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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Challenger cries foul over free press for incumbent

New Port Richey Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips thinks incumbent Commissioner Jack Mariano is getting some free and advantageous campaign publicity – from Pasco County government.

Tuesday morning, the county announced its commission meetings can be viewed via the MyPasco app for smartphones and tablets. The press release included a photo taken from a broadcast of a more than year-old commission meeting depicting Mariano as chairman.

“Needless to say, it appears that Jack has received an endorsement from the Pasco County government, which is disappointing since he is up for re-election,’’ Phillips wrote in an e-mail to County Administrator Michele Baker. “I guess I should not be surprised since some of the commissioners feel as though they can push the envelope or blur the lines between their office and campaigning.

“Of course, the damage has already been done with this additional publicity, which I hope he shows as an ‘in-kind’ contribution on his campaign report from Pasco County government.’’ …

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Wells Sr. backs Schrader for property appraiser

County Commissioner Ted Schrader picked up a key endorsement Tuesday in his bid to become Pasco's next property appraiser -- the backing of retiring Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr.

In a statement released by Schrader, Wells called the commissioner "uniquely qualified" to succeed him. Schrader, a four-term county commissioner faces Randy Evans of Trinity in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

In announcing his candidacy last week, Evans cited the previous words of Wells that "it was time for new blood'' in the Property Appraiser's Office. Wells, who is retiring after 20 years as appraiser, replied by backing Schrader publicly.

"Ted was born and raised in Pasco County," Wells said. "He knows the people; he knows the process, and he knows the players in Pasco County government. I feel confident leaving the Property Appraiser's Office in his hands. He will serve the people of Pasco County well." …

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As Kriseman pushes for bike share, Seattle offers up a cautionary tale

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has struggled to get City Council members to support his bike-share program. 

They resisted the idea of using BP settlement money for the program last year. After raising a series of questions about the viability of the program last week, Council members decided to bring it up again next month.

While success stories for bike share abound, providing council members evidence to move forward, Seattle's road to bike share can be used by skeptics to apply the brakes.

According to The Seattle Times, that city's bike-share program needs $1.4 million after its program, Pronto, became insolvent. Apparently, the program didn't raise enough money before launching, has "substantial overhead costs" and racked up debt. If the program discontinues, Seattle would be on the hook for $1 million in federal grants. …

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Clearwater Chamber endorses Jay Polglaze

The political arm of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce has endorsed incumbent Jay Polglaze for Seat 3 in the March 15 City Council election.

Polglaze, a postal worker running for his second term, is being challenged by St. Petersburg College professor Robert Cundiff, who is seeking elected office for the first time.

Mayor George Cretekos and Seat 2 council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito are running unopposed.

“I'm really excited and proud that they have recognized my position and passion and have acknowledged some of the successes that this city council has been able to accomplish and that they have confidence and full faith in me to pursue those opportunities as far as economic development, growth and diversifying the tax base,” Polglaze said of the endorsement.  

CLEARPAC, which also represents the Chamber's board of directors, based the endorsement on its mission to further the success of local business.

“Polglaze has the drive and vision to facilitate initiatives that encourage the growth and continued vitality of our local businesses,” CLEARPAC chair Judy Mitchell said in a statement.  …

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Pasco taps new emergency management boss

Flagler County’s emergency management chief has been tapped for the same role in Pasco County.

Tuesday, county commissioners are scheduled to confirm the appointment of Kevin J. Guthrie, 45, as Pasco’s new emergency management director effective Feb. 29. Guthrie replaces Annette Doying, who announced her resignation in November and left the post Dec. 31.

Guthrie, who will earn $90,000 annually, spent 23 years with the city of Jacksonville as a police officer and emergency preparedness coordinator and then moved to his post in Flagler County in 2013.

In a Feb. 2 article, Flaglerlive.com described Guthrie as a “stickler for written policies and procedures, emphasizing inter-agency cooperation to a degree not seen in many years here. He was brought in in response to pressure from fire chiefs and the sheriff to give emergency management a structure it had lacked.’’

 

 

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Former council member Bill Dudley to vie for Pinellas School Board

Former St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Dudley filed Friday to run for the District 1 seat on the Pinellas County School Board, becoming the third candidate to challenge three-term incumbent Janet Clark.

Dudley, who left the council after hitting the two-term limit, said he decided on the move in the fall and has since received encouragement from many in the community.

“I have been a public servant all of my adult life,” he said. “That's where my calling is, and I'm not done yet.”

Dudley, 71, worked for the Pinellas County school system for 37 years, almost all of it at Northeast High School. He coached wrestling, football and cross country and taught driver's education as well as American history and government.

He retired in 2006 and said moving to the School Board was a “natural progression” for him. He said he still spends two or three days a week at Northeast High, but as a volunteer.

He said the issues he would work on as a School Board member would include student attendance, early childhood education, the budget and teaching conditions. …

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Commuter rail, TBX top 2016 regional transportation priorities

Transportation leaders from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough discussed their 2016 priorities for the tri-county area Friday.

The following projects lead the list, which has not been finalized: Tampa Bay Express, a transportation hub at West Shore connecting downtown and the airport, commuter rail along CSX tracks, a regional farebox system, and improvements to the Duke Energy Trail.

Of the five, the possibility of bringing commuter rail to Tampa Bay dominated Friday’s discussion. Converting CSX freight tracks to a commuter rail system has been a hot topic since last fall, and it’s a solution many are hoping could help ease the area's traffic problems.

But Florida Department of Transportation planning manager Ming Gao reiterated to the group Friday that a premium transit study first needs to be completed to determine if this transit mode is the best solution for the area. It will likely be another two years before that study, spearheaded by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, is completed.

It could take several months beyond that to conduct an appraisal to determine the cost of purchasing the 96 miles of track from the railroad giant. …

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Fourth candidate joins District 5 Pasco Commission race

The line of challengers to incumbent Pasco Commissioner Jack Marino is growing with Hudson business owner Thomas Celotto joining the Republican field.

Celotto, 48, filed his candidacy papers Thursday to seek the District 5 commission seat held by Mariano since 2004. Besides the incumbent, the candidates include New Port Richey Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips and business owner Chris Cooley.

Celotto founded Micro Solutions of Pasco Inc., an information technology company, more than 20 years ago. He also owns a seasonal retail fireworks store.

Celotto is president of Leadership Pasco and a graduate of the Pasco County government citizens academy. He said he began planning a run for office several years ago after seeing how hard the local economy was hit by the slowed construction industry.

“Our primary industry is construction; that needs to change, said Celotto. “We need more diversity. We need to be entertaining businesses in technology and solar energy to come here.’’ …

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Reluctantly giving a break to a billionaire

To facilitate the cleanup of one of Clearwater's harshest eyesores, the Municipal Code Enforcement Board last week agreed to drop $144,000 of liens against the owner of Cleveland Street's Strand condominium tower.

But before approving the deal (which comes with conditions) municipal code enforcement board member Mike Riordon put the building's current owners on the spot.

"They're one of the biggest companies in the world," Riordon said at the Jan. 27 meeting. "They're not poor, and it just bothers me that we're giving any kind of a break to a company this size who has the resources. And we have other people come up here, and we tell them you've got 30 days to fix your driveway or we're going to charge them $250 a day."

The current owner, Espacio USA, is the American arm of Immobiliaria Espacio, a wealthy Spanish real estate firm.

According to Forbes, the company's deputy chairman, Juan Villar-Mir De Fuentes, has a net worth of $3.3 billion and in 2011 was given the title of “marquis” by the King of Spain.

As Riordon astutely noted in the meeting “they're not poor.” …

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Video: Uhuru protest briefly shuts down St. Petersburg City Hall

About a dozen members of the International People's Democratic People's Uhuru Movement interrupted a St. Petersburg City Council meeting to protest a city-planned replacement for a mural that was ripped down nearly 50 years ago by the group's leader. The group was removed by security.

CHARLIE FRAGO | Times

About a dozen members of the International People's Democratic People's Uhuru Movement interrupted a St. Petersburg City Council meeting to protest a city-planned replacement for a mural that was ripped down nearly 50 years ago by the group's leader. The group was removed by security.

In the midst of a zoning presentation Thursday, a slumbering City Council chamber jolted to life as a group interrupted the meeting to protest a city-planned replacement for a mural that was ripped down nearly 50 years ago by the group's leader.

About a dozen members of the International People's Democratic People's Uhuru Movement  stood in unison and chanted slogans before being removed by security.

A backpack left on the floor after they were removed prompted authorities to clear the chamber and then the building while a police K-9 unit swept the chambers.

Outside, the Uhurus took the opportunity to chant again against what they called a racist City Hall, police department and white power structure. They left chanting: "Tear this m----------- down."

After about 20 minutes, the meeting started back up. 

The Public Arts Commission was vetting plans to replace the mural with one that would be more reflective of the city's inclusivity.

The mural torn down by Omali Yeshitela, the Uhuru leader, in 1966 depicted black troubadours entertaining white beachgoers. 

 

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Tampa Bay Rays release description of their dream stadium site

Of all rumored sites across Tampa Bay (Tropicana Field, downtown Tampa, Tampa Park apartments, Channelside, Westshore, etc.) only the Tampa Fairgrounds might not meet the admittedly general, even vague, requirements.

Times files

Of all rumored sites across Tampa Bay (Tropicana Field, downtown Tampa, Tampa Park apartments, Channelside, Westshore, etc.) only the Tampa Fairgrounds might not meet the admittedly general, even vague, requirements.

Easy access to interstates (and someday mass transit). About 20 acres in size. Near Tampa Bay's principal business centers.

You have some land that fits that description? The Tampa Bay Rays might be interested.

On Thursday, nearly six weeks before the deadline, the team sent St. Petersburg a required "process document" outlining what they're looking for in their new digs.

The Rays identified six major categories that a suitable site would meet. Of all rumored sites across Tampa Bay (Tropicana Field, downtown Tampa, Tampa Park apartments, Channelside, Westshore, etc.) only the Tampa Fairgrounds might not meet the admittedly general, even vague, requirements.

Under a memorandum of understanding agreed to by the city and the Rays last month, the team had 60 days to supply this search criteria. 

Here are the categories:

*Catalyst for Development: 

*Local Authenticity

*Regional Connectivity

*Site Accessibility

*SIze and Geometry

*Financial Feasibility and Development Readiness

Read more soon on Bay Buzz. 

 

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St. Petersburg City Council approves South St. Pete TIF programs

The St. Petersburg City Council unanimously approved the first concrete steps to alleviate poverty in Midtown and other southern neighborhoods Thursday.

The nearly two-hour debate came after the local NAACP president urged the council to scrap the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area plan and related programs, which would distribute nearly $500,000 over a 7.5-square-mile area where 34,000 people live. About 1/3 of them live in poverty.

The CRA's tax-increment financing programs are designed to funnel money into affordable housing, commercial improvements and workforce training.

Mayor Rick Kriseman has said his plan will focus on lifting people out of poverty instead of more traditional efforts to improve infrastructure.

Council member Lisa Wheeler-Brown said the CRA's citizen advisory committee, which also approved the plan, provides accountability.

"So that people who have their own agenda will not be able to pocket what is really the community's. I have lived here my whole life and it is no secret what I'm saying," Wheeler-Brown said. …

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Largo commissioner questions absence of Black History Month events

Largo Commissioner Samantha Fenger

Times files

Largo Commissioner Samantha Fenger

February is Black History Month, but you wouldn’t know it looking through Largo’s events calendar.

So pointed out Commissioner Samantha Fenger on Tuesday night at the end of a commission meeting.

“It would be nice to see what we are doing to respect that month,” she said.

A look through the city’s online February calendar shows several events, including movie viewings, a wedding expo and an obstacle course through the nature preserve, but nothing related to Black History Month.

“We don’t generally do something, no,” said Jessica Newsome, events coordinator for the city.

Recreation, Parks and Arts Director Joan Byrne pointed to a display at the library celebrating black fiction authors. But as far as events go, she said the city is not holding any because of a lack of funding and community involvement.

“I don’t know what anyone would want us to do, exactly,” she said. “One of the things that you find is you really need someone from the community to help you and to spearhead to make sure people get engaged. We really haven’t had anyone come forward to say, 'We’d like to partner with you.'” …

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Why a painting of white sunbathers still haunts St. Petersburg's City Hall

Omali Yeshilta at a 2014 news conference.

Tampa Bay Times -- Cherie Diez

Omali Yeshilta at a 2014 news conference.

In 1966, a young African-American activist marched into City Hall and ripped away a mural that showed black troubadours playing for white sunbathers. He served two years in prison for the incident. 

This week, that man, Omali Yeshitela, now 74, is no less angry. 

Standing in front of City Hall Wednesday, he vowed to do the same again if a planned replacement is similarly offensive. 

Yeshitela, who legally changed his name from Joe Waller in 2000, is upset at plans by the city's public arts commission to fill the space of the piece he so despised.  

"They are talking about offering $10,000 to any artist...that can replace that mural with another mural that reflects the events of the time and that shows the progress and inclusivity that has occurred in this city since that time," he said. "How can they do that without talking to me? I tore it down."  

Yeshitela, founder of the controversial International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement and a former mayoral candidate, said contemporary leaders are repeating the actions of those who permitted the mural to be installed in the 1940's.  …

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Karl Nurse and the South St. Petersburg CRA

St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse worked hard to help create the newly-minted South St. Petersburg CRA.

But the council member who represents part of the CRA territory has his critics. One of them is the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, Maria Scruggs.

Scruggs, no fan of the CRA, questions why Nurse owns property within its boundaries. Wouldn't he stand to profit if the CRA works and property values rise?

"Of course it's a conflict of interest," Scruggs said. "But people are afraid to talk about this stuff.

The Tampa Bay Times looked into Nurse's real estate holdings in what was then a still-in-development CRA in 2014. Nurse said at the time that he had lost money on 10 properties and was doing it to help the community.

Since then, Nurse has taken more steps to distance himself from any appearance of a conflict of interest.

He formed a non-profit to handle the purchases of a recent home at 900 23rd Ave. S. He loaned the money for the non-profit at zero interest, he said. Any money made on a sale would go to the non-profit. He can write off a loss on his tax return, Nurse said.

Scruggs' comments didn't suprise Nurse. …

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