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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Electric Fence has political jolt in St. Petersburg



The electric fence around Tibbetts Lumber Co. has been unplugged for months. Politically, though, the lumberyard partially owned by powerful State Sen. Jeff Brandes is still buzzing.

Last month, the St. Petersburg City Council twice nixed a plan to change city code to allow the juice to be turned back on for the 10-foot electric fence around the lumberyard at 3300 Fairfield Ave S.

The fence was too near a sidewalk used by Gibbs High School students and other residents, several council members said.

They also didn't like that Tibbetts had erected the fence in violation of city code. The venerable company, in business since the 1940s, was never fined. Its code violation case was put on hold while the drive to change city code was underway.

But this week, a tweaked proposal revived in committee. And one council member, Karl Nurse, wonders if Brandes or his family isn't part of the reason.

"Clearly, the fact that it's a piece of property owned by one of the richest, if not the richest, families in town has gotten it fast-tracked through the system," said Nurse. "Someone violates one of our ordinances. And instead of that ordinance being enforced, it's put on hold while the staff works on a solution."

Tibbetts' electric fence is the only one in the city. One reason for that is because the city currently bans electrified fences. On Thursday, a council committee heard a proposal from staff to create a buffer between the fence and the sidewalk for that fence and any others that come along in the future. The measure now heads back to council.

Council member Wengay Newton had been strongly opposed to the non-lethal electric fence when it first came to council in July. But, he said this week, a tour of the lumberyard and a talk with an official there changed his mind. An attempt to reach Newton and clarify who he met with was not immediately successful.

Another council member Steve Kornell, who voted against the fence, said he could live with the amended plan at the committee meeting.

"I'm happy with the buffer. And, honestly, there weren't enough no votes to stop it. I think we did the best we could," Kornell said after the meeting. He said Brandes never contacted him. Nor did Brandes' stake in the company had no bearing on his decision to drop his opposition.

Brandes didn't return calls to his office or cell phone. Senate financial disclosure records filed in June indicate that he is a shareholder with a $180,198 stake in the business.




[Last modified: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 12:19pm]


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