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Will Hobson, Times Staff Writer

Will Hobson

Will Hobson covers Hillsborough County government, operations, and other things he can convince his editors to let him write about for the Tampa Bay Times.

Born in Miami and raised outside Philadelphia, the Boston College alumnus joined the Times in 2011 after stints as a correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and staff writer positions at the Panama City News-Herald and Daytona Beach News-Journal. He has previously covered the city of Largo and general assignment in Pinellas County, and crime, law enforcement and general assignment in Hillsborough County. He lives in Tampa with his wife, Alex.

In 2014, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting for his work on a series of stories about abusive landlords and squalid housing for the homeless.

Phone: (813) 226-3400


Twitter: @TheWillHobson

  1. Relationship between nonprofit volunteers and for-profit companies raises questions


    TAMPA — Julio Alvarez Jr. has worked concessions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers games since 2004.

    The retired Army lieutenant colonel and father of two has sold food and managed beer stands, work that generated thousands of dollars for two multibillion-dollar food service companies — first Levy Restaurants, now Aramark.

    But there's one thing Alvarez, 55, has never done in his years working at Raymond James Stadium: earn a paycheck....

    A sculpture stretches over a concession area at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays concessions company Centerplate has canceled its contract with a charity that uses homeless men.
  2. Former New Beginnings homeless shelter residents decry 'pits of hell'

    Special Topics


    Christian Fleenor came to New Beginnings of Tampa because he had nowhere else to go. ¶ By his 20th birthday in February 2012, Fleenor had racked up a grand theft conviction as well as arrests on charges of assault, criminal mischief and dealing in stolen property, among others. He was addicted to synthetic marijuana. ¶ Fleenor's grandmother kicked him out of her Brandon home and gave him an ultimatum: Find a place to get clean or live on the streets. ¶ New Beginnings, one of the city's largest charities for the homeless and addicted, seemed perfect. Its program cost $150 a week but residents could pay it off through "work therapy." ¶ Fleenor signed papers letting New Beginnings control his finances — including obtaining his food stamps and any paychecks while he lived there — and went to work. ¶ In the eight or so months he lived there, he said, he worked cleanup at the Daytona 500, concessions at Tampa Bay Lightning games and odd jobs like stripping copper from old televisions. ¶ Before he left, Fleenor said, he asked for money he thought he was due. He had worked nearly 40 hours a week for months, he said. He had to have earned more than he owed to the program. ¶ But there was no money, he said a manager told him. ¶ "I earned a lot of money for that place and I never saw a penny," Fleenor said last week. "That was a slave camp."...

    Christian Fleenor, left, says New Beginnings took advantage of him and never paid him for his work. Cindy Fleenor, his grandmother, says she didn’t like what she saw at the shelter. “There’s no structured program to help people recover,” she said. “It’s all about the money.”
  3. Bucs concessionaire ends relationship with New Beginnings

    Special Topics

    TAMPA — The concessions company for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has cut ties to a homeless charity that sent its residents to work without pay at Raymond James Stadium in exchange for their shelter.

    "The recent allegations are deeply concerning and after further review, we have decided to end our relationship with New Beginnings," Aramark said in a statement.

    Friday's announcement was made two days after Tampa Bay Rays concessions company Centerplate also dropped New Beginnings, which for years has sent its destitute residents to work unpaid concessions shifts at local professional sporting events and concerts to bring money back to the program....

    CEO Tom Atchison defends New Beginnings as voluntary.
  4. Before cutting off money, Hillsborough staff raised questions about New Beginnings audit

    Special Topics


    In its application for a multimillion dollar contract to run Hillsborough County's homeless shelter, New Beginnings of Tampa submitted a document county staff found unusual.

    The document — a required audit of New Beginnings' finances — was signed by a "registered auditor," a title common in foreign countries that is not recognized in the United States. County staff also found it odd that the company that audited New Beginnings was an asset management corporation, not an accounting firm....

    New Beginnings CEO Tom Atchison, center with glasses, listens to a resident of his charity address the Hillsborough County Commission. Atchison went before the commission to try to get grant money restored. Commissioners refused.
  5. Rays concessionaire Centerplate drops Tampa homeless charity

    Special Topics

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Rays concessionaire Centerplate has ended its relationship with New Beginnings of Tampa, a charity that sent its homeless residents to work unpaid at games, the company announced Wednesday.

    New Beginnings had sent destitute men to serve food and beer at Rays games for years in exchange for donations to the charity. The men worked for their shelter and food, an arrangement homeless advocates and labor lawyers call exploitative and possibly illegal....

    New Beginnings had sent destitute men to serve food and beer at Rays games for years in exchange for donations to the charity. [SKIP O'ROURKE | Times]
  6. New Beginnings director defends 'work therapy' program

    Special Topics

    TAMPA — An embattled local homeless charity does not send all its indigent residents to work without pay at Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rays games, its chief executive wrote Tuesday. Only residents who have reached Level 3 of New Beginnings of Tampa's five-level "work therapy" program get to work concessions to raise money for the charity.

    Homeless people fresh off the streets aren't ready for sporting events, said New Beginnings founder and CEO Tom Atchison, because they're still dealing with problems like "lying, stealing, manipulating, and lack of work ethic."...

  7. Hillsborough Commissioner Beckner calls for investigation of 'legal human trafficking' at homeless charity

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Disturbed by what he called "legal human trafficking," Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said Monday he will ask for a federal investigation of New Beginnings of Tampa, a homeless charity that sends its impoverished residents to work unpaid at Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rays games.

    Beckner's announcement came a day after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found New Beginnings — one of Tampa's largest homeless charities — has for years worked residents in exchange for food and shelter in an array of industries to raise money for the program. New Beginnings founder and CEO Tom Atchison calls it "work therapy," and touts both its therapeutic benefits and its importance as a fundraiser....

    Exploitation is a concern of  County Commissioner Beckner.
  8. Tampa homeless program uses unpaid, destitute residents as steady labor force, revenue source

    Special Topics

    TAMPA — Before every Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game, dozens of men gather in the yard at New Beginnings of Tampa, one of the city's largest homeless programs.

    The men — many of them recovering alcoholics and drug addicts — are about to work a concessions stand behind Raymond James Stadium's iconic pirate ship, serving beer and food to football fans. First, a supervisor for New Beginnings tries to pump them up. ...

    New Beginnings of Tampa's campus in Tampa on September 7, 2014 [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  9. Hillsborough Commissioner Sharpe steps down to gifts, praise

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe stepped down Thursday after 10 years on the board, and fellow commissioners and county employees presented him with gifts celebrating his passion for small businesses, his love of coffee and his inability to sit still.

    Sharpe received a plaque calling him "Commissioner Buddy Brew" from his favorite java stop, and another commemorating a new county initiative named after him — the "Mark Sharpe Entrepreneur Collaborative Center."...

  10. Hillsborough Administrator Mike Merrill earns three-year extension, possible raise

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill earned rave reviews from county commissioners again Thursday, reinforcing his stature as one of the most powerful nonelected public officials in Tampa Bay.

    Commissioners asked Merrill, 61, to stay on the job until 2018 and re-evaluated his $217,360 salary, implying he could be in for a significant raise. Merrill's contract was not set to expire until December 2015, but commissioners didn't want to wait. ...

  11. No recount in Hillsborough Commission race


    TAMPA -- There will be no recount in the race between Al Higginbotham and Pat Kemp for the Hillsborough County Commission's District 7 seat.

    The Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Office finalized the results Friday, and after counting provisional ballots, Higginbotham's margin of victory is still slightly more than the .5 percentage point margin that triggers an automatic recount.

    Higginbotham won 50.27 percent of the votes cast, to Kemp's 49.73 percent. The difference amounted to 1,935 votes out of 353,817 cast. Higginbotham, 60, has served on the commission since 2006, but this was his first time running for a countywide seat....

  12. Higginbotham win over Kemp barely outside recount margin


    TAMPA — Despite a massive spending edge and all the advantages of incumbency, Republican Al Higginbotham's race Tuesday against Democrat Pat Kemp for Hillsborough County Commission District 7 was one of the area's closest.

    Higginbotham, running countywide for the first time after representing conservative east Hillsborough for eight years, won 50.3 percent of the votes cast, according to unofficial results, to 49.7 percent for Kemp. The difference is slightly more than the .5 percentage point margin that triggers an automatic recount, according to state law....

  13. Hillsborough Commission: Crist wins re-election, Higginbotham narrowly wins


    TAMPA — Republicans maintained control of the Hillsborough County Commission with one incumbent winning and another sitting commissioner narrowly pulling out a victory late Tuesday night.

    In the face for countywide District 7, longtime commissioner Al Higginbotham edged Democrat Pat Kemp, who nearly overcame a massive spending gap to pull an upset.

    In Tuesday's other contested commission race, incumbent Republican Victor Crist defeated Democratic challenger Elizabeth Belcher for northern Hillsborough's District 2 seat....

  14. Hillsborough County Commission: District 2


    County Commission | District 2

    Republican Victor Crist, who formerly served in both the state House and Senate, seeks another term representing northern Hillsborough County. Democrat Elizabeth Belcher, a retiree who had a long career as an investigator with the IRS, is trying to unseat him. By Will Hobson, Times staff writer

    Elizabeth Belcher, 64Victor Crist, 57
    Experience After a long career trying to root out tax fraud and money laundering, Belcher became a community activist. She has attended County Commission meetings to raise questions about a number of expenditures, and is strongly critical of the $6.25 million incentive package that lured Bass Pro Shops to Hillsborough. The longtime local politician is one of several Republican commissioners who shifted this year on social issues like barring discrimination against gays and creating a domestic partnership registry. Crist has owned an advertising agency, Metropolitan Communications, since 1982.
    EducationBachelor of arts degree, Washington University in St. Louis, 1972.Bachelor of arts degree in communication from the University of South Florida, 1983.
    Do you support a tax package for new transit? Why?Mass transit is essential for our community. However, I do not want any transit tax to become another slush fund for the County Commission. Any sales tax funding for mass transit must be monitored, meet strict standards and be absolutely transparent.We need to have a well thought-out plan with no hidden costs that is strategically engineered to overcome our transportation problems. I believe this needs to be done before the voters in District 2 would embrace new out-of-pocket funding sources.
    What industries, if any, would you support with public incentives?Recycling. I do not support wasting our tax money by giving it away for the benefit of big-box retail stores, i.e. the "retail road" to nowhere for the benefit of Bass Pro; the "back door" rezoning of property for a Super Walmart.I will continue to work to bring emerging industries into our county, such as biotechnology and the numerous opportunities surrounding USF and the I-4 corridor.
    How would you promote growth while protecting against sprawl?Put policies in place and enforce them to encourage infill. Keep the urban area/rural area line firmly in place. Require property owners to be current in their property taxes before allowing a zoning, rezoning, variance, etc. application to be processed.I will continue to work to identify redevelop-able pockets within our existing urban corridors. One such area that I have taken the lead on is Innovation Destination, which encompasses the neighborhoods surrounding the Tampa campus of USF.
    Financial disclosureAssets: Home, stocks, retirement accounts. Liabilities: None. Income: Pension.Assets: Two homes, retirement accounts. Liabilities: Mortgage, loans. Income: Commissioner salary, investment income, advertising company income.
    PersonalMarried, no children.Married with a daughter.; ...

  15. Hillsborough County Commission: District 7


    County Commission | District 7

    Prevented by term limits from running again in eastern Hillsborough's District 4, Commissioner Al Higginbotham is running in at-large, countywide District 7 for another term. Pat Kemp, a lawyer and former aide to then-Commissioner Kathy Castor, stands in his way. The seat is being vacated by Republican Mark Sharpe, who is leaving due to term limits. By Will Hobson, Times staff writer...