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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist wonders who will be affected next by Trump's immigration policies

Congressman Charlie Crist says he supports St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's stance on protecting undocumented immigrants

Scott Keeler

Congressman Charlie Crist says he supports St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's stance on protecting undocumented immigrants

Congressman Charlie Crist joked Friday that the news coming out of the White House these days is so fast and furious that he has trouble keeping up.

“It’s challenging for us, your members of Congress,” Crist told several hundred people gathered for the 5th annual St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg. “I don’t get to see this stuff all day because I’m usually in meetings all day or hearings. And so, at the end of the day, I’ve got to find out what in the world went on over there. You know, what order was signed. Or what happened. And if I don’t get it that day I have to watch Saturday Night Live on Saturday night to figure it out.”

 Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, never mentioned President Donald Trump by name in his brief remarks before a forum on immigration, but told the story of his Cypriot and Lebanese immigrant grandparents while holding a sepia photograph of his grandfather.

They had a chance to become Americans, he said, and he believes today’s immigrants deserve the same treatment . …

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St. Petersburg City Council moves Rowdies' MLS bid forward

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council chamber had plenty of soccer aficionados outfitted in green and gold show up Thursday to support the Tampa Bay Rowdies' bid to join Major League Soccer and expand their waterfront home at Al Lang Stadium.

Those fans also had a former mayor (and potential future mayor if he runs in 2017) in attendance. Edwards Group president Rick Baker, representing Rowdies owner Bill Edwards, was there but did not speak in favor of the ordinance.

It would authorize a May 2 referendum that would allow the city to negotiate a long-term lease with the Rowdies contingent upon the team receiving one of a handful of MLS expansion slots from the United States’ premier soccer league.

But Baker did step forward when a proposed tweak to the ballot language raised the issue if whether the city could make a deadline to post a legal notice in the Tampa Bay Times in time for the final March 2 vote.

The Rowdies would pay the $1,000 fee for the legal notice, Baker said. In fact, Edwards has pledged to pay for up to $80 million in stadium improvements and a $150 million MLS franchise fee without asking for any public money. …

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St. Petersburg's new police HQ on track to be greener, but also pricier

The city's new police heaquarters should be fully operational in two years, but will cost more than $79 million

City of St. Petersburg

The city's new police heaquarters should be fully operational in two years, but will cost more than $79 million

ST. PETERSBURG — The potential price tag of a new police headquarters continues to rise as City Council members Thursday tentatively approved spending another $4.2 million more to add energy efficient features and more parking.

The rising cost of the police headquarters mirrors the recent price hike for the new Pier. Add to that a steadily increasing bill to fix the city’s leaky sewers, soon to be under a state consent order.

It’s starting to become a familiar refrain in St. Petersburg.

Jim Kennedy, a council member since 2007,  said he remembered discussions of building a new home for the police department for $30 million.

“Certainly not more than $50 million,” Kennedy said at a council committee meeting. “Wow. It’s really escalated.”

The additional money for the new St. Petersburg Police Headquarters would pay to add a third deck and about 80 more spaces in the parking garage, install a solar panel array on the garage’s roof and allow the city to use less heat-absorbing concrete instead of asphalt for the pavement outside of the garage.

In a few months, if council members sign off on final cost estimates, the bill for the new headquarters may end up costing more than $79 million. …

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Hillsborough advances proposal to offer government employees more paid parental leave

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman has proposed providing more paid parental leave to county government workers. Commissioners voted unanimously to have the idea reviewed by county staff.

Times File Photo

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman has proposed providing more paid parental leave to county government workers. Commissioners voted unanimously to have the idea reviewed by county staff.

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County took steps Wednesday to extend paid parental leave for government workers.

Commissioners voted unanimously to have staff review how much paid time off other local governments and businesses offer for employees after they have or adopt a child. Under the county’s existing policy, new parents receive one week of paid leave but after must use vacation time or can take up to 12 weeks off without pay.

Commissioner Sandy Murman, who is championing this change, said the status quo demands new mothers and fathers choose between caring for an infant and financial stability.

“We should not have to force people into that decision,” Murman said.

Some commissioners, however, expressed some reservations, and wanted to first see the financial impact and what benefits other comparable workplaces offer employees before offering their endorsement.

“I just want to make sure we’re not way out line with what the private sector is doing,” Commissioner Stacy White said. …

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Here's why GOP official says he focuses on 'death panels'

Bill Akins, secretary of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee, at the U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis town hall meeting Saturday, Feb. 11 in New Port Richey.

Special to the Times

Bill Akins, secretary of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee, at the U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis town hall meeting Saturday, Feb. 11 in New Port Richey.

UPDATE: Bill Akins said he resigned from the Pasco Republican Executive Committee on Tuesday evening.

ORIGINAL POST: Bill Akins, the secretary of the Pasco Republican Executive Committee, has released a statement to the Tampa Bay Times explainingg why he believes "death panels'' are part of the Affordable Care Act, a claim debuned by PolitFact six years ago.

Many in the crowd of 250 people at a town hall meeting Saturday in New Port Richey shouted Akins down as he spoke. U.S. Rep. Gul Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, was host of the session. Akins later drew national ridicule when the Washington Post revealed his Facebookpage contained racist and fake news stoires and memes.

Here is Akins statement:

I’m Bill Akins the person mentioned in national articles regarding U.S. Rep. Gus Bilarakis’ Feb. 11, 2017, town hall meeting. First let me say that at the town hall meeting, nor in any interview, did I say I was representing the Republican Executive Committee (REC) of Pasco County, nor representing the GOP in any way. I was there as a private citizen. …

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Wheeler-Bowman free to speak up about gun violence after AG opinion

Lisa Wheeler-Bowman is eager to take up gun violence issue again after a favorable attorney general's opinion

Monica Herndon

Lisa Wheeler-Bowman is eager to take up gun violence issue again after a favorable attorney general's opinion

Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman plans to start talking about gun violence again.

A Feb. 6 state attorney general's opinion supports her desire to talk about gun violence. Her son, Cabretti Wheeler, was killed in gun violence in 2008.

Last year, Wheeler-Bowman sponsored a resolution in support of a League of Women Voter's call for special legislative session on gun violence. She removed her resolution after City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch told her that state law preempting local elected officials from interfering with gun laws put her at risk of fines, lawsuits or even removal from office. 

On Tuesday, Wheeler-Bowman issued a statement welcoming the attorney general's opinion and vowing to renew her advocacy in reducing gun violence.

Here is the full text of the statement below:  …

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Activists call on St. Pete City Council to ask county to grant sanctuary status

A small group gathered at St. Petersburg City Hall Tuesday to ask the City Council to request the county to make Pinellas a sanctuary county

Charlie Frago

A small group gathered at St. Petersburg City Hall Tuesday to ask the City Council to request the county to make Pinellas a sanctuary county

A small group of activists gathered Tuesday on the steps of St. Petersburg's City Hall to call on the City Council to pass a resolution asking the county to seek sanctuary status for undocumented immigrants.

Recently, Mayor Rick Kriseman sparred with Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri over the issue after Kriseman wrote a blog post that some interpreted as making St. Petersburg to be a sanctuary city. Gualtieri said the county has that authority and he would not stop cooperating with federal authorities over the immigration status of prisoners in the county jail.

The City Council should follow Kriseman's lead and approve a resolution asking the county to change its stance, said Kofi Hunt, an organizer with Awake Pinellas. 

Hunt criticized Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn for saying that Tampa was not a sanctuary city and urged him to follow Kriseman's example.

Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida, said President Donald Trump's executive orders on immigration show that Americans can't take their liberty for granted.  …

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St. Pete mayor and council races are starting to roll

St. Petersburg's municipal elections are still months away, but the field is taking shape

Scott Keeler

St. Petersburg's municipal elections are still months away, but the field is taking shape

City politics have begun to stir in advance of this year’s municipal elections.

So far, only incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman has announced his reelection bid, although former mayors Rick Baker, Bill Foster are rumored to be contemplating bids.

Perennial fringe candidate Paul Congemi has also filed for mayor. 

Kriseman has raised $200,000 so far, including $1,000 donations from local power brokers like Craig Sher, Joe Saunders, Charlie Crist and Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg. Rays executives Brian Auld and Matt Silverman also wrote $1,000 checks to the mayor who brokered an agreement to let the team look outside the city for a new ballpark.

"St. Petersburg is a city going through a renaissance. We see a progressive city that encourages development and growth, and we want to see that continue," said Rays president Brian Auld in a statement.

Through his Sunrise political action committee, Kriseman has been raising money for reelection for over a year.

Four City Council seats are also up for grabs this year. So far, no one has challenged incumbents Amy Foster and Darden Rice. …

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Miami, like Clearwater, mulls aerial transit but momentum stops there

Depending on who you ask, aerial transit is either the inevitable next step to modernize Tampa Bay's transportation network or a far-fetched sales pitch that doesn't stand a chance.

Two companies are working to build Florida's first full-fledged aerial commuter system between downtown Clearwater and Clearwater Beach, but their proposals have not grown past anything more than talk with city officials.

Consultants who delivered a downtown revitalization plan Feb. 2 were originally going to include input on aerial transit, but neither company provided enough data for them to analyze.

But 300 miles to the south, another major metropolitan region grappling with gridlock is doing the same dance with aerial transit. The Miami-Dade Metropolitan Planning Organization released a $75,000 feasibility study this month on aerial cable cars, also called gondolas, but the investment has stopped there.

The MPO's priority is expanding bus rapid transit and Metrorail instead, and officials are moving forward with plans to install six new corridors of each, chief communications officer Elizabeth Rockwell told the Tampa Bay Times.  …

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Midtown grocery store intersects with St. Petersburg's mayoral politics

ST. PETERSBURG — Reaction to Sunday's Tampa Bay Times story about the troubled history of Tangerine Plaza has elicited strong opinions from current and former mayoral administrations.

From the tone of the dueling cousins, Kanika Tomalin and Goliath Davis III (Davis officiated at Tomalin's wedding), the fate of the Midtown shopping plaza that has seen two national grocers fold in four years will likely be a campaign issue, especially if former mayor Rick Baker jumps into the race against Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin had this to say on her Facebook page on Feb 4, the day the story appeared online:  …

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St. Pete Pride parade is moving to the waterfront, but Grand Central is keeping the party going

Marchers and revelers celebrate the 2016 St. Pete Pride Parade. The 2017 parade will take place June 24 and will be moved to Bayshore Boulevard NE along the downtown waterfront. The parade will start at Albert Whitted Park and then run about a mile north to Vinoy Park.

[LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Marchers and revelers celebrate the 2016 St. Pete Pride Parade. The 2017 parade will take place June 24 and will be moved to Bayshore Boulevard NE along the downtown waterfront. The parade will start at Albert Whitted Park and then run about a mile north to Vinoy Park.

ST. PETERSBURG — The city’s annual Pride parade is moving downtown. But the other festivities are staying put in Grand Central, the funky neighborhood where Florida’s largest LGBT parade was born in 2003.

That’s according to the tentative compromise brokered by Mayor Rick Kriseman this week.

The St. Pete Pride parade will move from its old route through the Kenwood and Grand Central neighborhoods and relocate to Bayshore Drive NE.

The June 24 parade will start at Albert Whitted Park and then run about a mile north to Vinoy Park along the downtown waterfront.

Meanwhile the food, crafts, music and other street festival aspects of the Pride event will remain along Central Avenue N in the Grand Central and Kenwood districts, a few miles west of the parade route.

“I think everyone is in a happy place right now,” said the mayor’s chief of staff, Kevin King, on Friday.

The mayor has met with Grand Central business owners and they’re on board with the proposal, King said, the details of which are still being negotiated. …

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PTC top staffer resigns after F-bomb texts made public

PTC Chief Inspector Brett Saunders resigned after this text message exchange became public.

Courtesy image

PTC Chief Inspector Brett Saunders resigned after this text message exchange became public.

The Public Transportation Commission’s highest ranking staffer, who sent expletive-laden cellphone text messages that aimed F-bombs at the former PTC chairman and a state lawmaker, is resigning.

PTC Chief Inspector Brett Saunders this week sent a resignation letter to PTC Chairman Al Higginbotham His last day will be Feb. 17.

It comes days after his text message exchanges with former PTC chief Kyle Cockream came to light through a public records lawsuit filed against the agency.

In the texts sent to Cockream’s personal phone in October and November, Saunders and Cockream joked about throwing former PTC chairman Victor Crist onto a bonfire.

Saunders also sent a text to his boss that called Crist a "f------ idiot," and he hurled a similar expletive about state Sen. Dana Young.

The text messages were “undeleted” from Cockream’s personal cellphone by a forensic investigator.

The phone was one of eight that the PTC sent to Valrico firm Data Specialist Group in October just weeks before the agency was required to give Cockream's phone to the investigator hired to extract public records. …

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Homeland security secretary not rushing sanctuary designations, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday he feels confident Pinellas County will not be categorized by the federal government as a sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Times files

Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday he feels confident Pinellas County will not be categorized by the federal government as a sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Wednesday he feels confident the county will not be categorized by the federal government as a sanctuary to undocumented immigrants following a discussion with Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

Kelly said during a meeting of the Major County Sheriffs' Association in Washington that he would take his time and put a process in place to determine what constitutes a so-called sanctuary jurisdiction, according to Gualtieri. Cities and counties with the label could lose federal funding under an executive order signed last month by President Donald Trump.

"It's status quo," Gualtieri said. "They're not rushing out to do anything is the sense I got."

The executive order said the homeland security secretary is responsible for designating cities and counties as sanctuaries. Pinellas was thrust into the conversation when a report released in 2015 by the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank that favors stricter immigration policies, named the county as a sanctuary jurisdiction. Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando were also included in the list. …

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Visit Tampa Bay turns over its operation details to House Republicans

Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada sent hundreds of pages of details on its operations to House Republicans on Wednesday.

Times File Photo

Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada sent hundreds of pages of details on its operations to House Republicans on Wednesday.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County’s tourism marketing firm said Wednesday it has complied with demands from House Speaker Richard Corcoran to release detailed financial information on its operations, though the organization maintains it shouldn't have to.

Hours before a 6 p.m. deadline, Visit Tampa Bay sent Tallahassee hundreds of pages of documents on its operations. The organization, a non-profit hired by the county to market the area to tourists, also made the information available to the Tampa Bay Times, the first time Visit Tampa Bay has publicly disclosed certain details about its operation.

The information includes salaries for all of its employees plus thousands of dollars in bonuses to two dozen of its top executives and others. For example, CEO and President Santiago Corrada last year received a $66,509 bonus in addition to his $273,000 in base salary.

In 2016, Visit Tampa Bay received $12.5 million from Hillsborough County tourist development taxes, which are collected on each night's stay at hotels, motels, RV parks and other shot-term rentals. …

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Visit Tampa Bay will respond to Speaker Corcoran's demand for financial details by deadline

Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada will respond to a request from the House Republicans to turn over detailed financial information by a Wednesday deadline, a spokesman said.

Times File Photo

Visit Tampa Bay President and CEO Santiago Corrada will respond to a request from the House Republicans to turn over detailed financial information by a Wednesday deadline, a spokesman said.

TAMPA — After coming under fire for not meeting House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s demands for financial disclosure, Visit Tampa Bay will provide the Republican leader … something.

Patrick Harrison, chief marketing officer for Visit Tampa Bay, said the agency is planning to comply with a Wednesday deadline to turn over more details, but he wouldn’t say what that will entail.

“We will respond to the letters we have received by Wednesday,” Harrison said.

Last month, 13 local tourism marketing agencies were asked to provide Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, with detailed financial statements, including a list of employee names and salaries and itemized spending on travel and food.

Visit Tampa Bay, a nonprofit that receives $10.7 million from Hillsborough County to promote tourism to the region, didn’t respond directly. Hillsborough officials provided some information, but it was short of what Corcoran asked for, the speaker said. …

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