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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Dunedin commission okays controversial $800,000 donation for arts

DUNEDIN -- A controversial $800,000 donation package that City Manager Rob DiSpirito says will enhance taxpayers' quality of life by generating revenue through increased tourism received the green light from city commissioners Thursday.

In a 4-1 vote, elected leaders directed staff to draft letters committing $500,000 to the Dunedin Fine Art Center and $200,000 to the Dunedin Historical Museum. There was confusion Thursday night, but City Attorney Tom Trask said Friday that the vote will also steer $100,000 toward the city-owned Blatchley House at Weaver Park.

The money will help each organization fund expansion projects that officials say will draw in both outside visitors and residents, who rated Dunedin's arts, history and culture as the top reasons they visit or live here. Officials say this will put the city on par to compete with the entertainment offerings of neighboring cities.

Increased tourism equals increased revenues for city roads, police and fire service, buildings and other infrastructure, DiSpirito said.

But first, city staff will spend the coming months figuring out how to pay for the donations. …

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State fines Dunedin vice mayor $3,050 in financial disclosure flap

DUNEDIN -- Julie Ward Bujalski, a member of the City Commission since 2006, hasn't filed an annual financial disclosure statement since 2010, resulting in an ethics breach and $3,050 in fines from the state.

Bujalski accrued a $50 fine for filing two days late in 2010, which she says was a rough year for her. Her parents died 12 days apart in mid-to-late April, then she was left incapacitated for months by a Mother's Day boating accident.

Bujalski said she has no excuse for failing to file at all in 2011 and 2012. Records show the Florida Commission on Ethics as well as the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office sent multiple notices to Bujalski via her city email and certified letters at home, but she says she did not receive them. She owes the maximum $1,500 fine for each of those years.

Approached by a Tampa Bay Times reporter Tuesday, Bujalski said it was the first time she'd ever heard about the violations. She said she accepted responsibility and would contact the state immediately. …

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Republican Party of Florida issues statement about Greer

Corrected: An earlier version of this post incorrectly attributed the statement below to the Hillsborough County Republican Party, which had posted the statement on its Facebook page with correct attribution.

The Republican Party of Florida issued a statement Monday about Jim Greer's guilty pleas to theft and money-laundering charges. It appears the main point is to note that former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, now a Democrat thought to be considering another run for governor, was the guy who appointed Greer as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida in the first place. Here it is:

“Today, Jim Greer, the man Charlie Crist personally picked to lead the Republican Party of Florida, admitted his guilt to five felony charges. For the past three years, Jim Greer has tried to damage the reputation of the Republican Party and its leaders, but the truth is now known that Jim Greer broke the law, stole from RPOF and our donors, and then said and did everything he could to cover up and distract attention from his crimes. Everything Jim Greer has said and done over these past few years should be considered in that light.”

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Dunedin may file claim for BP oil spill damages

DUNEDIN - Lawyers are investigating whether the BP oil spill cost Dunedin taxpayers tourism dollars and whether that warrants a lawsuit.

On Thursday, city commissioners hired the law firm Motley Rice LLC to explore the feasibility of pursuing a claim over the April 2010 spill, in which the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and for more than 85 days spewed an estimated 172 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The South Carolina firm, which has filed claims on behalf of other Pinellas County cities including Madeira Beach and Clearwater, will work with Dunedin City Attorney Tom Trask, city finance employees and a private accounting firm to review Dunedin revenue and expense levels in the years before and after the spill.

Within 30 days, the attorneys will present a claim, in hopes that BP will settle. If BP declines, lawyers would again come before city leaders seeking permission to file a lawsuit.

Trask said he believes Dunedin has a "good possibility" of recovery. …

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

St. Petersburg voters have declining opinions on Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council.  …

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