Ahhh, the scents of summer in Florida. The salty breeze. Exotic blossoms. Fresh-cut grass.
Garbage steeping in the 90-degree heat inside your city garbage barrel.
It's a fact of life in Florida and other hot places: Garbage stinks really bad really fast. Discard something that has a particularly short "shelf life" — like uncooked chicken or the two-week-old casserole unearthed from the back of the refrigerator — and within hours, an environmental disaster has taken place inside your garbage barrel. Approach at your own risk and always hold your breath....
New Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter strides into the recreation center looking energetic, trim and snappy in his black uniform and shiny shoes. He says hello to two kids leaving the center, steps into the office to greet workers, then enters the meeting room and works the audience.
"How ya' doing? I'm Dan," he says, smiling and extending his hand to each person.
He has introduced himself to what seems like dozens of groups in the five weeks since he was named chief, but the meet-and-greet in this place, the North Greenwood Recreation & Aquatic Complex, might be the most important. North Greenwood is Clearwater's predominantly African-American neighborhood. Slaughter, 44, is a white man replacing a black chief, Tony Holloway, who left last month to be chief at the St. Petersburg Police Department. Only about 25 residents came to meet Slaughter this night, but it's the biggest crowd he has drawn of the four community forums he has hosted around the city, and he's savvy enough to know that the impression he leaves and the words he speaks tonight will spread through the neighborhood....
It's hot as heck outside. Wouldn't it be refreshing to immerse yourself in the cool, clear water of a swimming pool?
If you live in Clearwater and you don't have your own pool, you are out of luck. As far as the city of Clearwater is concerned, summer swimming season is over. The city's four outdoor pools closed when school started Aug. 18.
It's been that way for years. Though August is the most oppressively hot month of the summer, and though the heat usually continues unabated through September, Clearwater's public pools are fenced off, the lifeguard stands are empty and not even a ripple disturbs the water's surface....
It can be hard to make dreams a reality. Safety Harbor is learning just how hard.
Two years after the city snapped up 13 vacant waterfront acres on the Old Tampa Bay shoreline when the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa filed for bankruptcy, there's finally a plan to start building a public park. But it didn't come easily.
After the purchase was completed for $2.75 million, residents enthusiastically offered their ideas for what should be built there. An observation tower, splash park, kayak launch, band shell, floating docks, a parking garage, a seafood restaurant and trails were among their ideas....
One wouldn't normally think of Dunedin residents as apathetic.
They turn out in a big way for community events. They serve on dozens of boards and committees the city created to give residents a role in city decision making. Ask them how they like living in Dunedin, and they tend to gush.
So it's tough to figure out why only three people in the population of around 36,000 wanted to run for three seats on the City Commission. Or why residents let those three walk into office without a challenge, without even being vetted by voters, and create a new majority on the five-member City Commission....
It looks like Pinellas interim County Administrator Mark Woodard is a shoo-in for the permanent job of managing county government and a budget of almost $2 billion. County commissioners pretty much guaranteed that outcome by structuring an in-house, "national search" for a replacement for Bob LaSala, who was fired in April.
First, they gave the interim post to Woodard, LaSala's second in command, which meant no one below him on the organizational chart was likely to apply....
After Monday night's candidate forum in East Lake, it's clear that Greenlight Pinellas supporters need to get more aggressive in delivering their message in north Pinellas County. No Tax for Tracks, an anti-Greenlight group, dominated the visuals with sign waving and greeters. And just three of the eight Republican County Commission candidates who showed up said publicly that they support the plan, which would greatly expand bus service and create a 24-mile light rail line. ...
I'm amazed when I mention Clearwater to individuals who don't live anywhere near here how often they will respond with, "Oh, I've been to Clearwater. Great beach." Or even if they've never been here, they will know something about Clearwater: "Winter the dolphin!" they'll say, or "The Hulkster!"
Clearwater is internationally known for its wide sugar-sand beach, one of the top destinations on the gulf coast even before the construction of the iconic BeachWalk and new resorts. But there is a lot more than the beach that draws people and attention to Clearwater and establishes its reputation....
In Palm Harbor, which as recently as the 1960s was mostly orange groves and farms but now bustles with some 65,000 people, there aren't a lot of historic landmarks left.
A 1921 hurricane damaged the landscape and some of the few buildings there at the time. The community's most noteworthy building, the multistory brick Southern College administration building, burned in 1921. A few historic structures survive, mostly clustered in downtown Palm Harbor, but many fell to the persistent march of new subdivisions and office buildings....
Almost 10 years ago, five Clearwater City Council members had a vision of a modernized, successful Clearwater Beach, and they were willing to take a bold step they felt would make that vision a reality.
The council members at that time — Mayor Frank Hibbard, Hoyt Hamilton, John Doran, Bill Jonson and Carlen Petersen — committed to building Beach Walk, a $30 million meandering public walkway and gathering place they believed would be a game changer on a beach that was looking dated and attracting fewer tourists....
When a consulting group begins its report with an apology to those it is about to offend, what's coming is bound to be controversial. Brad Rogers of the Urban Land Institute didn't flinch last week when delivering his report about downtown Clearwater to officials and residents.
"It is entirely apparent that you are a very divided community . . . and that division hits all the hot buttons of our day — race, class, language, ethnicity, religion . . . Everyone is feeling frustrated, ignored, under-appreciated, stymied. This is the most important reason Clearwater has not reached its potential....
On a spring night 16 years ago, Clearwater city leaders made a decision they said was based on common sense: They voted to replace the aging, overcrowded East Branch library on Drew Street with a new joint-use library on the St. Petersburg College campus a half-mile down the street.
They had specifics: The new college library would be expanded by 30,000 square feet to accommodate the public library use; the college would provide a 125-space public parking lot; the city, to cover costs, would tap Penny for Pinellas dollars and grants and proceeds from selling the East Branch property....
A few years ago I spent a couple of hours walking around the former Stauffer Chemical site outside Tarpon Springs. Even if I hadn't known anything about the property, one look at the 130-acre swath of mostly bare land would have convinced me it was a dangerous place: Men dressed head to toe in white protective suits were standing guard over rusty barrels in an open, round concrete basin about the size of a city swimming pool....
That's how the public typically reacts when a city government is developing next year's budget. During more than 25 years of covering local governments, mostly in northern Pinellas County, I've sat time after time in a sea of empty chairs while officials discussed how to spend taxpayers' money.
So I was astonished when I walked into a recent St. Petersburg budget meeting and found the room packed. Three hours and some 50 speakers later, I had witnessed an unexpected difference between the northern and southern halves of Pinellas. When St. Petersburg residents were invited to help set city spending priorities, they showed up. They brought their passions, personal stories and visions of a better community. They even brought poetry....
East Lake Fire Chief Tom Jamison has been in the fire and rescue service for 22 years. The details of most of the calls he's been on have faded. But not the drownings or near-drownings of children. Jamison, 55, says he remembers every detail of those.
"I can remember what the kids' faces looked like, where it happened," he said. "The details get burned into your memory."
His first was while he was still in paramedic training, around 1991. The crew arrived to find a 2-year-old girl who had been pulled from the water and was clinically dead, he said. The crew worked feverishly, desperate to bring her back. She was revived, Jamison said, and recovered without the brain damage that sometimes is the lasting effect of nearly drowning....