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Tony Marrero, Times Staff Writer

Tony Marrero

Tony Marrero, a native of Baltimore, joined the Times in 2009. He covers breaking news, crime and courts in Hernando County.

Phone: (352) 848-1431

Email: tmarrero@tampabay.com

Twitter: @TMarreroTimes

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  1. St. Petersburg woman charged with abuse after death of elderly uncle

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — A 48-year-old St. Petersburg woman was arrested Friday and charged with elderly abuse after the death of an uncle in her care.

    Kathleen Densmore called 911 about 12:45 p.m. after she found her 86-year-old uncle, Robert Densmore, unresponsive in bed, according to St. Petersburg police. Officers arrived at the home the Densmores shared at 4243 Dartmouth Ave. and found Robert Densmore extremely emaciated, weighing less than 50 pounds and covered in bed sores, police said. ...

  2. Higher fares, taxes on table to hold off cuts to Pinellas transit agency

    Transportation

    ST. PETERSBURG — Shrinking diesel prices and increasing property values could help the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority delay drastic bus service cuts, but the transit system says it still faces the prospect of raising fares and eliminating routes.

    PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller offered the agency's financial and planning committees Wednesday an updated financial forecast for the first time since November's defeat of the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum. The agency has said for months that the defeat of the 1-cent sales tax would mean as much as a 30 percent cut to bus service, starting next year. But Miller told board members that higher property tax revenue and lower fuel prices, along with cost-cutting measures and reserves, might allow the board to put off major service cuts until 2018....

  3. St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport director to retire in May

    Transportation

    CLEARWATER — Noah Lagos, who has led St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport through historic growth during his decadelong tenure as director, will retire in May.

    The news became public during a Pinellas County Commission workshop Tuesday morning, when Commissioner John Morroni acknowledged the impending departure. Lagos plans to leave in mid to late May, and County Administrator Mark Woodard said he would first consider internal candidates for the job before deciding whether to launch a national search. Among the likely candidates is Lagos' deputy director, Tom Jewsbury, 47, a 20-year airport veteran who said Tuesday he was interested in the job....

    Noah Lagos, 64, took over as director of St. Pete-Clearwater International in 2004.
  4. Calls grow louder for lawmakers to use Amendment 1 money for beach repair

    Environment

    Passed by an overwhelming majority of Florida voters last fall, Amendment 1 was billed as a way to force lawmakers to make water quality and land conservation a priority.

    But officials from coastal counties are focused on the places where water erodes the land as they seek a share of the estimated $22 billion the mandate is expected to raise over the next two decades.

    Pinellas County commissioners have told state lawmakers that dedicating some of that money to beach renourishment is one of their biggest wishes for the upcoming legislative session. Similar requests are echoing around the state before lawmakers decide how to divvy up revenue, said Deborah Flack, president of the Florida Shore & Beach Preservation Association....

    A worker repairs a Treasure Island beach in November. Counties battling beach erosion seek a share of Amendment 1 money.
  5. Pinellas contingent preparing for Cuba trip

    Local Government

    Pinellas County Commissioners Janet Long and John Morroni are among about two dozen Pinellas residents bound for Cuba next week.

    The commissioners are not traveling in an official capacity and are paying their own expenses for the three-day fact-finding mission, Long said.

    "It's not political and it's not partisan," Long said. "It's private citizens who have decided they really are curious and would like to go."...

  6. State money for homeless takes months to find its way to families in need

    Legislature

    Nearly $4 million in grants to help the homeless has become bogged down in the state bureaucracy, causing some consternation among Florida lawmakers who pushed for the funding last year.

    Homeless coalitions that applied for the competitive grants last fall had hoped to receive the money by November. Now the funds are not expected until February, officials said Wednesday.

    "My concern is we're in the middle of the coldest part of the year," said state Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena. "The Legislature voted on this stuff eight months ago. We're in the seventh month of the fiscal year, we've got people sleeping out in the cold and money for it isn't being utilized."...

    State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, co-sponsored a bill to award nearly $4 million in grants to groups helping the homeless. “My concern is we’re in the middle of the coldest part of the year,” he said. “The Legislature voted on this stuff eight months ago. We’re in the seventh month of the fiscal year, we’ve got people sleeping out in the cold and money for it isn’t being utilized.”
  7. Pinellas commissioners favor 'living wage' proposal for county employees

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County commissioners took the first step Tuesday toward setting a "living wage" for county employees.

    Responding to a request by Commissioner Ken Welch, the board directed county Administrator Mark Woodard and the county attorney's office to come up with a plan to set the minimum wage at $12.50 an hour for the nearly 1,900 employees who work under Woodard.

    The board also took Welch's suggestion to invite the other so-called "appointing authorities" in the county's Unified Personnel System to participate. Among them are the county's Business Technology Services office and the Office of Human Rights, as well as the county tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of court and property appraiser....

    Commissioner Ken Welch proposed the idea to his colleagues.
  8. Church of Scientology works behind scenes against Clearwater Marine Aquarium

    Special Topics

    CLEARWATER

    Does the Church of Scientology just want downtown Clearwater all to itself?

    That's the question people are asking now that Scientology, the biggest property owner downtown, is working behind the scenes to fight the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's plans to move there.

    The campaign has become increasingly aggressive. The church has brought in an accountant, an economist and an investigative reporter to dig into the nonprofit aquarium's financial projections and its animal-care history, according to aquarium supporters....

    This rendering shows the Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s final downtown project plans based on designs from a new architect.
  9. Five things to look for in 2015 from Pinellas County government

    Local Government

    Last year brought much change to Pinellas County government. The County Commission has two new members and a new chief executive. Tax revenues rose, putting some breathing room in the budget. And plans for a mass transit fix suffered a resounding defeat at the polls. These developments offer clues to what the board will tackle in the next 12 months and beyond. Here are five things to watch for in 2015:...

  10. At least two finalists in the running for Pinellas' next tourism chief

    Tourism

    Three months ago, Pinellas County administrator Mark Woodard said the county's top tourism job was David Downing's to lose.

    That means a lot considering Woodard will select Visit St. Pete/Clearwater's next director, a post Downing has held on an interim basis since August. But Woodard isn't just handing him the job.

    Next week, he and the rest of an eight-member selection committee will interview Downing and at least one other finalist: Susannah Costello, vice-president at Visit Florida....

    Interim director David Downing is a finalist for the tourism job.
  11. Judge to consider arguments as gay marriage ruling remains cloudy

    Civil

    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. Bay area court clerks will not issue same-sex marriage licenses Jan. 6

    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. ...

    Equality Florida CEO Nadine Smith challenges the clerks.
  13. Local groups join push to close Medicaid coverage gap in Florida

    Politics

    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....

  14. Pinellas commission puts off decision on tourism tax, spending cap

    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."...

  15. Lease deal moves Pinellas closer to a 70-mile cycling loop

    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....