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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Jolly said no thanks to Pinellas commissioner's Cuba invitation

Pinellas County commissioners Janet Long and John Morroni are back from a four-day trip to Cuba. About two dozen Pinellas County leaders and businesspoeple accepted Long's invitation to attend what she described as a fact-finding mission. Read our report here.

Interesting side note: Though U.S. Rep. David Jolly was for a while among the rumored attendees, the Indian Shores Republican declined Long's invitation. 

“I did not join our local delegation because I do not think it is appropriate at this point for a member of Congress to visit Cuba until we see the current regime provide greater individual, political and economic freedoms to the people of Cuba," Jolly said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "My hope is that day comes very soon and it will be important for our region to be prepared for these geopolitical changes. As such, I've spoken with many of the travelers and have offered to host a meeting with the delegation to hear their impressions of their visit and their perspective of our current relationship with Cuba.”

Long said she plans to take him up on the offer. Among the topics on her list: the U.S. embargo. …

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Clearwater opens new fire headquarters

CLEARWATER -- The huge vehicle bay of Clearwater's new main fire station is big enough to hold four fire engines side-by-side. Monday afternoon, it was filled by a crowd of people for a grand opening ceremony.

 

The three-story, 33,000-square-foot fire station at 1140 Court St. will double as the Clearwater Fire Department's headquarters. Its top floor is administrative offices, its second floor is living quarters, and its bottom floor is for operations.

 

Instead of a ribbon-cutting, there was a ceremonial uncoupling of fire hoses. The current Clearwater City Council got involved, as well as three former elected officials – former Mayor Frank Hibbard and former council members John Doran and Paul Gibson, who were all in office when the city decided to build the $8.7 million station.

 

After a prayer for the safety of the men and women who will work there, a number of officials spoke to the crowd of Clearwater residents.

 

"This building is going to be here for hopefully 50 more years," said current Mayor George Cretekos.

 

A $100,000 piece of public art – a sculpture made of glass orbs – will be hung from the ceiling of the station's entrance lobby, probably this summer.

  …

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St. Pete's Kennedy releases long list of requests in advance of Rays workshop

St. Petersburg-- City Council member Jim Kennedy released a memo requesting 11 points of clarification and information Monday that he wants to see included in a Feb. 19 council workshop.

Kennedy wants a list of all the possible stadium sites that the Tampa Bay Rays intend to vet and the standards used to evaluate them like traffic studies. He also wants to know if those standards will become public record.

He wants more detail on whether the memorandum of understanding between the city and the team (defeated in a 5-3 council vote in December) would weaken the city's use agreement with the Rays. 

Kennedy also asked for more information on any environmental concerns at the Tropicana Field site and a comparison of the economic impact on St. Pete if the Rays play their games in Pinellas or Hillsborough counties, among other requests.

Kennedy who released the memo via email wasn't immediately available for comment.  

The workshop was scheduled by newly-installed chairman Charlie Gerdes after the council voted unanimously in the Dec. 18 meeting  to  gather to discuss ways to keep the Rays in the city. …

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Reappointment of housing authority board member could be blocked after controversial museum vote

ST. PETERSBURG | Will there be any political fallout from the St. Petersburg Housing Authority's decision this week to sell the building that houses the city's only African American museum?

At least one board member may find out next week.

Ann Taylor has served on the housing board since 2011 and was one of four members who voted on Thursday to sell the property at 2240 Ninth Ave, S, which has housed the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum for the past several years.

Originally appointed by former mayor Bill Foster, she is currently up for reappointment under Mayor Rick Kriseman.

But before she can begin another 4-year term, she must be confirmed by St. Petersburg city council members, a majority of whom opposed the housing authority's plan to evict the museum.

And at least one council member has vowed to block Taylor's reappointment, scheduled for next Thursday.

"I will do my best to make sure she doesn't get a single affirmative vote," council member Karl Nurse said Friday. "I hope that will send a signal to the board about the job we think they are doing."

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St. Pete mayor's wife circulates petition against proposal to allow guns on college campuses

ST. PETERSBURG | Mayor Rick Kriseman's views on gun control are well known.

But it's his wife who has taken the unusual action to try to drum up awareness about a proposal to allow guns on college campuses in the Sunshine State.

Kerry Kriseman is circulating a Moveon.org petition against the measure, approved this week by a state subcommittee.

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Safety Harbor votes to bring arborist on board

SAFETY HARBOR| The city is looking for a full-time arborist to handle permitting and public education surrounding Safety Harbor’s retooled tree ordinance.

City commissioners gave City Manager Matt Spoor permission to begin advertising the position after nearly an hour of debate Tuesday.

Commissioners Carlos Diaz, Cliff Merz and Richard Blake initially said they were hesitant to hire someone before approving a final draft of the law for fear that the city or new employee would misjudge the required duties or workload.

Ultimately, all but Blake sided with Spoor, who insisted that upgrading city forms and computer coding ahead of approval then managing citywide business and homeowner requests plus community relations afterward would keep a full-time worker busy.

Commissioners voted 4-1 to pull the arborist’s $50,000 salary plus benefits from reserves, and spend $20,000 in capital project funds on a work vehicle. Spoor will evaluate in several months and reduce the arborist to part-time if needed. …

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Kriseman off to mayors' gathering in D.C.

St. Petersburg----- Mayor Rick Kriseman is  heading to Washington, D.C.  Wednesday for the 83rd winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors where he'll listen to remarks by Vice President Joe Biden and attend meetings with other mayors at the White House. 

He'll also informally trade tips with mayors from around the country and soak in information from dozens of panels and workshops, said his spokesman.

Kriseman is traveling alone, said spokesman Ben Kirby. His travel expenses come of of the city budget, but Kirby didn't know the exact amount. 

Aside from hearing from Biden and going to the White House with other mayors on Friday, the mayor sees the conference as an opportunity to make St. Petersburg part of the national discussion, Kirby said. 

"One of the best benefits of raising our city profile at meetings like this is to work with other mayors and hear what works--and what doesn't--in other cities," Kirby wrote in an email Tuesday. 

Kriseman will return Friday, a day before his "State of the City" address at City Hall.  

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Tampa again hosting Obamacare navigators, plus focusing on small business, hospitality industries

Health care navigator Ruth Bessant helps residents looking to sign up for health insurance during an Affordable Care Act enrollment event at the Jackson Heights NFL Youth Education Town Center in Tampa in March 2014. The event was organized by the Family Healthcare Foundation in Tampa.

EVE EDELHEIT | Times (2014)

Health care navigator Ruth Bessant helps residents looking to sign up for health insurance during an Affordable Care Act enrollment event at the Jackson Heights NFL Youth Education Town Center in Tampa in March 2014. The event was organized by the Family Healthcare Foundation in Tampa.

For a second year, Tampa is letting healthcare.gov navigators set up desks at city parks and recreation facilities to sign up residents for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The city also is expanding its efforts to help navigators reach out to workers at small businesses and in the hospitality industry.

"We all benefit when residents have access to the care they need,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

Asked whether he expects to build up political good will by helping President Barack Obama's signature program at a time when Tampa is getting ready to seek federal funds for the West River redevelopment plan, Buckhorn said that's not the point.

"If this were a Republican administration, and this was a project that I thought would help the folks I represent, I'd be just as enthusiastic about it," he said.

"Putting the politics aside, which, at this point, I couldn't care less about, the more people in our city that have health care coverage, the better a city we are, the healthier we are, the less of a burden they become on all of us by having to show up in the emergency room," Buckhorn said. "So we will do everything that we can to get as many people as we can signed up for it." …

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South Tampa neighborhood groups to hold City Council candidate forum

A coalition of South Tampa neighborhood associations representing about 20,000 residents will hold a City Council candidates forum on Feb. 11 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 4311 W San Miguel St.

Candidates in all five contested council races have been invited. The event starts with a meet-and-greet at 6 p.m., followed by a two-hour forum at 6:30 p.m.

Sponsoring associations include Sunset Park, Virginia Park, Bayside West, Bayshore Beautiful. Gandy/Sun Bay South, Culbreath Heights, Swann Estates, Port Tampa and the Bayshore Condominium Council.

The forum is free and open to the public.

Tampa's election will take place March 3, with early voting from Feb. 23 to March 1. The deadline to register to vote is Feb. 2.

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Bob Buckhorn pings donors after write-in qualifies

How much campaign fundraising is enough? If you are Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and you get opposition — any opposition — $365,000 is not enough.

At noon Saturday, 24 hours after qualifying closed with Jose Vazquez qualified as a write-in in the mayor's race, Buckhorn sent supporters a fundraising email with the subject line "Not done yet":

Dear Friend,

In spite of all the positive support from friends like you, yesterday we learned that a candidate has filed to run against us.

I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in Tampa and I welcome the opportunity to showcase the progress we’ve made. From Jeff Vinik’s billion-dollar investment in our downtown to the record $2 billion in building permits issued last year, we’re well on our way to a brighter, more prosperous future.

With all the great things going on in Tampa, we cannot afford to miss a beat. If you believe we’re on the right path, can you contribute $25, $50, or $100 today?

Our success is a direct result of all of us uniting to work toward a shared mission. We’ve already done so much together, but I know that this is just the beginning. …

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Tampa City Council District 6 endorsements: Mary Mulhern for Guido Maniscalco, Tom Lee for Jackie Toledo

The District 6 race for Tampa City Council promises to be one of the city's most competitive this year, with two candidates touting endorsements from elected officials.

• Incumbent City Council member Mary Mulhern is backing jewelry retailer and civic activist Guido Maniscalco. "Guido has proven himself to be dedicated to the support of our neighborhoods and is a champion for small businesses," Mulhern said in a statement released by Maniscalco's campaign. "That commitment will serve our city well."

• State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, supports civil engineer Jackie Toledo. “Jackie’s energy and tireless dedication to this community are exactly the traits we need from the new members serving on the Tampa City Council,” Lee said in a statement released through Toledo's campaign. “I’m confident in her ability to be a good steward of taxpayer initiatives and dollars and am proud to lend my support to her campaign.” …

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Looking at Buckhorn TV ad, PolitiFact Florida rates claims as 'Mostly False' and 'Half True'

Over the last two weeks, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has spent about $160,000 broadcasting a TV ad titled "Tampa's Got Its Swagger Back."

Now PolitiFact Florida, the political fact-checking initiative of the Tampa Bay Times, scrutinized three claims in the ad.

Two, that "we’re leading the state in jobs creation" was rated "Mostly False" and that Buckhorn "balanced the budget without raising taxes," each were rated "Mostly False."

The third, that Buckhorn "secured the highest possible bond rating" for the city, was rated "Half True."

 

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Write-in candidate qualifies for Tampa mayor's race

Write-in candidate Jose Vazquez lives in Sulphur Springs and once filed to run for the Legislature while serving time in state prison.

Times files (2012)

Write-in candidate Jose Vazquez lives in Sulphur Springs and once filed to run for the Legislature while serving time in state prison.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn won’t cruise unopposed to a second four-year term after all.

Write-in candidate Jose Vazquez, who once filed to run for the Legislature while he was serving time in state prison, qualified late Thursday afternoon for the city’s March 3 election.

That means Buckhorn’s name will be on city ballots for the election, which will include seven City Council races. Vazquez’s name will not appear on the ballot. Instead, there will be a blank space for write-in votes.

“I decided to run for mayor because for so many years, I’ve seen what’s happened in the city of Tampa with education, with homelessness problems, with housing problems,” Vazquez, a 40-year-old Sulphur Springs resident, said Thursday night.

But when he tried to call City Hall about those problems, he said he was ignored. He assumes that’s because he’s Puerto Rican, so he decided that if he wanted to get taken seriously, he needed to run for a serious office.

Vazquez, who said he is self-employed with a business that provides security, advertising and recycling services, has run for office several times before, once while he was in prison. …

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Safety Harbor orders $5,000 fine for tree moratorium violator

SAFETY HARBOR| The Code Enforcement Board has ordered a couple who cut down an oak tree on their property in violation of the city's tree moratorium to pay a $5,000 fine.

James and Helena Reagan's case was brought before the code board's resident volunteers after an anonymous tipster alerted the city.

James Reagan admitted that he forged City Manager Matt Spoor's signature on a slip of paper mimicking a permit in an effort to dupe passersby into thinking he had permission to fell a tree damaging the sidewalk and roof of his Eaton Court home. But he denied knowledge of the moratorium.

At an initial hearing on Dec. 17, the board -- acting on the advice of an attorney appointed by the city to assist members -- reluctantly followed normal procedure and ordered Reagan to obtain an after-the-fact permit within a day of the ban's lift or pay $250 a day.

However, City Attorney Alan Zimmet filed an appeal insisting that state law gave the board power to enforce city commissioners' moratorium, and that not doing so would negate the ban's purpose. Members decided at a Jan. 7 rehearing to impose the maximum fine allowed under the moratorium. …

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Hold the Mangroves on St. Pete waterfront

 

ST. PETERSBURG---Mangroves aren't a major part of the mix to create a more storm-resistant waterfront, the city's top official overseeing a waterfront master plan said Wednesday. 

Dave Goodwin said the idea of planting mangroves along vast stretches of the nearly seven miles stretch of the city fronting Tampa Bay to help protect the city from rising seas and storm surges didn't pass community muster and won't be part of the final plan.  

 A consultant-generated map shown at a recent meeting  that later appeared in the Tampa Bay Times was ambiguous on where mangroves might be introduced, said Goodwin, the city's director of planning and economic development.  

"It was discussed and hasn't received community support, " Goodwin said.  

Mangroves are planned for the eastern edge of Albert Whitted Airport, he said. 

Residents' primary concern was as the mangroves grew they would block water views, he said. 

 

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