Thursday, June 21, 2018


Mark Puente

Mark Puente

Mark Puente covers Pinellas County government, including the constitutional officers and the way they operate their offices. Puente returned to the Tampa Bay Times in July after two years at The Baltimore Sun. He worked as an investigative reporter and was on the team that was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the Freddie Gray saga and city's riots. His "Undue Force" series about police brutality led to reform efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore. The series won the Institute on Political Journalism's Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism's Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States. He joined the Times in November 2010 and covered real estate issues as part of the Times' Business team until June 2012. He then covered St. Petersburg City Hall until March 2014. He spent more than five years with the Plain Dealer in Cleveland where he won multiple journalism awards for his investigative work. His reporting forced a 32-year sheriff in Ohio's largest county to resign from office in 2009 and plead guilty to theft-in-office charges. He took a different path to journalism, logging more than 1 million miles in the cab of a semitrailer truck over 14 years. After leaving the trucking industry, Puente earned a political science degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has a wife and three sons. Go Tar Heels!

CareerSource Pinellas and its sister agency, CareerSource Tampa Bay, spent about $6 million on prepaid Visa and gas cards since 2014, the most of any public jobs center in Florida. At the time of the purchases, both agencies were led by president and CEO Edward Peachey, who was fired in March. Each agency is under investigation by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the U.S. Department of Labor. [Times]

Tampa Bay job centers gave away millions in credit cards and boosted hiring totals

Tampa Bay's two largest job placement agencies handed out $6 million in Visa and gas cards since 2014 – all paid for with public tax dollars – and a share of that money went to people who didn't use the centers to find work and...
Updated: 3 hours ago
The Pinellas County Public Safety Complex opened in 2014. It is a Category 5-rated facility that houses the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the Emergency Operations Center, the 911 dispatch center and Emergency Medical Services. The county filed a lawsuit this month against the contractors who built the complex. ourtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]

Pinellas County files suit against companies who built Public Safety Complex

CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Public Safety Complex was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, but officials now say the $81 million fortress has water leaks and cracked walls.The county filed a lawsuit this month against Harvard Jolly,...
Published: 06/20/18
Pinellas County Director of Human Resources Amy Schoenherr said the county and 109 employees will have to pay about $500,000 in back taxes for domestic-partner beneifits. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]

Accounting error could cost Pinellas County and 109 employees about $500,000

CLEARWATER –– When Pinellas County started offering domestic-partner benefits in 2013, it never paid taxes on the perk or included them in year-end wage records used by employees to file tax returns.That error could now cost the county — and...
Published: 06/13/18
Children play at the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center in 2007 in St. Petersburg. The center has encountered a host of current financial issues. [EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times]

St. Petersburg’s James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center leaders step down

ST. PETERSBURG — Two top employees have resigned and another is on unpaid leave at the James B. Sanderlin Neighborhood Family Center over questions about unauthorized payouts they received for unused vacation pay, officials said.Lounell Britt,...
Published: 06/06/18
Then-Florida's Division of Emergency Management director David Halstead talks to a reporter on 2010

Pinellas County taps former state official David Halstead to serve as interim emergency management director

Though hurricane season started on Friday, Pinellas County has not selected a permanent leader to oversee its emergency management department.Instead, the county tapped former state official David Halstead to serve as interim director...
Updated one month ago
St. Petersburg police officer Donald Sigley interviews a woman suspected of solicitation in 1997. Sigley, an award-winning officer who spent most of his career patrolling on the midnight shift, died May 20 after battling cancer. He retired in 2008 and was 59. [Times (1997)]

Epilogue: St. Petersburg officer Donald Sigley did ‘community policing’ before it had a name

ST. PETERSBURG – While most of the city slept, St. Petersburg police officer Donald Sigley kept the streets safe and taught new officers how to gain respect from residents, whether they needed help or handcuffs.During slow periods, Sigley often...
Updated one month ago
Berkeley Preparatory School students with Sue Thompson's fourth-grade-class enter the Science Center at CareerSource Pinellas' Tyrone center, 7701 22nd Ave N, in St. Petersburg in January during a STEM-focused field trip. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times)

CareerSource Pinellas bought a science center. Now the bill is coming due.

In 2014, Tampa Bay jobs chief Edward Peachey sought to save the failing Science Center of Pinellas County.He asked a small panel of CareerSource Pinellas board members to let him acquire the educational center for $100.The Science...
Updated one month ago
Chairman John Morroni during a Board of County Commissioners meeting. [Times files (2012)]

Tampa Bay mourns a ‘genuine’ leader: John Morroni dies at age 63

Longtime Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni died Sunday night while fighting his third battle against cancer.He was 63.As news of Mr. Morroni's death spread, tributes poured in from across the region and Washington, D.C.
Updated one month ago
The CareerSource Tampa Bay office on Eisenhower Boulevard in Tampa. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)

Payroll records show $3.1 million in bonuses, incentives at CareerSource centers

Two Tampa Bay jobs centers have paid $3.1 million in incentives and bonuses in recent years to employees who helped them record more hirings than any workforce board in Florida.The payout total for CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa...
Updated one month ago
PInellas County Property Appraiser Mike Twitty [SCOTT KEELER    |    TIMES]

How much could Amendment 1 save you in property taxes? Pinellas Appraiser Mike Twitty created a statewide tool to estimate potential savings.

With a controversial amendment on November's ballot that could expand Florida's homestead exemption, Pinellas County Property Appraiser Mike Twitty wants homeowners to know how much they could save.Twitty, working with data from 59...
Updated one month ago