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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

New Hillsborough County web site features Tampa Bay Rays in rotating photo panel

Hillsborough County's newer, slicker web site includes something a bit provocative. 

The site includes a dominant photographic image that changes with each visit. We refreshed it several times and three different images came up. One features the iconic spires of the University of Tampa administrative building. Another features the University of South Florida.

And the third? The Tampa Bay Rays team store. Yes, the one in downtown Tampa that sells gear for the baseball team that plays in St. Petersburg.

Not Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Not the Tampa Bay Times Forum downtown or even Steinbrenner Field, the spring training location of the New York Yankees next to Ray Jay.

This from a county government whose elected leaders keep making googly eyes at the Rays, whose owners say they want out of Tropicana Field. That's going to go over well across the bay.  


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Hillsborough County to roll out new web site

Hillsborough County government has been working for many months on a redesign of its web site that could be described politely as overdue.

The new web site goes live sometime shortly after 5 p.m. today.

The revamp is supposed to make it easier for the public to conduct business with the county and to find relevant information about the services it provides. 

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Both parties scrambling candidates to challenge embattled Hillsborough County Property Appraiser

The push is on to replace Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner in the wake of his porn sending scandal.

Republican leaders in all wings of the party report that they are actively recruiting candidates to challenge him in the Aug. 14 primary. Democrats, too, are seeing an opportunity to mount a campaign for the seat that has been held by Turner for 16 years.

Former Democratic State Rep. Bob Henriquez, who was said to be fielding recruiting calls for another State House run, confirmed he is "seriously considering" announcing his candidacy. He said the recruiting calls have shifted in recent days amid revelations that Turner sent dozens of pornographic emails to his former human resources director then fired her as the news was about to break.

"It's disheartening and tragic what's going on with Rob," Henriquez said. "At the same time, it creates an opportunity."

There is already an announced Democrat in the race, newcomer James DeMio, a real estate broker, as well as a candidate running without party affiliation, Rob Townsend. …

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Dunedin banking on surplus property sales for extra revenue

DUNEDIN -- Nearly two dozen unused city-owned properties are almost ready to go on the market.

The Dunedin City Commission last week gave city staff the go-ahead to obtain appraisals, identify buyers and eventually bring back sale contracts for final commission approval.

City officials hope to generate revenue by returning the 22 surplus properties, ranging in size from 500 to 10,000 square feet, to the city's tax rolls.

Officials said the parcels won't be ready for sale until appraisals are complete, which will take at least another six weeks. Check out information posted on the city's website here.

--Keyonna Summers, Times Staff Writer

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Sales tax lag prompts Dunedin to pare Penny capital project plans

DUNEDIN -- The city is paring down its list of capital projects in hopes of warding off a projected deficit of nearly $7.8 million in expected Penny for Pinellas funds by the time the sales tax program ends in 2020.

Since 1990, the Penny program has distributed revenues from a 1-cent sales tax among cities and the county to reduce reliance on property taxes to pay for capital improvements, including roads, bridges and parks, as well as preservation land purchases.

But because of the sluggish economy, Dunedin finance director Jeff Yates said the Penny program has been generating only about $2.7 million annually for Dunedin instead of the projected $3.4 million-a trend expected to continue through at least 2015. Furthermore, he said, there's no guarantee county voters will renew the program after 2020, so it's best to start seeking alternative funding sources now.

Alternative sources to be explored this budget season include the general fund, which is an operations fund the city used before Penny for Pinellas existed; the gas tax fund; or - to the dismay of at least one commissioner, Julie Ward Bujalski - new revenue that could be generated by raising the city's property tax rate. …

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Tampa domestic partnership registry starts June 25

Tampa's domestic partnership registry -- the first created in the Tampa Bay area -- will be opened for registration at 9 a.m. June 25, Mayor Bob Buckhorn announced Thursday.

"As mayor, I welcome this new opportunity to ensure that all citizens of the City of Tampa have the same basic rights and to spread our spirit of inclusiveness," Buckhorn said in a statement announcing the start. "This is a community that treats everyone with dignity. We are a city that celebrates our diversity as a strength."

To register, couples should go to the City Clerk's office on the third floor of Old City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd. Registrants cannot make an appointment to register, and both partners must be present to register. The proposed registration fee is $30.

For the first two weeks, from June 25 to July 6, registration will be from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Starting July 9, registration hours will be from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Full report here.

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Prominent Republican donor and campaigner calls on Turner to resign

Republican businessman Sam Rashid, a prominent backer of political campaigns, was among the first Tuesday to urge Hillsborough County Property Rob Turner to resign after his admission he sent dozens of pornographic emails to his former human resources director. Rashid issued his call in a comment string attached to the electronic version of a Times story about Turner's pornographic emails.

Rashid confirmed in an interview that he made the comment.

“This guy would be fired in any conventional job,” said Rashid, who supported Turner’s first run for office in 1996. “If he doesn’t quit, he’ll be a complete embarrassment to his party and to local politicians in his party.”

Rashid added he’ll be disappointed if the local party doesn’t ask him to quit. Hillsborough County Republican Party Chairman Art Wood said he would like to let the situation cool before commenting, considering Turner and his wife, Donna, are friends. …

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Pinellas County commissioner Neil Brickfield schedules fundraiser

A fundraiser to re-elect Neil Brickfield to the Pinellas County Commission is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday (May 21) at the Island Way Grill, 20 Island Way, Clearwater. RSVP to [email protected]. Among the sponsors of the event are state Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, former Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard as well as Scott Sanford and Jim Millican. Sanford and Millican are firefighters who submitted a plan to the county to change the emergency medical services system to one in which firefighters take patients to the hospital.

Brickfield, 49, a Republican, is running for his second term for Seat 1, one of the three at-large seats on the commission. He is a Safety Harbor resident and served on that city's commission from 2000-2004. He is married and has three children.

He is opposed in the November election by Democrat Janet Long, 67, a former member of the state House of Representatives and of the Seminole City Council.

Brickfield's website is

-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

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'La Setima' name change could create memorabilia

Tampa City Council members moved forward Thursday with the decision to change the name of the street now known as "La Sétima" to "La Séptima," but not before Council member Charlie Miranda made a proposal to reduce the cost of the change:

Offer the old signs for sale.

"I think you'll be surprised what someone will pay for an old sign," he said. "If, legally, I can be a bidder, I will bid."

Last week, the council decided to change the Spanish secondary name for Seventh Avenue, the Latin Quarter's main strip, from La Sétima to La Séptima, which supporters say is a more accurate and commonly regarded Spanish spelling for "The Seventh." Changing the street signs on about 10 blocks in Ybor City will cost an estimated $2,000.

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Murman suggests RNC will draw prostitutes

Sandra Murman probably wants a do-over on this one. 

The Republican Hillsborough County commissioner asked board support for a local effort to crack down on human trafficking. She set up her sales pitch by noting that the Republican National Convention in coming to town.

"Conventions like this, they bring in large numbers of prositutes," Murman said.

Fellow commissioner Les Miller, a Democrat, gleefully ribbed her, asking if she was admitting that the RNC draws prostitutes.

"Not RNC," Murman said. "Conventions (generally) draw large numbers of prostitutes."


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Les Miller wants to know if Hillsborough County can audit independent Children's Board

Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller asked the county attorney Wednesday for a legal opinion on whether the county can order an audit of the Children's Board.

The Children's Board of Hillsborough County has been in the spotlight recently for handing out no-bid contracts to companies with relationships with that board's employees. Scrutiny began after CEO Luanne Panacek had a friend spread holy oil around the office after a particularly contentious meeting with her board.

Miller asked acting county attorney Don Odom whether the county could conduct a management and financial audit of the agency.

The Children's Board is actually a separate government from the county's, with its own board of directors and property tax, money from which it controls. It grants money to social service groups that provide programs for children.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the county's appointee to the Children's Board, says he has already asked a similar question of the Clerk of the Circuit Court's office, which performs audits for the county now. He was told that the county could offer to pay for an audit, but that the Children's Board would have to accept the outside scrutiny.


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Hillsborough commissioners talking baseball again

Sorry for the cheap ploy. No, Hillsborough County commissioners were not talking about the Tampa Bay Rays, this time.

But the board did approve providing land to relocate the former home of former baseball player and manager Al Lopez so it can be turned into a baseball museum.

The house is currently located at 1210 E 12th Ave. and was acquired by the Florida Department of Transportation as part of the widening of Interstate 4.

The DOT is proposing to relocate the home at a cost approaching $100,000 to the northeast corner of 9th Avenue and 19th St., near the Ybor City Museum. The Ybor City Museum Society would take ownership and anticipates raising as much as $175,000 to restore the building and renovate it to be used as a museum.

The museum will include exhibits featuring the 11 Tampa residents who have gone on to play for Major League Baseball, from Steve Garvey to Tino Martinez and Lou Piniella. It will also celebrate past baseball teams that have been located here, such as the former minor league Tampa Smokers. …

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Pension fund manager goes after Kevin White for early payout he collected

Another governmental agency is trying to get money back from former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White.

The State Board of Administration filed suit against White earlier this month seeking $68,436 he withdrew from a retirement account after leaving office in 2010.

Under Florida statutes, public employees convicted of certain crimes, including bribery, are subject to forfeiting their retirement benefits. White, 47, a Democrat, was convicted of seven federal charges in November 2011, including that he accepted bribes from tow truck drivers seeking favors while he was on the County Commission.

“Plaintiff has therefore forfeited his right to his Investment Plan funds due to his felony conviction of the crimes...committed within the course and scope of his employment with the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners,” the lawsuit reads.

In other words, the SBA, which oversees the state’s investments, including the retirement accounts of public employees, says White must return the early payout.

White is still waiting to learn when he must report to prison to begin serving a three-year sentence for his conviction on bribery and other counts. …

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Victor Crist is a dad

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist is a dad for the first time at age 54.

Sophia Victoria Crist was born at 7:57 a.m. Friday, about eight weeks early, at St. Joseph's Women's Hospital, where she will remain for a few weeks yet. She weighed in at 5 lbs. even and stretched 17 inches.

"Mama's home," Crist said of his wife, Angela Severino-Crist, 37. "Baby is stable and I'm looking forward to being a dad."

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Norman aide signs plea agreement in tax case

An aide to state Sen. Jim Norman has reached a plea agreement in the federal tax case against him.

Terms of the agreement between aide Ben Kelly and the U.S. Attorney’s office have not yet been disclosed. Kelly’s attorney, Todd Foster, and U.S. Attorney Robert O’Neill, said they could not provide details until the agreement is finalized. That should happen by the end of the month, both said.

Kelly faces five misdemeanor counts of failing to file tax returns from 2006 to 2010. The charges spun off from a federal investigation of the 2006 purchase by Norman’s wife of a lakefront Arkansas home with the help of $500,000 from a long-time campaign supporter of her husband’s.

Kelly was an aide to Norman, R-Tampa, for most of his 18-year tenure as a Hillsborough County commissioner, which ended in 2010. He also worked on his election campaigns and joined Norman’s staff when he was elected to the Senate that same year.

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