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For once, pizza and jammies not needed for a water vote

The region's water deal has been two years in the making, with most of the negotiations at marathon meetings that stretch late into the night, sometimes into the morning.

That was the case Thursday night when the St. Petersburg City Council voted to join the partnership with governments in Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. They didn't start discussing the water deal until 9:30 p.m., 7{ hours after the council meeting started.

After 11 p.m., council member Kathleen Ford called on Hillsborough Commissioner Ed Turanchik, chairman of the West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority and a deal negotiator.

"I somehow feel if we're not talking about water at 11 p.m. something's wrong," said Turanchik, as people in the room shouted, "Let's order a pizza!"

"We should hit our stride around 12:15 a.m.," Turanchik said.

Council members didn't take that long. After snacking on fried chicken, they voted 7-1 at 11:55 p.m. to join the partnership.

MAYBE NO ONE WILL READ THIS: It's no secret that county commissioners have been doing everything they can to portray themselves as friends of economic development and the business community.

They will meet in St. Petersburg this morning to welcome more than 300 local business people to their first economic summit.

So, it's no wonder that commissioners were a little uncomfortable last week when they had to talk about their sign ordinance, a particular pet peeve of many shop owners.

The ordinance was adopted seven years ago and was meant to get rid of some of the visual litter in the county, such as large signs and billboards. Signs put up after the ordinance was approved need to be smaller. Signs that were already up when the rules were adopted must be taken down by next spring.

With the clock ticking, commissioners had to decide whether to hire two new sign code inspectors. If they don't hire the inspectors, the county might as well forget about enforcing the code, staff members told commissioners during a budget workshop.

"If we let up on this, we will see the total erosion of something that was started by our predecessors," Commissioner Sallie Parks said.

Commissioner Bob Stewart agreed that the ordinance needs to be enforced. But he also recognized that the sign code is not a topic they will want to discuss at today's summit.

Stewart even joked with staff about putting off the discussion about the sign code until after the summit.

"Timing is everything. Can you wait about a week?" Stewart asked.

WE WOULD HAVE SETTLED FOR THE RABBIT TRICK: Sierra Club members had crossed their fingers that the weather would cooperate with their Earth Day news conference to announce a campaign to preserve Clam Bayou in south Pinellas County. And nature came through: It was sunny, breezy and warm along Boca Ciega Bay Wednesday morning.

Nature came through in more ways than one. As if on cue, an eagle swooped down and glided through the air just before environmentalists made their pitch.

One politician seized the opportunity to take credit for the guest appearance.

"I did tell the eagle to be here," St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer said jokingly.

CALLING GREYHOUND: Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge David Seth Walker had just sentenced Christopher Travers to probation on nine child-pornography charges Thursday. Travers' attorney said his client planned to leave Clearwater and move to his native Pennsylvania to serve his sentence.

An hour after sentencing Travers, Walker spied the defendant's Tampa attorney, Keith Roberts, walking back to the lectern to address the court.

"Let me guess," the judge quipped. "He wants his bus fare back to Pennsylvania, too."

Roberts had a few things to discuss with the court. Bus fare, however, wasn't one of them.

_ Staff writers Kelly Ryan, William Levesque and Joe Newman contributed to this report.

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