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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Newton waits until he has final word before attacking Wheeler-Brown

For most of the hour-long debate Monday at City Hall, the six candidates for City Council could have been conducting a civics class.

They talked about smart growth, attracting jobs and keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the region, if not the city. Fireworks were in short supply. 

What little political scrapping occurred flared up between DIstrict 5 incumbent Steve Kornell and challenger Philip Garrett. 

Garrett said he aimed to break a system in which the best-funded candidates won city council races. Currently, Kornell leads in fundraising by more than $47,000. 

Kornell listed his accomplishments--a city purchase of land bordering Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and the creation of the Skyway Marina District--- and dismissed Garrett's calls for sewer improvements while cutting taxes as irresponsible "sound bites."

Will Newton and Lisa Wheeler-Brown, locked in a dead-heat knockdown fight in District 7, didn't at spar at all. When Newton said he really, really wanted to vote yes on a Rays deal, Wheeler-Brown took a pass.  …

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Kornell adds endorsement, campaign cash

St. Petersburg City Council member Steve Kornell added the endorsement of Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers on Monday.

Former mayor Rick Baker, a Republican, has also endorsed Kornell. 

Kornell's campaign touted the "bipartisan" support for Kornell's reelection. He has served on the city council since 2009.

Philip Garrett is challenging Kornell in District 5, which covers much of the city's southwestern neighborhoods, including Broadwater, Lakewood Estates, Greater Pinellas Point and Eckerd College.

Kornell holds a sizable lead in fundraising: $47,827 to Garrett's $420, according to the latest filings on Friday.

Flowers said Kornell was "one of the most dedicated public servants" she knew. Baker characterized Kornell as "passionate."

The SEIU union, Suncoast Sierra Club, the police and fire unions and the Stonewall Democrats are among the groups already supporting Kornell.

The Tampa Tribune has also endorsed him. The Tampa Bay Times endorsed Garrett because of Kornell's votes against a deal to allow the Tampa Bay Rays to explore alternate stadium sites outside St. Petersburg.

The election is Nov.3. 

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Norman's commission race heats up with big bucks

Jim Norman speaks to The Times in August

James Borchuck | Times

Jim Norman speaks to The Times in August

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman did not quite make the six figures in campaign contributions one of his supporters predicted for Norman’s controversial comeback bid, but he did take in $83,475, according to his first campaign report.
Norman, a Republican, served 18 years on the commission and was elected to the Florida Senate in 2010. But he withdrew his bid for re-election in 2012 in a scandal involving a lakefront vacation home in Arkansas bankrolled by a millionaire businessman and supporter who had benefitted from the commission’s pro-growth votes.
After three years out of politics, Norman said in August he wanted the controversy behind him and filed to run again. Republican kingmaker Sam Rashid predicted Norman would have $100,000 in support waiting for him.
That crowded race for the District 6 countywide seat will be closely watched.
Former Hillsborough County Democratic Party chairwoman Pat Kemp took in $46,240, former Hillsborough County Commissioner and Tampa City Council member and Democrat Tom Scott took in $10,311, and local transit activist Brian Willis posted $62,047.
Joining Norman on the Republican side of the race are Thomas Avino and Tim Schock, who have one more day to file their reports. …

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Will Tampa Bay's wage theft ordinances spur the Legislature to act?

Now that the Hillsborough County Commission has voted to move forward with a local wage theft ordinance, it's worth recalling what Sen. Jack Latvala told Bay Buzz a couple of months ago: As more local governments pass measures to combat wage theft, the pressure grows on the Legislature to take some kind of action.

Latvala, R-Clearwater, tried earlier this year to pass a bill that would make it a crime not to pay workers but it died in committee. Pro-business like the Florida Retail Federation and the Chamber of Commerce groups don't like the idea of a criminal penalty.

But they also oppose the proliferation of local ordinances as some of the state's biggest counties, frustrated with the lack of action in Tallahassee, take matters into their own hands. The patchwork of local measures, groups say, are an onerous burden on businesses. (Read more about the rise of local ordinances here.)

Now Hillsborough, which will hold a public hearing on its ordinance on Oct. 21, is about to join Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, among others. Pinellas is not far behind, with a public hearing on its ordinance slated for Nov. 10 along. …

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Newton campaign muddies waters on tax problems

District 7 candidate Will Newton isn't talking about why he owed $32,139 in back taxes to the federal government, which he paid back in 2012 after two liens were issued by the Internal Revenue Service.

But his campaign manager Steve Lapinski has been giving shifting responses in the hours since the Tampa Bay Times broke the story about Newton's tax troubles.

On Thursday, Lapinski first told the Times that the back taxes had nothing to do with Newton's former mortgage broker and insurance agent licenses. He then clarified his remarks, claiming he hadn't said "licence."

He had.

But the Times updated the Bay Buzz post to reflect Lapinski's newly-clarified language in a statement that the tax dispute didn't involve a business.

On Friday, Lapinski had a new story. The taxes, he told a local blog, were from Newton's work with the firefighter's association. 

When asked for precisely those details on Thursday, Lapinski told the Times that he didn't know. On Friday, he suggested to a blogger that he had told the Times about the union work being the source of income in the tax dispute.

He hadn't.

Lapinski didn't respond to a request for comment on Friday. Neither did Newton. …

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Coyote sightings up in St. Pete

A coyote hangs out on the lawn of the Masonic Home of Florida, 3201 1st St. NE, St. Petersburg, on Thursday

Suzanne Verhulst

A coyote hangs out on the lawn of the Masonic Home of Florida, 3201 1st St. NE, St. Petersburg, on Thursday

More and more people are spotting coyotes.

Suzanne Verhulst, wife of our Perspective editor, Jim, was walking their two collies at 11 a.m. on Thursday on a path by the lawn of the Masonic Home of Florida at 3201 1st St. NE in St. Petersburg, when she spotted the coyote in the above photo.

To be clear, she says, the coyote was not harming anyone. It just wanted to get out of the way of the dogs.

But it's just one of many in an uptick of sightings (or, more often, hearings) that are alarming some residents, especially those on Snell Isle.

Check out the story here.


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Fewer building permits, but bigger projects for Tampa last year

Construction worker Shawn Jackson grinds a piece of metal on the east side of the main terminal at Tampa International Airport near one of the two new outdoor terraces in mid-September. Big projects helped drive the value of all building permits issued during the city of Tampa's last fiscal year to a record $2.4 billion.


Construction worker Shawn Jackson grinds a piece of metal on the east side of the main terminal at Tampa International Airport near one of the two new outdoor terraces in mid-September. Big projects helped drive the value of all building permits issued during the city of Tampa's last fiscal year to a record $2.4 billion.

Tampa has just wrapped up another record-breaking year for building permits, but not in every category.

For the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, the city issued a total of 23,161 building permits, 16,855 for residential construction and 6,306 for commercial projects. That's nearly a third fewer than the total for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

But the total value of all those projects grew by 20 percent: more than $2.4 billion last year compared to just over $2 billion the year before. And each of the last two years beat the city's previous record of $1.8 billion worth of permits issued in 2007 before the real estate crash and Great Recession.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who spent the early part of his first term retooling the city's development regulations and permitting offices, welcomed the number as a a sign the local economy is strong and growing.

"I’ll say it again," he said in a statement released with the statistics. "This city has its swagger back."



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St. Petersburg to host mayor's conference in 2016

Mayor Rick Kriseman returned today from a three-day conference in Albuquerque after mingling with dozens of mayors from around the country to discuss how cities can foster entrepreneurship.

Next year, Kriseman won't have to get on a plane to New Mexico. St. Petersburg will host the conference in 2016 in conjunction with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Kriseman said the conference, which might be attended by up to 100 mayors, would be a showcase for the Sunshine City.

"They will see up close that St. Petersburg is a city of opportunity for entrepreneurs, a place where dreamers can become doers," he said in a statement.

The fourth annual conference will be held December 1-2, 2016. Previous host cities include Kansas City, Mo., Louisville, KY.

The Kauffman Foundation will cover most of the costs, said Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby. But, he added, "we intend to be great hosts."

No specific cost estimates for St. Petersburg taxpayers were available Friday, Kirby said.

The conference is held in a different city each year in collaboration with that city's mayor.

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St. Petersburg City Council candidate Newton has history of tax disputes with IRS

District 7 City Council candidate Will Newton owed $32,139.93 in federal back taxes from 2010 until he paid them off in full in 2012, according to Internal Revenue Service documents.

The IRS filed two separate notices of federal tax liens against Newton in 2010. In September, a lien was filed  for $13, 515.30 in unpaid taxes from 2004 to 2006.  In December, the federal tax agency filed another lien for $18,624.63 for the tax years 2007 through 2009.

Both liens were for "small business/self-employed."  Newton was a St. Petersbug firefigher for 23 years, which wouldn't appear to fit. Neither would his activities in the firefighers union during that period.

Newton didn't respond to questions about the nature of the business or businesses in question. His campaign manager Steve Lapinski said the liens had nothing to do with Newton's licenses as a mortgage broker or insurance agent.

But what business did they pertain to?

"You're asking me a question I don't have an answer to," Lapinski said. 

Lapinski later clarified his remarks with a statement: "The liens had nothing to do with a business." …

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Pinellas officials head to D.C. in search of funds for St. Pete rapid bus line

Desperate to get something, anything off the ground to expand public transit in Pinellas, a contingent of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority officials are in Washington this week to land some funds from Uncle Sam.

PSTA chief executive Brad Miller and two of his board members, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long and St. Pete City Councilmember Darden Rice, were scheduled to meet with Reps. David Jolly and Kathy Castor, Sen. Bill Nelson and a representative of Sen. Marco Rubio.

One of the goals is to secure funding from the Federal Transit Adminstration for a bus rapid transit line running from downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches. The so-called Central Avenue BRT (which would actually run on 1st Avenues N and S), would offer limited-stop service seven days a week.

To get the project up and running, PSTA wants $8 million from the FTA's New Starts Program, the federal government’s primary pot of money to support capital investments in local transit proejcts. PSTA also wants $4 million from the FDOT and would contribute $4 million of its own capital reserve fund for the project.  …

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Gerdes won't weigh in on pivotal City Council race

City Council chairman Charlie Gerdes has made up his mind on the contentious, pivotal District 7 race between Will Newton and Lisa Wheeler-Brown: He's staying out of it.

The two challengers for the open seat, being vacated by term-limited Wengay Newton, the older brother of Will, have ferociously sought the endorsements of their potential future work mates.

Newton has lined up incoming council member Ed Montanari and current officeholders Steve Kornell, Amy Foster, Bill Dudley (who's term-limited) and his older brother.

Wheeler-Brown has the support of Karl Nurse and Darden Rice.

Jim Kennedy doesn't endorse city council candidates. He says it could make for awkward post-election relationships.

Gerdes had been courted by both campaigns. But the influential council chairman decided to take a pass.

"I'm focused on my own campaign," said Gerdes, who is running against Monica Abbott in District 1. "And they both would make good city council members."

Mail ballots went out last week. Election Day is Nov. 3. 

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Gerdes tweaks Rays plan, says county has given St. Pete time to reach a deal

Charlie Gerdes, right, said Thursday morning that he will withdraw a resolution asking the Pinellas County Commission to hold off making any decision on future plans for about $6 million in tourist tax dollars until the city resolves its long dispute with the Tampa Bay Rays.


Charlie Gerdes, right, said Thursday morning that he will withdraw a resolution asking the Pinellas County Commission to hold off making any decision on future plans for about $6 million in tourist tax dollars until the city resolves its long dispute with the Tampa Bay Rays.

City Council chairman Charlie Gerdes said Thursday morning that he will withdraw a resolution asking the Pinellas County Commission to hold off making any decision on future plans for about $6 million in tourist tax dollars until the city resolves its long dispute with the Tampa Bay Rays.

The resolution had been scheduled to be voted on at the City Council's 3 p.m. meeting, but in a break during committee meetings at City Hall Thursday, Gerdes said county commissioner's comments on Thursday made it clear that the county wasn't going to act quickly on a proposal by the Atlanta Braves, local developer Darry LeClair and ex-baseball player Gary Sheffield to bring a spring training and amateur sports complex to the former Toytown landfill.

"I don't want to send a message informing them of something they already clearly get," Gerdes said.

Gerdes also offered new details on a his plan to strike a deal with the Rays. He plans to charge the team a $1.4 million yearly fee from the time they start looking for a new stadium site outside St. Petersburg until they vacate Tropicana Field. …

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It just got easier to add bike lanes on Tampa Bay roads

The U.S. DOT is easing regulations for federal roads with speeds of less than 50 mph that would allow for more design options, such as introducing bike lanes. 

“This proposed policy change will give states and communities the opportunity to be more innovative in designing their local projects,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “It will help us to build more quality projects that will not only provide more travel options for people, but also support and unite communities across America.”

The first step: a reduction in the number of design criteria from 13 required elements to two. On roads with speeds of 50 mph or more that carry larger traffic volumes and trucks, the number of criteria could be reduced from 13 to 10. The 13 criteria were introduced in 1985 by the Federal Highway Administration to address safety and operations concerns.  …

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Batter up for St. Pete City Council on Tampa Bay Rays stalemate

The St. Petersburg City Council doesn't normally make news at its "mini-meeting," held each second Thursday of the month and normally dedicated to awards and presentations.

But today at 3 p.m., the City Council will again consider a resolution by Chairman Charlie Gerdes to ask the Pinellas County Commission to hold off on any decisions on the $6.5 million in tourist tax that, until the end of last month, went to pay off bonds used to pay for the construction of Tropicana Field.

Instead, Gerdes argues the county should allow the council time to resolve the stalemate with the Tampa Bay Rays on the team's desire to search for sites for a new stadium outside of St. Petersburg.

The council tabled the resolution last week so city attorneys could tweak the language. 

Meanwhile, county commissioners Tuesday decided not to make any decisions on a major project proposed by local developer Darryl LeClair, former major leaguer Gary Sheffield and the Atlanta Braves to build a sports complex on the former Toytown landfill. The complex would also host the Braves' spring training.  …

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State investigation reveals contradictions in St. Petersburg sewage dumps

A state investigation found that St. Petersburg made no attempt to warn the public of a 1.1 million gallon sewage dump from the Albert Whitted wastewater plant in early August.

The inquiry, released Wednesday to the Times, also turned up contradictions between the city's version of the spill and the subsequent state investigation.

When the Tampa Bay Times first reported the dump on Aug. 10, city officials initially said the sewage had been treated and posed no threat to people.

But when  Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission investigator, Darryl Garman, contacted the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, waterfront director Shawn Macking told him that on Aug. 10 a "city of St. Petersburg employee" had called him to ask if any students had been in the water.

Macking told the caller that about 50 children in the Yacht Club's summer sailing program had been in the water that morning, a short distance north on the waterfront from the sewage plant.

The unnamed official told Macking to have the children "take an extra hot shower for decontamination from the discharge." …

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