Mike Brassfield, Times Staff Writer

Mike Brassfield

Mike Brassfield has been with the Tampa Bay Times as a reporter and editor since 1998. He currently covers Largo and assorted issues. Previously, he covered crime in St. Petersburg, then Tampa Bay transportation issues, then the city of Clearwater. He also has worked as a Times editor in the Tampa and Clearwater newsrooms.

Phone: (727) 445-4151

Email: brassfield@tampabay.com

  1. As craft beer booms, Largo brewer plans major expansion



    Jay and Colleen Dingman have a really serious problem. You see, they just can't make enough beer.

    The married couple owns Barley Mow Brewing Co., a Largo brewpub. Smaller than a microbrewery, it's a "nanobrewery" that features an in-room brewery setup located mere feet from the bar.

    They brew a couple dozen kinds of ales, ambers, porters and stouts in small batches — just enough to keep beer flowing through the bar's taps. They also distribute it to other pubs. Tampa Bay's craft beer scene has been good to them, so the demand for their product has outgrown the supply....

    The menu board at Barley Mow Brewing Co. The Largo brewpub at 518 West Bay Drive is expanding its operations to meet demand for its craft beers in the Tampa Bay area. The couple who owns it, Jay Dingman and Colleen Huffman, are buying an industrial building on Commerce Drive off Missouri Avenue in Largo. They’ll build a larger brewery there so they can distribute their craft beer. Right now they have a small brewing operation at the bar. “We can’t make the beer fast enough,” Jay Dingman said. 
  2. Motorcycle helmet law advocates say rising Florida deaths prove need


    Mandatory motorcycle helmet laws are at the end of the road in Florida, despite a sharp rise in cycling deaths. Florida repealed its helmet law in 2000, and virtually no one in Tallahassee is talking about bringing it back.

    But beyond its borders, Florida is emerging as a national poster child for mandatory helmet laws.

    Safety advocates recently used Florida's example to help beat back attempts to repeal helmet laws in Louisiana, Nebraska, Tennessee and Vermont. The same legislative fight is raging in five other states....

    Florida is emerging as a national poster child for helmet laws because motorcyclist deaths increased after the state repealed its law in 2000.
  3. Tarpon Springs downsizes Sponge Docks project, debates blame

    Local Government

    TARPON SPRINGS — City officials have torn up parts of a $1.3 million plan to enhance the Sponge Docks tourist district and are going back to the drawing board.

    They're ditching the controversial components of the plan — a boardwalk and amphitheater at the water's edge and a dock for visiting boaters.

    "It is obvious that on this issue, we're not going to be able to come to a consensus," said City Manager Mark LeCouris. "There's too much division."...

    City Manager Mark LeCouris said divisiveness, not the width of the Anclote River, killed the boardwalk idea and other elements.
  4. Huge gun range wins approval from Tarpon Springs

    Local Government

    TARPON SPRINGS — A huge indoor gun range that's planned for a blighted spot alongside U.S. 19 won approval late Tuesday night from Tarpon Springs commissioners who heard passionate arguments for and against it.

    Developers intend to start construction this summer on the nearly 60,000-square-foot Reload Gun Range, which will be at 40050 U.S. 19, on the west side of the highway north of Klosterman Road. The 45-lane range, which could open early next year, is to include a cafe, gunsmith service, classroom space, a firearms store and training areas for law enforcement....

    The nearly 60,000-square-foot Reload Gun Range is planned at 40050 U.S. 19, on the west side of the highway, north of Klosterman Road in Tarpon Springs.
  5. New truck turnaround off Ulmerton Road irritates residents, business


    LARGO — The homeowner and the business owner stood staring at the odd-looking one-lane strip of fresh asphalt that loops around a retention pond alongside Ulmerton Road. It has no curb, no sidewalk and is just a few feet from neighboring homes.

    The state of Florida calls it a "truck turnaround."

    Neighbors, who are upset about this addition to their neighborhood, call it "the no-name street."...

    “You have to scratch your head,” Grosse Pointe Estates resident Gilles Deslauriers says of the truck turnaround off Ulmerton Road.
  6. Largo Medical Center building Clearwater emergency room


    CLEARWATER — Largo Medical Center announced Monday that it will soon break ground on a freestanding emergency room in Clearwater.

    The new facility, which will be open 24/7, will be located at 2339 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., the site of a former auto dealership just west of U.S. 19. It's slated to open this fall.

    Located on a 2.4-acre site, the $8 million ER will feature 11 exam rooms and will initially employ 41 full-time staff members and six full-time physicians, Largo Medical Center said. Hospital officials say they expect the 10,600-square-foot location to serve more than 18,000 patients per year....

  7. Gas station will replace popular Largo driving range as officials okay zoning change

    Local Government

    LARGO — For more than a quarter-century, the Missing Links Driving Range has been a magnet for families and tourists who gather at the spot on East Bay Drive to hit some balls or take a turn in the batting cages, the miniature golf course or the ice cream hut.

    Now, despite passionate opposition from community members and a petition signed by about 1,400 people, Largo commissioners have voted for a zoning change that will allow Missing Links to be replaced by a RaceTrac gas station....

    The popular Missing Links Driving Range at 1201 East Bay Drive in Largo is going to disappear next year and be replaced by a RaceTrac gas station.
  8. Largo election dance card filling up


    LARGO -- This city’s next election isn’t until November, but candidates are already staking out their territory.
    A chain reaction of events is setting up a ballot where five of seven Largo City Commission seats will be up for grabs.
    The main reason for the shake-up: Longtime Mayor Pat Gerard will be stepping down to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, opening up the office of mayor.
    Vice Mayor Woody Brown, 43, is running for mayor. He might be opposed by former Mayor Bob Jackson, who is considering a political comeback.
    Other than the mayor’s race, at this point there are six candidates running for the four remaining City Commission seats. There’s plenty of time for that to change. But right now, here’s how it shakes out:
    Seat 1: Michael Smith, a 32-year-old librarian, is running for re-election to a second term in office. So far, he’s unopposed.
    Seat 2: Robert Murray, 59, is not seeking re-election. Instead, two political newcomers are running for this open seat. One is Samantha Fenger, 35, a former community outreach coordinator at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pinellas County. She has served on Largo’s Community Development Advisory Board. The other is Daniel Ruffner, 47, a vice president at BB&T Bank and a member of Largo’s Code Enforcement Board.
    Seat 5: Long-serving commissioner Harriet Crozier, 69, is running for re-election again. She will be challenged by political newcomer Donna Holck, 51, owner of DJH Tax Consulting in Largo.
    Seat 6: Retired Largo police Chief John Carroll, 54, who left the police force last year, is running for the seat that Woody Brown is vacating.
    The qualifying period for candidates will last for two weeks, probably in August, said City Clerk Diane Bruner. That’s when candidates must turn in 200 petition cards signed by Largo voters.
    The nonpartisan election is Nov. 4. Largo’s ballot will also have about eight city charter amendment questions.
    Largo commissioners earn an annual salary of $13,454 and serve four-year terms. The mayor’s salary is $20,180.
    Gerard, who was first elected mayor in 2006, has mixed feelings about stepping down.
    “It’s hard to think about leaving. I’ve been doing it for eight years now, and six years before that on the commission,” she said. “But it’s time to turn it over to somebody else.”
    Gerard must submit her resignation as mayor in time for the June qualifying period for County Commission candidates. But she can stay on as mayor for most of this year. Her resignation won’t have to take effect until November, when Largo’s next mayor is elected and sworn in.
    One person who might run for mayor is  Jackson, the former mayor whom Gerard defeated in 2006.
    “It’s a tough decision to make,” Jackson said in an interview. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
    Jackson, a retired school principal, was Largo’s mayor for two terms and was on the City Commission for three decades. He says he may not run for office again, partly because he’s 80 years old.
    “I enjoy retirement a lot,” he said, adding that he could still do the job: “I think the concept of experience is overlooked in this country.”
    In any case, he has plenty of criticism for the current city commissioners. He disagrees with their recent decision to waive an impact fee that apartment developers would normally pay for parkland acquisition in Largo.
    He also accuses the elected commissioners of being a mere rubber stamp for the city’s hired staff. “Your job is to set policy, not just listen to what the staff says.”
    For her part, Gerard isn’t surprised by Jackson’s criticism.
    “Bob was always the 'no’ guy on the commission,” Gerard said. “He would vote 'no.’ And instead of trying to convince the rest of us, he would just get mad and bring it up again six months later.”
    At this stage, the apparent early frontrunner to be Largo’s next mayor is vice mayor Brown. A 6-foot-7 chiropractor who has a practice in downtown Largo, he’s been on the commission since 2007. He’s been elected twice, largely by exuding a positive attitude and pledging to build consensus.
    “I enjoy living in Largo. I came back here to start my business and raise a family and I just want to keep it the place that I enjoy living,” Brown said.
    As for Jackson’s criticism that commissioners are a rubber stamp for the city staff, Brown responded: “If that’s what you think, you haven’t been paying attention.”...

  9. Race fans savor a sunny Grand Prix day

    Human Interest


    On a gorgeous sunny Sunday, there were lots of different ways to watch the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

    If you paid extra for seats, you could watch from the grandstand as waves of sound washed over you. With a general admission ticket, you could watch from the outdoor deck of the Mahaffey Theater, or on a blanket in Pioneer Park or standing in the muddy infield. You could watch it on TV. If you live in a downtown high-rise, you could watch it from your balcony....

    Food and drinks were flowing on the rooftop of the parking garage at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, where about a hundred members gathered for a watch party vantage point during Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg IndyCar race. While people stood at the wall, overlooking the turn onto Central Avenue, Noreen Parker (in pink) and Debbie Trusio (in black), both of St. Petersburg, sat in chairs drinking cocktails and chatting above the noise.
  10. Police: 31-year-old man killed in alcohol-related crash in Largo


    LARGO — A 31-year-old man riding in a car was killed early Sunday when the vehicle veered out of control, police said.

    The accident happened about 12:45 a.m. on Starkey Road just south of Ulmerton Road.

    Largo police said a 2008 Chevy was southbound on Starkey when it slid sideways into a culvert. The vehicle went airborne and rolled at least once, causing the passenger to be partially ejected from the vehicle....

  11. Clearwater motorcyclist dies in high-speed crash


    CLEARWATER — A Clearwater man was killed in a motorcycle crash early Sunday, apparently while driving at high speed, police said.

    Tye Joshua Ballinger, 22, was westbound around 1:45 a.m. on 2900 block of State Road 580, between Landmark Drive and Countryside High School, when he lost control of his motorcycle, according to Clearwater police. No other vehicles were involved.

    While driving through a curve, Ballinger skidded across the median and the eastbound lanes, hit a curb and crashed into a concrete block wall. He was not wearing a helmet, police said. ...

  12. 1-year-old girl nearly drowns in St. Petersburg pool


    ST. PETERSBURG — A 1-year-old girl nearly drowned in a backyard pool Saturday morning but survived, officials said.

    The incident happened just before 10 a.m. at a home at 5401 Westchester Blvd. in unincorporated Pinellas County near St. Petersburg, deputies said.

    According to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the child's caregiver was preparing her home for a family get-together and the child was outside in the fenced-in backyard with a family friend. The caregiver went outside and noticed the girl was not near the friend and found her in the in-ground pool....

  13. Largo commission candidates stake out turf; 5 of 7 seats in play


    LARGO — This city's next election isn't until November, but candidates are already staking out their territory.

    A chain reaction of events is setting up a ballot where five of seven Largo City Commission seats will be up for grabs.

    The main reason for the shake-up: Longtime Mayor Pat Gerard will be stepping down to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, opening up the office of mayor....

    Samantha Fenger has served on an advisory board.
  14. Largo candidates stake out turf with 5 of 7 seats in play


    LARGO -- This city’s next election isn’t until November, but candidates are already staking out their territory.

    A chain reaction of events is setting up a ballot where five out of seven Largo City Commission seats will be up for grabs.

    The main reason for the shake-up: Longtime Mayor Pat Gerard will be stepping down to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat, opening up the office of mayor....

  15. Tarpon Springs hits brakes on Sponge Docks improvements

    Local Government

    TARPON SPRINGS — Due to a sustained public outcry and some pointed questions, Tarpon Springs officials are hitting the brakes on the city's $1.3 million plan to beautify and enhance the Sponge Docks tourist district.

    A majority of Tarpon city commissioners want to put the project on hold, so the city staff is shutting it down — for now.

    "We've stopped everything, so we're not spending any more money on it," said City Manager Mark LeCouris. "We won't be starting up again unless the commission says to."...

    Tarpon Springs officials’ plan to upgrade the Sponge Docks was criticized as a departure from the tradition of a working waterfront.