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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. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's 2017 budget has easy time at City Council

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — As real estate values continue to rise, City Council on Thursday approved Mayor Rick Kriseman's proposal to reduce property taxes across the Sunshine City.

    But homeowners shouldn't rush to car dealers or call contractors for home-improvement projects. The rate reduction from 6.7700 to 6.7550 mills saves $1.50 on property tax bills for a home valued at $100,000.

    With the tentative rate set, City Council will hold two public hearings on Sept. 8 and 22 for residents to opine about Kriseman's 2017 fiscal year budget of $236 million. Council must approve the budget by Oct. 1....

  2. Family of motorcyclist paralyzed by crash with deputy to receive $16 million settlement

    Public Safety

    The family of a 21-year-old man who was paralyzed in January when an undercover detective crashed into his motorcycle will receive a $16 million settlement from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

    "I took the position from day one that we had 100 percent liability and that we needed to accept responsibility for this," Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday. "This is the only way we have to make it as right as it could possibly be."...

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said of the settlement, “This is the only way we have to make it as right as it could possibly be.”
  3. Pinellas County identifies 10 potential stadium sites for the Tampa Bay Rays

    Economic Development

    The saga over where to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays grew murkier Tuesday as Pinellas County unveiled a list with 10 possible sites that officials hope could keep the team from crossing the bay.

    Pinellas County commissioners didn't press county administrator Mark Woodard or staffers for details on the 10 sites, but the elected leaders said the next step is for the team to meet with county officials to discuss the sites. ...

    Pinellas County unveiled a list with 10 possible sites for a stadium that county officials hope could keep the Tampa Bay Rays from crossing the bay. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  4. Pinellas employees ran their own charity on taxpayer time, using taxpayer equipment

    Local Government

    When two top employees of the Pinellas County Human Resources Department were supposed to be working for taxpayers, an internal report shows they were actually working for their own charity — on taxpayer time, using taxpayer equipment.

    The charity they run to help homeless veterans is legitimate. But what the county employees did was not.

    During an internal investigation that later found the women had violated county rules, both resigned — although one is now again working in human resources for Hillsborough County....

    Carol Barkalow started the charity in 2013.
  5. Democratic candidates struggle to distinguish themselves at St. Petersburg forum

    State Roundup

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Democratic candidates running for two key legislative seats — House District 70 and Senate District 19 — had a chance to distinguish themselves from the competition at Friday's candidate forum.

    But they didn't really get the opportunity.

    The six candidates who attended the Suncoast Tiger Bay forum didn't get a lot of time to answer questions, and the ones they were asked produced predictable answers. After all, how many different responses can a Democrat come up with when asked about a potential Donald Trump administration?...

    Candidates for Florida Senate District 19, from left, Ed Narain, Augie Ribeiro and Darryl Rouson. Narain and Rouson touted experience; Ribeiro cast himself as a political outsider. 
  6. House District 70 candiates square off at forum

    Blog

    Members of Suncoast Tiger Bay learned Friday that two of the three men vying to represent Florida’s House District 70 candidates hold licenses to carry concealed weapons.

    Former St. Petersburg council member Wengay Newton and businessman Dan Fiorini both told the political club they hold the license. Attorney Christopher “CJ” Czaia said he does not hold one.

    The three men couldn’t delve deep into issues at the political debate as they split time with candidates running for Senate District 19....

  7. Democrats sparring in race for House District 70 seat

    Elections

    Weeks before ballots hit mailboxes, the three Democratic candidates vying to represent House District 70 are starting to jab at each other.

    The contest pits former St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton, 52, against political novices Dan Fiorini, 60, a small-business owner, and lawyer Christopher "CJ" Czaia, 56.

    Fiorini and Czaia lack name recognition in parts of the district, but both men said Newton's prior service on the City Council doesn't give him an advantage....

    Wengay Newton was on the St. Petersburg City Council.
  8. Mike Twitty outraises other candidates for Pinellas County offices

    Blog

    In his quest to become the Republican candidate for Pinellas Property Appraiser, businessman Mike Twitty has raised more campaign cash compared to any candidate seeking a countywide office this year.

    Through June 24, Twitty has collected $133,000, more than twice as much as his opponent Jim Frishe, a business owner and former state lawmaker, who has collected nearly $55,000. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has collected $119,000, records show....

    Largo businessman Mike Twitty is running in the Republican primary for Pinellas County Property Appraiser.
  9. House District 70 Democrats squabble over experience, votes and fast food

    Blog

    Weeks before ballots hit mailboxes, the three Democratic candidates vying to represent House District 70 are starting to jab at each other.

    The contest pits former St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton, 52, against two political novices: Dan Fiorini, 60, a small-business owner, and attorney Christopher “CJ” Czaia, 56....

    Dan Fiorini, 60, a small-business owner, is running in the Democratic primary for House District 70.
  10. Baltimore to pay Freddie Gray's family $6.4 million to settle civil claims

    Nation

    BALTIMORE — Baltimore plans to pay Freddie Gray's family $6.4 million as a settlement for civil claims in his arrest and death — an extraordinary payment in a lawsuit against city police.

    The settlement — which is expected to be approved at Wednesday's meeting of the city's spending panel — will be paid out over two years, according to the mayor's office. The five-member board is controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake....

    The office of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced on Tuesday a $6.4 million settlement with the family of Freddie Gray. [Baltimore Sun via AP]
  11. Senior administrator Rick Mussett to retire from St. Petersburg City Hall March 31

    Local

    ST. PETERSBURG — After guiding some of the city's biggest projects for more than three decades, longtime senior administrator Rick Mussett is leaving City Hall.

    Mussett — the city's main contact with the Tampa Bay Rays — will retire March 31. He helped bring baseball to Tropicana Field and laid the foundation that transformed downtown from heaven's waiting room to a trendy, urban destination....

  12. St. Petersburg police official says concerns of black officers are broader than promotions (w/video)

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman should not hire an independent auditor to investigate the Police Department's promotion process, says Luke Williams, assistant police chief.

    Williams spoke to reporters Friday to clarify concerns about unfair treatment raised by black officers, activists and clergy members Tuesday evening in a closed-door meeting with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church. ...

    St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Williams met with reporters Friday to clarify what black officers, activists and clergy members discussed Tuesday evening in a closed-door meeting with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church.
  13. Black St. Petersburg officers share their experiences amid allegations of racism

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — Before Lenard Cox hunts drunken drivers on city streets, the African-American patrolman meets with a diverse squad of Jewish, Albanian and white officers.

    Cox, 31, said he doesn't see a department rife with racial tension or an agency that bases promotions on skin color.

    He was one of five black police officers who agreed to speak to the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to either refute or support accusations that a disparity exists between the promotions and treatment of black and white officers within the department....

  14. Tensions high between black, white officers in St. Petersburg Police Department

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The decades-old strain between the black community and the Police Department has permeated the agency's rank-and-file.

    Roughly 125 black police officers, city activists and clergy members met behind closed doors late Tuesday with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin to discuss widespread racial turmoil. Tensions ran high during the 90-minute meeting held at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church on 20th Street S. ...

    Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin met with roughly 125 black police officers, city activists and clergy members behind closed doors late Tuesday to discuss widespread racial turmoil in the St. Petersburg Police Department. Tensions ran high during the 90-minute meeting held at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church on 20th Street S.
  15. David Jolly has lead in close Pinellas congressional race

    Elections

    As polls closed Tuesday, Republican David Jolly had overtaken Alex Sink's initial lead, setting up a cliff-hanger.

    By 7:20 p.m. Jolly was leading with 48 percent of the vote to Sink's 47 percent. But the race is expected to be close, with scores of voters casting ballots in person Tuesday.

    The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections estimated voter turnout at 39 percent through 6 p.m. That includes the unofficial early voting turnout of 27.6 percent and 11.4 percent turnout at the polls....

    Candidate David Jolly greets his family  after voting at the Indian Shores Town Hall 19305 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores, FL to place his vote in the special election for Florida 13th Congressional District. Tuesday, 03/11/2014. He walked from his Indian Shores Condo. From left, brother-in-law Philip Rothchild, dad Lawrence Jolly, Jr,, nephew Connor Rothschild, 15; mom Judy Jolly; and sister Jennifer Rothschild. Jennifer and family (husband Philip and son Connor) , from Springfield, Missouri, surprised Jolly in the parking lot. He expected them tonight