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Christopher O'Donnell, Times Staff Writer

Christopher O'Donnell

Christopher O'Donnell is a general assignment and local government reporter with the Tampa Bay Times. He was born and grew up in London, England, where he worked for IBM and Citi as a computer programmer and IT analyst. After moving to Florida in 2001, he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida before landing a job with the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. During a seven-year stint there, he earned a Florida Society of News Editors award for his coverage of K-12 education. Before joining the Times, he spent three years with the Tampa Tribune and covered city government in both St. Petersburg and Tampa and led coverage of the Tampa Bay Rays' quest for a new ballpark. Away from work, Chris rides his road bicycle on local trails and is an avid soccer fan.

Phone: (813) 226 3446


Twitter: @codonnell_Times

  1. Craig Latimer to serve on national task force on election security

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer has been named to a national task force that will look at cyber security threats to voting systems.

    The task force was formed by The Election Center, a non-profit group that is comprised of election officials from across the United States.

    It comes in the wake of news reports of hacking attempts during last year's presidential election that some election officials fear is lowering the public's confidence in the integrity of voting systems....

    Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer has been named to a national task force put together by The Election Center to look at cyber threats to voting systems.   [Times file 2012]
  2. Insurer wants $9.3 million in costs in dispute over Tampa Housing Authority residential tower


    TAMPA — Low-income families and renters should already be calling the Tempo at Encore home.

    Instead, the troubled $26.5 million apartment tower scheduled to open last fall is still a construction site. And now it's embroiled in a bitter legal dispute over unpaid work, missing workers and who is to blame for damage from water intrusion.

    The dispute turned even uglier last week when the insurance company recently fired from the project asked a federal judge to award it $9.3 million for unpaid work and other expenses. Berkley Surety also filed a $1.6 million lien on the property, which is being developed by the Tampa Housing Authority along with Banc of America Community Development Corp., the development arm of Bank of America....

    A residential building is shown under construction at Tempo at Encore in Tampa.

The insurance company recently fired from the Tempo at Encore project says it is owed $9.3 million in unpaid work and has put a $1.6 million lien on the downtown project being built by the Tampa Housing Authority. [ CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times
  3. State finds rising number of children trapped in sex trade


    TAMPA — Verified cases of Florida children forced into the sex trade rose by more than a third from 2015 to 2016, a new state study has found.

    Florida law enforcement agencies reported 356 cases where children were the victims of commercial sexual exploitation, including 52 in the Tampa Bay region.

    The majority of victims were white, female and between 14 and 17 years of age.

    The report by Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability questions whether state agencies are doing enough to identify and help victims. Florida faces a severe shortage of safe houses and other sites offering specialized counseling and care for child victims, it states....

    Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks during the dedication of a mural which raises awareness of human trafficking in April in Tampa. A new state report found that the number of verified cases of Florida children forced into the sex trade went up by one third between 2015 and 2016. State agencies are struggling to get those children the help they need, the report states.
  4. Homelessness down by 15 percent in Hillsborough County, annual count finds.


    TAMPA — After several years with barely a dent in the number of people living on the street, the homeless count in Hillsborough County fell by 15 percent in a single year, reports the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative.

    The count, conducted in February, identified roughly 1,550 people living either on the street or in temporary shelters, down from 1,817 the previous year.

    The biggest drop, some 26 percent, was in the number of unsheltered people, a group that includes those battling poor mental health and substance abuse who often refuse help. Homelessness was also down 5 percent among veterans....

    A 2014 event for homeless veterans helped put Mike Dorman in an apartment. Now he’s studying for an associate’s degree.
  5. Tug of war over tax credits could delay a $50 million Tampa apartment complex


    TAMPA — The state gives out millions in tax credits every year to encourage developers to build much-needed affordable housing.

    The result has been a cut-throat competitive process that sees developers in larger counties vying for awards worth as much as $21 million over 10 years.

    Now, the Tampa Housing Authority and a developer backed by the Hillsborough County Commission are in direct competition for a similar award, a situation that strained relations between the two government agencies....

    Rendering of the West River project, which includes The Boulevard at West River. The Tampa Housing Authority won a state tax credit award worth $21 million over 10 years for the apartment complex. It is planned to include 200 units of affordable housing. But that award is being challenged by Blue Sky Communities, which was Hillsborough County's choice to win the award.
  6. Four Green Fields pub chosen to bring Irish flavor to Curtis Hixon park

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Some of the longest lines at this year's St. Patrick's Day festivities at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park were for the corned beef and cabbage.

    Soon, it will be a year-round offering at the park.

    City officials announced Wednesday that Four Green Fields has won the bid to build a restaurant in Curtis Hixon.

    With its thatched roof, white-washed walls and Irish memorabilia, the pub on W Platt Street has long been a popular watering hole for downtown drinkers....

    Four Green Fields was selected to build a restaurant in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park based on a bid including this rendering of the inside. With its thatched roof and Irish memorabilia, the pub on West Platt Street has long been a popular watering hole for downtown drinkers. [City of Tampa]]
  7. In an instant, molten slag gushed over workers at Tampa Electric power plant

    Public Safety

    APOLLO BEACH — It was the kind of job that workers at the Big Bend power plant do routinely, and one done countless times in the nearly 35 years that senior plant operator Michael McCort had worked at Tampa Electric.

    But company executives said something went tragically wrong Thursday as McCort, 60, and at least five employees working for outside contractors tried to unplug a tank containing molten slag that can reach temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees....

    Two people were killed and four people were seriously injured June 29, 2017, in what is being described as a "major incident'' at the Tampa Electric Company power plant in Apollo Beach. [TONY MARRERO | Times]
  8. Environmental spill could hinder Tampa's West River project (w/video)


    TAMPA — Sitting in the cab of a backhoe, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn on Thursday morning clawed a first chunk out of North Boulevard Homes, a dilapidated public housing complex.

    The demolition will make room for the ambitious West River project, a $200 million mixed-income community of offices, stores and 2,178 homes, many with views of the downtown skyline.

    But clearing away concrete may be easier than dealing with a mess that lies below the surface: a sludgy plume of toxic groundwater that has been spreading for decades, according to state records....

    Under the eye of demolition worker Brian Williams, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn operates the backhoe Thursday to take a chunk out of North Boulevard Homes.
  9. Tampa Bay child welfare agencies get additional state funding, plan to hire more social workers


    TAMPA — Buoyed by the award of an additional $3.7 million in state funding, Eckerd Kids plans to hire more social workers to ease the strain on Hillsborough County's overburdened child welfare system.

    The agency, which runs foster care throughout Tampa Bay, will hire 31 workers including 16 case managers plus additional supervisors and family support workers in Hillsborough, said Jody Grutza, an executive director with the agency. The additional funding is for the 2018 fiscal year, which begins Thursday....

    The child welfare system in Hillsborough County will get an additional $3 million in funding for the upcoming fiscal  year beginning July 1, according to Eckerd Kids, the agency contracted to run the system by the state.
  10. Eckerd Kids: Teens in group foster homes must be allowed to keep phones


    TAMPA — For many teens still reeling from being taken into foster care, a cellphone is a lifeline, child advocates say.

    It's their one connection to the world they left behind, a link to friends, romantic interests and reassuring emojis.

    Yet many group foster homes confiscate or heavily restrict access to cellphones. In some cases, it is to prevent unauthorized contact by their parents, but it is also to protect the privacy of other foster children....

    Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs child welfare in Tampa Bay, will in January require agencies that run group foster homes to allow children to use cell phones. Some group homes are concerned that children may use phones for unathorized contract with their parents or other adults or to post pictures of other foster children on social media
  11. Tampa Housing Authority to stick with under-investigation Related Group for now

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Federal authorities may be investigating the Related Group, but the South Florida company remains the developer of choice for the Tampa Housing Authority as it moves ahead with a major West River urban renewal project.

    Just days after the Miami Herald reported that federal agents are scrutinizing the finances of a Related affordable housing project in South Florida, the Housing Authority's governing board voted unanimously Wednesday to partner with the Miami-based firm on the renovation of Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments, an eight-story senior residential tower just west of downtown Tampa....

    The Tampa Housing Authority is partnering with the Related Group on a major renovation of the eight-story Mary Bethune High Rise Apartments despite scrutiny of the developer.
  12. After 76 years, Pinellas Holocaust survivor awarded restitution payment from French government

    Human Interest

    CLEARWATER — The Nazis came for Betty Goldberg's father when she was just 9.

    They took him from Paris to Auschwitz, the largest World War II death camp, where 1.1 million people died. She survived thanks to a railroad stationmaster who hid her for three years with his family in an apartment above a small station.

    Now 85, the memories of that horrific time are undimmed.

    Her fear of capture was so great that she was sure the Nazis could hear her breathe. She was separated from her mother and had no idea of her father's fate....

    Betty Goldberg holds a bouquet of flowers after she donated $10,000 to the Holocaust Survivor Program run by Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services on Monday. The group was instrumental in getting her the financial award.
  13. Lost and Found: Tampa father battles addiction, heartbreak to reunite with children


    TAMPA — Jean Roy Jr. didn't look like father material to social workers.

    The 48-year-old had a long criminal history and was struggling with substance abuse. His infatuation with the mother of his twin children was an even more damaging addiction.

    Seventeen years his junior, she was an addict who used crystal meth and heroin, said Wanda Lamar, Roy's case manger.

    "My first impression was (the twins) wouldn't be unified with mom and dad," Lamar said. "Mom was still in the home. Dad was still engaged with mom and shouldn't have been."...

    Jean Roy Jr., center, plays an educational game with his 5-year-old twins Hunter and Isabella in their Tampa home. The 48-year-old construction worker says he’s amazed at how in tune they are with each other.
  14. Trustee to run Tampa longshoremen union as investigation into "ghost" worker payments continues


    TAMPA — Leaders of the International Longshoremen's Association have appointed a trustee to take over Local 1402 amid claims that "ghost" workers were regularly paid for work they didn't do at Port Tampa Bay.

    The union's national executive council voted Wednesday night to impose a trustee on the union, said Jim McNamara, the national union's spokesman. Wilbert Rowell, a general vice president with the union, will now oversee the local's pension and health care funds....

    International Longshoremen's Association Local 1402 President James Harrell declined to talk to reporters during a break at a meeting last week with members of the union's national executive council. The council is investigating reports from the local union's trustees that paychecks were issued to "ghost" workers and on Wednesday appointed a trustee to run the union.
  15. Audit finds understaffing and lax control of medication at state mental hospitals


    Florida's state-run mental hospitals are understaffed, some are unlicensed and they are failing to keep track of pharmaceuticals and seized contraband, according to a new state audit.

    At one North Florida hospital, more than 2,800 anti-psychotic drugs and 350 HIV antiviral drugs were misplaced, the report states. Bookkeeping at two other hospitals was so lax that auditors could not determine whether drugs were missing....

    Auditors found that 173 of the 336 shifts at the Northeast Florida State Hospital were understaffed. The facility of one of several state-run mental health treatment centers where auditors also found lax control of on-site pharmacies.