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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

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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Hillsborough Commissioners to Florida lawmakers: Drop the fracking bill

A fracking site is situated on the outskirts of town in the Permian Basin oil field on January 21, 2016 in the oil town of Midland, Texas. Hillsborough Commissioners voted Wednesday to ask state lawmakers not to prohibit local fracking regulations as part of a bill that would allow natural gas extraction in the state.

Associated Press

A fracking site is situated on the outskirts of town in the Permian Basin oil field on January 21, 2016 in the oil town of Midland, Texas. Hillsborough Commissioners voted Wednesday to ask state lawmakers not to prohibit local fracking regulations as part of a bill that would allow natural gas extraction in the state.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to oppose legislation in Tallahassee that would prohibit local restrictions on the natural gas extraction process known as fracking.

Conjuring up comparisons to the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Mich., Commissioner Les Miller said the bill would limit the ability of localities to protect natural resoruces and assure that companies fracking here won’t affect the water quality.

“Can you imagine having Flint, Mich., in the state of Florida?” Miller said.

The bills, House Bill 191 and Senate Bill 318, also allow companies to keep secret the chemicals used in the fracking process because they would be considered proprietary. Versions of both bills have passed several committees already.

The four Republican and two Democratic commissioners in attendance Wednesday approved a letter to Tallahassee asking lawmakers to remove provisions in the legislation regarding “trade secrets” and any preemptions on local regulations.

“It appears that if we can get the trade secret and preemption language removed, we’ll have a good bill in there,” Commissioner Stacy White said.

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Rob DiSpirito a semifinalist in Largo's city manager search

Rob DiSpirito is a semi-finalist in Largo's city manager search.

Times files

Rob DiSpirito is a semi-finalist in Largo's city manager search.

The ex-Dunedin city manager who resigned last month amid criticism of his job performance is a semifinalist in Largo’s search for a new city manager.

Rob DiSpirito, 56, is one of eight candidates who made the cut after the city received 151 applications for the job, which opened after Mac Craig announced his plans to retire in March. The other semifinalists are Largo’s assistant city managers, Henry Schubert and Mike Staffopoulos, the city manager in Gainesville and four out-of-state applicants.

DiSpirito’s resume boasts 20 years of city manager experience, including nine in Dunedin and 11 in Oberlin, Ohio. Dunedin commissioners voted in January to accept DiSpirito’s resignation two weeks after Commissioner Heather Gracy made a failed motion to fire DiSpirito because of a "diminished and eroding confidence" in his job performance, she said at the time.

DiSpirito said he was shocked by the turn of events. Just a year before, he received a salary increase and glowing reviews, including from the same commissioner who moved to fire him.

DiSpirito said Wednesday that he would let his record of strong performance reviews speak for itself. …

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Registry for animal abusers advanced in Hillsborough County

TAMPA -- Convicted animal abusers would have to register in Hillsborough County under a proposal commissioners advanced Wednesday.

If approved, the ordinance would prevent those convicted of a misdemeanor or felony animal abuse from adopting a pet.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who put the issue before commissioners, said it would also help law enforcement officials keep tabs on animal abusers. Beckner said there is a strong link between animal abuse and violent behavior against humans.

A presentation listed several serial killers, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, who abused and tortured pets.

In a 5-1 vote, commissioners instructed the county attorney’s office to draft the ordinance and the parameters for how a registry would work.

Despite the strong vote of support, commissioners expressed concern with creating and operating a registry. What if someone goes to Pinellas County to adopt a pet? How can the county keep tabs on people convicted of animal abuse in other jurisdictions who move to Hillsborough?

Commissioner Stacy White, the lone no vote, said it was “bad public policy” and would be better addressed by the state Legislature. …

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As Zika virus reaches Hillsborough County, commissioners request action plan

TAMPA — A day after state health officials reported two Zika virus cases in Hillsborough County, the county commission on Wednesday directed county staff to assess local preparations to combat the disease.

In both of Hillsborough’s reported cases — two of the six new cases reported in the state — it's believed the individuals contracted the virus while traveling outside of Florida. Nevertheless, Hillsborough Public Works Director John Lyons said the county will increase the number of mosquito traps and closely monitor those populations to see if any are carrying the virus.

If mosquito populations jump in any areas, Lyons said the county will increase spraying.

Lyons added that residents should be vigilant in removing standing water from their property to help keep mosquitos at bay.

At the request of Commissioner Al Higginbotham and backed by commissioners Wednesday, Lyons and the public health department will come back with a plan of action at a future meeting. …

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NAACP chapter president blasts city plan for Midtown CRA

The president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP on Tuesday issued an appeal for the defeat of the current configuration of the city's new South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area, characterizing the project as  a "political payoff" for the benefit of outside developers and investors.

Maria Scruggs urged supporters to attend this Thursday's CIty Council meeting where a package of 10 programs for the tax-incremenet finance district are slated for a vote.

The city should scrap its current plan to spend $487,369 in estimated revenue this year on a mixture of commercial and residential rehab, redevelopment efforts and workforce training, Scruggs wrote. 

Instead, she said in an email, the money should be spent on hiring a "real" consultant to work with residents and local businesses to revise the plan to meet the community's needs, not "investors and developers."

City Council member Karl Nurse, who helped develop the plan, said Scruggs was "completely wrong" and that the plan represented the best chance to revitalize Midtown in generations. …

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