior is the kind of players fans love to watch,” Rowdies Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “He’s lightning quick and very experienced for his age. You add him into a group of skilled wide attackers that includes Leo (Fernandes) and Alex (Morrell) already, plus Jochen Graf and Sebastian Guenzatti and we really like the attack we’re building.”
A native of Kingston, Jamaica, Flemmings broke into the senior national team last year, earning his first cap for the Reggae Boyz in June 2017.