03/07/14 Local Government
A shortlist for shady landlords?
Like most cities, St. Petersburg has its share of slumlords. Council member Darden Rice thinks the city needs another tool to deal with them. She's proposing the city develop a registry of so-called bad apple property owners.
"These slumlords deliberately elude accountability, hide behind corporate veils, defy city ordinances, run up fines, and create unsafe nuisance properties," she wrote to her colleagues....
TALLAHASSEE — At the urging of state Sen. Jack Latvala, the Senate will take up voting law changes that include preventing counties from using satellite locations where voters can drop off absentee ballots.
The proposal is aimed at Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark, but it antagonized two other supervisors who say dropoff sites save money and are convenient for voters....
03/02/14 Local Government
During the recession, as housing prices tumbled and tax revenue declined, Pinellas County cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for the arts. But as the economy improves, arts boosters countywide are beginning to coalesce around a common message: We'd like our money back, please.
It may appear on the surface that the arts are booming in Pinellas, particularly in St. Petersburg, which multiple publications have crowned as an arts destination. But leaders of some of the county's top performing arts venues, as well as existing arts organizations, say that the loss of funding has forced groups to get by on shoestring budgets, crippled any expansion plans they had, and led some to close....
02/28/14 Human Interest
Over three decades, Pam Iorio has earned a reputation as a plain-spoken, unflinching executive who can build up an organization or clean up a mess.
As Hillsborough County supervisor of elections, she helped institute statewide reforms after Florida's voting debacle in 2000. As mayor of Tampa, she tripled City Hall's reserves. As interim head of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, she cleaned house after a personnel and financial controversy....
On paper, Cheyrl Bowman of Largo looks like the prototypical Pinellas County mail ballot voter.
She's a registered Republican and over the age of 65, like most residents in the 13th congressional district who have chosen to vote by mail in the special election to fill the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young's seat.
But Bowman, 73, is also a classic swing voter and, on her mail ballot earlier this month, she chose Democrat Alex Sink, in part because of the candidate's support for the Affordable Care Act. Amid a raging national debate over health care, older voters like her are turning out in droves, and the importance they attach to issues like Social Security, Medicare and the health care law could decide the fate of this Gulf Coast district....
Whatever appeal the Pinellas County Commission District 4 race held for Neil Brickfield, it's long gone.
The former commissioner, who lost his bid for re-election in 2012 and had filed to run again this Nov., announced on his Facebook page on Wednesday that he's withdrawn his candidacy. Brickfield was one of seven Republicans in the race and was one of the most well known to voters, but his 2012 defeat is only recent history, as is his vote to halt fluoridation of the county's drinking water, which he later said he regretted....
02/25/14 Local Government
Up until now, Pinellas County's public education campaign to tell voters about the upcoming transit referendum has been geared toward the county's business and government elite. That could soon change.
Board members of Pinellas' transit agency are poised to approve thousands more in funding for the campaign, more than doubling its current marketing budget of $150,000. The additional money is part of an effort to reach ordinary voters who may have never heard of the referendum, known as Greenlight Pinellas, or seen a map of the county's proposed transit overhaul. The referendum, which will go before voters on Nov. 4, calls for increasing the county's sales tax from 7 to 8 cents, raising roughly $130 million a year to pay for an expanded bus system and light rail....
Facing mounting pressure from tea party groups who accused him of acting unethically, one of the leaders of a campaign to pass a transit tax referendum in Pinellas announced on Wednesday that he is resigning.
Ronnie Duncan, a former Pinellas commissioner and chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, said he's leaving his post as co-chair of the Yes for Greenlight campaign, which he helped launch earlier this month to support a referendum that would raise Pinellas' sales tax to pay for mass transit....
It appears the only thing standing between Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers and announcing his plans to run for a Pinellas Commission seat is time. A few days, at most.
In a brief interview on Tuesday, Eggers said he's "very definitely, seriously considering running" and "I really plan to announce that in the next couple of days."
Eggers, 56, a Republican, would make the eleventh candidate to run for the District 4 seat, which has been held since 2000 by Commissioner Susan Latvala. Her decision to retire from the board, creating a rare open commission seat, has already attracted a boatload of candidates, some of whom have never run for office before while others, like Neil Brickfield, a former Republican Pinellas commissioner who lost a re-election bid in 2012, have experience in politics....
Seizing on a project that sat idle for years, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that he will make $131 million available to build an elevated expressway linking Interstate 275 and U.S. 19, the second major transportation project he has pledged to fast-track in an election year.
At a news conference, Scott said that because of Florida's improving economy, the state now has enough money to build the expressway, a project that local planners have been discussing for more than a decade. Expected to cost nearly $338 million, the elevated toll expressway would allow motorists to travel quickly between the county's two major arteries, I-275 and U.S. 19. It would also take them from I-275 to St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and the Bayside Bridge. ...
02/15/14 Local Government
As campaigns for and against a proposed sales tax increase for mass transit in Pinellas County kick into gear, the comparisons to Hillsborough are coming daily.
Opponents call the defeat of Hillsborough's referendum in 2010 a model for their own efforts.
Advocates trumpet the fact that Pinellas has a fixed plan, not the to-be-determined proposal that Hillsborough put before voters. And unlike Hillsborough, Pinellas has the support of most of the county's political and business leaders. "We have reached consensus," Brad Miller, the director of Pinellas' transit agency, recently told a crowd of mass transit advocates....
In the wake of conservative activists' call for the leader of Pinellas' pro-transit campaign to resign, mass transit advocates are accusing the group of applying a double standard.
At the center of the debate is an ethical question: Is it wrong for the board member of a public agency to also work for a political advocacy organization that tries to influence policy on the same topic?
Earlier this week, the group Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation sent a letter to the board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, criticizing its chairman, Ronnie Duncan. Duncan leads the "Yes for Greenlight" campaign, an advocacy group that's raising money to support an upcoming transit tax referendum that TBARTA has endorsed....
02/11/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Talk of using tourism tax dollars to build a convention center in Pinellas all but died on Tuesday after commissioners were told that while the area lacks meeting space, it shouldn't gamble on a gargantuan structure it might struggle to fill.
Tampa's 600,000-square-foot convention center "is a tough enough sell," said D.T. Minich, executive director of Pinellas' tourism board. "We don't want to be competing with Tampa."...
02/11/14 Local Government
Opponents of Pinellas County's transit tax referendum are calling for the resignation of the man who is leading the campaign to pass the measure, citing what they say is a conflict of interest.
Members of the conservative group Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation sent a letter on Monday to the board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, criticizing authority chairman Ronnie Duncan for leading the advocacy campaign for the referendum. Called "Yes for Greenlight," the campaign launched last week with the goal of persuading Pinellas voters to support a one-cent sales tax increase to pay for expanded bus service and light rail....
CLEARWATER — Rallying supporters, transit advocates launched a campaign on Friday to pass a 1-cent sales tax increase in Pinellas that would pay for a massive overhaul of the county's transportation system.
"This is vitally important," Pinellas County commissioner Ken Welch said, speaking before a room packed with elected officials, business leaders, political consultants, and activists, many of whom wore green pins that declared only "Yes." ...