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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

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. 

When asked by the Tampa Bay Times to explain the liens, which were paid in full in March 2012, Newton issued a brief statement via text late Wednesday: …

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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 Trolley (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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Kriseman in Albuquerque for entrepreneurial conference

Mayor Rick Kriseman is attending a conference in New Mexico on how cities can foster entrepreneurship.

The trip, paid for by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which organized the conference, will continue until Thursday.

The conference will address the role of private charities in encouraging start-ups, how "community assets" can spur entrepreneurial growth and how to track entrepreneurial activity, among other topics.

In a statement, Kriseman said he was pleased to join mayors from around the country and sharing ideas.

"Nourishing entrepreneurship and small businesses has been the focus of my administration," Kriseman said in a statement Tuesday.


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Deaths in auto crashes decline, but not for everyone, study says

Accident investigators gather at the scene of an accident that killed a Chamberlain High student on her way to school Tuesday morning on Busch Boulevard in Tampa.

Octavio Jones, Tampa Bay Times

Accident investigators gather at the scene of an accident that killed a Chamberlain High student on her way to school Tuesday morning on Busch Boulevard in Tampa.

It's been deadly out there on Hillsborough County roads the last couple of days.

A 17-year-old Chamberlain High Student died Tuesday when she was hit crossing Busch Boulevard. A 43-year-old Brandon man was killed on U.S. 301 when his pickup truck crashed into a light pole. On Monday, a 67-year-old Riverview man was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Orient Road. 

Busch Boulevard. U.S. 301. Orient Road.

All three are known as treacherous drags with unsafe conditions for both drivers and pedestrians.

According to new research by Sam Harper, Thomas J. Charters and Erin Strumpf, deaths in motor vehicle accidents have declined overall between 1995 and 2010. But death rates varied depending on socio-economic status.

"We found larger mortality decreases among the more highly educated and some evidence of mortality increases among the least educated," the authors concluded in Trends in Socioeconomic Inequalities in Motor Vehicle Accident Deaths in the United States, 1995-2010. …

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St. Petersburg white-collar workers unionize

In the midst of a contentious labor negotiation between the city's union members and Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration, a new group of white-collar workers has decided to join their ranks.

About 240 white-collar workers, in city departments like information technology and engineering, voted 73-70 Tuesday to organize with the Florida Public Services Union, which already represents many of the city's workers.

In March, Kriseman gave an unbudgeted 2.5 percent raise to non-union employees in the midst of the union drive. That move drew the ire of the union, but administration officials said it was just overdue compensation, not an attempt to undermine the campaign.

Tuesday's vote will become official in 15 days. Rick Smith, the union's chief of staff, said he planned to meet with city officials soon after to negotiate a "non-traditional, innovative" contract for his newest bargaining group.

Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby said the administration would reserve comment until the election was verified by a state labor relations board.  

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Eckerd president blasts St. Petersburg sewer study

In a strongly worded letter sent to Mayor Rick Kriseman, Eckerd College's president says a review of the city's wastewater system was a sham and needs to be revamped.

"This is not the independent inquiry that the City Council requested and that we believe is necessary to determine how the spill occurred and what should be done to ensure that such an incident never happens again," wrote Donald Eastman in an Oct. 2 letter and obtained Tuesday by the Tampa Bay Times.

Last week, representatives from Eckerd and the Alliance of Bayway Communities met with the city's public works staff and CH2M consulting firm. The plan that emerged from that meeting didn't impress Eastman.

Eastman said the scope of that study isn't sufficient and supervision should be shifted to the city's internal auditor Brad Scott "to ensure an independent review."

Eckerd also wants the city to release information about "exactly what was in the wastewater" that overflowed onto the college's campus on Aug.3.  

Last month, the city announced that an additional 15 million gallons had spilled around Eckerd that it had not previously publicized to the City Council or public, although it did report it to the state. …

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Pier approach project narrows field of architects to five

A selection committee on Tuesday eliminated one of six design teams competing for the $20 million project to link the city's downtown to the new Pier.

OT9 Design, a small firm from St. Petersburg, did not make the cut.

Among those going on to the next round are the designers of Pier Park, which will continue the city's more than century-old waterfront tradition. The team, ASD, Rogers Partners and Ken Smith Landscape Architect, touts the selection of its Pier Park design as an advantage to being able to fulfill the city's goal of completing both projects in time for "one ribbon-cutting."

What's being referred to as the Pier Approach Project will include areas of Bayshore and Beach drives and feature a grand entry, pedestrian art promenade, an art bridge, an open-air market and two restaurants. 

Also going forward in the quest to design the approach is W Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York, which is teaming with local firm Wannemacher Jensen.

Civitas of Denver, which redesigned Tampa's Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park and is working with St. Petersburg's Mesh Architecture, also hopes to win the project. …

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U.S. Chamber: Raise the gas tax (emojis explain why)

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Graphics

How much momentum is a hike in the gas tax getting? Turns out, one of the most reliably anti-tax organizations is now advocating for raising the gas tax. And it's doing so with everyone's favorite form of textual explainers: emojis.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce posted a breakdown Monday of the issues plaguing the Highway Trust Fund, which is responsible for repairing and replacing roads, highways and bridges. 

According to the post, "one third of our major roads are now in poor or mediocre condition, and one out of every nine bridges has been deemed structurally deficient." Insert sad and angry face emojis reacting to potholes and traffic jams.

The Chamber points out that the gas tax, currently at 18.4 cents-per-gallon, hasn't been raised since 1993. "A modest increase in the user fee would basically catch us up to how much we were paying per mile of road used back in 1993, when our infrastructure was in better shape." …

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Toytown: And then there were two

Rule No. 1 when bidding on a project: Don't lobby Pinellas County commissioners or government employees.

Rule No. 2: Don't forget Rule No. 1.

In its bid to develop Toytown, Meridian Realty Capital LLC forgot those rules, says Pinellas County's director of purchasing Joe Lauro.

"This letter is written to inform you that your firm's RFN response for sale or lease of the Toytown Site has been disqualified for consideration per Section 2-189 of County Code which pertains to lobbying activity. This decision is based upon your correspondence dated October 2, 2015 which was sent to the Board of County Commissioners and evaulation committee members. To summarize, the lobbying of evalutation committee members, County government employees, elected/appointed officials or advisory board members is strictly prohibited from the date of advertisement until an award if final or the competitive selection process is otherwise concluded. The RFN document expressed this prohibition on Page 2, paragraph 4."

So that leaves SunRay Park and its planned solar energy facility, and SportsPark Partners LLC's plan to build, among other things, a spring training facility for the Atlanta Braves.

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