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Archive for July 2020

La Gaceta endorses Harris for School Board District 7

From “As We Heard It,” by Patrick Manteiga
Originally published July 24, 2020

In School Board District 7, incumbent Lynn Gray has three opponents – Sally Harris, Jeffery Alex James Johnson and Angela Schroden.
A lot of people really like Lynn Gray serving on the School Board; a lot of people don’t. We find ourselves in the second tier.
Gray has 40 years of experience in education. She is passionate about supporting teachers, wants to improve curriculum and is a champion against for-profit charter schools. Our issue is with her style on the Board. She is quick to attack without all the information and we don’t feel she is helpful in building consensus or creating stability in the school district.
Jeffery Alex James Johnson works for United Way Suncoast and is a pastor. He did not come in for an interview, but strangely, he is endorsed by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.
Angela Schroden is a K-12 literary consultant and an adjunct professor at USF College of Education. She’s earned an educational doctorate.
Schroden is smart, engaged and has a strong grasp of the educational system and how to improve it to get the most out of talented teachers and administrators. She would be great on the School Board
Sally Harris served on the School Board for four years and made two great decisions that stand out over other good decisions she made. She helped fire School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who was placing the district in financial harm, and she voted to hire Jeff Eakins as superintendent to fix the financial problems caused by Elia and return integrity and civility to the position.
Harris has run Circle C Ranch Academy preschool in South Tampa for more than 30 years. She raised four children and 30 foster children. She knows the district and understands business. She wants to strengthen apprenticeship programs and vocational training and provide more support to teachers with better pay, lowering the cost of benefits and supporting discipline decisions in the classroom.
Out of the challengers, we believe only Harris has a chance of defeating Lynn Gray. La Gaceta endorses Sally Harris for School Board District 7.

La Gaceta endorses Combs for School Board District 1

From “As We Heard It,” by Patrick Manteiga
Originally published July 24, 2020

School Board Member Steve Cona is being challenged by Nadia Combs, Ben “Floridaman” Greene and Bill Person.
Ben Greene is running because he is upset at the Board for having him trespassed from School Board meetings, which is not much of a campaign platform.
Bill Person did not interview with us. He has run for election several times and is retired after many years of service to Hillsborough County Schools, where he served as a teacher, principal and school administrator. Person is passionate about helping our children, but he likes to snipe at other candidates and office holders outside of his own race and that makes it difficult to lead and create consensus.
Nadia Combs owns Brighton Learning tutoring center in Tampa and has run it since 2014. Before that, she ran a company that provided tutoring services to students in Title I schools. She worked for the school district for 10 years as a teacher, department head and a district teacher trainer. She also taught ESOL classes for adult immigrants. She has a master’s degree in educational leadership.
Combs has a great combination of business and educational experience that would fit well on the Board. She’s smart and seems savvy enough to press for her agenda, which is more support for lower grades, recruiting better teachers and adjusting the curriculum to improve student outcomes. She also offers advocacy for Hispanic students in the district, which is important since she is running for District 1, which covers West Tampa and Town ‘n’ Country.
Incumbent Steve Cona has worked hard in his two years on the Board. He has been a strong advocate for this district’s schools and pushed for many enhancements to campuses. He has been a leader on the Board. He wants to have a 6-12 school for children with autism. He is the president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors. He’s done a good job, but we do hear concerns from labor unions. They feel Cona does not favor their apprenticeship programs and encourages the school district to use non-union trades programs that end up being more costly to the taxpayers.
La Gaceta endorses Nadia Combs for School Board District 1.

Silhouettes profiles Erin Smith Aebel

Originally published in the july 17, 2020 edition of La Gaceta
Erin Smith AebelBy Tiffany Razzano

Erin Smith Aebel is probably the happiest attorney you’ll ever meet.
“It’s true,” said the partner at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP. “I’m one of the very few happy lawyers. And I’m one of the few women who has lasted 20 years in a big law firm.”
Ask her the secret to her happiness and success, and she’ll be quick to tell you that the autonomy to do her job well has kept her going all these years. “The key to making me happy is that I’ve always had my own clients,” she said. “I bring in money and do my own thing, and that gives me some degree of protection and freedom.”
A board-certified health care attorney, she’s co-administrator of the firm’s health care practice. Aebel fell into health care law 20 years ago when she happened to be assigned a few cases in the field. “I was working with other lawyers and they said, ‘Here, take care of this doctor,’” she said.
She was drawn to the “really complex laws” governing health care covering everything from HIPAA to kickbacks. “It’s a very technical area and very difficult and constantly changing,” she said. “Every year there are new federal, state, and local laws.”
In her role, she works closely with those in the medical field, such as physicians and dentists, “to try to boil down complex laws in a way that’s affordable and makes sense for them.”
Though she has some larger, national clients, her “passion” is working with small business owners. With small businesses, it’s about cultivating long-term relationships, she said. “I’m not replaceable with many of my clients. They know me. I know them. I know their dogs and I know their children. These longer client relationships are the most rewarding.”
Aebel, a fifth-generation Floridian and St. Petersburg native, didn’t set out to be an attorney. Instead, the Gibbs High School graduate thought she would become a history professor.
She attended Loyola University in New Orleans on a full scholarship, majoring in history and French. Then, she began to think about her future more practically. “My history professor made $30,000 a year and had to get a Ph.D. and live somewhere they might not want to, like South Dakota, to get tenured,” she said.
So, she turned her sights to law. She got into some impressive law schools, including the University of Florida. “I actually turned down UF twice. I don’t want to go to school in a swamp and I don’t like football,” she said.
She decided to attend law school at Loyola because she loved her undergraduate experience there and thought she could excel in the program, making it easier for her to find a job after graduating.
After earning her law degree, Aebel decided to return to the Tampa Bay area. Though she loved New Orleans, she knew it wasn’t the city for her to grow roots. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity for people in Tampa Bay,” she said. “What I learned about living in an old, Southern city is everyone wants to know who your daddy was and how many lawyers your family has. It’s hard to break into there, but in Tampa Bay, it’s easy to come from anywhere and get very involved easily… People are very welcoming here. They’re not judgey or snotty.”
She started her career working in litigation, but she never enjoyed it. “I like to prevent problems and work behind the scenes and make deals happen,” she said.
Though she didn’t enjoy trials, “what does appeal to me is finding justice for your clients and advocating for other people,” Aebel said. As she began growing her client list and working with them outside the courtroom, she found her niche and began to enjoy being a lawyer.
In addition to her career, her other great passion is community involvement. She sits on the state advisory board for Ruth’s List, which encourages pro-choice, Democratic women to run for office. She’s also served on the boards for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg and the local chapter of the American Diabetes Association.
In recent years, she’s started working with organizations that “focus on marginalized people in healthcare” and sits on the boards for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and Brain Expansions Scholastic Training, which encourages disadvantaged youth to pursue careers in medicine.
Aebel is a leader in other ways, as well, and is vocal about her political beliefs. “I believe political action is important,” she said. “You want to see the world change in the way you want to see it change.”
This means being educated and involved at a local level. “It means knowing your city council members, knowing your school board members, knowing your local representatives,” she said.
For decades, she’s made it a point to be “a very informed voter,” ever since she returned to the Tampa Bay area after law school. But in 2016, with the election of Pres. Donald Trump, she “decided, clearly, that was not enough.” She wanted to do something more.
Aebel and her friend, a fellow lawyer, Mary Elizabeth Lanier, started a Facebook group, Surly Feminists for the Revolution.
The purpose of the group was to create a safe space for positivity, inclusiveness, progress and feminism, a space that rejects misogyny and prejudice. The name was a play on the phrase “nasty woman,” which was used by Trump to reference his opponent Hillary Clinton. “I came up with the name (Surly Feminists,)” she said. “It’s indicative of its time but also timeless and continues on.”
Today, the group has nearly 13,000 members and has hosted everything from book clubs and other live events to a radio show that airs on WMNF.
When they created the group, Aebel never anticipated its popularity. “That wasn’t my intent,” she said. “It just spontaneously happened. I wasn’t trying to get attention on myself or the group or anything.”
The timing was right for progressive women, stung by Clinton’s loss as a female presidential candidate, to come together to speak out about their own experiences. “What happened with a lot of women, especially middle-aged women, was they had enough, and they said, ‘This is bullsh*t. We need to get more representations. We need to talk about me, too,” she said.
On the political spectrum, she tends to fall further to the left than many Democrats, she said, so, Clinton wasn’t her top candidate in 2016. She did vote for Clinton, though, and was disheartened by her loss. “It was still sad that a woman couldn’t get to that position of power in the United States,” Aebel said.
After the election, discussing the outcome with her family, she was moved when her mother noted that she likely wouldn’t see a woman president in her lifetime. Aebel knew she needed to do more politically.
The 2016 election and creating the Surly Feminists changed her life. “(Women my age) have lived through a lot of sexism and things and survived them. We learned what we’ll put up with and what we won’t. We’re not naïve anymore,” she said. “Normally, I’m a very upbeat, optimistic person, but I am tired of this sh**.”
In January 2017, the day after Trump’s inauguration, she attended the first St. Petersburg Women’s March. “It was the first march I ever did,” she said. “It was the most thrilling, fun and great experience.”
Now, she doesn’t hesitate to march for causes close to her heart. Since 2017, she’s participated in the second St. Petersburg Women’s March, the local March for Science and various Black Lives Matter gatherings.
“Once you do that a few times, you realize that a protest is very powerful,” Aebel said. “You want to have the energy of the moment and connect with people and use that energy and connection to go to the next steps, which for me, in my position, is to make procedural change and legal change. (Protests) really can spur on change. I’ll never take it for granted.”

La Gaceta Endorses Washington and Ward for School Board District 5

From As We Heard It, by Patrick Manteiga, July 17, 2020

Incumbent School Board Member Tammy Shamburger faces three challengers for her District 5 seat.
Elvis Piggott is a local pastor who is politically active. He ran for County Commission in 2018 and has been involved in campaigning for others.
Piggott is passionate in helping youths and enjoys mentoring kids and leads the Gentleman Scholars at a local elementary school.
Selena Ward served in the Army Reserve, was a teacher in Compton, California schools and is a substitute teacher. She has three school-age children and is the president of a high school PTSA and involved in the Junior League.
Henry “Shake” Washington ran two years ago for School Board countywide and got into the runoff. This year, he is trying for a district seat. He has served in the school district for 42 years and is an Army veteran. He’s been a teacher, coach, principal, area director and Area IV superintendent.
Incumbent Tammy Shamburger is at the end of her first term. She has been vocal about racial inequality in the district and is a passionate advocate for District 5, but she’s been quick to take offense and has alienated some in her district.
The board member for District 5 will need to have the skills to build a team and create consensus.
We believe this race will go to a runoff. Just like the last race, we will co-endorse in this one.
We believe Ward and Washington have the temperament and skills to create a coalition to tackle the problems of District 5. Both have an understanding of education and the existing problems. Washington offers more on an inside perspective, while Ward can bring the district more of an outsider’s view.
La Gaceta co-endorses Selena Ward and Henry “Shake” Washington for School Board District 5.

La Gaceta endorses Thrower and Hill for School Board District 3

From As We Heard It, by: Patrick Manteiga July 17, 2020

There are six candidates running for School Board District 3 to replace the retiring Cindy Stuart, who is running for Clerk of the Circuit Court.
All the candidates we interviewed should be thanked for running for public office. It’s not a fun process and people can be exceptionally mean. The whole group seemed to genuinely care for our students and teachers and wanted to improve the district.
Alexandra Gilmore has two children in public schools and has been a substitute teacher for three years. She tells us of failures in the district she witnessed as a substitute and knows the problems well.
Leo Haggerty has 32 years as a school district employee. He served on the teachers’ union bargaining team. He knows the system and wants to be holistic in serving students. Haggerty is also a man of great faith.
Rick Warrener is a retired CFO and controller and became interested in politics after helping his son run for State House. His focus and claim is that he understands the school district budget and wants to use the Board position to pressure the Legislature to increase school spending.
Jessica Vaughn was a classroom teacher who started substituting after her son was born. She feels her experience as an elected member of her CDD board will help her navigate the School Board and its budget. Vaughn would be a strong advocate for children with disabilities.
There are two candidates we feel stand above the others.
Jennifer Hill has over 17 years of IT and special education teaching experience. She is very focused and excited about technology. She is also preparing to open her own business.
We found Hill to be honest, humble and passionate. She seemed to be a good listener and has a calm and patient demeanor that would serve her well on the School Board. Her knowledge of technology and its use in teaching would be valuable as the district will continue to expand online learning.
Mitch Thrower also impresses us. He currently works for the Aviation Authority and is a Certified Public Accountant and a Certified Internal Auditor.
He has a lot of experience on public boards from the County Charter Review Board to the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, where he was elected chair six times. His leadership experience is needed on the School Board, as are his skills in understanding the budget.
With six candidates, this race will likely go to a runoff in November. La Gaceta co-endorses Jennifer Hill and Mitch Thrower for School Board District 3.

La Gaceta Endorses Bill Yanger for Judge

From As We Heard It, by: Patrick Manteiga July 10, 2020

The race for County Judge Group 7 has four candidates, Nancy Jacobs, Monique Scott, Rickey “Rick” Silverman, and Bill Yanger.
Nancy Jacobs has the most years as an attorney, with 35. She was a prosecutor for the state attorney’s office for close to 10 years and has been in private practice ever since. She focuses on criminal defense and family law. Jacobs is smart and experienced.
Rickey “Rick” Silverman came from humble beginnings and saw that college and a law degree would be his best way out. He joined the Bar in 1988 and worked in South Florida in general law practice and later in The Ticket Clinic. He moved to Tampa in 1995 and opened his own practice, specializing in traffic and criminal. He has 32 years of experience, with most of it in county court.
Silverman shows great compassion and would be a people’s judge in a people’s court.
Monique Scott started on the path to be a police officer and was sworn in with the Tampa Police Department, but she discovered she had epilepsy and had to end that career. She became a teacher in elementary and middle schools in Pasco County but had a passion for the law and started to attend Stetson Law School. She was admitted to the Bar in 2013 and joined the state attorney’s office. She has served in several divisions.
Scott volunteers in the community and works with children with epilepsy through the Epilepsy Services Foundation.
We really like Monique Scott. She is bright, involved and while young, she has life experience. She will make a great judge one day.
Bill Yanger has 34 years of experience, having joined the Texas Bar in 1986 and the Florida Bar in 1989. He has an AV Preeminent Rating by Martindale-Hubbell and has experience in workers compensation, criminal law, family law and Social Security disability. His focus has been on business litigation for the last 20 years.
In this field, Yanger stands out. He is knowledgeable, ethical and exhibits judicial temperament. He is a Tampa native who has grown as a candidate after having run and failed two years ago. The election process is humbling and makes a better judge.
La Gaceta endorses Bill Yanger for County Judge Group 7.

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