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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 executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    A panel of experts reviewed the evidence and ruled in her favor. The contractor faced a fine and possible license suspension.

    That's when Rodney Fischer stepped in. ...

    Rodney Fischer retired as executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board on Jan. 31. Now his agency is facing financial troubles and is searching for ways to get back in the black. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  2. Pinellas County receives $30 million for beach renourishment

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — While Pinellas beaches continually rank among the best in America, they need help to stay that way.

    The county has landed $30 million to complete renourishment projects at three popular beaches.

    The funding for the Pinellas County Shore Protection Project will go toward about 10.5 miles of work at Sand Key, Upham Beach and Treasure Island. The federal projects are administered by the Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers....

    The Army Corps of Engineers has allocated $30 million to help with beach renourishment at several Pinellas locations, including Sand Key, Treasure Island and Upham Beach. This photo shows a beach renourishment project at  Honeymoon Island State Park in 2014. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times
  3. Pinellas construction licensing board looking for ways to fill financial hole

    Local Government

    LARGO — The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board's interim leader told the governing board Tuesday that the troubled agency is looking for ways to climb out of its financial hole.

    The agency is being investigated by a grand jury and, amid that scrutiny, is facing a budget shortfall. It is relying on reserves to stay afloat. The licensing board is funded solely by license fees and contractor fines....

    Rodney Fischer retired as executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board on Jan. 31. Now his agency is facing financial troubles and is searching for ways to get back in the black. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. Another departure at Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board

    Blog

    Amid ongoing scrutiny at the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, another investigator has left the agency.

    Paul Roberts retired Thursday, the second investigator to leave since late April.

    "It was time to retire," Roberts said Friday, declining to comment further.

    Interim executive director Gay Lancaster declined to comment.

    The board's investigators look into complaints against contractors. The agency is down to one investigator who searches for construction violators....

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is located in a Largo office complex.
  5. New storm surge model means new hurricane evacuation maps for Tampa Bay (they're just not ready yet)

    Hurricanes

    New, up-to-date storm surge data from the National Hurricane Center has thrown a monkey wrench into Tampa Bay's evacuation planning just two weeks before the start of hurricane season.

    More residents are likely to be in evacuation zones than ever before. But at this point, emergency management officials from around the bay area said they do not know yet which residents and which areas will be affected....

    Hurricane Hermine, a Category 1 storm, brought high water to Pass-a-Grille Way in St. Pete Beach last September.
  6. Pinellas County administrator: No hiring freeze because of 2018 ballot measure

    Blog

    Although Hillsborough County enacted a hiring freeze to combat a property tax cut going on the 2018 ballot, Pinellas County isn't doing the same.

    The move is a response to the possibility of losing millions every year in property tax revenues if the ballot measure passes. Last week, Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill told staff to freeze all hiring immediately "to allow greater flexibility and options" in upcoming budgets....

    Pinellas County commissioners Karen Williams Seel and Charlie Justice listen to administrator Mark S. Woodard during a meeting in Clearwater.
  7. More trouble for the troubled Pinellas construction licensing board: It's running out of money

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everything about the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is under scrutiny: the way it treats the public and punishes contractors; the way board members are appointed and employees conduct themselves; and how it handles conflicts of interest and adheres to public records law. The agency is even being investigated by a grand jury.

    But now it must confront a new problem: It is running out of money....

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is located at 12600 Belcher Road Iin an office compex.  [SCOTT KEELER  |   Times]
  8. Pinellas County chief information officer Martin Rose to leave his post

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– Pinellas County's chief information officer has resigned.

    Martin Rose, who oversees technology services for county government, plans to leave the Business Technology Services department on May 12.

    Rose, who started in November 2013 and earns about $167,000 annually, said Wednesday he will pursue opportunities outside the region. Although he clashed with top county leaders in recent years, Rose said he is leaving on his own terms....

    Martin Rose, Pinellas County's chief information officer, plans to leave his position as leader of Business Technology Services on May 12. The department oversees technology services for all of Pinellas County government.  [Linkedin}
  9. State Rep. Larry Ahern again kills controversial bill to fix Pinellas construction licensing board

    Local Government

    State Rep. Larry Ahern's legislation to help reform the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is dead once again.

    The agency is under new management after a series of Tampa Bay Times reports raised issues with the way the agency conducts itself and treats residents and contractors. It's also undergoing a grand jury investigation ordered by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe....

    Rep. Larry Ahern, R- Seminole, has again pulled proposed legislation to help reform the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Tampa Bay Times}
  10. Pinellas construction licensing board investigator resigns after road rage allegation

    Local Government

    PALM HARBOR — An investigator with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board resigned Wednesday after being accused of threatening two people with a baseball bat during a road rage incident on Tampa Road.

    Anthony DeBernardi pulled out his licensing board badge during the confrontation, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, even though he is not a sworn law enforcement officer. The board's investigators look into complaints against contractors....

    Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Investigator Anthony DeBernardi resigned Wednesday after he was accused of thertening two motorists with a baseball bat in a road-rage incident. He was not arrested or charged with any crime. The other people declined to press charges. [MARK PUENTE   |   Tampa Bay Times}
  11. State Rep. Larry Ahern brings back controversial bill to fix Pinellas construction licensing board

    Local Government

    Legislation aimed at reforming the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board that died last month has suddenly been resurrected.

    State Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, has brought the bill back to life as the Florida legislative session winds down. That came as a surprise to the Pinellas County Commission, which wants far stronger reforms, and the agency's interim director, Gay Lancaster, who was appointed to clean up the agency's operations....

    Rep. Larry Ahern, R- Seminole, brought proposed legislation back to life that would help reform the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board. But that's news to the Pinellas County Commission and the agency's interim director. Ahern, a longtime pool contractor, had also said he would wait until the completion of a grand jury investigation before reforming the agency. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Tampa Bay Times
  12. While state lawmakers debate medical marijuana law, Pinellas County delays its own rules

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– As Florida lawmakers debate the regulation of medical marijuana, the Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday tabled a vote on rules to grow, process and sell medical pot in unincorporated areas of the county.

    The decision comes as lawmakers work to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana. There is still no sign of a compromise between competing plans in the Florida House and Senate. Legislators said they have begun closed-door talks to bridge large divides between their bills....

    Larry Heiny of Sarasota rallies the crowd after a medical marijuana rally at the University of South Florida in Tampa in support of legalizing it in October. Amendment 2 passed with 71 percent of the vote in November. But lawmakers are still debating how to implement the law. In the meantime, the Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday decided to wait for the state to act before it passes its own medical marijuana rules for the unincorporated county. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  13. Pinellas Commission gives preliminary nod to tax money for Blue Jays

    Ml

    CLEARWATER — After a confusing debate, the Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday voted to help Dunedin move forward with an $81 million upgrade of the Toronto Blue Jays spring training complex.

    The vote came amid a broader discussion about a pot of money from the Tourist Development Council bed tax, a 6 percent tax allocated to marketing and capital projects.

    Commissioners received a 58-page report from Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, the marketing agency for Pinellas County, outlining requests to spend the money from seven projects, including the pitch to fund $46.5 million of the stadium upgrade....

    The county gave preliminary approval to spend $46.5 million in bed-tax money to help upgrade the Toronto Blue Jays spring training facility.
  14. Pinellas County commissioner to discuss tax money for Toronto Blue Jays

    Ml

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday will discuss the next steps for a plan to help Dunedin upgrade the spring training complex for the Toronto Blue Jays.

    The renovation calls for Pinellas County to fund $46.5 million of the $81 million project with money from the Tourist Development Council bed tax, a 6 percent tax allocated to marketing and capital projects....

    A plan to renovate Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, the spring training home of the Toronto Blue Jays, calls for Pinellas County to shell out $46.5 million. County commissioners will discuss the idea at a meeting Tuesday.[CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  15. Pinellas County to consider rules for medical marijuana

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission is slated to vote Tuesday on an ordinance to establish rules for growing, processing and selling medical pot in unincorporated areas of the county.

    But before the vote, commissioners could hear passionate pleas from critics and supporters of medical marijuana during a 6 p.m. public hearing.

    Under the current proposal, medical marijuana dispensaries would not be able to operate within 500 feet of schools, parks, libraries and religious facilities or within 1,000 feet of another marijuana treatment or dispensing facility....

    The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday will consider new rules for growing, processing and selling medical pot in unincorporated areas of the county. [Washington Post]