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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


Twitter: @MarkPuente

  1. Mayor Rick Kriseman may seek more Pinellas County dollars for St. Petersburg Pier

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman is mulling whether to ask Pinellas County to once again contribute millions to rebuild the iconic St. Petersburg Pier, which is already projected to cost $66 million.

    Kriseman has yet to make an official request. But he has started discussions with Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard and at least one commissioner, officials said. Woodard has alerted other commissioners about those talks....

    A rendering of the design for the new St. Petersburg pier presented at City Hall in March. Mayor Rick Kriseman is mulling whether to ask Pinellas County to once again contribute millions to rebuild the iconic Pier, which is already projected to cost $66 million. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times] 
  2. There's a familiar theme in Pinellas County Commission race: businessman vs. veteran politician

    State Roundup

    When retired businessman Mike Mikurak met state Sen. Jack Latvala and Rep. Kathleen Peters in January 2015, he thought the Pinellas Republicans were going to ask him for campaign donations.

    Instead, they asked him to launch his own campaign and challenge Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, a Democrat running for re-election in 2016.

    Mikurak had served on several public and hospital boards. But the legislators, he said, told him it was his business background that made him a good candidate. He spent months talking to family, friends and other advisers across the county....

    Republican Mike Mikurak, who is running for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission, touts his business background.
  3. State House | District 70


    After clobbering two opponents in the Democratic primary, former St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton is a favorite to win again. Democrats outnumber Republicans in a district that stretches into Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.

    About the job: The district includes southeastern Pinellas and portions of Hillsborough, Manatee and Sarasota counties. State representatives serve two-year terms and earn $29,697 a year....

    Wengay Newton
  4. In Pinellas commission race, $16.5 million judgement against county becomes key issue


    ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice's opponent has made a $16.5 million court judgment against the county one of his main attacks against the incumbent.

    Mike Mikurak, a retired business executive, has raised the issue in attacks ads and on the campaign trail. And it came up again at Thursday's candidate debate, hosted by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

    In June, a circuit judge ruled that in 2013 the Pinellas County Commission was wrong to reject a plan by West Palm Beach developer Richman Group of Florida to build a 246-unit, three-story luxury apartment complex in Safety Harbor. The judge awarded damages and interest to the developer....

    Republican candidate for County Commission Mike Mikurak speaks at a debate hosted by the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club on Thursday. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
  5. Pinellas County Commission | District 3 Commissioner


    Charlie Justice was first elected to the county post in 2012, but businessman Mike Mukarik doesn't believe Justice has provided leadership in his first term. Justice originally sought the office in 2012 when the board eliminated fluoride from the county's drinking water. He voted to restore the fluoride.

    About the job: One of three at-large district seats on the County Commission, the District 3 commissioner is chosen by voters throughout Pinellas County. The commissioner must live within the district's boundaries, which encompass most of St. Petersburg, Gulfport, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and part of Pinellas Park. The seven-member board approves the annual budget and sets policy on land use, infrastructure and social services. Commissioners serve four-year terms and are paid $90,429....

    Mike Mikurak, candidate for Pinellas County Commission., Dist 3
  6. Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long proposes a familiar plan: consolidating Tampa Bay's many transportation agencies


    As the Tampa Bay region struggles to improve its transportation system, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long on Tuesday unveiled what she called a "big, bold, visionary" plan to alleviate the area's woes.

    Long proposed consolidating the bay area's alphabet soup of transportation agencies: the Metropolitan Planning Organizations in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties; the area's bus agencies, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the Pinellas Suncoast Regional Transit Authority; and the regional planning groups, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council....

    Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, seen here during a 2014 commission meeting, on Tuesday proposed a plan to consolidate the bay area's many transportation agencies. It's an idea that's come up before. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]

  7. Democratic poll shows Charlie Crist with healthy lead over David Jolly in 13th congressional race


    ST. PETERSBURG — A poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee shows former Gov. Charlie Crist with a commanding lead over incumbent Republican David Jolly.

    Crist leads Jolly by a 50-39 percent margin. The 11 percent of undecided voters lean Democratic by a 37-20 percent margin.

    The poll, conducted by telephone with 400 likely voters in the 13th Congressional District, found Crist's support deeper among district voters than Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (45 percent) and Democratic Senate candidate Patrick Murphy (46 percent). ...

    U.S. Rep. David Jolly, left, and Democratic challenger Charlie Crist at the Congressional District 13 debate last month in the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg.
  8. As U.S. Rep. David Jolly and Charlie Crist debate, Beverly Young criticizes Jolly on Facebook

    State Roundup

    ST. PETERSBURG — As U.S. Rep. David Jolly and rival Charlie Crist wrapped up their debate in front of the Suncoast Tiger Bay club on Thursday, a familiar face re-entered the 13th Congressional District race:

    Beverly Young, the wife of former longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who served the district for decades until he died in 2013. The widow used Facebook to deliver this message:...

    Democrat Charlie Crist, left, debates a question with Republican incumbent David Jolly listens during a luncheon at the Suncoast Tiger Bay club at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club on Thursday, 10/6/16. Both are running in the 13th Congressional District. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  9. Pinellas Supervisor of Elections sends out its largest shipment of mail ballots


    Get your pens ready Pinellas County voters: The ballots are in the mail.

    As candidates battle for votes in the Nov. 8 election, the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections says it has mailed its largest-ever batch of ballots to domestic voters

    The 262,142 ballots mailed Tuesday are part of 266,176 sent to voters, spokesman Jason Latimer said in a statement.

    Of that, Republicans received 107,160; Democrats received 101,973; and 57,043 went to unaffiliated voters....

    Kirby Byrnes, an employee of Rex Moving, loads mail ballots into a truck at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office in Largo on Tuesday, October 4, 2016. The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections is mailing over 262,000 ballots on Tuesday to domestic voters for the upcoming general election, the largest initial bulk mailing for Pinellas county in any election. Nearly 41 percent of registered voters in Pinellas County have requested a mail ballot.
  10. Illegal house rental nets Clearwater lawyer $46,000 fine; she blames attention from Scientology

    Special Topics

    CLEARWATER — The sun was about to set on a July evening in 2013 when Betsy Steg heard a knock at the door.

    She peered out her front window and wondered how two uniformed Scientologists got the code to her gated cul-de-sac in Harbor Oaks, an affluent neighborhood overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway.

    As Steg opened the door, church official Peter Mansell delivered a warning.

    "He said, 'You're an enemy of the church and we're going to harm and destroy you,' " Steg recalled....

    Betsy Steg violated Clearwater’s short-term rental ban.
  11. Pinellas County Republican Party says leader of Stonewall Democrats should tell all the facts about voter drives


    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....

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


    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....

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


    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.
  14. St. Petersburg sewage spill stories remain at odds


    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....

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


    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. ...

    Egghead Josh Tahan cooks pork butts on one of his four Big Green Eggs at his Riverview home for his Big Green Egg “Breakfast for Dinner” cooking class.