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Mark Puente, Times Staff Writer

Mark Puente

Mark Puente covers Pinellas County government, including the constitutional officers and the way they operate their offices. Puente returned to the Tampa Bay Times in July after two years at The Baltimore Sun. He worked as an investigative reporter and was on the team that was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the Freddie Gray saga and city's riots. His "Undue Force" series about police brutality led to reform efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore. The series won the Institute on Political Journalism's Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism's Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States.

He joined the Times in November 2010 and covered real estate issues as part of the Times' Business team until June 2012. He then covered St. Petersburg City Hall until March 2014. He spent more than five years with the Plain Dealer in Cleveland where he won multiple journalism awards for his investigative work. His reporting forced a 32-year sheriff in Ohio's largest county to resign from office in 2009 and plead guilty to theft-in-office charges.

He took a different path to journalism, logging more than 1 million miles in the cab of a semitrailer truck over 14 years. After leaving the trucking industry, Puente earned a political science degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has a wife and three sons. Go Tar Heels!

Phone: (727) 892-2996

Email: mpuente@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MarkPuente

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  1. Pinellas licensing board will negotiate settlement with ex-leader Rodney Fischer

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The governing board of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board voted unanimously Thursday to hire an interim executive director and to negotiate the exit of its old executive director.

    SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board plays fast and loose with disciplinary process...

    The governing board of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board vote unanimously Thursday to hire Gay Lancaster as interim director. The board also agreed to negotiate a settlement with its former executive director, Rodney Fischer, who says he is owed a $100,000 payout.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. Pinellas County records: Rodney Fischer logged one vacation day from August 2008 through 2011

    Local Government

    LARGO — Rodney Fischer worked so much from August 2008 through 2011 that the leader of Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board logged only one vacation day, records show.

    The latest revelation comes as Fischer waits for members of the licensing board to vote today on his request to stay on the payroll through June to collect 1,168 hours, or about 146 days, of unused vacation time — worth about $66,000....

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board listens to a St. Petersburg resident during an emergency meeting Feb. 9 to discuss hiring a temporary director and to discuss whether to keep Fischer on the payroll through June. [ JIM DAMASKE   |   Times ]
  3. Pinellas construction licensing board to be focus of grand jury probe

    Local Government

    Pinellas County's top prosecutor has decided to open a criminal investigation into the local construction licensing board, which has been embroiled in controversy since a series of Tampa Bay Times reports raised questions about the agency's conduct.

    SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board plays fast and loose with disciplinary process...

    Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe said Friday his office will launch an investigation into the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board. That was prompted by the governing board's failure Thursday to approve a new interim director to take over the agency. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. Pinellas licensing board rejects Sen. Jack Latvala's plan, and he's not happy about it

    Local Government

    LARGO — Sen. Jack Latvala is not happy.

    The state lawmaker became incensed Thursday after the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board rejected his plan to bring in new leadership to fix the troubled agency.

    SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board plays fast and loose with disciplinary process...

    Jack Joyner, who sits on the governing board of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, criticizes the Tampa Bay Times' reporting about the agency during Thursday's board meeting. The board discussed hiring a temporary director but rejected the candidate recommended by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  5. Pinellas construction licensing board to decide on former leader's payout and interim replacement

    Local Government

    LARGO — Amid a swirling controversy, the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board will meet today to discuss the former executive director's request to stay on the payroll through June so he can collect about $66,000 in unused vacation time.

    The emergency session will be the first time the agency's governing board has met since Rodney Fischer announced his resignation Jan. 31 and asked to collect the 1,168 hours of vacation time he said he stockpiled over 16 years. He could collect only 696 hours if the board rejects his request, according to county policies. That move would cost him about $26,000....

    Rodney Fischer resigned and asked to collect the 1,168 hours of vacation time he said he stockpiled over 16 years.
  6. Ex-licensing board leader Rodney Fischer fired from Pinellas Housing Finance Authority

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission can't do anything to reform the Pinellas County Construction Licensing board, an autonomous agency that operates outside county oversight. Nor could commissioners take action against the agency's longtime executive director, Rodney Fischer, who retired last week.

    SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board plays fast and loose with disciplinary process...

    Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, has said he'll block any legislation to add government oversight to the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board. That has frustrated the Pinellas County Commission, because it doesn't have the power for reform the agency. Only the legislature can do that. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  7. Pinellas licensing board hopes to decide on Rodney Fischer's vacation payout soon

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The governing members of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board hope to meet next week to vote on retired executive director Rodney Fischer's request to stay on the payroll through June.

    A series of stories in the Tampa Bay Times has raised questions about the way the board disciplines contractors and how Fischer has managed the independent agency, which operates without any government oversight....

    The Pinellas County Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to remove Rodney Rischer as chairman of the Pinellas Housing Finance Authority board, a position he's held since the agency was formed in 1983. Fischer retired last week as executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board after his tenure there came under scrutiny and criticism. [SCOTT KEELER  |  Times]
  8. Sen. Jack Latvala blocks oversight efforts for Pinellas licensing board

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– State Sen. Jack Latvala shocked Pinellas County commissioners on Thursday when the powerful Republican lawmaker said he would block any attempt to put the county's troubled construction licensing board under government oversight.

    SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board plays fast and loose with disciplinary process...

    State Sen. Jack Latvala (standing), the powerful Clearwater Republican, put a halt on Thursday to any effort to put the troubled Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board under county government. Pinellas County Commissioners were unhappy with his stance, saying the board needs more radical reform. [SCOTT KEELER      |     Times]
  9. Pinellas construction board leader Rodney Fischer to go, but when?

    Local Government

    LARGO — Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board executive director Rodney Fischer said Tuesday that he'll retire — in five months.

    But county officials want him gone ASAP.

    Fischer shared the news at a morning meeting of the Pinellas legislative delegation, which is assessing the future of his agency. A recent series of reports by the Tampa Bay Times has raised questions about the way the licensing board disciplines contractors and how Fischer has managed the independent agency, which operates without any government oversight....

    Rodney Fischer, the executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, announced his retirement on Tuesday during a meeting of the Pinellas County legislative delegation. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  10. After 33 years, Pinellas County Attorney Jim Bennett set to retire in July

    Military

    Pinellas County Attorney Jim Bennett, who spent three decades giving legal advice to county government and its leaders, announced Monday that he will retire in six months.

    "My almost 33-year tenure with Pinellas County has been a great adventure," Bennett wrote in a letter to the county's commissioners and constitutional officers, "one of professional satisfaction, inspirational client relationships, and satisfying public service. In two words: a full career."...

    Pinellas County Attorney Jim Bennett announced Monday that he will retire in six months after three decades working in county government. His last day will be July 30. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  11. Pinellas licensing board leader Rodney Fischer described as a 'bully' and 'suspicious' in clashes with employees and county officials

    Local Government

    Rodney Fischer was fuming.

    He ordered his small staff into a conference room at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board to deny a story ricocheting through the office.

    "There is a rumor floating around that (I'm) . . . having an affair" with an employee, Fischer barked.

    "There's nobody in this office that I'm going to bed with, or planning to go to bed with, or going to go to bed with. I just want to put that to rest right now!"...

    Jeb Bush looks at a trade publication given to him by Rodney Fischer of the Contractors and Builders Association of Pinellas Park that had an article endorsing Bush.
  12. Pinellas licensing board says it's transcribing hearings and wants to know: Who called 911?

    Local Government

    The executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board says he is working to comply with public records laws by transcribing old recordings of hearings held by his agency.

    SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board plays fast and loose with disciplinary process...

    Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board executive director Rodney Fischer said his agency is working to comply with public records laws by transcribing old recordings of hearings held by the board. But he also wants to know who call 911 on Wednesday about activities in his office. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  13. Mike Twitty wins contest by default to be Pinellas County property appraiser

    Blog

    As candidates wait for the polls to close Tuesday, Mike Twitty can already celebrate his victory to be the next Pinellas County property appraiser.

    He won the race Monday after the write-in challenger withdrew from the contest.

    Twitty, who won the Republican primary in August, was slated to face write-in challenger Joseph Catalano. He had not raised any campaign contributions and faced a monumental task of beating Twitty....

    Republican Mike Twitty will be the next Pinellas County property appraiser. His write-in challenger withdrew Monday from the contest.
  14. Final day of early voting in Florida draws surge of voters (w/video)

    State Roundup

    TAMPA — The last day of early voting in Florida on Sunday saw an outpouring of black voters for Hillary Clinton as Donald Trump clung to a precarious path to victory in the state he needs most to clinch the presidency.

    Two days before Election Day, Democrats worked to build an impenetrable Florida firewall for Clinton by activating the pulpits of black churches where a single message rang out: Get out and vote....

    Voters wait to cast their ballots during Sunday’s Souls to the Polls event at the C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Public Library in Tampa. A record 6.2 million Florida voters had cast ballots as of Sunday morning and Democrats held a very slight advantage.
  15. St. Petersburg in middle of 'battle' with Pinellas County over tax district

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — A significant pot of money that could help pay for a new Tampa Bay Rays stadium is at the center of a dispute between Pinellas County and St. Petersburg.

    County leaders say they have concerns about contributing more money into a special taxing district that includes Tropicana Field. They have been telling Mayor Rick Kriseman for a year, but the City Council didn't learn about it until last week....