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On Valessa Robinson, bench strength and a gaggle of mayors

Valessa Robinson, today and in 2000, was convicted in the 1998 murder of her mother in Carrollwood. 
Valessa Robinson, today and in 2000, was convicted in the 1998 murder of her mother in Carrollwood. 
Published Mar. 9, 2013

Her prison picture shows no sign of the teenage girl in soft curls, pastel cardigans and Mary Jane shoes, sitting at the defense table charged in the murder of her mother.

But all these years later, Valessa Robinson's face is just as unreadable.

She was only 15 when her mother, Vicki, a pretty blond real estate agent, was killed in their home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Carrollwood, her body left in a garbage can in the woods.

As the trial played out back in 2000, you kept thinking what a pointless nightmare it all was — a rebellious girl, the wrong boys, the drugs that fueled it. And for what? There was never any real reason, no answers that made any sense.

Now the bad-boy boyfriend that Valessa could not live without, Adam Davis, sits on death row. Jon Whispel, their hanger-on friend who testified for the prosecution, is slated to be in prison until 2021.

And Valessa, who was convicted of third-degree murder? She is scheduled to be out in less than a year, February 2014.

Valessa, who turns 30 this month, has had some trouble in prison over the years, with disciplinary reports for threats, contraband and sex acts. She has taken courses on fixing cars and building character. She's now at a women's work camp in Ocala. Recently she was learning about taking care of horses.

I remember it was a farm she was supposed to go to all those years ago, her mother's plan to get her into a facility for troubled girls out in the country — away from Adam and drugs and on the way to somewhere better.

• • •

This week brought the sad passing of Fred Karl, who held pretty much every job in government and was a trusted mentor and go-to guy for fixing troubled entities like Tampa General Hospital.

So what about the depth of our leadership bench these days?

The more than 200 applicants to head up the Children's Board of Hillsborough County — where morale was rock-bottom and the six-figure CEO thought a great way to fix strife was to anoint the office in holy oil — includes:

People currently or recently employed as a department store team leader, a tire store manager, a prison warden, a manager at a chain restaurant.

Respectable, hardworking jobs all, and possibly any of them could fare better than the previous occupant.

But this is a CEO position overseeing the county's leading children's agency, and while they've picked some finalists, the search has been wisely extended a month.


• • •

Speaking of variety in leadership, how cool is this photo op?

On Thursday, Tampa's six living, current and former mayors will gather for lunch downtown.

Yes, there are six: Bill Poe, former Gov. Bob Martinez, Sandy Freedman, Dick Greco, Pam Iorio and your host, current Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

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And while they could not be more different if they had landed here from separate planets, each one shaped this city.

And do you love that it's at Malio's — the original a beloved Tampa institution and the place Burt Reynolds famously fell in love with the bar manager, the current one the site of a steamy legal scandal still playing out?

What, you expected them to go to Applebee's?