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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Dunedin to roll out mandatory curbside recycling program by October

DUNEDIN -- Commissioners last week gave city staff the green light to push forward with plans to transition to once-weekly trash pickup by 2014.

To get things moving, the city in October will roll out a free recycling program to allow residents to see for themselves how a recycling bin reduces their trash can volume.

The goal of a weekly trash pickup is to reduce costs for things like fuel, worker's compensation and truck maintenance, as well as to help Pinellas County preserve its landfill, which is anticipated to reach capacity in approximately 2080.

Citywide curbside recycling is "something our residents have been asking for for many years," said Dunedin sustainability coordinator Valerie Brown. "We're finally able to give it to them."

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All atwitter over Ken Welch's tweets

The flap began at Tuesday's (April 24) meeting of the Pinellas County Commission when board members were confronted by a standing room only crowd that mostly opposed a change to development rules in the downtown Palm Harbor historical district. Since then the fuss has extended to a flurry of emails between angry constituents and political opponents and commissioner Ken Welch.

At Tuesday's meeting, those opposing the change had no trouble expressing anger and disdain for Pinellas commissioners when asking that they reject the proposal to allow transfers of development rights in the Palm Harbor district.  The opponents argued, among other things, that the change was unconstitutional and would deprive them of private property rights. Some also alleged that the change was part of a plot by the United Nations to take over property and the government. Some of those people referred to Agenda 21, a UN action plan having to do with sustainability that it has urged member nations to adopt at both the national and local levels.

But the real vitriole was unleashed after the first vote on the measure passed 5-1 with Norm Roche being the lone vote against the proposal. …

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'Stand your ground' law safe in Pinellas County

Don't expect a push to repeal the so-called "stand your ground" law to come from Pinellas County.

Nine of the county's state lawmakers were put on the spot at Wednesday's Tiger Bay luncheon at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater.

St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton asked, in light of the February shooting death of Trayvon Martin, do lawmakers plan on repealing the so-called "stand your ground" law that passed in 2005 and could be used in the defense of George Zimmerman?

Despite reams of evidence to the contrary, most of the lawmakers said the law doesn't apply in the case.

"The media has done a horrible job in reporting this," said Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg. "The law doesn't come close to applying."

"I don't think 'stand your ground' applied in this situation," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg. "A person should be able to defend themselves."

Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Palm Harbor, Rep. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, Rep. Larry Ahern, R-St. Petersburg, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater agreed with Rouson and Frishe. …

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St. Petersburg Council Chair Leslie Curran said she will fill leadership void left by Foster

ST. PETERSBURG -- Council Chair Leslie Curran objected to the characterization that she wasn't providing leadership on the issue of finding new revenue for next year's budget, which has an estimated shortfall of $13 million.

While Mayor Bill Foster has yet to endorse a new source, Curran said she will support either an increase in the property tax rate or a flat fee of between $5 and $10 month on properties in the city to pay for fire service.

"We can't afford to go another year without doing it," Curran said Wednesday. "We need to step up and do the right thing."

The budget was just another example where Foster has ceded the issue of what to do to the council, Curran said.

"Foster is almost a non-entity," Curran said, who says she is undecided on whether she will challenge him for reelection next year. "But I think it's obvious that council will have to decide what to do because he won't."

She said Foster followed the council's lead on the major issues that have confronted the city since he took office in 2010. She named the panhandling ordinance, the homeless issue, and extending bar hours until 3 a.m. as examples of how Foster defers to council. …

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AT&T is RNC's official wireless provider

And for today's "official RNC such-and-such," we bring you AT&T, which will serve as the convention's official wireless provider.

We told you earlier this month about how wireless providers AT&T and Verizon are making multimillion-dollar upgrades in the area around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa Convention Center and hotels. 

AT&T will go further, providing additional voice and data communication services, in addition to facilitating a text-messaging campaign that allows users to receive breaking news alerts about the August event.

To sign up for the alerts, which will include convention speakers and a schedule of daily events, text "convention" to 99000.

Previously announced infrastructure improvements include what's known as DAS technology, or distributed antenna system. Such setups consist of a series of small antennas that are placed throughout a venue, then networked to increase capacity and coverage. It's like having a series of miniature cell towers throughout the building, each servicing small areas of the venue. These systems carry voice, 3G and 4G LTE data. …

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Broad BB gun ban looks likely in Dunedin

DUNEDIN -- A victory seems likely for wildlife activists, courtesy of commissioners who gave preliminary approval Thursday night to a new measure banning BB guns not just in city parks but on all public property.

If the ordinance is approved after a second public hearing and final vote May 3, violators could face hundreds of dollars in daily code enforcement or court fines.

The issue was raised this winter by residents who complained that a group of older teens used a pellet gun to kill two Muscovy ducks at Lake Paloma, potentially endangering homes and other wildlife in the western Dunedin neighborhood north of downtown.

Sheriff's deputies said their hands were tied because Muscovies are considered an unprotected nuisance species and no laws against firing air guns existed. (More details here.) The shooters had said they intended to eat the birds.

Dunedin's public safety committee recommended adding BB gun language to city codes. Saying they didn't want to outlaw target practice on private property, the group proposed the ban for city parks only. …

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RNC names Microsoft 'official innovation provider'

In another effort to ensure top-notch technology at the Republican National Convention, organizers on Thursday announced that Microsoft will be the "official innovation provider" of the Aug 27-30 event.  

That means the company will provide "a host of pioneering Microsoft solutions," including video communication technology through Skype and services through Microsoft Office programs. 

"Technology is changing the way we plan and conduct conventions," said convention chief executive officer William Harris, who has helped manage three conventions. "We are working with Microsoft to identify new ways to improve the convention experience for not only attendees in Tampa, but interested individuals across the country."

-- Kim Wilmath, Times Staff Writer

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Former Pinellas Park mayor asks county commisstion to step in to keep Rays in Pinellas

PINELLAS PARK -- Bill Mischler may have retired last month as mayor of this city but he's not fading into the sunset. He sent Pinellas County commissioners an email Monday titled "Need to step up to the plate." The "plate" is the silent standoff between St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays over the team's future home.

Mischler's email was sent just two days before the Hillsborough County Commission voted to have their attorney tell them if it's legal for them to talk to the Rays while the contract governing the team's commitment to St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field is in effect. Commissioners said they want to keep the Rays in the region.

Mischler wants to keep them in Pinellas -- especially in mid-county, which just happens to be where Pinellas Park is located:  …

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Hillsborough Commissioners ask attorney to advise them on talking with the Rays

Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday asked their attorney to tell them, effectively, if they can dance with St. Petersburg’s date.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to ask Interim County Attorney Don Odom to review the contract that governs the Tampa Bay Rays’ commitment to the city of St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field. They want to know whether they can talk to team owners about how long they intend to keep playing there and to see what can be done to ensure the Rays stay in the region.

Or would such an entreaty amount to "tortious interference" in someone else’s business dealings, as St. Petersburg officials have said? A form of meddling St. Petersburg City Attorney John Wolfe has said would leave the meddlers "individually" liable for monetary damages?

"I do not believe the agreement prevents discussion with the Rays about their future," said Ken Hagan, who initiated the question.

Hagan said he’s reviewed the agreement. But he’s not a lawyer, so he wants one to advise him. He gave no timeline but expressed frustration that since he first made overtures about the team two years ago, there’s been little movement. …

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Hillsborough County commits $2 million to USF heart institute

Hoping to help make Tampa a hotbed for genomics research, Hillsborough County commissioners awarded up to $2 million for a new heart institute at the University of South Florida Wednesday.

The vote came a day after Gov. Rick Scott approved giving USF $6.9 million in state tax money toward the initial design of the USF Health Heart Institute. USF officials are hoping for another $42 million in state money next year toward construction of 100,000-square-foot center employing at least 56 people making an average $76,000 annually.

Commissioners hope that, combined with other genomics and medical labs and hospitals, the heart institute will help create spinoff jobs and build the region's reputation as a hub for the biosciences.

"I think you'll see this be an economic engine," said Dr. Les Miller, chair of the department of cardiovascular sciences at USF Health. …

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Hillsborough County Commission recognizes USF president with good government award

Interesting timing, this.

Fresh off her battle with the legislature and state Sen. J.D. Alexander, University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft picked up a special recognition Wednesday.

Hillsborough County commissioners presented Genshaft with their annual Ellsworth G. Simmons Good Government Award, though the legislative battle was not mentioned as the official justification. Instead, Chairman Ken Hagan talked about the university's growth, the distinctions that USF has picked up nationally and the school's importance to the region as an economic engine.

However, some of the other commissioners alluded to the past legislative session. That's the one where Alexander succeeded in winning support to split off USF's Lakeland campus as a separate university and threatened to dramatically cut the funding for its other campuses.

"I think it is so timely that you receive this award now because, as the public watched and as the state watched what was moving forward through the state legislature, I think you're a shining example to show how and individual can stand up and promote good government versus bad politics," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner. …

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Ken Welch qualifies to run for fourth term on Pinellas County commission

ST. PETERSBURG - Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch has gathered the 1,513 signed petitions required to qualify for the November election. 

Welch said he was pleased to have gotten the signatures so quickly.

 “It’s important that Pinellas county residents have a voice in this process, and I’m honored that so many residents of this county have shown their support for my re-election campaign," he said. "I’m proud to serve my hometown and am looking forward to the next few months of this campaign.”  
Welch, a Democrat.  has served on the represented Pinellas County’s District 7 since 2000. He is facing opposition from fellow Democrat Maria L. Scruggs and Republican William "Buck" Walz.

District 7 encompasses most of St. Petersburg, Lealman, Gulfport, South Pasadena,  Kenneth City, and parts of Pinellas Park.

-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

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Hagan to seek legal opinion on whether he can chat with Tampa Bay Rays about team's future in the region

Ken Hagan says the stadium lease agreement between the city of St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays doesn't prevent another government from engaging in talks with the team about its future in the region.

But to be sure, the Hillsborough County Commission chairman will ask permission from his fellow board members to have their attorney research the issue and report back. He'll make the request during the commission's regular meeting Wednesday.

Hagan says he informed St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster of his intentions during a meeting Monday. He would only say the discussion was "cordial," as per an agreement between the two to keep the substance of their conversation between them.

"I'm not an attorney," Hagan said. "That's why I want the county attorney to look into it and come back with the do's and don't. It's been stated that you cannot have any discussion. I do not believe the use agreement states that."

Hagan said from his reading, it's clear it would be problematic for other governments or private players to enter into negotiations with the team about relocating. …

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Dunedin affordable homes plan a go

DUNEDIN -- An affordable housing project aimed at promoting home ownership is finally back on track, five years after the sagging economy brought planning for the project to a halt.

Pending the approval of permits, developers hope to break ground on the 25 environmentally friendly townhomes in July.

The mixed-income development, dubbed the Lorraine Leland project, will be built on the northeast and southeast corners of Douglas Avenue and Lorraine Leland Street, on 2.95 acres formerly occupied by Highlander Village, a Dunedin Housing Authority public housing complex that closed in 2002.

The housing authority, city of Dunedin and Pinellas County's Housing Finance Authority partnered on the project in 2007, expecting to break ground the following year.

Unfortunately, officials say, that was right around the same time that the economy soured and home mortgage lending dried up.

"There was no financing for potential buyers, and without buyers, it doesn't make sense to build it and just let it sit," said Sam Moore, director of projects for Planet Green Group, the Largo development firm that will build and sell the units. …

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Foursquare scavenger hunt to boost Mayor Bob Buckhorn's plan for downtown Tampa

Heads up, Foursquare fans.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will kick off a Foursquare scavenger hunt at 2:30 p.m. today at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and will later proclaim the winner the "Foursquare Mayor of Tampa."

The event, which begins on the Riverwalk at the park, is partly to recognize April 16 as "Foursquare Day," which was founded in Tampa by Nathan Bonilla-Warford in 2010.

Buckhorn also will use the event to introduce a city initiative that integrates the social networking site's geographic check-ins with the city's new effort to engage residents, neighborhoods and business owners to help write a master plan for downtown Tampa.

The project, known as InVision Tampa, is meant to come up with design guidelines, amenities and connections between downtown and areas like Ybor City, the Channel District, Tampa Heights and North Hyde Park. Its study area goes from downtown to Ybor City on the east, Armenia Avenue on the west, and north along Nebraska Avenue to Hillsborough Avenue. …

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