Times File Photo
State ethics investigators are interviewing Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan regarding a complaint into a Go Hillsborough contract.
TAMPA — It seems a state ethics investigation into a Hillsborough County transportation contract is finally moving forward.
Roughly 16 months after citizens complaints were filed, the Florida Commission on Ethics is just now interviewing the three local officials alleged to have steered a $1.35 million Go Hillsborough contract to the client of a politically connected public relations consultant.
Investigators interviewed Hillsborough County commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman last week in Tallahassee. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn will meet with the ethics commission while in the state capital Monday and Tuesday, his spokeswoman Ashley Bauman confirmed.
“Hopefully we can dispose of that soon,” Hagan said.
The complaints stem from a contract awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff in 2014 to conduct public outreach for Go Hillsborough, the county's transportation funding initiative.
Parsons Brinckerhoff was chosen from a list of vetted contractors who already do business with the county, which state law allows, instead of an open procurement. But critics said it was given to the firm because it was a client of Tampa public relations consultant Beth Leytham. …Full Story
Formed in 2012, the People's Budget Review has been a force to be reckoned with in the city's budget cycle.
The coalition of activists, supported by the Florida Public Services Union, sent out surveys asking tens of thousands of residents their opinions on spending priorities. They scheduled budget summits, attended by City Council members and mayors.
And they successfully pushed for a property tax hike in 2012 to stave off cuts in the city budget. Three years later, the group's organizing nudged Mayor Rick Kriseman to come around on a 4 percent raise.
But, last year, the group was curiously silent. Gone were the three budget summits held around the city. Members largely stayed away from the one city-sponsored budget forum. And, for the first time in years, city staff outnumbered PBR members at the City Council's budget hearings in September.
"We kind of took our foot off the gas," said Tom Lally, a PBR member.
Not this year. The group plans to hold three budget summits again and, on Friday, sent out an email survey on budget priorities to 50,000 city residents.
As the city prepares for its budget season to begin in earnest in May, the People's Budget Review wants to be involved. …Full Story
Times File Photo
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said he was disappointed in the lack of urgency from Tampa Bay Rays owners after the team's principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the preferred site for a new stadium is no longer available.
TAMPA -- No one has been a bigger cheerleader for the the campaign to lure the Tampa Bay Rays to Tampa than Ken Hagan.
At nearly every interval during this painstaking process, the Hillsborough County commissioner has sounded upbeat and optimistic that the Rays would eventually come to a realization that they needed to move across the Bay. For years Hagan has worked behind the scenes and publicly to scout locations and court team officials.
If the team announced plans to build a ballpark in Tampa, Hagan would show up the next day at Tropicana Field with a moving truck and boxes.
Which is why it’s quite notable that Hagan yesterday for the first time publicly expressed frustration with the Rays’ stadium search and for once was less-than-hopeful about the process.
"Unfortunately throughout the years the team hasn't shown enough sense of urgency to move on some of these locations," Hagan told the Tampa Bay Times.
The comments came in response to Rays owner Stuart Sternberg acknowledging publicly for the first time that several desirable locations for a new stadium have become unavailable over the years, including their top choice. …Full Story
St. Petersburg is considering zoning regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries
The St. Petersburg City Council took a baby step toward regulating medical marijuana Thursday, with one eye on pending state legislation and another on preventing a cluster of pot-dealing clinics operating too close together.
A council committee unanimously approved requesting the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance that would prohibit dispensaries from setting up shop within 1,0000 feet of each other or a church or school.
Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration had proposed allowing dispensaries to operate like pharmacies, allowing them to open wherever Walgreens and CVS, for example, already do business.
“It’s a medical product. That’s our mindset on this,” said Dave Goodwin, the city’s director of planning and economic development.
Assistant City Attorney Michael Dema said the city didn’t see the point of spending too much time on local zoning changes when the state is likely to decide where and how dispensaries operate, overriding or “preempting” local laws.
“We didn’t see the need to go through all of that when changes are afoot in the Legislature,” Dema told members of the Public Services and Infrastructure Committee. …Full Story
Mayor Rick Kriseman has no major challenger yet in his reelection campaign
Mayor Rick Kriseman has raised $260,000 for his reelection and doesn't yet have a major challenger.
On Wednesday, the good news continued with four City Council members endorsing the mayor.
Charlie Gerdes, Amy Foster, Darden Rice and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, all Democrats, threw their support behind their Democratic mayor for the upcoming non-partisan race.
Foster and Rice are up for reelection this year. Rice, the council chairwoman, has already announced her intention to run again. Foster hasn't made it official, but is widely expected to run again.
"Mayor Kriseman cares," said Rice in a statement released by the Kriseman campaign. Rice, a close ally of the mayor, has criticized the administration's positions on curbside recycling and the city's sewage crisis. But she echoed a frequent theme of Kriseman's in the past year: His tenure may have had its rocky patches, but his predecessors share the blame.
"We don't always agree, but we always find solutions to the biggest challenges facing our city. With the mayor's leadership, we have taken action on significant issues that past administrations looked past or did not solve," Rice said. …Full Story
John Johnson campaign
John Johnson has filed paperwork to run for District 6
John Johnson is a relative newcomer to St. Petersburg, arriving about four years ago from Brooklyn.
But, inspired by recent national political events, the 46-year-old Old Northeast resident decided to enter a crowded field for the District 6 City Council seat being vacated by term-limited Karl Nurse.
January's women's march, which drew more than 20,000 people to downtown's waterfront and millions worldwide, and November's presidential election persuaded Johnson to get involved politically.
"I may get killed early, but I want to at least try," said Johnson, a registered Democrat, who will be running against at least four other candidates for the non-partisan position.
Johnson lists repairing the city's ailing sewer system, preserving the city's historic architecture and exploring ways to pay city workers a livable wage as issues he'd like to pursue if elected.
"I'm progressive, but I'm definitely a consensus builder," Johnson said.
District 6 was traditionally predominantly African-American district until a boundary change and an explosion in downtown residents altered the demographics, making it closer to an even split between whites and blacks. …Full Story
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri rebuked in a statement Thursday the decision by Orlando’s top prosecutor not to pursue the death penalty for Markeith Loyd, accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton in January.
Loyd’s case is just one in a sweeping announcement by State Attorney Aramis Ayala that she will not seek the death penalty in first-degree murder cases.
“This is reprehensible,” Gualtieri posted on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, “and I cannot state strongly enough how appalling this is that a police officer can be executed while on the ground and a state attorney, elected to enforce the laws of our state, refuses to do her job.”
He went on to say that he asked the Florida Sheriff’s Association to “come out strongly against this.”
Ayala said during a news conference that she made the decision after conducting a review on the effectiveness of the practice.
“What has become abundantly clear through this process is that while I do have discretion to pursue death sentences,” she said, “I have determined that doing so is not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice.” …Full Story
OCTAVIO JONES | Times (2016)
Rosario Coronado of Tampa holds the gay pride flag during a candlelight vigil held in Tampa last year to remember victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
The National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has named Tampa one of its four finalists to host its annual convention in August 2018.
The other finalists are Austin, Texas, Philadelphia and New Orleans. The convention would need 2,450 hotel rooms. A decision is expected by mid-April.
Hosting the convention would “elevate the entire Tampa Bay community in the eyes of the world as a major LGBTQ destination capable of putting on a significant, high-quality national event,” said Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada said in a statement released through the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce.
"We at the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce are proud of our members and their companies for embracing diversity as a strength ... to make our region a thriving economic hub attracting a talented workforce," Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber board member Nick Janovsky said in an email to the Times.
In letters to organizers, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman touted the bay area as an ideal host city. …Full Story
Times File Photo
Hillsborough County passed new rules for medical marijuana dispensaries on Tuesday but didn't limit the number of licenses. But that doesn't mean they'll be opening on every corner.
TAMPA — Hillsborough County approved a slew of new rules Tuesday for where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate.
One rule that didn’t make the cut was a limit on the number of dispensaries that can operate in county limits. A draft of the ordinance restricted medical marijuana licenses to one for every 67,222 residents, or 13 (actually, 11 if you count the two already in existence). Commissioners narrowly voted to eliminate that.
But don't expect a marijuana business to open on every street corner just because there isn’t a limit on how many facilities can exist.
For starters, these rules only apply to unincorporated Hillsborough, not the three cities within county boundaries. Tampa is working on its own set of regulations and currently has a moratorium in place to prevent any new businesses for now.
Second, Hillsborough’s new ordinance prohibits these dispensaries from opening within 750 feet from a host of places, like schools and bars. The list of establishments with 750-foot buffers include:
Churches/synagogues, schools, child care centers, public libraries, community recreational facilities and parks
Residentially zoned parcels …Full Story
City of St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman
Lisa Wheeler-Bowman scoured some of the toughest spots in St. Petersburg to find her son's killer.
It eventually paid off when the killer was brought to justice. Now, recently-departed Today show host, Tamron Hall will tell America about Wheeler-Bowman's quest to solve her son Cabretti's 2008 murder.
Wheeler-Bowman,48, who was elected to the St. Petersburg City Council in 2015, flew to Manhattan this weekend with her son, Chris, for the interviews for Hall's show Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall on Investigation Discovery.
This week, Hall's crew will be in St. Petersburg for further filming. The episode is scheduled to air in August.
Hall has been in contact with Wheeler-Bowman since then-U.S Attorney General Eric Holder honored Wheeler-Bowman with the Department of Justice's Courage Award in 2013 for her search for her son's killer and her advocacy to end a "no snitching" culture.
When the interview with Hall finally took place, Wheeler-Bowman said, it was painful to relive the memories of losing her oldest son.
"She was crying. I was crying," Wheeler-Bowman said. "It was very painful to have to revisit that." …Full Story
RICHARD DANIELSON | Times
The Tampa City Council is scheduled to take a first vote on the ordinance March 16.
The Tampa City Council on Thursday moved to ban mental health professionals from providing minors with so-called gay conversion therapy, and proposed what could be the highest penalties in Florida for those who do.
State-licensed therapists and counselors could be fined $1,000 for a first offense and $5,000 for repeat offenses under the proposed Tampa ordinance, which is scheduled for the first of two votes on March 16.
By comparison, West Palm Beach, which Tampa used as a model for its ordinance, created a ban punishable by a $200 fine for a first violation and a $500 fine for subsequent violations. Violations of similar bans are punishable by fines of $500 in Miami, $200 in Miami Beach and $200 in Wilton Manors.
Council member Guido Maniscalco, who proposed the ban, said a higher penalty would send a “strong message.”
“It needs to hurt the pocketbook,” council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said.
Tampa's ordinance would apply to doctors, osteopaths, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, marriage or family therapists and licensed counselors. It would not apply to clergy unless they offered themselves as a state-licensed mental health professional. …Full Story
The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday approved a May 2 referendum that would allow voters to decide whether to let the Tampa Bay Rowdies expand historic Al Lang Stadium to 18,000 seats. This artist's rendering shows a street view of what the expanded and upgraded Al Lang Stadium could look like. The Rowdies' goal is to position the franchise to make the jump to Major League Soccer in the coming years. [Courtesy of Tampa Bay Rowdies]
ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rowdies bid to make the jump to Major League Soccer took a big step forward Thursday when the City Council unanimously approved a citywide vote on the team’s plans to expand their home field to MLS standards.
The May 2 vote means that residents can weigh in on whether the city could negotiate up to a 25-year lease with Rowdies’ owner Bill Edwards for historic Al Lang Stadium. The Rowdies plan to expand the downtown stadium to 18,000 seats.
Any agreement would have to approved by the council and is contingent on the team getting one of the four MLS expansion slots that should be decided within the next few years. The first two slots should be decided this year, said former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker, president of the Edwards Group.
Baker said bringing an MLS team to St. Petersburg would take the city’s economic renaissance to the next level. He said adding an MLS team could be bigger for the city than the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the annual IndyCar Series race that returns next week, or the Tampa Bay Rays, who seek to escape their current St. Petersburg home of Tropicana Field and build a new stadium, possibly in Hillsborough County. …Full Story
OCTAVIO JONES | Times
The Cross Bay Ferry docked in the Seddon Channel near the Tampa Convention Center on Thursday, February 9, 2017.
After a bumpy start, the CrossBay Ferry linking the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa had a good month of February, helped by slashing weekday ticket prices in half.
A record 6,070 tickets were sold last month, a 57 percent increase from January. Ferry operators credit cutting the weekday one-way fare from $10 to $5 and also cutting by half a value package.
In January, the ferry wasn't operating during the College Football Championship weekend or during Gasparilla because of a lack of docking space.
Weekend ridership also set a record. Those ticket prices were not cut, said Rich Mullins, a CrossBay Ferry spokesman.
"It's more than just price," Mullins said.
The pilot project runs through April. The $1.4 million service was funded equally by St. Petersburg, Tampa and the Pinellas and Hillsborough county governments.
This morning's press release is below:
St. Petersburg/Tampa, Fla. (March 2, 2017) – The Cross-Bay Ferry carried a record 6,000-plus paying passengers in February, and experienced significant ridership growth in February for both weekday and weekend service between Tampa and St. Petersburg. …Full Story
[Courtesy of Nick DiCeglie]
Nick DiCeglie, chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party, said Wednesday that he intends to run for Florida House District 66.
A year and a half before the 2018 primary, two Republicans have said they will run for the seat that will be left vacant when incumbent Larry Ahern hits his term limit.
Nick DiCeglie, chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party, said Wednesday that he intends to run for Florida House District 66, which represents Clearwater, Seminole, Largo and several beach communities. The news, first reported by FloridaPolitics.com, came the same day former state prosecutor Berny Jacques announced his intention to run.
DiCeglie, 43, said his formal announcement will come in the next few months, but for now, he's focusing on his duties as chairman.
"I'm just taking my time and speaking to folks on a daily basis," he said.
DiCeglie, a Long Island, N.Y., native, was elected to the lead the Pinellas GOP in 2014. He has owned the Clearwater-based garbage removal business Solar Sanitation since 1996 and is a former chairman of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.
He lives in Indian Rocks Beach with his wife and two children.Full Story
[Courtesy of Berny Jacques]
Berny Jacques, a former state prosecutor, announced Wednesday that he is running for Florida House District 66.
Former state prosecutor Berny Jacques announced Wednesday that he is running for Florida House District 66.
The seat is currently occupied by Larry Ahern, a Republican who will hit his term limit in 2018. The district covers parts of Clearwater, Largo, Seminole and several central Pinellas beach towns.
Jacques, 29, said Wednesday that he is running as a Republican to preserve the opportunities he's encountered since his family settled in Florida after fleeing political unrest in Haiti in 1994.
"It was a natural thing for me to look at with my passion for public service," he said. "What drives it is the opportunities that I had growing up in this state."
Jacques, a Seminole resident since 2015, studied history and political studies at Washington Adventist University in Maryland, during which he interned for U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart. He then moved to Gulfport to attend Stetson University College of Law.
Jacques went on to work as an assistant state attorney in the Pasco-Pinellas State Attorney's Office. In December, he went into private practice with St. Petersburg-based Berkowitz & Myer, he said. …Full Story