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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg pushes for Cuban consulate

Mayor Rick Kriseman said Cuban officials were receptive to his idea of placing a consulate for that island nation in his city.

“Having a Cuban consulate would be a very good thing for us,” Kriseman said at a City Hall news conference three days after his return from a weather-shortened 48-hour trip to Havana.

A “couple of other” Florida cities have been “outright rejected,” said City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes.
“One of them should be very obvious, it’s on the southeast coast of Florida,” Gerdes said.

Gerdes declined to name the cities that a high-ranking Cuban official said were off the list for consulates. He said he didn't want to betray that diplomat's confidence.

Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, Gerdes and the mayor’s chief of staff Kevin King flew from Tampa to Havana on a chartered plane Thursday morning, provided by the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy, a Tampa-based non profit. 

The trip was orginally slated to end Sunday, but the group returned Saturday morning to avoid Tropical Storm Erika. 

The shortened trip meant scheduled economic development talks never happened, but Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said cultural exchanges are under discussion. …

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Republican Tim Schock files to run for Hillsborough County commissioner

Apparently, Bay Buzz spoke too soon.

A couple hours ago Bay Buzz reported that Jim Norman's only opposition in a Hillsborough County commissioner District 6 Republican primary was political novice Thomas Avino.

But soon after Norman officially filed to run, Tim Schock, an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Hillsborough County commissioner in 2014, formally submitted the paper work to try again in 2016. 

Schock, 42, is president of a local consulting company, Lightning Capital Consulting. In his 2014 race against Commissioner Al Higginbotham, he was vocally opposed to any new taxes for transportation, especially light rail, which again will be a big issue in the 2016 race.  

Schock won 15 percent of the vote, a distant second behind Higginbotham, who amassed a large war chest in the countywide race.

In 2014, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Schock to sit on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

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Former St. Petersburg business executive files to challenge Pinellas Commissioner Charlie Justice

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice has drawn his first challenger for 2016.

Mike Mikurak, a 61-year-old St. Petersburg Republican, filed papers Tuesday to run for the countywide District 3 seat Justice, a Democrat, has held since 2012. A married father of three grown children, Mikurak most recently worked as a partner at Accenture, Plc., providing consulting services in business strategy and supply chain management for Fortune 100 companies. He retired in 2003.

He has a bachelor’s degree in business operations from Rider University and currently serves on the board of directors for BayCare Health System, the Juvenile Welfare Board and CareerSource Pinellas.

Mikurak said his first bid for political office is about timing and bringing a businessman’s experience to the commission, not a criticism of Justice.

“I’ve spend my time working with other boards and community organizations and it was time for me to step up into a bigger role,” he said.

Mikurak said he wants to create jobs and foster economic development; improve communication between the county, the cities and the private sector; and focus on quality of life issues, especially access to health care. …

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Jim Norman officially files to run for Hillsborough County commissioner

It has long been rumored that former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman would once again make a play for office.

Today, those rumors became reality. Norman officially filed to run for the District 6 countywide seat as a Republican.

Norman, 61, was first elected to the county board in 1992 and went on to serve for 18 years. In 2010, he ran for state Senate and won, but two years later while running for re-election he pulled his name off the ballot amid a scandal involving an Arkansas property purchased by a friend and local developer. Norman didn't include it on his campaign disclosure forms; he contended the property was his wife's investment and he didn't know about it.

There's much more to Norman's history as a notable cog in nearly two decades of Hillsborough politics and government. Tampa Bay Times columnist Sue Carlton and researcher John Martin rehashed it in painstaking detail for today's paper. The whole thing is worth a read, especially the timeline at the bottom.

Controversies aside, there's something the story points out worth noting as Norman prepares for a comeback: He has never lost an election. …

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Tampa's Perfect Storm: A 36-foot storm surge

It's not probable, but, nevertheless, the latter-21st century scenario outlined in a new study by is terrifying. 

A tropical cyclone sweeps up Florida's westcoast, heading toward Tampa Bay. As it approaches, it churns waves off the Florida shelf, producing a surge of 36 feet as it turns sharply toward Tampa Bay.

By comparison, the observable storm surge of the 1921 hurricane that caused more than $10 million in damage (1921 dollars) was a mere 12.5 feet.  

The authors of the study, "Grey swan tropical cyclones", say the return probability for a storm with a surge of 12 feet in Tampa could be as little as 60 years, making Tampa Bay more than due to get swamped. (Ning Lin and Kerry Emanuel define grey swan as "tropical cyclones as high-impact storms that would not be predicted based on history but may be foreseeable using physical knowledge together with historical data.)

But 36 feet? Not likely. So, don't panic, just yet.






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Has downtown St. Pete soaked up enough TIF money?

Downtown St. Petersburg is the posterchild of urban renaissance in the Tampa Bay region. A burgeoning arts scene, restaurant and bar opening up almost weekly, high-rise condos now being joined by a flurry of upscale apartments.  And St. Petersburg One, 41-story downtown hotel and condo project on the horizon, hightlighting a bevy of new construction.

On Thursday, the City Council---meeting as the community redevelopment agency---is expected to approve another $20 million for downtown on the approach to the Pier. A newly-minted downtown waterfront master plan calls for tens of millions of more improvements. The money is coming from a tax-increment financing district created in 1982, when green benches and genial torpor were the calling cards for the Sunshine City. 

Maybe it's time to start thinking about how much money might be too much, especially as other areas in the city, notably south St. Petersburg, continue to struggle with poverty, crime and joblessness, says Karl Nurse, the council member representing downtown.  …

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In Florida, little Twitter love for tourists

Florida spends millions every year promoting the state as a tourist destination. That + sunshine has worked. When international tourists visit the U.S., the top three destinations are New York, Florida and California.

But such success doesn't necessarily impress Florida's residents, or at least those who express themselves on Twitter.

According to Stratos Jet Charters, Inc., Florida is one of the least welcoming states for tourists, according to the sentiments expressed on tourist-related tweets. The jet charter company geotagged tweets from June 1, 2014 to July 20, 2015 that contained #tourist, #tourists, tourist or tourists.

Florida was the eight least welcoming city, with a sentiment rating of -0.088. The least welcoming? Delaware, at -0.261, followed by Wyoming, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Georgia, Maryland and Oklahoma. The most welcoming? Illinois, with a sentiment rating of 0.438, followed by Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Nebraska, Alaska, Idaho, Arizona, Tennessee and Washington.

Florida ranked eighth in the highest rates of tweets telling tourists to leave.  

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Kriseman returns early from Cuba because of storm

Mayor Rick Kriseman's trip to Cuba ended early.

The mayor is heading back to St. Petersburg with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, City Council chairman Charlie Gerdes and Chief of Staff Kevin King this morning. They should be back in the city by lunchtime, said Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby.

Tropical Storm Erika is approaching Cuba and Kriseman has said that he would return early if severe weather threatened. Forecasts show the storm reaching Tampa Bay early Tuesday.

Kriseman's trip was to have ended Sunday. In Cuba, the group visited government officials, academics and cultural representatives.


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Interactive: Where does Tampa Bay rank in affordability?

It's been pretty clear for a pretty long time just how much of a joke the federal poverty line is.

In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau had it at $24,008 for a two-parent, two-child family. Like the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (which earns a full-time annual wage of $15,080), this doesn't come close to covering real world expenses, nor does it take into account the wild variations in cost of living expenses for different cities.

The Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank founded in 1986 to study the needs of low- and middle-income workers, this week provided a more accurate measure of what it truly costs to secure an "adequate but modest standard of living" in the United States, circa 2014. 

And it's fascinating.

EPI has estimated the income needed for housing, food, child care, transportation, health, other necessities (such as apparel, entertainment, personal care expenses, household supplies, school supplies, telephone services) and taxes for 10 family types (two parents, two kids; one parent, one kid; 1 adult, no kids, etc) for 618 specific U.S. communities.  …

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St. Petersburg grills wastewater staff on recent sewage dumps

It wasn't an easy first public appearance for Tom Gibson, the city's interim public works administrator.

Gibson replaced Mike Connors, who abruptly retired on Monday, after months of controversy, the most recent episode being the city's dumping of more than 16 million gallons into Tampa and Boca Ciega bays this month.

On Thursday, Gibson faced council members that demanded answers and solutions. Gibson and Water Resources Director Steve Leavitt held to their position that the dumping was due to an extraordinary weather event from mid-July to early August.

But several council members weren't buying that explanation. They wanted to know how much it would cost to fix leaky sewer pipes and manhole covers. 

The answer? At least $350 million dollars. 

Council member Karl Nurse said the city needs to raise its wastewater rates from a proposed 3.75 percent to 4.50 percent---that would raise about $350,000. 

He acknowledged that was a drop in the bucket. Even if the city doubled its efforts---already budgeted at about $4 million for next year---it would take 50 years to fix all the pipes, he said. …

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Tampa Bay Young Republicans elect all-female executive board

The 150-member Tampa Bay Young Republicans this week elected its first all-female executive board. Its members are:

• President Janine Kiray, who was re-elected to a second term. She is a Florida native, University of South Florida graduate and legislative assistant to state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. 

• Vice president Holly Holobyn, an Indiana native, Indiana University graduate and a casualty adjuster for USAA in Tampa. She previously was the group’s secretary.

• Treasurer Dana Gordon, a Florida native from Ocala and graduate of Vanderbilt University with a doctorate in clinical psychology who specializes in medical drug research and bio-medical device technology. 

• Secretary Sammy Jo Baker, a New Jersey native who received a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University-Maryland and a law degree from Ave Maria School of Law in Naples. She currently works as a Florida assistant attorney general in the agency’s child support enforcement unit.

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Kriseman, Gerdes and other St. Petersburg officials to visit Cuba

Mayor Rick Kriseman will visit Cuba, leaving early Thursday morning for three-day visit to the island.

Accompanying the mayor will be Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes and Kriseman's chief of staff Kevin King. 

The group will fly from Tampa to Havana on a chartered flight. The entire trip will be paid for by the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, said Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman.

In Cuba, the mayor will meet with government ministries, economic development officials and take a bus tour of the Plaza de la Revolucion.

 “I am excited about the opportunity to introduce St. Petersburg to the people of Cuba and to learn how our city and our residents can benefit from increased interaction between Cuba and America," said Kriseman in a statement.

The group will return on Sunday. 



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Dem congressional candidate Eric Lynn debuts campaign policy videos — or ads, by another name

He's still the only declared candidate in the 13th Congressional District and Democrat Eric Lynn is determined to claim his share of a political stage currently crowded with speculation about Charlie Crist's intentions.

On Wednesday, Lynn, whose campaign handlers who complained hasn't received adequate coverage from the media on policy issues, took matters — and some of his considerable war chest (more than $400,000) — into his own hands. 

His campaign released the first of a promised series of videos — which look, sound and feel like a campaign ad — on his positions. The video outlines his support of women's access to healthcare and equal pay. More on jobs, the economy and defense issues are on the way.

The 1 minute, 27 second spot has uplifting music and a close up of Lynn outlining his commitment to women's issues, including abortion rights and access to contraception. 

"These aren't women's issues, these are family issues," Lynn says.

You can watch the entire video on Lynn's campaign website.

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St. Petersburg moves to protect Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin speaks at press conference announcing plans to spend $1.1 million to acquire nearly 35 acres near Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Charlie Frago

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin speaks at press conference announcing plans to spend $1.1 million to acquire nearly 35 acres near Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

The hawk screeching and fluttering on the arm of a handler was the only one who wasn't seemingly thrilled Wednesday as city officials, environmental activists and Lakewood Estates residents cheered the news that the city has reached an agreement to buy nearly 35 acres in a thin band along the southern perimeter of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

The $1.1 million purchase is meant to ensure development---like a controversial town home plan a few years ago---won't threaten the sanctity of the preserve or the character of the neighborhood.

"It's a happy ending," said St. Petersburg Country Club president Mike Kiernan. "It means the golf course can't be developed-- ever."

Since the money will come from the Weeki-Wachee Fund, a pot of cash meant to enhance recreation and environmental activities, the City Council will have to approve the purchase. 

Council member Steve Kornell has pushed for an equitable solution for the financially-strapped country club, which had planned to sell part of its golf course to a developer, and the neighborhood and environmental activists who had opposed development near the 245-acre park. …

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Clerk's race in '16 could be repeat

The battle for Pasco County clerk of circuit court is shaping up to be a rematch of 2012, when no-party candidate Roberta Cutting challenged incumbent Republican Paula O’Neil.

Cutting filed her candidacy paperwork Monday. She ran in 2012, highlighting what she called wasteful spending on the part of O’Neil. Cutting also charged that O’Neil “sabotaged” her career by dismissing her after a weeklong stint in the clerk’s office. Cutting was a paralegal student at the time.

O’Neil, who has held the post since winning it in 2008, filed her candidacy paperwork on May 27. Her campaign had raised $6,255 as of July 31, most of the money coming from attorney donations and a bundled contribution from businesses tied to funeral home director Thomas Dobies.

Financial records for Cutting’s campaign will not be available until the end of August.

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