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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas Commission agrees on stormwater fee, but not the number

To a resident of Lealman or Kenneth City, paying an annual $126 stormwater utility fee — on top of water, on top of electricity — might sound like a lot. To the County Commission, it doesn't sound like enough.

At a meeting on Tuesday, the commission debated how much to charge Pinellas' unincorporated residents for runoff and drainage management next year, when it will likely install a new utility fee.

Adding $10.50 a month to residents’ utility bills would bring in about $19.7 million a year, according to county staff. That could be enough to bring the county’s "F" rating for water quality management up to a "C." But settling for average didn’t sound like a good proposal to several commission members.

"I completely support the implementation of a stormwater fee," said Commissioner Susan Latvala. "I question whether or not this is enough money."

There will always be a handful of people in the county who don't support a new fee because they're categorically opposed to any new tax, she continued. But most people will see the necessity, she said.

For this second group, "they don’t care whether it't $10.50 or $12 or another number. A dollar or another three dollars more wouldn't make a big difference."Full Story

Kathy Castor: Spare Head Start from sequester cuts

To U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, the children's program Head Start is no less important than keeping air traffic controllers in the towers when it comes to sparing programs from the effects of the federal budget sequester.

At a news conference Tuesday, the Tampa Democrat urged Congress to "recognize that the Head Start investments are on par with the investments we make in the travel and tourism industry," referring to the furloughs lifted last week for Federal Aviation Administration employees.

If the cuts take effect, Head Start could serve 70,000 fewer children and see layoffs of about 14,000 employees nationwide.

Florida could lose funding for nearly 2,000 Head Start students, Castor said, and Hillsborough's Head Start program faces a $1.4 million cut for classroom supplies, bus services, playgrounds and staff.

"The sequester cuts will set us back in a way that really is inexplicable in this day and age," Castor said.

For a full report, click here.


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Julia Mandell named acting Tampa city attorney

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn named senior assistant city attorney Julia Mandell acting city attorney on Tuesday, City Attorney Jim Shimberg’s last day on the job.

“I think she’ll do a great job on the interim basis,” Buckhorn said.

Mandell, 43, has been at City Hall nearly nine years and said she was excited to have the chance to serve the city in the new role. As a senior assistant city attorney, her assignments include handling issues related to land use, real estate, the First Amendment, signs, transportation and historic preservation. She also manages five attorneys in the land use section of the office.

Before coming to the city in 2004, Mandell worked as an assistant county attorney for Hillsborough County for about seven years. She received her bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Florida and is board certified in city, county and local government law.

Shimberg said he is “very confident that she will do an outstanding job as acting city attorney for however long Mayor Buckhorn decides to keep her in that position.” …

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St. Petersbrug City Council member Wengay Newton wants to hear from fire chief

St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton wants answers.

Newton wants Fire Chief Jim Large to provide quarterly updates to the council about Fire Department issues. Newton wants the council to discuss the idea at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

Currently, the council receives quarterly updates from Police Chief Chuck Harmon.

Newton said he is troubled about a story published on March 30 in Tampa Bay Times about fire vehicles being “browned out” in order to save money. Public safety, he said, is the top priority of all public officials.

He said he also wants to know about issues before reading them in the newspaper.

“I think we should have an update and be allowed to ask questions,” he said. “We’re already dragging in the police chief. Something is wrong.”

Brownouts, in which emergency units are kept idle for several hours or even a full day, are a controversial tool that fire departments have used to save money rather than pay for overtime. Talk of deeper budget cuts has prompted fears of more brownouts, or possible layoffs, putting certain neighborhoods at risk. Some City Council members were unaware of the practice until reading the story.

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Buckhorn: New federal transportation secretary understands link between transit and economic growth

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn go for a police-escorted bike ride along the Riverwalk on April 11 before speaking at a Bicycle Safety Summit at the Tampa Convention Center.


U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, left, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn go for a police-escorted bike ride along the Riverwalk on April 11 before speaking at a Bicycle Safety Summit at the Tampa Convention Center.


Under Secretary Ray LaHood, the U.S. Department of Transportation has been good to Tampa, and Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Monday he expects more of the same from the man nominated as LaHood's replacement, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.

“Mayor Foxx is a good friend and I could not be more pleased with President Obama’s decision to appoint him as our next Secretary of Transportation," Buckhorn said in a prepared statement.

He continued: "He has made transportation a priority for Charlotte because he understands the important connection between mobility and economic development. He is conversant on transportation issues facing urban America and understands the challenges that local leaders face. Mayor Foxx represents the next generation of leadership and I look forward to working with him to expand and improve transit options here in Tampa.”

As mayor of Charlotte for four years, Foxx has worked to extend a light-rail line, open another runway at the airport, complete a major highway widening, improve a major bridge and bring streetcars back to Charlotte, according to the New York Times. …

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Carolyn Fries to run for St. Petersburg City Council, District 4

Carolyn Fries has announced her candidacy for the St. Petersburg City Council seat for District 4, which already has two candidates in the race.

Fries, 45, a past Crescent Lake Neighborhood Association president, will be running against civic activist Darden Rice and neurosurgeon Dr. David McKalip.

They will be seek election to the seat being vacated by councilwoman Leslie Curran, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits.

"There's a lot of division in the city right now, so I'd really like to bring everyone together again," Fries said Monday.

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New name suggested for Dunedin park

The second Dunedin park in as many months could get a new name.

The Dunedin Youth Guild already has a portion of Hammock Park named after it. But the group wants its name transferred to a future park currently known as the "Bleakley property."

"They feel that they would gain more exposure in this new location, especially since this park is located at the north entrance to the City," states a memo to city commissioners, who will consider the request during their Thursday night meeting.

Dunedin on April 6 renamed Pioneer Park in honor of the late John R. Lawrence, Dunedin's longest-serving city manager. City commissioners had thrown their unanimous support behind the measure, saying the revitalization of downtown was among the many accomplishments Lawrence achieved during his 21-year tenure.

According to the city memo, the Youth Guild has also made significant contributions to Dunedin's youngest residents. They include supporting numerous youth athletics, music and educational programs throughout the local schools and community. The group recently donated $200,000 to build a future
playground at Weaver Park. …

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Ugly accusations snowball at East Lake Fire Rescue

One lieutenant has been demoted and another is under investigation amid accusations of racial text messages and harassment at the East Lake Fire District.

Firefighter Bill Figueredo unleashed a slew of allegations during an East Lake Fire Commission meeting last week, in an effort to fight the accusations that led to his demotion from lieutenant to driver, a pay drop of about $5,000.

In the tone of a man fighting for his job and reputation, Figueredo denied claims he directed a Nazi salute and ethnic slur at Mark Weinkrantz, who chairs the fire commission — the elected body that oversees the department. Another lieutenant, James Finley, also filed a complaint that he overheard Figueredo use a slur against Jewish people.

But as a result of Figueredo's allegations, Finley now faces an investigation over racially charged text messages that came from his phone.

Read more here.

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Popular former administrator sues Pinellas County School Board

The Pinellas County School Board is facing an age discrimination lawsuit from Tarpon Springs High's popular former vice principal.

Wayne McKnight, 52, who was also the school's athletic director, has been denied available jobs at more than 20 schools since his controversial ouster in June, the lawsuit states.

He's largely been passed over for younger, less experienced applicants, in some cases not getting so much as an interview, said Robert McKee, Mc­Knight's attorney.

Read more here.

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Tarpon mayor urges changes at Pinellas Trail intersection

On a cool, sunny morning recently, Dunedin retiree Bill Dye pedaled his three-wheeled blue Tadpole tricycle north on the Pinellas Trail to the intersection of Klosterman Road and Alt. U.S. 19.

The pedestrian crosswalk sign invited him to proceed. But at the precise moment he rolled into the intersection, a middle-age man in a gray convertible zipped around the corner and then screeched to a stop. Dye retreated and signaled for the driver to go ahead.

"I'm out at the trail every day, and it's a problem," said Dye, who said he has biked 100,000 miles and never had an accident. "(Bicyclists) really should not cross the crosswalk unless you make eye contact with the driver."

Read more here.


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Jill Kelley makes surprise appearance at star-studded Washington D.C. party

Times files

The Friday night cocktail party before this weekend's White House Correspondents Dinner was hosted by People and Time Magazine. It was held at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington D.C. And it featured celebrity guests from Mad Men, Saturday Night Live and even reality TV's Duck Dynasty.

But it was Tampa's own Jill Kelley who "stole the spotlight" with an unexpected appearance, according to The Hill, which reported on Kelley's attendance at the party along with the Washington Post and POLITICO.

The Post reported that it asked Kelley, you're back in Washington?

And Kelley, who was wearing a jade-green goddess gown, answered, “Oh, I’m here every weekend."

But at a party full of journalists, the Post asked. Don't you hate journalists? (After all, they camped out in front of her Bayshore Boulevard mansion after she complained to an acquaintance at the FBI about receiving harassing emails from Paula Broadwell, the mistress to David Petraeus. That exploded into a scandal that cost Petraeus his job as head of the CIA and led to news stories about Kelley that prompted South Korea to revoke her status as its honorary consul.) …

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Clearwater Blue Jays?

DUNEDIN -- The Toronto Blue Jays have indicated unhappiness with their spring training facility in Dunedin. Among other things, the city’s aging stadium is almost four miles from the team’s training complex and, these days, Major League teams like to cluster all their spring train facilities in one location.

Meanwhile, Palm Beach Gardens is angling to have the Blue Jays move across the state to a new Palm Beach County stadium complex. Dunedin officials don’t yet know what the Blue Jays want, but if a new Pinellas stadium is in the works, the county might have to dip a bit into bed tax money to help build it, County Commission Chairman Ken Welch said Friday  -- that is, if Dunedin and the Jays can come to some workable compromise..

If not, Welch offered another possible option: Expand practice fields around Bright House Field and have the Blue Jays share that stadium with the Philadelphia Phillies.

"We don’t want to go straight there. I don’t want to pre-empt anything Dunedin is doing,’’ Welch said. "But I think we need to keep our options open.’’

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Pinellas commissioner calls for 3% raises for staff

Friday afternoons are usually when elected officials and government offices dump bad news. But Pinellas Commissioner chose this Friday afternoon to announce he'd like county employees to get a three percent raise next year.

County Administrator Bob LaSala had already been talking about giving his staff, as well as Pinellas County sheriff deputies, a raise, but Roche has gone and put a number on it.

In an email to the rest of the board, he outlined his reasoning. In 2011, lawmakers in Tallahassee voted to require workers to contribute three percent of their pay to their pension plans. The move saved counties money, while effectively giving workers a pay cut.

Roche wants to reverse the pay cut, writing in his memo to the board that the employees "deserve it."

Under fiscal impact, Roche wrote "none."

"The action, itself, will not require a property tax increase," he wrote.

It's an assertion LaSala isn't likely to agree with. …

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Dunedin commissioners vote Thursday on Sail Honeymoon contract

Dunedin commissioners on Thursday will consider a staff recommendation that they renew their Dunedin Causeway concessions contract with Sail Honeymoon.

The longtime vendor and Osprey Bay Outdoors of Clearwater were the only two companies to apply for the job last month.

Dunedin purchasing director Chuck Ankney said Sail Honeymoon was evaluators' unanimous top pick. He said the company boasted a wider selection of watercraft rental inventory and also offered the city a higher fee to rent space on the causeway between the mainland and Honeymoon Island State Park.

Under the proposed contract, the city would receive $221,180 over the course of a 10-year contract. Among the highlights:

-Sail Honeymoon owner Glen Steinke would pour $50,000 worth of improvements into the land, including a new concessions trailer with an updated kitchen and an outdoor dining deck with a wheelchair-accessible ramp. The changes would be completed by August 2014.

-Steinke would spend $1,000 a year on sand and landscaping.

-Sail Honeymoon would be responsible for public bathrooms, as well as maintenance, weed control, and cleaning of the land. …

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Tampa chamber supports proposed sales tax exemption on manufacturing equipment

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors on Thursday endorsed a proposed sales tax exemption for the purchase of new manufacturing machinery.

The exemption, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s goals for the legislative session, is being proposed through Senate Bill 518 and House Bill 4013.

Creating  the exemption would save manufacturing companies an estimated $141 million a year, according to the chamber, and the money saved could be spent on job creation, expansion and capital investment. The chamber noted that Florida ranks 49th when it comes to capital expenditures on manufacturing, with companies here spending less than a fifth of the average of money spent in the top 10 states.

In a statement released through the chamber, Creative Sign Designs president and CEO Jamie Harden said, “the sales tax we recently paid on equipment could have gone to salaries for one or two individuals to run those pieces of equipment.”

“Eliminating the sales tax on manufacturers will provide a boost to companies, allowing them to invest more in human capital,” Harden said. …

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