Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Dunedin: Blue Jays architect to calculate spring training upgrade needs, costs

DUNEDIN| It will be at least another month or so before the Toronto Blue Jays submit a spring training facilities wish list and cost estimate to the city.

Dunedin officials, who met several weeks ago with top Jays executives to kick off talks about a possible contract renewal, had been expecting the document by mid April.

But Mayor Dave Eggers said Jays president Paul Beeston told him Monday that the team intends to send an architect next week to determine whether the upgrades the team wants at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the nearby Englebert practice complex are possible and, if so, how much they would cost.

Once in hand, city officials plan to use the Jays' letter to pursue state and county funding.

"I think they're trying to assess what their needs are and what the facility has to offer, so they have a better feel," Eggers said, adding that the exercise will help the Jays avoid alienating anyone by either underestimating or overestimating the project's scope and cost.

Full story here.

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Church of Scientology wins approval for building to store parishioner records

The Community Development Board Tuesday unanimously approved a Church of Scientology warehouse to be built in the city’s industrial corridor.

The nearly 90,000-square-foot warehouse will be used to house parishioner records, according to an application submitted by the church.

Church officials declined further comment Tuesday.

Board members wanted to know more about why the church would only provide 10 parking spaces for a building zoned for 133 spaces on the southeast corner of N Hercules Avenue and Calumet Street.

Between three and 15 workers will staff the facility in two shifts “day and night” behind a gated entrance, according to the application.

Ed Armstrong, an attorney representing the church, said the church “essentially had its own transit agency,” and planned to shuttle workers to and from the facility in vans and buses.


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Political newcomer raises more cash than veterans in Dunedin commission race

DUNEDIN| Just one month into the nonpartisan race to win one of four City Commission seats on the November ballot, a political newcomer has raised more money than three candidates who have up to a decade of experience each.

As of Thursday, the deadline for the first monthly campaign treasurer's report, records showed it was Bruce Livingston, a community volunteer and retired dental industry businessman making his first run for office, who raised the most money in March.

His $6,629 campaign account - which contains mostly $25 to $250 increments from nearly 30 donors -dwarfed those of sitting Commissioners Julie Ward Bujalski and Julie Scales (who are running for mayor) and former City Commissioner Deborah Kynes (who is eyeing the seat being vacated by retiring Commissioner Ron Barnette).

Read more here.

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Parts of elevated highway could be lowered

The private company proposing an elevated toll road in south Pasco County is considering whether to place sections of the road at ground level.

Frank Chupka, a Department of Transportation administrator in Tampa, said Thursday that state officials asked the company to consider placing some of the 33-mile highway at ground level to appease residents and businesses after a public backlash.

The road would still track along the State Road 54/56 corridor in south Pasco, but at some point it would transition from an elevated structure to a ground-level highway, Chupka said.

The existing highway would be bowed out to make room for the four-lane road, which would run in the center along the median.

The project has angered residents who worry an elevated road would hurt property values, cause noise and pollution and become a neighborhood eyesore.

A group called Pasco Fiasco has gathered 1,500 online signatures from residents opposed to the project, said Rich Connors, one of the group’s organizers.

The company, Florida 54 Express LLC, submitted the proposal to the DOT in December. The DOT will decide by the end of the year whether to allow the project to proceed, Chupka said. …

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Hillsborough Commissioner Sharpe: HART needs to change

TAMPA -- Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority management need to change their view their buses are only for poor people and "retool" the agency into "something dramatically different," County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said Wednesday in an open letter.

Sharpe, who also serves on the HART board, has been vocal about his belief the agency needs to take the lead in expanded transit options for Hillsborough residents. Present HART management, Sharpe wrote in the letter has been "resistant to thinking beyond compliance with regulations."

"The prevailing management view is that public transit exists primarily to serve the economically disadvantaged. I fundamentally disagree," Sharpe wrote.

Sharpe sent the letter to other board members Wednesday after one of his fellow board members, Fran Davin, told Sharpe earlier in the week he was being too critical of HART, Sharpe said.

Sharpe said he hoped the letter reinforced his message that HART needs to change, a message he hopes is embraced by whoever takes over the agency. HART CEO Philip Hale is stepping down at the end of April. HART COO Katharine Eagan will serve as interim CEO until the board selects a new boss.  …

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That's two very fit judges

Two judges from the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit are about to embark on some endurance sports.

Judge Cynthia Newton, who handles felony criminal trials, is scheduled to compete Sunday in a "half Ironman" competition in Haines City and Lake Eva. That's a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bicycle ride and a 13.1-mile run. She also is planning to participate in a full Ironman -- double those distances -- this summer in Idaho.

Meanwhile, Judge Dee Anna Farnell, who presides over Drug Court, is scheduled to compete in her 17th Boston Marathon on April 21.

 

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Clearwater City Manager is sticking around

CLEARWATER —City Manager Bill Horne said Wednesday that he has no plans to retire this year and hopes to squelch a rumor to that effect spreading through the city.

Horne, the chief administrator of Tampa Bay ’s third-largest city since 2000, said several people had approached him in recent days to ask him if he intended to retire at the end of this year.

“Now is not the time to think about leaving,” Horne said. “I wouldn’t think of doing anything destabilizing.”

Major initiatives all require his attention, Horne said. Those include negotiating a 60-year lease with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on city-owned land where City Hall now stands for a downtown aquarium, securing land for a downtown parking garage and picking a location for a new City Hall.
“I would want to see those things through,” he said.

A recent conversation with a “community leader” may have been the origin of the misunderstanding, Horne said.

A retired Air Force colonel who will turn 65 in June, Horne said he will reevaluate his options in 2016.

Horne said he doesn’t ever want to overstay his welcome and become perceived as “too long in the tooth” for the demanding job. …

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New study asks: Replace or repair Dunedin bridge?

DUNEDIN| Pinellas County is gearing up to study options for repairing or replacing the drawbridge that leads to Honeymoon Island State Park.

The causeway reached its 50-year estimated useful life in 2013, so county officials in 2009 tried to get a head start by doing a routine feasibility study, which recommended a new bridge.

But to get federal funding for the project, the county has to hire consultants and embark on yet another study using federal guidelines.

Read more here.

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Murphy qualifies for state House race

State Rep. Amanda Murphy this week qualified to run for re-election in this year’s state House District 36 race in west Pasco County.

Murphy, who won the seat in a special election in October, qualified by petition, meaning she turned in enough voter signatures to have her name placed on the ballot.

Candidates can also qualify by paying a filing fee of $1,781.82 (for party affiliated candidates).

In Murphy’s case, the Pasco supervisor of elections certified enough voter signatures – 1,012 – to qualify her as a candidate in the upcoming election. She qualified this past Monday.

So far, she is the only candidate in the race to qualify and the only Democrat running.

Also running are two Republicans, Jim Mathieu and Chris Gregg. Both have said they intend to qualify by petition as well.

Mathieu, chairman of Pasco’s Republican Party, said Friday he has about 60 percent of the necessary signatures. Efforts to reach Gregg were unsuccessful.

The candidates still have plenty of time to gather signatures. The deadline to qualify is June 16 to June 20.

The primary is Aug. 26. The general election is Nov. 4.

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Vice Mayor of Clearwater proves to be tempting prize

CLEARWATER-- After wishing farewell to outgoing Vice Mayor Paul Gibson on Thursday, the City Council got busy selecting his successor to the ceremonial position.

The job, which mainly involves filling in for the mayor when he is absent or on a bathroom break during meetings, proved to be an appealing prize for three council members. Bill Jonson, Jay Polglaze and Doreen Hock-DiPolito all threw their political hats into the ring.  

Mayor George Cretekos had suggested at Monday’s council work session that the position just be rotated annually, which wouldn’t require a vote of the five council members, but that idea didn’t gain any traction. 

When faced with three candidates, Cretekos quipped: “Y’all understand why I said this was awkward?”

It fell to newly-elected council member Hoyt Hamilton to anoint the honorary second. Hamilton chose Hock-DiPolito. Jonson seconded that motion. Cretekos voted for her and she voted for herself.

Polglaze voted no.

Hock-DiPolito, who was elected to the council without opposition in 2012, will fill the vice mayor role for the next year. 

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Wells' son to take on Wilson in Pasco Commission race

Mike Wells Jr., the son of Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells, announced Friday he is running for Pasco County Commission District 4, the seat currently held by Republican Henry Wilson.

Wells, like his well-known father, is running as a Republican, which ensures a GOP primary election Aug. 26.

He's a first-time candidate and Wilson is seeking his first re-election after defeating incumbent Michael Cox, then the commission's only Democrat, four years ago. District 4 is in central west Pasco. It includes parts of New Port Richey and Land O’ Lakes and generally runs from State Road 54 to State Road 52.

Wells, 42, is a former manager at Enterprise Rent-a-Car and currently works as a Realtor at Coldwell Banker F.I. Grey & Son in New Port Richey. He is married to Tiffany Wells, 39. The couple has one son, Cole, 12.

Wells said he got a taste for politics while a youngster watching his father at County Commission meetings in the 1980s. …

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Dunedin ballot filling up fast

DUNEDIN| Two longtime city commissioners who often disagree on policy issues have announced they both plan to run for mayor.

Julie Scales resigned her commission seat and announced her candidacy for mayor on March 18. Julie Ward Bujalski announced Tuesday that she plans to file paperwork to run for the top post.

With Mayor Dave Eggers leaving to run for Pinellas County Commission and one of two commissioners who are up for re-election announcing retirement, four of the five commission seats will be up for grabs in the November election.

Former Dunedin Mayor Bob Hackworth, who in late February was contemplating another run for the top spot, told the Tampa Bay Times Tuesday that he will not run.

Hackworth said he has typically run against incumbents in order to give citizens a chance to hold those officials accountable.

Noting the "unprecedented" number of open seats, Hackworth said he will "sit this one out" and let some new blood have a chance at office.

Community volunteer Bruce Livingston is running for Scales' seat. And former commissioner Deborah Kynes hopes to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Commissioner Ron Barnette.

Read details about each candidate here. …

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Hillsborough Commissioner Kevin Beckner to launch Internet show

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner will launch an Internet show next month he'll co-host with local Republican political consultant Chris Ingram. 

The first of four 30-minute broadcasts planned for this year will be available online May 1, Beckner said Tuesday, and more information will be available at commissionerbeckner.com. A portion of the show will be answering constituent questions. Those with questions can email them to becknerk@hillsboroughcounty.org, with INTERNET SHOW in the subject line. 

Ingram will not be paid for his work on the show, which will focus on issues facing Hillsborough County government, and will be shot in the county's television studio, Beckner said. 

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Clearwater City Council mulls beach parking options

CLEARWATER 

City traffic engineers recommended Monday that the city not convert Poinsettia Avenue and Eastshore Drive into one-way streets to accommodate a new parking garage on Clearwater Beach --- at least not right away.

“Our recommendation is that we build the garage and then look at making a change in the traffic pattern if it looks like there’s a problem with the garage in operation,” said Paul Bertels, the city’s traffic operations manager at a City Council work session. 

Eventually, converting Poinsettia and Eastshore to one-way traffic could “work very well,” Bertels said, but it would increase congestion where Poinsettia branches off from the Clearwater Beach roundabout as cars exit off Memorial Causeway.

Such a traffic redesign would also put more wheels along Baymont Street to the north of the proposed nearly 700-car garage at the Pelican Walk Plaza.

Paradise Group, a Safety Harbor developer, will build the garage. In 2016, the city will buy at least 450 spaces for about $11 million, using parking fund revenue, according to a tentative agreement.  …

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Largo election dance card filling up

LARGO -- This city’s next election isn’t until November, but candidates are already staking out their territory.
A chain reaction of events is setting up a ballot where five of seven Largo City Commission seats will be up for grabs.
The main reason for the shake-up: Longtime Mayor Pat Gerard will be stepping down to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, opening up the office of mayor.
Vice Mayor Woody Brown, 43, is running for mayor. He might be opposed by former Mayor Bob Jackson, who is considering a political comeback.
Other than the mayor’s race, at this point there are six candidates running for the four remaining City Commission seats. There’s plenty of time for that to change. But right now, here’s how it shakes out:
Seat 1: Michael Smith, a 32-year-old librarian, is running for re-election to a second term in office. So far, he’s unopposed.
Seat 2: Robert Murray, 59, is not seeking re-election. Instead, two political newcomers are running for this open seat. One is Samantha Fenger, 35, a former community outreach coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County. She has served on Largo’s Community Development Advisory Board. The other is Daniel Ruffner, 47, a vice president at BB&T Bank and a member of Largo’s Code Enforcement Board.
Seat 5: Long-serving commissioner Harriet Crozier, 69, is running for re-election again. She will be challenged by political newcomer Donna Holck, 51, owner of DJH Tax Consulting in Largo.
Seat 6: Retired Largo police Chief John Carroll, 54, who left the police force last year, is running for the seat that Woody Brown is vacating.
The qualifying period for candidates will last for two weeks, probably in August, said City Clerk Diane Bruner. That’s when candidates must turn in 200 petition cards signed by Largo voters.
The nonpartisan election is Nov. 4. Largo’s ballot will also have about eight city charter amendment questions.
Largo commissioners earn an annual salary of $13,454 and serve four-year terms. The mayor’s salary is $20,180.
Gerard, who was first elected mayor in 2006, has mixed feelings about stepping down.
“It’s hard to think about leaving. I’ve been doing it for eight years now, and six years before that on the commission,” she said. “But it’s time to turn it over to somebody else.”
Gerard must submit her resignation as mayor in time for the June qualifying period for County Commission candidates. But she can stay on as mayor for most of this year. Her resignation won’t have to take effect until November, when Largo’s next mayor is elected and sworn in.
One person who might run for mayor is  Jackson, the former mayor whom Gerard defeated in 2006.
“It’s a tough decision to make,” Jackson said in an interview. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Jackson, a retired school principal, was Largo’s mayor for two terms and was on the City Commission for three decades. He says he may not run for office again, partly because he’s 80 years old.
“I enjoy retirement a lot,” he said, adding that he could still do the job: “I think the concept of experience is overlooked in this country.”
In any case, he has plenty of criticism for the current city commissioners. He disagrees with their recent decision to waive an impact fee that apartment developers would normally pay for parkland acquisition in Largo.
He also accuses the elected commissioners of being a mere rubber stamp for the city’s hired staff. “Your job is to set policy, not just listen to what the staff says.”
For her part, Gerard isn’t surprised by Jackson’s criticism.
“Bob was always the 'no’ guy on the commission,” Gerard said. “He would vote 'no.’ And instead of trying to convince the rest of us, he would just get mad and bring it up again six months later.”
At this stage, the apparent early frontrunner to be Largo’s next mayor is vice mayor Brown. A 6-foot-7 chiropractor who has a practice in downtown Largo, he’s been on the commission since 2007. He’s been elected twice, largely by exuding a positive attitude and pledging to build consensus.
“I enjoy living in Largo. I came back here to start my business and raise a family and I just want to keep it the place that I enjoy living,” Brown said.
As for Jackson’s criticism that commissioners are a rubber stamp for the city staff, Brown responded: “If that’s what you think, you haven’t been paying attention.”

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