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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Pete fire chief cleared of wrongdoing in hire


St. Petersburg---A city investigation into the hiring of a Fire Department rescue chief earlier this year has cleared Chief Jim Large of any wrongdoing. 

The Oct. 15 report states that an initial probe in September had wrongly concluded that Large had made missteps when he hired then-Capt. Ian Womack in April.  

The job was exempt, meaning that Large didn't have to post the vacancy or follow the normal vetting processes required by city rules.   

The investigation by the city's Human Resources Department also concluded that Womack was the most qualified candidate due to his experience and "success" in his role as acting division chief in the five months before his promotion. 

An anonymous complaint in July triggered the original investigation. That report  found that Large hadn't notified all department personnel when he downgraded the position to division chief level, which doesn't require a college degree. 

Womack doesn't have a college degree.  Lt. Richard Henderson, who does have a college degree, also expressed interest in the job before Large changed its requirements. Henderson said he was unaware that the chief later changed the requirements.  …

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City says homeless report blasting St. Pete is yesterday's news

ST. PETERSBURG-- On the heels of a glowing write-up in the Boston Globe--- the latest in a string of national and international kudos touting St. Petersburg--- comes a spotlight that backdrops the city in a markedly different hue. 

A report presented to the United Nations characterizes the city's treatment of the homeless as a criminal travesty. 

The national report, written by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, was submitted to the UN Committee on Torture in September. A section is devoted to St. Petersburg's policies, including its Safe Harbor project. 

The takeaway? " Under this plan, homeless people in St. Petersburg have no option to conduct any of their basic life necessities - indeed even to exist - in the city without the threat of extended  solitary confinement or exile. " 

Here is the link to the report: 

Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration said the report contained outdated information and was compiled in January, when Kriseman was just entering office.  …

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Class-action lawsuit filed in South Florida against red-light camera operator American Traffic Solutions

Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue, one of Hillsborough County's red-light camera intersections.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times (2011)

Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue, one of Hillsborough County's red-light camera intersections.

Two weeks after a South Florida appeals court dealt a setback to red-light cameras in Hollywood, Fla., the Associated Press reports that two motorists have filed a class-action lawsuit against the company that operates red-light camera programs throughout Florida, including for Tampa and a half-dozen other bay area communities.

Here is the AP's story:

MIAMI (AP) — Two Florida drivers have filed a class action lawsuit against a private company that ran red light cameras for more than 70 Florida municipalities.

Christopher Parker and Marwa Moussa said in a lawsuit filed Monday that their rights to due process were violated by the Arizona company, American Traffic Solutions.

They say the company was given improper authority for decisions that should have been made by law enforcement officers.

The lawsuit is seeking more than $5 million and seeks to include anyone who was issued a ticket and paid fines from cases handled by the company.

The cameras capture motorists running through red lights or committing other traffic violations.

Company spokesman Charles Territo says the company complies with the law and doesn't decide what is a violation. …

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One more vote to determine the Belleview Biltmore's fate

BELLEAIR| It’s down to just one more Town Commission meeting before a developer finds out whether he has a green light to buy and jumpstart redevelopment plans for the former Belleview Biltmore.

Commissioners on Monday gave their unanimous preliminary approval of JMC Communities’ request that the property, currently limited to hotel or single-family home use, be rezoned for mixed-use.

Elected leaders approved the firm’s preliminary site plan and development agreement 4-1, with Commissioner Stephen Fowler voting nay.

Commissioners will hold a second public hearing and final vote on all three pieces Nov. 13, when they also will consider JMC’s request for a demolition permit.

JMC last week submitted a revised plan to tear down all but the Biltmore’s west wing, which the St. Petersburg real estate firm would renovate into a boutique inn and surround with condos and townhomes. An advisory group of residents called the Historic Preservation Board will consider the project Nov. 6.

Commissioners told critics who want the entire hotel restored that the proposed mixed-use zoning would also help breathe new life into the property should a preservationist come forward to save it. …

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Bob Buckhorn to appoint Kathleen Shanahan to HART board

Bob Buckhorn plans to appoint Kathleen Shanahan to a three-year  term on the board of HART.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times (2012)

Bob Buckhorn plans to appoint Kathleen Shanahan to a three-year term on the board of HART.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn plans to appoint business executive and Tallahassee insider Kathleen Shanahan to represent the city on the board of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART).

"She’s played and served at the highest levels," Buckhorn said Monday. "She brings a level of maturity and gravitas to what I think will be an interesting couple of years in the transportation world. I think she realizes that transportation will be the cutting-edge issue for probably the next decade. So having a person like Kathleen right in the middle of it will bring a lot of value to the board."

Shanahan is the chairwoman and CEO of Tampa-based URETEK Holdings, which specializes in stabilizing subsurface soils to secure foundations and structures, and was previously the chairwoman and CEO of the environmental management and civil construction company WRScompass. She also served on and chaired the Florida Board of Education, and worked as chief of staff to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as well as to Dick Cheney when he was vice president-elect.

Once confirmed by the City Council, Shanahan will serve for a three year term starting Nov. 1. She will replace outgoing board member Fran Davin.

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Clearwater considers switch to once-a-week trash collection

CLEARWATER — Last year, a flurry of angry phone calls prompted Clearwater to cancel a pilot program to reduce trash collection from twice a week to once a week in a couple of neighborhoods.

Now the issue is back. Clearwater leaders are strongly considering switching to once-a-week garbage collection citywide. They know they would take some heat for it, too — especially because residents’ trash pickup bills wouldn’t go down.

“It’s easy for you to say it’s good for the system,” Mayor George Cretekos told a consultant who recommended the change. “We’ve got to justify why it’s not only good for the system, but it’s also good for the customer. The customer is expecting his rates to go down, not to go up.”

No final decision has been made. But a majority of City Council members have agreed to have staffers bring a formal proposal to them in the near future. That will probably happen in December or January.

Florida cities such as Safety Harbor, Lakeland, Ocala, Sarasota and Key West have switched to once-a-week trash pickup. Dunedin will do so Jan. 5. Clearwater would be the largest city in the Tampa Bay area to make the switch. …

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St. Pete council signals support for using Weeki Wachee Fund for park improvements, arts funding

St. Petersburg | The City Council signaled its support on Thursday to fund a handful of projects from the city's Weeki Wachee Fund, including a proposal to support the arts with up to $1 million over the next 5 years.

Other projects that got the green light include a $150,000 proposal to fund lighting at the volleyball courts at North Shore Park, $50,000 for shade structures at Lake Vista and Riviera Bay parks and $25,000 to study the feasibility and potential location of a regional skatepark.

The council declined, however, to immediately advance a proposal to fund a rubber track at Gibbs High School, citing concerns about spending city money for something that would have limited public access.

That stung council member Wengay Newton, who has been working to make the track project happen. Shortly after the meeting adjourned, Newton posted this on his Facebook page:

"Council just Voted 5 to 3 to Split the $4,000,000 Weeki Wachee fund and give The Arts $200,000 for 5 years. Nothing for the Youth Jobs and $0 for Rubber Track at Gibbs. The City Of St. Petersburg has Arrested 1900 Juveniles, go figure. "

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Dunedin aces audit of once-troubled utility billing system

DUNEDIN -- The city passed an audit of its new utility billing system with flying colors.

Last year, the city hired Water Company of America to review new guidelines established after the 2009 discovery that Dunedin had undercharged commercial users of stormwater, water and sewer lines, costing the city $2.2 million over seven years.

WCA general manager Steve Hooper told elected leaders this month that his firm's audit showed Dunedin has a good meter maintenance program and communication between its permitting and utility departments.

"I can say with confidence that the review of billing that we performed ... indicate a clean, well-run system," Hooper said.

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Retiring Commissioner Pat Mulieri endorses Democrat Erika Jean Remsberg

Retiring Republican Pasco County Commissioner Pat Mulieri has crossed party lines to endorse a potential successor.

In a Facebook posting, Mulieri said she planned to vote for Democrat Erika Jean Remsberg for the District 2 County Commission seat. Remsberg is opposed by Mike Moore who won a three-way GOP primary in August and who has raised almost  $170,000 during the campaign, a nearly 20-to-1 margin over Remsberg’s treasury of less than $9,000.

Among Mulieri’s comments:

“Michael Moore states he is running as if he has already won: Attends board meetings, workshops, and is talking to big businesses. I have not seen him at many board meetings. In fact, when asked at one meeting in Dade City why he had not attended meetings, his response, 'I have a job.' My response, 'What will you do when you are elected?'

“Erica has met with me, staff and attends the Citizens Academy to help her understand the workings of government. It is difficult when one becomes a commissioner to absorb all that is going on. Erica is preparing.’’ …

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Tampa Bay area officials studying South Florida ruling in red-light camera case

Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue, a red-light camera intersection.

BRYAN THOMAS | Times (2011)

Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Fletcher Avenue, a red-light camera intersection.

A South Florida court ruling Wednesday set red-light camera opponents abuzz statewide.

In a case involving the city of Hollywood, Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal dismissed a citation against motorist Eric Arem.

The court, based in West Palm Beach, ruled that Hollywood officials delegated too much authority to the vendor of their system when it came to issuing traffic citations.

“You’re essentially playing the police officer before the police officer actually sees it,” said state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, an opponent of red-light cameras. “I think a lot of cities are going to find their procedures are incorrect.”

Hollywood’s vendor is Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), which also runs red-light camera programs in Tampa and other bay area communities.

“The city is not authorized to delegate police power by entering into a contract that allows a private vendor to screen data and decide whether a violation has occurred before sending that data to a traffic infraction enforcement officer to use as the basis for authorizing a citation,” 4th DCA Judge Mark W. Klingensmith wrote in the Hollywood case. …

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Dunedin eyes fire boat purchase, better Pinellas water rescue system

DUNEDIN| The city will train firefighters ahead of buying its first fire boat next year, but not before researching ways it can help improve the countywide response protocol for water emergencies.

Fire Chief Jeff Parks and City Manager Rob DiSpirito said fire crews have been pushing for the boat purchase for years. They said their months-long research was hastened by a September houseboat blaze which raged 35 minutes before a Clearwater vessel arrived with additional firefighting equipment and rescued people trapped on the marina dock.

City commissioners gave city staff their unanimous permission to bring back a contract for the boat, which would be ready to hit Dunedin waters in about six months. The roughly $218,000 first-year implementation cost would come from miscellaneous Penny for Pinellas funds, and the county would contribute about 13 percent toward boat and lift costs.

But commissioners agreed with Mayor Dave Eggers that it appears neither boats nor response times seem consistent, as they are for road service. He questioned whether the county needs to provide more money. …

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Workshops tackle trash pickup

Dunedin's Solid Waste Department is hosting several workshops ahead of the transition in January to once-weekly trash, recycling and yard waste pickup.

For helpful disposal tips, residents are invited to open houses:

- Wednesday: 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Elliot Room of the Dunedin Community Center, 1920 Pinehurst Road.

- Nov. 15: 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the Dunedin Library, 223 Douglas Ave.

Questions? Go to or call (727) 298-3215.

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University of Tampa student Tyler Barrett files to challenge City Council’s Harry Cohen

Tyler Barrett has filed to run in Tampa City Council District 4.

Photo courtesy Tyler Barrett

Tyler Barrett has filed to run in Tampa City Council District 4.

Last week was midterm week and thus a busy week at the University of Tampa, but it wasn’t so hectic as to keep UT junior Tyler Barrett from launching his candidacy for City Council District 4.


Barrett, 22, a double major in history and government and world affairs, is the third candidate to file papers to run in the South Tampa district now represented by Harry Cohen, who is nearing the end of his first term. First in was South Tampa businessman Kent King, who raised a little more than $32,000 through Sept. 30, followed by Cohen himself, who has raised $43,250.


This is Barrett’s first run for public office, though he worked as a field organizer for Nan Rich’s campaign for governor, coordinates the College Democrats at UT and has worked with the LGBT film festival at the Tampa Theatre.


“My passion has been getting young voters aware and getting them registered to vote,” Barrett said. Young people, he said, “need a voice in every branch of government,” but city government is one where they don’t have a relationship with decision-makers.


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Seminole Heights activist Susan Long files to challenge Tampa City Council's Mike Suarez

Susan Long is a candidate for Tampa City Council District 1.

Times files (2011)

Susan Long is a candidate for Tampa City Council District 1.

Old Seminole Heights civic activist Susan Long on Friday filed to run for the citywide Tampa City Council seat currently held by Mike Suarez.


“I know how City Council functions," she said, "and I think I would be very good at it.”


With Long’s filing in District 1, all five council members running for re-election have picked up opponents for the March 3 election.


Long, 68, is a frequent speaker on neighborhood issues at City Council meetings. A past president of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, she is a member of the city’s Variance Review Board and has served on its Code Enforcement and Public Nuisance Abatement boards.


Long, who has a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and an MBA and a doctorate from the University of South Carolina, is an economist who does economic valuations, expert witness work and teaches in an accelerated MBA program two days a month for South University in Georgia.


Long said she expects three issues to play a role in the campaign. First, she said residents are concerned that the City Council has delegated too much authority to the city staff when it comes to reviewing proposed developments.


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Hillsborough School Board candidate takes credit for "temper tantrum" mailer

Yes, that was my mailer, Dipa Shah told Gradebook on Friday.

But, although Hillsborough School Board incumbent April Griffin calls it an attack ad, it's all based on news reports, Shah said in an interview.

The two are in a runoff for the nonpartisan countywide seat.



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