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Get your checkbooks ready for this week’s legislative fundraisers

Get your checkbooks ready, PAC chairs and Tallahassee uber-lobbyists, for fundraisers for legislators and candidates planned for this week.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, state Reps. Travis Cummings, Jason Brodeur, Jamie Grant, Cord Byrd, MaryLynn Magar and Rene Plasencia will be holding a 5:30 p.m. fundraiser at the Southern Public House, 224 E. College Ave. in Tallahassee. Cummings, an Orange Park Republican, is seeking re-election to House District 18; Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, is seeking another term in HD 28; Grant, a Tampa Republican, is running again in HD 64; Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, is seeking another term in HD 11; Magar, a Tequesta Republican, is seeking re-election to HD 82 and Plasencia, in Orlando Republicans, is seeking his third term in HD 50.

Later, state Rep. Jake Raburn is holding a fundraiser beginning 6 p.m. at the Governors Club, 202 S. Adams St. in Tallahassee. Raburn, a Lithia Republican, is seeking another term in House District 57, which covers eastern Hillsborough County.

On Tuesday, Dec. 5, state Reps. Travis Cummings, Jason Brodeur, Jamie Grant, Cord Byrd, MaryLynn Magar and Rene Plasencia will be holding a 5:30 p.m. fundraiser at the Southern Public House, 224 E. College Ave. in Tallahassee. Cummings, an Orange Park Republican, is seeking re-election to House District 18; Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, is seeking another term in HD 28; Grant, a Tampa Republican, is running again in HD 64; Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, is seeking another term in HD 11; Magar, a Tequesta Republican, is seeking re-election to HD 82 and Plasencia, in Orlando Republicans, is seeking his third term in HD 50.

Later, state Rep. Jake Raburn is holding a fundraiser beginning 6 p.m. at the Governors Club, 202 S. Adams St. in Tallahassee. Raburn, a Lithia Republican, is seeking another term in House District 57, which covers eastern Hillsborough County.

 

Lawsuit shows Tampa Fire Marshal retiring days after accusations of super-pervy behavior

Charles Owen

Four days after accusations of extensive sexual harassment, a Tampa City Fire Marshal took retirement — as well as nearly $68,000 in final pay.

Charles Wesley Owen III is a 54-year-old Tampa resident and a licensed real estate agent. Tara Crawford is an African-American woman who lives in Hillsborough County.

On Feb. 28, After 21 years in the City of Tampa Fire Department, Owen retired as Fire Marshal.

In July 2017, the Tampa Bay Times reported on the hiring of Owen’s successor, John Reed, with Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn quoted as saying: “That department needs a shake-up, and I think it needs a culture change.”

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 22 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Crawford says she worked for the City of Tampa as an administrative assistant. While the suit does not say what agency, legal website Baylawsuits confirmed Crawford served in the Fire Marshal’s office — with Owen as her direct supervisor.

According to Kimberly Crum, Tampa’s director of human resources, the city hired Crawford as an Office Support Specialist IV starting June 23, 2014. The Tampa Fire Marshal’s office is at 3402 W. Columbus Blvd.

Beginning 2016, Crawford contends Owen began harassing her and pressuring her for sex.

Baylawsuits also obtained a copy of Crawford’s complaint to the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In it, Crawford outlined explicit allegations against Owen, who allegedly told her that “he liked black women and always wanted to have sex with one.” (However, Crawford’s lawsuit makes no mention of her race or Owen’s supposedly racially-tinged comments.)

Other examples in the document include Owen bragging daily about the size of his penis and once showed Crawford a photo of it. He also showed Crawford photos of naked women on his phone and tablet. Owen bragged of his sexual exploits and offered to show Crawford a video taken by a girlfriend of him having sex with another woman.

In addition, Owen claimed he had sex with younger married women and regularly traded sex for goods and services. For example, Owen allegedly boasted of having sex with his maid in lieu of payment.

One day, Owen demanded Crawford “go to his house with him so he could change his shirt after something was spilled on it.”

Crawford also accuses Owen of pestering her to go into his home until she agreed to do so, but she refused his request to lay on his bed.

On Feb. 24, 2017, Crawford had verbally reported the alleged harassments, and “was forced to take an extended and unpaid medical leave.” Four days later, Owen resigned, taking $67,994 in “final pay,” which included accrued annual leave and sick leave.

Crawford is seeking damages for sexual harassment.

Two new appointees join FWC

Gov. Rick Scott late Friday announced the appointment of Sonya Rood and Gary Nicklaus to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Rood, 53, of St. Augustine, succeeds Aliese “Liesa” Priddy and is appointed for a term ending Jan. 2, 2022. Nicklaus, 48, of Jupiter, succeeds Ronald Bergeron and is appointed for a term ending Aug. 1, 2022.

“I’d like to thank Liesa Priddy for nearly six years of service and Ron Bergeron for ten years of service to the state and their dedication to the conservation of Florida’s natural resources,” Scott said in a statement.

“It is because of the hard work of Floridians like Liesa and Ron that residents and visitors can safely enjoy our natural resources now and for generations to come,” he added. “I am confident that Gary Nicklaus and Sonya Rood will continue their great work and proudly serve Florida families.”

These appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

H&R Trains facing possible derailment over unpaid rent, loans

As the holidays near, an iconic local model train shop is facing possible derailment over unpaid loans and rent by a new owner.

For nearly 40 years, St. Petersburg resident Alice Gertrude Morris has owned H&R Trains — which claims to be the largest train store in Florida and the second largest model-train store in the U.S. For much of that time, H&R was at 6901 U.S. Highway 19 N in Pinellas Park, a property owned by Morris and her husband Eldon “Don” Morris via A.D. Morris Properties.

H&R — which began in the corner of a five and dime in the now-defunct Gateway Mall — is more than a store; it offers an outdoor garden railroad, a research library and learning center with videos and literature about prototype and model railroads, with material as far back as 1939.

Don was a customer when he first met Alice.

In 2012, the couple announced they were looking to sell the store. By 2014, they were still looking.

“We’ve had a lot of fun,” Don Morris told a reporter. “We’ll miss it, but it’s time.”

“We are trying to find the right person. A younger person with a passion for trains who will move the business forward,” Alice told the Tampa Bay Times.

After several years of looking for a buyer, Alice and Don Morris sold H&R Trains to Colin Morris (no relation) in 2016.

In a divorce petition filed April 2017 against Laura Edith Morris, Colin Morris listed on his financial statement that he was a firefighter/paramedic with the Treasure Island Fire Department. He also is a U.S. Army Reservist who receives disability benefits from Veterans Affairs.

As part of the deal, the couple loaned Colin $750,000 (with the train store as collateral) and leased the real estate to him for $3,240 per month.

According to a lawsuit filed Nov. 15 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Colin Morris has not made a monthly payment on the note or the rent since June 2017.

The filing states that Colin Morris did not pay rent starting in July, when he gave a check but by asking Alice Morris not to deposit it. In August 2017, Colin Morris also made three payments of $500.00 for $1,500.00 paid (Aug. 18, Aug. 30 and Aug. 31). Therefore, Colin Morris did not make a full August rental payment, and failed to make all later rental payments.

Alice Morris is seeking immediate payment of the full loan amount plus interest, foreclosure of the secured assets, and eviction.

The suit does not show how much Colin Morris agreed to pay for H&R Trains.

In the financial statement filed for his divorce case, Colin Morris listed H&R Trains among his assets. However, he claimed the business had “negative value,” with a stated liability that includes a $750,000 business loan.

Rosy outlook pushes Florida consumer sentiment up in Nov.

After three months of consecutive declines, consumer sentiment among Floridians rose to 96.7 in November, up 1.9 points from October’s revised figure of 94.8, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey.

Consumer sentiment in Florida started 2017 with a record-breaking figure and reached its highest level in 15 years during the first half of the year. Despite downturns in the second half of the year, the index is now half a point higher than the current year’s average as 2017 draws to a close.

Among the five components that make up the index, four increased and one decreased in November.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago rose 2.2 points, from 86.5 to 88.7. However, opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket household item like an appliance dropped eight-tenths of a point, from 102.7 to 101.9. Readings varied across demographic groups without a clear pattern.

“Despite one reading going up and the other down this month, the perceptions of current economic conditions among Floridians have remained positive and stable during 2017,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

Expectations of personal finances a year from now ticked up 1.2 points to 105.4. Anticipated U.S. economic conditions over the next year showed the greatest increase, up 4.6 points from 91.5 to 96.1. Expectations of U.S. economic conditions over the next five years increased 2.3 points from 89.1 to 91.4.

“Future expectations improved greatly in this month’s reading. Similar to the perceptions of current economic conditions, they have remained consistent in 2017,” Sandoval said. “Overall, Floridians are more optimistic, and the gain in November’s sentiment came from consumers’ future expectations about the economy in the medium- and long-run. Nonetheless, consumer sentiment has been very favorable over the year.”

Economic indicators in Florida have remained largely positive, and the prospects for 2018 appear good. Since the beginning of the year, Florida’s labor market has strengthened, with solid job gains statewide every month. Between January and October, the Florida unemployment rate declined by 1.4 percentage points, from 5 to 3.6 percent, reaching the lowest rate in the past 10 years.

Also, Florida’s GDP increased 3.6 percent in the second quarter of 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The leading contributors to economic growth in Florida include professional, scientific, and technical services, the real estate and leasing sector, and retail trade.

“The favorable local economic conditions and positive trends on the labor market, combined with the positive expectations about the U.S. economy in the short and long run will have a positive impact on Florida’s economy in the beginning of next year,” Sandoval said.

Conducted Nov. 1-20, the UF study reflects the responses of 482 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross-section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data.

Lori Berman nabs two dozen endorsements in SD 31 bid

Last week, more than 25 Democratic legislative leaders from Palm Beach County and the state announced endorsing state Rep. Lori Berman in her bid for Senate District 31.

Among those lining up behind Berman, a Lantana Democrat who represents HD 90, are Congressman Ted Deutch of Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, former Congressmen Patrick Murphy and Robert Wexler, both Democratic Palm Beach County Sens. Kevin Rader and Bobby Powell, Sens. Linda Stewart, Annette Taddeo and Victor Torres.

“Lori is a true progressive leader, a tireless fighter for women’s rights, and will make an excellent state senator,” Deutch said in a statement. “I am proud to endorse her.”

State Representatives endorsing Berman include House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, House Democratic Leader Designate Kionne McGhee, House Democratic Policy Chairs Evan Jenne and Cynthia Stafford, Democratic Leader Pro Tempore Bobby DuBose, Reps. Matt Willhite, Robert Asencio, Loranne Ausley, Kamia Brown, John Cortes, Tracie Davis, Ben Diamond, Joseph Geller, Patrick Henry, Shevrin Jones, Amy Mercado, Barrington Russell, Sean Shaw, Carlos Guillermo Smith, Richard Stark, Barbara Watson and Wengay “Newt” Newton.

“Lori Berman is the only choice for true Democrats in the race for state Senate, and that is why so many outstanding elected officials have come out and endorsed her today,” said Rader.

Berman is resigning her House seat effective April 9 of next year for the SD 31 special election, which covers Lake Worth, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach and Greenacres. The seat vacated after POLITICO Florida reported on an extramarital affair between then-Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens and Tallahassee lobbyist Devon West. Clemens resigned the seat.

“I am honored to have the support of these legislative leaders that have done so much for Palm Beach County and our state,” Berman responded to the endorsement wave. “I will be a bold progressive champion in the Senate and look forward to working with them in standing up for a woman’s right to choose, pushing for commonsense gun violence prevention measures, advocating for traditional public schools, expanding access to high-quality health care, and fighting for seniors.”

Doubts linger after Rick Scott pitches biggest budget

After deep cuts in spending for Florida schools and other public programs following the Great Recession, outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott this month proposed an $87.4 billion budget he says boosts spending on some depleted services to record levels.

Despite Scott’s meaty 2018-2019 budget recommendation, which is about $2.4 billion above current spending, advocates for Florida public education, environment and affordable housing remained skeptical the new plan would go far enough.

“It doesn’t move Florida (schools) out from the bottom when compared to other states,” said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the state’s teachers union.

Florida’s public school per-pupil spending sank from a peak of $7,126 in the 2007-2008 budget to a post-recession low of $6,217 for the 2011-2012 year.

In his latest proposal, Scott recommended increasing funding to $7,176 per student, a $50 rise above record-high per-student funding. Florida has more than 2.7 million students enrolled in its public K-12 schools.

Pudlow said he welcomed the governor’s increases, but support for Florida education was still lagging far behind most of the United States. The nationwide per-student spending average was $11,392 in 2015, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau data available.

Adjusted for inflation, Pudlow pointed out, Scott’s budget puts Florida’s per-student spending at about $1,200 less than it was at its peak.

Scott proposed increasing public elementary and secondary school spending to about $14.71 billion from some $14.45 billion in the current fiscal year.

NOT A DONE DEAL

Andrea Messina, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association, said she was hopeful Scott’s proposal signaled an attitude shift in the state capital toward public education financing, but the proposal was far from final.

The Florida House of Representatives and Senate will hear the governor’s budget recommendations at the next Legislative Session starting on Jan. 9. They then make their own budget proposals and negotiate until a single plan is agreed on.

That budget will go back to the governor, who has the authority to veto line items before signing off on the bill.

Scott has also proposed $180 million in cuts to taxes and fees and asked for sharp increases in spending on departments, including corrections, which would see more than 500 added jobs under the plan.

The budget for environmental protection would surge to more than $1.7 billion from $1.48 billion in the current year, making it among the budget’s biggest gainers. Florida Everglades restoration would be among the environmental projects to receive an infusion of funds.

“That’s one place where we’re happy, although the devil is in the details,” said Frank Jackalone, director of Sierra Club Florida. Jackalone said he was concerned the state would continue to cut environmental rules enforcement and to take from earmarked funds intended for the environment to spend on other government programs.

State Rep. Carlos Smith, a Democrat who represents a central Florida district seeing an influx of residents fleeing from hurricane-battered areas, including Puerto Rico, said he opposed Scott’s budget proposal on affordable housing.

Under the plan, overall spending on affordable housing would rise, Smith said, but it would also include a raid of nearly $92 million on trust funds earmarked for affordable homes.

“We don’t know what to do, people are sleeping in cars,” Smith said of storm evacuees, namely Puerto Ricans fleeing the bankrupt and hurricane-battered U.S. commonwealth.

Via Reuters. Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Daniel Bases and Jonathan Oatis.

Email Insights: Andrew Gillum touts ‘Small Business Saturday’

With the Holiday shopping season underway, the campaign of Tallahassee Mayor/Democratic Gubernational hopeful Andrew Gillum messaged on the theme of Small Business Saturday in an email.

Spoiler: he supports the initiative.

That email messaging saw the Gillum campaign alternate between waxing poetic about the unique virtues of small businesses and touting some positive indicators for his city, with a call to action for people to “commit” to shopping at small businesses in such a way that his mailing list will be boosted.

“Small businesses are more than just the backbone of our communities,” Gillum’s Comms Director, Geoff Burgan, wrote. “They’re the neighborhood bakeries we take our families to on the weekends, they’re the small mom and pop shops that help us find the right tool to repair that roof leak — and most importantly, they’re the shops that re-invest in our community.”

Burgan notes that “as Tallahassee Mayor, Andrew has worked to expand entrepreneurship and innovation opportunities within our community through the Talent Lives Here (TLH) initiative.”

As well, Burgan touts a coveted Wallethub plaudit: “In fact, thanks to Andrew’s leadership and our community members, Tallahassee’s small business environment has grown so much, that it was ranked amongst WalletHub’s 2016’s Best Large Cities to Start a Business.”

“It takes all of us working together to grow an economy that works for all of us — and it starts with the small businesses right down the street,” Burgan writes.

Gillum’s path to the Democratic nomination saw one obstacle removed Friday, as trial lawyer John Morgan said he wouldn’t pursue the party’s nod.

Despite the removal of that obstacle, Gillum faces challenges.

Between his campaign and political committee accounts, Gillum had roughly $550,000 on hand at the end of October.

That sum puts him well behind two key Democratic opponents: former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and current Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who had $4 million and $5.6 million on hand at the end of the month.

However, the runaway winner in the cash chase is Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who had $14.7 million banked at the end of October.

Grab your rod and reel: License-free saltwater fishing this Saturday

Gov. Rick Scott announced that Saturday, Nov. 25 will be a license-free saltwater fishing day.

This Saturday is one of eight days each year when residents and visitors can fish without a license. Saltwater license-free fishing days allow anglers to fish for saltwater species without being required to have a saltwater recreational fishing license.

“As Floridians gather with their loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving, this license-free fishing day is a great opportunity for families and visitors to enjoy our state’s great outdoors together,” Scott said in a statement.

“We are grateful to live in such a beautiful state with unique natural treasures that help attract record numbers of visitors, and I encourage all families to take advantage of the license-free saltwater fishing day this weekend.”

Added Brian Yablonski, chair of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC): “Whether at the table or on the water, Thanksgiving weekend is a perfect time to gather with friends and family.

“I am thankful for the opportunity to incentivize fishing in Florida and allow anglers to show friends and family, especially youth, the joys it offers.”

All bag limits, seasons and size restrictions apply on license-free fishing days. To learn more, go to MyFWC.com/License. For fishing tips, locations and other information, go to MyFWC.com/Fishing.

Adam Putnam, Pam Bondi offer holiday shopping tips

In advance of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi offered shopping tips to help consumers avoid scams.

Putnam’s office says to keep the following tips in mind while shopping on Black Friday:

— Some retailers may inflate prices ahead of Black Friday to create the illusion of a drastic price cut. Research the regular retail price of items to check how much will actually be saved.

— Price matching policies may be suspended by some retailers between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

— Be wary of unexpected emails that claim to contain coupons with significant discounts and ask for personal information. Don’t click on any suspicious links. These may contain malware to compromise your identity.

— Read the fine print at the bottom of sales ads, as sales may be limited to certain time periods, brands or quantities.

His office also provided advice for Cyber Monday:

— Avoid websites with odd or incorrect spellings of legitimate companies. Domain names that include hyphens are often red flags.

— Beware of bogus websites promising unbelievable deals. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

— Be wary of “delivery failure” or “order confirmation” emails for items you did not order. These may be used to gain a consumer’s personal information.

— Use a credit card for online orders. It is easier to dispute and mediate fraudulent charges with a credit card than a debit card.

— Use strong passwords for credit cards and bank accounts.

Bondi’s office released the 2017 Holiday Consumer Protection Guide, which “provides product safety information and tips to help consumers enjoy a safer and more satisfying holiday shopping experience.”

Consumers can find online purchasing tips and advice for avoiding charity scams. Also, the guide includes a list of items recalled by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission in the past year, specifically focusing on children’s toys and items that pose a particular risk to kids and teens.

Bondi also offered tips to protect financial information when purchasing online:

— Pay with a credit card rather than a debit card.

— Ensure the browser is using a secure connection.

— Contact debit and credit card account providers to see if the providers offer one-time card numbers to be used for online transactions.

— Keep receipts and be sure to understand retailers’ return policies and periods so consumers can return any unwanted items in a timely manner and get a full refund.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ consumer protection and information hotline is 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832). For consumer protection information and resources, go to FloridaConsumerHelp.com.

Bondi’s Citizens Services hotline is at 866-9-NO-SCAM or go to MyFloridaLegal.comThe link to her 2017 Holiday Consumer Protection Guide is here

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