Phil Ammann, Author at Florida Politics

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range included covering news, local government and nightclub reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for an online metaphysical website among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul.

Women’s Conference of Florida to hold leadership symposium in October

CEO and president of Women’s Conference of Florida, Arlene DiBenigno

This fall, a group of Florida’s professional business women will gather in Tampa to discuss and learn ways to take on strong leadership opportunities.

The 2017 Women’s Conference of Florida, now in its second year as the state’s premier professional symposium, is set for Oct. 26-27 at the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina in Tampa.

Founded in 2015, the day-and-a -half Conference — which drew more than 1,000 attendees last year — will take on issues facing professional women through speakers, panel and roundtable discussions, exhibits, vendors and networking.

“This year, we look forward to expanding our statewide platform as we continue on our mission to address timely and relevant issues of importance to women in the state of Florida,” said Arlene DiBenigno, president and CEO of the Women’s Conference. “The true benefit of this event is that it harnesses the power of women together — engaging, empowering and encouraging each other.”

In 1998, DiBenigno worked for Gov. Jeb Bush as director of appointments for boards and commissions. It was during that experience, she was inspired to create the Conference.

“One of my duties was to try and identify different individuals that could serve on these boards and commissions and it seemed to me that every time I reached out to a woman who I thought was extremely qualified, who would serve well, the first response was ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘I don’t really have the knowledge,'” DiBeningo told WUSF in 2016.

Speakers for the 2017 event will include:

Nely Galan, producer, author and former President of Entertainment for Telemundo. As the first Latina president of a major network, she owns of Galan Entertainment and is an Emmy Award-winning producer of more than 600 episodes of television in Spanish and English, including the hit FOX reality series “The Swan.”

Galan is the author of “SELF MADE: Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant and Rich in Every Way” and the founder of the nonprofit The Adelante Movement, which seeks to empower Latinas to become entrepreneurs. In 2008, she appeared on the first season NBC’s “The Celebrity Apprentice,” raising $250,000 for Count Me In, her charity for women entrepreneurship.

Jan Babiak is an independent director, board member of the Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. and the Bank of Montreal. She is also on the board of GHD Group, an employee-owned, privately held, Australian-based engineering, architecture and environmental consulting firm.

Babiak previously served on the board of the Royal Mail, during which it listed on the U.K.’s FTSE 100. From 2010, until its sale in August 2012, she was Audit Committee Chair for Logica PLC, a then UK-headquartered FTSE 250 technology company.

Before starting her “portfolio career,” Babiak spent 28 years with Ernst & Young where she held the board and global leadership roles in cyber/technology security and risk services; climate change and sustainability services; and regulatory and public policy.

Jean Chatzky, financial editor for NBC’s “Today Show,” is an award-winning personal finance journalist, AARP’s personal finance ambassador, and the host of “Money Matters with Jean Chatzky” on RLTV. She is a longtime magazine columnist and the best-selling author of eight books. Her newest book, “Age-Proof,” written in partnership with Cleveland Clinic’s chief wellness officer Dr. Michael Roizen, explains the link between health and wealth.

Chatzky recently launched Jean Chatzky’s Money School — online tutorials on topics like saving, budgeting, debt and retirement planning — that she personally teaches at

The inaugural Women’s Conference of Florida, held May 2016, featured keynotes from several big-name speakers: Randi Zuckerberg, former Facebook executive and CEO of Zuckerberg Media; Jill Abramson, former executive editor of The New York Times; and Cheryl Strayed, author of the #1 New York Times best-selling memoir “Wild.”

Presenting the Conference is Conversa, a Florida-based communications firm serving Fortune 500 clients, national and regional nonprofits, and small businesses.

For information and registration, visit or contact Jennifer Dunn at or (813) 579-2157.

Jacksonville Bold for 6.23.17 — New blood rising

The two most powerful people in Jacksonville politics starting in July: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Council President Anna Brosche.

The two have similarities: introverted personalities, CPAs, Republicans in their mid-40s.

And they have differences — which will soon need resolution.

There are those who lined up with Brosche in the Council presidency race who allege that one of Curry’s senior staff twisted arms to get people to support John Crescimbeni. There are also those who claim Tommy Hazouria Curry ally like Crescimbeni despite being a senior Democrat, had the head of the fire union making calls for Crescimbeni in a classic hell-freezes-over moment.

Brosche, in short, has no incentive to play ball. Allegedly.

Smart folks in City Hall will watch what happens July 17, when Curry drops his budget, and in August, when a reconfigured Finance Committee makes its tweaks to the document … with Sam Mousa and Mike Weinstein from the Mayor’s Office reminding those on hand how the game was played the first two years.

Will the new blood on Finance care? And will Curry’s allies have enough juice?

Of course, Council can’t sign contracts — that’s the mayor’s role. Whatever tension might exist between Council Leadership, and the Mayor’s Office (and the pressure inside Council itself) will need resolution — otherwise, it will be a quotable, newsworthy third year for Lenny Curry … which would not have been the case had Crescimbeni prevailed.

Lots of City Hall in this edition, but there is other news as well. Including a congressman sticking close to President Trump

John Rutherford doesn’t worry about Trump/Russia connection

On Tuesday in Jacksonville, U.S. Rep. John Rutherford — an ally of Donald Trump — discussed the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the parallel investigations of the Trump Administration.

On issue after issue, no daylight between White House and John Rutherford.

“I want them to look at Russia’s attempt to interject themselves into our election process through cyberactivity and all that,” Rutherford said, “but I don’t see any collusion, I don’t think they’re going to find any collusion. It’s been almost six months now.”

“If they were going to find collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians, I think it would have already been uncovered. So I’m not concerned at all about that. And I’m also not concerned about this idea that somehow … whatever the conversation was with [former FBI Director James] Comey, obstruction of justice,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford believes that much of the maelstrom around this story is politically motivated.

“Not the investigation that’s dealing with the cyberattack. Obviously, that occurred; we know it occurred; we know it’s been occurring. In fact,” said Rutherford, “we have to address not only the Russian hacking and others — China, others — who hacked not only our voting system but also our electrical grids and all sorts of attacks we’re experiencing.”

New blood rising

Was the fix in? Some in Jacksonville’s City Hall claim a quid pro quo was in play when President-Designate Brosche announced her new committee assignments.

The big takeaway: four African-American Democrats backing her for the presidency ended up on the Finance Committee.

Anna Brosche will be a change agent in the Council presidency.

The priorities of their historically underserved communities will take a prominent place in the budget process, as the city digests its “budget relief” to come. The four members will be a decisive bloc in the process, signaling a shift from previous years.

There is grumbling, of course, from some in City Hall about these picks: off-record comments about “deals” and the like. Whatever the case, though, it worked out in the short term. Brosche got the presidency, and African-American Democrats will call the shots on Finance.

The big losers: Brosche’s opponent, John Crescimbeni, along with key backers Tommy Hazouri and Bill Gulliford — the latter of which vowed early on that he would not serve on a standing committee under Brosche — and that came to pass.

Gulliford noted that he is “conspicuously absent” from committees.

“I offered my services,” Gulliford said, “but I guess she didn’t need me … time for new blood, I guess.”

Offices are being moved. Seating is being shuffled. And the good ol’ boys are having a bad time so far.

Lenny’s Landing

Curry made it clear to the Florida Times-Union editorial board Wednesday that he wants the Jacksonville Landing back under city control.

The riverfront mall, a novelty in 1987, is an eyesore in 2017.

In 1987, the Landing and Rick Astley were among the novelties.

He said he’s made “soft offers” to buy the buildings, but the owners have “drawn a line in the sand.”

“We’ve got a plan internally to put the screws and keep pushing this,” Curry said during a meeting with the Times-Union editorial board. “The city ought to have that property now and be working a plan to find the best and highest use for it, maybe with a private entity, perhaps not.”

Opioid apocalypse

The opioid overdose epidemic continues unabated in Jacksonville, with more details coming out on the city’s strategy to address it.

911 calls for overdoses: up 3x in two years, with 421 this February. $4M of a $1.1B budget for transport, and more money for Narcan.

The proposed plan: $1.5M for a program called “Project Save Lives.”

Bill Gulliford will move to Montana once he leaves Council in 2019. Some of his colleagues will miss him more than others.

A measure of Gulliford’s declining stroke in Council was to be found during committee discussion of the bill; while it got through the panels. Gulliford was buffeted by criticism that bordered on the personal, especially by Finance Chair-Designate Garrett Dennis and Finance Vice Chair-Designate Danny Becton.

What do they pay you to do?

Community Rehabilitation Center, the non-profit run by Councilman Reggie Gaffney, is being sued by a whistleblower who asserts she had to deal with HIV-positive clients without state-mandated training.

Gaffney ducked responsibility, saying that staff trained people, despite the plaintiff arguing that she went to Gaffney but got no recourse — and ended up fired for her trouble.

Reggie Gaffney works Doyle Carter during a meeting in 2016.

Gaffney’s cover story? He was too busy with City Council to handle CRC business. However, Gaffney managed to make $90,000 a year while on City Council — working 50 hours a week, according to CRC’s 2016 tax return.

When we asked Gaffney about these seeming discrepancies Tuesday afternoon, specifically how it was that he was able to spend his “time being a City Councilman,” while pulling down $90,000 a year for a 50-hour workweek, Gaffney offered a “no comment” before asserting that he works “80 hours a week, seven days a week.”

Responsibility for training, he said, rested with his HR person and his staff.

“I do know this: last 24 years, I probably hired 500 or 600 [staffers], and we’ve trained them all the same,” Gaffney said earlier Tuesday.

JEA to move HQ

WOKV reports that JEA has finally worked out a plan to get out from under the JEA Tower, an older building in need of tens of millions of dollars of repair work.

That plan: a land swap.

A view of the tower’s top from Jacksonville City Hall.

“We commissioned a consultant to look at the study for us and look at some of the options that we have for our Downtown campus, and between their work and ours, we’ve concluded the best path forward is to build a new campus,” said chief financial officer Melissa Dykes Tuesday.

The land is adjacent to the Duval County Courthouse, in an area of downtown characterized by sparse, outmoded development and blight.

JTA on the move

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is making some audacious moves that they hope will offer regional transportation solutions.

Electric buses: part of the conceptual future.

Richard Clark of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority contacted Mayor Curry for support on a federal grant application last week.

“JTA is submitting a Low-No grant application for electric buses that will help serve the Amazon facility on the Northside. This will be the beginning of JTA’s electric vehicle/bus fleet,” Clark wrote in a June 14 email.

The program, asserted Clark, will use JEA’s “Solar Smart” program, which “ensures the powering of the buses will be from their solar system … 100 percent renewable.”

Pols and dignitaries pick up shovels at a long-awaited groundbreaking.

Meanwhile, JTA had a groundbreaking this week on its Regional Transportation Center.

The JTA center, to be constructed in Jacksonville’s historic LaVilla neighborhood, will accommodate Greyhound, Uber, Megabus, the Skyway, First Coast Flyer and other modes of travel, in what is designed to be a regional focus.

Greyhound will go online in January 2018; construction of the whole 50,000 square foot center will be completed by the fall of 2019, a process abetted by JTA having “$33 million in pocket” for the work on the $50M project, one that is expected to turn LaVilla into a “live, work and play” center for this part of town.

Jacksonville mulls raising emergency reserve

Some Jacksonville City Councilors wanted to boost the city’s emergency reserve from 5 percent to 6 percent in January, but were advised to hold off until pension reform was finalized.

With that herculean task complete, the Mayor’s Office is set, via its new budget, to raise that level — though the operating reserve would be cut to 7 percent from 8 percent, meaning reserve levels would be the same.

What’s more thrilling than a discussion of sound accounting practices?

A big story of the budget season has been the Mayor’s Office cautioning various departments that budget relief does not mean a spending spree, with some grousing about Councilors wanting to dip into the general fund for spending outside the budget process.

In that context, the proposed raise of the emergency reserve is significant, in seeing what the priorities of the Curry Administration will be going forward.

Eight ain’t enough

Term limits were imposed by voter plebiscite on the Jacksonville City Council decades back, yet Councilman Matt Schellenberg believes that institutional knowledge outweighs voter predilection.

Don’t throw shade at Matt Schellenberg; his chapeau has that covered.

To that end, he introduced — for the second time in just over a year — legislation to repeal two-term limits.

It would be for councilors, School Board members, and constitutional officers — except for the Mayor.

The legislation cleared committees February but was pulled, as the referendum would have competed with the pension reform referendum on the August ballot, and the Best Bet slots referendum on the November ballot.

With those referendums in the rearview mirror, it’s all-clear to bring back the bill.

The sub proposes three four-year terms, rather than the abolishment of term limits.

“In four years, do we change it to four, maybe,” Council VP John Crescimbeni quipped.

Reform coming for Jax children’s programs

The Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jacksonville Journey — two programs that serve “at-hope” Jacksonville children, with the idea of keeping them away from temptations of crime and vice, are under scrutiny, Mayor Curry told us this month.

“We are beyond tweaking when it comes to these programs we deliver to children, and big reforms are coming,” Curry emphasized.

Lenny Curry reads to a child in 2015, during Jax Journey fact-finding tour.

“We’re working through exactly what those reforms are going to look like. I will have reached a decision inside of two weeks.”

“I’m looking at making sure that we have programs that are very clear and meeting the needs of specific ‘at-hope youth’ that are the solution to prevention and intervention,” Curry said, using a phrase he first used two weeks prior when announcing $988,000 of new money available for youth summer camps.

“We’ve got to be very clear about how we deliver those services and make sure we’re getting results, and make sure that the management team is aggressive in terms of pursuing those goals, and that the whole governance structure is aggressive as well, and hold them accountable,” Curry said.

The Curry Administration is not averse to re-orgs: the Neighborhoods Department was reinstated in Curry’s term after being phased out in the previous administration.

Hot hot hot

Folks in the real estate game talk about how hot Jacksonville real estate is — at least in the areas of town where people actually want to live. And external confirmation came this month via MarketWatch, which deemed Jacksonville the seventh hottest real estate market in the country.

The survey “looked at 120 metropolitan areas that had at least 100,000 single-family homes and condos. Those that scored the highest combined affordable homes with access to jobs.”

Jacksonville’s “tale of two cities” narrative has long since become a cliché. But — at least for now — there are “great expectations” for Jacksonville’s real estate market. Location, location, location.

Riverkeeper decries dredge; water is wet

The long-awaited dredging of the St. Johns River to 47 feet near JAXPORT delights most politicians, yet appalls the St. Johns Riverkeeper.

On Thursday, the Riverkeeper decried the “deep dredge runaround” of late from pro-dredging forces in the press.

Riverkeeper wants Jax to hedge on dredge, but momentum is with the dig.

The news release describes dredging advocates as “frustrated by the lack of funding support” for the project backed by port advocates, an interesting tack to take in light of $17.5M in federal money and support for the project from the state as well.

The frustration, the Riverkeeper says, resulted in a scaling down of the project from 13 to 11 miles.

The Riverkeeper also cites evidence of contravened transparency, including a lack of public hearing, a lack of local funding or a cost estimate meeting the Riverkeeper’s muster, no analysis of the new specs from the Army Corps of Engineers, and an ongoing lawsuit from the Riverkeeper.

Meanwhile, projections of jobs and other economic impacts are deemed to be overblown.

Bring a checkbook to the Yacht Club

Save the date!

On June 29, Jacksonville’s Florida Yacht Club will be about more than yachts: the exclusive location will hold a fundraiser for one of Duval’s own sons as he mounts a statewide campaign for Attorney General.

From the FOP to the Florida Yacht Club, Jay Fant hustles for votes and ducats.

State Rep. Jay Fant‘s event, which promises “fellowship” and an opportunity to “hear about the campaign,” runs from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

The biggest name on the host committee: former Jacksonville City Council President Greg Anderson, who may be double-booked that evening, as the installation of new officers for the Jacksonville City Council will be held at 6 p.m. June 29 at the Times-Union Center.

Contributions are to be made at attendees’ “discretion.”

In May, Fant showed some fundraising momentum with the Northeast Florida donor class.

Fant emerged with $79,575 of new money; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant, and $3,000 came from his political committee, “Pledge This Day,” which raised $9,000 in May.



Save the date: Clay Yarborough fundraiser

State Rep. Yarborough hosts a high-profile fundraiser for his House District 12 re-election campaign Tuesday, June 27, beginning 5 p.m. at the Jacksonville offices of Foley & Lardner, One Independent Dr., Suite 1300. Guests include State Sens. Aaron BeanRob Bradley, and Travis Hutson; State Reps. Cord Byrd, Paul Renner, Cyndi Stevenson, Travis Cummings and Jason Fischer; Jacksonville City Councilman Gulliford and Marty Fiorentino, among others.

Bean named 2017 Child Advocate of Year

The Fernandina Beach Republican was awarded Northeast Florida Pediatric Society’s (NEFPS) 2017 Child Advocate of the Year. This award recognizes support and commitment to pediatric medicine and the delivery of quality health care to the children of Florida.

Aaron Bean receives Northeast Florida Pediatric Society’s (NEFPS) 2017 Child Advocate of the Year award.

“As a longtime advocate for pediatric health care and a former chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee, I understand the importance of constantly working to improve the health of our children and making sure all of Florida’s youth have access to exceptional pediatric care,” Bean said in a statement.

Volunteers needed for July 5 Beach Cleanup

Keep Jacksonville Beautiful and the City of Jacksonville join Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol to call for volunteers for its annual July 5 Beaches Cleanup following the Independence Day holiday. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., volunteers will be given litter collection bags and gloves at Atlantic Boulevard at the ocean, Beach Boulevard at the ocean and 16th Avenue South at the ocean to remove litter and debris along the shoreline, weather permitting. Participants must be at least 18 or accompanied by an adult, should wear sturdy footwear and sun protection, and should bring their own drinking water. For more information, call Keep Jacksonville Beautiful at (904) 255-8276 or the Beaches Sea Turtle Patrol at (904) 613-6081.

Downtown Jax rising

More than dozen projects in the works for Downtown Jacksonville. Some are under construction, while others are moving through the approval and planning process.

According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, projects include: The Lofts at LaVilla, a 130-unit apartment project (30 percent pre-leased) near the Prime Osborn Convention Center; Laura Street Trio, planned to have a Courtyard by Marriott hotel, bodega, café, restaurant, rooftop bar and retail space; Barnett Bank building, with nearly $1 million in construction permits are pending for the project that will house about 100 market-rate apartments, a ground-floor bank and retail space.

Other projects are Lofts at Monroe, which begin August in La Villa. Plans call for a five-story, 108-unit affordable housing complex marketed to people making $29,000 a year or less.

Elena Flats is one of more than a dozen revitalization projects in one stage or another in Downtown Jacksonville.

Developer Mike Balanky wants to turn a Downtown Cathedral District block into a mixed-use project, featuring 115 to 120 apartments, and retail space at the former Community Connections, Inc. building. Vista Brooklyn is a rooftop pool and beer garden to include 14,000 square feet of retail space, 308 apartments, and an eight-story parking garage. Doro District will transform a vacant industrial building at Forsyth Street and A. Philip Randolph Boulevard into an entertainment complex. Elena Flats, one of just three remaining Downtown apartment buildings constructed in the 20 years after the Great Fire of 1901, is being restored to its original historic state.

Following loss, Armada goes back to work against Puerto Rico FC for Heritage Night

Following a loss in Miami Saturday that dropped the Armada eight points behind the first-place team from South Florida and into third in the NASL table, Kartik Krishnaiyer reports that Jacksonville gets back to work this Saturday against Puerto Rico. For that game, the club will celebrate Puerto Rico Heritage Night. Kickoff is set 6 p.m. at Hodges Stadium on the UNF Campus.

This will be the third meeting in history between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico, and the first in the 2017 North American Soccer League Spring Season. Puerto Rico FC is in last place in the league and if Jacksonville is going to make a final run at the Spring title with four games left they must win this game.

Music from local Puerto Rican music group, Renacer Borincano, will be filling the stands at Hodges Stadium. Fans are encouraged to bring guiros, campanas, panderos, shekeres, and other Puerto Rican instruments to the match and join in the mix of Bomba and Plena music during halftime.

The concourse concessions will be featuring Boricua and Taino Puerto Rican beer for sale. Concessions will also be cooking empanadillas and alcapurrias for those who want a taste of Puerto Rico on this branded theme night.

Also, several Jacksonville Jaguars rookies will be attending as part of the pre-match coin toss. After warmups, fans will have the special opportunity to meet the rookies and get their autographs along the grandstand fence. This is third successive year the Jaguars and Armada have had coordinated event at a soccer match.

Community First Credit Union will be holding a contest before kickoff to upgrade four lucky fans’ seats to the VIP suite at Hodges Stadium. Fans can enter to win at the Community First Credit Union table on the concourse. The lucky winners will experience the exciting action like never before with all-inclusive food and beverages, gifts, and comfortable accommodations inside the VIP suite.

Florida Sheriffs name Jack Latvala, James Grant, Chris Sprowls ‘legislative champions’ for 2017

Florida Sheriffs recognized several Tampa Bay-area lawmakers Thursday for “significant contributions to and support of good public safety policies” during the 2017 Legislative Session.

The Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) named five legislators — including Clearwater state Sen. Jack Latvala and Reps. James Grant of Tampa and Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor —  for their “commitment to protecting the best interests of Florida citizens” and support of FSA initiatives.

In 2017, Grant had sponsored HB 7059, a prolific juvenile offender bill; Latvala sponsored SB 150, the Senate counterpart. Sheriffs praised Sprowls for supporting public safety throughout Session.

Other legislators as named as FSA Legislative Champions include Rep. Jim Boyd of Bradenton who sponsored HB 477, which sought to stem the heroin/Fentanyl epidemic. Sen. Greg Steube of Sarasota sponsored SB 150 the Senate companion of the heroin/Fentanyl bill.

“The Florida Sheriffs Association is honored to recognize these legislators for their commitment to public safety,” said FSA President and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings. “We are grateful for Rep. Boyd and Senator Steube for their dedication and leadership in passing comprehensive legislation to address Florida’s heroin and Fentanyl epidemic.”

“This session, Senator Latvala and Rep. Grant made addressing the problem of a lack of accountability among repeat juvenile offenders a priority with the passage of the prolific juvenile offender bill (SB 7059),” said FSA Legislative Chair and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. “Sheriffs also greatly appreciate the leadership of Rep. Sprowls for working on this bill as well as numerous other public safety issues that had to be addressed throughout Session.”

Sheriffs also recognized 18 Senators — as well as Latvala and Steube — with the FSA Friend of the Sheriff Award, for legislation that would have a positive impact on public safety: Dennis Baxley, Aaron Bean, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Lauren Book, Rob Bradley, George Gainer, Bill Galvano, Rene Garcia, Denise Grimsley, Travis Hutson, Tom Lee, Debbie Mayfield, Kathleen Passidomo, Keith Perry, Darryl Rouson, David Simmons, Wilton Simpson and Kelli Stargel.

 In addition, Reps. Jason Fischer, Joe Abruzzo, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Attorney General Pam Bondi were given the FSA Friend of the Sheriff Award.

Fischer had sponsored HB 721, which seeks independently elected sheriffs in all 67 Florida counties and Abruzzo advocated it in committee, s. Sheriffs applauded Corcoran for supporting public safety initiatives throughout Session. As her top priority, Bondi pushed for passage of a heroin/Fentanyl bill (HB 477) and was instrumental in moving it through the Senate.

“Without the aid of these important state legislators, and Attorney General Bondi, the Florida Sheriffs Association would not be able to serve the citizens of Florida to the best of our ability,” said FSA Executive Director Steve Casey. “On behalf of the entire Florida Sheriffs Association, I would like to honor these men and women for doing their part to help keep Floridians safe.”

Founded in 1893, the Florida Sheriffs Association is made up of sheriffs, approximately 3,500 business leaders and 70,000 citizens throughout the state.

AT&T, FirstNet offer states ‘early opt in’ for first-responder LTE network

FirstNet and AT&T are taking the next step toward a nationwide wireless broadband network for first responders. This means Florida’s police, firefighters and EMTs will soon be getting a dedicated network for public-safety communications.

FirstNet’s long-awaited first responder LTE network is finally moving forward, as FirstNet officials Monday announced more details on individual network plans for states and territories to early opt in online.

FirstNet officials say they are finishing the fee structure for states and territories wanting to use the LTE core and licensed 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum – as well as a possible opt-out scenario — but FirstNet Chair Sue Swenson said it there is a chance the final numbers may not be ready in time for next week’s rollout of the state plans.

“We’re trying to get it into next week, but for sure in the September one,” Swenson said in an interview with IWCE Urgent Communications. “At least they’ll have an indication of it, because that’s how they’re going to make the decision. I mean, you have to have that in there. We know how important that is.”

Under the federal law giving FirstNet responsibility for the nationwide public-safety broadband network (NPSBN), states and territories can choose the FirstNet plan — constructed by AT&T — or pursue an “opt-out” alternative.

The partners have begun presenting individual State Plans, which detail what they’ll get. Local governments will have 45 days decide to join FirstNet.

Each State plan will come fully funded and without added money from local governments, but governors could choose to opt out and build their own networks and plans. So far, eight states are considering their own alternative first responder network.

The remaining states can take the 45 days to review state plans.

As the winning bidder, AT&T will build the network for the states choosing to opt in, and maintain the network for the next 25 years.

If all goes as planned, responders in those states – including Florida — will have access to the dedicated network by the end of the year.

Matt Gaetz to honor local hero who saved toddler in automobile crash

Pellicano with Kaysin’s family (Photo via

North Florida Republican Matt Gaetz will honor a local sailor who saved the life of a child involved in an automobile accident.

Gaetz, who represents Florida’s 1st Congressional District, will give special recognition in a ceremony Monday for Petty Officer First Class Joseph Pellicano of Pace, a city in Santa Rosa County.

On Jan. 16, Pellicano was on his way to work at the Naval Air Station Whiting Field near Milton, when he passed a car accident and noticed a woman, Rebekah Willis, bloodied from the crash.

Before first responders could arrive, Pellicano stopped and rendered aid to the woman, discovering her child, 17-month-old Kaysin Willis, was also bloodied and showed no vital signs. Pellicano immediately administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation and successfully revived the child.

According to, the child was transported to Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital and admitted to the infant/toddler intensive care; he was diagnosed with a fractured leg, internal bleeding and severe brain swelling from a traumatic brain injury.

The youth was placed into an induced coma to produce necessary healing.

Since then, the child has made a full recovery.

Gaetz plans to recognize Pellicano for “courageous and noble actions” during a ceremony at 3 p.m. in the board chambers of Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building at 221 Palafox Place in Pensacola.

Immediately before the ceremony, Gaetz and Escambia County commissioners will hold a special board meeting on the OLFX land exchange.

In 2015, Escambia County entered into a land exchange agreement with the United States Navy Department, with the county agreeing to construct a new outlying land field in Santa Rosa County, in exchange for an existing OLF in the county, which would then be developed into a commerce park to create new jobs.


Email insights: For Andrew Gillum, Father’s Day (and being Governor) is all about children

For Father’s Day, Andrew Gillum believes a Florida Governor’s primary focus should be children.

In an email to supporters, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee and father of three (including a one-month-old newborn) talks of the Maasai Tribe of East Africa, who “greet each other a little differently” than we do in America.

Traditional greeting for the Maasai is not about the self, but: “How are the children?”

Their ideal answer? The children are “doing well.”

“And I think that’s what we should be striving for here in Florida,” Gillum writes. “All of us want to give our kids better opportunities to grow and thrive in our communities.

As a father to “three incredible children,” Gillum is grateful that he and his wife R. Jai are “able to provide them with opportunities that I never dreamed” while growing up.

“I’m thankful that when I’m asked how my children are doing,” he says, “I can honestly say they’re doing well.”

But in Florida, Gillum says it is not always the case.

“If we were to look ourselves in the mirror today,” he writes, “we would have to admit that, as a whole, the children of Florida are not well.”

From persistent poverty, debt, unaffordable health care and a state that has “shifted resources from our public schools to private corporations,” children – and families – are far from “doing well,” Gillum says.

As Governor, Gillum vows to reinvest in public schools, affordable health care, and work to have Florida businesses offer workers a living wage.

“My goal is to be able to honestly answer that question – ‘How are the children?’ – with ‘They are doing well.’ – in every county and every corner of this state,” he says.

But running for Governor takes a little more than just being a good dad (while it doesn’t hurt).

With that, what Gillum really wants for Father’s Day is your support (and donations) to help him get there.

Email insights: Gwen Graham shares her dad’s lessons of inspiration, political courage

Father’s Day is a time where kids (of all ages) honor the leading man in their lives; devoted dads who provide inspiration and love.

Gwen Graham knows a thing or two about inspirational fathers; her dad is former Governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham – a North Florida political legend beloved by many.

For Gwen, Bob Graham – pulling double duty as a father and Florida’s Governor – was a constant lesson in courage and encouragement.

“The example he set for me, as his daughter, about problem-solving and cooperation in politics are lessons I carry with me to this day,” Gwen writes. “Perhaps the most important thing I learned from him was to have courage in the face of politics.”

Graham – who is seeking her father’s old job as Florida Governor – says the state could use more “Bob Graham-style governing” as he was a progressive champion “before it was popular.”

“He stood up for our progressive values: like advancing women’s rights, protecting our environment, and he had the courage to oppose the war in Iraq,” she writes. “Dad always did what was right for Florida, regardless of the politics.”

Gwen also knows the value of sticking to your political guns: “I was attacked by lobbyists and special interests when I supported President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to shut down and clean up coal-fired power plants.”

Facing a potentially grueling statewide campaign, having the courage of conviction – and a supportive father who knows the ropes – is undoubtedly valuable.

And as she seeks her own legacy as a prospective governor, having a daughter such as Gwen, Bob Graham is indeed blessed this Father’s Day.

Shawn Harrison kicks off HD 63 re-election bid at Tampa Theater June 29

Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison is holding a campaign kickoff party later this month to launch his re-election bid in House District 63.

The event, hosted by House Majority 2016 and featuring special guest Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, is Thursday, June 29, beginning 5 p.m. at the historic Tampa Theater, 711 N. Franklin St.

Included on the extensive list of local GOP leaders making the host committee are House Speaker Richard Corcoran from Land O’Lakes, and Speakers-to-be Jose Oliva and Chris Sprowls of Palm Harbor. Also on the committee are Tampa-area state Sens. Dana Young and Tom Lee; state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia; former House Speakers Will Weatherford and Dean Cannon; former state Rep. Seth McKeel; former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and Hillsborough County Commissioners Victor Crist, Stacy White and Sandy Murman; and Tampa City Council member Frank Reddick, among others.

Harrison first served District 7 on the Tampa City Council in District 7 in 1999, the first councilman elected to represent New Tampa since its incorporation.

Harrison next served HD 60 in the Florida House from 2010 until Democrat Mark Danish defeated him in 2012. In 2014, he won a rematch against Danish for the redrawn HD 63. In 2016, Harrison won re-election against Lisa Montelione, who resigned a seat on the Tampa City Council for a House run.

Questions or RSVP requests can be directed to Ashley at (813) 774-0193.

Florida Power & Light’s sunny future, major solar expansion on track

It’s a sunny future for Florida Power & Light Co., as construction is now well underway on all eight of the utility’s planned solar power plants.

New 74.5-megawatt solar power plants, with 2.5 million panels offering a joint capacity of 600 MW, are on track for completion by early 2018, making it one of the largest solar expansions ever in the eastern U.S.

Once completed, the plants will contribute enough low-emissions energy to the FPL grid to power nearly 120,000 homes.

Officials with FPL, now the largest generator of solar energy in Florida, say construction of the plants will be cost effective — resulting in net savings for FPL customers over and above construction costs. The eight new plants are expected to generate millions of dollars in net lifetime savings to customers.

“FPL is living proof that it’s possible to generate cleaner energy and deliver outstanding service while keeping customers’ electric bills among the lowest in the nation,” said FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy. “We are proud to be advancing affordable, clean energy infrastructure in Florida in close partnership with respected environmental advocates, community leaders and our customers. Together, we are bringing the benefits of solar energy to more Floridians faster and more affordably than ever before.”

Today, about 500 people are working on construction across the eight solar sites, a number expected to grow to 1,500 during peak activity this summer.

While some plants are in various stages of early development, from ground-clearing work to infrastructure, others are further along. For example, at the Horizon Solar Energy Center, which spans both Alachua and Putnam counties, FPL workers are now installing solar panels.

“FPL continues to transform the energy landscape of the state and nation, and we are honored that North Florida is playing an important role,” said Brian Bergen, vice president of economic development for the Putman County Chamber of Commerce. “These new solar power plants are about more than just affordable, clean energy. They’re also delivering economic benefits right here, right now.”

Four of the eight FPL plants are scheduled to be online by the end of 2017: Horizon Solar Energy Center in Alachua and Putnam counties; Coral Farms Solar Energy Center in Putnam County; Indian River Solar Energy Center in Indian River County and the Wildflower Solar Energy Center in DeSoto County.

Facilities scheduled for completion by March 1, 2018, include Barefoot Bay Solar Energy Center in Brevard County; Blue Cypress Solar Energy Center in Indian River County; Hammock Solar Energy Center in Hendry County and the Loggerhead Solar Energy Center in St. Lucie County.

As the “Sunshine State,” Florida ranks ninth in the nation for solar resources — the strength of the sun’s rays — making it a beautiful place for solar. As one of the nation’s cleanest electric utilities, FPL projects solar will outpace fossil fuels such as coal and oil combined as a percentage of the company’s energy mix by 2020.

From 2017 through 2023, FPL plans to add nearly 2,100 new megawatts of solar, including the approximately 600 megawatts now under construction.

FPL — a subsidiary of the Juno Beach-based NextEra Energy — is the state’s largest rate-regulated electric utility, serving more than 4.8 million customers across Florida, the third-largest customer base in the United States.

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Law enforcement identifies congressional baseball shooter

Law enforcement officials have identified the shooter at the GOP congressional baseball practice this morning as James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois.

The Washington Post reports that Hodgkinson, 66, owns a home inspection business. Records show his home inspection license expired November 2016 and was not renewed.

St. Clair County, Illinois records show that in April 2006, Hodgkinson was charged with battery and aiding damage to a motor vehicle. Charges were dismissed.

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and a congressional aide injured by a rifle-wielding shooter who sprayed bullets at a GOP baseball practice, before U.S. Capitol Police took the gunman down. Scalise is out of surgery and in stable condition.

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