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Michael Van Sickler, Tampa Bay Times

Michael Van Sickler

Michael has been with the Tampa Bay Times since 2003. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, he graduated from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa., and got his master's degree at the University of Florida. He has worked at the Ledger and the Palm Beach Post. For the Times, he has covered everything from mortgage fraud, growth and development in Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg City Hall and state government in Tallahassee. After a stint as assistant metro editor for the paper, he is now the government and politics editor.

Phone: (727) 580-9650.

Email: mvansickler@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MikeVanSickler

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  1. Adam Putnam no fan of $75 million Capitol upgrade

    Blog

    From Jim Turner at The News Service of Florida:

    Emergency repairs to two underground parking decks at the Capitol and planned upgrades to a main entry plaza could reach $75 million.

    Department of Management Services Secretary Chad Poppell, whose agency oversees the complex, said officials should have a better grasp on some of the costs in about a month when updated figures are available on the already-closed Senate garage.

    "These projects are very complex, about half of the cost is just getting the building ready to work on," Poppell said.

    Poppell said the goal is a finished product that Floridians can be proud of visually and in terms of cost. The makeover of the complex is expected to be complete in four to six years.

    But Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is widely expected to run for governor in 2018, described the minimalistic renderings that Poppell's office is using to showcase the project as "not particularly attractive."

    More important, he would like Poppell's agency to consider less-expensive options as it repairs 1970s-era design flaws that led to the deterioration of the parking decks and as it makes the multi-deck western entrance plaza, called Waller Park, more accessible for people with disabilities.

    "Seventy-five million (dollars), and to only have to show for it two parking garages that are not collapsing on each other and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility, is extraordinary to me," Putnam said during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday.

    Putnam, who acknowledged he was upset to first read about the work in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper, said he expects cost overruns and he would like to see options, such as new off-site, above-ground parking decks, that were rejected.

    Asked after the meeting what he would like to see for the complex, Putnam responded, "Hopefully something less ugly than what they've picked."

    Poppell said the renderings now being used were intended to remain true to the architectural style of the Capitol. Also, he said the Senate is looking at a new garage rather than just repairing the existing structure.

    "With the amount of money being estimated it's important we get a good return on investment for taxpayers in terms of the life-cycle of the building and how long it's expected to be in use," Poppell said.

    The Senate garage is already closed, with basic repair work underway after cracks were found in the multi-deck structure.

    The damages were primarily the result of the initial design of the complex, which includes trees and about 7,300 tons of soil atop the parking decks.

    The Legislature set aside $36 million over the past three years for the repairs to the parking decks and the plaza work.

    Part of the upgrade includes work with the Florida Historical Commission to have space for new memorials on the Capitol grounds. Also, to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, the state is looking at elevators for the entry plaza rather than the need for 400 feet of winding ramps.

    First projected to top $20 million, the Senate repair work is now estimated at $25 million, the same price tag now affixed for repairs to the House underground garage and changes to Waller Park, Poppell said.

    Employees who had used the 210-space Senate deck are now parking in nearby state facilities. Senators and some of their staff will have spaces moved to a third parking deck under the Capitol for the 2017 legislative session.

    The House parking structure will remain in use during that time, as it isn't considered in as dire shape as the Senate deck.

    Workers have already removed more than 100 holly and oak trees that were atop the decks, which sit on opposite wings of the Capitol property that opened in 1977.

    To comply with a Tallahassee tree ordinance, the live oaks will eventually be replaced with "mature" live oaks, but they will not be planted above the garages, Poppell said....

    Adam Putnam finds the cost of repairs to be extraordinary
  2. Pence and Bondi to lunch at Ricky P's

    Blog

    Before he goes to Sarasota for a rally on Wednesday, Donald Trump's vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, will be lunching in St. Petersburg.

    One of his lunch companions will be Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, according to an invite by the Trump campaign.

    It lists Republican activists Michael Pinson, Cheryl Sanchez, Vicki and John Majors, Denise Nestor, Brian Artze and Paul Harris as the host committee.  ...

    Who wants Cajun cuisine?
  3. Scott returns to Miami for hastily announced Zika news conference

    Blog

    Early Friday morning, Gov. Rick Scott cancelled an appearance in Tampa at Aero Simulation, where he was to tout the latest Florida jobs numbers (26,000 new jobs in July, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity).

    At the same time the cancellation was announced, Scott's office disclosed that he would hold a news conference at the Miami-Dade County Health Department regarding the Zika virus....

  4. U.S. Senate | Democratic primary, Alan Grayson v. Pam Keith v. Patrick Murphy

    Kyc

    U.S. Senate | Democratic primary

    With control of the U.S. Senate on the line, Democrats are looking to Florida, where they hope to unseat Sen. Marco Rubio. The caustic primary campaign has pitted two congressmen — establishment favorite Patrick Murphy and bombastic Alan Grayson — against each other and a first-time candidate, labor attorney Pam Keith.

    About the job: Statewide representative to the U.S. Senate. Salary: $174,000. Term: six years....

    Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) on The House steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, February 4, 2016. Grayson's highly unusual dual role - a sitting House lawmaker running a hedge fund, which until recently had operations in the Cayman Islands - has led to an investigation by the House Committee on Ethics. (Zach Gibson/The New York Times) XNYT8
  5. Father of Orlando mass shooter attends Clinton rally (and has a good seat)

    Blog

    WPTV, the NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach, attended Monday's Hillary Clinton rally in Kissimmee when one of its reporters noticed the man in the red hat sitting behind the stage in full view of the cameras.

    Turns out it was Seddique Mateen, the father of Omar Mateen. As Clinton was talking about the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, just 30 minutes from Kissimmee, the father of the gunman sat in the crowd. Pretty surreal stuff....

  6. News Service of Florida: After Pulse, Rick Scott expressed support for gay rights

    Blog

    From our friends at The News Service of Florida:

    In the days after 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Gov. Rick Scott privately expressed some support for gay rights to the state's only openly gay state lawmaker, a Miami Beach House member told a gathering in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

    "We didn't talk about specific laws, but what he said to me privately and in the presence of his staff is that he's a grandfather and if any of his grandchildren happened to be gay he would want them to be treated with dignity and respect and have their rights," state Rep. David Richardson told the News Service after a panel discussion. "And he also told me that for anyone that might be critical of him and having these meetings, that he got elected to represent all 20 million Floridians."

    Richardson, a Democrat, said the Republican governor's office called him after the Pulse nightclub killings, seeking help reaching out to the gay community. Richardson said he responded, "I'm willing to help you but only if you can do this on my terms, and my terms are no press and no photo opportunities."

    "I didn't want to be used to facilitate him after he has not been responsive to our community," Richardson told audience members at Wednesday's event hosted by the Equality Forum at the National Museum of Jewish American History in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention.

    Richardson, who had recently returned from attending a vigil in Orlando, hopped in his car and made the trek northward, holding meetings with faith leaders and representatives of the LGBT community.

    "He respected all my wishes," Richardson said.

    Richardson said the meetings with Scott offered some leverage that he would use depending on what bills reach the governor's desk.

    "I will happily call him up and remind him what he told me in Orlando," said Richardson, who told the audience he was sharing the story as an example of "relationship-building."

    Richardson told the News Service he had no compunction about publicly sharing the meetings because the secrecy was on his terms.

    "I'm not violating any trust by telling a story," said Richardson, who said he doesn't talk about the meetings a lot because he's not a "cheerleader" for Scott.

    The meetings came after Richardson texted Scott's chief of staff, Kim McDougal, complaining about the lack of mention the gay community received in Scott's remarks right after the shooting, which occurred in the early hours of June 12.

    "He didn't say anything about the gay community, the LGBT community. I text her and I said, 'Would you tell him that he has to say the word gay?' " Richardson told the News Service. "He has to say the word gay because the gay community is taking note that he's not acknowledging the community."

    Wednesday's panel, which also included New York Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney, was moderated by Aisha Moodie-Mills, CEO of the Victory Fund, which aims to help elect members of the LGBT community in "low-equality states," including Florida.

    "Florida is absolutely one of those states," Moodie-Mills told the News Service....

    Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, said that Rick Scott privately expressed to him support for gay rights after the Pulse nightclub killings.
  7. Charlie Crist surprised to learn he's in running for Clinton's VP

    Blog

    Like most political observers, former Florida governor Charlie Crist thought he had a good handle on who Hillary Clinton was considering for her VP, which she's expected to announce soon. 

    But then his phone started ringing from reporters about a tweet from CBC News Alerts claiming that he, Charlie Crist, candidate for U.S. Congress, was in fact on Clinton's short list.
    This guy for Clinton's VP? In a word: "No."
  8. On Trump's big night at RNC, Rubio expected to be at Tampa watch party

    Blog

    As the Republican National Convention coronates Donald Trump on Thursday night in Cleveland, the man many once considered the GOP's best bet for the job will be 1,100 miles away watching the event on TV in a Tampa bar.

    At least, that's what a flier for a Republican Party of Hillsborough watch party says will happen on the last night of the RNC.

    The "Unifying for America/Trump for President/Convention Watch Party" will have as a very special guest, WFLA 970-AM's Tedd Webb. The master of ceremonies will be retired Lt. Col. Steve Emerson of the U.S. Marine Corps. It starts at 6 p.m. at 81 Bay Brewing Co., 4465 W. Gandy Boulevard, Tampa. ...

    Rubio won't be this close to Trump on Thursday
  9. 538: Tampa Bay is a lot like 'Normal America'

    Blog

    Tampa Bay is often characterized as just another example of weird Florida. So it was interesting to see a completely different take on our region in Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight blog. ...

    Think Tampa Bay is weird? It's not.
  10. Toll roads surge in U.S. as rest of infrastructure declines

    Blog

    Notice how infrastructure spending has lagged in the U.S. compared to other countries?

    Or that the federal gas tax hasn't been raised since 1993?

    How about that the federal share of revenue paying for Florida's roads, once more than 50 percent, is now below 25 percent?...

  11. What the 8 years since the recession torpedoed Florida’s state budget tell us about Gov. Rick Scott’s priorities

    State Roundup

    Gov. Rick Scott vowed to make steep spending cuts upon taking office in 2011. With an assist from state lawmakers, he's done just that in the past six years.

    More than 13,000 state positions have been eliminated, which will save $152 million next year. The state has slashed more than $800 million in its mental health and elderly services. Florida Bright Futures dropped by a third, or $120 million....

  12. St. Pete Pier design wins top award for NYC architects

    Blog

    The architects for St. Pete's new pier picked up a prestigious design award this week.

    The New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers the Merit Award, which recognizes distinguished achievement in urban design....

  13. Think TBX is getting opposition? Check out what's happening outside Seattle

    Blog

    FDOT's $3.3 billion Tampa Bay Express plan (or is it $6 billion?) has drawn mounting criticism and protests for months for its proposed use of toll lanes....

  14. Post recession: "American Dream" takes a hit in Florida, among older millennials

    Blog

    How much has the housing market changed since the Great Recession?

    Quite a bit, according to an analysis by Mark Uh, a data scientist at the real estate blog Trulia.

    Of the 50 largest metro regions, Tampa had the fifth largest climb in the percentage of renters from 2006 to 2014. Here are the top 10:...

  15. As Kriseman pushes for bike share, Seattle offers up a cautionary tale

    Blog

    St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has struggled to get City Council members to support his bike-share program. 

    They resisted the idea of using BP settlement money for the program last year. After raising a series of questions about the viability of the program last week, Council members decided to bring it up again next month....