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Staff Reports

FRA head strikes back: ‘Redevelopment is about the people’

With the House of Representatives now trying to take out community redevelopment agencies (CRAs), the head of the Florida Redevelopment Association is fighting back.

“Community redevelopment agencies breathe new life into communities that have been neglected or forgotten, and their impact goes far beyond the buildings and roads they help develop,” said Carol Westmoreland, executive director of the association.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has made it a 2018 Legislative Session priority to rein in the state’s more than 200 community redevelopment agencies.

The chamber already is moving a bill (HB 17) requiring, among other things, more transparency and board member ethics trainings.

The legislation, ready for the House floor in January, was followed by a House Media Team video slamming CRAs as vehicles for local government to pay for their “pet projects.”

“Ever heard of Community Redevelopment Agencies?” the video begins. “Chances are you haven’t, but chances are you’re paying for one.

“Community Redevelopment Agencies, or CRAs, were meant to clean up slums and blighted neighborhoods. Instead they became another vehicle for local governments to take your money and spend it on their pet projects. That’s why your Florida House is is introducing legislation to bring accountability and transparency to CRAs in Florida.”

But the “work of our local CRAs is about the community and those living in it; redevelopment is about the people,” Westmoreland said in a statement.

“These efforts should not go unnoticed, unrecognized or misrepresented, as CRAs are dedicated to our citizens and restoring our communities to make them come alive.”

Westmoreland also provided talking points backing the associations’ benefits:

— “Florida’s community redevelopment agencies (CRAs) serve to revitalize communities through projects such as streetscapes and roadway improvements, building renovations, neighborhood parks and more.”

— “CRAs are created by local governments and funded by tax increment funding, which captures tax revenues resulting from increases in property values attributable to an agency’s investment in an area.”

— “Unfortunately, Florida’s CRAs are currently under attack by proposed legislation that will enact crippling regulations in an attempt to impede the creation of new CRAs and phase out existing programs.”

— “SB 432 and HB 17 aim to impose a laundry list of revised requirements that will have an enormous negative impact on the survival of local CRAs.”

— “Without local CRAs, the progress that has been made in redevelopment will come to a halt; property values will drop, and communities will suffer.”

Finally, she referred to a video of “how CRAs are working to improve local communities,” produced by the Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA.

Official Florida House photo

Frank White touts NW FL backing in crowded GOP AG primary

Rep. Frank White, one of four candidates vying for the Republican nomination for Attorney General, rolled out more endorsements from his Panhandle base Friday.

The endorsements: Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward; Gulf Breeze Mayor Matt Dannheisser; Okaloosa County Commission Chair Carolyn Ketchel; Okaloosa County Commission Vice-Chair Graham W. Fountain; Escambia County Commission Vice-Chair Jeff Bergosh; Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward described White as “a consistent conservative and tireless worker with the character to lead.”

“As an accomplished attorney, businessman and community leader, Frank will bring a unique and important perspective to the attorney general’s office,” Hayward added.

Gulf Breeze Mayor Matt Dannheisser said he was “proud to support Frank White for Attorney General”.

“As Mayor of Gulf Breeze,” Dannheisser said, “I know the challenges that an executive leader faces on a daily basis and how to overcome those challenges. Frank White is an effective, conservative leader who will serve as Attorney General with integrity, principle, and a tireless work ethic for all Floridians. I look forward to working with Frank in the campaign ahead.”

Okaloosa County Commission Chair Carolyn Ketchel lauded White’s “commitment to family values, his faith, and his integrity,” while County Commission Vice-Chair Fountain lauded White’s “commitment to conservative values, upholding the rule of law, and protecting our second amendment rights [as] essential for our Florida’s chief law enforcement officer.”

Escambia County Commission Vice-Chair Jeff Bergosh described White as a “dedicated and principled defender of our constitutional rights, the rule of law, and family values.”

And Escambia Commissioner Grover Robinson, a former President of the Florida Association of Counties, had the following to say.

“It is very important to me that we have a person of faith, integrity and principle in Florida’s lead prosecutor. We are fortunate to have such a leader in Northwest Florida who embodies these qualities in his private and public career and is willing to use them in service to the entire state. It is my honor to endorse Frank White for Attorney General,” Robinson said.

White is “humbled and honored these leaders of our region recognize my commitment to our conservative principles.”

“I appreciate their support as I travel the state to become Florida’s next Attorney General,” White added.

White currently leads the fundraising race against both Jay Fant and Ashley Moody, on the strength of a $1.75M+ first month in the race.

Rep. Ross Spano declared his candidacy on Thursday, as the field to succeed Pam Bondi continues to draw a crowd.

Personnel note: Anna Alexopoulos Farrar named DFS communications director

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced that Anna Alexopoulos Farrar will join the Department of Financial Services (DFS) as Communications Director. In this capacity, she will oversee the communications strategy for the department.

Patronis said: “Anna is a seasoned communications professional whose experience in both the government and private sectors brings a fresh perspective to the role. This experience and her knowledge of the department will help us advance our efforts to connect with Floridians on top issues that impact those living in our great state.”

Alexopoulos Farrar has more than 10 years of experience in public and private communications. She joins the department after nearly three years at a top Florida public relations firm, On 3 Public Relations (On3PR), serving most recently as vice president of accounts where she led communication strategy and message development for major companies and organizations.

She previously served as press secretary for DFS under former CFO Jeff Atwater, and managed media relations for Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), a national organization that focuses on disaster prep, mitigation, and safety.

Alexopoulos Farrar, a 2007 Florida Atlantic University graduate, began her post-college career in Broward County politics, as chair of the Broward County Young Republicans and membership chair of the Republican Party of Broward County. She was also vice chair of the Florida Federation of Young Republicans.

Alexopoulos Farrar was the 2010 Broward County victory director for the Republican Party of Florida before moving to Tallahassee to work for Atwater’s communications operation.

Her first day on the job is Monday, Nov. 20. Alexopoulos Farrar succeeds Ashley Carr who is resigning for a role with the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation.

Personnel note: Chip Case, Foyt Ralston start Capitol Advocates

Veteran lobbyists Chip Case and Foyt Ralston have formed a new firm, Capitol Advocates, to represent clients before the Legislature, executive branch agencies, and in Washington, according to a news release. 

“In today’s political climate, clients need advocates in the Capitol who have the expertise to work with policymakers in all branches of government, and who can help them achieve their legislative priorities,” Case said. “We are excited about the access and expertise our team of political veterans is going to bring together for our clients.”

Ralston added, “Our combined experience in both the public and private sector not only gives clients unparalleled access to lawmakers but helps them successfully navigate various local, state and federal branches of government.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Capitol Advocates represents a variety of business and non-profit clients from throughout the state of Florida in addition to providing crisis communications and political guidance to corporate and political organizations.

For more than 20 years, Case has been involved in state government and politics … He has held nearly every role in state government from legislative assistant to chief of staff.  

From 2004-06 he served as Deputy Chief of Staff to House Speaker Allan Bense, where his responsibilities included external affairs, policy development on Medicaid reform, tort Rrform, and transportation, as well as the coordination of all statutory appointments for the Speaker.

Case also has served as one of the state’s leading strategists and fundraisers to various successful election and re-election campaigns for some of the state’s top governmental officials for the last two decades. Upon his re-election to a second term, Case served on the transition team for Gov. Jeb Bush.

In 2006, Case returned to the Republican Party of Florida, where he became Chief of Staff for House campaigns. He was responsible for recruiting candidates, directing strategy and media outreach, fundraising, and managing a $14 million budget for the 2008 cycle.

That year, the Republican Party’s House campaign successfully maintained 76 State House seats for Republicans—the same year that President Obama won Florida and Democrats were expected to make significant gains at the state level.

Ralston has more than 20 years of experience in government relations in the public and private sectors and brings a wealth of knowledge to the firm.

His past professional experiences include serving as Florida’s chief information officer and as chief of staff of the State Technology Office. In this leadership position, Ralston helped create reforms affecting the conduct of business by government and private industry.

Prior to working with the State of Florida executive branch, Ralston was staff director for the Florida Senate Majority Office. He has also served in numerous leadership positions with local and state campaigns as well as with several congressional campaigns.

In the private sector, Ralston has represented various local city and county governments as well as taxing districts. He has represented a variety of clients with diverse issues including information technology, energy, manufacturing, tort reform, public finance, environmental regulation, agriculture, insurance, regulated industries, special taxing districts, healthcare and telecommunications.

Rick Scott announces seven state board appointments

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott announced seven appointments and reappointments to a variety of Florida boards and commissions.

Florida Board of Pharmacy

Scott began by appointing two to the Florida Board of Pharmacy.

Dr. Jeffrey Mesaros, 40, of Orlando, is the senior legal counsel of pharmacy practice for CVS Health. Mesaros received his doctor of pharmacy from the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy at Wilkes University. He succeeds Dr. Goar Alvarez for a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

David Wright, 53, of Fort Pierce, is the owner of Butterfield Pharmacy. Wright succeeds Debra Glass for a term ending Oct. 31, 2019.

These appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

South Florida State College District board of trustees

Scott reappointed Joe Wright to the South Florida State College District board of trustees.

Wright, 61, of Avon Park, is the president of V. W. Farms, Inc. The University of Florida alum is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2019.

Wright’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Health Care District of Palm Beach County

Scott also reappointed Les Daniels to the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.

Daniels, of Palm Beach, is the operating partner of AE Industrial Partners, LLC. He is reappointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2020.

Chipola College District board of trustees

Scott then reappointed Daniel “Danny” Ryals to the Chipola College District board of trustees.

Ryals, 66, of Altha, is a broker with Danny Ryals Real Estate and the owner of R & R Warehouses. He is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

Ryal’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Florida Polytechnic University board of trustees

Scott reappointed Gary Wendt to the Florida Polytechnic University board of trustees.

Wendt, 75, of Ft. Lauderdale, currently serves as the Chairman of Deerpath Capital Management, LP. He is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2022.

Wendt’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Florida Center for Nursing board of directors

Lastly, Scott named Patrice Vance to the Florida Center for Nursing board of directors.

Vance, 53, of Tampa, is the division vice president of clinical operations and quality for HCA West Florida Division. She succeeds Dora Krauss for a term beginning ending June 30, 2018.


Rick Scott wants millions for active-duty military, vets

Gov. Rick Scott announced that he will propose $178 million to support active military, veterans and their families in Florida as part of his 2018-2019 recommended budget, according to a Monday press release.

“He also announced his support for a proposal being considered by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) to provide free tuition to the families of fallen first responders, state law enforcement officers and military members who have lost their lives in the line of duty,” it said.

If passed by the CRC, the proposal will be on the ballot in 2018 and would require approval of 60 percent of Florida voters.

The proposal was filed by Commissioner Emery Gainey, a 25-year veteran of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and now Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s Director of Law Enforcement Relations, Victim Services & Criminal Justice Programs.

Scott said, “We will never be able to repay our fallen officers or service members who have bravely given their lives, but it is our duty to ensure that their families are supported as if they were our own.”

His $178 million investment for Florida’s active military, veterans and their families includes:

— $200,000 for search and rescue vessels and protective equipment for our National Guardsmen to use during deployment;

— Nearly $8 million to begin operations at the Lake Baldwin State Veteran Nursing Home, which will allow this facility to serve more than 110 veterans in the coming year;

— $2 million for Building Homes for Heroes to build and modify homes for veterans who were severely injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan;

— $2 million for the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which helps support our military and defense communities and the many families who rely on them; and

— $2.7 million to support veterans looking to obtain employment, start their own businesses and make Florida their home, including $1 million for Veterans Florida to continue their mission of helping veterans find great jobs at Florida businesses.

For the full press release, click here. The governor is expected to release his proposed 2018-19 state budget in Jacksonville on Tuesday morning.

Get your checkbooks ready for this week’s legislative fundraisers

Get your checkbooks ready, PAC chairs and Tallahassee uber-lobbyists for a handful of fundraisers for legislative candidates planned for this week.

On Monday, Nov. 13, Plantation Democratic state Sen. Lauren Book will be holding a fundraiser beginning 5:30 p.m. at Old Fields Plantation, 396 Booth Lane in Monticello. Book is seeking a second term in Senate District 32, which covers parts of Broward County.

On Tuesday, Nov. 14, state Rep. Brad Drake will be holding a 4:30 p.m. reception at Jacob’s on the Plaza Doubletree, 101 S Adams St. in Tallahassee. Drake, a Eucheeanna Republican, represents House District 5, which covers Holmes, Jackson, Washington and northern Bay counties.

At 5 p.m., state Reps. Daniel Perez and Robert “Bobby O” Olszewski and Republican candidates Lawrence McClure and James Buchanan will hold a joint fundraiser, also at the Doubletree. Perez represents House District 116, Olszewski represents HD 44; both candidates have recently won special elections for the seat. McClure is seeking HD 58; Buchanan, son of from Sarasota Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan, is seeking HD 71.

Then, at 5:30 p.m., state Sen. Gary Farmer will be at the Governors Club Board Room, 202 S. Adams Street in Tallahassee. Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, is seeking another term in SD 34, which covers parts of Broward County.


On Wednesday, Nov. 15, state Reps. Randy Fine, Jason Fischer and Rick Roth will be at the Governors Club beginning 12:30 p.m. Fine, a Palm Bay Republican, is seeking a second term in HD 53, which covers south Brevard  County; Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican, is running for re-election in HD 16, which covers part of Duval County; Ross, a Loxahatchee Republican, is seeking another term in HD 85, which covers Palm Beach and Palm Beach Gardens.

Poynter posts surplus despite operating loss last year

The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg says it “reported an annual surplus of $627,000 in 2016, continuing its trend of continuous financial improvement,” according to a recent press release.

“I applaud the hard work of the Poynter staff to get us to the point where we have begun to reinvest in the Institute,” said Neil Brown, the newly appointed president of the nonprofit journalism education organization, in a statement. “That’s a trend that we plan to continue heading into the new year.”

Overall, however, “Poynter ran at an operating loss of $520,000 in 2016,” the release said. Still, “this is a 59 percent improvement on the 2015 results.”

The organization further “anticipates that its 2017 tax return will show that the Institute has doubled operating revenues in 10 years,” it said. “The Institute reduced expenses in 2016 by 18.3 percent, while teaching 100,000 people from more than 100 countries and all 50 states.”

“The media industry is vibrant but the environment is challenging in profound ways, from shifts in audience behavior to issues surrounding trust and credibility,” Brown said. “Poynter will continue to respond by offering practical and relevant work to fortify journalism and strengthen democracy. Our brand of training has never been more important than it is now.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Cash and publicly traded investments increased by nearly 25 percent due in large part to grants and gifts received for multi-year programs. These significant contributions to Poynter demonstrate growing confidence and commitment by funders in support of the Institute’s work.

The multi-year projects include grants from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to modernize the Institute’s online learning platform, News University, and to accelerate digital transformation in local news through the Local News Innovation project.

The Newmark Philanthropies endowed the Newmark Chair for Journalism Ethics at the Institute, and Poynter will host its inaugural Journalism Ethics Summit on Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C.

A grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation funded specialized reporting institutes aimed at ensuring that citizens benefit from the best reporting on key issues.

And Poynter expanded the work of its International Fact-Checking Network through significant support from the Omidyar Network and the National Endowment for Democracy.

Overall, the Institute’s finances were bolstered in 2016 by a 58 percent increase in contributions and grants revenue.

This includes proceeds from Poynter’s annual fundraising gala, the Bowtie Ball. In 2016, Poynter honored NBC News legend Tom Brokaw with the Poynter Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism.

Sundial contractor sues owner for unpaid $132K of $11.5M contract

A local contractor which helped transform St. Petersburg’s Sundial outdoor shopping complex is suing the owner of the premier upscale entertainment and retail center.

At issue is more than $132,000 left unpaid of the $11.5 million contract.

Hennessy Construction Services is the contractor behind some of the city’s most high-profile projects. Founded in 1920, Hennessy, through owner and CEO Bronson Alexander, has worked on several signature projects including the Mahaffey Theater, Shorecrest Preparatory School’s athletic center, Al Lang Stadium, the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts, and the Don Cesar hotel.

Bill Edwards, the well-known St. Petersburg business executive and philanthropist, owns Loan Ranger Acquisitions, which bought the struggling 74,500-square-foot outdoor mall in 2011 for a reported $5.2 million.

Edwards is a mortgage executive and music producer who owns the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team and the Treasure Island Tennis & Yacht Club; he also runs the city’s Mahaffey Theater.

After the purchase, BayWalk was re-christened as Shops at St. Pete. Once major renovations were completed, the complex later reopened in May 2014 as Sundial, a high-end outdoor shopping, dining and entertainment center in the heart of downtown. Among the tenants include an 80,000-square-foot Muvico Theaters and Locale, a 20,000-square-foot epicurean market from nationally celebrated chef Michael Mina and restaurateur Don Pintabona.

Sundial’s features include a lagoon developed by Emmy Award-winning production designer Rene Lagler, which uses nearly 288,000 one-inch porcelain tiles. St. Petersburg-based Mark Aeling and MGA Sculpture Studio, located in the city’s Warehouse Arts District, created a bronze dolphin statue and the nearly three-story tall operational bowstring sundial, one of the largest ever constructed.

According to a suit filed Oct. 31 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Loan Ranger hired Hennessy in 2013 for the $11.5-million project to renovate BayWalk.

However, years later, Hennessy is arguing that Loan Ranger still owes $132,166.

The contractor is seeking damages for breach of contract.

Workers’ comp costs going down

The cost to buy worker’s compensation insurance is going down in the Sunshine State.

Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier on Thursday issued a final order​ granting approval to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) for a statewide overall rate level decrease of 9.5 percent and premium level decrease of 9.8 percent, according to a press release.

The change “applies to both new and renewal workers’ compensation insurance policies effective in Florida as of January 1, 2018,” it said.

“I am pleased that today’s approval of NCCI’s rate filing will translate into a decrease in workers’ compensation rates for many Florida employers,” Altmaier said in a statement.

“The Office (of Insurance Regulation) will continue to monitor the marketplace and support reforms that provide additional cost savings for Florida’s businesses.”

Added Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis: “Florida’s job creators will no doubt appreciate this significant cost savings, a step that will support our state’s growing economy.

“I’m pleased to see the cost of business going down, and as the Legislature looks at our workers’ compensation system, I will be working with them on proposals to lock in these lowering rates.”

For more information, click here.​

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