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Widow sues St. Pete bar over fatal fight; Stand Your Ground appeal continues

Bobby Ryan

A deadly 2016 fight outside a St. Petersburg bar is the subject of a lawsuit by the wife of the victim, while the man who threw the fatal blow faces an appeal of his Stand Your Ground self-defense protection.

On Feb. 10, 2016, Bobby Ryan and Christopher Motlenski were at Angelo’s Grill and Bar on First Avenue N in downtown St. Petersburg. According to police, Motlenski got into a verbal altercation at about 2:30 a.m. with two customers: Ryan, and Ryan’s friend Torsten Simpson.

The fight continued outside, where Ryan punched the 53-year-old Motlenski in the head, causing him to fall and hit the pavement, where he was knocked unconscious. The fight was recorded on video, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Motlenski was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg; he died March 7 in hospice care.

Police arrested Ryan, also a resident of St. Pete, at home and charged him with felony battery.

Christopher Motlenski

Motlenski, a native of Aquebogue, NY, had been an electrical engineer who worked in sales for Oracle. He lived in St. Petersburg with wife Cathleen. The couple had three children.

After prosecutors amended the charge to manslaughter, Ryan, 41, sought protection under Florida’s Stand Your Ground statute, arguing that Motlenski was the aggressor and had “bull charged” Simpson into a plate-glass window.

Under Florida law, a person “does not have a duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground.” They are justified in using deadly force if believing they face imminent death or great bodily harm. In 2017, legislators changed the Stand Your Ground rules, so prosecutors (instead of defendants) now had a burden of proof under the law.

Ryan’s was the first case brought under the new rules. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Frank Quesada dismissed the charge Aug. 4, 2017. Three days later, Pinellas prosecutor Bernie McCabe filed an appeal in the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Witnesses in Ryan’s manslaughter case testified Motlenski was the aggressor, and that he was yelling out at Ryan and Simpson after the pair walked away from what was at the time just a verbal altercation.

But, in a negligence suit filed Dec. 7 against Angelo’s Grill, Motlenski’s widow disagrees.

Cathleen Motlenski argues that Ryan and Simpson drunkenly and belligerently made violent threats toward her husband. She also claims restaurant staff failed to adequately protect Motlenski from harm, suggesting they played a part by negligently getting customers like Ryan and Simpson drunk.

However, at least one witness contradicts Cathleen Motlenski’s claim. Restaurant employee Carla Jo Baumbach told the court she didn’t think Ryan was served alcohol at Angelo’s.

While witnesses appeared to largely agree that Christopher Motlenski was the aggressor in the fight, Baumbach said she believed Ryan and Simpson seemed unconcerned after Chris fell unconscious.

“They got in [their car] and they left,” she testified. “Like there was no concern for whether this gentleman was OK.”

As of this week, Ryan’s appeal is continuing.

Tampa Electric seeks sign-off to collect solar money

Tampa Electric Company is asking state regulators to approve a nearly $26.5 million base-rate increase to pay for the first phase of a plan to build solar-energy projects, according to a petition filed Thursday at the Florida Public Service Commission.

The money would pay for a 70.3-megawatt solar project in Polk County and a 74.4-megawatt project in Hillsborough County that are expected to start generating electricity by Sept. 1.

The Public Service Commission last month approved a broader base-rate agreement for Tampa Electric that included allowing the utility to seek increases for a series of solar projects.

In all, the utility plans to add about 600 megawatts of solar-energy capacity, which it said would be enough to provide power to about 100 homes.

Tampa Electric has about 750,000 customers in Hillsborough, Polk, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Mike Suarez talks Tampa—but not own political future

Like most of his colleagues, Mike Suarez will soon be heading into his final year on the Tampa City Council—he’s term-limited in 2019.

But the 54-year-old West Tampa native and District 1 councilman is considered to be set on staying in city government once his term ends. How? By becoming the next mayor, succeeding a similarly term-limited Bob Buckhorn.

If Suarez does decide to run for mayor in 2019, it could be a crowded field, with former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, former Police Chief Jane Castor, philanthropist David Straz and fellow councilman Harry Cohen all possibly being in the mix.

With that election still more than 14 months away, however, there wasn’t any discussion of future ambitions when Suarez addressed a crowd gathered at the Oxford Exchange for Café Con Tampa on Friday morning.

Instead the talk focused primarily on quality of life in the city’s neighborhoods, particularly transportation.

“Most of our lives are spent about three miles in radius to our own homes,” he said. “That sense of community, that sense of place, is something that we need to continue to do.”

But Suarez was dismissive of an announcement Thursday by Republican lawmakers Jamie Grant and Dana Young about a bill that could provide millions of dollars to the area for non-rail related projects.

“In their mind, the only technology that matters is autonomous vehicle, and some other things,” Suarez said. “I think we need to be a more efficient and smarter city, we have to invest in those things that deal with how we get around, where we have to park, and using technology to make it easier for us.”

He said he wants to encourage efforts with city engineers to make Tampa a more walkable city, saying transpiration is ultimately about “the freedom that you have.”

And that’s only possible with more information that city officials can provide, he added: “That’s much less expensive … than try to invest in an argument about which is the best investment.”

Tampa has a sorry reputation when it comes to the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists. And Suarez said that reputation is well deserved.

“Almost everywhere you go it’s extremely dangerous to walk. That’s ridiculous,” he said. “And that’s why when we talk about transportation, we talk about large projects … we need to do things like make our sidewalks better, and wider, and easier to walk.”

Suarez said he was OK with reducing the speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard from 40 mph to 35, but says there needs to be more enforcement since many motorists go well above the current speed limit everyday.

Suarez was asked by several in the audience about affordable housing. He said he hoped to “convince” developers into building more affordable units, something he said has not been a focus at City Hall, and wished that those developers would consult with Council as much as they do the mayor in bringing their projects to City Hall.

Like so many local officials in Florida, Suarez took his turn at lambasting the Florida Legislature for eviscerating the now quaint concept of “home rule” in the Sunshine State.

“The Legislature keeps taking more and more and more of your rights as a citizen of this city away from you,” he said, arguing that it wasn’t about taking power away from local lawmakers but from the citizenry.

The most recent source of the City Council’s angst towards Tallahassee is legislation passed during the 2017 Session that pre-empts the city’s authority to regulate where new 5G wireless antennas will be placed.

“Any people living along the Bayshore? Watch out. Look at what happens. You’re going to see some of these things pop (up) over the next few years,” referring to the antennas, which can be as big as a kitchen refrigerator.

Recently two members of Council visited Cuba, something that’s become a regular occurrence between parts of the business and political establishment over the past five years or so.

Suarez, a Cuban-American, has been resistant; as recently as last month he challenged Chair Yolie Capin to say whether members on the most recent trip had met with dissidents (they did not).

Admitting he’s been bashed in certain quarters for his Cold War attitude (shared by Mayor Buckhorn), Suarez didn’t seem eager to get too deep into the topic.

“To me, we spend a little too much time on that and not enough time on what our issues are here,” he said, adding,”If they want to talk about Cuba, I think that they should talk to their elected officials.”

In answering a question about funding the arts, Suarez said he didn’t agree with the Buckhorn administration’s decision to cut funding for entities like the Tampa Museum of Art and the Straz Center for the Performing Arts (all nonprofits took a 10 percent “haircut” in the budget).

“I didn’t understand that,” Suarez said, referring to the budget that raises taxes for the first time in 29 years. He said that the majority of that increase was going to personnel in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

When asked about Jeff Vinik’s Water Street Tampa mega-development, Suarez mused—while acknowledging that he had no inside information—that Vinik’s team is having a difficult time luring a major company to relocate their headquarters there.

That’s because of what audience member Cathy James said was “stagnant wages, not enough affordable housing and horrible public transportation.”

He did applaud Vinik for making the project more walkable, and said he hoped Vinik would invest some of his own capital into local transportation projects to make the $3 billion project a success.

Gus Bilirakis backs Ed Hooper for Florida Senate

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper announced Thursday that U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis is backing his campaign for the Florida Senate seat currently held by Jack Latvala, who faces term limits in 2018.

“I am excited to have a partner to work with in Ed Hooper. I know of few better prepared to work on the issues important to Tampa Bay area citizens. Ed has dedicated his career to public service, especially helping our first responders and heroic military servicemen and women,” Bilirakis said.

“I look forward to working with Ed to ensure that our communities are the best places to work, live, and play. I am proud to support him as the next Senator for Florida District 16.”

Hooper touted the endorsement from Bilirakis as well as his fundraising numbers for November, which showed him with $60,000 in new money between his campaign and committee accounts.

“I made a push this past month. I am extremely pleased with the response received,” Hooper said. “I want December to be a quiet month so everyone can enjoy time with family, friends, and in the spirit of the season.”

Hooper has called the Clearwater area home for 45 years, including 24 years working for the city’s fire department. He served in the House from 2006 through 2014, when term limits forced him to retire and spent his three years out of the Legislature working as a consultant.

Currently, he is the only Republican candidate in the race, though he faces a challenger in Democrat Bernie Fensterwald, who had about $4,200 in his campaign account at the end of November.

By the same date, Hooper had $235,335 in his campaign account with another $93,098 on hand in his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper.

Former Proper Kitchen general manager sues owner for back wages

A renowned St. Petersburg restaurateur faces accusations of refusing to pay back wages to the former general manager of Proper Kitchen.

In a lawsuit filed Dec. 6 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, Michael Rideout, a 35-year-old St. Petersburg resident, claims he is a minority owner of Watch the Throne, which does business as Proper Kitchen and Park & Rec.

Rideout previously worked at Mandarin Hide, another popular St. Petersburg restaurant.

Restaurateur Stephen Schrutt, 39, is best known as the person behind several eateries in downtown St. Petersburg. Schrutt’s establishments include The Avenue, Proper Kitchen & Cocktails, Park & Rec, and Kings Street Food Counter.

The lawsuit refers to Schrutt as “manager and majority owner” of Watch the Throne, which is listed as the defendant.

In late 2015, Schrutt disclosed that he would be opening an unnamed barbecue restaurant next door to The Avenue – located at 330 First Ave. S. in St. Pete – with Rideout serving as general manager.

That unnamed restaurant eventually became Proper Kitchen.

Rideout’s suit claims that in late 2015, Schrutt offered him a deal: help Schrutt prepare for the opening of two new establishments — Park & Rec, and Proper Kitchen — and he’d give Rideout a 5 percent stake in their holding company, Watch the Throne.

After allegedly spending the next 12 months doing “sweat equity” work, even with some unpaid work at Schrutt’s Kings Street eatery, Rideout says Schrutt refused to acknowledge Rideout’s 5 percent stake or otherwise compensate him for his labor.

Schrutt also allegedly declined to provide Rideout with copies of Watch the Throne’s bylaws or financial statements. Rideout is seeking damages for breach of contract.

In November 2017, the Tampa Bay Times reported that Schrutt was closing Proper Kitchen to create a second Park & Rec location.

On a side note, Rideout has a connection with Johnson Pope, the law firm representing him in the suit. Ryan Griffin, one of the attorneys at Johnson Pope, is listed as a co-owner of Mandarin Hide, the St. Petersburg restaurant where Rideout previously worked.

Andrew Warren announces plan to ‘aggressively’ disarm domestic abusers

Every day of the year, Americans are shot to death by either current or former domestic partners. From 2012 to 2017, Hillsborough County experienced 61 domestic violence homicides, with over 200 such deaths in Florida last year alone.

Citing those statistics, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren vowed Wednesday to take action, saying he refused to stand by while “our mothers and daughters and sisters and friends have been assaulted, threatened and killed by domestic abusers.”

Warren’s office will “aggressively” seek relinquishment of firearms from domestic violence defendants who are prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, as well as those who have been charged with an act of domestic violence based upon a probable cause determination.

Upon responding to a domestic violence incident, the office would then work with law enforcement for an initial risk assessment and inquiry related to the offender’s access to a firearm.

Warren says prosecutors will utilize that information and conduct a background check to determine whether the perpetrator is legally prohibited from possessing a gun. At a defendant’s first appearance or bond hearing, the State Attorney’s office will seek relinquishment of any firearms as a condition of pretrial release.

The office will also seek the surrender of any firearms and prohibit the possession of firearms, as part of plea agreements, entry into diversion programs, and probation in domestic violence cases.

A perpetrator’s possession of a firearm — in violation of the pretrial release conditions or probation terms — can serve as the basis for additional criminal charges.

State and federal laws prohibit the possession of a firearm by anyone convicted of domestic violence, but Warren says “inconsistent enforcement” of those laws has allowed abusers access to firearms. He pledges that his office will “aggressively” enforce existing gun laws to protect victims of domestic abuse.

Speaking to a group of reporters outside his office at the downtown Tampa county courthouse annex, Warren was surrounded local officials affiliated with agencies that protect women suffering from domestic violence. Also at the event were representatives of two gun-control groups, the Florida Coalition Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence.

These actions can only be performed through cooperation with local law enforcement agencies, and Warren has consulted closely with Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, Temple Terrace Chief Kenneth Albano and Plant City Chief Ed Duncan on the initiative.

“By taking and keeping guns away from abusers, we will reduce domestic violence,” Warren said. “We will help victims overcome the overwhelming, paralyzing fear that comes from having an armed, abusive partner, and we will hopefully save lives.”

“We think that the disarming domestic abusers initiative … is going to result in a safer community, safer for the victims and survivors, safer for their children and families, but safer for all of us,” said Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of The Spring, a Tampa-based group that advocates for victims of domestic abuse, referring to the link between domestic violence abusers and mass shootings.

Using FBI data and other publicly available information, gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety analyzed mass shootings in the United States from 2009 to 2016, defining a mass shooting as one in which four or more people were shot and killed, not including the shooter.

Of 156 shootings fitting that category, the analysis found 54 percent were “related to domestic or family violence.”

Shortly after Warren wrapped up his news conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he will submit a proposal next year that all individuals convicted in domestic violence cases (including misdemeanors) will be required to forfeit any guns in their possession.

Pinellas moves forward with commitment to keep Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin

Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday to commit the City of Dunedin and the Toronto Blue Jays to a 25-year contract, which would keep spring training in town.

But the vote came with sharp criticism from some board members.

The county will commit $41.7 million toward the $81 million renovation project, a revision to the $46 million originally committed. The Jays will commit approximately $20 million, one-fourth of the project’s total cost.

The funds will be for a new clubhouse with state-of-the-art equipment, offices for the team’s staff and showers and locker rooms for the team’s 200-plus major- and minor-league players at the team’s current training facility site at the Englebert Complex on Solon Avenue.

It will also pay for “significant renovations to improve the fan experience” and increase capacity by 3,000 at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium at 373 Douglas Ave.

Other than a few opponents from Americans for Prosperity Florida — who complained about the public funding for a private company’s stadium — the board heard no significant opposition.

“We definitely oppose public funding for any spring training stadium,” said Carlos Velez with the Libre Initiative. “High paying long term jobs created by sports teams are usually few in number and are held by out of state individuals.”

“These are bed tax dollars, they are not dollars we can sue for law enforcement or public safety or housing or sewers,” alerted Commissioner Ken Welch to skeptics in the audience. “Folks need to understand that we couldn’t spend that for other needs.”

The funds come from Tourist Development Council (TDC) bed tax dollars, raised through a 6 percent tax allocated to marketing and capital projects.

Welch admitted he would have felt better if the county’s commitment wasn’t so costly. But he added that because Dunedin is smaller than Clearwater, the county’s contribution has to be larger than what other Pinellas municipalities have chipped in on other spring training facilities. Dunedin is committed to spending $5.6 million.

Commissioner David Eggers is a former mayor of Dunedin who ran the city several years ago when the team began making noises about moving to a new location if they didn’t get public funds to upgrade their facilities.

Eggers said getting the Jays to now allocate 25 percent funding was an impressive bit of negotiating by County Administrator Mark Woodard. “It used to be fifty percent,” he bemoaned about what the team would previously commit on a joint public-private project.

“I want to make it clear that if this were an increase in the state sales tax, or a local county tax, I would be against it,” said Commissioner John Morroni, emphasizing that only people staying in local hotels and motels are paying for the stadium upgrades.

Commission Chair Janet Long voted to move the resolution along with the rest of her colleagues, but said her vote isn’t guaranteed when the issue comes back to the BOCC next month for a final time.

“While it’s a great deal for the club and it’s a great deal for Dunedin, I think the deal for Pinellas County could be better,” Long said, saying that she wished the entire cost of the redevelopment would be reduced or the Jays would chip in more of their own funds.

Long added that it was a real question for her that, while the Tourist Development dollars are funding the entire project, nearly half the funds are going toward a clubhouse the public won’t be able to use at all.

Commissioner Karen Seel agreed: “I think the training facility is more privately used, and … to me, funding the stadium that is open to the public and open to the tourists is a more relevant expenditure for the bed taxes vs. the training facility.”

Nevertheless, Seel went along with her colleagues in supporting the deal.

“It is a money thing,” agreed Woodard, “make no mistake about it. But they (the Jays) really love this community.”

The Blue Jays have played spring training games since their franchise was created in 1977, and their Class A team plays in Dunedin all season long.

A more detailed formal agreement will come before the Pinellas Commission in late January.

Jennifer Webb tops HD 69 field with $21K raised in November

Republican Ray Blacklidge touted his fundraising success in the race to replace Rep. Kathleen Peters Tuesday, but new campaign finance reports show Democrat Jennifer Webb posted the highest total for November.

Peters announced earlier this year that she would forego a fourth term in HD 69 to instead run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission. Blacklidge and fellow Republican Jeremy David Bailie have filed for the race, with the former holding the advantage in fundraising.

Blacklidge tacked on $5,364 last month and spent $4,985, leaving him with a small net gain in cash on hand and putting his total fundraising past the $75,000 mark, including $5,500 in loans. Heading into December he had $50,561 in the bank. Blacklidge also has $18,500 stashed away in a political committee, Friends of Ray Blacklidge PC, though he hasn’t reported any new contributions for it since September.

“This community is rallying around our positive message,” Blacklidge said in a Tuesday email. “I’m grateful for the friends who are joining our team because they believe in our campaign to create jobs and grow our economy. We are going strong, and I look forward to continuing to connect with as many District 69 residents as possible.”

Bailie for his part added $3,400 last month and spent $1,184, leaving him with $23,476 in the bank after three months in the campaign, compared to six months for Blacklidge.

Though the winner of the Blacklidge v. Bailie contest has the better shot at taking over for Peters next fall, Webb’s inaugural campaign finance report was the best of the three candidates and puts her nearly even with Bailie moneywise.

Webb showed $21,225 in contributions and spent just $840, leaving her with $20,385 after four weeks in the race.

Making the donor roll were St. Petersburg City Councilmembers Darden Rice and Karl Nurse, St. Petersburg Free Clinic director Beth Houghton, and Emily DiVito of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, among others.

HD 69 covers parts of Pinellas County, including Gulfport, Madeira Beach, South Pasadena and Treasure Island. The district has a slight Republican lean, though voter registrations between the two major parties are relatively close.

Peters won her 2012 contest against Democrat Josh Shulman 52-48, but those margins were pushed higher in the two cycles she was an incumbent — she won 58-52 in 2014 and took 57 percent of the vote in 2016.

Tampa panel talks criminal justice reform ahead of Session

While red-leaning states like Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana have made significant criminal justice reforms over the past decade, Florida’s GOP-led Legislature has stood still.

Thirty-three states have implemented such reforms since 2007, while Florida’s prison population continues to grow, with the state now spending more than $2.4 billion a year to incarcerate nearly 100,000 people — the third-largest prison population in the U.S.

Hoping to reverse that trend by pushing for various measures addressing juvenile justice, adult citation programs and mandatory minimums is the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform, a coalition of nonpartisan groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU, which is intent on seeing some changes made in 2018. Members of the coalition met before approximately 50 citizens at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Complex in Tampa Monday night.

“We’re trying to really bring Florida in line with the rest of the country, and all the reforms you’re going to hear me talk about tonight we believe will reduce the racial disparity, reduce the incarcerated population, and ultimately make our community safer,” said Raymer Maguire, the ACLU of Florida’s criminal justice manager.

Maguire said the Florida Campaign for Criminal Justice Reform’s plan is focused on encouraging rehabilitation over punishment, and preparing incarcerated individuals for a life post-release that allows them to have housing, jobs and to ultimately become productive members of society.

Florida sends more children to adult court prison than any other state. From 2005-20015, the national average prison population increase was 3 percent. In Florida it’s 18 percent, the highest in the country.

“The system is broken, and it’s been broken for a long time,” said St. Petersburg Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson.

Among the bills he’s sponsoring in the upcoming session include reducing raising the monetary value for felony theft offenses from the current $300 threshold to $1,000. The $300 figure has not been adjusted since 1986. The national average is $1,100, and in southern states, it’s over $1,400.

The Florida Retail Federation is opposing the proposal.

Rouson has also proposed bills to reduce driver’s license suspensions for nondriving offenses (a proposal that didn’t get passed in the 2017 Session) and allowing judges to depart from mandatory minimum prison sentences under certain circumstances.

Bethany McNeil is the founder of XO Factor, which provides ex-offender services. She said housing and employment are enormous barriers for ex-felons to reintegrate themselves into their communities successfully. “Criminal justice is not a one size fits all type deal,” she said. “Once you’ve served your sentence, you should be allowed to move on.”

Crime has decreased in America for quite some time, with some notable exceptions (like Chicago).

The daily population in Hillsborough County jails peaked with an average of 4,626 people a day back in 2006, according to David Parrish, retired colonel of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. Now it averages around 3,000 a day.

Similarly, there was approximately 75,000 booked in Hillsborough jails in 2006, while last year there was less than half of that amount — 38,000.

“This is a phenomenon that’s taken place in most major urban population centers,” said Parrish. “In the jail system, the average length of stay of all those people who are booked every day is 22 days.”

The issue of privatization of prisons in Florida was debated. There are seven currently in Florida.

Rouson recently visited the South Bay Correctional Facility in Palm Beach, which is operated by the GEO Group under contract with the Florida Department of Corrections.

“It’s a very well run system,” he said. “If they can save the state money and provide the same level of protective custody, then I think it’s OK.”

Parrish said many years ago he was offered an extremely well-paying job with Corrections Corporation of America, perhaps the most notorious private prison company in the country. He declined.

“I don’t believe in privatizing the operations of jails and prisons,” he said, attributing their cheaper costs to the fact that they don’t pay “decent retirement” and have a much higher level of turnover of staff so they’re always paying entry-level people.

There were great expectations that there would be a number of criminal justice reforms passed in the 2017 Session. It didn’t happen then, but Rouson says he remains “very optimistic about certain criminal justice reforms this year.”

“It could be as shallow as the fact that ’18 is an election year, and sometimes appropriations get through in an election year get though in an election year that wouldn’t get through in a regular year,” he said. “Sometimes bills pass because legislators are human, and they want to be able to go back home and brag that they got something through the Legislature.”

Rouson noted that conservative groups like the James Madison Institute and Right on Crime have joined the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center to get some of these reforms passed this year, “and I think these portend good for our Session coming up.”

Pasco Commissioner Mike Wells snags Danny Burgess endorsement

Mike Wells announced Tuesday that Republican Rep. Danny Burgess has endorsed him for re-election to the Pasco County Commission.

“I am pleased to offer my endorsement for Mike Wells as he seeks to continue serving on the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners. Mike is a dedicated community servant, who spends not only his professional time advocating for the betterment of Pasco County, but also his personal time volunteering with numerous community organizations,” Burgess said.

“He brings experience and is passionate about serving Pasco County’s residents and I am proud to stand with him [in] this election. Mike Wells has my support and my vote on Election Day and I hope he can count on your support too.”

Wells, a longtime Pasco resident, was elected to the commission in 2014 and currently serves as its vice chairman and is the commission’s representative on a number of area boards, including the Area Agency on Aging, the Department of Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board and the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties.

In addition to the elected office, Wells is a member of several area realtor groups, the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and sits on the board of the YMCA of the Suncoast.

“I am grateful to have the support and endorsement of State Representative Danny Burgess. Danny has served as Mayor of Zephyrhills and now represents Pasco County residents as State Representative in our state capitol,” Wells said. “Even more important to me, Danny continues to serve in our nation’s armed forces, protecting and preserving our freedom. I am thankful for State Representative Burgess’ service to our nation and to Pasco County and am humbled to have his endorsement and support this election.”

Wells and fellow Republican Commissioner Mike Moore are up for re-election next year.

Wells has earned endorsements for his re-election bid from several Pasco Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Sheriff Chris Nocco, and former House Speaker Will Weatherford. He holds the District 4 seat on the commission and is currently running against Democrat Brandi Geoit.


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