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Tea party activists urge Pinellas commissioners to cut spending

Activists stage a tax protest Tuesday outside the old County Courthouse in Clearwater before the Pinellas commission met to talk about affordable housing funds and emergency medical service.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Activists stage a tax protest Tuesday outside the old County Courthouse in Clearwater before the Pinellas commission met to talk about affordable housing funds and emergency medical service.

CLEARWATER — The tea party protesters brought signs such as "Say No to Social Justice."

They left behind yellow stickers on doors printed with a message: "Government FOR the people, not AGAINST the people."

What they didn't all have is their facts right Tuesday, as county commissioners squirmed, muttered and bristled at more than an hour of criticism of their spending during a roiling meeting.

Organized by Dr. David McKalip, an outspoken St. Petersburg activist, the protesters balked at $15 million in future spending for land for affordable housing and a proposed increase in the tax rate for emergency medical service.

Kim Cameron of Oldsmar questioned to whom commissioners swore allegiance on the issues: "The United States Constitution, the governed or the devil?"

For the record, no one answered.

Besides calling the spending unnecessary and catering to special interests, some speakers accused the county of skirting the law when voters approved the extension of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax in 2007, claiming they never saw a mention of the funding in projects sold to voters.

But it was included at the time, county documents and news reports show.

Originally, the county pledged to spend $30 million on the land, but cut it in half when the recession hammered revenue. A nonprofit social group, Faith and Action for Strength Together, has urged the county to speed up the spending to next year from 2017.

The board voted 4-3 against Welch's bid to move $5 million in spending to 2012, though the money remains allotted for affordable housing.

The emergency medical service tax rate won't be decided until September, though the county said critics misstated its use, too.

Glenn Pav, a host on WGUL-AM 860, compared the housing funding to a United Nations "usurpation of our state and local government." Others said the money would pay for "winter homes" or "illegal immigrants" or a "redistribution of wealth."

Said McKalip: "Jesus never went to the Romans and asked for a handout."

They clapped after speakers finished, and commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala warned them not to clap so the meeting would go faster. They cackled as commissioners looked on.

Regular gadfly Mark Klutho let loose on the board. Protestors cheered him, too, until he mentioned them. "All of the tea baggers, they came here crying," Klutho scolded.

Amid gasps, someone shouted, "Hey, watch your mouth, boy!"

Then the audience counted down the final six seconds of his three-minute speaking limit.

"Boo-hoo," they scoffed.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes.

Tea party activists urge Pinellas commissioners to cut spending 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 10:37pm]
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