Friday, July 30, 2021

Saint Petersburg Does Not Need a Career Politician as Its Next Mayor

WEST COAST        
Opinion by:  
E. Eugene Webb PhD 

Below, is a list of those people who have formally announced their endorsement for former county Commissioner Ken Welch for the office of Mayor of St. Petersburg Florida.

  • Charlie Crist, U.S. Congressman
  • Jim Davis, Former U.S. Congressman
  • Arthenia Joyner, Former State Senator
  • Rene Flowers, Pinellas County Commissioner
  • Pat Gerard, Pinellas County Commissioner
  • Charlie Justice, Pinellas County Commissioner
  • Janet Long, Pinellas County Commissioner
  • Karen Seel, Pinellas County Commissioner
  • Les Miller, Former Hillsborough Commission Chair and State Senator
  • Bob Gualtieri, Pinellas County Sheriff
  • Jim Coats, Former Pinellas County Sheriff
  • Bob Stewart, Former Pinellas County Commissioner and former City Councilmember
  • Ken Burke, Pinellas County Clerk
  • Deborah Clark, Former Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections
  • Pam Dubov, Former Pinellas County Property Appraiser
  • Sandra Bradbury, Mayor of Pinellas Park
  • Julie Bujalski, Mayor of Dunedin
  • Sam Henderson, Mayor of Gulfport
  • Frank Hibbard, Mayor of Clearwater
  • Bob Buckhorn, Former Mayor of Tampa
  • Deborah Figgs-Sanders, St. Petersburg City Council
  • Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, St. Petersburg City Council
  • Amy Foster, St. Petersburg City Council
  • Charlie Gerdes, Former St. Petersburg City Council
  • Connie Kone, Former St. Petersburg City Council
  • Richard Butler, Pinellas Park City Council
  • Michael Fridovich, City of Gulfport City Council
  • James Oliver, City of Seminole City Council
  • Ward Frizolowski, St. Petersburg Beach City Council
  • Irene Sullivan, Judge (Ret.) and Juvenile Justice Advocate
  • Dave Aronberg, Palm Beach County State Attorney
  • Ben Crump, Civil Rights Attorney
  • Sean Shaw, Attorney and Founder of People Over Profits
  • Bob Dillinger, Pinellas County/Pasco County Public Defender (Ret.)
  • Leon Jackson, Civil Rights Pioneer, Member of “The Courageous 12” and St. Petersburg Police Officer (Ret.)
  • Iman Abdul Ali, Tampa Bay Area Muslim Association
  • Pastor Louis Murphy, Mt. Zion Progressive MBC
  • Pastor J.C. Pritchett, IMA Chair, St Petersburg
  • Pastor Robert Ward, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church
  • Pastor Clarence Williams, Greater Mt. Zion AME
  • Pastor Andy Oliver, Allendale United Methodist Church
  • Rev. Dr. Manual Sykes, Manuel L. Sykes Ministries, Inc.
  • Gwendolyn Reese, CEO, African American Heritage Association
  • LJ Murphy, Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Head Football Coach at Gibbs High School
  • Bob Devin Jones, Studio@620 Founder and Artistic Director
  • Elihu & Carolyn Brayboy, Owners, Chief Creole CafĂ© and Community Developers
  • Susan Churuti, Attorney and St. Petersburg Business Owner
  • Scott Wagman, St. Petersburg Business Leader, Philanthropist and Community Activist
  • Carla Bristol, Youth Advocate and Community Activist, Urban Youth Farms
  • Eric Lynn, Former National Security Advisor 
  • Martha Lenderman, Mental Health Services Advocate
  • Vince and Robin Cocks, Community Leaders, St. Petersburg
  • Ricardo Davis, Chair, Education Advocate
  • Stephanie Owens, Vice Chair, St. Petersburg Housing Authority

There is no doubt, that Ken Welch is a dedicated politician and public servant. He spent 20 years or so serving as a member of the Pinellas County Board of County commissioners and has been active in Pinellas County politics for every one of those 20-years.

In fact, the hardest problem in dealing with Ken Welch has been to get him to honor Pinellas County's term limits, which went into effect years ago, and he has continued to ignore like a number of his Commission contemporaries.

So, it's tough to argue that Ken Welch is not the consummate politician.

The question is, can Ken Welch shed the professional politician role and turn into the leader/manager of a nearly 2500 employee public business.

Just because you can get votes, or endorsements from political cronies does not mean that you have the consummate skills to lead an organization that is as large, diverse, and complex as the city of Saint Petersburg.

In addition, St. Pete has had a mayor for the last eight years that struggles to look past 34th Street to the West and North across 18th Avenue to see the rest of the City and its needs.

If you really look at Ken Welch’s political rhetoric in this mayoral campaign, what you see is a careful pandering to the needs of select and oftentimes very loud groups in Saint Petersburg, but with no clear eye to serving those who sit quietly by year after year in northeast, northwest and southwest Saint Petersburg paying their property taxes and waiting for the city to recognize that they exist.

Saint Petersburg needs a Mayor, who can see all the way across town, from Tampa Bay to the gulf beaches. I think Robert Blackman is the right man for the job.

From the Blackmon Campaign Web site:” I’m Robert Blackmon, and I think St. Petersburg needs a fresh start and a new face leading our city as mayor. I’m a small business owner, and I’ve served as a City Council member. With experience both in the private sector and as an elected official, I know we can make local government work to better serve our community. I’m not a career politician, and I want to make St. Pete a shining city on a hill.”

Oh, about all those political endorsements. Generally speaking, elected politicians endorse formally elected politicians who are currently running for their old office or a new office in a quid pro quo to ensure that when they run for office or reelection, they get the endorsement they need.

Before you start putting too much stock in these political endorsements check some of these people out and see just how well they're doing.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2021



Sunday, July 25, 2021

The Hillsborough County School Board Gets a Spanking

WEST COAST        

Opinion by:  
E. Eugene Webb PhD 

After pawing around in its budget looking for money, the Hillsborough County School Board decided to blame a group of charter schools for their inability to produce a working budget for the 2022 school year.

Solution, not renewing charter school contracts for four Hillsborough County charter schools. The schools included Pivot, South Shore, Woodmont and Kids Community College Preparatory High serving in total about 2000 Hillsborough County students.

You can get some additional information at these links:

From The Tampa Bay Times By Jeffrey S. Solochek: A charter school about-face in Florida’s third largest district.


From The Tampa Bay Times By Marlene Sokol: Hillsborough School Board reverses prior vote. Four charters to remain open.

It didn't take Florida Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, and the State Board of education very long to react to Hillsborough’s funding treasure hunt. Corcoran indicated that if Hillsborough did not renew the four charter school contracts, he would invoke the State’s emergency authority that could hold up almost $950 million in Hillsborough County educational funding.

Just so you'll have a shorthand view of how this all works, in a nutshell, all County School Board funding that comes from the State is based on a per student funding model. In other words, the local school district gets a certain number of dollars per student, in attendance, on each day.

When a charter school is authorized by a school district in Florida, each student who enrolls in the charter school has their funding follow them to the charter school. Those funds are subtracted from the money previously paid to the local school district. So, as charter school attendance grows and their revenue reflects their growth, the local school district, in this case Hillsborough County school district, sees their revenues decline proportionately.

So, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that all this wrangling around between the State Board of Education, the Florida Commissioner of Education and Hillsborough County School District is all about money, and it has almost nothing to do with the quality of education that Hillsborough County students get.

Hillsborough County School Board members were notably upset by the Education Commissioner's actions and quoting from the article above: “We’re not criminals,” said Board Chair Lynn Gray, who is asking for written affirmation to protect the board members’ reputations.

I suspect none will be forthcoming.

In typical Hillsborough County school Board fashion, many of the board members were looking around for someone else to point the finger at, given the fact that they had just received a significant paddling from the Commissioner of Education and the State Board of Education.

Blaming the charter schools for the Hillsborough County educational system budget issues, just really doesn't make any sense. And attempting to close these charter schools as a means of raising their own revenue was just an unconscionable action.

For years there have been calls for the Hillsborough County School Board to reduce the administrative staff significantly and to institute cost reduction programs like closing underused facilities. They have always blamed the union for their inability to do that. Now, they blame the charter schools for not having enough money to fund their poorly organized and poorly administered educational system.

The one thing the Hillsborough County School Board did manage to avoid in this whole debacle was keeping the issue out of the court system. Their quick action in renewing the Charter contracts and trying to shove the whole charter school thing under the rug put an end to what was beginning to look like a serious legal challenge to the function and operation of the Hillsborough County school system.

All of this begs the question as to why these people get reelected repeatedly?  

The people of Hillsborough County need to think long and hard in the next few election cycles about who they're putting on the School Board and who those people are really trying to serve.

The only way things are going to change as if the voting public changes in.

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Friday, July 23, 2021

Governor Ron DeSantis, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, Smelly Fish, Bad Politics


WEST COAST        
Opinion by:  
E. Eugene Webb PhD 

Recently, Saint Pete mayor Rick Kriseman, suffering from a bad case of total frustration with the effects of the red tide on Tampa Bay and especially the north and west quadrant of Tampa Bay, called on Governor Ron DeSantis for more help in dealing with the tons of smelly fish floating up in the North Shore and Shore Acres area and along the coast of Saint Petersburg.

DeSantis, almost immediately replied in a snarky social media post that if the good mayor simply took advantage of the programs available from the state, certain resources were available to assist in the problem.

All of this was a sort of immediate media frenzy in the local media, but quickly subsided in the face of other issues.

However, it does raise some interesting questions.

Was Saint Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman trying to deflect the smell of the dead fish onto Ron DeSantis, and give himself some breathing room while Saint Pete crews cleaned up the fish, or was he just playing some really bad Democrat/Republican politics?

The other interesting question was, did anybody bother to inform Governor DeSantis, that a lot of those dead smelly fish floating under docks and piling up along the shore in northeast Saint Petersburg, were under the docks of the city's bastion of Republican voting?

Somehow, all of this just seemed sort of disingenuous to those people who were smelling the fish and those same people who were trying to figure out who to vote for in the upcoming Saint Pete mayoral election, and perhaps in the not too distant gubernatorial election.

Mayor Kriseman rarely misses an opportunity to take a potshot at the governor, and the governor always proves to be a good target, since his responses are often off the cuff, usually snarky and not necessarily reflective of the position of the office of the governor of the state of Florida.

For now, the hubbub has died down and both the governor, and the mayor are on to new issues. However, memories are long in politics, and you can look for more of this unpleasant series of exchanges, which has been going on now for some time between the Saint Pete mayor and the Florida governor.

I don't think any of this is particularly productive for either the city of Saint Petersburg or the state of Florida.

It just makes both of them look like babbling political idiots.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021

What Kind of Mask Do You Ware?


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Something Smells: AFT, Surrounded by Lawyers, Rammed Illegal Rail Tax Onto Ballot Creating Legal Mess Dumpster Fire, Tampa-Centric Five Pushes AFT Rail Tax 2.0

Tampa, Fl

From: Eye On Tampa Bay
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

The public and voters of Hillsborough County must never forget that All for Transit (AFT) caused a dumpster fire legal mess. AFT's dumpster fire resulted in over a HALF A BILLION dollars being unlawfully collected from taxpayers

 Deconstructing AFT finds the legal mess dumpster fire they created nefarious and foul smelling.

 AFT was funded by wealthy special interests who have their own legal counsel. Former Tampa City Attorney Jim Shimberg works for AFT's largest donor Jeff Vinik. It is reasonable to expect Shimberg, with his public sector and government relations law experience, fully understands Florida State laws and Statutes. It is reasonable to expect AFT spokesperson Christina Barker, hired by Vinik 2 weeks before AFT's transit tax petition drive began in 2018 to cheerlead for the transit tax, communicates with Vinik's lawyers.

 AFT Chair Tyler Hudson, AFT spokesperson Rena Frazier and AFT spokesperson and one of the authors of AFT's illegal transit tax Brian Willis, are all lawyers. 

 AFT was surrounded by lawyers and had access to lots of lawyers. AFT, a political action committee (PAC), even met directly with a Hillsborough County Attorney at County Center to review their referendum ballot language before their petition drive began. Such meeting appears to have violated the County policy prohibiting any political activity inside County Center.

 How could AFT be so woefully incompetent and/or ignorant of Florida Statute 212.055 which governs the local transportation sales surtax? 

 Or did AFT ram their illegal transit tax onto the ballot at the 11 hour in 2018 knowing there were legal issues? Did AFT think no one would file a legal challenge? Did AFT think if a lawsuit was filed, the outcome would result in the county being able to keep the transit tax monies, which was exactly Judge Barbas's lower court ruling in June 2019? 

 Something smells - especially since it appears the AFT's high priced lawyers are driving the AFT lawsuit losers legal actions - not the lawyers for the County or any other AFT Defendant. 

 AFT was never a Defendant in the AFT lawsuit. They filed a court motion that was granted allowing AFT to be an "Intervenor" in the case to participate in the legal proceedings. AFT insisted on intervening so their high-priced big gun lawyers could take over leading the case for the Defendants who could not afford such pricey legal counsel. 

 AFT's legal fees are being paid through their nonprofit Keep Hillsborough Moving, Inc. (KHM) where donors are not required to be disclosed not through their AFT political committee that requires donor transparency. The Board members of KHM include AFT Chair Tyler Hudson, Vinik employee and AFT spokesperson Christina Barker, Hillsborough County Aviation Authority Board member and AFT's accountant Robert Watkins and Janet Scherberger, who worked for TIA's CEO Joe Lopano during AFT's 2018 campaign. In 2019, the KHM nonprofit received $814K in contributions and spent almost $800K on legal fees. 

 We do not know yet how much was received or spent by KHM in 2020. We can venture that AFT has spent well over a million dollars defending their illegal transit tax.  

 While KHM does not disclose its donors, it is reasonable to assume the same wealthy special interests who funded AFT's dishonesty and malfeasance in 2018 are funding AFT's high cost lawyers. Of course AFT wants the county to keep as much of the illegal transit tax as possible so AFT keeps funding AFT's dumpster fire legal mess to that end.

 Hillsborough County hired outside counsel Alan Zimmet to represent the County in the AFT lawsuit. According to public records, the county received invoices of less than $53K thru May 2021 for Zimmet's legal fees. This confirms AFT's lawyers are leading the Defendant's legal actions, not Zimmet or any other Defendant's lawyers. 

 With AFT's high priced lawyers in charge, the County and other AFT Defendant's lawyers apparently must pursue the legal actions AFT's big gun lawyers dictate. Thus, the County filed their phony baloney refund proposal which is not in the best interests of all taxpayers who were swindled by AFT's illegal transit tax. 

 Subsequently, Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White filed a motion objecting to the AFT lawsuit losers "funny business" refund proposal. According to this report, White stated the "funny business" proposal "is so unworkable it would require judges to hold less than 10-second-long hearings for 10 hours a day, seven days a week for four months". White's motion states the local governments, who are the AFT lawsuit losers, have no standing in the case.

Other proposals include a County sales tax holiday until the over a HALF A BLLION of unlawfully collected transit tax dollars are depleted or a direct check to individual taxpayers based on their IRS income records. But with AFT's big gun lawyers in charge, such refund proposals are being fought through motions filed by the attorneys for the AFT lawsuit loser Defendants.

 AFT who created the dumpster fire legal mess and the Defendants who lost the AFT lawsuit should have no say in any refund process. The lawsuit winning side must get to decide the refund remedy.

Judge Rex Barbas made a poor, grammatically incorrect, incoherent and illogical lower court ruling in June 2019. To his discredit, Barbas allowed the transit tax itself to stand resulting in the unlawful collection of over Half a Billion dollars over 2 years. Barbas's ruling was overturned in its entirety by the Florida Supreme Court in February 2021. If Barbas had properly ruled in June 2019, he would have stopped the collection of the transit tax and avoided this refund crisis.

To avoid any perception of a tainted decision or perceived controversy, Barbas should not be deciding the refund remedy nor any judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit. As we posted here, the class action lawsuit requesting a refund remedy filed for a change of venue to Leon County.

 All of today's Tampa-Centric Five county commissioners - Pat Kemp, Kimberly Overman, Harry Cohen, Gwen Myers, Mariella Smith - supported AFT's illegal transit tax in 2018. Two of them, Kemp and Cohen, are lawyers and Myers worked for the County for 25 years. Did they support AFT's transit tax knowing it had legal issues or are they incompetent? Or are they blinded by their transit ideology that the end justifies the means?     

 A claim by any Tampa-Centric Five commissioners that the class action lawsuit filed will enrich private sector attorneys is a ruse.

After White filed an appeal of Barbas ruling in June 2019, the County's outside legal counsel Alan Zimmet failed to advise the county commissioners of action to stop the tax collection until a final legal ruling was rendered. Perhaps the massive refund crisis could have been avoided. Shouldn't Zimmet be asked about that?

 The Tampa-Centric Five, who foolishly supported AFT's unlawful transit tax, support the AFT-crafted proposed phony baloney non-refund refund process. They know the vast majority who paid the illegal transit tax did not keep receipts for the over 2 years the tax was unlawfully collected. They know a large number of people, who paid the unlawful tax will never even know about a refund. The end - the County allowed to keep as much of the illegal transit tax as possible - justifies the means - a phony baloney refund process.

 The Tampa-Centric Five foolishness continues. They are now ridiculously pushing to put another 30 years $16 Billion AFT 2.0 rail tax on the 2022 ballot...before one cent of the illegal AFT transit tax has been refunded. 

 Who is driving the AFT 2.0 rail tax boondoggle at County Center? It is not the citizens and taxpayers of Hillsborough County who do not want to spend billions on costly trains and transit. 

 As reported here, a recent study shows a super super majority rejects transit. HART's ridership, dismal before the pandemic, has tanked more for numerous reasons and may never recover as reported here. It is fiscally irresponsible to force taxpayers to spend $7 Billion on costly trains and transit for a super super minority of users. Taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough forced to pay for costly rail in the city of Tampa to benefit AFT's wealthy downtown special interests donors is unfair, unjust and simply wrong. 

 Kudos to Commissioner White for pushing back on the Tampa-Centric Five foolishness and calling them out for their fiscal irresponsibility. White has publicly stated he will launch a campaign to defeat any new transportation sales tax referendum that is similar to the 2018 All For Transportation rail tax boondoggle. He knows residents in unincorporated Hillsborough especially want transportation dollars to improve and expand their roads, not fund costly transit in Tampa.

Commissioner White has laid down a marker he will will stand behind and that many many others will support. The voting public will not be lied to again.

The city of Tampa has their own revenue sources available to fund their own trains if that is their priority. 

Jeff Vinik's Water Street District was given revenue raising powers by the state legislature in March 2018. Ironically that was right before Vinik began funding AFT's rail tax boondoggle initiative benefitting him that began in June 2018. Vinik has also received at least a $100 million in taxpayer subsidies for his downtown development which is way behind schedule. With his revenue raising powers, Vinik can fund his own rail infrastructure in his wealthy Water Street District enclave. 

As we reported here, AFT intentionally rammed their illegal transit tax onto the ballot at the 11th hour before the 2018 election. AFT feared their opposition knowing their illegal transit tax could not withstand public scrutiny. AFT refused to debate their opposition and used their local media allies to shut down all opposition voices. 

Again, AFT was surrounded by lawyers. We know they spoke with and reviewed their unlawful transit tax ballot language with numerous lawyers. AFT had to know their transit tax had legal issues. It appears AFT thought they could get away with their unlawful transit tax hike scam because of the deep pockets that funded them. The end justifies the means.

Commissioner White, NoTaxForTracks and others warned of AFT's legal issues in 2018. AFT's local media allies refused to report about them. The Tampa-Centric Five, including lawyers Pat Kemp and Harry Cohen who should know better, ignored the warnings. 

After White filed his legal challenge, according to this report "County Commissioner Kimberly Overman said the referendum language was vetted closely and voters clearly spoke. "This is a waste of taxpayers' money and that's a shame," Overman said." 

The shame is on Overman who is not a lawyer but is known for calling her own constituents "super stupid". Overman has a history of being a condescending know it all.

No commissioner should ever support policies that cons the voting public, abuses taxpayers or puts the County at risk of lawsuits. Those commissioners should be voted out of office.

AFT, surrounded by lawyers, put an illegal transit tax on the ballot. AFT is responsible for creating the $512 million refund crisis. AFT should be held accountable. No one should listen to AFT or their allies ever again. 

The Tampa-Centric Five remain tone-deaf. They dream of transit ridership somewhere "Over the Rainbow" and push for another AFT 2.0 rail tax boondoggle.

But Hillsborough County taxpayers and voters now know the rail tax "Pot of Gold" Billions goes to benefit AFT's wealthy special interests cronies.

 Posted by Sharon Calvert at 8:32 AM 

This post is contributed by EYE ON TAMPA BAY. The views expressed in this post are the blog publisher's and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher of Bay Post Internet.

Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay


Sunday, July 18, 2021

COVID Booster Shots – Benefit or Just Big Bucks?


WEST COAST        

Opinion by:  
E. Eugene Webb PhD 

COVID-19 is big business. In the United States the three primary providers of COVID-19 vaccines Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson are making billions of dollars providing COVID-19 vaccinations.

It's not too surprising, that these drug companies are trying to figure out how to maximize the return on investment from these lifesaving vaccines.

A one dose, or two dose vaccine produces a fixed amount of revenue. However, if the drug companies can convince the FDA that ongoing vaccinations are a necessity, they have just created the medical equivalent of a very profitable oil well.

It was not particularly surprising, when Pfizer threw down the gauntlet on booster shots by preliminarily indicating they felt booster shots would be necessary soon.

For some insight check out this article From The Tampa Bay Times by the Associated Press: Pfizer to discuss coronavirus vaccine booster with US officials.

Rest assured that Johnson and Johnson and Moderna are watching from the wings to see the reaction to the Pfizer push for booster shots.

Until now, COVID-19 vaccinations have been free to the public. For some information on cost and funding check out: HEALTH AFFAIRS BLOG by Richard G. Frank, Leslie Dach, Nicole Lurie: It Was The Government That Produced COVID-19 Vaccine Success.

In addition, all those health-care workers and nurses at the various vaccination sites, testing sites, hospitals, and clinics where both testing and vaccinations were conducted are also being paid for by funds from the federal government accumulated from numerous governmental budgeting sources.

The primary drug manufacturers producing the COVID-19 virus, are literally making billions of dollars in profits from the sale and distribution of COVID-19 vaccine shots.

Going forward, I think it may be a good idea, since the federal government essentially paid for the development of these vaccines, that the vaccines themselves have their patent and copyright protections removed, and generic versions be allowed immediately in an effort to control costs.

If, as it appears, COVID-19 or the COVID strain of viruses is going to be an ongoing medical issue for not only the United States but the world, excessive profiteering from government developed and produced vaccines should absolutely be stopped.

As we move forward in fighting the COVID viruses and their evolution, the role of the federal government as sole provider and payee must diminish, and that cost be absorbed in the traditional medical process and paid for as appropriate buy Medicare and healthcare insurance.

Big pharma has never missed a chance in the history of time to take a life-threatening disease and turn it into a long-term high-profit  business.

With the global scope of COVID-19 and the potentially disastrous effects, this new strain of viruses can have on global health care; we need to do everything to ensure that the profit motive does not become the driving force to provide the vaccines necessary to combat the global nature of this pandemic.

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