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Mark Puente, Times Staff Writer

Mark Puente

Mark Puente covers Pinellas County government, including the constitutional officers and the way they operate their offices. Puente returned to the Tampa Bay Times in July after two years at The Baltimore Sun. He worked as an investigative reporter and was on the team that was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the Freddie Gray saga and city's riots. His "Undue Force" series about police brutality led to reform efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore. The series won the Institute on Political Journalism's Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism's Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States.

He joined the Times in November 2010 and covered real estate issues as part of the Times' Business team until June 2012. He then covered St. Petersburg City Hall until March 2014. He spent more than five years with the Plain Dealer in Cleveland where he won multiple journalism awards for his investigative work. His reporting forced a 32-year sheriff in Ohio's largest county to resign from office in 2009 and plead guilty to theft-in-office charges.

He took a different path to journalism, logging more than 1 million miles in the cab of a semitrailer truck over 14 years. After leaving the trucking industry, Puente earned a political science degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has a wife and three sons. Go Tar Heels!

Phone: (727) 892-2996

Email: mpuente@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MarkPuente

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  1. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    Without that bridge loan, the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is projected to go broke in February and shutdown, said interim executive director Gay Lancaster.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: The Pinellas agency that's supposed to crack down on bad contractors is about to go broke...

    Gay Lancaster, interim executive director at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, has asked state Sen. Jack Latvala to help the agency get $500,000 from the state.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. Rick Kriseman's administration lashed in St. Pete sewage report

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — A state report places much of the blame for the city's 200-million gallon sewage spill crisis on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman.

    The 7-page draft report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, does not name Kriseman or any of his staff. It also starts with the long view, blaming two decades of city leadership for setting the stage for St. Petersburg's massive sewage problems....

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system. St. Petersburg dumped up to 200 million gallons of sewage over 13 months from 2015-16. A new state report blames much of the crisis on mistakes made by the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman, but also critcizes past administrations. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  3. St. Pete sewage crisis ends with no charges, $326 million bill

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — The city has put the legal fallout from the sewage crisis behind it.

    Last week, St. Petersburg officials learned that the criminal investigation into the crisis — the city dumped up to 200 million gallons of waste from 2015-16 — would not result in any city employees facing charges.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Minor St. Petersburg sewage spill causes major headaches...

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system in September 2016. The city recently learned that no employees will face charges as a result of that crisis. The St. Petersburg City Council also agreed to spend $326 million fixing its sewer system. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  4. Pinellas County budget on the rise thanks to high property values

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– After another year of growth, Pinellas County commissioners won't have to fight to pay for critical needs in the 2017-2018 budget.

    Higher property values brought in an additional $77 million over the prior year. But that won't lead to a spending frenzy.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas officials appoint Jewel White as new county attorney...

    The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday learned the first details of its $2.3 billion spending plan for next fiscal year, which includes funding for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Pinellas officials appoint Jewel White as new county attorney

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– Pinellas' elected officials on Tuesday unanimously voted to appoint the chief assistant county attorney to the top legal job in county government.

    The new Pinellas County Attorney is Jewel White, who replaces her former boss, ex-county attorney Jim Bennett. He retired in May after three decades of service.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas officials grill candidates vying to be county's next legal advisor...

    Pinellas Assistant County Attorney Jewel White, 46, was appointed as County Attorney on Tuesday. [Handout from Jewel White]
  6. Top prosecutor tells Pinellas licensing board: grand jury starts next week

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board was visited by a special guest on Tuesday: Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

    It's not often that a prosecutor investigating a public agency stops by a meeting of its governing board to tell them he plans to empanel a grand jury next week to investigate their past management, operations and practices.

    "When it will end, I don't know," McCabe told the board. "We might call on some of you to go before the grand jury."...

    Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, seen here in January,  told the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board on Tuesday that a grand jury will start investigating the agency on July 28.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  7. Hey Pinellas homeowners: the county does target unlicensed contractors

    Local Government

    Whenever homeowners were fleeced out of their money by unlicensed contractors, the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board was once considered consumers' first line of defense.

    It shouldn't have been. The troubled agency was ineffective against unlicensed contractors.

    But jilted homeowners have another option: The Pinellas County Consumer Protection department works with prosecutors to bring criminal charges against the worst offenders and help homeowners recoup their losses....

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, located at 12600 Belcher Road in Largo, hasn't proved to be effective at curbing unlicensed contractors. But county officials and prosecutors say consumers have other options in the criminal justice system. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  8. Interviews start for those vying to become Pinellas County's new attorney

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Pinellas County's 12 elected leaders will perform a first on Tuesday: They will conduct public interviews of the four candidates vying to lead the Pinellas County Attorney's Office.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Legal Idol: Pinellas leaders select five candidates for county attorney's job...

    Interviews start Tuesday to select replacement for lontime Pinellas County Attorney Jim Bennett, who retired this month. He turned the office over to his chief assistant attorney. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  9. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to join fight against unlicensed contractors

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Pinellas County sheriff's deputies could soon start hunting for unlicensed contractors who skirt licensing laws and bilk homeowners out of thousands of dollars by performing unfinished and shoddy work.

    Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Monday that he plans to develop a pilot program so that his deputies can help the troubled Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board crack down on unlicensed contractors....

    Gay Lancaster, the interim executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, during a meeting in March. Lancaster said she is pleased that her agency will get help from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Officecracking down on unlicensed contractors. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  10. Three Republicans vying to replace Pinellas commissioner John Morroni

    Local

    The 2018 primary election is 14 months away, but a crowded field of Republicans has already emerged to replace longtime Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni.

    So far, the District 6 race, which generally includes Pinellas Park, Seminole, northeast St. Petersburg and the south beaches, has attracted two state lawmakers and a community activist who helped defeat a transportation sales tax in 2014....

    State Rep. Kathleen Peters has announced she is a 2018 candidate for the Pinellas County Commission District 6 seat. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  11. Where's the synergy between Hillsborough and Pinellas leaders?

    Blog

    Political leaders talk about regionalism, but the synergy between Pinellas and Hillsborough leaders isn't exactly gushing into Tampa Bay.

    Consider the recent jockeying by Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long to get Hillsborough County commissioners to hold two joint meetings to discuss the region's biggest issues. Long wants t public officials to talk about sewers, transportation and other problems that cross county lines....

  12. Hillsborough and Pinellas officials can't even agree that they agreed to meet

    Local Government

    Tampa Bay political leaders often tout taking a regional approach to solve the area's most pressing issues. But the challenge has been getting Hillsborough County and Pinellas County leaders together on the same page.

    Or in this case, in the same room.

    Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Janet Long has been jockeying behind the scenes to schedule a joint meeting of both county commissions to discuss transportation and infrastructure problems — issues that cross county lines....

    This month Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill (above) nixed a joint meeting of the Hillsborough and Pinellas County Commissions. But Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long said her Hillsborough counterpart, Stacy White, had already agreed to two meetings. [DANIEL WALLACE   |   Times]
  13. Unlicensed contractor accused of faking death triggers policy change at Pinellas licensing board

    Local Government

    The unlicensed contractor accused of faking his death to avoid angry homeowners has triggered an immediate change in policy at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

    On Monday, the agency's interim executive director Gay Lancaster said the agency will acknowledge to consumers that they have received their complaint within one business day. That will also start the clock for conducting investigations sooner, she added....

    Glenn and Judith Holland at Morton Plant Hospital, where she is undergoing radiation treatment for cancer. Last year the couple said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  14. St. Petersburg police investigating why civilian employees accidentally fired AR-15 semiautomatic rifle inside HQ

    Blog

    ST. PETERSBURG — An internal police investigation is looking into two civilian employees who accidentally fired a round from an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle inside St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters.

    Police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez confirmed that the incident is being looked at by the department's Office of Professional Standards. Those investigators are trying to find out why the employees brought the rifle — which was a personal weapon, not department-issued — into the building. The department will not release any details about the incident, she said, including when it took place or the identities of the two employees until the investigation is completed....

    The St. Petersburg Police Department is investigating an incident in which two civilian employees accidentally fired an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle they brought inside police headquarters. Department rules prohibit civilian employees from bringing weapons into police facilities.
  15. Lawsuit: Florida contractor fakes death to dodge angry homeowners

    Human Interest

    SEMINOLE — For weeks, Glenn Holland, 67, crawled out of bed before the sun rose to look for a dead man.

    The retiree and Vietnam veteran spent several weeks on stakeout in his Ford F-150. Under the cover of darkness, he waited outside the home of a man he was told had died in a car crash.

    For weeks, neither the Corvette, Hummer or pick-up truck in the driveway moved.

    Holland nearly gave up. He waited one last time. It was 4 a.m. on a Friday in March....

    Last year Glenn and Judith Holland said they paid a contractor thousands of dollars to renovate their future retirement home in Seminole. But when they tried to move in on Dec. 14, they said the home was in shambles and uninhabitable. They sent a text message to contractor Marc Anthony Perez at 12:36 p.m. looking for answers. Fourteen minutes later, they got back this text: "This is Marc's daughter, dad passed away on the 7th of December in a car accident. Sorry." Turns out Perez was still alive. Now the Hollands are suing him in Pinellas-Pasco circuit court. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]