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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hillsborough parks referendum dies quietly

A proposal to ask voters if they'd support a slight property tax increase to pay for new parks, including a rebuilt Friendship Trail Bridge, died quiety Tuesday.

Commissioners tentatively set their tax rate Tuesday, which is their first step toward approving their budget. County Administrator Mike Merrill had floated the idea of including a slight, dedicated property tax hike to pay for $80 million worth of parks projects over the next 10 years.

Commissioners basically declined to take the topic up, effectively killing it.

"I think it's dead," Merrill said. "Which is fine. It was just an option. I'm not heartbroken."

Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who was advocating putting nearly $30 million of the potential proceeds from the tax hike toward rebuilding the Friendship Trail Bridge, took that option off the table today. Instead, he won support from fellow commissioners to seek new bids from companies willing to demolish the existing former span of the Gandy Bridge, rebuild it and operate it. He's hoping a proposal will emerge that would include a private-sector company stepping forward to pay for part of the costs and possibly operate the park once it's built.


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Political newcomer Zahid Roy challenges veteran Jack Latvala in Senate District 20 Republican primary


Political veteran Jack Latvala sees himself as a problem solver in the Florida Senate.

"I'm a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy. I see a problem, I want to solve it, whether it's local or in Tallahassee," said Latvala, 60.

Political newcomer Zahid Roy, Latvala's opponent in the Aug. 14 Republican primary, wants to solve problems, too - particularly those that he and other average Floridians are having with insurance companies.

After redistricting this year, Latvala is running for re-election to the Senate in new District 20, which encompasses all of old District 16's North Pinellas territory and adds Clearwater Beach, Largo and Belleair.

Latvala's political and business resumes are long.

Woodrow John "Jack" Latvala grew up in Florida and has lived in Pinellas County since 1979. His first brush with politics was as a Young Republicans member at Stetson University. He took time off his senior year to manage a Daytona Beach oral surgeon's run for Congress. …

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Fundraiser to benefit Janet Long

A fundraiser to benefit Democrat Janet Long in her bid for Seat 1 on the Pinellas County Commission is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Monday (Aug. 6) at the Hangar restaurant, 540 First St. SE, St. Petersburg.

Among the sponsors are St. Petersburg City Council members Karl Nurse and Steve Kornell; Scott Wagman, who ran unsuccessfully for St. Petersburg mayor in 2009; Sue Brody, president and CEO of the Bayfront Health System; and Kanika Tomalin, a former Tampa Bay Times reporter currently serving as vice president of planning and strategic communication for Bayfront Health System.

Long, 65, is a former member of the Florida House of Represenatives and of the Seminole City Council. She is running against Republican Neil Brickfield, a former Safety Harbor commissioner, who is seeking his second term on the county commission. Seat 1 is an at-large position that is elected countywide. County commissioners serve four-year terms and are paid $90,389 a year.

-- Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

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Pinellas term limits plaintiffs ask for financial help

Lawsuits are not cheap — a lesson the three Pinellas county residents have learned after suing a handful of long-time county commissioners over term limits. Now they are asking for help.

The group’s legal bill comes to roughly $30,000, said Beverley Billiris, a former mayor of Tarpon Springs who is a plaintiff in the suit against Commissioners Ken Welch, Susan Latvala, Karen Seel, and John Morroni. At the core of the group’s lawsuit is the charge that these four commissioners have been in office for too long, exceeding the two four-year terms approved by county voters in 1996.

To rally support for their cause and to pay their lawyer, Billiris said she and fellow plaintiff H. Patrick Wheeler have been soliciting contributions from friends. Wheeler has also been handing out flyers in public. The third plaintiff, Maria L. Scruggs, is running for Welch’s seat on the commission.

“We’re just trying to get the word out to help with the lawsuit,” Billiris said. So far, they have raised almost $500 through their committee Save Pinellas.

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Meet Pinellas County candidates at Feather Sound Country Club

You want to learn more about political candidates in Pinellas County?

Pay $15 to attend the “Politics in the Park Hob Nob” at Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater on July 31 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The event allows local, state and federal candidates to set up informational tables for their campaings and to talk with voters. Deborah Clark, the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, will also attend to conduct a straw poll.

Sponsors include by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

“It is important for us to take every opportunity we can to get to know our candidates,” says Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. “These are the people who will shape our community in the coming years, and we better know who they are and what they’re all about.”

Find more information about the event at: or

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Bilirakis has large fundraising lead in House District 12 race

Republican U. S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, an incumbent with a potent political name, is a heavy favorite to win the new U.S. House District 12, which spans northern Pinellas and Hillsborough counties and much of Pasco.

But Democratic challenger Jonathan Michael Snow figures he at least has reached an important milestone with his last campaign financing report: With nearly four months left in the race, Snow’s individual donations of $5,297 have nearly doubled those of Anita de  Palma, the Democrat who took on Bilirakis in the 2010 general election.

De Palma is a party activist who ran twice for Congress. Snow, a young newcomer, says he has been raising funds online and by picking up small donations at forums and other political events where he gets to speak. “Usually afterward, somebody comes up and says they want to help,’’ Snow says. “They say they can’t do much but will give what they can.’’

Snow may have to give a lot more speeches. Bilirakis lists $335,689 in individual donations in his latest federal spending report, as well as $208,000 in PAC money.

Snow also lags in the “just barely old enough to run’’ competition. …

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Everett Rice TV Ad: Pinellas Residents 'Won't Be Safe' Under Sheriff Bob Gualtieri

For weeks, there have been hints that the race for Pinellas County Sheriff was headed in a nasty direction.

At a debate last week, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and his opponent in the Republican primary, former sheriff Everett Rice, exchanged barbs over what each said were misleading statements put out by the other.

Now a television commercial aired by the Rice campaign has taken things to a new level.

The scary, sepia-toned ad proclaims that Pinellas County "just won't be safe" if Gualtieri remains sheriff, and asserts that he has "put us all in danger." Gualtieri likened the spot to a "Saturday Night Live skit" in its over-the-top theatrics.

Rice says it's a reaction to negative campaigning by Gualtieri. Check out the full story, with political experts' takes on the ad.

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Jack Latvala lays down the law on EMS study

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has warned Pinellas commissioners to follow the recommendation of a committee on the scope of a study of the county's emergency medical services system. Or else.

Latvala's warning came in a letter Monday to individual Pinellas County commissioners. Latvala wrote the letter after he discovered County Administrator Bob LaSala is recommending that a consultant be hired to "operationalize" a plan developed by Integral Performance Solutions. A committee set up by the county's Legislative Delegation has recommended the consultant study the IPS plan, the current system and a plan created by firefighters Scott Sanford and Jim Millican.

Latvala wrote: 

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Pinellas poll: Gualtieri leading sheriff race, Brandes ahead in senate race

I don't know much about the track record of, but it has a poll out of Pinellas races. Here it is:


Telephone survey of registered voters within Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties, conducted on July 18th through July 21, 2012:

All local races involving Pinellas County public offices are included. Statewide races like U.S. Senate are excluded. Democratic Congressional District 13 race is excluded because there is only one candidate.

Voters are only polled on the races that are included in their individual precinct and political party.

Total people polled: 6124

In the Republican primary for Representative in Congress from District 13 do you support Darren Ayres, Madeline Vance or C. W. Bill Young?
Darren Ayres:          10.8%

Madeline Vance:       7.3%

C. W. Bill Young:     48.6%

Undecided:              33.3%

In the Republican primary for Representative in Congress from District 14 do you support Eddie Adams, Jr. or Evelio EJ Otero?

Eddie Adams, Jr.:   33.7%

Evelio EJ Otero:      20.6%

Undecided:             45.8%

In the Republican primary for State Senator from District 20 do you support Jack Latvala or Zahid Roy?

Jack Latvala:          50.6%

Zahid Roy:             12.8%  …

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Florida House candidates vying to replace Nehr tout conservative credentials

By Will Hobson, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Sunday, July 22, 2012

Before Marg Baker criticized Rep. Peter Nehr for his two bankruptcies, before Philip Tropea called Nehr a "fence-sitter," before Tory Perfetti said he'd fight harder than Nehr for illegal immigration legislation, the Republican candidates for the state House of Representatives in District 65 had to pick their seats.

It was Monday night at a candidate's forum at the Palm Harbor Library. Nehr, the three-term incumbent, took a chair at one end of the table. The other candidates sat to his left. But from the audience's perspective, primary challengers Baker, Perfetti and Tropea were all to the right of Nehr.

Exactly where they want to be.

Nehr, 60, is running for a fourth term representing District 65 (formerly District 48), which covers a Republican-leaning chunk of northern Pinellas County, including Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and part of East Lake. He faces three challengers in the Aug. 14 primary and they're all questioning Nehr's conservative credentials. …

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Catholic Bishop weighs in on St. Pete fire fee

St. Petersburg's Catholic bishop made clear Friday where he stands on Mayor Bill Foster's proposed fire fee: Against.

"...The burden upon the fixed-income and low-income residents of this plan, however, is the most troubling. Flat taxes are patently unfair in that they hurt the most vulnerable the hardest. I congratulate council members Charlie Gerdes, Wengay Newton and Steve Kornell for seeing this inequity and hope that two more members of the council will show courage in defeating this ill-conceived plan," the Most Rev. Robert Lynch wrote in a Tampa Bay Times letter to the editor Friday. Click here to read the full letter.

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Pinellas sheriff candidate Rice praised for affable personality, but critics call him vague on specifics

By Peter Jamison, Times Staff Writer
In Print: Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ask supporters about former Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice, and you'll hear about his hands-off leadership style. He empowers and validates those beneath him, admirers say. He brings people together to make big decisions.

"He's very strong on collaboration," said former St. Petersburg College President Carl Kuttler, who worked with Rice during the 16 years he served as sheriff and plans to vote for him in the Aug. 14 Republican primary. "He's not a heavy-handed person at all."

With his shock of white hair, piercing blue eyes and Virginia drawl, Rice, 67, embodies a certain idea of Southern gentility.

But those skeptical of his effort to reclaim his old job from Sheriff Bob Gualtieri see weaknesses beneath the surface. They say Rice's light-on-detail appeals to integrity in policing mask an ignorance of the changing nature of law enforcement.

"He has no plan for the future," Gualtieri said at a recent campaign event. "All he's talking about is the past." …

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In Pinellas County races, it's all fluoride all the time

The first question posed to the candidates for Pinellas county commissioner at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club’s meeting today came from a man who wanted to know if he should start brushing his teeth differently

With fluoride, or without? He asked.

That question has been dogging the seven-member Pinellas County Commission since December, when they voted 4 to 3 to stop adding fluoride to the county’s water. And it is especially a problem for Commissioners Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield, both Republicans who have served one four-year terms and are seeking another. Both voted to halt fluoridation and are being challenged by Democrats who are calling targeting them for that vote.

On Thursday, former state Sen. Charlie Justice, who is making a bid to unseat Bostock, called the fluoride vote “foolhardy.” Former state Rep. Janet Long, who is challenging Brickfield, said the vote had drawn national news coverage, embarrassing the county.

Even a question about Medicaid funding — a major issue for the county, which is contemplating raising the tax rate next year pay off a $58 million Medicaid bill from the state — came back to fluoride.

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Several reasons offered on why St. Petersburg residents pay water bills late

ST. PETERSBURG — A discussion about city grants segued into late fees on water bills and why some residents don’t pay on time.

At the Budget, Finance & Taxation Committee meeting Thursday morning, Wayne Finley, contract and grants officer, updated council members on grants being pursued for the city.

Council member Wengay Newton discussed nonprofit groups running out of money to help struggling residents with everyday expenses like water bills.

He took issue with how the city adds late fees on the bills.
Besides the $5 added when a payment is paid late, the city then charges the customer $8 to send a late notice. If the water is turned off for nonpayment a $15 charges is added; $15 is added to restore service.

It will also cost another $35 to restore service after normal business hours.
Newton said the city raised $800,000 last year from the $8 notices and should only charge the $5 fee like Progress Energy and BrightHouse Networks.

“It’s like dumping water on a drowning man,” Newton said. “These are people who can ill-afford to pay the bill.” …

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Search for new Hillsborough County attorney extended

So it may take awhile to name a new Hillsborough County attorney.

Commissioners voted unanimously to extend their deadline for accepting applications for the vacancy created last year when they forced former County Attorney Renee Lee out of the job. They've also asked a headhunter to post new advertisements for the job, expressing belief that, with just 16 applicants, publicity about the job opening was inadequate.

As part of their unanimous vote, commissioners asked that their civil service staff get involved in the screening process.

A majority of commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of detail they got from the California search firm paid $25,000 to screen applicants about what led it to recommend four finalists for consideration. Representatives of Ralph Anderson & Associates of Rocklin, Calif. were not present for the meeting. …

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