Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Politics

Pinellas candidates peeved about county plucking of signs

As the Nov. 6 election approaches, Pinellas County officials have gone on a campaign sign-clearing spree, infuriating candidates and drawing complaints that the practice is unfair and politically driven.

In Pinellas, where car culture dominates, political road signs are a core element of campaigns. And they are everywhere, mushrooming on the corners of major intersections, right-of-way strips — where they should not be — and in front of homes and businesses. For months, the county largely has left them alone.

But last Sunday, county officials got aggressive.

The Code Enforcement Office dispatched five trucks and a handful of employees to pull signs off major roads in unincorporated Pinellas. According to candidates, they also removed some from private property, where the owners had given their permission.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he was driving on East Lake Road when he saw a county employee pull one of state Sen. Jack Latvala's signs out of the grass on private property. One of Gualtieri's signs, which he had moved to a new spot months ago after receiving a code enforcement warning, also was confiscated.

"I was pretty astonished," he said. "They told us where it was was fine. It's been there six or seven months. Then all of a sudden on a Sunday morning they're out ripping them up."

Frustrated by the sweep, lawyer Lauralee Westine, Gualtieri's wife, decided to investigate. On Monday, she filed a public records request with the county, asking for 19 pieces of information, including the personnel file of code enforcement director Todd Myers and a record of how much was spent on overtime payments.

"I am just trying to figure out where this came from," she said.

Nancy Bostock, a Republican from Treasure Island who is seeking re-election to her County Commission seat, said county staffers removed one of her signs in front of a gas station even though the owner had agreed to host it.

The timing was odd, she said, and the location was suspect. The neighborhoods where most of the signs were removed — East Lake and Palm Harbor — are Republican strongholds.

"I am very concerned that our county administrator would all of a sudden start to aggressively enforce sign removal policies," she said. "It smacks of politics. And I have serious concerns about his objectivity."

Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala said he did not order the sign sweep; it came after complaints from residents and business owners had piled up. When the county had a bigger staff and budget, it was better at keeping sign violations in check throughout the election season, LaSala said. But with a leaner crew, the county responds when it can.

"There may have been some that were taken down that shouldn't have been," he said. "I've reiterated to the staff that they have to exercise great care in not taking signs off private property."

County officials say future sweeps are possible.

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

Comments
Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

Focused on Cuba’s future, Rep. Castor skips meeting with Raul Castro

TAMPA — One highlight of a congressional delegation’s visit to Cuba this week was an impromptu meeting with President Raul Castro.But not for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.The Tampa Democrat joined five other Democrats on the trip, in part to investigate th...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Melania Trump’s parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on ‘chain migration’

Melania Trump’s parents are legal permanent residents, raising questions on ‘chain migration’

The parents of first lady Melania Trump have become legal permanent residents of the United States and are close to obtaining their citizenship, according to people familiar with their status, but their attorney declined to say how or when the couple...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

Alex Trebek will moderate a Republican debate in the Pennsylvania governor’s race

We’ll take "surprising side gigs" for $1,000! "Jeopardy" host Alex Trebek will moderate a debate among Republican hopefuls vying for the Pennsylvania gubernatorial nomination.The longtime game show star will be questioning candidates at an Oct. 1 for...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Spring Hill candidate for Congress: ‘I care about this community — I will scream that from the rafters’

Spring Hill candidate for Congress: ‘I care about this community — I will scream that from the rafters’

SPRING HILL — A Hernando County woman new to the political arena has filed as the fifth Democrat to run against longtime Florida lawmaker U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster for his spot in the U.S. House of Representatives.Dana Cottrell, 49, has lived in Sprin...
Updated: 8 hours ago
St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.The relaunch of the maritime competition canceled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under former P...
Published: 02/20/18
Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

Special counsel files new charge in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — The special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election charged an attorney Tuesday with lying to federal investigators about his interactions with a former Trump campaign official. A charging document filed in federa...
Published: 02/20/18
Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

Man featured on ‘Trump Dating’ site has child sex conviction

GREENSBORO, N.C. — A North Carolina man with a felony conviction for indecent liberties with a child was one-half of the poster couple for a new "Trump Dating" website.News outlets reported Monday that visitors to the dating site geared toward suppor...
Published: 02/20/18
Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Ex-workers at Russian ‘troll factory’ trust U.S. indictment

Associated PressST. PETERSBURG, Russia — While Russian officials scoff at a U.S. indictment charging 13 Russians with meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, several people who worked at the same St. Petersburg, Russia, "troll factory" say t...
Published: 02/19/18
Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Trump offers support for limited effort on background checks

Associated PressWEST PALM BEACH — From the confines of his Mar-a-Lago golf club, President Donald Trump offered support Monday for a limited strengthening of federal background checks on gun purchases while staying largely mum in the past few days ab...
Published: 02/19/18
For the weary White House, Florida shooting offered a ‘reprieve’ from scandals

For the weary White House, Florida shooting offered a ‘reprieve’ from scandals

The White House was under siege.Domestic abuse allegations against a senior aide were ignored, pointing to a potential high-level coverup. Two Cabinet secretaries were caught chargin taxpayers for luxury travel. A Playboy centerfold alleged an extram...
Published: 02/19/18