04/18/14 Local Government
Another new Pier group
Expect Mayor Rick Kriseman to name a "working group" in the next few days that will help him sort out what residents want at a new Pier. That's the news that interim city development administrator Dave Metz — standing in for Kriseman, who was observing Passover — brought to those gathered at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club on Tuesday evening for a meeting of the Southwest Florida Marine Industries Association. Metz said the new group's findings about activities and programs the public wants at the Pier will be shared with the mayor and City Council and provide a basis for soliciting designs....
04/16/14 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — Former Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala was so determined to cut costs in the county's emergency medical services system he refused to compromise, knowing the fight could end in court.
The veteran administrator put a new emphasis on Pinellas' social services safety net yet alienated the community providers he needed to make it work.
And, while he had a knack for budget cutting, he wreaked havoc on employee morale....
04/15/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — With lightning speed, Pinellas County commissioners fired Bob LaSala on Tuesday in a unanimous vote that ended days of speculation about his future.
While commissioners have generally praised LaSala's handling of the financial difficulties the county has faced in the past few years, they also have criticized his personal style, blaming his sometimes abrasive personality for employee turnover and high-profile disputes with cities and community partners....
04/11/14 Local Government
St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman was singled out as one of a handful of mayors across the country who are both progressive and pro-growth.
Kriseman was selected to join the NewDEAL network, which highlights local leaders doing innovative things.
The group gave the mayor kudos for hiring small business liaison Jessica Eilerman, whose focus is to help employers navigate bureaucracy....
04/10/14 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — The state Department of Transportation launched an investigation Thursday into how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority spent public money to educate voters about Greenlight Pinellas.
Earlier this month, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sent a letter to FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad accusing the campaign of using about $800,000 for propaganda purposes, violating a state law that requires taxpayer money to be spent only on educational campaigns....
04/10/14 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — A City Council committee gave unanimous support Thursday to a proposal to change how the city determines if it has enough money socked away.
The committee comprised of council members Bill Dudley, Charlie Gerdes, Jim Kennedy, and Karl Nurse agreed the plan is a more transparent way to calculate if the city has met its goal of keeping a general fund reserve equal to 20 percent of total appropriations. The proposal must now be approved by the full council. Right now, to determine if the city has met the target set by policy, officials add the balances of the general fund and economic stability fund. The new plan also would include the city's other reserve funds in the calculation: the preservation reserve fund, arts and cultural programs fund, assessment revenue fund, arts in public places fund and technology and infrastructure fund....
04/08/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Do a better job getting me where I want to go.
That was the message from many of the 800 Pinellas residents who picked up a ringing phone in February and agreed to take a survey about county services and quality of life. The county hired a consultant to conduct the study and county commissioners reviewed the results on Tuesday.
In one part of the survey, residents were asked to rate 13 categories ranging from law enforcement to water drainage. Did they exceed your expectations, meet them, or fall below? Respondents could also say they didn't know....
04/07/14 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — They sang, they prayed and then they put their elected officials on the spot.
A higher power, they said, wants it this way.
"Our faith traditions tell us to go beyond mercy and also do justice," Elder James Myles of Bethel Community Baptist Church said during opening remarks of the annual Nehemiah Action Assembly hosted by the interfaith advocacy group FAST, which stands for Faith and Action for Strength Together....
Eighteen years ago, limited options brought a young Indian doctor to Hernando County by way of New York City.
Dr. Pariksith Singh had just completed his residency in New York and was in the country on a special visa that required him to move to an area in need of more doctors. He moved to Hernando with his wife, Dr. Maria Scunziano-Singh.
The visa requirement ended after a couple of years, but the Singhs stayed and founded what today is one of Hernando's largest and most influential health care companies....
BROOKSVILLE — Prosecutors have dropped a felony assault charge against a Pasco County teacher arrested last month after a struggle with her husband at their Brooksville home.
Amy Michele Weaver, a 38-year-old teacher at Lake Myrtle Elementary School in Land O'Lakes, was arrested on March 10 and charged with aggravated assault with a weapon after her husband, Josh, told a Hernando sheriff's deputy that they had struggled over a knife. ...
BROOKSVILLE — Springbrook Hospital administrator Mike Hogan sounded an alarm last month: We need help serving children suffering a mental health crisis.
On Tuesday, about three dozen people gathered in the hospital's cafeteria and brainstormed about how to lighten the load on Springbrook, the only facility in Hernando that evaluates children taken into custody under the state's Baker Act. Mental health providers, school officials and other stakeholders meet at the hospital once a month to talk about Baker Act issues, but Hogan's call prompted a near-record turnout....
BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's only receiving site for juveniles taken into custody for their own protection is again sounding the alarm.
The number of juvenile patients arriving at Springbrook Hospital under the state law known as the Baker Act spiked dramatically during the first quarter of 2014, said hospital administrator Mike Hogan.
"The figures are astounding," Hogan said....
SPRING HILL — Brian Christopher Murphy's job was part-time but noble: Keep watch over some of Spring Hill's most vulnerable residents.
Early Thursday, for reasons that are still unclear, authorities say Murphy turned on people he was supposed to protect.
During an attack that Sheriff Al Nienhuis called "beyond brutal," Murphy used a tire jack to break most of the bones in the faces of two octogenarian residents at Atria Evergreen Woods, an assisted living facility where the 22-year-old worked as a security guard....
BROOKSVILLE — As jury deliberations dragged into a fourth hour, an image of her sister popped into Jenny Mervolion's mind.
"This is the moment when Joey would get up and do the Sprinkler," Mervolion said, then did an imitation of her sister, Joey Hattenbrun, doing the classic disco dance. "She had such a corny sense of humor."
Mervolion and the rest of Joey Hattenbrun's friends and family waiting outside Courtroom D laughed in agreement, then fell silent again. Joey, 30, had been gone for more than two years, and now they were waiting for a jury to decide if her father-in-law, Brett Hattenbrun, was guilty of her murder....
BROOKSVILLE — After 10 hours of interviews with detectives, Brett Hattenbrun said he was finally ready to tell the truth.
Lying in a hospital bed on Sept. 27, 2011, Hattenbrun initially denied any involvement in 30-year-old Joey Lynn Hattenbrun's murder. Then, as Hernando sheriff's detectives were about to switch off the audio recorder and leave in the early hours of the 28th, Hattenbrun offered a matter-of-fact description of the violent encounter that left his daughter-in-law dead....