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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

LGBT pride flag does not create hostile work environment, Hillsborough's attorney says

The decision last week to hang an LGBT pride flag outside the Hillsborough County government center does not create a hostile work environment, the county attorney's office said Thursday.

Caitlin Johnston, Times

The decision last week to hang an LGBT pride flag outside the Hillsborough County government center does not create a hostile work environment, the county attorney's office said Thursday.

TAMPA — A LGBT pride flag hanging outside the Hillsborough County government center does not create a hostile work environment for Christians.

That's the legal opinion the county attorney's office shared with commissioners and the administration on Thursday.

Commissioners voted 5-1 on June 15 to raise the flag for the rest of the month, which is Pride Month, to honor and pay tribute to the victims of the mass shooting of Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando. 

But the next day, Commissioner Stacy White, who missed the vote, said he received an anonymous complaint from a concerned county employee. In a voicemail, she said "as a Christian, that flag is so very offensive to me that I cannot bear to go into the office." White asked the human resources department to review the flag, which he called a "divisive political symbol" and whether it may be a liability for the county.

In a memo released Thursday, though, Assistant County Attorney Jennie Granahan Tarr said it is not.  …

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So, about those Tampa Bay Express accountability measures …

A bird's-eye view of Mobley Park apartments in Tampa, next to Interstate 275 South, where residents could be affected by possible highway expansion.

LUIS SANTANA | Times

A bird's-eye view of Mobley Park apartments in Tampa, next to Interstate 275 South, where residents could be affected by possible highway expansion.

TAMPA — Hillsborough leaders made a big show early Thursday morning of adding accountability measures before approving a $6 billion road project known as Tampa Bay Express.

Turns out, those attempts at oversight might not mean much.

Assistant County Attorney Cameron Clark told the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization during its marathon 8½ hour meeting earlier this week that the board has no legal authority to hold the Florida Department of Transportation to an agreement.

“DOT is not answerable to the board directly,” Clark told the board around 1:30 a.m Thursday. “If they miss something, there’s not like there is a penalty for it.”

Two MPO members, Hillsborough County Commissioners Sandy Murman and Kevin Beckner, both sought to add extra conditions to the board’s approval of TBX, which easily passed the board 12-4. …

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St. Petersburg police to open Emergency Operations Center during Pride

St. Petersburg police will staff a command post at the city's Emergency Operations Center during this year's Pride celebration.

TIMES | Zachary T. Sampson

St. Petersburg police will staff a command post at the city's Emergency Operations Center during this year's Pride celebration.

ST. PETERSBURG — After marching next to the mayor in the Pride parade Saturday night, Police Chief Tony Holloway will head up the road to the city’s Emergency Operations Center, where officials from several agencies have set up a command post for the celebration.

Following the terrorist attack that killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando last week, police in St. Petersburg have increased security at the local Pride event on Central Avenue.

On Friday, Holloway showed the command post to reporters.

Stations at several tables include computers for crime analysts and phones for officers to communicate with people on the ground. Undercover and uniformed officers will patrol the parade route, Holloway said, while people in the Emergency Operations Center monitor television screens with live video feeds of the festivities.

“We want to make sure when they come to the event they feel safe,” Holloway said of this year’s attendees.

Three observation towers with cameras will be set up along the route, he said, one more than police had originally expected. The Tampa Police Department is bringing over additional mobile cameras that will be connected to the screens at the command post. …

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Court dismisses petition against Commissioner Victor Crist over rideshare spat

An appellate court dismissed a petition against Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist on Tuesday.

Times File Photo

An appellate court dismissed a petition against Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist on Tuesday.

TAMPA — An appellate court on Tuesday dismissed a motion seeking to remove Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist from his position as Public Transportation Commission chairman.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal dismissed without prejudice a petition against Crist, meaning the case could be brought back to court although that may be unlikely. It declined to issue an opinion on the matter.

The petition was filed by the Tampa Taxi Coalition, Red Top Cab Company and West Coast Transportation Services, who have been angered by Crist’s leading role in negotiating with rideshare firms like Uber to draw up new regulations to allow them to operate legally in Hillsborough County

The petition claimed that Crist has a conflict of interest because his wife, Angela Crist, works at the University of South Florida as the director of the John Scott Dailey Institute of Government.

It included affidavits that cab company employees heard Crist say his wife needs the good will of state legislators like state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg to get state grants. Brandes is a strong supporter of the rideshare business model. …

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Joe Redner, Augie Ribeiro make last-minute jump into state races

This is a mailer that Joe Redner sent out the last time he ran for the state legislature in 2010.

Courtesy of Joe Redner

This is a mailer that Joe Redner sent out the last time he ran for the state legislature in 2010.

Last-minute entrants are shaking up two local state Senate races.

• St. Petersburg trial lawyer Agostinho “Augie” Ribeiro said Thursday he intends to file as a candidate in the District 19 state Senate race, joining a Democratic primary field that already includes state Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa and former Rep. Betty Reed of Tampa.

• Joe Redner, head of a local business empire including adult entertainment and craft breweries, has filed to run as an independent in Tampa’s Senate District 18 against Republican state Rep. Dana Young and Tampa lawyer Bob Buesing, a Democrat.

Ribeiro is CEO of the Ventura, Ribeiro and Smith law firm with offices in St. Petersburg and Connecticut. He hasn’t run for office before, but has been active in supporting Democratic candidates and the party.

Ribeiro’s firm is known for pro bono work including representing people injured by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the BP oil spill and faulty ignition switches that caused crashes in GM cars. District 19 crosses the bay including minority communities in Hillsborough and southern Pinellas counties. …

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#StopTBX activist drops primary challenge to Commissioner Les Miller

TAMPA — It looks like Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller won’t have a primary opponent after all.

Democrat Kimberly Overman said last week that she planned to challenge Miller for his District 3 commissioner seat and submitted paperwork on June 13 to run.

But today, Overman, a financial analyst and Seminole Heights activist, sent a letter to the Supervisor of Elections Office withdrawing from the race. On her Facebook page, she cited Miller’s vote last night against Tampa Bay Express as one reason for dropping out.

Overman has been a vocal opponent of the highway expansion, known locally as TBX.

“Running against Lesley Miller was not going to accomplish that goal,” she wrote. “It would replace one seasoned public servant trying to protect the citizens of District 3 with a strongly passionate advocate without a decade political advocacy experience. The stakes are too big for that risk to be taken in District 3 right now.”

Miller has already qualified for the ballot. He could still face a general election opponent if Republican Willie Lawson also qualifies. He would need to pay a $5,746.92 filing fee by tomorrow’s noon deadline to do so.

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Contractor fired from Encore project hits back at Tampa Housing Authority

The general contractor has been fired on the latest development project in Encore, the $450 million downtown Tampa urban renewal district. This aerial photograph of the district was taken in April.

Tampa Housing Authority

The general contractor has been fired on the latest development project in Encore, the $450 million downtown Tampa urban renewal district. This aerial photograph of the district was taken in April.

TAMPA — The general contractor fired from finishing a $25.6 million downtown apartment building has fired back at the Tampa Housing Authority saying it is owed more than $2 million in payments.

In a statement released Wednesday, The Siltek Group said its employees and subcontractors worked extra hours including weekends because of problems with the design drawings for The Tempo at Encore, a seven-story project that includes 203-apartments, a parking garage and some retail units.

“Tempo’s design drawings were replete with incomplete drawings, unsound structural drawing components and omitted work which caused numerous delays, additional costs, work stoppage and inefficiencies since the start of the project,” the release said.

The company, which is based in Plantation, also said its requests for payment had been delayed and ignored by the housing authority and its development partner, the Bank of America.

“The development team has stated in multiple open meetings that they will not pay Siltek because there is “no more money” to pay for these extra costs,” the release states. …

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HD70 Democrat Fiorini gets local NOW backing

Dan Fiorini, running against three other Democrats in the four-county House District 70 race, has netted some impressive endorsements, including St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and City Council members Karl Nurse and Lisa Wheeler-Brown.

On Thursday, he added another: the local chapter of the National Organization for Women. 

Fiorini said in a news release that the latest endorsement shows the confidence of community leaders in his ability to serve in the Legislature.

The district sprawls over parts of four counties: Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota and Manatee. The largest block of voters resides in the southern neighborhoods of St. Petersburg.  Fiorini, 60, owns a St. Petersburg custom frame business and served as legislative aide for former Rep. Helen Spivey. 

Here is the full release: 

“Your local NOW chapter has all the confidence in you that you will make a great Representative in House District 70 and you come highly recommended by them,” said Florida NOW President Terry Sanders. Local NOW chapters recommend endorsements to the state organization.

“I am pleased and honored to be endorsed by NOW,” Fiorini said. “Obviously, our message is resonating with the community.” …

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Qualifying dates set for Largo commission candidates

LARGO — Commissioners set the deadline to run for city office at a meeting Tuesday night.

The qualifying period will run between July 29 and Aug. 12. The commission spots up for election Nov. 8 are the mayor, seat 2 and seat 3.

So far, only the incumbents have filed to run for mayor and Seat 4: Woody Brown and Jamie Robinson, respectively.

Three candidates have filed for Seat 3: Curtis Holmes, the incumbent; Neil McMullen, a consultant for nonprofit and faith-based organizations who is part of a family with deep roots in Pinellas County; and Robert Avery, who owns a business and was accused of extortion against Aaron Darr, a former candidate, early on in the race. 

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office dropped Avery’s charge in February.

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Initial meeting with DEP goes well, says St. Pete public works chief

Tropical Storm Colin's deluges and the subsequent dumping and spilling 10 million gallons of mostly partially-treated sewage prompted a state investigation of St. Petersburg's wastewater system.

Last week's initial gathering of five state Department of Environmental Protection officials and city staff lasted about 90 minutes and mostly involved a reshash of what happened in early June and what the city plans to do about it, said Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley on Tuesday.

The next meeting will occur after the City Council approves the city's budget in September. The city plans to spend at least $8 million fixing pipes and millions more on improvements at the city's three sewer plants.

The council approved $3 million in BP settlement money last week. Tankersley said he didn't yet know how that money would be spent. 

The state wants results, though, he said.

"Clearly, they expect something to be done," Tankersley said.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters called for a state probe after the city's spills and dumps. City officials said Friday's meeting with the state was routine. State officials told the Tampa Bay Times they decide on a case-by-case basis how to investigate discharges. 

 

 

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LISTEN: Complaint about LGBT pride flag honoring Orlando victims outside Hillsborough County center

A LGBT pride flag hung outside the Hillsborough County government center garnered an anonymous complaint from a county employee.

Caitlin Johnston, Times

A LGBT pride flag hung outside the Hillsborough County government center garnered an anonymous complaint from a county employee.

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Times obtained the audio of a voicemail left on Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White's phone line last week complaining about a LGBT pride flag hung outside the county to honor victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

An unidentified woman, who said she is a county employee, said through a choked-up voice that the flag was offensive to her "as a Christian" and she "cannot bear to go into the office."

Listen to the call below

Here's a transcript of the phone call:

"Hi, Commissioner White. This is a county employee that works in the county center. I’m calling from my private phone after hours, hoping  there’s something you can do to get the flag off of our building. My heart goes out to the, to every person that was touched by the Orlando shootings, it truly does. But I think that one commissioner is using this tragedy to promote his personal agenda. As a Christian, that flag is so very offensive to me that I cannot bear to go into the office. I urge you to speak to Mr. Merrill, to the civil service or anyone who can find a way to get the flag down. Thank you so much." …

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Baker to chair Jolly campaign

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker will chair David Jolly's quest to retain his 13th District Congressional seat, a political perch Baker eyed himself earlier this year. 

“David Jolly’s heart belongs to Pinellas, it always has, and his experience in knowing how to get things done has never been more critical for all of us,” said Baker in a news release Tuesday.

Jolly sang Baker's praises, too. 

“I can’t think of anyone more qualified and respected to chair my re-election effort,” said Congressman Jolly. “Rick Baker is a hometown champion who turned St. Petersburg into a ‘seamless city’ of hope and opportunity. It’s an honor to have him serve as Chairman of our campaign.”

Baker, a Republican, has worked for St. Petesburg business magnate Bill Edwards in recent years. He has also increasingly become the focus of rumors that he might challenge Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, in 2017. 

Kriseman endorsed Eric Lynn in the Democratic primary over Charlie Crist. Once Lynn exited the race to run for the state legislature, Kriseman endorsed Crist.

 

 

 

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U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor and Jim Davis endorse Ed Narain for Florida Senate District 19

TAMPA — U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and former U.S. Rep Jim Davis, D-Tampa, have endorsed state Rep. Ed Narain in the Florida Senate District 19 race.

Narain is one of three prominent lawmakers vying for the seat currently held by state Sen. Arthenia Joyner.  Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and former state Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, are also seeking to fill the seat.

“As a member of the Florida House, Ed has also worked to bring much needed state dollars back to east Tampa to compliment federal investments and have impact all their own,” Castor said. “As a member of the State Senate, I am confident he will continue to be an effective partner as we fight to improve the lives of our friends and neighbors across Tampa Bay."

Joyner announced her endorsement of Narain shortly after he filed his candidacy earlier this year.

Both Reed and Rouson opened campaign accounts in 2015 as first steps toward running in 2016 for the Senate district drawn to favor minority candidates. The district, which formerly included Manatee County, covers Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. …

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Pinellas officials endorse Darryl Rouson for Arthenia Joyner's state Senate seat

A wave of St. Petersburg elected officials have endorsed state Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, in his bid to fill Arthenia Joyner's state Senate District 19 seat.

Rouson is one of three candidates -- all with experience in the Florida House of Representatives -- seeking the recently redrawn district that no longer includes Manatee County, but instead added more parts of Pinellas.

Rouson’s campaign released a list of political endorsements Monday including the following: Pinellas County Commissioners Ken Welch, Janet Long and Charlie Justice; Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson, Councilwoman Yolanda Roman and Councilman Michael Fridovich; St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and all eight city council members.

“I’m honored to be endorsed by these great public servants here in Pinellas County,” Rouson said in a statement.  “I’m working to be the Senator of District 19 so that I can represent all residents in Pinellas and Hillsborough and bring common sense solutions to our community."

Rouson has reached his term limit in Florida House District 70, which covers parts of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. …

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Sykes announces he'll enter crowded HD 70 field

Pastor Manuel Sykes announced his decision to run for a state House being vacated by term-limited Rep. Darryl Rouson during a Sunday service at Bethel Community Baptist Church.

Sykes' brief flirtation with a run for Congress in 2014 caused political fight with the county Democratic party when then county chairman Mark Hanisee left him a voice mail saying he would be "persona non grata" if he stayed in the race.

Later, Hanisee told the Tampa Bay Times that the 13th Congressional District's demographics weren't suitable for Sykes, who is black. Those demographic changed after a landmark ruling by the Florida Supreme Court last year redrew the lines to include heavily-black neighborhoods, including Midtown and Childs Park. 

This time around, Sykes said Monday, he isn't getting out.

"I won’t be daunted this time, I’m not kissing the rings of anyone this time.Nobody will stop me this time," Sykes said. He said he plans to officially file as a Democrat by Friday's deadline. 

Another difference from 2014? Sykes says he has the backing of a political heavyweight: Barry Edwards. …

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