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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

For Times editor, the recycling struggle is real

St. Petersburg officials have fielded lots of complaints from folks in neighborhoods like the Old Northeast since the rollout of the city's recycling program. Residents are demanding alley pickup because it's too difficult to get the big blue bins from the alley to the curb. The city says its recycling trucks are too large to navigate the alleys.

If you had any doubt that the struggle is real, check out this editorial notebook video by Elizabeth Djinis. It chronicles the sweaty trek that Tampa Bay Times editor Jim Verhulst has to make to get his bin to the curb in front of his Old Northeast abode. And Jim is a fit guy (though unfortunately for him, he's also wearing a tie).

"It is impractical to expect 40 percent of St. Petersburg residents to go through this hassle twice a month," Djinis says.

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St. Petersburg still waiting for financial details from MLK event organizer

After turning in a city sponsorship application earlier this year, the organizer of an annual event in St. Petersburg to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was supposed to be back with more details on how the city's money would be spent.

So far, Sevell Brown has not returned, yet he appears on the verge of receiving more funding, despite a Tampa Bay Times investigation earlier this year that found the city officials have been nonchalant or haven't asked for a detailed accounting of more than $500,000 in city funds or services directed at the MLK events in the past.

So what's going on?

Staff writer Kameel Stanley asked the question. Here's what she found.

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Rice decides against Congressional bid

Darden Rice thought about jumping in the political fray to challenge incumbent Congressman David Jolly, but ultimately decided that her spot on City Council was where she should stay — for now.
Of course, if the state Supreme Court redraws the lines of the 13th Congressional District to include the Democrat-heavy southern neighborhoods of St. Petersburg, the 45-year-old first-term council member said Friday that she might reconsider.
“Who wouldn’t?” she said.
The  more than $400,0000 recently reported raised by Eric Lynn, the one announced Democratic candidate in the race, was impressive, Rice said. But that wasn’t the reason she decided against the race.
“When you don’t have widespread name recognition, you need to raise a lot of money. I have name recognition. That doesn’t keep me out,” Rice said. “But he does get credit for doing exactly what he’s supposed to do.”
Lynn issued a statement, praising Rice’s decision.
“I respect Darden’s decision not to run. It is definitely better that the resources that would have been put towards an expensive primary fight are much better put towards taking on David Jolly next November,” he said. 
 Tampa Democrat Mary Mulhern, who is planning to move to St. Petersburg and enter the race, said Lynn’s cash haul so far is “impressive.”
But she wants more details on who is giving and where they live.
“I’m waiting to see where the money comes from,” she said.
The former Tampa City Council member said she is busy laying the groundwork for a campaign and intends to run.
Rice said she realized that there is more that she wants to accomplish on the city council.
“I’m in a great spot right now,” she said. “I love the work I’m doing.”
In her first 1 1/2 years on council, Rice has proven to be a reliable political ally of Mayor Rick Kriseman, supporting him on his failed plan to let the Tampa Bay Rays look outside the city for possible new stadium sites. She also back him on the initial bumps associated with the start of universal curbside recycling, although she recently called for changes to accommodate neighborhoods who want alley pick ups.
After the Tampa Bay Times reported early Friday that she wasn’t running for Congress, Kriseman’s chief of staff Kevin King tweeted:  “We need her in St. Pete, working with @Kriseman to bring about change, attain city’s vision. We’re getting there.”
Council member Karl Nurse, a close Rice confidant, said he had urged her not to run and was happy to learn that she’ll stay on council. 
Nurse predicted a bright politcal future for his friend.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mayor Rice down the road,” he said.
Florida’s 13th Congressional District covers most of Pinellas County. Republican David Jolly won the seat in a March 11, 2014, special election following the death of U.S. Rep. Bill Young. Jolly was reelected in November 2014 after the Democratic Party failed to field a candidate. 
Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago on Twitter.

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When it gets to zero, does something blow up? Yeah, Bob Buckhorn says...

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn calls this, "my countdown clock."

Richard Danielson

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn calls this, "my countdown clock."

The decor in Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's private conference room is a mosaic of glimpses into Tampa life, culture and history.

There's a Ferdie Pacheco painting of cigar workers listening to a lector, sports memorabilia of the city's college and profesional teams, photos of city bridges lit up at night and a big wooden carving of the city seal that serves as a backdrop for events and photos.

And now. on an end table under a white board, there's this: a big digital clock, counting something down in urgent-looking red numbers, like in a James Bond movie or SNL MacGruber skit.

What happens, we asked the mayor, when it reaches zero? Does something blow up?

"Yeah, me," Buckhorn said. "That's how many days, hours, minutes and seconds I have left as mayor. I have had it about three weeks, because I wanted our staff to know that there's a sense of urgency, that that's how long we have left to get everything done."

"And he reminds us religiously of it," city public affairs director Ali Glisson said.

Lest, he forget, Buckhorn also has an app with a version of the countdown clock on his phone.


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Despite leaving one board over comments on Facebook, Sam Rashid is not backing off

Two weeks ago, east Hillsborough conservative businessman and political activist Sam Rashid resigned from a committee that advises Florida's two senators on judicial appointments, acknowledging that intemperate Facebook posts on local judges disqualified him for the post.

But Rashid, also an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott on the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, has continued with more strongly worded social media posts.

He recently posted a tweet showing an aerial photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton's lavish New York home, suggesting her devotion to the middle class is hypocritical, adding a comment that Democrats are "so (expletive deleted) stupid it hurts."

He directed another post at Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan concerning the proposal for a half-cent sales tax for transportation, saying Hagan and the commissioners should instead cut "this bloated piece of (expletive) 4 Billion Dollar budget of yours."

Rashid said his Facebook account expresses private views distinct from his work on the Aviation Authority. The five-member board oversees Tampa International Airport, a major economic driver with a $200 million annual budget. …

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Lisa Montelione looking at possible run in House District 63

Mike Reedy is building momentum with big-name endorsements toward becoming the Democratic nominee for House District 63, currently represented by Republican Shawn Harrison of Tampa and considered one of the Democrats' best chances statewide to flip a GOP seat.

But Reedy may not have an unhindered primary. Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione is considering whether to jump in.

In an interview this week, she said, "People have talked to me about it," and she's not ruling it out.

"I do represent mostly the same area. Whenever people ask you something of that serious a nature, you have to have the respect to take it seriously," she said.

Insiders say it's gone further than that — Montelione has discussed the race with top party candidate recruiters.

But, she said, "I have a lot of hurdles, so that's why I'm not rushing out to do it."

Among them: She'd have to resign her council seat effective in November 2016, win or lose, giving up most of the second term to which she just got re-elected without opposition.

She lives just outside the district, but lived about half her 30 years in the Tampa area inside it, in Temple Terrace. …

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Clearwater Police Chief Slaughter "flat blank" against civil citations for pot possession

Clearwater Police Chief Daniel Slaughter didn't equivocate when asked where he stands on handing out civil citations instead of criminal charges for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

"I'll tell you flat blank, I'm not in favor of that at all," Slaughter said. "Clearwater is -- we want it to be -- a family-friendly destination."

Slaughter also said he thinks it's inappropriate to support an ordinance that undermines the Legislature's role in crafting drug laws.

Slaughter was among more than two dozen Tampa Bay policy makers and law enforcement and judicial officials we reached out to this week after the Miami-Dade County Commission passed an ordinance giving police the option of either charging pot possession as a criminal misdemeanor or as a civil offense — which brings a fine but no criminal record — for possession of 20 grams or less. Slaughter's comments didn't make it into the story, but we wanted to get him on the record. If you missed it, the story is here. …

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Pasco mum on BP settlement bucks

Pasco County will be getting a share of the multibillion settlement with BP over damages claimed from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but the exact amount remained a secret Thursday because of a judicial gag order.

“They’ve approached us with a number and the number is confidential,’’ said Pasco County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder.

The county claimed a little more than $8 million in past losses tied to declining property, fuel, sales and other tax revenues after the Deepwater Horizon rig blew up 50 miles off Louisiana on April 20, 2010. The 85-day ordeal spilled an estimated 172 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The county projected future losses at an additional $26.7 million.

The city of Tampa said its payout will be $27 million. That’s 45 percent of its $59.4 million claim.  If Pasco County receives a similar percentage, its payout could be $3.6 million of its past losses.

Earlier the county agreed to use its initial funding from the federal RESTORE Act to revitalize the Port Richey waterfront, restore Orange Lake in downtown New Port Richey and add public restrooms to the county-owned SunWest Park in Aripeka. Total cost of the projects was listed at $962,000.

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Only 70 houses missed so far in St. Pete recycling roll out

St. Petersburg---A day after some residents in a southeastern neighborhood complained about being skipped over in the city's initial recycling pick up effort, Mayor Rick Kriseman's administration reported only 70 houses citywide had been skipped in the first two days of the fledgling program.

How many of those dwellings were in Bayou Bonita Park, near Coquina Key, is unclear, said Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman. 

Residents of that neighborhood contacted the Tampa Bay Times when their bins, scheduled for a Monday pickup, hadn't been emptied lateTuesday.

The recycling effort has gone smoothly overall, Kirby said. With brand new routes, new trucks and new employees a few houses missed was to be expected, he said.

Those houses that were missed should have had their big, blue bins picked up either yesterday or by the end of business today, Kirby said. 

Overall, the city distributed close to 80,000 bins citywide. 

 

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Recycling kickoff leaves Bayou Bonita Park residents feeling left out

ST. PETERSBURG---- By most accounts, the city's universal curbside recycling kickoff went smoothly. The first neighborhoods to get their big, blue bins picked up Monday were on the city's southeastern side. Mayor Rick Kriseman stood with the Old Southeast Neighborhood Association's president to symbolically christen the city's belated entry into the recycling game.

But, farther south, at least some owners of the 100 or so homes in Bayou Bonita Park,along the shores of Little Bayou, followed the heavily-publicized celebration in confusion, then dismay. Their bins never got picked up.

As of late Tuesday, they still hadn't been. And the dismay was curdling into anger among residents of the neighborhood,  which stretches east of Fourth Street roughly between 46th Ave S and Sunrise and Paradise Drives S.

"My neighbors are livid," said Michael Maiello, who lives on Juanita Way S. "I saw the article in the paper saying everything is beautiful. Yeah, my a**."

The city told him to expect a pick up sometime before the end of the week. That wasn't welcome news for Maiello and his neighbors.

"Politicians," said Maiello with a tone that could fairly be described as disgusted. …

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Retired assistant Tampa police chief tapped for assistant Pinellas administrator post

It was one of the most memorable protest-related moments of the 2012 Republican National Convention

Then-assistant Tampa police Chief John Bennett kneeled in front of a group of protesters and, as they blew smoke and tossed insults, he patiently explained that they were blocking a main route to the hospital. Eventually, they moved to the sidewalk.

When Bennett retired at the age of 51 after a 30-year career at the department then-Chief Jane Castor called him "my own personal superhero."

Now Bennett is a Pinellas County government employee.

County administrator Mark Woodard recently tapped Bennett to serve as an assistant county administrator over public health, safety and welfare. Bennett will oversee the county's 911 center, public safety radio and technology, ambulance billing and financial services, emergency management, EMS and fire administration, human services, veteran services, animal services and justice and consumer services.

Woodard's former chief of staff, Bruce Moeller, oversaw those areas for a while and recently returned to his director post overseeing just the public safety departments. Moeller is leaving this week to enter semi-retirement. …

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PSTA hires first federal lobbyist

Pinellas County's transit agency is looking to bring in money by spending money -- on a Washington, D.C. lobbyist.

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board of directors voted last week to hire D.C.-based lobbying firm Van Scoyoc Associates, Inc. for a five year contract not to exceed $420,000. It's the first time PSTA has retained a federal lobbyist and is needed to land its fair share of federal funding, finance committee chairman Joseph Barkley III told fellow board members.

Barkley noted most transit systems have a lobbyist in Washington, including the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

"What we're doing here is attempting to maintain our position among competitive transit systems," said Barkley, a Belleair Bluffs commissioner.

One of the firm's main directives is to secure federal funding for new buses. Earmarks for buses and other capital needs have dried up in recent years and PSTA is struggling to find money in its own budget to update its fleet and maintain service levels. …

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For the record: Jolly on Friday's same sex marriage ruling

We're a few days late, but we wanted to be sure to get U.S. Rep. David Jolly on the record about Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage.

The Indian Shores Republican announced his support for gay marriage last summer, so one thing is clear: Jolly's Democratic opponent, whomever that turns out to be, won't be able to use marriage equality as a wedge issue against him. Jolly has said he's considering a bid for Marco Rubio's Senate seat and plans to announce next month whether he'll do so or go for a second term in the District 13 seat he won in a special election last year. Democrat Eric Lynn is in the House race and has made a strong fundraising showing, but both St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice and former Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern are seriously looking at jumping in. 

Here's Jolly's statement:  …

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Pinellas County commissioners react to Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling

Pinellas County commissioners are at a level of government far removed from the halls of the Supreme Court, but they also happen to be in office at a time of landmark Supreme Court rulings. So what do they think? Bay Buzz reached out to all seven commissioners (four Democrats and three Republicans). Here's who we've heard from so far and what they said on today's gay marriage ruling:

Ken Welch, Democrat: "The Supreme Court's ruling on marriage equality provides for equal treatment for all citizens, without impacting the personal religious convictions of any individual or denomination. It also highlights the absolute necessity for a strong and independent judiciary."

Pat Gerard, Democrat: "I love it. It probably doesn't end the controversy, but I'm glad (the court) has affirmed what so many states have already done. I think it gives people a lot of comfort go to any state of the union and have their marriage recognized." …

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Democrat Lynn responds to carpetbagging attacks in Pinellas congressional race

As the jockeying for position intensified this week among possible Democratic candidates in the 13th Congressional District, a familiar line of attack surfaced: political carpetbagging.

In 2014, Republicans successfully used the claim against Hillsborough Democrat Alex Sink in the special election won by incumbent David Jolly.

Earlier this week, St. Petersburg City Council member Darden Rice referenced Sink's defeat when she cautioned against a repeat of Democratic candidates without long-standing ties to Pinellas County. Rice will make a decision on the race early next month.

On Thursday, speaking before a friendly crowd of Pinellas Democrats, Eric Lynn, a former defense advisor in the Obama administration and Seminole native, pushed back against Rice's suggestion that he had been out of the district too long. Lynn left Pinellas after high school, returning briefly to St. Petersburg after Georgetown University Law School before going to work for the president in the 2008 campaign, and later, in Washington, D.C.. …

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