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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hillsborough Commission candidate taps Leap Day for dollars

One of the candidates seeking to unseat Democrat Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner is using today's calendar quirk to raise campaign dough. Republican Steve Cona has put out a fundraising appeal asking supporters to donate $29 to his campaign in honor of Feb. 29. He says 29 donations in that amount will enable him to reach 1,600 potential voters.

"There are four years until the next leap day," wrote Cona in an email appeal echoed on Facebook and Twitter. "Let's make sure we don't have to spend them with Kevin Beckner as our County Commissioner."

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Hillsborough County hires new economic development director

Hillsborough County on Tuesday announced the hiring of a new economic development director who formerly held a similar job for the city of St. Petersburg.

Ron Barton most recently was the executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission from 2005 until he was sacked in August as part of a larger house clearing by that city's mayor, Alvin Brown. In a memo to department directors and economic development employees, Hillsborough County Chief Financial Officer Bonnie Wise said Barton was responsible in Jacksonville for efforts that lead to $514 million in capital investment from the private sector and the creation of 6,400 jobs.

A Jacksonville Times-Union story said his departure had been anticipated after the mayor there ordered a review of economic development efforts. Barton was hired by former Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton.

Before Jacksonville, Barton worked for four years as the city of St. Petersburg's director of economic development and property management under former Mayor Rick Baker. He was credited with several development projects, particularly in the city's struggling Midtown area. …

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Brickfield puts on Pinellas fundraiser

Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield has a fundraiser Wednesday night tonight with a host committee made up of some top GOP brass. The 5:30 p.m.  event is at Bascom's Chop House.

On the Republican's host committee: Pinellas Republican Party Chairman J.J. Beyrouti, Nick DiCeglie, Jim Holton, Alan Suskey, House candidate and South Pasadena Mayor Kathleen Peters, Tony DiMatteo, John Little, Joel Giles, Joe Ayoub and Brian Shuford.

Brickfield is unopposed, but he and fellow Republican at-large Commissioner Nancy Bostock expect to be challenged by Democratic former lawmakers Janet Long and Charlie Justice.

"I am preparing myself for an election campaign that’s going to be exciting," was all Brickfield would say.

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Former Beckner aide says he's eyeing a run for office, but won't say which one

Mark Nash, a former aide to Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, confirmed part of the speculation that has him considering a run for office. But he won't say which one.

Talk has him looking at a bid for the District 4 County Commission seat currently held by Al Higginbotham, who is seeking reelection. And Nash, a Democrat, just recently moved from Tampa to the Lithia area. He grew up in Brandon. 

He wouldn't take the bait, discussing a variety of political offices in play this election season. But he said he'd be making an announcement soon.

"I’m looking at the whole landscape, but my interests have been local," Nash said.

A run for the District 4 seat would be a challenge for any Democrat, since it takes in much of eastern and southern Hillsborough County, which tilts heavily in Republicans' favor. Whatever he's considering, Nash says he's been looking at the numbers and sees a path to victory. …

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Dunedin citizens group wants Alt. U.S. 19 rerouted off Edgewater Drive

DUNEDIN -- A recent Times story about a citizen advisory group that wants Alt. U.S. 19 rerouted off Edgewater Drive has drawn quite a bit of chatter from residents who want the scenic route to stay just the way it is.

The bid is part of the Edgewater Drive Advisory Committee's long-term improvement and preservation plan for a nearly mile-long stretch of road between President and Union streets.

Ideas include trimming the mangroves that threaten to block the public's view of the waterfront, adding multiple beautification and safety features to the city's Edgewater Linear Park, and updating city codes to reinforce things like maximum building heights and how close to the street developers can build.

The group's report also contains its longtime push for the city to purchase and raze a 12,000-square-foot unfinished shell of a home that they say blights the waterfront. (Dunedin officials have repeatedly said they can't afford to purchase the property at 570 Edgewater Drive). …

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Jim Norman faces another primary challenger in Senate reelection bid

Rob Wallace, a former state representative, has announced his intention to challenge state Sen. Jim Norman this year.

Republican party officials chose Wallace to replace Norman in the 2010 election when a judge threw him off the ballot for failing to disclose a a lakefront Arkansas home his wife bought four years earlier using a $500,000 gift from one of her husband's regular campaign backers. Norman, R-Tampa, was serving as a Hillsborough County commissioner when the gift was given. The ruling was quickly overturned on appeal, putting Norman back on the ballot and ending Wallace’s candidacy after just 61 minutes.

Norman pleaded guilty last week to state ethics charges over his failure to disclose the home and gift from late businessman Ralph Hughes, who regularly appeared before the County Commission, and is waiting to find out how or if his fellow senators will punish him. The gift was also the subject of a federal criminal investigation that has since been dropped.

Now Wallace, 59, wants a legitimate shot to oust Norman, who also faces Republican activist and homeland security consultant John Korsak for the District 15 seat. …

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UPDATED: Welch looking for a new campaign consultant

UPDATE: Kates updates that he's involved in parliamentary (prime minister) elections in the republic.

Campaign consultant Mitch Kates' departure isn't just affecting a Hillsborough County campaign -- Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch has to do some human resources work for his re-election effort too.

 Kates left last week for the republic of Georgia to help run a presidential campaign, said Welch, who had hired Kates to be a consultant on his re-election. Kates had several connections that led to the work, which will last through October. He didn't immediately return e-mail seeking comment.

"It’s a great opportunity for Mitch," said Welch, a Democrat.


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Updated: Kevin Beckner campaign now hiring

**Update: Kates sent word via Facebook that he's working in a parliamentary election.

Democrat Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner is looking for a new campaign manager for his reelection bid, but says it's no big thing.

His campaign manager from his first go-around in 2008, Mitch Kates, has left the country to work on what he describes as a parliamentary election in the former Soviet nation of Georgia. He left a week ago. (Funny aside: Kates posted on his Facebook page that one of the first bits of graffiti he saw after arriving in Tbilisi, that nation's capital, said "Eminem.")

Anyway, Beckner said he and Kates had already sketched out an election campaign plan before Kates left. Beckner is facing challenges from two active Republicans candidates, Steve Cona and Margaret Iuculano. He's in the process of interviewing people to replace Kates.

"It means very little in terms of the strategy and direction our campaign will be going," Beckner said. "We have already laid the groundwork. We have a good grassroots structure and network in place."

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Tampa in August called 'wretched' choice for Republican National Convention

Looking ahead to this summer's Repubilcan National Convention, Reno News & Review columnist Bruce Van Dyke contends that Tampa -- at least in late August -- is "one of North America's most truly wretched cities."

Van Dyke writes:

If you haven’t heard, our political pachyderms are gonna gather this year from August 27-30 in one of North America’s most truly wretched cities—Tampa, Fla.

Wretched, that is, when you’re talking about late August. ,,, I recently chatted with an old Floridian who lived for years in the Tampa-St. Pete area. she reports that “Tampa in August is basically Hell on Earth.” Meaning, of course, the heat. Meaning the humidity. Especially the bleepity bleep humidity. There are probably more showers taken in the month of August in Tampa than in the other 11 months combined. If we ever send astronauts to Venus, they will likely go to Tampa for late August training. …

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Democrat announces challenge to Bill Young

From our sister blog the Buzz: Jessica Ehrlich, 38, an attorney who has bipartisan experience, announces Monday she will challenge longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores.

“It’s time for Washington to stop its petty arguing and get down to the serious business of creating jobs, investing in our future, and improving the lives of all Americans,” Ehrlich, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I have worked with both Democrats and Republicans in Washington, and I know what’s possible when our representatives put the good of the American people before partisanship."

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Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni gets good news about his health

Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni got some great news from his doctors Tuesday - the chemotherapy appears to be beating his cancer.

"The tumor is shrinking. I really needed some positive news," Morroni said Wednesday. "This has really been rough. ... We left ecstatic that there is nothing but great news."

Morroni, 57, who was treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2008, found out late last year that his cancer had returned. Soon after, he began the first phase of intensive chemotherapy, which ended Tuesday. The second round was scheduled to begin Thursday (Feb. 23). Morroni will undergo further tests when that round is finished in a few weeks, but he said he's optimistic that the news will be good. 

"I know that the treatment is working," he said. "It's shrinking and we're full speed ahead for Phase II."

Morroni said he's been overwhelmed at the outpouring of support.

"I have so many cards ... and emails, there's no way I can get to everybody," he said. …

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Tampa council asks for ordinance creating city domestic partner registry

Tampa City Council members voted Thursday morning to ask the city's lawyers to draft an ordinance that would establish a domestic partner registry for  the city.

Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin suggested the ordinance, which she said should be based on a similar ordinance in Orlando. There, the ordinance recognizes the rights of registered domestic partners to, among other things, visit their partners in the hospital and decide on how their partner's body will be disposed of after death. It is administered by the city clerk, who charges registrants a $30 fee, she said.

Council members, with Charlie Miranda, Frank Reddick and Lisa Montelione absent at the vote, voted unanimously to ask the legal department to look at Orlando's ordinance and prepare a draft to be presented at 9 a.m. March 15.

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Tampa joins Hillsborough County in pioneering joint software purchase

A day after a similar vote at the Hillsborough County Commission, Tampa City Council members Thursday unanimously approved a pioneering city-county purchase of a major software operating system.

The $34.2 million Oracle software system will be used for budgeting, finance and human resources. The city's share of the contract is about $15.3 million. Officials say they expect the new system to save taxpayers an estimated $6.5 million and make it easier to keep, organize, retrieve, use and analyze data.

"We've all been frustrated when we've been asked to provide information, data, historical analyses and our system just can't do that," city chief of staff Santiago Corrada told council members. "This is really a solution that will revolutionize our technology and our ability to make efficient and timely business decisions."

The purchase follows years of sometimes testy relations between city and county officials, but it may not be the last of its kind. Tampa and Hillsborough officials have said they also are exploring whether to merge elements of minority and small-business contracting, purchasing and fleet maintenance.

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Hillsborough commissioners return to fractious form

It was supposed to be a day in which they celebrated their newfound collegial manner.

Then the smoke monster returned to the Hillsborough County Commission chambers Wednesday.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner proposed that commissioners make what he acknowledged was a symbolic gesture: Pledge that, if there's ever a need again to cut employees salaries or benefits, commissioners take the same relative hit. But after making his case several times that a policy to that effect would show leadership, he failed to muster a second.

Sandra Murman offered a separate proposal to let commissioners cut their salaries if they so choose, which a recent state law and the county's charter already allow. Chairman Ken Hagan seconded that idea.

Then Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who was on a bathroom break, returned to say he would support Beckner's original proposal. Hagan and Commissioner Les Miller had the board's parliamentarian confirm that, under Roberts Rules of Order, neither Beckner nor Higginbotham could put forward the original motion since it had already died.

"Parliamentary trickery at its finest," Beckner said.

"It's not parliamentary trickery," Miller shot back. "It's following the rules." …

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No big-time mass transit in Tampa? Not an issue, RNC host committee president says

For fans of public transportation, Tampa Bay’s lack of big-time mass transit – a couple of county bus agencies, yes, but no rail, less-than-abundant connections between counties and a downtown Tampa streetcar on a short track – is a source of embarrassment.

But for the organizers of the Republican National Convention, it’s not a big factor.

“We don’t move a lot of people through mass transit,” Tampa Bay Host Committee president Ken Jones told a lunch meeting of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association.

During the lunch, held at the University Club, Jones was asked how planning for the convention has been affected by the lack of a large mass transit system in Tampa Bay .

It hasn’t, he said, adding that the convention has hired SP Plus Gameday of Orlando to run a fleet of charter buses needed to carry 5,000 delegates, alternates and guests around Tampa Bay .

“This is a very bus-driven event, so we’ll have 300-plus charter buses to move all these delegates from their hotels to the Tampa Bay Times Forum to the art museum for an event, then back to the hotel,” Jones said. …

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