Tampa Bay – Page 2 – Florida Politics

St. Pete business says Pinellas wage-theft ordinance is unconstitutional

A St. Petersburg medical practice filed a lawsuit in Pinellas County Circuit Court earlier this month charging that Pinellas County’s wage-theft ordinance violates the state constitution.

The ordinance at issue in allows employees who believe they have been denied wages unfairly to file a complaint with the county Office of Human Rights. If the office rules in their favor, the offending employer is on the hook for three times the contested wages.

The Pinellas County Commission passed the ordinance in 2015 after the City of St. Petersburg passed its own, similar ordinance. It went into effect at the beginning of the following year.

Pinellas Hematology’s lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment on the ordinance. They argue that the ordinance is unconstitutional because it “because it allows a quasi-judicial county agency to exceed the jurisdictional limits of Florida’s county courts” and “encroaches on the exclusive jurisdiction of Florida’s circuit courts” by not allowing for jury trials or for employers to pursue counterclaims.

The specifics of their case relate to an agreement with the former owner of an oncology practice purchased by Pinellas Hematology. David Dresdner, a physician, agreed to transfer his practice to Pinellas Hematology in 2014 and remain on staff temporarily for $25,000 a month in compensation.

A wage-theft complaint filed by Dresdner after the arrangement soured led to him receiving a $205,000 award in 2016. Pinellas Hematology challenged the award in circuit court and in February the award was quashed and referred back to the Office of Human Rights. Dresdner has since appealed that ruling.

Pinellas Hematology is not the first business to take legal action against the wage-theft ordinance. KLA Industries, an Ohio-based executive search firm, made a similar argument in a case filed last year.

The filing is below.

Dwight Wilson - St. Petersburg Water Resources Department

Former No. 2 at St. Pete Water Department sues over ‘retaliatory firing’

The former assistant director at St. Petersburg’s Water Resources Department is suing the City of St. Petersburg in Pinellas County Circuit Court for what he claims was a retaliatory firing.

Dwight Derwin Wilson, who is black, was the second-in-command at the Water Resources Department for a decade and whenever the director job opened up, he was routinely asked to serve as the interim head of the department. His efforts to make that his official title were fruitless, with white men always landing the job rather than him.

In 2015, Wilson claims he asked a city human resources representative if he would be considered for the director position the next time it opened up and was told there was no chance.

But getting passed over for the top job is only one facet of the lawsuit.

Wilson, 51, also claims he regularly dealt with “certain white subordinates” who were “openly dismissive of his efforts to manage them.” When he reported the behavior of those employees to his boss, then-director Steve Leavitt, neither Leavitt nor the human resources department did anything address the issue.

After several days of inaction, Wilson told Leavitt that he planned to file Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charges for racial discrimination and a hostile work environment. His EEOC complaint was the eighth filed against the department this decade.

Four days later, Leavitt told Wilson that he was “eliminating his position” as well as the technical support manager and business services manager positions, both of which were held by white employees. While Wilson’s job was indeed eliminated, both other managers are still employed at the department with the same titles.

The suit alleges that the “restructuring” story was bunk and that Wilson’s forced exit was a retaliatory firing.

As reported by the Tampa Bay Times last year, Wilson’s departure “angered many workers in water resources who believed he was one of the few officials trying to improve conditions in a sector of city government that has long been divided by race and plagued by dysfunction.” Many current and former employees also acknowledged racial tensions within the department.

Wilson, represented by attorney Gary L. Printy Jr., wants his old job back as well as compensatory damages and “back pay, front pay, prejudgment interest, and damages for all employment benefits he would have received but for the discriminatory acts and practices of the City of St. Petersburg.”

The court filing is below.

Aakash Patel

Pam Bondi endorses Aakash Patel for Hillsborough Commission

Tampa Republican Aakash Patel notched another significant endorsement for his Hillsborough County Commission campaign Tuesday, this time from Attorney General Pam Bondi.

“I am happy to offer my support and endorsement to Aakash Patel as he makes his initial run for Hillsborough County Commission,” Bondi said. “I have known Aakash since he returned to Tampa after graduating from Florida State University. I know he will put forth every effort to apply his conservative beliefs and principles in all that he does.”

Bondi, a Hillsborough native, is the latest in a long line of Tampa Bay-area electeds to endorse Patel. Prior endorsements include U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Zephyrhills Rep. Danny Burgess.

“I am extremely humbled and honored to have the support and endorsement of Attorney General Pam Bondi. I believe the voters of Hillsborough County understand her leadership is so helpful in advancing conservative causes and public servants to carry those causes forward. I am very honored to have her support,” Patel said.

Patel, who runs business consulting firm Elevate, Inc., is running for the countywide District 7 commission seat currently held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham. He had previously been a candidate for the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Sandy Murman, who was expected to resign her seat early and make her own run in District 7.

Patel had raised more than $450,000 for his District 1 campaign before switching over to the District 7 race. He is one of ten candidates vying for the open seat, though only Republican attorney Todd Marks also a former District 1 candidate — and Democrat Kimberly Overman have posted any substantive fundraising numbers.

Also running are Democrats Ray Chiaramonte, Charles Davis III, Mark Nash, Corey Reynolds and Sky White as well as Republican Cherie Denham and Green Party candidate Kim O’Connor.

The District 7 seat will be on the 2018 ballot alongside Districts 2, 4 and 5, all three of which feature an incumbent Republican running for re-election.

Mike Alvarez

AFL-CIO endorses Mike Alvarez in House District 62

Tampa Democrat Mike Alvarez’ campaign for House District 62 got a boost Tuesday thanks to an endorsement from labor union group Florida AFL-CIO.

“Working families stand with Mike Alvarez,” said Cheryl Schroeder, who heads the West Central Florida Labor Council. “Voters can trust Mike Alvarez to be a moral and ethical representative for West Tampa. His track record serving our country and our community honorably make him the clear choice in the August election.”

The Florida AFL-CIO represents over 500 local labor unions, ten labor councils, and over 1 million union members, retirees, and their families in the Sunshine State.

“I’m so humbled to have the support of working families in District 62 and around our state,” Alvarez said. “As a 5th generation Floridian raised right here in West Tampa, I’ve seen what our community can accomplish when we do what’s right, work hard, and put people above politics. This endorsement will help me share that message with the voters.”

Alvarez is a U.S. Marine Corps. veteran who now works as the director of operations for Westfall Roofing, a locally owned roof repair business. He is also an active member of Hillsborough Hispanic Caucus, where he serves as secretary, as well as the West Tampa Chamber of Commerce, the Oakford Park Neighborhood Association, and the Sierra Club.

Alvarez filed for HD 62 in May 2017. He has since been joined in the Democratic primary by Christopher Carlos Cano, who entered June 1, and Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes, who filed last week.

Alvarez has publicly questioned the legitimacy of Valdes’ late-filed “resign-to-run” letter, a charge she didn’t attempt to refute in an admonishing rejoinder from her campaign.

HD 62 is a Democratic stronghold covering part of Hillsborough County. It is currently held by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who is term-limited and running for state Senate in the fall.

interim Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister

Andrew Warren endorses Chad Chronister for Hillsborough Sheriff

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister picked up an endorsement Tuesday from Andrew Warren, the state attorney for Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit.

“Sheriff Chronister is an exceptional and proven leader in our community. Just days after becoming Sheriff, Chad Chronister helped prepare our County for Hurricane Irma. His leadership has helped support our mission to fully prosecute violent criminals and seek justice for victims and their families. He has helped implement sensible civil citation programs for low-level juvenile and adult offenders,” Warren said in a press release.

“Sheriff Chronister is a true partner in making Hillsborough County a safe place for our citizens. Most importantly, Sheriff Chronister is a friend and trusted adviser that I know our entire community can count on. I am proud to endorse Chad Chronister for Hillsborough County Sheriff.”

Warren, a Democrat, was elected to the state attorney job in 2016. The endorsement sees Warren cross party lines to endorse Chronister, a Republican.

“The State Attorney works closely with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office not only to prosecute crimes and seek justice for victims but to also protect the rights of all our citizens. To have the support of State Attorney Andrew Warren is definitely a boost to our campaign,” Chronister said.

Chronister, who has been with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office since 1992, was appointed Sheriff last year after the retirement of longtime Sheriff David Gee. He filed for election a day after he was sworn in.

Since launching his campaign in October, Chronister has built a massive fundraising advantage. At last count, he had raised $661,865 for his campaign and had nearly $560,000 banked. He officially qualified for the 2018 ballot back in March.

His only opponent is Democrat Gary Allen Pruitt, a retired Tampa Police Department corporal who has raised about $3,310 since entering the race in November. He has about $3,100 on hand. Pruitt has not yet qualified for the ballot.

Sean McCoy

Sean McCoy files to succeed Jake Raburn in HD 57

Republican businessman and U.S. Army veteran Sean McCoy announced Tuesday that he has filed for House District 57, the seat currently held by Lithia Republican Rep. Jake Raburn.

McCoy’s announcement comes one day after Raburn announced he would not run for re-election to devote more time to his family and business.

“Our community enjoyed six years of strong representation in Tallahassee under the leadership of Rep. Raburn. We need a leader to succeed Rep. Raburn who will continue the same strong commitment to our conservative values and local priorities,” McCoy said.

“Our state needs servant leaders who will not back down but instead will work night and day to keep Florida on the right track. The Army taught me how to meet challenges head-on and work together as a team to win. I’ve done that in the battlefields of Iraq and the boardrooms of America, and I’ll do it in Tallahassee for those I seek to represent in District 57.”

McCoy, a West Point graduate, currently works as the strategy and commercialization director for Ideal Image. He is also the founder of Fishhawk Military & Veterans, which supports service members and their families. He lives in FishHawk with his wife and three children.

McCoy is currently the only Republican running for HD 57. Also running are Democrats Layla Hartz and Debbie Katt.

The deadline to qualify for state legislative races is Friday noon.

As of May 31, Katt had raised $6,810 for her campaign since filing in March with $5,233 of that on hand. Hartz, who filed in April, raised $1,520, with about $1,400 in the bank.

Republican candidates have the advantage in HD 57. Republicans have a 7-point lead in voter registrations within the district, and Raburn had no trouble holding the seat for three terms — he beat Democrat Bruce Barnett by 17 points to win his first term in 2012 and went unopposed in the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

The seat also voted plus-12 for Donald Trump two years ago.

Jake Raburn

Jake Raburn won’t seek re-election in 2018

State Rep. Jake Raburn announced Monday that he is not running for a fourth term in the Florida House this fall, citing the need to spend more time with family.

“The past six years have been the most surreal, humbling, overwhelming, exciting, challenging and gratifying on my journey thus far,” said Raburn, a Lithia Republican, in an email from his campaign.

“What started as a glimmer of a dream in my heart many years ago came to fruition in 2012 when you elected me to serve you by representing our community in the Florida House of Representatives,” the 33-year-old added.

“Since then, I have been honored and humbled to represent southeast Hillsborough County and all who call this place home. The highlights of this journey include helping meet unique and specific needs of our constituents and meeting new people who have become treasured friends.

“After much thought and many hours of prayer with my wife, Melissa, and our family, I’ve decided to not seek re-election this fall. While serving in the Florida House has been a tremendous honor and pleasure, my No. 1 responsibility is to my family, and I’m confident my place right now is at home with them and in our family business.

“I know you might not always have agreed with the decisions I’ve made or the votes I’ve cast, but I hope you can see that this was a responsibility I took very seriously, with much time, research and prayer behind each and every decision and vote.

“For those of you who have voted for me and supported me throughout the years, your kindness has truly been life-changing, and your belief in me has made me strive to be a better person. I can’t possibly express my gratitude for this opportunity, but it is an experience and responsibility I will treasure for the rest of my life.

“Thank you for the opportunity you have given me to serve you. I look forward to seeing you, around town, in the coming days!”

Raburn’s exit leaves Democrats Layla Hartz and Debbie Katt alone in the contest. If the GOP is to retain control of the southwestern Hillsborough seat, another Republican will need to file and qualify before the candidate qualifying period ends Friday at noon.

Should a Republican make the ballot, they’ll be favored in the election. GOP voters make up 39 percent of the HD 57 electorate compared to a 32 percent share for Democrats, and the seat voted plus-12 for Donald Trump two years ago.

As of May 31, Katt had raised $6,810 for her campaign since filing in March with $5,233 of that on hand. Hartz, who filed in April, raised $1,520, with about $1,400 in the bank.

Raburn had not put effort into fundraising for his final run for the House in recent months. He finished last month with $26,200 raised and $12,200 on hand.

Ed Hooper hits the airwaves in SD 16

Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper is hitting TV screens throughout Senate District 16 this week with a pair of 30-second ads.

Depending on where in the Pinellas- and Pasco-based district viewers live, they’ll see a different version of the ad.

The ad airing in North Pinellas on Spectrum features an introduction from Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. West Pasco residents will see an ad with the same script but featuring an intro from Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. Both Gualtieri and Nocco were early backers of Hooper’s Senate campaign.

“Ed Hooper’s life has been dedicated to service starting with 28 years as a firefighter, a business owner, and as State Representative. Now Ed is a candidate for the State Senate, and I am personally supporting him,” Nocco and Gualtieri say in the ads.

Both spots then cut to Hooper, who says he will “fight for issues that are important to our community, like growing a strong economy, protecting our seniors and making sure insurance is affordable.” He also says that by working with leaders like Gualtieri and Nocco, “we can get a lot accomplished.”

“Vote Ed Hooper. He’s our first responder in the Florida Senate,” the sheriffs say.

Hooper, who was a member of the Florida House from 2006 through 2014, is running against New Port Richey Democrat Amanda Murphy for the Senate seat once held by Jack Latvala.

Hooper has been running for SD 16 for a couple of years. At the end of last month, he had $412,760 in the bank compared to $66,240 for Murphy, who filed for the seat at the beginning of May.

Hooper’s ads are viewable on his campaign website.


Aakash Patel

Richard Corcoran backs Aakash Patel for Hillsborough Commission

Tampa Republican Aakash Patel snagged an endorsement from House Speaker Richard Corcoran in his bid for the countywide District 7 seat on the Hillsborough County Commission.

“I’ve gotten to know Aakash through his work with the Early Learning Coalition and have seen him put conservative initiatives to work to bring early education to more children in the State of Florida,” Corcoran said. “I appreciate all he has done and I fully support his efforts to become the next Republican County Commissioner from District 7 in Hillsborough County.”

Corcoran is the latest in a long line of big-name backers for Patel, who runs his business consulting firm Elevate Inc. Prior endorsements include Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Northwest Florida U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, former House Speaker Will Weatherford and Zephyrhills Rep. Danny Burgess.

“I am so very honored to have the support of such a true conservative leader as Speaker Corcoran. We have worked on education initiatives in Florida and I respect and share his strong conservative values. I am honored by his endorsement,” Patel said.

Patel recently entered the race for District 7, held by retiring Commissioner Al Higginbotham. He had previously been a candidate for the District 1 seat held by Commissioner Sandy Murman, who was expected resign the seat to make her own run in District 7.

Since he first announced his 2018 campaign, Patel has raised more than $450,000 for his campaign. He is one of eight candidates vying for the open seat, though only Republican attorney Todd Marks and Democrat Kimberly Overman have posted any substantive fundraising numbers.

Marks, who also recently moved his campaign over from the District 1 race, has raised nearly $85,000 for his campaign. Overman has raised nearly $35,000 and has about $13,000 in the bank.

#1 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Chris Sprowls

As any observer of Florida politics will tell you, this 34-year-old Palm Harbor Republican is on the move.

First elected to House District 65 over Democratic incumbent Carl Zimmerman in 2014, Chris Sprowls had little difficulty getting re-elected in 2016 against Democrat Bernie Fensterwald. At this point, 2018 appears to be shaping up the same way. Sprowls currently serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and he’s eyeing the top spot in the House.

The former Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor is a likely (and favored) contender for the 2021-2022 House speakership.

That would be a huge deal for Pinellas, which hasn’t seen a representative ascend to the speakership since Democrat Peter Rudy Wallace held it in 1995.

Insiders say it’s not just his intelligence and savvy that got him here.

“Chris’s rise to leadership so quickly is a testament to the respect that members of both parties have in his unique ability to understand complex issues and forge a solution that is fair,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Chris Dudley.

Tampa businessman Akash Patel, a Republican running for Hillsborough County Commission District 7 said: “Chris has been a strong leader since I served with him on the Senate at Boy’s State when we were young.  He will continue to grow his leadership skills and will be one of the strongest House Speakers of our day.”

As a lawmaker, Sprowls has shown considerable muscle.

During the 2017 Session, he and Rep. James Grant shepherded a bill through the legislature that created a uniform statewide policy for ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. In 2018, Sprowls was a driving force behind an effort to secure funding for SPC and USF St. Petersburg, namely as a way to help students graduating with associate degrees from the former transition into higher degree programs at the latter — the aim being to help ensure local students will continue to have access to four-year and advanced degrees despite USF’s growing prestige. Conversely, he also backed the locally unpopular bill to pull all USF campuses under the same umbrella.

Outside Tallahassee, Sprowls earned praise earlier this year by convincing Citizens CEO Barry Gilway to personally visit a condominium complex in Sprowls’ district that had seen extensive sinkhole damage. The state insurer had previously refused to pay out on condo owners’ claims. As a result of Gilway’s visit, Citizens paid out at least $12.7 million to the affected homeowners.

Of course, whether Sprowls will hang on to all the clout hinges on the November election. Newcomer Alex Toth, a Palm Harbor entrepreneur and Air Force veteran, became Sprowls’ Democratic opponent in March. Sally Laufer, another Democrat, then filed in late May. Neither has shown significant fundraising, while Sprowls’ campaign has amassed nearly $151,000. A PAC that backs Sprowls, Floridians for Economic Freedom, has meanwhile taken in more than $1.1 million in contributions so far this election cycle.

Sprowls tops this year’s list after coming in ninth last year and No. 14 in 2016. He replaces former Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who dropped his bid for governor and resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, suggesting what a difference a year (and a powerful movement like #MeToo) can make.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “A young man on a fast track. House Speaker in 2020, and after that opportunities could abound.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons