Court clerks in Florida are a step closer to getting an answer to a question vexing most of them: Will it be legal to let same-sex couples marry on Jan. 6?
A federal judge on Wednesday set a Monday deadline for state officials to weigh in on an emergency motion by a Panhandle court clerk at the center of the contentious debate over same-sex marriage. In the motion, Washington County Clerk Lora Bell asks a federal judge if his recent ruling on the state's gay marriage ban means she must issue a marriage license only to the couple who filed a lawsuit against her, or to all couples who come to her office on Jan. 6....
12/22/14 State Roundup
Pinellas Clerk of Court Ken Burke expects same-sex couples will show up to his office Jan. 6 to seek a marriage license.
At this point, they will leave empty-handed, and so will couples who try in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.
"We're sympathetic but we have to follow what we know is the direction of the court, based on advice from our legal counsel," Burke said Monday, three days after a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that gay marriage advocates say clears the way for clerks throughout the state to marry same-sex couples. ...
ST. PETERSBURG — Elisa Abolafia leaned her cane against the railing in front of City Hall and gingerly stepped to the lectern.
The 60-year-old former private investigator suffers from severe scoliosis and four ruptured discs. Looking for work and too young for Medicare, Abolafia said she recently found out she is in the so-called Medicaid coverage gap, so she pays out-of-pocket for a patchwork of medical care....
12/16/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — Facing opposition from an array of community leaders, Pinellas County commissioners on Tuesday tabled a decision on whether to cap how much tourist tax money can be spent on capital projects such as stadiums and aquariums.
The board unanimously approved a motion by Chairwoman Karen Seel to postpone a vote on a recommendation by the county's Tourist Development Council. Anticipating a parade of people lining up to speak against the cap, Seel suggested the board schedule a joint meeting with the tourist council "so we can share our perspectives and see if there's some common ground we might be able to find."...
12/16/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — A 70-mile loop of recreational trail around Pinellas County is now much closer to reality.
The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday approved a long-awaited deal with Duke Energy to lease roughly 20 miles of power line corridor for a paved trail connecting John Chesnut Sr. Park in East Lake to Weedon Island in northern St. Petersburg.
Once built, the Duke Energy Trail will link with the Pinellas Trail system to form a loop extending from downtown St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs....
12/12/14 Human Interest
TARPON SPRINGS — A woman who gave birth to a healthy girl after being struck by a tow truck in St. Petersburg in October left the hospital Friday.
Jenny Noemi Quiles walked out of Bayfront Health St. Petersburg and was home in Tarpon Springs getting to know her daughter, Emmi.
"It feels good because we get to be together as a family and I'm not sleeping by myself at the hospital," Jenny Quiles, 36, told the Tampa Bay Times in a brief phone interview Friday evening....
12/12/14 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — A former marketing director for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is threatening the sue the agency in a dispute involving the misuse of a federal grant.
Janet Recca, 62, claims she was forced to resign Nov. 7 without notice or a due process hearing, three days after the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum was rejected by 62 percent of the voters, according to a letter from Recca's attorney to PSTA legal counsel Alan Zimmet and chief executive officer Brad Miller....
12/10/14 Local Government
ST. PETERSBURG — With last month's resounding defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas plan receding in the rearview mirror, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is charting a course forward.
"We have a lot of hard work ahead of us," said Brian Scott, a citizen member on the board comprised mainly of elected city and county officials, during the first meeting since last month's election....
ST. PETERSBURG — This has been a good year for Republicans at the state and federal level, but the party lost its majority on the Pinellas County Commission for the first time in decades.
Snatching back control is one of several items the local party's new leader, 41-year-old Nick DiCeglie, has on his to-do list.
"Losing the Pinellas County Commission shows we've got some challenges here," DiCeglie said. "We need to be honest with ourselves to begin to identify what we need to be effective and reorganize to have a better chance of winning these county elections."...
12/08/14 Economic Development
TAMPA — Jay Conroy could have traveled to Chile by himself to try to connect with potential customers for his company.
As owner and president of Hydo-Dyne Engineering, Conroy knows there is a demand in the booming South American country for the kind of water treatment equipment his Clearwater-based firm manufactures, but there would be no guarantee he would get face time with, as he put it, "the people that matter."...
ST. PETERSBURG — Lauren Connor heard the detective on the other end of the phone line and knew she was about to get good news.
For eight years, Connor has waited for an arrest in her father's murder. On Friday, as she sat at her desk at a mortgage company in Largo, she figured an unsolicited call from a detective in the middle of the day could only mean one thing.
She was right. St. Petersburg Police had arrested 35-year-old Peter Michael Neville and charged him with first-degree murder in the slaying of Lawrence Ricker, an affable retired psychologist and University of South Florida professor who was found in the charred remains of his St. Petersburg home on March 30, 2006....
CLEARWATER — Clearwater police Chief Daniel Slaughter didn't get any warmup questions.
Moments after he sat down at a table in a lecture hall at St. Petersburg College's Clearwater campus, Candi Jovan raised the issue of police shootings and the often tense relationship between residents and police charged with protecting them.
"What do you think needs to be done?" asked Jovan, a semi-retired insurance agent from Palm Harbor....
11/30/14 Economic Development
In a nondescript building in Pinellas Park, a homegrown company makes equipment so rugged and reliable, the U.S. Army is a regular customer.
Among the newer products from Custom Manufacturing and Engineering Inc., is a solar panel that produces 440 watts of electricity and folds into a case light enough to be hefted by two people.
"Open it up, hook it up and you're up and running in about 10 minutes," said company president Nancy Crews....
11/28/14 Local Government
CLEARWATER — When it first began to take shape, the box-shaped building that sprouted from a former parking lot on Chestnut Street looked like downtown Clearwater's latest convenience store.
After workers installed three bay doors on the front, the 4,800-square-foot edifice could have passed for an auto repair shop or a small warehouse.
It's none of the above. Behind the bay doors are three chillers, each about the size of a Peterbilt tractor truck, that will soon be cooling water to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Four pumps will push the water through more than 2 miles of underground pipes to existing air conditioning units in eight county government buildings downtown, including the County Courthouse across the street....
ST. PETERSBURG — Doug and Christina Simpson fell in love in their native Pennsylvania, then fell in love with Florida.
After meeting on a running track in Pittsburgh, the couple married in 1997, honeymooned in Pinellas County and moved here about five years later.
"They lived on the beach for a while and then moved into St. Petersburg and loved it and decided that's where they were going to stay," said Doug Simpson's sister, Sally Mannas....