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Steve Contorno, Times Staff Writer

Steve Contorno

Steve Contorno is a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times covering Hillsborough County. He previously worked for PolitiFact in the Times Washington, D.C. bureau. Prior to joining the Times, he covered Congress and Virginia politics for the Washington Examiner as well as state and local governments in Wisconsin for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. A native of the Chicago suburbs, Steve graduated from the University of Illinois with a bachelor's degree in news-editorial journalism and a minor in political science, and holds a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield, where he covered the Illinois legislature for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Phone: (813) 226-3433


The Contorno file:

Twitter: @scontorno

  1. Hillsborough County eliminates last gun ordinance that conflicted with state law


    TAMPA — How does the last vestige of Hillsborough County's gun ordinances die?

    Not with a bang but a whimper.

    Hillsborough commissioners unceremoniously voted 7-0 earlier this month to delete "firearms" from a provision that allowed for stricter regulation of weapons and alcohol during emergencies including hurricanes.

    The state Constitution allows counties to institute a three-day waiting period on gun purchases. Other than that rule, this was the only gun ordinance left on Hillsborough's books....

    The proposed Gas Worx project would bring 1,432 apartments or condominiums and potentially a grocery store to 7.6 acres between Ybor City and the Channel District. It is being proposed by a new company formed by Tampa developer Donald Phillips. This rendering was included with a rezoning application filed with City Hall last week.
  2. Crews search for man who fell off pontoon boat near Hernando Beach


    HERNANDO BEACH — Rescue crews continued searching Monday for a 31-year-old man who fell off a boat Sunday near the Hernando Beach shoreline.

    Joshua Valentine has not been seen since he fell off a 20-foot pontoon boat at approximately 2:45 p.m. Sunday, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is conducting the search along with Hernando and Pasco counties sheriff's offices and the U.S. Coast Guard. Aviation and helicopter units have been dispatched to assist in the search as well....

  3. Tips on veganism from a relative newcomer


    I know what you're going to say: "I could never give up cheese. Or bacon."

    I hear it often, and College Steve would have nodded in agreement. (Of course, College Steve grew winded walking up a flight of stairs and was nicknamed "Tons of Fun" by his family.)

    When I say, "I'm vegan," I understand your instinct to start listing off what I can't eat. But while there are off-limits foods, three years into this lifestyle change, I can attest that it's anything but restricting. Once you learn to navigate the basics of vegan cooking, you'll find it's not hard, it's healthy and the options are endless....

    This Baked Ziti incorporates vegan mozzarella.
  4. Janet Dougherty named head of Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission


    TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners made it clear the next head of the Environmental Protection Commission must be someone who can balance conservation and regulation with economic growth.

    In Janet Dougherty, they say they got their woman.

    Dougherty, the president of an environmental consulting firm who has long ties to the business community here, was named the third executive director in the EPC's 45-year history in a 5-2 vote Thursday. She accepted the job on the spot....

    Janet Dougherty becomes just the third EPC director in Hillsborough County in 45 years.
  5. Kevin Beckner goes off on Hillsborough Republican commissioners over wage theft problem

    Local Government

    TAMPA — The Republican-dominated Hillsborough County Commission pushed back Wednesday against a Democratic proposal to have the county help victims of wage theft recover their lost income.

    After contentious debate — including accusations from Democratic Commissioner Kevin Beckner that his colleagues were kowtowing to special interests — Republicans on the commission instead asked county staffers to explore an increase in funding for the nonprofit Bay Area Legal Services. They want that organization to take on wage theft cases for people who can't afford lawyers....

    Kevin Beckner accused his colleagues of agreeing with the views of special interests.
  6. Decision delayed on relocating Swiftmud headquarters from Brooksville to Tampa

    Local Government

    TAMPA — The Southwest Florida Water Management District's governing board on Tuesday put off for at least 60 days a decision to move its headquarters from Brooksville to Tampa.

    The board will use the time to engage with Brooksville and Hernando County officials, who said they were unaware about the plan until just days before Tuesday's meeting and were scrambling to respond.

    The agenda for Tuesday did not mention the proposal. It was included under discussion of the business plan for Swiftmud, which regulates water supply and quality and plans for flood protection in the region....

  7. Business interests lobby for Janet Dougherty to head Hillsborough Environmental Protection Commission


    TAMPA — In his nine years as a Hillsborough County commissioner, Al Higginbotham said he has never seen lobbying quite like what's he's experienced during the search for the next executive director of the Environmental Protection Commission.

    "There's so much interest in this," Higginbotham said, "and it reflects in great part the importance of selecting the right director for the EPC." ...

    Al Higgin-botham criticized the lobbying as inappro-priate. “It went overboard.”
  8. Hillsborough planners consider factoring climate effects into land-use plans


    TAMPA — For the first time, the Hillsborough County Planning Commission might ask local governments to consider the effects of climate change when strategizing for future growth and development.

    The shift in approach would not be seismic. It's just one proposed line in the massive comprehensive land-use plans for Hillsborough, Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City that are up for review this year....

  9. Brian Willis significantly outraises Pat Kemp in first month of Hillsborough commissioner race

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Transportation advocate Brian Willis' fundraising effort is off to a fast start in his race for Hillsborough County commissioner.

    Willis, a Democrat, reported raising $43,458 in just the first month since announcing, a significant haul for a first-time candidate.

    By contrast, his opponent Pat Kemp raised $1,350. Kemp, a former chairwoman of the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, filed to run April 10, four days after Willis officially submitted his paperwork....

  10. Hillsborough property appraiser uses planes, new technology to spot nonpermitted home additions

    Local Government

    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Property Appraiser's Office has taken to the sky to crack down on residents who build additions or install pools without proper permits.

    So far, it's proving to be a revenue boost for the county.

    For the past 10 months, the agency has used aerial photographs to spot changes to homes and properties made since the last appraisal was recorded. Of the 57,000 properties checked by air, more than 10,000 had their values adjusted, resulting in a net increase of $9.2 million of value to the county tax roll....

    Appraiser Bob Henriquez bought into the sky photo and software analysis for Hillsborough County.
  11. Lyft will take Hillsborough to appeals court over citation


    TAMPA — Lyft officials say they will appeal a hearing officer's decision to uphold a citation against the ride-sharing company issued by Hillsborough County.

    "Lyft's peer-to-peer model is fundamentally different than a taxi or limo and we intend to appeal the decision to the Second District Court of Appeal," spokeswoman Chelsea Wilson told the Tampa Bay Times.

    On Monday, a hearing officer upheld a $200 citation against Lyft issued during a December sting operation. The ruling said that while Lyft may not own any cars, it operates similar to a taxi company. And without the proper permitting, it wasn't allowed to do business in Hillsborough....

  12. Hillsborough will seek reimbursement for Al Higginbotham's legal fees in ethics complaint

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioners voted Wednesday to seek financial reimbursement from a Plant City winery owner who filed a failed ethics complaint against one of their own.

    In a 6-1 vote, the county board petitioned the Florida Ethics Commission to rule that the winery owner, Joe Keel, should pay for Commissioner Al Higginbotham's legal fees. If the ethics commission deems Keel's complaint malicious and politically motivated, Keel could be on the hook for up to $15,000; if not, county taxpayers would have to cover the bill....

  13. Hillsborough commissioners quarrel over using MOSI land for USF football stadium

    Local Government

    TAMPA — There are no concrete plans yet to move the Museum of Science and Industry, but the fate of its current site is already becoming a political football.

    Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan on Wednesday admonished those salivating at potential uses for the county land that's home to MOSI. In the middle of his cross hairs was the University of South Florida, which Hagan believes covets the location for a long-desired football stadium....

    Speculation about the future of MOSI’s Fowler Avenue site  intensified after Lightning owner Jeff Vinik expressed his desire to bring the science museum downtown to help anchor his project.
  14. Lyft violated rules, operated as a taxi company in Hillsborough, hearing officer says


    TAMPA — For all intents and purposes, Lyft is a taxi company, and it violated Hillsborough County rules by operating without proper permits.

    That's the ruling from county hearing officer Susan More, who upheld a $200 citation against the ride-sharing company issued in December.

    In her ruling Monday, More said police witnessed a driver using a cellphone with Lyft software that "calculated distance and fare, which, in essence, serves as a taximeter."...

  15. Finalist for Hillsborough environment director pulls out


    TAMPA — One of the three finalists vying to become executive director of Hillsborough County's Environmental Protection Commission asked to be removed from consideration Tuesday.

    In a letter obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, Scott Emery cited health issues and age in pulling out. Emery said he would like to stay on as wetlands director, his current position.

    "I will soon turn 62 years of age," Emery wrote. "Given the massive amount of time and effort that so many have put into this search/selection process, and given that the two previous executive directors put in 30-plus and 15 years, respectively, I believe I would be letting the board and the agency down unless I were to put in a substantial number of years of service if selected."...