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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. Ex-daughter-in-law accused of $80,000 shopping spree with family Sam's Club account

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — Plenty of people have in-law horror stories. But perhaps not as vexing as the one Thomas and June Simpson tell.

    Daughter-in-law Mishay Simpson shot her lover in 2014 in the Davis Islands home she shared with their son, Rhett Simpson, a former semi-pro golfer.

    Divorce followed. But so did unexplained credit card bills for his parents.

    Just three days after the divorce was final in April 2015, Mishay Simpson embarked on a lavish spending spree using her former husband's Sam's Club account, according to a lawsuit recently filed in Hillsborough County....

    Police said Mishay Simpson shot Andrew Noll in 2014 after he entered her Davis Islands home. An investigation found the two had been having an affair. Now she is accused in a civil lawsuit of charging $80,000 to her ex-husband's Sam's Club card, which was linked to his parents' bank account. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  2. Local child welfare agencies lose funding as Eckerd Kids faces focuses on keeping children out of foster care


    When it comes to getting children out of foster care, the nonprofit group Directions for Living has one of the best track records in Florida.

    Yet the agency is about to lose the $1 million it uses to help Pinellas families whose children were taken into care because of issues such as substance abuse, domestic violence and extreme poverty.

    Directions is one of several local agencies that will lose a combined $2.5 million following a major shake-up of the child welfare system by Eckerd Kids, the nonprofit contracted by the state to care for foster children across Tampa Bay....

    Eckerd Kids
  3. Canned by lawmakers, PTC staff say they are now forgotten


    TAMPA — After roughly 20 years in the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, Mike Gonzalez got another job with a uniform and badge when he was hired in 2015 as an inspector for the Public Transportation Commission.

    Still only 45 at the time, he needed the work to support his wife and two children, aged 13 and 11.

    But Gonzalez has no idea if he will still have a job once county leaders follows through on state lawmakers' decision to close the agency....

    The badge that PTC inspectors carry while on duty. State lawmakers voted to abolish the agency this year leaving its remaining employees fearing for their future.
  4. Hillsborough Sheriff's Office to enforce towing rules under new plan for PTC abolition


    TAMPA — Overzealous tow truck drivers could soon find themselves answering to sheriff's deputies under a plan to fill the void left by the elimination of the Public Transportation Commission.

    The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office will take charge of investigating illegal towing practices under the proposal. Tax Collector Doug Belden's office will administer public vehicle driving permits to taxicab drivers and consumer complaints will be handled by the County Administrator's Office....

    “Everyone is concerned about their own jobs,” says PTC interim executive director Kevin Jackson. “There is no question that people are going to lose employment.”
  5. Florida Supreme Court to consider legality of red light cameras

    Public Safety

    TAMPA —The Florida Supreme Court has accepted a case that will likely end the argument about whether it is legal to use cameras to catch red-light runners.

    The move comes after two appellate courts ruled that cameras in Oldsmar and the city of Aventura in Miami-Dade County can be used to ticket drivers.

    Those rulings, however, conflicted with one from the 4th District Court of Appeal, which shut down the city of Hollywood's program in 2014....

    The Florida Supreme Court is to review a appellate court ruling that found it is legal to use cameras to catch red light runners. Another Florida appellate court  in 2014 ruled that using cameras violates a state law prohibiting delegation of law enforcement duties to to third party.
  6. Three kids, seven foster children and a whole lot of love


    TAMPA — To the kids who stay with her, Kathryn Melendez is "Mom" or "Miss Kathryn."

    Some of her teenage girls even call her "Bae," slang shorthand for "before anyone else."

    The endearment is hard won.

    Since she began fostering in Florida in 2004, more than 200 children have arrived on Melendez's doorstep, most of them scared, withdrawn, traumatized. One or two run away but most stay for at least a year, some until they age out of foster care....

    Kathryn Melendez, far right, speaks with her biological and foster children May 2 at her home in Gibsonton. “If everybody who could took just one, it would make such a huge difference in these kids’ lives,” Melendez says.
  7. Eckerd Kids shuts down troubled out-of-hours teen center


    TAMPA — The agency that runs child welfare in Hillsborough County is closing a troubled out-of-hours teen center.

    Eckerd Kids announced Wednesday that it will terminate its contract with subcontractor Camelot Community Care to run the Ybor Heights center, which is used to temporarily house and supervise children entering the foster care system until they are placed with foster parents or in a group home....

  8. Child abuse tips silenced for months by DCF computer glitch


    TAMPA — Hundreds of reports about potential child abuse may have been overlooked for months because of a Florida Department of Children and Families computer glitch.

    About 1,500 tips to the Florida Abuse Hotline ­— the state's front line for child protection — were not sent electronically to law enforcement agencies between February and April because of a software problem, DCF officials said. That included roughly 230 cases in the Tampa Bay region....

    Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco addresses the media in December. Speaking this week about a state software glitch that delayed release of child abuse tips to law enforcement, he said his agency does not yet know the impact to Pasco children. "As all law enforcement agencies know, a delay like this is never a good thing," he said.  [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]

  9. While kids slept in offices, foster beds went empty


    TAMPA — The plight of foster children forced to sleep on air mattresses in offices last summer led to outrage and the state ordering additional oversight of Eckerd Kids, the agency that runs child welfare in Hillsborough County.

    But even as social workers were preparing the make-do accommodation, records show that between 10 and 21 foster beds went unused at the Lake Magdalene group foster home, a county-owned facility in Carrollwood....

    A staffer watches over children outside of a dorm at Hillsborough County’s emergency shelter for foster kids and other children at Lake Magdalene in Tampa. Hillsborough officials have offered to let Eckerd Kids use two empty cottages on the Lake Magdalene campus but so far they remain unfilled despite a shortage of homes to place kids.  [Times (2009)]
  10. Hush those barking dogs in Hillsborough or pay a fine of up to $500

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Cats and dogs took center stage Wednesday as Hillsborough County commissioners considered a controversial ban on the commercial sale of pets and a noise ordinance targeted at owners whose animals continuously disturb neighbors.

    Commissioners unanimously approved the noise ordinance, which allows neighbors to report animals that bark, meow or make other loud noise continuously for more than 20 minutes. Pet owners who run afoul of the law could be fined up to $500....

    Under a new animal noise ordinance passed Wednesday, Hillsborough County pet owners could be fined up to $500 if dogs bark longer than 20 minutes. And those meowing cats? Better give them a stopwatch, too. [Times]
  11. Former NASA doctor says he was detained at TIA because of his Muslim name


    TAMPA — Dr. Osman "Ozzie" Ahmed was once trusted with the health of U.S. astronauts.

    A former NASA shuttle mission physician and a U.S. citizen since 1991, he's also an approved "low-risk" traveler and gets to skip the line while other passengers remove their belts and shoes during screening.

    So the Tampa doctor was stunned and scared when his passport was taken from him and he was detained for about an hour by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers on his arrival at Tampa International Airport on Sunday....

    “I have a Muslim name, and I was born in Egypt. That was enough for them to start harassing me.”
Osman “Ozzie” Ahmed,
Tampa doctor and U.S. citizen
  12. Goal of state's new child welfare plan: more help for investigators and more foster parents


    TAMPA — The critical decision to remove a child from a home because of abuse or neglect is based on the work of child welfare investigators.

    But about 80 percent of Florida's investigators have less than two years' experience. And more than half are juggling heavy caseloads.

    Fixing those problems is one focus of a new attempt to improve Florida's child welfare system.

    The Florida Department of Children and Families plans to work with national experts to give investigators better training and to reduce their workload. There also will be more services for parents struggling with opioid and other addictions, more financial help for families who take in the children of relatives and more efforts to recruit foster parents....

    Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll: “We’ve got a long way to go.”
  13. It's up to Rick Scott now: Should local governments be allowed to regulate Uber?

    State Roundup


    Years of fighting among local governments, the Legislature and ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft could soon come to an end.

    Lawmakers have sent to Gov. Rick Scott legislation that would prohibit local government from regulating the companies. Instead, the companies would need to meet statewide insurance and background check standards only.

    The vote was unanimous in the House and nearly so in the Senate....

    Taxi cab drivers wait at an offsite area for fares at Tampa International Airport Tuesday, April 18, 2017. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee for voted 7-2 Tuesday in favor of a statewide ride-sharing legislation that was proposed by Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg. SB 340 would prevent local governments from passing their own regulations, making the Public Transportation Commission powerless to oversee the companies.
  14. Political activist Sam Rashid sues former hair salon employee over Facebook post


    Powerful east county political activist and donor Sam Rashid has twice in recent years walked away from seats on prestigious boards because of fallout from controversial posts he made on social media. 

    Now, he is suing a former employee for her Facebook post.

    In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Friday, Rashid claimed that he has been libeled on social media by Jacqueline Lilley, a former worker at a Brandon hair salon and spa that he co-owns....

    East county political activist and donor Sam Rashid is suing a former employee
  15. Political activist Sam Rashid sues 21-year-old former hair salon receptionist over Facebook post


    TAMPA — Influential east county political activist and donor Sam Rashid has twice in recent years walked away from seats on prestigious boards because of fallout over his controversial posts on social media.

    Now, he is suing a 21-year-old former employee for her Facebook post.

    In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County on Friday, Rashid claimed that he has been libeled on social media by Jacqueline Lilley, a former receptionist at a Brandon hair salon and spa he co-owns....

    Sam Rashid, a frequent local campaign donor, has had prior issues with social media.