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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster responds to editorial

Editor's note: St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster responds to an editorial published Thursday, "Foster's credibility problem."


Recently a Tampa Bay Times editorial called into question my credibility and character in my performance as mayor, and being strictly an opinion piece had every right to be light on facts. I do not have that luxury.

Firstly, shame on Sweetbay for claiming they warned me of their perilous situation and shame on the Times for taking their word for it. It is true when asked by a reporter if a meeting took place I did not immediately recall it. However, as reported on Jan. 23, I checked my calendar and confirmed within hours that yes, I did meet with Sweetbay in April 2011. And while I may not recall specific details of every meeting over the past three years, I can assure you that words like underproductive, profitability and potential closure would make even the casual conversation memorable, and would have led to immediate city and community involvement. …

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On Pinellas politics this week

A recruitment opportunity

St. Petersburg council member Steve Kornell made a pitch to businesses after Hillsborough County commissioners rejected a proposal last week to create a domestic partnership registry. 

On his Facebook page, Kornell posted:

“Attention all Hillsborough County businesses, especially gay owned businesses: If you are unhappy with the decision to vote down the Domestic Partner Registry today, give me a call about relocating to St. Petersburg, a city that welcomes and supports everyone. Located in Pinellas County, which just passed a Domestic Partner Registry.”

After several people pointed out that Tampa has a registry, Kornell, who is gay, replied: “I said Hillsborough County — Tampa is an awesome city — too bad you have to be in such a backwards county.”

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Hillsborough commissioners approve new garbage pickup contracts

 Hillsborough County Commissioners unanimously approved contracts for residential garbage pickup Thursday with little discussion.

The new contracts call for the start of automated garbage pickup for both household waste and recycling while costs for customers are expected to fall. The exact amount of savings is not yet known as costs of aspects of garbage disposal are slated to rise. But county officials have estimated the cost for each household for garbage pickup could fall $20 to $30 annually.

Under the automated system, households will be issued separate standardized cans with lids for waste and recyclable materials. Trucks outfitted with mechanical arms would lift and empty the cans. Cost of the new containers will be built into customers' annual garbage bills.. …

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Packed agenda for Hillsborough County Commission today

The line to get into the Hillsborough County Commission's regular meeting was rather long today. That's because three topics have generated considerable public interest.

First, commissioners will hear from representatives of the the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team for a long-awaited presentation on their stadium hopes for the future. Then it's on to a decision on awarding new contracts for residential garbage hauling.

The issue that seems to be stoking the crowd is a proposal by Commissioner Mark Sharpe to create a domestic partnership registry in Hillsborough County. The proposal has galvanized social conservatives, who see it as legitimizing what they characterize as a gay and lesbian agenda. The topic is expected to dominate public comment once commissioners wrap up their proclamations.

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Transportation agency chief gets real evaluation

The head of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission got a real evaluation Wednesday, as in one written by his bosses. And it wasn't quite as glowing as the one he wrote for himself late last year. Members of the PTC, which regulates taxis, ambulances and other cars for hire, gave Executive Director Cesar Padilla an average score of 3.7 on a scale of one to five, with five being the best. The Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this month that Padilla has been writing his own annual evaluation for years and simply submitting it to the PTC chairman for approval. Not surprisingly, his own evaluation scored his performance last year at 4.6. New Chairman Victor Crist, a county commissioner, called a halt to the practice in December, having the seven member PTC rate Padilla. Noteably, after all that, three of the seven PTC members did not fill out an evaluation, though Plant City Mayor Mike Sparkman noted he is a new appointee to the board and didn't feel qualified to prepare an assessment. The other two are County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan and Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin.

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Al Higginbotham to seek at-large Hillsborough Commission seat

Hillsborough County commissioner Al Higginbotham, who currently represents the eastern part of the county, has set up a campaign office to run for the at-large seat on that board that will be vacated by Mark Sharpe in 2014.

Higginbotham joins Tampa City Council member Mary Mulhern in declaring their candicacy for the District 7 seat, the race for which is expected to draw a crowd. Other past or current office holders said to be eyeing the race include Tom Scott, the former Tampa City Council member and Hillsborough commissioner, and School Board member April Griffin, both Democrats; and Republican Rose Ferlita, the former Tampa City Council member and county commissioner. 

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Mark Sharpe responds to reaction he's getting to domestic partnership registry proposal in Hillsborough

Commissioner Mark Sharpe is getting a great deal of reaction to his proposal to create a domestic partnership registry in Hillsborough County, something other governments in the region have managed to pull off without much controversy. As is customary these days, he took to Facebook to more fully explain his rationale. In the comments field, one person, Ken Welch, chairman of the Pinellas County Commission, which has already approved such a registry, noted the timing (Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend). Hillsborough commissioners will take up the proposal Thursday. Here's what Sharpe said on Facebook Saturday:

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Mark Sharpe proposing domestic partner registry for all of Hillsborough County

Hillsborough County commissioner Mark Sharpe will propose creating a domestic partnership registry when his board meets Thursday, following the course of the city of Tampa, which became the first government in the area to pass such a measure last April.

But, of course, the county is not the same as the city, so it is uncertain how the proposal will be received by other commissioners.

Sharpe added an item to next week's Commission agenda asking the county administrator and attorney to work together in crafting the registry. It would allow gay and straight couples who are not married to enjoy a limited number of the same rights as married couples. For instance, the city registry recognizes the right of those who participate to make medical decisions for a partner who is incapacitated, make funeral arrangements or participate in the education of a child of a domestic partner. …

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Terry Kemple wants to run for something, anything

Christian conservative activist Terry Kemple, who has twice run unsuccessfully for the Hillsborough County School Board, is seeking guidance on whether he should try again. Kemple is a founder of the Community Issues Council perhaps and is perhaps best known for his fights against strip clubs and a campaign to keep a Muslim advocacy group from providing guest speakers in classrooms. He ran for the school board in 2010 and 2012.

Recently he sent out a mass email to friends and supporters asking their thoughts on whether he should take another stab at running for office in 2014. And, if so, should he run again for the school board or one of two seats that will be opening on the Hillsborough County Commission?

"If 500 people encourage me to run then I'm going to do it!" he wrote. He asks those responding to check one of four choices: Stick with his advocacy, run for the school board or county commission, or "run for any office to which you feel led."

Kemple said he's received about 350 responses so far, about 90 percent of them encouraging him to run for the office he chooses. …

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Most Pinellas cities defer property tax break for low-income seniors

DUNEDIN -- Residents who voted for lower property taxes for poor senior citizens won't see their wish fulfilled in Dunedin for at least a year.

Amendment 11 to the Florida Constitution, which gave cities and counties the option of lowering taxes for certain seniors, passed with 61 percent of the vote statewide in November. Local governments now can offer an additional homestead exemption to qualified low-income seniors age 65 and older who have, for at least 25 years, owned their permanent residence that is now worth less than $250,000.

In order to take effect in 2013, local governments had to approve the exemption by last Friday. But in a 4-1 vote, Dunedin city commissioners rejected it for now, saying they want to gather more information during summer budget talks on how the tax break would impact city revenues.

"I think prudence is a touch of wisdom here," said Commissioner Ron Barnette.

"There's a good amount of data we don't have now," he said. "And I'd be begging too many questions that I'm unfortunately not in a position to answer now if we were to move ahead rapidly on this. ... I'd like to take our time and address this in a more succinct way this summer when we address other issues involving taxpayer money."

Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov said Tuesday that North Redington Beach was the only one of Pinellas' 24 cities to approve the exemption for 2013.

In Dunedin, about 36 percent of voters supported the constitutional amendment in November, according to Pinellas supervisor of elections data. That same percentage was calculated when looking at Pinellas County as a whole.

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Rob Turner's farewell note to Hillsborough Property Appraiser's office staff

Rob Turner offers no apology in a farewell note to employees of the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's office, though his admission last year of sending porn to his former human resources director put all their jobs in jeopardy. So far, his successor, Bob Henriquez, appears content not to make any wholesale personnel moves in the near term. Here's the farewell email:

From: Turner, Rob 
Sent: Monday, January 07, 2013 3:17 PM
To: PropertyAppr
Subject: My thanks to all


To the most outstanding local government team,


As you all should know, today is my last day to serve with you as your Hillsborough County Property Appraiser.

For those who welcomed me here in 1997 when I came in to the office you are most aware of the dramatic changes we have brought about. Back then there were 178 full time employees and dozens of temps. Today, our office is staffed by 130 full time professionals and no temps. Today, there are significantly greater number of parcels to manage and dozens of new rules and regulations that have made our jobs much more challenging.


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Federal appeals court upholds dismissal of Latino group’s lawsuit over election of RNC delegates

The Republican Party might have its problems with Hispanic voters, but a federal voting rights lawsuit filed before the Republican National Convention is no longer one of them.

In January 2012, the nonprofit Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition and Ralph A. Emmanuelli of Pinellas County sued Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

The suit contended that the GOP's primary schedule unconstitutionally diluted the electoral clout of Hispanic Republican voters. First, the suit noted that Hispanic voters constituted about 9 percent of eligible voters nationwide, but only 1.7 percent of eligible state voters in Iowa, 1.1 percent in South Carolina and 1.5 percent in New Hampshire.

The suit also contended that the GOP hurt Hispanic voters by stripping Florida of 50 percent of its convention delegates for holding its primary early.

But a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, and last month the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal on the grounds that the plaintiffs could not prove that the RNC was a "state actor." Holland & Knight partners Stacy Blank, Joe Varner and Brad Kimbro led the team representing the RNC.

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Pinellas Commissioner Norm Roche could run in another district in 2014

There’s no doubt that State Rep. Ed Hooper plans to run for the District 2 at-large seat on the Pinellas County Commission in 2014, but exactly who he’ll run against could end up being a question mark.

The seat’s current occupant, Commissioner Norm Roche, says he has put his Clearwater home on the market. And according to an email, he’s "eyeing a place in the East Lake area." In case you’re wondering, no, East Lake is not within his district's boundaries.

"I’m considering running in another District," he wrote in an email to the Times, but "nothing is definite."

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No metal detector pass for Tampa City Council members at Hillsborough County Commission meetings

People who attend government meetings at Hillsborough County Center must go through a metal detector. It's been that way for a few years now.

That apparently doesn't sit well with a member of the Tampa City Council, who objected recently to emptying her pockets with the rest of the rabble.

"Somebody has asked me from City Council why they have to go through security when they come into the building," County Commissioner Sandra Murman informed her fellow board members Wednesday. "You know, there's some frustrations there with especially City Council members that are coming in here for meetings."


After the meeting, Murman said the person who mentioned it to her was Lisa Montelione. She had arrived late to a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, on which both sit, and said she would have been on time if not for having to wait in the security line with everyone else attending the meeting. Murman said she'd mention it at her next County Commission meeting. Montelione could not be reached immediately. …

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Hillsborough Commission votes to create gun violence task force after Newtown school shooting

 Hillsborough County Commissioners agreed to create a gun violence task force Wednesday in response to the elementary school shooting last month in Newtown, Conn.

They stopped short of passing an annual gun buy back program, as Commissioner Kevin Beckner requested, with some board members suggesting such a move would have more symbolic than actual value. Some board members said such programs are best handled by law enforcement, and indeed the Sheriff's Office has a buy back date scheduled for next month.

Commissioners left open the possibility that the to-be-formed task force could see fit to recommend creating a more formal annual gun buy back program, in contrast to periodic purchases by law enforcement.

The task force will consist of law enforcement personnel, mental health and medical workers and representatives of community groups concerned with public safety. It would be tasked with coming up with suggestions for stemming all forms of gun violence, not just mass shootings. Several commissioners said particular attention should be given to mental health care. …

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