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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist gets some family time at Democratic Convention

Crist family at Democratic Convention

Carole Crist

Crist family at Democratic Convention

Charlie Crist has been in Philadelphia this week at the Democratic National Convention. And, judging from a photo posted to Twitter today by his wife, Carole, it's been more than politics.

There has been some family time.

It appears that Carole's oldest daughter, Skylar Rome, is attending the convention, too. According to her Facebook page, the teenager is or will be attending Tulane University.

The Crist campaign declined comment.

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Florida Bar warns lawyers of fraudulent email claiming to come from Attorney General’s office

Across Florida this week, many lawyers received an email with the subject line: “The Florida Office of The Attorney General Complaint.”

“Enclosed is a copy of the complaint which requires your response,” it read.

But the Florida Bar warned lawyers Thursday that the email did not come from Pam Bondi’s office. And the attachment is actually a virus, possibly Ransomware, that blocks access to a computer until a ransom is paid.

By Thursday morning, the real Office of the Attorney General had received more than 50 reports of the suspicious email from lawyers, including some in the Tampa Bay area.

The Office of the Attorney General asks lawyers who receive the fraudulent message to call them at (866)-966-7226 or visit MyFloridaLegal.com.

 

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St. Pete City Council advances utility rate hike

A St. Petersburg City Council committee voted unanimously Thursday to add either $3.73 or $5.60 to the average  monthly utility bills. 

The reason? A sewer system in crisis. Aging pipes that allow ground and storm water to seep in during storms. A shuttered sewer plant on the waterfront that reduced the system's capacity by 18 percent. Bad pipes and reduced capacity contributed to more than 40 million gallons of raw and partially-treated sewage being spilled and dumped into Tampa and Boca Cieaga bays in the last year.

Council member Steve Kornell said residents would support the rate hike, They are upset about the sewage discharges, he said, and would lose patience with the city if action was taken. He repeatedly cited a University of South Florida study, released last week, that found dangerous anti-biotic resistant bacteria in a county spill in 2014. 

The council needs to turn the crisis into an opportunity, said council chairwoman Amy Foster. A year from now, it might be forgotten.

"This is fresh on people's minds," she said. …

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USF study: Pinellas County's 2014 sewage spill contained dangerous bacteria

(CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post said the sewer line break took place in St. Petersburg.)  

Repeated sewage spills have an added public health threat, according to a new University of South Florida study: dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can spread with each spill.

Researchers looked at the aftermath of a 2014 sewer line break in the Joe's Creek area, north of St. Petersburg, in which untreated wastewater gushed into Boca Ciega Bay. The bacteria they found in the wastewater troubled them for a few reasons.

In tests, the bacteria was resistant to vancomycin, a "last resort" antibiotic used to treat serious infections when other antibiotics aren't working. And the vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) bacteria is able to transfer the resistance to that drug to other bacteria.

"This fuels the greater problem of increasing antibiotic resistance," according to USF News. (link: http://news.usf.edu/article/templates/?a=7437&z=220)

Sewage spills spread the bacteria in populated areas, researchers found. That raised concerns that aging sewer infrastructure, plus extreme bouts of rain, make the bacteria's spread more likely. …

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Pinellas Park Council talks property tax rate, money to charity during budget workshop

Council members gave the nod toward a lower property tax rate and increased donations to nonprofit organizations during a city budget workshop Tuesday night.

The proposed budget suggests a property tax rate of $5.49 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable value. That means the owner of a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $549 in city taxes. This year’s rate is about $5.59 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable value.

The lower rate plus a 6.4 percent increase in city property values will bring in an additional $445,000 to balance the general fund, which covers the revenues and expenditures for most city departments.

The proposed budget also includes a 3.25 percent raise for nonunion employees and no increase in health insurance premiums until April 1, when they will go up by 15 percent. …

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St. Pete mulling utility rate hike to help fix sewers

After more than 40 million gallons of sewage was spilled or pumped from an aging, overwhelmed system, the city plans to spend millions in coming years to fix pipes, improve manholes and increase capacity in the city's three wastewater plants.

To help pay for the fix, the city is proposing to increase utility rates, according to a draft proposal.

Originally estimated to rise 3.75 percent overall in a consultant rate study last year, the new recommendation is for a 4.25 percent overall hike in rates.

On Thursday, the City Council's Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee gets an initial look at the plan, which city officials said could change---even before that meeting.

If the proposal remains unchanged, the average resident who uses 4,000 gallons of water and wastewater per month would see their bill increase from $111 to $115.29 if they use reclaimed water to water their lawn as do 12 percent of residents. That's a 3.86 percent increase.

The majority of residents who don't use reclaimed water will see their bills increase from $90.58 to $94.00 ---a 3.77 percent increase. …

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State Rep. Chris Sprowls faces heat from opponent after leaving State Attorney’s Office

State Rep. Chris Sprowls ended his seven-year stint with the State Attorney's Office earlier this month to practice civil law with Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, a Pittsburgh-based law firm with an office in Tampa.

He said he made the change because it was "a good opportunity to develop professional skills in the civil arena," and do work much different than he did under State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

"McCabe is like a second father to me, and I knew if I was ever going to go into civil practice, it would be with someone who could provide that kind of mentorship," Sprowls said, adding that he thinks he has found that in the firm's Florida chairwoman Rhea F. Law. "I picked this firm for the same reason I picked the State Attorney's Office — because of individual relationships."

Bernie Fensterwald, Sprowls' opponent in the race for the House District 65 seat, said in a Wednesday press release that "by making this move, Sprowls abandons any pretense that he is working in the interest of the public." He said the shift proves Sprowls, who is lined up to be the future House speaker, has taken his focus off constituents and placed it on climbing the political ladder. …

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NRCC chairman says he'll talk to Jolly about 13th District race

Congressman David Jolly is in a tight battle to keep his 13th District seat, now tilting blue after court-orderered redistricting.

He'll face long-shot Republican Mark Bircher in the Aug. 30 primary, but the bigger battle brewing is with former governor Charlie Crist, whose most recent show of national Democrat support were rumors he was under consideration to be Hillary Clinton's vice-president. 

Jolly's prospects haven't been helped by a very visible spat with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which strongly criticized Jolly after an April 60 Minutes interview in which the congressman voiced his frustration about the constant pressure on House members to raise money for reelection. 

At the time, Jolly was running for U.S. Senate. But Marco Rubio's decision in June to defend that seat persuaded Jolly to try to keep the House seat.

NRCC money would be very helpful to Jolly in the race, which makes comments by the group's chairman, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, during last week's GOP convention intriguing. …

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Clerk complaint raises questions about Pinellas judicial candidate's demeanor in court

Curtis Korsko, Pinellas County judge candidate

Korsko campaign Facebook page

Curtis Korsko, Pinellas County judge candidate

For 11 years, Pinellas County judge candidate Curtis Korsko had an unblemished track record as a traffic hearing officer — until last year in May, when a clerk sent a scathing e-mail to court officials.

“He has taken polls of the people in the audience as to whether they agree with his ruling on a case,” it read. “He really makes the court system look bad.”

Then-chief judge J. Thomas McGrady assigned a court counsel attorney to investigate.

“Your telephone conversation to me last week NOT ONLY stole my soul, but has embarrassed me to the extent that I feel I cannot even walk into that courthouse,” Korsko wrote to the attorney.

The buzz eventually receded.

“A review was conducted and it was decided (Korsko) should continue working as a traffic hearing officer,” Sixth Judicial Circuit spokesman Stephen Thompson said in a statement. Korsko quit his post, but rescinded his resignation and presided over traffic court until this spring, when he left to run for Pinellas County judge.

But an audio recording of a three-hour traffic court hearing obtained by the Tampa Bay Times captured Korsko, a Tampa civil litigation lawyer, making some remarks that could be considered questionable. …

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Can you spell "commission?"

Hillsborough County Commission candidate Jim Norman's

Special to the Times

Hillsborough County Commission candidate Jim Norman's

Candidates in the crowded District 6 race for the Hillsborough County Commission have a potential new campaign slogan against a former commissioner hoping for a comeback:

Jim Norman Can’t Even Spell County Commission!

Norman, a former state senator who withdrew from re-election in 2012 after an ethics scandal, is now running for a county seat against Democrats Tom Scott, John Dicks, Pat Kemp and Brian Willis and fellow Republican Tim Schock.

This week Norman confirmed that 50 to 70 of his posted campaign signs contain the misspelled word "commision" — as in, missing a necessary "s."

Of course Norman can spell commission, having previously been a longtime and powerful figure on that board.

He says it was a printer error that will be remedied with a corrective bumper sticker placed over each sign.

"You just gotta roll with it," Norman said.

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Largo officials: townhouse development still on for site on potential Rays stadium list

A list of potential stadium sites for the Tampa Bay Rays includes a former citrus grove in the city of Largo that developers are eyeing for townhouses.

That project is still moving forward on the site near the corner of U.S. 19 and Belleair Road, said economic development manager Teresa Brydon in an email chain between city officials and commissioners. The land was previously home to one of the Orange Blossom Groves locations.

Brydon said the conditions of the development agreement will go before commissioners in the coming weeks. 

According to Pinellas County Property Appraiser's records, the site is still owned by the Repetto family, which ran the citrus grove. The family is under contract to sell the land to M/I Homes of Tampa, according to DeLoach and Hofstra, the law firm handling the Repetto family trust.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes brought up concerns raised by residents who live off the oak tree-lined Belleair Road regarding the townhouse development, mainly over traffic. 

"Belleair Rd would NEVER be approved and I'm confident the neighborhood would picket city hall with pitchforks and torches," he wrote. …

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Officials get early look at new Largo High School

Officials take in the view from a stairwell.

Kathryn Varn | Times

Officials take in the view from a stairwell.

The football stadium was the only thing on his high school campus that looked familiar to Largo Mayor Woody Brown.

Oh, and the auditorium – if you squint, he said.

Brown, along with several city and state officials, got an early look Tuesday at the new Largo High School, which is almost at the end of a $65 million renovation. 

Two rising seniors gave a tour of their new stomping grounds, which included a gym that holds 1,600 people, several classrooms with high-tech equipment and a spacious courtyard with arches and stairwells leading into each building.

“We really truly believe this is the finest school in the state of Florida,” Principal Bradley Finkbiner said.

The school is split into several buildings. One is devoted to academics, with humanities subjects on the first floor and science, technology, engineering and math classes on the second floor to make it feel more like a college, Finkbiner said.  …

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LGBT Awareness month rejected by Hillsborough County commissioners

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner helps raise the LGBT pride flag outside of the county center Wednesday. But Beckner did not convince his colleagues to name each June LGBT Pride Awareness month.

Caitlin Johnston, Times

Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner helps raise the LGBT pride flag outside of the county center Wednesday. But Beckner did not convince his colleagues to name each June LGBT Pride Awareness month.

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners soundly rejected a proposal Wednesday to designate each June as LGBT Pride Awareness and History month in Hillsborough County.

Despite an impassioned plea from Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who sought the designation in light of last month’s massacre at an Orlando gay night club, none of the commissioners supported his motion with a second and it failed as a result.

Because there was not a second, there was no discussion among commissioners, so none of them explained their opposition, nor was there a vote.

Beckner, the county's first openly gay commissioner, last month won support from the commission to raise a LGBT Pride flag for the rest of June after the shooting. However, that show of solidarity was not repeated on Wednesday.

Live blog: Hillsborough commissioners reject LGBT Awareness Month

The decision to raise the flag in June grew contentious after Commissioner Stacy White said an employee anonymously complained that it was an affront to her Christian beliefs and created a hostile work environment. He also criticized the county administrator for not warning commissioners that raising the Pride flag could be problematic for some employees. …

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County sewage had dangerous bacteria

A University of South Florida study released today found antibiotic-resistance bacteria in untreated sewage spilled from a broken Pinellas County sewer line in the Joe's Creek area, north of St. Petersburg, into Boca Ciega Bay in 2014.

Two USF researchers published their findings Wednesday in the Applied and Environmental Microbiology Journal, concluding that the sewage "raise several significant public health concerns."

The 500,000 gallon spill in September 2014 was significantly smaller that subsequent spills from the city of St. Petersburg spills in 2015 and last month, which released more than 40 million gallons of sewage into Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay. Tampa and Largo have also had significant discharges in the last two years. 

Suzanne Young, a PhD student in environmental microbiology who co-authored the study, said the county spill was studied because reasearchers found out about it from news coverage. They haven't had tested the more recent spills from the city, but hope to do so in the future.

"Environmental surveillance is really important," she said. …

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Police union to host 'Meet a Cop & Thank a Cop' event in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — The premise is simple.

The local police union on Saturday will host an event called “Meet a Cop & Thank a Cop,” a fundraiser for the Sun Coast Police Benevolent Association at 9th Avenue N and 23rd Street.

But this month, after two officer-involved shootings left black men dead in Louisiana and Minnesota, and two ambushes left eight officers dead in Texas and Louisiana, the concept is especially relevant.

“Recent events demonstrate the importance of knowing, and thanking, our local ‘peace officers.’ ” the union said in a statement.

Several officers will attend the fundraiser along with a police dog. There will be free food and live music.

The relationship between police and the communities they serve has come under increased scrutiny in recent years after several high-profile officer-involved shootings sparked protests and rallies across the country. Both police and protesters say that officers’ relationship with citizens is fractured by poor communication, racial tension and hostility. …

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