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Pasco GOP elite gather for Mike Wells fundraiser Tuesday

Several of Pasco County’s Republican élite will be gathering for a fundraiser this week to support Mike Wells in his bid for a second term on the Board of Commissioners.

Set for Tuesday, Dec. 12, the event begins 5:30 p.m. at the home of First National Bank of Pasco President Steve Hickman and his wife Lynn, 37402 Church Ave. in Dade City.

Listed among the host committee are many of the county’s top GOP leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, former House Speaker Will Weatherford, state Rep. Danny Burgess of Zephyrhills, Pasco School Board Chair Allen Allman, superintendent Kurt Browning and Wells’ father — former Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr.

In his first term representing Pasco County District 4, Wells — a 39-year county resident — was appointed to the Area Agency on Aging, the Department of Juvenile Justice Circuit Advisory Board, the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando Counties, the Engineering and Architectural Selection Committee, the Pasco Economic Development Council, the Pasco County Fair Authority and the Value Adjustment Board.

Wells, a 2006 alum of Leadership Pasco, is a member of the National Association of Realtors, West Pasco Board of Realtors, Florida Realtors and the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce. He also held roles at the YMCA of the Suncoast — James P. Gills Family YMCA Advisory Board, United Way, Volunteer Way, The Angelus, Sunrise of Pasco, Feeding Pasco’s Elderly, the Coastal Conservation Association. Wells is also a National Rifle Association member.

To RSVP, visit rsvp@votemikewells.com.

Four candidates qualify for South Pasadena City Commission election

Four candidates — two incumbents and two former commissioners — will square off for a pair of seats on the South Pasadena City Commission in March.

The qualifying period for the election is over and current members Lari Johnson and Gail Neidinger will be joined on the ballot by Dan Calabria, a former mayor and commission member of the Pinellas County town, as well as Arthur Penny, a former commissioner.

South Pasadena has a population of about 25,000 and is governed by a commission with five members including the mayor. Each of the four commissioners are put in charge of one of the city’s departments with the mayor, currently Max Elson, overseeing administrative services for the city.

Johnson, currently vice mayor on the commission, oversees the Community Improvement Department, while Neidinger oversees the Public Safety Department. Both were elected to the commission for three year terms in March 2015.

The city’s footprint is less than a square mile and commission seats aren’t broken up into districts and are instead at large, so the two candidates with the best showing on Election Day will take the two commission seats up for grabs.

The South Pasadena City Commission gathers twice a month and commissioners receive $7,600 a year. The election will be held March 13.

The mayoral seat will be on the ballot in 2019, while the other two seats on the commission, held by David Magenheimer and Gigi Esposito, will be on the 2020 ballot.

Wengay Newton shrugs off Vito Sheeley criticism of car theft measure

Vito Sheeley, who has filed to oppose Wengay Newton in 2018 for House District 70, blasted the St. Petersburg Democrat Friday for proposing legislation that would criminally charge car theft victims.

“This is one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard out of Wengay Newton,” Sheeley said. “And that’s saying a lot.”

Making his first run toward elective office, Sheeley had served as an aide to Democrats like Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist.

“We can have a productive conversation about car theft, but throwing victims in jail is just crazy. It’s time for our community to have a serious advocate in Tallahassee — this is embarrassing.”

Newton’s legislation (HB 927) calls for criminal penalties if a car is left unattended without first stopping the engine, removing the key from the ignition, and locking the door. It would be a second-degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and up to 60 days in jail.

There are laws on the books right now that allow law enforcement to cite motorists for a noncriminal traffic violation for leaving their car running.  It would enhance the penalty.

Members of the South St. Pete community — including Crist, Newton and state Sen. Darryl Rouson — have convened meetings over the past year with members of the community to address the explosion of youth stealing automobiles. Newton’s proposal is the first piece of legislation proposed to try to address the problem.

When contacted to respond to Sheeley’s criticism, Newton said he didn’t know who Sheeley was and didn’t believe he had to answer to anything he had to say.

“Who is he?” Newton asked. “What has he done for juveniles?”

Newton then told Florida Politics he had to leave for a television interview but would be willing to come back to speak about the bill itself later in the day. He did acknowledge seeing Facebook comments on the bill.

Since entering the race in July, Sheeley has raised $4,222; Newton has raised $14,870.

HD 70 covers parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

Karl Nurse surprised with Sierra Club honor during one of his final City Council meetings

Long before he was a member of the St. Petersburg City Council, Karl Nurse was an environmental activist. So it’s no surprise during his time in office he’s built a long and distinguished record on the environment.

With just weeks left in his Council career, the local lawmaker was surprised Thursday when he was feted by members of the Florida Suncoast Sierra Club, which gave Nurse its highest honor, the Black Bear Award, at the beginning of the Council meeting.

While giving a short speech, Nurse grew emotional, saying that “dramatic progress” has been made locally on environmental issues, and that he was extremely optimistic about his successor, Gina Driscoll, keeping up his legacy.

But he also fears for his country.

“I wake up every morning and read The New York Times, and I’m horrified by what’s happening in Washington,” Nurse said, referring to the actions of the Trump administration.

“This is the worst environmental administration in our nation’s history, and there is a militant desire to destroy our natural lands, but happily, all across the country and in our communities, people are moving to protect our environment,” he said.

He quoted what his father told him when he became a Boy Scout: Leave the place better than the way he found it.

“I have good colleagues who will continue the work, and I love you all,” he said in signing off.

“What an inspiration you are for all of us,” responded Council Chair Darden Rice.

Nurse was appointed to serve on the Council to replace the late Ernest Williams in April 2008. He was elected for the first time in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. His term expires January 2.

Hillsborough Commission Democrats question lack of diversity in 2 local organizations

Hillsborough County demographics are changing more and more every year, but two prestigious boards in the region are represented almost exclusively by white men (or white-led) organizations.

Take the Tampa Bay Partnership.

CEO Rick Homans and Dave Sobush, the agency’s director of policy and research, came before the Hillsborough County Commission Wednesday to present some key findings of its recently publishedRegional Competitiveness Report,” written by the Partnership in collaboration with United Way Suncoast, the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, and other regional business and philanthropic partners.

Commissioner Les Miller joined some of his colleagues in praising the men for presenting an “excellent report,” but he also was taken aback by the lack of racial diversity on groups involved in producing it.

Reviewing a list of officials involved with the report, Miller noted only one black person was on the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay Board of Trustees, and just one black with the Tampa Bay Partnership Council of Governors, and none with the other groups associated with the report.

Homans noted that there was a literal price to serve on those boards – $50,000 for the Council of Governors and a $25,000 fee to be on the Leadership Council.

“Quite frankly, we are actively seeking a diverse representation on that board, and any help you can provide us in securing some of those folks would be much appreciated,” Homans said, adding that it was “critical” to reach out to all members of the community.

“I don’t know if the people that you have there can really articulate the issues we have in Hillsborough County,” Miller said, acknowledging the fiscal realities required to be on those boards.

Homans emphasized that the data in the report was a result of community organizations throughout the Bay area providing input.

Later during the meeting, Visit Tampa Bay CEO and President Santiago Corrada addressed the board, where he said that the county is enjoying another record-setting year for tourism.

He said one of the more surprising developments was how stellar September was for bed taxes in September, despite the perceived negative impact of Hurricane Irma. Bed taxes were up 30 percent that month, with the spike attributed in part by so many South Floridians attempting to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma, believing the storm couldn’t change direction and hit the region.

That’s when the other Democrat on the seven-person board, Pat Kemp, asked Corrada about the fact that Visit Tampa Bay has 26 board members, but only two who are women. “I really think it needs to start reflecting our community,” she told Corrada.

“We’ve been focused on it,” Corrada replied. “That is one of the instances where we need to improve,” adding that those two will soon be departing, one because of retirement and the other is relocating.

Kemp and Commission Chair Sandy Murman said that they would make sure to get the word out to qualified females in the industry about that need.

Commissioner Miller did say that Visit Tampa Bay has a multicultural advisory board that helps bring in conferences and conventions tied explicitly to minorities.

U.S. Census Bureau information from earlier this year shows that 51.3 percent of Hillsborough’s 1.376 million residents are female. Twenty-eight percent are Hispanic; 18 percent are black.

Hillsborough Commissioners want Legislature to address who has curfew power

Nearly three months after Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn engaged in a verbal skirmish about who had the power to call for an emergency curfew in Tampa, County Commissioners would like local state legislators to weigh in.

The issue goes back to the days leading up the arrival of Hurricane Irma in the Tampa Bay area, which was predicted to bring major damage to the region.

On Sunday morning, Sept. 10, hours before Irma’s expected arrival, Buckhorn and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan declared a curfew would begin in Tampa Sunday at 6 p.m., and would not be lifted until he and other city officials deemed it safe after the storm passed.

“If you are out on the streets after six o’clock, we are going to challenge you and find out what you’re doing out there,” said Dugan. “We are relying on the good people of Tampa to tell us what’s going on in their neighborhoods, and to point out who doesn’t belong in their neighborhoods.”

Five hours later, however, Merrill held his own news conference saying: “I have not called for a mandatory curfew. We urge residents to get to a safe place, to shelter in place.”

Buckhorn didn’t back down; a curfew was in place as Irma hit late Sunday night into Monday morning. After daybreak Monday, the city of Tampa said the curfew was no longer in affect.

At Wednesday’s Board of County Commission meeting, county attorney Chip Fletcher said that he had been in consultation with the city attorney’s office in Tampa regarding mandatory evacuations, another issue where there was a conflict between the city and county leading up to Irma’s arrival. He said issues were less clear when it came to the power of ordering curfews.

Commissioner Les Miller, who served in Tallahassee for more than a decade before coming on the board in 2010, said he remembered that the Legislature had enacted specific rules after a similar incident happened in Tampa in 2005. He said this was the time to go back to the Hillsborough County legislative delegation to review those statutes to make sure they’re complementing each other.

“We might not be the only county that’s having these issue,” Miller said. “We could be working out an agreement with all the mayors and the emergency management policy group, but who’s to say that two years from now, when there’s a new mayor, the same issue does not come about?”

The board then approved a motion proposed by Miller to have the board write a letter to the Hillsborough legislative delegation to review all statutes that deal with emergency management policies and operations dealing with issues like curfews.

Another conflicting issue that took place between the county and city occurred Friday, Sept. 8, when Buckhorn called for a mandatory evacuation in Tampa of residents of Zone A. At the time, Hillsborough County had only issued a voluntary evacuation for special-needs residents of that zone.

The announcement directed people to the county’s shelters. Unfortunately, Hillsborough hadn’t opened their general population shelters yet.

Fletcher said that it’s now “clear” that the county has the ultimate emergency management authority when it comes to ordering evacuations.

Commissioner Sandy Murman said that it was important to get this policy right, saying she was getting her hair done in South Tampa that Friday afternoon when she learned that the city had called for an evacuation, “and I knew full well that the shelters weren’t open.”

“That’s when confusion starts,” she said. “People need to know they have a place to go.”

The issue was brought up initially at Wednesday’s meeting by a member of the general public.

“I’m not pleased how that was communicated to the public,” said Gerald White. “We all need to be on the same page during a crisis.”

“It was a little embarrassing and very confusing what took place,” Commissioner Victor Crist acknowledged.

Bill Edwards pushes back on lawsuit from ‘budding’ pop star

Bill Edwards is pushing back against a lawsuit by a musician who claims the renowned St. Petersburg entrepreneur and philanthropist owes him money for his “budding pop career.”

The suit also includes a mention of former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, president of the Edwards Group.

Edwards is calling for the court to purge the suit from any mention of Baker, who at the time was embroiled in a race to get back his old job in City Hall, calling it an attempt to gin up news coverage.

Daniel “Dan” Orlando, 29, is a pianist and singer from Pennsylvania seeking $15,000 in damages against Edwards for “fraud and breach of contract.”

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 3, Orlando said he hired Edwards’ Big3 Entertainment and Big3 Records three years ago to manage his music career, after Edwards allegedly promised to spend a million dollars and make him a “star.”

Edwards, a well-known figure in St. Petersburg, owns Shops at St. Pete (rebranded as Sundial), as well as the Treasure Island Tennis & Yacht Club and the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team. He also runs Big3 Entertainment Group, the parent company of Big3 Records, Big3 Studios and Bill Edwards Presents.

According to its website, Big3 Entertainment “encompass[es] a full spectrum of services including recording, music delivery, venue management, live event promotion and production.”

In a 2016 news release on the Bill Edwards Presents website, Orlando had been described as a “piano prodigy and budding pop sensation.”

Orlando’s suit also namechecks Baker — a top Edwards executive and “influential Republican” — saying he “never disagreed with Edwards or otherwise contradicted any of the statements.”

Orlando claimed Edwards didn’t follow through on promises made. In the suit, he said the defendants “had no intention of effectively, adequately or consistently promoting [his music] with the level of quality, experience and professionalism expected of and typifying qualified music recording labels or music management companies.”

When Orlando tried to end his contract, the defendants allegedly demanded an “exorbitant” amount of money from him, retaliating with “threats” and “intimidation.” Looking back, the lawsuit says, Edwards only secured a deal with Orlando for his “own private use, entertainment and amusement.”

Edwards initially responded to the lawsuit by telling the Tampa Bay Times that Orlando “abandoned us.”

“Of course, I’m asking for money,” he added. “He quit in the middle of his career.”

But now, Edwards is taking his argument to court.

In a counteraction filed Nov. 27, Edwards — and his companies — responded to Orlando’s lawsuit by asking the court for a dismissal. Edwards argues the original suit was legally flawed, citing several examples of financial aid, connections, and other services that Edwards’ companies provided to the singer.

The response also asks the court to strike all references to Rick Baker and Baker’s alleged failure to disagree with Edwards’ promises to Orlando.

“The allegations were included for the sole purpose of harassing the defendants and Mr. Baker who was running for Mayor of St. Petersburg at the time this lawsuit was filed,” the filing argues. “Presumably, Orlando and/or his counsel believed that allegations regarding Mr. Baker would allow this litigation to have more press coverage if Mr. Baker was included in the complaint and force the defendants to settle the case.”

Edwards’ response also offers harsh words for Amy Smith, who had been named Big3 Entertainment’s vice president of programming and marketing in 2016. After describing Smith as Orlando’s agent, the filing accused Orlando and Smith of setting up a “showcase” without Big3’s knowledge and yet asking Big3 to pay for related expenses.

The filing also referred to Smith as “an alcoholic” who “could not drive her personal car without first successfully using the Breathalyzer installed in her car.”

Kevin Ambler, a former Republican member of the Florida House, is serving as Orlando’s attorney.

Conservative activist files suit to rescind Penny for Pinellas vote

If you can’t beat ’em at the polls, perhaps you can take them down in the courtroom?

That’s the philosophy of Pinellas County Tea Party activist Tom Rask, who is suing the Pinellas County Commission following last month’s vote to reauthorize the Penny for Pinellas sales tax.

In a lawsuit filed Nov. 22, Rask claims that the initiative violated the prohibition in Florida Law against “false, misleading and deceptive ballot language.” He also claims the county officials wrongly used public dollars to advocate for passage.

Pinellas voters approved the one-cent tax last month by an overwhelming 83 percent, the fourth time the 10-year measure passed since 1989. It has grown in popularity, compared to the previous time the issue came before the voters. In 2007, it passed with just 56 percent of the vote.

Examples of what Rask claims were the measure’s deceptive language is that both the ballot title and ballot question references a “sales surtax,” not a “sales tax.”

He also takes a shot at Pinellas Commissioners, claiming they crossed the line into advocating for the measure. The suit alleges: “DEFENDANT furthermore told a one-sided story to voters, extolling only the benefits of the tax, and none of the downsides. Giving half the story is, by definition, advocacy.”

Rask was a member of the coalition of county activists who opposed the Greenlight Pinellas transit tax in 2014. This year, he also spent time vocally fighting Penny for Pinellas.

Rask filed the lawsuit on his own behalf.

“We have received and reviewed the complaint, and are confident that the ballot question and process conformed with all requirements of the law,” said Barbra Hernandez, a spokeswoman for the Pinellas County Attorney.

Margaret Good defeats Ruta Jouniari for Democratic nomination in House District 72 special election

Siesta Key attorney Margaret Good defeated Ruta Jouniari for the Democratic nomination in a special election in Florida House District 72

Good won in a landslide, defeating her opponent by 44 points, 72%-28%. Good had 6,144 votes to Jouniari’s 2,342.

Good now advances to the special general election scheduled for Feb. 13.

“I am humbled and overwhelmed by the showing of support this community has given our campaign tonight,” said Good. “It speaks volumes about the strength of the organization our team has built all across the district, as well as Sarasota’s desire for change from failed Republican policies both nationally and in Tallahassee.”

The battle had been depicted as a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic party. Good is a mainstream Democrat who state party officials think has the potential to flip the seat from red to blue in 2018.

Journiari was the more progressive candidate who had the backing of the Florida Democratic Progressive Caucus, in part, for her support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and a Medicare-for-all style health care system.

Good hopes to unify the party as she heads into the general election.

“We want to thank and recognize Ruta Jouniari for running a spirited campaign based on ideas,” said Good. “We cannot defeat James Buchanan and the Rick Scott-led Florida Republicans without the help of folks like her and her supporters, and we call now for a time of unity towards a grassroots, people-powered campaign that can flip District 72 blue again.”

Good goes into the general election phase of the campaign with $51,170 in her campaign account. She also has another $23,000 in her committee, New Day Florida.

Sitting back and taking in the results is Republican James Buchanan, who has $169,398 on hand heading into the holidays.

Libertarian Alison Foxall will also be on the general election ballot. She has approximately $8,844 on hand.

The special election was called for after GOP incumbent Alex Miller surprisingly stepped down fin September, less than a year after being elected.

Buchanan will be the favorite in the general; statistics from last year show HD 72 with about 52,000 Republican voters compared to about 35,000 Democrats and another 30,000 with no party affiliation. Miller’s landslide victory over Ed James III last year came alongside a 5-point win for President Donald Trump in the district.

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