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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Amid protests, Safety Harbor considers tree removal moratorium

SAFETY HARBOR| The city has called an emergency meeting for 6 p.m. Monday to consider a possible moratorium on tree removal while commissioners finish work on an ordinance that strengthens its existing tree protection law.

The meeting, to be held at City Hall, comes amid protests over last week's removal of about a dozen trees by the privately-owned Safety Harbor Resort and Spa to make way for an improved parking lot.

Safety Harbor’s current ordinance protects only grand trees of a certain size. So, the spa, which city officials say has been considering its project since at least 2005, applied for and was granted permission by Pinellas County. The spa is pursuing permits for additional tree removal of dead, dying and hazardous trees.

The project has upset a vocal contingent of residents who call it an affront to the environment and the city’s charm.

City commissioners in recent months have revisited a years-old request that the city tweak its ordinance to expand authority to all trees within city limits.

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Pinellas elections supervisor sends 250,000 mail ballots

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark on Tuesday mailed 250,563 ballots to domestic voters for the Nov. 4 general election.

That's about 40 percent of the 622,092 total registered voters in Pinellas. 

Clark mailed 2,696 ballots on Sep. 19 to absent military and overseas voters.

For the Aug. 26 primary, Clark's office mailed 252,498 ballots and about 45 percent of those were returned. 

The deadline to request a ballot to be mailed is 5 p.m. on Oct. 29. To request a mail ballot,, call (727) 464-VOTE (8683), or email and include you date of birth. Mail ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 4.

The deadline to register to vote is Monday.

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Quinton Robinson becomes second challenger to Tampa City Councilman Frank Reddick

Businessman Quinton F. Robinson has filed to run for Tampa City Council District 5 seat, which covers East Tampa, Ybor City, downtown, the port and parts of West Tampa.

Robinson, 38, is the third candidate in the race. Police Sgt. Borthland Murray, 48, who has since retired, filed to run a year ago. First-term council member Frank Reddick, 58, filed to seek a second term in July.

Robinson said he grew up in West Tampa, graduated from Hillsborough High School and Florida A&M University, where he studied psychology.
He owns a business development and structured management firm, Mesheq Enterprises LLC. He also has served as a Democratic precinct committeeman, formerly was president of the Hillsborough County Democratic Black Caucus and has been president of the nonprofit Re-Entry Co-Operative of America, which worked to help felons regain civil rights and find work.

“There has been a great focus on the revitalization of downtown Tampa, which I’m all for,” he said. “However, I feel that the same attention should be brought to the neighboring areas. ...  There has to be an adamant voice to bring attention to the areas that surround downtown.”

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Activist Becky Rubright files to challenge Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn

Saying "somebody had to," politicial activist Becky Rubright has filed papers to challenge Mayor Bob Buckhorn next spring.

"I'm mostly doing it because I don't believe anybody should be running unopposed," Rubright said Monday. "It's a travesty to the democratic process and undermines the whole system."

While acknowledging that Buckhorn has a high approval rating, she said, "he's a little more pro-business, and we need a little more focus on the people who actually live here."

Rubright, 41, grew up in Washington, D.C., an experience that she said lent itself to her becoming disillusioned with politics at an early age.

"I have always focused on a more 'Be the change you want to see in the world' approach," said Rubright, a Seminole Heights resident and acupuncturist who owns the Living Harmony Healing Center.

In her practice, she said, she works to provide alternatives to patients ill-served by corporate health care.

"The monetized nature of our society means that we have people taking more medicine than they should," she said.

Politically, that has led her to protest concentrations of money and power in society. …

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Kriseman's discussions with Rays to get more serious


St. Petersburg---Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have wrapped up their season, talks between the city and the team should become more substantive, Mayor Rick Kriseman's chief of staff said Monday. 

Kriseman and Rays president Matt Silverman met for about an hour at Tropicana Field on Friday afternoon, the latest in a series of "good" meetings that haven't yielded any concrete steps toward resolving the long-running saga of finding a new stadium site.

The Rays finished a losing campaign Sunday with major-league baseball's lowest-attendance. 

"Now that the season's over, they can have more meetings and more productive meetings," said Kevin King, Kriseman's chief of staff. 

Another meeting between Kriseman and Silverman is being scheduled and should take place soon, King said. 

Kriseman officials say they remain hopeful that a deal can be reached by the end of the year. The Rays want a deal that would allow them to look at sites in Tampa and Hillsborough County.  


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Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board reaffirms confidence in CEO Brad Miller

ST. PETERSBURG -- Six weeks before the most important vote in the agency's history, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board of directors has reaffirmed its confidence in chief executive officer Brad Miller.

The board on Thursday heaped praise on Miller's leadership despite some controversies in recent weeks. The sentiments were a refrain of the comments board members made last month, when a few critics of PSTA and opponents of the looming Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum demanded Miller's resignation for the agency's mishandling of a federal grant. The authority had to return $354,000 to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after officials decided that the feel-good commercials promoting PSTA paid for by the grant didn't focus enough on safety and security.

Board members said Miller handled that and other issues quickly and kept the board informed. They also praised the work Miller, who took the job in July 2011, has done to lead the Greenlight initiative. If approved on Nov. 4, the county's sales tax would increase by a penny, to 8 cents, to expand bus service and build a 24-mile light rail line between St. Petersburg and Clearwater. …

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Marco Rubio endorses Bill Young

   Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio has endorsed Bill Young, a Republican candidate in House District 68, which which covers much of northeast St. Petersburg and eastern Pinellas Park. Young hopes to unseat incumbent Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg.

   From a news rellease:

   “I proudly endorse Bill Young and his campaign to be the state representative in HD68,” Senator Rubio stated. “The Young family has a history of devotion to our veterans that Bill will carry on with dignity. His dedication to ensuring our economy is thriving and our government is accountable will serve Pinellas County and Florida well for years to come.”


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Submit questions for Oct. 1 candidate forum for Pinellas Commission, Dunedin Mayor

DUNEDIN| The public is invited to submit questions for city and county commission candidates who will participate in a forum Wednesday at the Hale Center, 330 Douglas Ave.

The forum — hosted by the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce — will include:

• Dunedin mayoral candidates Julie Ward Bujalski and Julie Scales.
• County Commission District 2 candidates Pat Gerard and Ed Hooper.
• County Commission District 4 candidates Dave Eggers, Carl Folkman, Marcus Harrison and Mark Weinkrantz.

Doors open at 6:15 p.m., and the program will get under way about 6:45.

Forum questions must be emailed to by Monday . They should be generic in nature and not directed to a single candidate . Call the chamber at (727) 733-3197 for information.

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New Pinellas Commission members will get to vote for 2015 chairman

CLEARWATER -- The two new members who join the Pinellas County Commission in November will get to vote on who serves as chairman in 2015.

The current board decided this week to wait until Nov. 18, when the new members are sworn in, to take that vote. Longtime commissioner Susan Latvala, who currently serves as vice chairwoman, is retiring, and Commissioner Norm Roche lost his re-election bid.

Early in the discussion Tuesday, Commissioner Ken Welch made a motion for Commissioner John Morroni, who won his re-election bid in last month’s open primary, to serve as vice chairman from Nov. 18 until the end of the year, and as chairman in 2015. 

Latvala spoke up, saying the board has generally waited to select the board’s leader when new commissioners are about to take office.

Taking a vote now, she said, would be "disingenous to the new commissioners."

Roche agreed.

“The folks who are coming in get sworn in and they make that choice,” he said. “I think you ought to wait until the election’s over.”

Welch withdrew his motion and moved to have Morroni serve as vice chairman for November and December. Roche still objected to that. The motion passed 6-0, with Roche abstaining. 

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Dunedin roundup: Fenway, City Hall, 2015 budget

DUNEDIN| The City Commission gave city staff permission to start negotiating a development agreement with the historic Fenway Hotel's new owners and to pause discussions on proposals submitted by developers interested in building Dunedin a new City Hall.

*Fenway: The Taoist Tai Chi Society of the United States of America, which bought the dilapidated 1920s Fenway in June, has plans to renovate the hotel into the health and wellness group's new headquarters and add townhomes. Zoning on the property requires developers to follow guidelines that maintain its historic integrity, subject to commission approval. Elected leaders said last week that they are eager to see more details about the society's $14 million proposed project. …

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Kriseman mugs with Cheech and Chong


Smoking is not allowed in airports anymore but selfies still are and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman took full advantage Saturday in the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Kriseman tweeted out a pic taken with a sunglass-wearing Richard "Cheech" Marin and sleepy-eyed Tommy Chong, the veritable stoner comedy duo.

A subtle smoke signal on the upcoming statewide medical marijuana referendum, perhaps? 

Nope, said Ben Kirby, the mayor's spokesman. Just a chance meeting with celebrities.

Of course, the optics could have been better, Kirby quipped. 

"Just our luck---it had to be Cheech and Chong," Kirby said in a text message to Bay Buzz. "He couldn't run into the Dalai Lama or the cast of Sesame Street at the airport."

Cheech and Chong are slated to pefrom at Silver Spurs Arena at the Osceola Heritage Park in Kissimmee.

Kriseman was returning from an urban design conference in Charleston, S.C.


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'You're supposed to laugh at that.'

CLEARWATER -- The Clearwater City Council took care of some important business Thursday night, approving a $392 million budget without a tax increase. Council members also had a lengthy discussion about whether a new Clearwater Beach resort should be required to have 7-foot-wide or 10-foot-wide sidewalks.

But before all that, they had to apologize for the temperature. The council chamber on the top floor of City Hall was pretty steamy.

"I think it's gotten a little warmer in here," said Mayor George Cretekos. "Earlier this afternoon, it was an icebox in here. So we upped the temperature by two degrees and opened the door. I think opening the door made a big difference. All the cold air went outside."

He made a reference to the City Council being "full of hot air."


"You're supposed to laugh at that, you know," the mayor said.

On cue, a round of laughter filled the room. …

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Marina fire hastens Dunedin's exploration of fire boat purchase

DUNEDIN| Fire Chief Jeff Parks and City Manager Rob DiSpirito say this month's houseboat fire at the city marina underscores the city's need for a fire boat.

The Sept. 6 blaze that left a family of four homeless raged for 30 minutes before Clearwater's boat arrived while Dunedin rescuers fought from onshore, officials said. The boat also helped rescue people trapped at the end of the dock.

But, officials ask, what if Clearwater's boat had been on another call?

Officials say a boat is imperative given Dunedin's location along 37 miles of coastline, near state parks that attract millions of visitors and nearly year-round water recreation.

"The opportunity for an emergency incident to occur at any time increases," staff wrote in a report to be presented next week to the City Commission.

According to estimates, a 25-foot boat with a 15-year life-span would cost Dunedin about $167,000, and Pinellas County would chip in on 13.25 percent of the tab. A boat lift plus annual insurance, maintenance, fuel and equipment costs would bring the first-year implementation total to about $218,000. …

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Belleview Biltmore redevelopment hearings kick off this month

BELLEAIR| Residents can weigh in on redevelopment plans for the former Belleview Biltmore hotel during a series of public hearings kicking off this month.

JMC Communities is buying the historic landmark from Miami investors Daniel and Raphael Ades for $6.6 million. The development firm plans to build a 33-room inn with meeting space and a small pub that mimics the original hotel, plus 132 upscale condos and townhomes.

The following meetings will be held at Town Hall, 901 Ponce de Leon Blvd.

•Sept. 30, 5 p.m.: Historic Preservation Board discusses the special certificate of appropriateness required for demolition.

•Oct. 6, 5:30 p.m.: Planning and Zoning Board discusses the development plan, rezoning request and development agreement.

•Oct. 27, 4 p.m.: The Town Commission considers recommendations on all items discussed by the city advisory boards.

•Nov. 13, 6 p.m.: Commissioners hold a second required public hearing on the rezoning request and development agreement only.

If approved, JMC Communities expects to complete the $15 million project’s first phase within two years, and all eight within five years.

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