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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Clearwater Bar gives honors

   Three judges and a court system spokesman have been honored by the Clearwater Bar Association, according to a news release issued Thursday.

   * The John U. Bird Judicial Excellence Award was given to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judges Raymond Gross and William R. Webb.

   * The late Pinellas County Judge Patrick Caddell, who died earlier this year of cancer,  received the George W. Greer Judicial Independence Award.

   * The Liberty Bell Award, which goes each year to a non-lawyer for outstanding service, was given to court spokesman Ron Stuart.

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New Dunedin policy encourages art element for public and private construction

DUNEDIN| City commissioners have decided that Dunedin will encourage the incorporation of either artwork or decorative architectural features into the design of both private and city construction projects.

The resolution was drafted by the Arts & Culture Advisory Committee. For publicly funded projects, a member of the volunteer citizen group will offer ideas on how to include art “to the extent that budgets allow.”

Private developers will be urged to set aside part of project costs for an art element.

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Dunedin official: Ex-Nielsen site 'unlikely' for new Blue Jays spring training stadium

DUNEDIN| The Toronto Blue Jays will spend at least 30 to 45 more days researching before they submit a spring training facilities wish list and cost estimate to the city, officials say.

The Jays have trained in Dunedin for 37 years, but spent several months last year exploring a deal with the Houston Astros for a two-team stadium complex in Palm Beach Gardens on Florida’s east coast — an idea later quashed by community opposition.

Team officials had cited the nearly 4-mile distance between the Dunedin practice facilities and stadium as the impetus for their search for a new spring training home.

City staff told commissioners last week that the Jays are now okay with a split-facility concept but want to add at least one full field to the stadium and more parking.

During talks between the city and Sen. Jack Latvala this spring, the 22-acre former Nielsen Media Research property at 375 Patricia Avenue emerged as a potential site for a new stadium. …

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Oldsmar tech company gives $25,000 to Friends of Greenlight

An Oldsmar technology company has helped nudge the Friends of Greenlight closer to its $1 million fundraising goal.

Vology, Inc. gave $25,000 to the political action committee this month, accounting for most of the $26,260 collected July 5-18, according to the latest campaign finance report posted Friday.

The company sells new and pre-owned networking equipment worldwide, according to its website.

"We believe that the current lack of public transportation infrastructure in Tampa Bay is the biggest risk to the continued success of our region if we look out 10-plus years, so supporting this initiative seems to be the responsible thing for us to do," chief executive officer Barry Shevlin said in an email to Bay Buzz.

The donation brings the group's grand total to $615,175. The company joins other large donors including the Tampa Bay Rays, Raymond James Financial, Regions Bank, and BayCare Health System.

Opposition group No Tax for Tracks raised $1,465 in the same period, bringing its total to $38,466.04. …

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Legg backs Gregg in Pasco primary

House District 36 candidate Chris Gregg picked up state Sen. John Legg's endorsement this week after House Speaker Will Weatherford announced his support for the New Port Richey Republican last week.

"Chris Gregg has demonstrated a commitment to service as an (Air Force) veteran," Legg, R-Lutz, said in a statement Friday. "As a small business owner, Chris knows firsthand just what it takes to spur job creation and grow our local economy. I’m excited to support his bid for state representative."

Gregg, a Republican, is challenging Jim Mathieu, chairman of Pasco's Republican Party, in the Aug. 26 primary to take on Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey.

"Senator Legg is a true leader in Pasco County and has been a champion for education reform in the state Senate," Gregg said. "Having the support of such a trusted leader is a huge boost to our campaign and continues to demonstrate the growing momentum and support we are picking up as each day passes."

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St. Petersburg City Council moves forward on charter amendment


ST. PETERSBURG -- The City Council's fire in the belly to change the city's charter so that council members can opine on high-level mayoral appointments may be cooling, but supporters of the change appear to have the votes to get the proposal on the November ballot. 

At Thursday's meeting, Council member Charlie Gerdes said he was reluctant to alter a "foundational document" 

"It just gives me pause," he said.  

Gerdes ended up voting to advance the proposal by Council member Karl Nurse in spite of his reservations. As did Council member Jim Kennedy who said he was cautious about the change, feeling it might "whittling away at the strong mayor concept." 

Council chairman Bill Dudley wasn't conflicted. He voted no, saying he thought council was overstepping its bounds in putting the issue before voters on Nov. 4.  

Currently, the charter prohibits council members from voicing an opinion on mayoral appointments. If they do, they could be removed from office.  

Even if Gerdes and Kennedy peel off, though, only five votes are needed to pass the amendment.   

Council members Amy Foster, Steve Kornell and Wengay Newton are firmly in the yes camp.  …

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State Rep. Dwight Dudley's wife to play judge on CBS show 'Reckless'

ST. PETERSBURG ­­— Mary Rachel Dudley, the wife of state Rep. Dwight Dudley, will play a judge in the CBS television series Reckless on Sunday.

For those unaware of Reckless, the website IMDB describes the plot this way: “In sultry Charleston, where summer is long and secrets simmer behind every door, sex and crime walk hand in hand as two adversaries, a gorgeous Yankee litigator and a southern City Attorney, struggle to hide their intense attraction while clashing over a police sex scandal that threatens to implode the city.”

Mary Rachel Dudley’s agent advised her against any spoiler leaks. She said she plays in at least two scenes. 

She has been acting for more than 25 years. Her father, John Michael Quinn was in The Alamo with John Wayne and also had a role in Dracula, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. 

When he’s not making laws, Dwight Dudley said he often lends his wife a hand with her scripts.

“Oh God yes,” Dwight Dudley said. “I read with her sometimes and she’ll ask me, ‘Honey, can you hold the camera?’”

Mary Rachel Dudley had a few minor roles in the 1990s and has done TV commercials. In 2010 she got a role in Dear John, starring Channing Tatum. …

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Developer seeks demolition permit for Belleview Biltmore hotel

BELLEAIR| The St. Petersburg developer pursuing the purchase of the Belleview Biltmore has  filed applications asking the town to approve his requests that the hotel be demolished, the site rezoned and his vision for condos, townhomes and a boutique hotel approved.

Attorney Ed Armstrong submitted the more-than-300-page packet plus exhibits Friday on behalf of JMC Communities founder Mike Cheezem, who is in the process of buying the hotel from Miami investors Daniel and Raphael Ades for $6.6 million.

The documents include a preliminary development plan, application for a demolition permit based on "economic hardship" and a request that town commissioners change the property's hotel and single family-only zoning to a mixed-use designation recently added to town code.

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Dunedin aims to create St. Petersburg-inspired arts district

DUNEDIN| If city leaders get their way, Dunedin - home of Honeymoon Island, craft beer, Blue Jays baseball and many things Scottish - could soon add another identity: arts capital of Florida.

After years of talk, the city has moved on road improvements, and approved the creation of grants, permit fee reductions and other incentives aimed at turning a 45-acre swath just north of downtown into a place where artists would buy deteriorating properties, renovating them into homes that double as work studios. The artists would occasionally be allowed to post sidewalk signs and sell their wares during special events, such as the 2nd Friday Art Walk, or other designated times.

The goal, officials say, is to create a niche that draws tourists and potential residents who are already enamored with offerings at the Dunedin Fine Art Center, nearby galleries and the popular arts community in South Pinellas.

"We've seen this happen in St. Petersburg, where some very difficult streets taken over by artists really changed the flavor of the whole neighborhood," said Dunedin planning and development director Greg Rice. "We were hoping for some of the same kind of revitalization."

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$32 million in construction for additional tankers at MacDill expected in next few years

KC-135 Stratotankers take part in a nose-to-tail "elephant walk," as it's known in the Air Force, at MacDill Air Force Base in 2012. MacDill has 16 KC-135 tankers and is expected to receive eight more in 2018 once a new generation of KC-46 tankers starts to roll off Boeing's assembly line.

Senior Airman Melissa V. Paradis | MacDill AFB (2012)

KC-135 Stratotankers take part in a nose-to-tail "elephant walk," as it's known in the Air Force, at MacDill Air Force Base in 2012. MacDill has 16 KC-135 tankers and is expected to receive eight more in 2018 once a new generation of KC-46 tankers starts to roll off Boeing's assembly line.

The Pentagon expects to budget $32 million for infrastructure upgrades at MacDill Air Force Base to support new KC-135 jet tankers being transferred to Tampa, Department of Defense officials told five members of the Tampa Bay area's congressional delegation on Tuesday.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Repubican representatives Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, David Jolly of Indian Shores, Rich Nugent of Spring Hill and Dennis Ross of Lakeland met at Castor's office with a group from the Pentagon that included Kathleen Ferguson, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics.

During the discussion, according to Castor's staff, the delegation focused on the infrastructure projects needed to support eight new KC-135 jet tankers and nearly 300 new personnel that the Air Force has said it plans to move to MacDill in 2018. MacDill already is home to 16 of the KC-135 "Stratotankers."

“Additional aircraft and personnel means economic expansion and jobs for the Tampa Bay area,” Castor said in a statement after the meeting. "Ensuring MacDill’s vitality helps to sustain the vitality of our local economy." …

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Lisa Montelione seeking re-election to Tampa City Council

Lisa Montelione

Lisa Montelione

Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione on Tuesday filed to run for re-election to the council's District 7 seat representing North Tampa and New Tampa.

Montelione, 53, lives in the Terrace Park neighborhood and works as the business manager for Rising Force Construction, a firm that specializes in environmentally friendly green projects.

"There are a lot of things in the north and New Tampa and Tampa Palms areas that I think could use improvement," she said. "There are a lot of people who need representatiion, whether they are registered voters or just people who happen to live within those boundaries, that I want to serve." …

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Hillsborough government director finalist for Virginia job

A department director being forced out of Hillsborough County government is a finalist for a similar job in Virginia.

Venerria "Ven" Thomas is a one of two finalists to be director of human services at the city of Newport News, the city announced Tuesday. Thomas and one other candidate are interviewing with city officials this week. 

Thomas, 58, is director of Family and Aging Services in Hillsborough, and has been told her job will be phased out in September, she said Tuesday. Thomas makes $144,997 here. She formerly oversaw operations including the county's Social Services Division, which spawned several controversies for Hillsborough government, most notably problems that led to the closure of the Homeless Recovery program.  

"It's not something I took personally," said Thomas of the news she needed to start looking for work. "I've been in public service long enough to know that administrators, mayors, and chief executives make reorganization decisions all the time ... This sounds like it would be a great job." 




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St. Petersburg gets closer to refinancing some stadium debt

ST. PETERSBURG | The city advanced a plan to refinance a portion of its debt related to Tropicana Field on Thursday, though final approval by the City Council is required at next week's meeting.

Under a deal with SunTrust Bank, the city will refinance about $17 million remaining on debt that matures in 2025 and is covered by a $2 million annual payment from the state to the city.

SunTrust has agreed to give the city an annual interest rate of 2.63 percent, leading to a projected savings of about $1.7 million, finance director Anne Fritz told a city council budget committee. (See our earlier story on the issue here.)

The city will pour those savings into other Tropicana debts, Fritz said.

As part of the deal, the city will give up its right to a jury trial. City attorneys said that's become standard in these types of transactions.

The matter will go before the full council on July 24.

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And the winners of this year's Hillsborough Hob Nob straw poll are...


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Weatherford endorses Gregg in Pasco GOP primary

Republican House candidate Jim Mathieu, his party's leader in Pasco County, is getting snubbed again by outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Weatherford is endorsing Mathieu's opponent, Chris Gregg, in the House District 36 Republican primary.

"Pasco County needs effective leaders to help represent our great county in Tallahassee," Weatherford said in a statement released Tuesday.

He went on to praise Gregg for being a veteran, as well as his background in business and the health care industry.

Gregg was an Air Force medic and currently works for a laboratory testing company, Miramar-based American Health Associates.

“I’m thrilled and humbled to receive the support of such a great leader for our state and our county," Gregg said.

While Weatherford's choice of endorsement might seem surprising, it's not exactly precedent-setting.

When Mathieu ran for District 36 in last summer's special election, Weatherford endorsed Mathieu's GOP rival, Bill Gunter.

Other members of Pasco's Republican legislative delegation did the same also.

At the time, Mathieu said he posed a threat to the "old boy establishment." …

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