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Staff Reports

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.​

Nursing homes push back on public accusations of noncompliance in generator order

Florida’s leading nursing home association is pushing back on that state’s public accusations that nearly two dozen nursing homes missed a key deadline in Gov. Rick Scott‘s emergency generator rule.

A statement Wednesday from the Agency for Health Care Administration claims 23 nursing homes have not followed Scott’s rule that nursing homes and assisted living facilities must file emergency plans by Oct. 31, and purchase generators and fuel by Nov. 15 to sufficiently keep a temperature of 82 degrees in case of emergency.

Those charges are both unfair and false, said Emmett Reed, executive director of the Florida Health Care Association.

“The AHCA appears to have made no attempt to contact facilities in advance to verify the accuracy of this ill-conceived list before releasing it to the public,” Reed said in a statement. “Several facilities on the list not only submitted their documentation, but those variance requests have also been published on the AHCA website since Oct. 16.”

FHCA, which stands for most of the state’s 683 nursing homes, is “disappointed” by the AHCA statement, Reed said, noting that at least three of the nursing homes accused of noncompliance had submitted emergency plans by Oct. 31.

“It appears AHCA is more interested in generating news stories than in gathering facts and arriving at a place of consensus to will ensure that nursing homes meet the Governor’s mandate, despite its unrealistic timeline,” Reed added.

FHCA has “consistently stated its willingness to work with the agency,” Reed said, to prepare nursing centers and assisted living facilities so they can stay safe during severe weather events and other disasters.

Scott issued the Emergency Power Plan Rule Sept. 16 in response to the deaths of 14 elderly residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills which lost power during Hurricane Irma. The AHCA and the state’s Department of Elder Affairs were tasked with administering the order.

FHCA, along with other organizations representing nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, argues that Scott’s order was hastily prepared, and fails to give them enough time to implement.

The rule was challenged in administrative court, with Scott appealing the challenge. The issue is now in the 1st District Court of Appeal.

FHCA — which did not challenge the rule — has repeated asked Scott’s administration to negotiate directly with the trade groups, using the rule-making process instead of going through the courts.

Despite his disappointment with the AHCA accusations, Reed said his group remains “committed to working with the Governor and his administration to adopt workable procedures to protect the well-being of those entrusted to our care.”


St. Pete Arts and Crafts Museum sued over demands for alley access

A border dispute in St. Petersburg is breaking out between a massive museum project under construction and its next-door neighbor, a long-established downtown bank.

In 2013, Tarpon Springs businessman and art collector Rodolfo “Rudy” Ciccarello announced plans for the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement in downtown St. Pete.

The next step came in February 2014, when Synovus Bank subdivided a parcel it owned at 3rd Avenue N in downtown St. Pete, selling part of it to the American Craftsman Museum for $4.875-million. The bank retained ownership of the remainder, which will remain a Synovus branch.

The museum would be a home for Ciccarello’s extensive collection – owned by his Two Red Roses Foundation – of furniture, pottery and other works from the arts and crafts movement, dated from about 1900 to 1920.

Initial estimates put the massive museum opening by 2016. The future address of the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement will be 350 3rd Ave. N.

However, construction of the museum experienced several delays since then, mostly due to a considerable expansion in its planned size. In May 2017, Ciccarello revised estimates, saying construction will begin soon and likely be completed by mid-2019.

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 2 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Synovus claims that when it sold part of the parcel to American Craftsman in 2014, Craftsman agreed to keep a northern alley open to traffic for bank staff and customers two access drive-thru lines, parking and — at some point — Craftsman’s soon-to-be-completed parking garage.

But recently, Synovus says Craftsman “unexpectedly” declared that unless the bank made a “substantial payment” – as well as agreeing to future restrictions – the museum would block the alley by erecting a fence.

Synovus, which refused Craftsman’s demands, is suing for breach of contract, seeking to “protect its property and access rights.”

In the filing, Synovus does not say how much the Museum needed in exchange for continued use of the alley, nor the future restrictions it demanded.

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