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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: [email protected]

Twitter: @MarkPuente

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  1. Pinellas commission set to discuss next budget, licensing board

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission will be busy on Tuesday.

    The end of the current fiscal year is approaching, so the commission's agenda includes setting the final millage rates for the 2017-2018 budget.

    The commission could also address the situation with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, which was the subject of two reports Sept. 20. An inspector general's report outlined 93 problems with the agency while a grand jury outlined how to reform it....

  2. Pinellas licensing board loses support for staying independent

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board on Monday lost its strongest supporter for staying independent.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    State Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican running for governor, told the Pinellas legislative delegation that he would not sponsor any new legislation reforming the agency. Those reforms were suggested by a grand jury report released Sept. 20, the same day that an inspector general's report lashed the agency and its former leadership....

    State Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican running for governor, said Monday that he will no longer support any legislation to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board independent. This photo was taken in August. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  3. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders...

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    The 10 members of the Pinellas legislative delegation are set to meet Monday to discuss a law that would overhaul the troubled agency but some officials have questioned whether they'll be able to agree on what that law should say....

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  5. South Florida poaches debris pickup trucks once headed to Tampa Bay

    Hurricanes

    The Tampa Bay area has an estimated 2 million cubic yards of debris from Hurricane Irma waiting at the curb — enough to fill a line of dump trucks stretching 735 miles, or from Tampa to Tupelo, Miss.

    But many trucks that could help make those tree limbs disappear are instead heading to South Florida, where hauling fees have shot up since the hurricane.

    That has left several bay area communities and their private storm debris contractors scrambling....

    Yard debris from the winds of Hurricane Irma line many yards along Pinellas Point Drive South, St. Petersburg, 9/22/17.
  6. Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    Local Government

    LARGO — The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board mismanaged its finances, lacked accountability and disregarded its own rules, according to a scathing report released Wednesday by the county's inspector general.

    The report outlined 93 problems at the agency responsible for protecting residents from shoddy contractors, including that former executive director Rodney Fischer "violated county rules and ethics requirements" and that a member of the agency's governing board "misused his position."...

    Rodney Fischer, the executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, resigned in January.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  7. Officials will use Irma to convince voters to renew Penny for Pinellas tax

    Local Government

    LARGO — As Election Day approaches, Pinellas County's elected officials will point to Hurricane Irma as a big reason why voters should renew the next round of the Penny for Pinellas 1-cent sales tax.

    The last round of the penny tax helped pay for an important asset the county utilized during the storm, the Pinellas County Public Safety Complex, an $81 million fortress built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane....

    Pinellas County administrator Mark Woodard said the current 10-year round of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax "built a safer Pinellas." Photo provided by the Pinellas County.
  8. Hurricane Irma: What we learned

    Hurricanes

    Now that Hurricane Irma has staggered through Florida like a drunken tourist, it is telling that the early lessons from the storm's impact around Tampa Bay are less about life-and-death and more about quality of life.

    We learned the value of having generators on stand-by. Of knowing the rules of the road at intersections without signals. Of knowing your neighbors. And of pre-brewing some good coffee for the morning after the storm....

    Dogs sit inside Kingsway Elementary School in Port Charlotte on Sept. 9. At least 151 pets had been checked in at the school-turned-shelter.
  9. Pinellas extends emergency status another week

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — As parts of Pinellas County continue waiting for electricity after Hurricane Irma, the County Commission voted unanimously Thursday to extend an emergency declaration until Sept. 21.

    "We're just very thankful that we're all here," commission Chairwoman Janet Long said.

    The commission issued the declaration last week as the first step to ordering the evacuation of residents from mobile homes and low-lying areas. It will expire next week....

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri talks to the County Commission before the storm. The board was considering Thursday morning whether to extend the county's emergency order. JIM DAMASKE   }   Times

  10. Hillsborough ALF without power since Irma despite pleas for help, its director says

    Hurricanes

    THONOTOSASSA –– An assisted living facility full of elderly patients has been without power since Sunday, despite repeated calls for assistance, its executive director said late Wednesday.

    The Stone Ledge Manor Assisted Living & Memory Care center houses 58 residents and has had difficulty keeping them cool, said executive director Sue Garcia.

    "We have no power. We have no air conditioner" Garcia said. "We have dark hallways. I have families bringing us generators."...

    The Stone Ledge Manor Assisted Living & Memory Care center in Thonotosassa has been without power since Sunday when Hurricane Irma passed through, its executive director said late Wednesday. [Stone Ledge Manor Assisted Living & Memory Care website]
  11. Beware of unlicensed contractors when making repairs

    Public Safety

    As Tampa Bay residents start to repair homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, officials have a message for homeowners: Don't allow unlicensed contractors to scam you.

    The thousands of homes with missing shingles, holes in roofs and broken windows provide opportunities for unlicensed contractors and criminals to land on your doorstep with lofty promises. They will pose as window installers, tree cutters, roofers and offer the essential services that a disaster-struck area might need....

    Officials warn homeowners to beware of being scammed by unlicensed contractors. GETTY IMAGES
  12. In Pinellas, 310 evacuees will soon get their pets back

    Hurricanes

    No, Pinellas County doesn't want to keep your pets.

    But 310 pet owners might not get their dogs, cats, rabbits, birds or other animals back until Thursday, said animal services director Doug Brightwell.

    That's because it could until then to deliver pets who went to shelters with special need residents or without cages, Brightwell said.

    Some of the 310 pets the county took to its boarding facility included aggressive pets, he added....

  13. Man living in an Impala rode out Irma inside a car wash

    Hurricanes

    Tom Horner wanted to make sure he could get gas for his Chevy Impala, his home. In fact, the 60-year-old was sitting in his wheelchair next to a pump at a Thorntons convenience store Monday though it was closed.

    He had no idea when it would open.

    "I only have an eighth of a tank," Horner said. "I can't get anywhere."

    Horner, who said he has been living in his car for a year, rode out the storm nestled in the car wash at Thorntons at Starkey and Ulmerton roads....

    Tom Horner, 60, who lives in his Chevy Impala, rode out Hurricane Irma inside a car wash late Sunday. [MARK PUENTE | Times]
  14. Pinellas deputy: 'This has a whole different feeling than Charley'

    Hurricanes

    At 5:45 a.m. Saturday, more than 100 Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies crowded into two rooms to get patrol assignments.

    "I've never seen this many people in here at one time," said Cpl. Roy Swiech, a 16-year deputy.

    Major David Danzig pointed to a projector showing the beach communities where deputies would warn residents about evacuating and looking for looters.

    Danzig encouraged deputies to speak....

  15. Pinellas licensing agency running out of board members

    Local Government

    LARGO — The troubled Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is facing another threat to its survival: The agency must find enough members to serve on its governing board by Oct. 1 — otherwise it may not be able to discipline contractors.

    The agency was rocked by allegations last year that former executive director Rodney Fischer was rigging the nomination process to keep his hand-picked candidates on the board. The Pinellas County Commission never approved any of his nominations, leaving the board shorthanded....

    Left to Right: Former Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board member Rick Dunn, Executive Director Rodney Fischer, and Fischer's attorney Marion Hale, at a December meeting of the governing board before Fischer resigned. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]