Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lone state bill to reform Pinellas construction licensing board is killed

When a controversy erupted in November over possibly faked nominations to serve on the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, state lawmakers vowed to craft new legislation that would make the nomination process more transparent.

SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board plays fast and loose with disciplinary process

But that legislation was tainted from the start: executive director Rodney Fischer, whom a county commissioner suspected of submitting those fake nominations, was allowed to make suggestions to the proposed reforms.

SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas licensing board leader Rodney Fischer described as a 'bully' and 'suspicious' in clashes with employees and county officials

That's according to state Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole. Fischer announced his retirement on Jan. 31 after the Tampa Bay Times reported about issues with how he managed the agency and how it treated customers and disciplined contractors during his tenure.

But while Fischer left, the bill he helped shape lived on.

It finally died on Thursday, after the Times asked Ahern about the legislation.

"That is the bill that Fischer wanted," Ahern said. "At the time, Mr. Fischer was still in good standing. He brought the suggestions to the table.

"I suspect at this point, nothing will happen with the bill. We're not going to pass it."

The Pinellas agency is the only licensing board in the state that runs itself. It doesn't report to county government, so there's no oversight. It can only be reformed by the Florida Legislature.

But the agency is also being investigated by a grand jury, and that inquiry may not be finished until after this year's legislative session is over. Ahern said he believes it is unlikely that the Pinellas legislative delegation will propose any reforms until the grand jury probe is done.

That means reform may not happen until the 2018 legislative session. Ahern, however, said he is "inching" closer to abolishing the agency.

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, who first complained about the nominations last year, said he was disappointed the legislative delegation didn't see how serious the problems were at the licensing board much sooner.

"I guess we'll have to wait a year to get real reform," Justice said.

The nominating controversy erupted in November after Justice got into a dispute with Fischer over the names submitted to serve on the licensing agency's governing board. Though the agency is independent, the county commission chair must still approve appointments.

The Times reported that eight people nominated for two spots on the board did not know their names had been submitted until a reporter contacted them. At the time, Fischer blamed the problem on Jennifer Doerfel, executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Builders Association, for the nominations. She blamed Fischer.

For decades, trade associations submitted names to serve on the agency's governing board to the Pinellas County Commission with the top name on the list being their preferred candidate. Then came the controversial nominations in August.

Two of the names submitted by Fischer were already on the board and had served for decades as the licensing board's chairman and vice chairman. Fischer said he wanted both men back. But when Justice asked for more candidates to choose from, the list he got included people who didn't know they had been nominated. Justice called it a way to "rig the system."

Ahern's proposal would have allowed trade groups to submit the name of just one candidate. He said Fischer, who was executive director for 16 years, proposed 21 pages of changes to the legislation.

The Pinellas County Commission wants the legislature to give it control of the licensing agency. But in February, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said he would block that effort. He said the county's request did not meet the public notice requirement for proposed legislation and there wasn't enough time to draft a new law before the 2017 session started.

But Latvala reversed course on Feb. 9, after the board rejected his handpicked candidate to take over as executive director. Latvala then said he would support radical reform, and Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe announced the grand jury investigation.

The agency's governing board got the message the next week: They voted Feb. 16 to hire Latvala's pick, former county administrator Gay Lancaster, as interim director.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

Lone state bill to reform Pinellas construction licensing board is killed 03/09/17 [Last modified: Thursday, March 9, 2017 7:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Fatal crash closes Morris Bridge Road at Pasco-Hillsborough county line

    Accidents

    TAMPA — Deputies have closed down Morris Bridge Road in both directions at the Pasco County Line as they investigate a fatal crash.

  2. Mandarin Hide celebrates 7 years serving craft cocktails in St. Petersburg

    Bars & Spirits

    ST. PETERSBURG

    With its mascot, a mounted buffalo head named Manny, decked out in streamers and a shiny party hat, the Mandarin Hide celebrated seven years of serving cocktails on Central Avenue last Thursday night.

    Mandarin Hide’s mascot, a buffalo head named Manny, donned streamers and a shiny party hat as the bar celebrated seven years of serving cocktails last week.
  3. Florida education news: Working conditions, school choice, teacher housing and more

    Blogs

    WORK CONDITIONS: Two teachers at a Pinellas County middle school request transfers out, saying the campus has become "hostile and racially charged." The …

    Pinellas Park Middle School
  4. Forecast: Break out those sweaters, Tampa Bay, as cooler weather just a day away

    Weather

    Tampa Bay residents will finally be able to break out their sweaters and boots this week, but not until enduring yet another humid, rainy day to start the workweek.

    Tampa Bay's 7-day forecast. [WTSP]
  5. Justin Timberlake in Super Bowl halftime show for first time since 'wardrobe malfunction'

    Celebrities

    Justin Timberlake has finally been invited back to the Super Bowl halftime show, 14 years after the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson caused a national controversy.

    Singer Janet Jackson covers her breast as Justin Timberlake holds part of her costume after her outfit came undone during the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston in 2004. The NFL announced Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017, that Timberlake will headline the Super Bowl halftime show Feb. 4 in Minnesota, 14 years after the "wardrobe malfunction" with Janet Jackson cause a national controversy. [Associated Press]