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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 County Republican Party says leader of Stonewall Democrats should tell all the facts about voter drives

    Blog

    When the leader of the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County cried foul this week about locations of voter drives, the Pinellas County Republican Party says Susan McGrath should tell all the facts.

    On Tuesday, McGrath criticized Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark for holding voter registrations at nine Chick-fil-A locations.

    Pinellas County Republican Party Chairman Nick DiCeglie said McGrath forgot to mention that Republican leaders didn't complain when Clark held a voter drive at the St. Pete Pride event this summer....

  2. Democrats object to Chick-fil-A voter registration drive

    Politics

    A controversy is clucking in Pinellas County over chicken sandwiches, sweet tea and voter registration cards.

    The Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County are crying foul over Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark's decision to hold voter registration drives at nine Chick-fil-A locations. Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain known for putting faith ahead of profits, supports conservative causes....

  3. Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County object to voter drives at Chick-fil-A

    Blog

    A controversy is clucking in Pinellas County over chicken sandwiches, sweet tea and voter-registration cards.

    The Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County is crying foul over Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark's decision to hold voter-registration drives Tuesday at nine Chick-fil-A locations in the county. Chick-fil-A, the fast-food chain known for putting faith ahead of profits, supports conservative causes. ...

    Customers lined up in October for unlimited nuggets and fries at the Chick Fil-A St. Pete Beach location. The site is one of nine spots where the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections will hold voter drives on Tuesday.
  4. St. Petersburg sewage spill stories remain at odds

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — The city administration continues to struggle with its accounting of the circumstances surrounding massive sewage dumps this summer, a whistle-blowing plant operator says.

    The whistle-blower contends Mayor Rick Kriseman blamed a low-level employee for an inaccurate report to the state about sewage spilled in northwest St. Petersburg.

    Late Friday, Kriseman said the employee was "essentially a clerk" who classified the spill as treated effluent, even though the plant operator had recommended it be classified as partly treated. The city changed its classification late Friday from "treated effluent," or completely treated sewage, to "partially treated" wastewater. A new policy change Kriseman announced Friday would require plant operators to fill out the notification forms....

  5. Here's why the Big Green Egg grill attracts such a loyal following

    Cooking

    I considered myself a backyard warrior when standing over a fine steak or juicy burger sizzling atop hot coals. I would wear out grills every two years, then fetch a new one from a big-box store. But when I wanted to improve my grilling game in 2014, I strutted into an outdoor store to admire finer cookers.

    When my wife, Laura, and I walked out hours later, I didn't know I had just joined a worldwide cult of Eggheads — outdoor cooks who worship the egg-shaped grill-smokers called Big Green Eggs. ...

    Pulled Pork Benedict is plated at Tahan’s “Breakfast for Dinner” cooking class. Tahan’s introduction to the Big Green Egg came in 2011 at a party in South Florida.
  6. Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch accuses CareerSource Pinellas CEO Ed Peachy of violating rules

    Blog

    Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch accused the leader of CareerSource Pinellas of terminating a contract with an accounting firm without approval from the agency's 29-member board.

    Welch lodged the complaint Wednesday against CareerSource president and CEO Ed Peachy during a monthly board meeting. Welch said he discovered that the contract with CliftonAllenLarson had been terminated on Aug. 26 --- four days before Peachy called an emergency meeting of CareerSource's audit committee to consider the move....

    Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch
  7. Officials quiz St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman about sewage spills

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County's legislative delegation quizzed local officials Tuesday about the region's growing sewer crisis.

    Much of the two-hour meeting centered around a study that St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and his top aides say they did not learn about until last week. The city-ordered study warned how closing the Albert Whitted treatment plant could leave the city vulnerable to sewage spills. ...

    State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, leads a meeting of the Pinellas County legislative delegation Tuesday in St. Petersburg to discuss the ongoing problems with sewage spills. He said he hopes to hold another meeting where the public may ask questions. 
  8. They live here and their business gives jobs to Americans — but they can't stay here

    Human Interest

    They live here and their business gives jobs to Americans — but they can't stay here

    By Mark Puente, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer

    Diane Cherry slid her passport across the counter to the immigration officer at Tampa International Airport. He had a few questions about her trip to London, then stamped her passport.

    Cherry, a British national, took several steps — and froze. The stamp only allowed her to stay in the United States for three weeks. The officer had mistaken her for a tourist....

    Diane Cherry, 53, co-owner of Hayes Florist in Pinellas Park, moves arrangements in the cooler. She and her husband, Mike Cherry, 57, are here on a visa that offers no path to citizenship and is contingent on owning a profitable business.
  9. Wengay Newton, St. Petersburg City Council's longtime dissenter, takes aim at Tallahassee

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG –– When Wengay Newton first ran for St. Petersburg City Council in 2007, politicos and elected leaders dismissed his chances and endorsed his opponent. Newton campaigned relentlessly as an outsider against City Hall's fiscal policies.

    But the former neighborhood leader won by brandishing himself as a political outsider — and continues to win political office....

    Former St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton celebrates his electroal victory with his wife, Melissa, during last week's Aug. 31 primary. Newton is now the frontrunner in the race to win state House District 70. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |   Times]
  10. MIke Twitty eager to get started as Pinellas County appraiser

    Blog

    Mike Twitty has started a plan to sell his appraisal firm since he won the Republican primary to be the next Pinellas County property appraiser.

    Twitty's victory over Jim Frishe in Tuesday's primary election all but secured the appraiser position for the primary winner, who will run against write-in challenger Joseph Catalano, 24, in November. He has not raised any campaign contributions....

    Businessman Mike Twiitty beat Jim Frishe in the Republican primary to be the next  Pinellas County property appraiser. The Democratic Party did not field a candidate, but Twitty will face write-in challenger Joseph Catalano in November.
  11. Wengay Newton runs away with Democratic primary for House District 70

    Elections

    In the race for state House District 70, former St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton won the three-way Democratic primary Tuesday over two relatively unknown opponents.

    The district sprawls over parts of four counties — Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota and Manatee — and Newton won 62 percent of the vote, while businessman Dan Fiorini received 21 percent and lawyer Christopher "C.J." Czaia got 17 percent....

    Former St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton, who won the Democratic primary for state House District 70, smiles at the early results short after the polls closed Tuesday. His watch party was at Boca Bay Grille in Gulfport. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
  12. Mike Twitty tops Jim Frishe in Republican primary for Pinellas appraiser

    Elections

    After raising more money than any other countywide candidate, political newcomer Mike Twitty topped Jim Frishe in the Republican primary to be the next Pinellas County property appraiser.

    According to early results, Twitty earned 60 percent of the vote Tuesday, compared with Frishe's 40 percent in the costliest primary for countywide office in Pinellas County. The position is for a four-year term and pays $153,633 annually....

    Mike Twitty
  13. Pinellas County workers erroneously poisoned 74 sabal palmetto trees in Joe's Creek

    Environment

    ST. PETERSBURG — When four trees had to be removed in March for maintenance purposes, two Pinellas County workers sprayed the sabal palmetto trees with a herbicide.

    But the workers didn't stop there. They took it a step further, county officials said, and poisoned another 74 trees along Joe's Creek, which runs through several neighborhoods from St. Petersburg to Kenneth City.

    The workers killed the trees for "maintenance reasons," officials said, but without consulting their superiors. The incident is now being investigated the Florida Department of Agriculture because of the chemicals sprayed near water. It also spurred Pinellas County to tighten rules allowing its employees to kill trees....

    The dead sabal palmetto trees that line Joe's Creek between Jacaranda Manor and Brookside Mobile Home Park at 4150 66th St. N in St. Petersburg. In March, two Pinellas County workers tasked with removing four trees in March ended up erroneously spraying poison on an additional 74 trees for maintenance purposes but without consulting a supervisor. The incident is now being investigated the Florida Department of Agriculture because of the chemicals sprayed near water. It also spurred Pinellas County to tighten rules allowing its employees to kill trees. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  14. Animated video gives public first look at changes coming to Dunedin Causeway

    Growth

    DUNEDIN — After months of back-and-forth on how to replace the deteriorating Dunedin Causeway, county commissioners are slated to make a decision on Tuesday.

    But before they do, the public has a chance to see what the proposed changes could look like — even from the driver's seat.

    An animated video shows aerial and point-of-view perspectives of a drive over each of the bridge designs vying to replace one of the 1960s spans now connecting the mainland to Honeymoon Island State Park....

    A man strolls across the south side of the draw bridge at the Dunedin Causeway. [Times files]
  15. Tempers flare in contentious House District 70 race over key LGBT endorsement

    State Roundup

    The hiring of a prominent African-American activist and an endorsement from the Stonewall Democrats of Pinellas County has splintered the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the House District 70 race.

    The rift has triggered scathing attacks between two rivals in the Democratic primary: attorney Christopher "CJ" Czaia and businessman Dan Fiorini, one of the founding members of the Stonewall Democrats....

    Christopher “CJ” Czaia is running in the Democratic primary for Florida House District 70.