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Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer

Bill Varian

Bill Varian became the Tampa night city editor for the Tampa Bay Times in early 2014 after writing about Hillsborough County government and politics for 13 years. He joined the Times in 1999 as a crime reporter in Citrus County after five years of writing about growth-related issues and city hall for the Tallahassee Democrat. A 1990 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., he also has worked at newspapers in Augusta, Ga., and Burlington, N.C. Between school and his first news gig, he had a bartending job that required him to dress like a monk. He lives in Tampa.

Phone: (813) 226-3387


Twitter: @VarianTimes

  1. And the winners of this year's Hillsborough Hob Nob straw poll are...


    So each election season, Tampa's business muckety mucks hold what they call a hob nob that candidates attend for grip and grin moments. The highlight is a straw poll, though the results at times can be pretty divorced from reality because they depend much on how many supporters they can talk into attending. The crowd tends to run pretty conservative as well. Still, here are this year's outcomes, which show just the winners and not runners-up.

    County Commission, District 2, Victor Crist
    County Commission, District 4, Rick Cochran 
    County Commission, District 7, Al Higginbotham 

    Circuit judge, 13th Circuit, Group 8, Barbara Twine Thomas 
    Circuit judge, 13th Circuit, Group 19, Michael Scionti
    Circuit judge, 13th Circuit, Group 20, Laura Ward
    Circuit judge, 13th Circuit, Group 34, Robert Bauman
    County judge, Group 12, Chris Nash

    School Board, District 2 Michelle Popp Shimberg
    School Board, District 4, Melissa Snively 
    School Board, District 6, Dipa Shah

    US House 15, Dennis Ross
    US House 17, Tom Rooney 

    Governor, Rick Scott
    Attorney General, Pam Bondi
    Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater 
    Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam

    State Senate, District 22, Jeff Brandes
    State House, District 59, Ross Spano 
    State House, District 61, Ed Narain
    State House, District 63, Shawn Harrison
    State House, District 64, James Grant


  2. Policymakers see role for HART in transportation planning


    TAMPA — Elected leaders who have been meeting for months to plot Hillsborough County's transportation future have yet to talk about actual projects and how to pay for them.

    But a consensus began to emerge Wednesday on who should oversee the building and operating of new roads, expanded bus service and planning for commuter rail. That may be the Hills­borough Area Regional Transit Authority, the county's bus agency, said members of the Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group....

  3. Commission candidate first in Hillsborough to qualify


    In an early sign of campaign organization, a candidate for Hillsborough County Commission has become the first local office seeker to qualify for next year's election.

    Rick Cochran, a Republican and retiring Tampa police detective, turned in more than 2,200 petition signatures from registered voters to qualify for the ballot by that means for the District 4 Commission race to represent southern and eastern Hillsborough. The official qualifying period is not for another six months, June 16-20....

  4. On Hillsborough bus ads, pro-diversity message draws anti-Islam response

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Ads on Hillsborough Area Regional Transit buses promoting diversity by a group that seeks to improve American and Islamic relations have spurred a response from a group that promises "refuge from Islam."

    The American Freedom Defense Initiative has won approval to purchase ad space on county buses denouncing "honor" killings, the practice of killing a family member, typically a woman, who has brought shame to the household. The ad shows images of seven girls who supposedly were victims of such killings....

    The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit system has accepted an ad to appear on county buses from the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
  5. Former Cone Ranch, now a Hillsborough preserve, will open to the public

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Citizens rallied four years ago to ensure one of Hillsborough County's largest land holdings stayed free of developers' clutches forever.

    Since that time, the nearly 13,000 acres in northeastern Hillsborough formerly known as Cone Ranch has remained padlocked from the public.

    That changes later this month when the county finally opens a small portion of what is now dubbed the Lower Green Swamp Preserve to public exploration for the first time in decades....

    A gopher tortoise makes its way along a dirt road on Cone Ranch in far northeastern Hillsborough County.
  6. Bucs seek delay in replacing video scoreboards at Raymond James Stadium

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Fans attending Tampa Bay Buccaneers games should soon be able to review replays on newer, sharper video scoreboards at Raymond James Stadium.

    The Tampa Sports Authority, the governmental body that runs the stadium, has been prepared to make the switch since at least early last year and has been preparing for longer than that. But it's actually the Bucs asking them to hold off, Sports Authority officials say....

    When Raymond James opened in 1998, the Tampa stadium’s scoreboard was considered to be largely the latest in technology. The scoreboard is now “archaic,” an official says.
  7. Recycling soars in unincorporated Hillsborough with rolling bins

    Local Government

    TAMPA — New bins on wheels that take all types of recyclables are turning residents of unincorporated Hillsborough County into environmentalists, and the county is seeing green in more ways than one as a result.

    In the two months since the county rolled out the automated service, residential recycling is up 70 percent more than average past monthly totals, as measured by overall tonnage....

  8. Bloomingdale 'big box' development proposal moves forward

    Local Government

    TAMPA — A proposed "big box" commercial development that has piqued the ire of some of its Bloomingdale neighbors moved closer to reality Wednesday.

    Hillsborough County commissioners voted unanimously to accept developer Red Cast Bloomingdale's contribution to the costs of road improvement work that could be necessitated by the project. But commissioners postponed a decision on how to spend the $564,196 contribution so the county can run a staff proposal by residents of the area....

  9. Hillsborough adopts plan to trap, neuter, release cats

    Local Government

    TAMPA — The debate Wednesday over whether Hillsborough County should trap, neuter, vaccinate and release stray cats as a strategy for controlling their population raged as it has for months before commissioners.

    In the end, commissioners voted 6-1 to approve an ordinance that will encourage the practice by private groups by removing requirements for so-called "community cats" to get a microchip and face registration annually. And as part of the vote, the county also will directly engage in the practice on a test basis, with details still to be spelled out....

  10. New Hillsborough commission candidate quickly plays catch-up


    TAMPA — It has taken a little more than two months for Janet Lee Dougherty to catch up on the fundraising front with two fellow Republicans competing to be the next District 4 Hillsborough County commissioner.

    At the same time, the board's two sitting commissioners, Ken Hagan and Al Higginbotham, continue to raise the sort of money aimed at warding off serious competition in their countywide races....

  11. New Hillsborough Commission candidate hauling in cash


    It has taken a little more than two months for Janet Lee Dougherty to catch up on the fundraising front with two fellow Republicans competing to be the next District 4 Hillsborough County commissioner.

    Meanwhile, the board's two sitting commissioners, Ken Hagan and Al Higginbotham, continue to raise the sort of money aimed at warding off serious competition.

    Dougherty, an environmental consultant, has raised $41,600 in a little more than two months of campaigning, a figure that includes a $5,000 loan she made to her campaign. She now has a narrowly lead over retiring Tampa police detective Rick Cochran and current Hillsborough County school board member Stacy White. She has spent less than $3,000 of that....

  12. Hillsborough County shifts gears on funding for redevelopment

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County is moving away from a plan to create special taxing districts to pump money into blighted areas such as the neighborhoods around the University of South Florida and Palm River.

    County officials realized while studying the idea that the districts would raise too little money in the near term to pay for drainage improvements, sidewalks or other amenities that would make them attractive for redevelopment soon....

  13. Hillsborough administrator still believes in ousted Animal Services director

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill finally decided this week that his Animal Services director was not up to the task of reforming that agency after months of turmoil at the shelter.

    But instead of firing Ian Hallett, Merrill transferred him to a different management role in the county's Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department, where he has no experience.

    Merrill said he decided to retain Hallett because he's smart and a hard worker who actually made progress in achieving county commissioners' desire to see fewer animals killed at the shelter each year and more adopted. Where he struggled was in his ability to negotiate the various people and groups who take a passionate and sometimes hard-line interest in animal welfare issues....

    Hallett made progress in some areas of Animal Services.
  14. Hillsborough moves toward buying private East Lake water utility

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Residents of the East Lake community who say they suffer from dirty tap water and high costs for the most fundamental of services from a private utility may someday get relief.

    Hillsborough County commissioners took a vote Wednesday that essentially puts the county in a position to buy the Pluris Eastlake utility franchise and replace the pipes and treatment system that serve nearly 1,000 homes in the community east of Tampa. The unanimous vote was greeted by cheers from audience members who waved signs, such as one that read: "All we want for Christmas is Pluris gone."...

  15. Hearing set on controversial cat-neutering plan in Hillsborough

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Animal Services may be in a bit of upheaval with the reassignment of its director this week.

    But that didn't stop county commissioners from moving forward Wednesday with perhaps the most controversial component of their efforts to lower the kill rate at the animal shelter.

    Commissioners voted 6-1 to hold a public hearing Dec. 18 on an ordinance to allow the county to trap stray cats, spay or neuter them, then release them near where they were picked up. Commissioner Victor Crist was the lone opposing vote....