Monday, Jul 28, 2014
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Connecting Clearwater


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Regional chamber events announced

— The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring these two programs:

• Connect & Care, 8 to 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, Homeless Emergency Project, 1120 N. Betty Lane. Learn about the services this agency provides to the community. A complimentary breakfast will be served

• AchieveHERs Summer Mix and Mingle, 5:30 to 8 p.m. July 31, poolside at the Carlouel Yacht Club, 1091 Eldorado Ave., Clearwater Beach. Admission is $25 per guest. Food tastings and a cash bar will be featured.

For details, call the chamber at (727) 461-0011.

Residents can learn about city government

— Applications are being accepted for the annual Citizen’s Academy, Clearwater 101, a 10-week program providing citizens with a hands-on learning experience abou the people, equipmenetn and infrastructure it takes to run Pinellas County’s second largest city.

This interactive program is a unique educational experience for residents interested in city affairs. A selection committee will choose 20 participants from applications.

Sessions are led by elected officials, department directors and other city staff, who will share information about the city’s operations and give citizens hands-on experience in city government operations.

The program will be held on Tuesday evenings from 6 p.m.-8:30 p.m. beginning Sept. 9. Participants must attend at least eight of the 10 classes to graduate at a November city council meeting.

Applications are due no later than Aug. 4 and are available online at http://tinyurl.com/6px67e7 or at www.myclearwater.com.

Pinellas commission campaigns look to be costly

— Candidates hoping to be competitive in this year’s races for a seat on the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners likely will need deep pockets, the St. Petersburg Tribune reported this week.

The latest campaign reports filed Friday show that three candidates, including Largo Mayor Pat Gerard and state Rep. Ed Hooper, both vying for the at-large District 2 seat, already have raised more than $100,000 in donations.

Meanwhile, political newcomer Johnny Johnson, one of seven Republicans seeking to replace retiring District 4 Commissioner Susan Latvala, is leading challengers with more than $90,000 in campaign contributions.

Fundraising totals have not reached record levels, but observers expect that could happen after the Aug. 26 primary, especially because state lawmakers this year doubled the limit for individual contributions in local races to $1,000. In 2012, Republican Neil Brickfield raised $156,000 in his losing campaign, the highest total for a commission candidate since 2000, according to Supervisor of Elections Office reports.

To read the full story, go to http://tinyurl.com/k63x2wb or tbo.com.

‘Special Art by Special Hands’ exhibit to open

— Syd Entel Galleries, 247 Main St., will host “Special Art by Special Hands” from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 21.

The exhibition of artwork created by the artists of Harborside Studios is offered in conjunction with UPARC. Draught Haus will provide complimentary hors d’oeuvres.

For details, call (727) 493-4341.

Cultural center hosting nostalgic toys exhibit

— The “Florida Girls and Boys and Their Toys” exhibit runs through August at the Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center, 329 Bayshore Blvd. S.

Suggested donation is $4 per person. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The exhibit is on loan from the Museum of Florida History’s Traveling Exhibit program on the history of toys. The exhibit contains 30 sepia-toned photographs of Florida pioneer children and their toys that date from 1881. The exhibit also will include an area for children and adults to try reproductions of various toys such as a puppet theater, LEGO bricks and Lincoln Logs.

In addition to the material on loan from the Museum of Florida History, other toys that have been loaned by the Safety Harbor community will be on display. The exhibit gives children an opportunity to see toys they may have never seen before and adults the chance to relive their childhood memories.

For more information on this and other museum events, call (727) 724-1562, visit SafetyHarborCulture.com or sign up for the Arts and Culture eNews at www.CityofSafetyHarbor.com/enews.

Scout’s tree planting project needs help

— Volunteers are invited to help Orion Leavy with his Eagle Scout community service project to plant trees in front of Largo Central Park Nature Preserve, 150 Highland Ave. S.E.

Starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, Leavy plans to plant more than 700 bald cypress, red maple, river birch, mulberry and sycamore trees.

Participants should bring shovels, gloves and sun protection. Refreshments and snacks will be provided. Rain date is July 26. For more information, call the Parks Department at (727) 586-7415.

The city thanks members of Everest University, Boy Scout Troop and Pack 404, Troop 340, Order of the Arrow Osceola Chapter, Pinellas County Master Gardener volunteers, Walmart and the Friends of Largo Nature Parks for their support.

PIE airport passes safety test, review

-- For the 10th consecutive year, the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport (PIE) passed its annual Federal Aviation Administration certification inspection.

The FAA issues airport operating certificates to ensure safety in air transportation. The annual inspection reviews airport emergency planning, wildlife management, fueling operations, aircraft rescue and fire fighting, employee training, runway and taxiway signage and pavement markings.

“Safety is always our top priority at PIE and our airport team works together to achieve this goal 365 days a year. I am proud of their outstanding work,” airport director Noah Lagos stated in a press release.

The airport, which has four runways, is a department of Pinellas County Government.

The airport served more than 1 million passengers last year, a 17 percent increase from the prior year. In June the airport marked a six month year-to-date increase of 23 percent over the prior year.

The airport also maintains the operations of the world’s busiest Coast Guard Air Station and a cargo operations.

FAA approves Orlando airport expansion

The Federal Aviation Administration has approved expansion plans at Orlando International Airport that could also provide terminal space for the now-controversial All Aboard Florida passenger rail project. U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, announced the federal approval for the South Airport People Mover Complex along with plans for an intermodal transit facility late Friday. “Without this FAA approval, there would be no airport expansion, nor would we be able to connect future transportation links,” Mica said in a release. “The airport, which was originally constructed to handle 24 million passengers, and now accommodates nearly 35 million annually, would be left in a holding pattern without this approval.” In February, Gov. Rick Scott proposed spending $213.5 million over three years for the complex that will serve aviation, rental-car, rail, private-automobile and shuttle transportation. The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority is expected to invest $467.5 million in the project. The terminal is expected to eventually be used by All Aboard Florida. While resident groups and politicians have lined up to question the impact of the planned passenger rail service on northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, the Miami-to-Orlando service is set to kick-off in 2016 as a Miami-to-West Palm Beach line.

Political groups move money around

— A political committee seeking to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott sent $740,000 to the Florida Democratic Party at the end of June as money gets funneled through an array of groups in advance of the November elections, state records show. The committee, known as “Florida For All,” sent the money to the party on June 30, according to campaign-finance reports filed last week. In late June, Florida For All also reported receiving $743,179 from a Democratic Governors Association-linked PAC and another $500,000 from a political arm of the Service Employees International Union. As other examples of how money is flowing through political committees, a group known as “Protect Our Liberty,’’ which is led by incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, reported receiving $250,000 on July 1 from another committee called “The Conservative.” The Protect Our Liberty group also sent $115,000 to a committee known as the “Space Coast Liberty Caucus” and $100,000 to another committee known as “The Committee for a Better Florida.” The websites of those committees say they also are affiliated with Gardiner, who is spearheading efforts to elect Republican senators this year.

Governor’s group gives boost to Crist

— With a $500,000 injection of money from the Democratic Governors Association, challenger Charlie Crist and a closely aligned political committee raised more cash from June 21 to June 27 than Republican Gov. Rick Scott and a Scott-tied committee, newly filed reports show. The Crist committee, dubbed “Charlie Crist for Florida,” collected $625,150 during the seven-day period, with $500,000 of that total coming from the governors association. That raised the committee’s overall fund raising total to about $9.34 million. Crist, a former Republican governor running as a Democrat this year, also raised $62,910 for his campaign account during the period, bringing its overall total to $3.96 million.

Scott, meanwhile, continues to hold an overall fund raising edge over Crist. The incumbent raised $253,237 for his campaign account from June 21 to June 27, giving it a total of $5.5 million. Also, the Scott committee, known as “Let’s Get to Work,” collected $262,000 during the seven days, bringing its overall total to $28.85 million. The biggest contributor to the committee was The Villages, a Central Florida development that chipped in $100,000, the reports show. Also, Let’s Get to Work reported spending $415,982 from June 21 to June 27, with $395,865 going to the Virginia-based Grassroots Targeting for what is described in the committee’s expenditure report as a “survey.”

Morgan & Morgan adds two lawmakers

— The politically connected law firm Morgan & Morgan has added a pair of state House members, Fort Myers Republican Heather Fitzenhagen and Lake Mary Democrat Mike Clelland, to its roster of attorneys. John Morgan, the firm’s founder, confirmed hiring the pair. “They are both leaders in their communities,” Morgan said Monday. “They both share a belief in a strong civil-justice system and their values are our values.” Fitzenhagen, who is unopposed as she runs for a second term, had been a member of the Naples-based law firm of Goede, Adamczyk & DeBoest, PLLC. Clelland, who has a tough re-election battle ahead against former Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, was a firefighter for 26 years. His primary area of practice has been first-responder litigation. Morgan & Morgan, with more than 200 attorneys listed on its staff, is based in Orlando with offices in Tallahassee, Tampa, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale and Daytona Beach. In recent years, it has employed former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for governor this year. Morgan, a major Democratic fundraiser, has spearheaded efforts to get voters in November to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana group reaps $116k

T — A political committee leading efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana collected $116,293 in contributions from June 21 to June 27, bringing its overall total to $3.56 million, according to newly filed reports. The committee, “People United for Medical Marijuana,” had received a total of nearly $5.49 million in contributions and loans as of June 27, while spending about $5.16 million. Much of the spending happened late last year and early this year, as supporters of the amendment worked to collect enough petition signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. During the latest period, the largest contribution was $25,000 from Complete Hydroponics, a Miami firm, according to the reports.

Online travel, workers comp among issues facing court

— The Florida Supreme Court began an annual summer break last week, taking a breather from its routine of issuing opinions each Thursday in complex legal disputes and the steady flow of death-penalty appeals.

But justices will face major issues when they return from the break Aug. 28. While dozens of cases are pending before the court, here are a few to watch:

ONLINE TRAVEL

In courtrooms and the Legislature, online-travel companies and counties have sparred for years about hotel bed taxes.

The dispute centers on whether companies such as Expedia and Orbitz should pay tourist-development taxes on the full amounts they collect from customers, or only on the portions that go to room rentals. The companies contend the portions that do not pay for room rentals are service charges, which are not subject to the hotel bed tax.

But counties say the taxes are due on the full amounts, and tens of millions of dollars are at issue in the case. The online-travel industry has won in lower courts, and the Supreme Court heard arguments April 30.

The case is Alachua County, et al, vs. Expedia, Inc., et al.

WORKERS COMP

Business groups, insurers, unions and representatives of injured workers closely follow legal and political fights about Florida’s workers-compensation system.

And the Supreme Court drew a full house last month when it heard arguments in a case stemming from injuries suffered in 2009 by St. Petersburg firefighter Bradley Westphal. The case focuses on what are known in the complicated workers-compensation system as “temporary total disability” benefits.

Westphal received those benefits for two years, which is a limit under state law. But when Westphal sought to receive permanent total disability benefits, a judge ruled that the request was premature. That created a gap until Westphal could get permanent benefits several months later and prompted the legal fight, with Westphal’s attorneys arguing that the two-year limit on temporary benefits is unconstitutional.

The case is Bradley Westphal vs. City of St. Petersburg, etc., et al.

County clerk receives achievement award

— The National Association of Counties (NACo) has chosen the Spending in the Sunshine website, created by the Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, as a recipient of the 2014 Achievement Award in the category of Civic Education and Public Information.

Started in 1970, the annual Achievement Award Program is a non-competitive awards program that recognizes innovative county government programs in 21 different categories.

“It is very rewarding to have our financial transparency initiative be recognized in the community, as well as nationally,” stated Ken Burke, Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller. “It was my goal to ultimately set an example of what constitutes open government and thanks to the talented staff of the Clerk’s office, this initiative is empowering citizens with every click of a button.”

For information go online to www.mypinellasclerk.org and select the tab titled “Spending in the Sunshine.” Since its official release in March, the program has been well received by the public garnering nearly 1,500 site hits.

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