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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Clearwater City Council mulls beach parking options

CLEARWATER 

City traffic engineers recommended Monday that the city not convert Poinsettia Avenue and Eastshore Drive into one-way streets to accommodate a new parking garage on Clearwater Beach --- at least not right away.

“Our recommendation is that we build the garage and then look at making a change in the traffic pattern if it looks like there’s a problem with the garage in operation,” said Paul Bertels, the city’s traffic operations manager at a City Council work session. 

Eventually, converting Poinsettia and Eastshore to one-way traffic could “work very well,” Bertels said, but it would increase congestion where Poinsettia branches off from the Clearwater Beach roundabout as cars exit off Memorial Causeway.

Such a traffic redesign would also put more wheels along Baymont Street to the north of the proposed nearly 700-car garage at the Pelican Walk Plaza.

Paradise Group, a Safety Harbor developer, will build the garage. In 2016, the city will buy at least 450 spaces for about $11 million, using parking fund revenue, according to a tentative agreement.  …

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Largo election dance card filling up

LARGO -- This city’s next election isn’t until November, but candidates are already staking out their territory.
A chain reaction of events is setting up a ballot where five of seven Largo City Commission seats will be up for grabs.
The main reason for the shake-up: Longtime Mayor Pat Gerard will be stepping down to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, opening up the office of mayor.
Vice Mayor Woody Brown, 43, is running for mayor. He might be opposed by former Mayor Bob Jackson, who is considering a political comeback.
Other than the mayor’s race, at this point there are six candidates running for the four remaining City Commission seats. There’s plenty of time for that to change. But right now, here’s how it shakes out:
Seat 1: Michael Smith, a 32-year-old librarian, is running for re-election to a second term in office. So far, he’s unopposed.
Seat 2: Robert Murray, 59, is not seeking re-election. Instead, two political newcomers are running for this open seat. One is Samantha Fenger, 35, a former community outreach coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County. She has served on Largo’s Community Development Advisory Board. The other is Daniel Ruffner, 47, a vice president at BB&T Bank and a member of Largo’s Code Enforcement Board.
Seat 5: Long-serving commissioner Harriet Crozier, 69, is running for re-election again. She will be challenged by political newcomer Donna Holck, 51, owner of DJH Tax Consulting in Largo.
Seat 6: Retired Largo police Chief John Carroll, 54, who left the police force last year, is running for the seat that Woody Brown is vacating.
The qualifying period for candidates will last for two weeks, probably in August, said City Clerk Diane Bruner. That’s when candidates must turn in 200 petition cards signed by Largo voters.
The nonpartisan election is Nov. 4. Largo’s ballot will also have about eight city charter amendment questions.
Largo commissioners earn an annual salary of $13,454 and serve four-year terms. The mayor’s salary is $20,180.
Gerard, who was first elected mayor in 2006, has mixed feelings about stepping down.
“It’s hard to think about leaving. I’ve been doing it for eight years now, and six years before that on the commission,” she said. “But it’s time to turn it over to somebody else.”
Gerard must submit her resignation as mayor in time for the June qualifying period for County Commission candidates. But she can stay on as mayor for most of this year. Her resignation won’t have to take effect until November, when Largo’s next mayor is elected and sworn in.
One person who might run for mayor is  Jackson, the former mayor whom Gerard defeated in 2006.
“It’s a tough decision to make,” Jackson said in an interview. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Jackson, a retired school principal, was Largo’s mayor for two terms and was on the City Commission for three decades. He says he may not run for office again, partly because he’s 80 years old.
“I enjoy retirement a lot,” he said, adding that he could still do the job: “I think the concept of experience is overlooked in this country.”
In any case, he has plenty of criticism for the current city commissioners. He disagrees with their recent decision to waive an impact fee that apartment developers would normally pay for parkland acquisition in Largo.
He also accuses the elected commissioners of being a mere rubber stamp for the city’s hired staff. “Your job is to set policy, not just listen to what the staff says.”
For her part, Gerard isn’t surprised by Jackson’s criticism.
“Bob was always the 'no’ guy on the commission,” Gerard said. “He would vote 'no.’ And instead of trying to convince the rest of us, he would just get mad and bring it up again six months later.”
At this stage, the apparent early frontrunner to be Largo’s next mayor is vice mayor Brown. A 6-foot-7 chiropractor who has a practice in downtown Largo, he’s been on the commission since 2007. He’s been elected twice, largely by exuding a positive attitude and pledging to build consensus.
“I enjoy living in Largo. I came back here to start my business and raise a family and I just want to keep it the place that I enjoy living,” Brown said.
As for Jackson’s criticism that commissioners are a rubber stamp for the city staff, Brown responded: “If that’s what you think, you haven’t been paying attention.”

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Hillsborough Civil Service director apologizes to Sheriff

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County's Civil Service Board apologized to Sheriff David Gee last week for statements made by a Civil Service employee to a Florida House committee that implied the Sheriff's Office wants to do away with affirmative action in its hiring. 

Civil Service, which performs human resources-type duties for 21 local government agencies, could see its operations slashed by Florida House Bill 683, which would allow local governments to take over many of the duties Civil Service currently performs. On March 12, Alma Gonzalez -- a Civil Service employee -- testified to the House Committee on Local and Federal Affairs that "The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is not sure they want to do affirmative action the way it is currently being done," according to a press release issued by Civil Service Director Dane Peterson March 26. …

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Largo candidates stake out turf with 5 of 7 seats in play

LARGO -- This city’s next election isn’t until November, but candidates are already staking out their territory.

A chain reaction of events is setting up a ballot where five out of seven Largo City Commission seats will be up for grabs.

The main reason for the shake-up: Longtime Mayor Pat Gerard will be stepping down to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, opening up the office of mayor. …

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In-state tuition, Tampa immigrant rights initiatives to be focus of panel on April 2

Raíces en Tampa and Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society will host a panel discussion on immigration at 7 p.m. April 2 at the University of South Florida.

Speakers include Masao Suzuki, a professor of economics at Skyline College and longtime political activist in San Jose, Calif., Marisol Marquez of Raíces en Tampa, who will discuss immigrant rights in Tampa, and Veronica Juarez of Tampa Bay SDS, who will address in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

The panel will take place in Room 150 of the Social Sciences Building on USF’s Tampa campus and is open to the public.

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Tampa Bay area counties in middle of the pack in health survey

Times files (2013)

In a new study of comparative health, Hillsborough and Pinellas rank near the middle of the pack among Florida’s 67 counties.

The study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute compares counties based on 29 factors, including smoking rates, obesity, access to primary care doctors, air pollution, children in poverty and access to mental health providers.

Hillsborough ranked 31st and Pinellas 35th. Pasco and Hernando lagged behind, ranking 42nd and 50th, respectively. St. Johns County was the healthiest in Florida. Union County ranked last.

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Hillsborough commissioners to talk red-light cameras

TAMPA -- In the aftermath of two controversial red-light camera votes by local city councils, County Commissioner Les Miller wants to talk next week about cameras in the unincorporated county. Would-be red-light runners shouldn't get their hopes up, though. Miller thinks they work. 

Miller has asked for a discussion to be scheduled for the next commission meeting, April 2, for a status report on the cameras, which the county installed in 2009. City councils in St. Petersburg and Tampa have recently voted to end the lights in their cities, however several Tampa City Council members said they'd reverse their votes if the mayor changed how ticket revenue was spent.

Miller said Tuesday he'd be open to expanding the county's red-light program, if representatives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office recommend it. The county has lights at six intersections. 

"I think they work," Miller said. "I'd like to hear what the experts have to say." 

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Civil engineer Jackie Toledo files for Tampa City Council District 6

Tampa civil engineer and entrepreneur Jackie Toledo filed papers Monday to run for Tampa City Council.

Toledo, 37, is running in District 6, the seat that council chairman Charlie Miranda is scheduled to leave next March because of term limits.

Born in Lima, Peru, Toldedo has lived in Tampa for nearly 25 years, graduating from Gaither High School and the University of South Florida. In addition to her job as an engineer, in which she specializes in transportation issues, she owns a small business, Tampa Creative Camp, a performing arts school for children. She has served on the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council since 2009.

A first-time candidate, Toledo has five children and said she wants to serve on the City Council to make the city a place where her kids would want to live and raise their own families.

“I want to help in growing the city,” she said in a recent interview.

One of four single-member seats on the council, District 6 covers parts of South and West Tampa, plus center-city neighborhoods such as South Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and Wellswood. Its neighborhoods include some of Tampa’s poorest and some of its richest. …

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A slip and a quip during Buckhorn's state of the city

Along with his big news on Jane Castor and his support of Greenlight Pinellas, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn got some laughs during his state of the city speech Tuesday — not all of them scripted.

At one point, Buckhorn was talking about regional cooperation and said, "Rick Kriseman, the mayor of Tampa — the mayor of St. Pete, we're in this together." A ripple of laughter.  "Yeah, he's not going to be the mayor of Tampa." More laughs. "That ain't happening."

Then he paused.

"I wouldn't mind his baseball team."

Big laugh, with applause. Then he added:

"I just figured out what the lead story's going to be tomorrow."

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Tampa’s unorthodox but successful fire and police pension fund draws more national attention

Of all the things Tampa city government does, nothing quite attracts high-profile notice from the national business press like the fire and police pension fund.

The latest clip on the $1.76 billion pension fund comes from the New York Times. An article on the front of the Times’ business section Saturday asked, “Are the trustees of the Tampa firefighters and police officers pension fund out of their minds?”

On one hand, there’s the fund’s unorthodox approach. Just one outside money manager — not the teams of investment professionals and consultants that other many funds use — makes the key decisions about what to buy and sell. That manager, Harold “Jay” Bowen III, president of Bowen, Hanes & Co., in Atlanta, stays away from hedge funds, private equity and speculative bonds, as well as index and mutual funds. Instead, the Tampa fund puts its money largely in stocks, and not a large number of them, and fixed-income investments. This approach, the Times said, “pretty much breaks all the conventional rules of fund management.” …

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Hillsborough commissioners give county attorney raise, extension

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners gave County Attorney Chip Fletcher a raise this week, and hinted he could see his salary increase again this summer.

During Fletcher's annual evaluation at Wednesday's meeting, commissioners voted to give him the same 3.5 percent raise most county employees got last October. Fletcher's salary will go from $205,000 to $212,175, and the raise will be retroactive to Oct. 1, meaning he'll get paid the money he would have made had the raise gone into effect then.

"He has done yeoman's work for us, and for the administration," said Commissioner Sandy Murman. She added that Fletcher probably deserves a bigger raise, which could be negotiated this summer as part of the county's budget proceedings.

Commissioners also voted to extend Fletcher's contract, which was set to expire in November, for another three years. Fletcher, former city attorney for Tampa, was hired by county government in October 2012. 

 

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Victor Crist: Brandes-backed amendment would kill PTC

TAMPA -- After a bill to abolish Hillsborough County's controversial Public Transportation Committee died in December, it appeared the agency would escape the 2014 legislative session unscathed.

Maybe not.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) added an amendment to a seemingly unrelated bill that would outlaw the PTC, County Commissioner Victor Crist said Wednesday.

"It basically guts the agency, taking away all of its abilities to regulate," said Crist, also PTC chairman. "In essence, we're dead."

Brandes said Crist is overreacting, and the amendment would just restrict the agency's regulation of limousines.

"Unfortunately, it will not outlaw the PTC," Brandes said.

The PTC, which regulates taxicabs, limousines, ambulances and tow trucks in Hillsborough, is unique in Florida and has drawn complaints of corruption and waste. One former county commissioner, Kevin White, is in federal prison for taking bribes as PTC chairman. The agency's former director, Cesar Padilla, retired last year after it was discovered he was moonlighting at another job while on the clock. …

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Tarpon Springs zoning board enthusiastically hails gun range plan

TARPON SPRINGS| The city's Planning and Zoning Board members aren't among those who fear a nearly 60,000-square-foot indoor gun range will bring noise, pollution and the potential for violence to Tarpon Springs. They gave unanimous, even enthusiastic, support to the proposed range Monday night.

European Equities, a Clearwater development firm, wants to build Reload Gun Range at 40050 U.S. 19, on the west side of the highway north of Klosterman Road. Developers say it would be one of the largest and most advanced ranges in the Southeast and would draw customers from as far as an hour away.

The zoning board, which by law can consider only whether projects meet city code, followed a staff recommendation to unanimously recommend the project to the City Commission. Several board members and residents praised the proposal.

But at least a half-dozen individuals and organizations have called or emailed the city to voice objections, and one resident spoke against the project Monday.

Details here.

The project comes before the City Commission for final approval April 15. …

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Eddie Gonzalez, a Tampa police chief with a knack for putting people at ease, dies at 73

Miami Herald

Eddie Gonzalez, who died Friday at 73 of a heart attack in South Florida, wasn’t Tampa’s longest-serving police chief, but he may have been its most relaxed.

Then-Mayor Sandy Freedman hired Gonzalez, Tampa’s chief from March 1992 through June 1993, away from his job as second-in-command at the Metro-Dade Police Department.

As a reporter, my first look at Gonzalez was not in person, but on videotape, and it was telling. Before he arrived in Tampa, I borrowed the tape of the city’s interviews with each of the finalists for police chief.

At one point, I ran through the tape on fast-forward, and one thing jumped out: The other finalists were accomplished police administrators, but their body language suggested they were all about control. Their gestures were tight, and their hands stayed close to their bodies. They pointed. Ticked off lists on their fingers. Used their palms flatly, like spades, to push unseen things around in short, straight lines. …

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Tampa City Council districts tweaked to rebalance the effects of lopsided growth

With city elections one year away, officials have made some minor adjustments to the district boundaries for the four Tampa City Council members elected from single-member districts.

Each of these districts is meant to represent a quarter of the city, though the population has shifted over the past decade. District 7, which covers North and New Tampa, had grown more than 35 percent to include nearly 92,000 residents. The district, represented by Lisa Montelione, not only had three of the most populous voting precincts in the city, but also had many of the precincts that grew most since 2010.

To rebalance the districts, the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission considered six different redistricting scenarioes. It selected one that affected five voting precincts and produced four council districts with an average of 85,469 residents apiece. (The council's other three members are elected citywide). Click here for a map of the approved plan. Click here for more details about the process and different scenarioes. …

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