The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.
Less than a year ago, Corrine Brown and Ronnie Simmons were yoked at the hip, as Congresswoman and Chief of Staff.
Less than six months ago, both were off the federal payroll — yet yoked as co-defendants in the One Door for Education fraud case.
Much has changed since then.
Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.
As part of that cooperation, Simmons had to testify against his old boss — whose attorney, in an otherwise torpid defense, actually brought the fire in the cross-examination.
Now, as Simmons waits to find out his fate, Corrine Brown seeks to alter hers, with motions last week for a new trial and an acquittal.
The motion for a new trial was predicated on a claim that the juror who got bounced because he was compelled in decision-making by the Holy Spirit was removed erroneously. And the motion for acquittal was predicated on essentially re-litigating the trial, to again make the case that Brown was a dupe of her staffer and his girlfriend, and she was too old and enfeebled to do anything about it.
Simmons’ lawyer, Anthony Suarez, spoke with FloridaPolitics.com’s Terry Roen in Orlando Wednesday. He is skeptical of these motions.
“I’ve examined the motions and believe they’re not strong enough because they don’t cite a lot of case law,” said Suarez. “They’re not going to be successful.”
He also said he anticipated the defense attacking his client.
“I compare it to the Whac-A-Mole game,” said Suarez. “The prosecutor and Brown took turns whacking my client.”
Suarez, from the beginning of pre-trial proceedings, was frank in saying that he expected a plea deal for his client — a marked departure from Corrine Brown, who was adamant in taking the case to trial.
In the post-trial strategy discussions, there still seems to be a wide divergence between the pragmatic Suarez and Brown, whose defense seems predicated on a cult of personality that effectively expired when Brown lost her primary to Al Lawson in August 2016.
Florida Democrats have sent a Freedom of Information Act request Tuesday for copies of emails by Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast.
The Florida Democratic Party is seeking access to all emails Mast gave the Federal Trade Commission related to a $5,000 campaign donation received from World Patent Marketing’s founder Scott Cooper and Mast’s subsequent appointment to the company’s board in February 2016.
Miami-based World Patent Marketing is under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding investors in a patent scam that bilked more than $10 million from consumers.
“Despite being named as a member of World Patent Marketing’s board, featured in World Patent Marketing’s promotional materials, and appearing in multiple photographs with World Patent Marketing’s embattled founder, Mast has denied knowledge of or involvement with World Patent Marketing,” according to the Florida Democratic Party news release.
“Congressman Mast’s voters deserve to know if he is telling them the truth about his involvement in a company under investigation for fraud on a massive level,” said FDP spokesperson Johanna Cervone. “If Congressman Mast is, in fact, innocent, he could have shown that from the start by releasing his emails. He has chosen not to and as a result, his voters are left guessing about whether he is putting them or his own best interest first.”
Mast was elected to his first term November to represent Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which includes the northern portion of Palm Beach through Martin and St. Lucie counties.
Brad Stewart, Mast’s communications director, responded to the request by saying the Palm City Republican “offered his full support and transparency” to the FTC in their case against Cooper and is “working with them to ensure that there is justice for anybody who was defrauded by World Patent Marketing.”
“As he has said from the beginning, Congressman Mast has no knowledge of the inner-workings of the company and never conducted any business on their behalf,” Stewart added. “He has volunteered the very limited communication he had in the course of his campaign with Scott Cooper to the FTC in hopes that it may help shed light on any wrongdoing.”
Florida ranks highest in the nation for drowning deaths of children under the age of four. A grim statistic to consider before heading out to the beach, lake or pool this Memorial Day.
Memorial Day is the official start of the summer season and the best time to remind parents of the importance of teaching children about water safety.
Florida had the highest drowning rate in the nation for the under four age group with 7.5 per 100,000 population, according to 2013 statistics from the Florida Department of Health. Enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown each year in Florida and do not live to see their fifth birthday.
Most of those incidents occur in backyard pools and studies have shown that usually an adult was nearby, but not watching the child when they fell in the pool
Children growing up in Florida are surrounded by water, whether it’s a backyard pool, canal, lake or the ocean. That’s why Kelly Whittemore, founder of Swim Life, has devoted her career to teaching children how to swim.
Whittemore said children die in Central Florida because parents don’t realize how easy it is to get distracted when watching their children around water.
“A child can drown in the seconds it takes to return a text message,” said Whittemore, who has been teaching swim lessons for 25 years. “Hollywood has done us all a big disservice. They’ve made it look like there’s lots of splashing and noise involved. In reality, a child can slip in without a splash and there’s no noise. That’s how quickly and silently it happens.”
Whittemore said she believes every parent has the best of intentions when watching their children in the water, but there are so many distractions, like cellphones, text messages, alcohol and conversations with friends that interrupt their watch.
“So many parents sign up for swim lessons after a near miss,” she said. “They say, ‘all I did was answer a text or run inside because the oven was beeping.’”
Those interruptions are the reason Whittemore suggests every parent enroll their child in a water safety program early and often. She said swim lessons should be refreshed every year because as the child grows, so does their body.
“And before you open your home and pool to guests, be a responsible homeowner, host and parent — set pool rules, have life jackets on hand for kids who can’t swim and ensure they wear them at all times,” said Whittemore, who founded Swim Life, which has swim schools in seven states and Okinawa, Japan. “When pool barriers are open, an adult, one who can swim well, should be perched on deck with no phone and no alcohol in them, so their eyes can be on the pool and the kids in and around it.”
Swim Life offers lessons at several Central Florida locations. The 15-minute, one-on-one lessons are held four days a week for five weeks for a total of 20 lessons. The cost is $80 a week plus a $60 registration fee. Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the lessons.
The survival swim school started in 2012 with two locations in Lake Mary. Due to demand, they are expanding this summer and adding a third pool in Sanford, which will be indoor for year round lessons.
May and June are the most popular months for swim lessons and some of Swim First’s 21 instructors are already booked through July.
Top 5 Tips for Pool Safety
— Designate a responsible adult to be a “water watcher” to ensure constant, attentive supervision of the pool — phone and alcohol-free
— Put a life jacket on anyone who can’t swim and float independently
— Use pool fences and latched gates at all times — never assume a child won’t wander into the pool unsupervised
— If a child goes missing, check the pool first. And make sure at least one adult knows CPR
— Enroll kids in lessons that teach independent swimming and floating — people don’t drown because they can’t swim; they drown because they can’t breath
Top 5 Tips for Beach Safety
— Look for a lifeguard stand, only swim on beaches with a lifeguard and swim as close to one as possible
— Put young or inexperienced swimmers in a life jacket
— Parents set up on the beach with a direct line of site to the water, and take a picture of your child in whatever he’s wearing — bright colors are easiest to spot on a busy beach
— Educate kids who can swim about rip currents by practicing with them how they should swim parallel to the shoreline
The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be more active than normal, with five to nine hurricanes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationforecasts 11 to 17 named tropical storms will develop in the region, which includes the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the agency announced Thursday. NOAA predicted that five to nine could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, including 2 to 4 major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.
Hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.
The upcoming season could be comparable to the 2016 season, the most active since 2012, with 15 named storms, including seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes. An average season produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.
The numbers include Tropical Storm Arlene, a rare pre-season storm that formed over the eastern Atlantic in April.
“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Nino, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.
Strong El Ninos and wind shear typically suppress the development of Atlantic hurricanes, so the prediction for weak conditions points to more hurricane activity this year. Also, warmer sea surface temperatures tend to fuel hurricanes as they move across the ocean.
“Regardless of how many storms develop this year, it only takes one to disrupt our lives,” said Acting FEMA Administrator Robert J. Fenton, Jr. “Get ready now with these easy, low-cost steps that will leave you better prepared and will make all the difference: Know your evacuation route; tune into your local news or download the FEMA app to get alerts, and finally – listen to local authorities as a storm approaches.”
NOAA will update this outlook in early August, just before the peak of hurricane season.
Visit Orlando announced Thursday that a record 68 million visitors came to Orlando last year, making it the number one destination in the United States.
The number was released during Visit Orlando’s annual Travel & Tourism Luncheon at the Hilton Orlando.
“Orlando’s visitation number represents the emotional connections we make with millions all over the world,” said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “The love they show us never ceases to inspire us and led us to launch a yearlong campaign about two important words: thank you.”
To mark the occasion, Visit Orlando achieved a Guinness World Records title by gathering 3,144 handwritten thank you notes from local attractions and hotels to mail to visitors that supported the Orlando destination. The cards will be mailed to visitors that used Visit Orlando’s social media channels, destination websites and member programs.
“Orlando and Orange County continue to be the number one vacation destination in the nation,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. “But this wouldn’t be possible without the many millions of guests who choose to come here year after year for our world-renowned attractions and entertainment options.”
The TRUST Orlando Coalition Friday unveiled statewide legislation designed to protect the safety and constitutional rights of Florida’s immigrant communities.
Carmen Torres, wife of Senator Victor Torres, and Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, spoke on the steps of Orlando City Hall urging passage of House Bill 1407 and Senate Bill 1674.
“Florida is home to 925,000 undocumented immigrants, and 110,000 live in the Orlando Metropolitan area,” said Smith, whose parents were immigrants. “This is very urgent legislation that will protect our hardworking immigrants.”
The bills would protect the constitutional rights of immigrants and prevent harassment from law enforcement without a court order. It would also prohibit Florida’s public schools and universities from releasing information about immigrant families to federal officials.
Smith conceded that the bills might be difficult to pass.
“It will be really challenging,” said Smith. “But we need to send a message that there are leaders that have their (immigrants) back.”
Fernan Lauro Gregorio, an 18-year-old UCF student who moved to the U.S. from Argentina in 2004, said he lives in fear for his family.
“We fear for our family members, not aliens, who might hear a knock on their door and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) might come and get them,” Gregorio said.
More than 40 people gathered on the steps of City Hall and carried posters that said “We are here to stay” and “All families united to protect immigrants and refugees.”
“We are sending a loud message that we are united in solidarity, justice and equality,” said Rasha Mubarak, a Palestinian, Muslim American who is a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida. “Let us stop this rhetoric of hate and division.”
TRUST Orlando Coalition is a collaboration of 28 nonprofits that have banded together to protect immigrants and refugees. Groups that attended Friday included The Farmworker Association of Florida, The Interfaith Council of Central Florida, Council on American-Islamic Relations and UNITE HERE Local 737.
Enterprise Florida’s Executive Committee named Mike Grissom interim CEO Tuesday, a day after the embattled agency’s CEO abruptly resigned.
Former CEO Chris Hart IV resigned after serving only three months on the job.
Stan Connally, vice chairman of the Enterprise board of directors, hastily called the meeting Tuesday and nominated Grissom, who served as interim CEO last year. Grissom is the current executive vice president of the economic development agency.
“Mike Grissom served in the previous interim CEO role,” said Connally. “He has familiarity with the issues and it makes good logical sense to put him in that role again.”
Grissom served as interim CEO from June 2016 to January 2017, before Hart officially became the CEO. Connally suggested that there would be no time limit on Grissom’s interim role.
“Let’s let the dust settle from the last day and half before we make bigger decisions,” Connally said.
The measure passed with a unanimous vote, ending the 13-minute meeting.
Hart was hired Nov. 30, after the agency spent five months looking for a replacement for former CEO Bill Johnson, who resigned 15 months into his two-year contract. Hart never signed a formal contract with Enterprise Florida. He left the department leaderless amid a battle with the state House, which is pushing a bill to eliminate both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.
Before joining Enterprise Florida, Grissom served as a senior director at the Florida Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. He also held positions in the offices of Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum.
Grissom will continue his duties as both executive vice president and interim CEO of the agency.
A team of 15 observers from 10 organizations counted 3,488 manatees on Florida’s east coast and 3,132 on the west coast of the state during the aerial survey. That top’s last year’s county by 370 manatees.
And while the Jan. 30 through Feb. 2 survey is not a population count, it’s a good indicator that Florida manatees are using the state’s springs, power plant discharge areas and warm water tributaries as their winter refuge.
The survey is done every winter following a cold front, said Holly Edwards, FWC biologist and assistant research scientist, who stressed that aerial counts are not accurate population counts because they can often miss manatees. Warm, sunny weather aided this year’s counts with low winds and good visibility.
“We did have every nice weather conditions this year, and it was cold enough to move the animals into our survey areas,” Edwards said. “This is not a record; this is a minimum count.”
Numbers vary depending on whether it is warm or cold, sunny or cloudy, calm or windy. Manatees are more easily counted a few days after a cold front when it is slightly warmer, clear and windless. A warming trend with sunny, windless conditions following cold weather increases the likelihood that manatees will be resting at the water’s surface, where they can easily be spotted.
The survey is conducted to meet a Florida state statute, which requires an annual, impartial, scientific census of the manatee population. The counts have been made 31 times from 1991 through 2017.
“The relatively high counts we have seen for the past three years underscore the importance of warm-water habitat to manatees in Florida,” according to Gil McRae, FWC biologist and head of FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, in a statement released Monday.
Valentine’s Day spending is expected to be a little less sweet this year, dipping for the first time in a decade, according to an annual consumer survey.
Consumers plan to keep their budgets in check as they spend $10 less on gifts. Also, fewer people say they will celebrate the holiday this year.
“The slight decrease in spending is understandable given the record-breaking pace Valentine’s Day spending had reached the previous ten years,” said Randy Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, the trade association that represents retailers. “This day is still expected to mean significant revenues for Florida’s retailers as consumers shower their loved ones with gifts, flowers, candy, tickets to events and dinners at local restaurants.”
The average consumer will spend $136.57 on gifts, down from last year’s record high of $146.84 but total spending nationally is still expected to reach a robust $18.2 billion, according to the National Retail Federation‘s annual survey.
Back in 2007, consumers spent an average $119.67 for a total of $16.9 billion. Valentine’s spending grew most years over the past decade before hitting last year’s record. But the number of people surveyed who plan to celebrate the holiday has dropped from 63 percent in 2007 to 54 percent this year.
The most popular gifts are candy, cards, an evening out and flowers, in that order. Consumers plan to spend $4.3 billion on jewelry, $3.8 billion on an evening out, $2 billion on flowers, $1.9 billion on clothing, $1.7 billion on candy, $1.4 billion on gift cards/gift certificates and $1 billion on greeting cards.
Also popular this year are “gifts of experience” such as tickets to a concert or sporting event, a gym membership or an outdoor adventure. While 40 percent of consumers want an experience gift, only 24 percent plan to give one.
This year’s survey found consumers plan to spend an average $85.21 on their significant other/spouse, $26.59 on other family members such as children or parents, $6.56 on children’s classmates and teachers, $6.51 on friends, $4.27 on co-workers and $4.44 on pets.
The survey, which asked 7,591 consumers about their Valentine’s Day plans, was conducted January 4-11.
Madame Tussauds locations in Orlando, Washington, D.C., New York, and London unveiled wax figures of President-elect Donald Trump ahead of Friday’s inauguration.
A team of 20 artists worked around the clock for six months to create the wax figures. It took five weeks just to fashion Trump’s famous hairstyle with each individual hair inserted by hand.
This isn’t the first time Trump has been immortalized in wax. He’s actually the first president to already have a Madame Tussauds wax figure. Artists took hundreds of photos and measurements of Trump in 1997 for his first figure. After he won the 2016 election, the original was updated to match his current look.
“Mr. Trump was the most-searched person globally on Google in 2016 so the pressure was on to perfect his iconic features in time for inauguration,” said Therese Alvich, general manager of Madame Tussauds Washington, D.C. in a release.
Dressed in a patriotic dark blue suit, red tie and Made in America flag lapel pin, Trump will replace Barack Obama in a White House oval office set.