Friday, June 22, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg Council calls for external audit on impact fees

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council reversed course yet again on reviewing transportation impact fees, voting Thursday for an external audit of how the city collects them.

It's the latest fallout from a mysterious 2004 tax break that cost the public $219,000. That's what the Hilton at Carillon Park project should have paid eight years ago before a still-unknown city official gave them a still-unexplained break.

City Council member Steve Kornell led the charge as a majority voted for an independent audit weeks after the council voted for a less rigorous review of the way city officials assessed those fees.

"It's not a witch hunt," Kornell said. "I'm not making wild accusations ... in my view there's too many questions to make me feel comfortable."

Kornell wants these questions answered about the way the city handled the impact fees during the past decade:

•How can the council keep a better eye on the city's purse strings?

•Was the council given accurate information in 2008 and 2011 meetings with city attorneys that convinced them to settle for much less money?

•Were two 2009 internal audits done correctly? Since those audits uncovered more impact fee errors, how many more could be out there?

"We've not answered any of these questions to my satisfaction," Kornell said. Then the council voted 5-3 to hire the accounting firm Mayer Hoffman McCann P.C. to review a sample of the transportation impact fees assessed from 2004 to 2011.

They were opposed by council members Jim Kennedy, Jeff Danner and Bill Dudley, who believed that spending $50,000 or more on the audit was a waste. They argued that the flawed process was already fixed under Rick Baker, who was mayor when the tax break was given.

"I'm fairly confident that any employees who were involved with anything are no longer with the city," Kennedy said.

He made a motion against the external audit. Danner seconded it.

"I also agree that we're going to find out how we should have closed the barn door after the horses were gone," he said. Added Dudley: "I think we're trying to beat a dead horse."

The 2004 tax break came about because city plans examiner Don Tyre said a superior — he couldn't recall who — ordered him to undercharge the Hilton developer by more than $219,000 in transportation impact fees. The public should have gotten $313,000.

The county discovered the error three years later. St. Petersburg sued the developers to get back the money. But in November the council agreed to a settlement of just $60,000. Council members later blamed staff for not keeping them better informed about the deal.

So on Jan. 12, the council voted to hire an outside auditor to review past impact fee assessments. The council was supposed to meet later to figure out the scope of the external audit, and that's when their resolve fell apart.

After spending nearly two hours on the subject, the council voted March 29 on a less rigorous review: have an external auditor look at an internal audit dating back to 2008.

"I don't necessarily think (anything) went wrong," said city attorney John Wolfe. "I just don't think we're going to get enough out of this.

"I just think it's an expensive way to find out that, yes, better policies would have prevented what happened in the past."

But council members Kornell, Leslie Curran, Charlie Gerdes, Wengay Newton and Karl Nurse decided they still want answers.

"Losing the public trust is very expensive, too," Nurse said. "I think if it costs us a little bit more money to get back the public trust, I think that's money well spent."

Said Curran: "It's time to do it, be done with it and then we can move on."

Comments
Florida eliminates Texas Tech at College World Series, faces Arkansas for title-round spot

Florida eliminates Texas Tech at College World Series, faces Arkansas for title-round spot

OMAHA, Neb. — JJ Schwarz hit a two-run homer and Florida built enough cushion to survive Texas Tech's six-run outburst over the seventh and eighth innings to eliminate the Red Raiders from the College World Series with a 9-6 win Thursday night....
Updated: 4 hours ago
Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

Missed time a good mental reset for Rays’ Matt Duffy

ST. PETERSBURG — Missing all of 2017 might have been the absolute worst thing for Matt Duffy.Frustratingly idled as he eventually recovered and rehabbed from ongoing left heel issues, he couldn't play the game he loved, couldn't show the Rays o...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Timeline of investigations, suspensions and allegations involving Jameis Winston

Timeline of investigations, suspensions and allegations involving Jameis Winston

The NFL will suspend Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston three games without pay to start the regular season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. The suspension could be increased if he fails to meet certain undisclosed requirements expect...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Jameis Winston suspension means Bucs will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB

Jameis Winston suspension means Bucs will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB

TAMPA — The news of Jameis Winston's suspension to start this season likely means the Bucs will have veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick stepping in at quarterback for the first three games of the regular season.Fitzpatrick took over as the starter for th...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Kevin Knox to Knicks makes NBA history locally

Kevin Knox to Knicks makes NBA history locally

More than a year ago, Kevin Knox stepped across the stage at the Straz Center to receive his high school diploma.On Thursday, the former Tampa Catholic star was on basketball's biggest stage as he fulfilled his lifelong goal of making the NBA.Knox wa...
Updated: 4 hours ago
2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

NHL schedules all balance out at the end, but the Lightning will open 2018-19 with five straight home games and end the season with its last four on the road.The Lightning released its schedule Thursday evening for the upcoming season, with all sorts...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

The Lightning doesn't have a first-round pick in this weekend's draft, but that's not to say the weekend couldn't be busy for general manager Steve Yzerman and his front office.The Lightning sent its top draft pick to the Rangers in February as part ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Next move is simple for the Bucs: Get rid of Jameis Winston

Next move is simple for the Bucs: Get rid of Jameis Winston

Trade him. Waive him. Cut him.Whatever.Just get rid of him.Jameis Winston should never play another game for the Tampa Bay Bucs.Plain and simple, he's a bad guy and the Bucs should have nothing more to do with him.He already will miss the first three...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and intellectual provocateur, dies at 68

Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and intellectual provocateur, dies at 68

Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur who championed the muscular foreign policy of neoconservatism that helped lay the ideological groundwork for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays journal: Jake Bauers proves he’s up to speed on bases

Rays journal: Jake Bauers proves he’s up to speed on bases

ST. PETERSBURG – Rookie 1B Jake Bauers has impressed at the plate and in the field since his June 7 promotion.Also, with his hustling on the bases."I knew he played hard; everybody said that at every level,'' manager Kevin Cash said. "I di...
Updated: 7 hours ago