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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

PolitiFact Florida’s Buck-O-Meter rates Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's downtown plan

As a candidate for mayor, Bob Buckhorn promised to create a master plan that would knit together downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods with a focus on bringing activity and development to the Hillsborough River.

As a result, the InVision Tampa plan that Buckhorn unveiled Tuesday is not just an exercise in urban planning. Rather, it is a step toward addressing one of the 34 campaign promises tracked by the Buck-O-Meter, a project of PolitiFact Florida, the political fact-checking arm of the Tampa Bay Times. Check out the Buck-O-Meter's grade here.

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Hagan selected chairman again, asks to keep his parting gifts

Hillsborough County commissioners presented their chairman with some parting gifts Tuesday befitting the diehard sports fan Ken Hagan is as he prepared to hand off the leadership title.

First came a Tampa Bay Lightning goalie stick autographed by players on the hockey team. Last was a puck signed by his fellow board members. In between Hagan got a Lightning jersey with his name and the No. 5 on back.

Now, some might suggest a goodie bag of Tampa Bay Rays swag might have a little more appropriate, if awkward, given his frequent overtures to the baseball team on the other side of the bay. But Hagan seemed touched nonetheless and that No. 5 would prove particularly fitting.

Moments later commissioners would vote to select Hagan as their chairman once again -- his fifth time in that role -- after two of his fellow board members had their names put forward but failed to secure a majority of support.

"Do I still get to keep the gifts?" asked a stunned Hagan, who said he did not expect to be nominated, let alone selected for another run as chairman. …

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Hillsborough County commissioners get sworn in Tuesday

Hillsborough County will hold its investiture ceremony at County Center at 9 a.m. today for commissioners. Five returning commissioners will get sworn in after having survived the elections. They are: Sandra Murman, Victor Crist, Les Miller, Al Higginbotham and Kevin Beckner. 

After a reception, commissioners will then select who will lead them for the next year and dole out board and committee assigments, such as the board's representative to the Tampa Port and Tampa Sports authorities. 

The race for the chairmanship is often marked by behind-the-scenes arm-twisting. But there has been little evidence of that this year. In fact it has been almost weirdly quiet.

Miller, a Democrat, had placed an item on last Thursday's commission agenda that called for creating a rotation for the chairmanship, as he proposed last year. But Miller, a Democrat, said that, as with last year's proposal, he was hearing that Hillsborough County's Republican Party members were rallying against it.

They reject the idea on grounds that it would allow a Democrat to become chairman even though Republicans hold a five-person supermajority on the board. So Miller withdrew the item. …

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Jill Kelley emailed no one at Hillsborough County Center

Hillsborough County commissioners have often expressed frustration that they don't get treated with the same respect as other political figures. Their jobs aren't viewed as carrying the same prestige, say, as the mayor of Tampa, even though they govern a population and approve a budget that dwarfs the city's. 

Here's one bit of unscientific proof that commissioners aren't quite appreciated.

It's been well chronicled now that reputed social climber Jill Kelley had an impressive email contact list. She is electronic pen pals with powerful generals, has an in at the FBI and chats with mayors past and present, even feting current Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn after his election at her Bayshore Boulevard home.

Yet, not once in the past two years has she emailed anyone at County Center. Not commissioners. Not the administrator. No one. Well, not to their official email addresses anyway.

This time they're not complaining.

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Bubba the Love Sponge gets more respect in St. Pete

While Bubba the Love Sponge Clem has vowed political revenge on Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, across the bay he gets more respect from St. Petersburg's City Hall. The city's tourism Web page,,  lists Clem as one of its "notable" residents along with actress Angela Bassett and jazz trombonist Buster Cooper.

The page is part of an ad campaign launched about a year ago funded with $50,000 from the city and more than that in donations of time and talent from Paradise Advertising.

Along with being the subject of some of Tampa socialite Jill Kelley's many e-mails, shock jock Clem has become even more notable of late after a sex tape of his then wife and Terry "Hulk Hogan" Bollea was recently made public.

That certainly qualifies as something surprising in St. Pete.

Katherine Snow Smith, Times Staff Writer

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Hillsborough commissioners approve incentives for three financial services firms

Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously approved a trio of incentive packages to lure three financial services firms to create or add jobs in the community.

With little discussion, commissioners approved spending a likely total of up to $973,500 to bring up to 1,000 jobs to the area. The Tampa City Council was considering additional incentives Thursday.

Two of the companies have already been identified, having already won approval for further state subsidies. They are Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., which already has a presence here, and Digital Risk LLC, a company that analyzes the risks or mortgages for buyers and sellers and is based near Orlando.

The third company, which is seeking state support, has not been identified.

Here are the details of each:

* New York-based Depository Trust is considering adding up to 255 new jobs over five years paying on average of at least $81,110 and would retain an additional 35 jobs. Ron Barton, director of economic development for the county, said the jobs will actually pay on average more than $100,000 annually. …

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Last anti-fluoride Pinellas commissioner changes his vote

Voters have kicked out of office two of the four Pinellas County Commissioners who voted to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water. Last week, Commissioner Norm Roche decided to change his vote. And now another one has flipped.

John Morroni, the last of the two remaining anti-fluoride votes on the Commission, said that when the issue comes up for debate again, he will vote to put the mineral back in the water.

"I made a mistake and, you know, I listen to the public," he said.

Morroni explained his vote more than a year ago to end fluoridation as a response to a deluge of emails from Pinellas residents who opposed the practice.

"But that was not the position of obviously the majority of the people in this county," he said a week after Election Day brought historic losses for two of his former colleagues. "I need to revisit that and support putting it back into the water," he said.

With Morroni voting in favor of fluoride, and two new pro-fluoride commissioners, a measure to restore the practice is likely to pass unanimously. A discussion of the issue is on the Nov. 20 agenda, but the Commission will not vote on it until the 27th.  …

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Approval ratings rise for St. Petersburg City Council and Mayor Bill Foster


Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council continue to improve in the eyes of St. Petersburg voters. 

Weeks after rejecting the Tampa Bay Rays request to explore stadium sites outside he city, Foster’s approval ratings jumped. 

Foster’s approval rose from 52.5 percent in September to 55.6 in November, according to

The local pollster took the pulse of 1,424 voters on Nov. 12. Among its findings, ratings for the City Council rose from 43.8 to 50.3 in the same period. 

With the stalemate over a new stadium for the Rays poised to drag on even further, city voters overwhelming — 70 percent — oppose taking out loans to build a new stadium. 

The sentiments of red light cameras has also dropped to the lowest levels since the pollster started questioning voters. On that, 52 percent of voters don’t think the “city installing red light cameras was a good thing.”

Voters also weighed in on the recently created foreclosure registry and the ordinance impacting human billboards.

Findings show:

Do you support the creation of a registry of foreclosed homes by the city?

Yes: 44.4 percent

No: 22.5 percent

Undecided:  33.1 percent …

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State Sen. Jack Latvala pushes for stoplight


State Sen. Jack Latvala wants a stoplight in front of Eckerd College.

In a letter dated Tuesday, Latvala urged the Florida Department of Transportation to install a light in the spot on 54th Avenue S where Robert Shepherd died last week.

“Eckerd College, Mr. Shepherd and others in the community have been trying to get a traffic light on 54th Avenue S for years,” Latvala wrote to Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad. 

The Clearwater Republican pointed out that a state traffic study may not have calculated heavy traffic from the beaches or in the summer and holidays. 

The entrance to Eckerd had a stoplight, but state officials removed it in 1992 after determining the area’s traffic volume was too low to justify it.

While urging state officials to install another light, Shepherd told them: “It’s a tragedy waiting to happen.”

Last week, Shepherd pulled off campus and into the path of a Chevrolet pickup. The impact crushed the driver’s side of his 2002 Buick LeSabre and pitched it over the median. He died at the age of 85.

A traffic study’ Latvala said, conducted by St. Petersburg recommended a light in the intersection. …

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Even award meetings at St. Petersburg City Council bring smack talk


The threat of Tampa plucking the Tampa Bay Rays can be worked into any St. Petersburg City Council meeting.

Even feel-good meetings.

During an award ceremony Thursday afternoon, city leaders bestowed praise on the Tampa Bay Rowdies, champions of the 2012 North American Soccer League. 

After Mayor Bill Foster read a proclamation, team executives described the joys of playing in Al Lang Field. Pictures followed. Then council member Wengay Newton dropped the hammer as the team prepared to leave. 

“Be careful with your business,” Newton said. “Tampa might want to regionalize you.”


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Democrat Dwight Dudley receives call from Republican Frank Farkas after win

 After 11 weeks of mudslinging, the race for House District 68 ended with a civil conversation on Election Day.

Democrat Dwight Dudley said Republican Frank Farkas made a congratulatory call after Dudley won the St. Petersburg-based seat. 

“He graciously congratulated me,” Dudley said. “I was polite and wished him and his family well.”

Dudley said he appreciated the brief call but didn’t ask Farkas why he attacked his job as a criminal lawyer in mailers and on television. The ads showed mug shots of killer, rapists and sex offenders represented by Dudley. 

Farkas won 44 percent of the vote compared to Dudley’s 51 percent, according to unofficial results. Independent Matt Weidner captured 5 percent. 

Farkas, a chiropractor, served in the House between 1998 and 2006.  Dudley has operated his own law firm for 16 years. 



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St. Petersburg manager to leave post for United Way


The St. Petersburg  manager who has battled homeless and veteran issues is leaving after six years.

Rhonda Abbott, manager of veteran, social and homeless services, has accepted a job at United Way Suncoast. Her last day is Nov. 26. She started with the city in September 2006 and earns about $68,000. 

Abbott called the new position an “exciting opportunity” and said she still plans to help the community in her new role.

“My time with the city has been very rewarding,” she said. “I believe much has been accomplished with the homeless issues. There will always be work to do in this arena.”


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Hillsborough County election update

Here are where things stand among local candidates in Hillsborough County, with well more than half of precincts reporting:

Property Appraiser: Democrat Bob Henriquez, 52 percent; Republican Ronda Storms, 44 percent; Rob Townsend (NPA), 3 percent; James DeMio (NPA), 1 percent.

Supervisor of Elections: Democrat Craig Latimer, 56 percent; Republican Rich Glorioso, 44 percent.

County Commission, District 4: Republican Al Higginbotham, 58 percent; Democrat Mark Nash, 37 percent; Joy Green (NPA) 5 percent.

County Commission, District 6: Democrat Kevin Beckner, 58 percent; Republican Margaret Iuculano, 42 percent.

The vote count is nearing 60 percent of registered voters.


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Hillsborough early and absentee votes are posted

The early and absentee vote in Hillsborough County is posted on the election supervisor's web site. Here are the spreads so far:

Property Appraiser: Democrat Bob Henriquez, 54 percent; Republican Ronda Storms, 42 percent; James DeMio (NPA), 1 percent, Rob Townsend (NPA), 3 percent.

Supervisor of Elections: Democrat Craig Latimer, 58 percent; Republican Rich Glorioso, 42 percent.

County Commission, District 4: Republican Al Higginbotham, 57 percent; Democrat Mark Nash, 39 percent; Joy Green (NPA), 4 percent.

County Commission, District 5: Democrat Kevin Beckner, 60 percent; Republican Margaret Iuculan, 40 percent.

That's with 43 percent of registered voters casting ballots.

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Hillsborough election officials deal with temporary power outage

This morning, it was the phones. This afternoon, Hillsborough County elections officials faced a problem with the electricity at their operations center.

Power went out for less than an hour in half the building at the Robert L. Gilder Elections Service Center on N Falkenburg Road.

As a result, voting at the center was suspended temporarily because there wasn’t power to print out ballots, Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections spokesman Travis Abercrombie said. But the power was back on and voting had resumed by 4:40 p.m.

During an afternoon news conference, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization, said the outage made it difficult for poll workers to check on and verify information for voters who had questions about their registration and whether they needed to cast a provisional ballot.

Full report here.

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