It’s time once again to rank Tampa Bay’s most powerful politicians.
I am asking several of the leading political consultants, activists, bloggers, operatives and local lobbyists to provide a list of who they consider the 25 most powerful pols in the region.
For the purposes of this experiment, the Tampa Bay region is defined as Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Pasco, but can also include Hernando, Polk or Sarasota — if the politicians from those counties impact either Pinellas or Hillsborough.
If you are interested in being a panelist, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brandes featured at self-driving demo
St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes will be the featured guest at a three-day event in Tampa showcasing autonomous vehicles. The Society of Automotive Engineers’ inaugural SAE Demo Day, to be held May 9-11, will allow attendees to ride down the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in a self-driving car outfitted by Virginia-based robotics company Perrone Robotics. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority is a partner in the event. “Our residents will be able to experience the future of transportation and provide feedback that will be invaluable to industry leaders and policymakers as we chart a course toward the shared, electric and autonomous future,” Brandes said. In 2018, Brandes sponsored a bill allowing the expansion of self-driving cars in Florida.
Belleair Beach mayor endorses Jacques in HD 66
Republican hopeful Berny Jacques received the endorsement this week of Belleair Beach Mayor Leslie Notaro in his bid for House District 66. “I admire Berny’s conservative values, his commitment to listen and his realization that the American dream can only be achieved through hard work and determination,” Notaro said. Notaro is an attorney based in Belleair Beach and was first elected to the city council in 2010 and also serves as first vice president of the Suncoast League of Cities. Jacques faces Nick DiCeglie in the Republican primary to succeed term-limited Rep. Larry Ahern. Also running for the seat are Democrat Alex Hereen and Reform Party candidate Paul Anthony Bachmann.
Six county judges elected unopposed
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark confirmed six candidates completed the requirements for County Judge during the qualifying period that ended noon Friday. All candidates qualified by either filing the required documents and/or paying a qualifying fee. The 2018 qualified candidates for County Judge include Cathy Ann McKyton — Group 2; Donald Horrox — Group 5; Myra Scott McNary — Group 7; Joshua Riba — Group 11; Loraine Kelly — Group 16; Susan Bedinghaus — Group 17. Each of these candidates was unopposed, will not appear on a ballot and was re-elected automatically. One judge, Claudia Blackwell of Group 11, did not qualify as of the deadline.
Pinellas County judges divorce
Pinellas County judges Christine and Jack Helinger jointly filed for divorce April 23, saying their 23-year marriage was “irretrievably broken.” Christine Helinger served on the Circuit Court since 2016. Jack Helinger serves in the family division. The Helingers said they did not need the court’s help dividing assets and liabilities because they had already completed that process. Records show that in May 2017, the Helingers sold the home they’d owned since 1992 — two years before they were married — for $690,000. Jack Helinger purchased his current home in March 2017. Two days after filing, in what appears to have been an unusually speedy process, their divorce was granted by Jack Helinger’s colleague, Judge Susan St. John.
Chase named Pinellas SOE’s Comms Director
Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark named former WFTS reporter Dustin Chase as the office’s Communications Director. Chase, 36, brings nearly 14 years of broadcast journalism, editorial, marketing and public relations experience. He has a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communications, a master’s degree in Business Administration, and most recently worked as assignment editor and reporter with WFTS-TV/ABC Action News in Tampa, where he coordinated hurricane coverage. Before that, Chase was a journalist in Ft Myers, Miami, El Paso and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Tampa Downtown Partnership staffs up
The nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership named Ivy Niven as event coordinator, a newly created position to give the organization a focus on developing functions for members, stakeholders and the community. Acting CEO & President Lynda Remund said: “We’re excited to have a position that is dedicated to the day-to-day management of our events to ensure they maintain and build on the value our attendees have come to expect.” Niven will handle events and meetings on membership development and community engagement, including the Annual Downtown Development, Annual Luncheon and Meeting, Debriefing Series, Urban Excellence Awards and other member-exclusive events. “It’s an honor to contribute to the community I’ve always called home,” Niven said.
State agencies sued for nonpayment in canal fix
A canal running through property in Plant City leased by 3 Seasons Growers was regularly flooding, impairing the nursery’s business. To correct the problem, 3 Seasons entered a cost-sharing agreement with the Hillsborough Soil and Water Conservation District and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: 3 Seasons would pay 25 percent of the cost of cleaning and excavating 500 feet of the canal; agencies would pay the rest. The Department of Agriculture called the project “an example of successful cooperative effort” between government and private parties. A contractor, Centerstate Management, completed the work in November 2016, but the agencies never paid their share of the $68,922 bill. In a lawsuit April 4, Centerstate is seeking the court’s help.
Bayfront fights ‘excessive’ property tax bill
In 2017, the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s office assessed the value of Bayfront’s St. Petersburg parcel at $65.7-million, which resulted in a $1.45-million property-tax bill. The hospital’s parent company fully paid the bill in November 2017 (minus 4 percent early payment discount). Bayfront then protested the appraisal to the county’s Value Adjustment Board, which agreed to lower the property’s value to $62.3-million. A lawsuit filed April 25, Bayfront says the Board didn’t go far enough. The suit names Pinellas County property appraiser Mike Twitty, tax collector Charles Thomas and Leon Biegalski as executive director of the Florida Department of Revenue. Bayfront is claiming the revised assess is “unlawful and invalid” and exceeds the property’s true market value.
Skyway Marina project hits another snag
In 2016, Tampa-based Phillips Development & Realty announced plans to build a 300-unit, $70-million, mixed-use apartment complex called Sur Club in St. Petersburg’s Skyway Marina District. Several web pages describe the project, and one says Sur Club will open in 2018. In December 2017, project engineer George F. Young Inc. filed a lien against its St. Petersburg property, claiming that Skyway Marina LLC owed $166,313 on a $315,625 bill. In a lawsuit filed April 20, Skyway claims George F. Young Inc. breached their contract, in part by producing “deficient work … that had to be redone by a new civil engineer.” Skyway seeks damages for breach of contract, slander of title and filing a fraudulent lien.
Investors accuse Tampa craft brewery of fraud
Within a year of opening Tampa’s Wild Rover Pub & Brewery in 2013, Derek Wells and son Ricky sought out investors to help move the pub to a larger location and build a larger brewery. From 2015 to 2016, Ami Forte and three other parties loaned Wild Rover $725,000 for a combined 35 percent stake in the company, which allowed the Wells’ to move to a new Tampa location. An April 5 lawsuit accuses the Wells family of fraud by selling brewery equipment to a buyer without authorization, signing the rest to themselves as payment of previously undisclosed debts as well as not making payments on promissory notes. Plaintiffs seek repayment; an order stopping the sale of brewing equipment; a freeze on any bank accounts containing proceeds from equipment sales; and dissolution of the LLC.
More Ruskin pot farm troubles
Medical marijuana entrepreneur John Radick says the Ruskin-based 3 Boys Farm “lured” him from Montana in 2017, promising a “substantial salary and the opportunity to be involved in Florida’s newly approved medical marijuana business.” Months after Radick joined the company as COO, President Robert Tornello left over his “rude, abusive, arrogant, retaliatory and offensive conduct.” But when the firm’s owners agreed to sell their stake in the company in March 2017, Tornello returned as CEO. Radick said Tornello was harassing and intimidating; he also claims Tornello cost the company more than $300,000. Radick was fired April 5. On April 24, Radick filed suit for unpaid wages, breach of employment agreement, negligent hiring, training, supervision and retention.
Midtown Academy jazz fundraiser
Advantage Village Academy, joined by Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers, presents “Breakfast with Musical Notes,” a special tribute to the Al Dowling Tampa Bay Jazz Association. The musically-themed fundraiser is Saturday, June 9, from 9-11 a.m. at the St. Petersburg Country Club, 2000 Country Club Way. Tickets are $35 per person and feature a full breakfast buffet. AVA is a nonprofit seeking to making a positive difference in neighborhoods in South St. Petersburg through wellness, education programs and activities that educate and empower. The Jazz Association was founded in 1981 by Al Downing and Ernie Calhoun, renowned saxophonist and Tampa-based humanitarian. For more information, contact Flowers at (727) 657-5680 or AVA founder Toriano Parker at (727) 235-4340.