Make us your home page
Instagram

Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Kriseman to open campaign office

Mayor Rick Kriseman will open his campaign office Friday with Congresman Charlie Crist in attendance.

The new office, 1638 Dr. Martin Luther King St. N, will house campaign staff. The 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. opening will have speeches by Kriseman and Crist among "other special guests," according to a campaign Facebook post Monday.

Kriseman is in a race against former mayor Rick Baker. 

Baker was the campaign chair for former U.S. Rep. David Jolly who lost to Crist, a Democrat, last November.

The mayoral primary is Aug. 29. 

Full Story

Four-term Hillsborough Sheriff David Gee to retire Sept. 30

Sheriff David Gee will soon retire after 13 years at the helm of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He will retire effective Sept. 30.

[Times files]

Sheriff David Gee will soon retire after 13 years at the helm of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He will retire effective Sept. 30.

TAMPA — Sheriff David Gee announced Friday he plans to retire on Sept. 30 after nearly four decades in law enforcement and 13 years at the helm of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

“This decision has not been made lightly and was one of the most difficult decisions that I have made in my career,” Gee said in an e-mail to his staff. He said he wants to devote “full attention and support” to family.

Under Florida law, Gov. Rick Scott will appoint an interim sheriff who will serve until a new sheriff is elected at the next general election in November 2018. The Sheriff’s Office has a tradition of grooming sheriff’s from within, and potential successors include agency veterans Chad Chronister and Donna Lusczynski.

Former sheriff’s Col. Jim Previtera said Gee professionalized the Sheriff’s Office and made sure the agency evolved as Hillsborough County’s population mushroomed. …

Full Story

Another departure at Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board

The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is located in a Largo office complex.

SCOTT KEELER i Times

The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is located in a Largo office complex.

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 latest departure compounds the agency's woes from declining revenues as fewer fines have been collected in the past year.

The agency operates solely on what it raises in license fees and fines from contractors. County officials have told the agency it must somehow raise revenue to stay in the black.

The licensing board is under so much financial distress that it has been forced to siphon nearly $400,000 out of its reserves just to stay afloat in recent months. Last year it had an annual budget of $1.8 million.

The governing board, a mix of public officials and private contractors, are scheduled to receive a financial update on Tuesday, records show. …

Full Story

Here come the "Influencers;" St. Petersburg's new social media marketing stratey approved

ST. PETERSBURG — The social media marketing strategy that was met with a chilly City Council reception earlier this year, won approval Thursday. The City Council signed off on Mayor Rick Kriseman’s “Influencer” strategy.

By a 5-2 vote (Council chairwoman Darden Rice wasn’t present), the council approved a $92,500 request to hire “influencers” — people with large social media followings who are paid to visit the city and tweet or post about its economic development and arts and culture.

Council members Amy Foster and Ed Montanari voted against the measure. Council members Charlie Gerdes, Karl Nurse, Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, Steve Kornell and Jim Kennedy voted for it.

The program could begin within six week or so, in the midst of Kriseman’s reelection campaign. His staff have said that the tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts won’t have any political content, but will be aimed at attracting young in-demand workers and investment.

While the region's tourism agencies have long used this strategy to attract visitors, Kriseman said "influencers" will be used to elevate the city's culture and economic development. …

Full Story

Victor Crist, Sandy Murman to seek new Hillsborough commission seats

Republican County Commissioners Victor Crist and Sandy Murman, both of whom hold district seats on the board of commissioners, filed Thursday to run in 2018 for separate countywide districts – Crist in District 5 and Murman in District 7.

Crist faces a term limit next year in his current seat representing District 2; Murman faces term limits in her current District 1 seat in 2020.

So far, Crist faces only a comparatively little-known Democrat, Elvis Jamine Piggott, and local tea party leader Tim Curtis as a primary opponent.

A comparatively little known Democrat, Sky U. White, has already filed in the District 5 race Murman is entering.

In an interview, Crist said, “During these challenging times Hillsborough County needs an honest leader with the experience, knowledge and proven track record of getting the job done. … Much has been accomplished since my joining the County Commission in 2010 and I look forward to an opportunity to continue serving the constituents of Hillsborough County.”

Murman couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. …

Full Story

St. Petersburg City Council tells Mayor Rick Kriseman to spend Penny for Pinellas money on housing, transit

ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration prepared a $326 million wish list for the city's share of proceeds raised by the next decade of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. It includes many priorities long clamored for by the City Council: sewage system fixes and a new Shore Acres Recreation Center.

But Kriseman’s list didn’t include money for affordable housing or transit. So in front of a room full of Faith and Action for Strength Together (FAST) members — who last month urged council members to dedicate 10 percent of the city’s portion of the 1 percent countywide sales tax to affordable housing — the council told the mayor's office to tear up that list and come back next month with one dedicating at least $15 million to those needs.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin said the city would have a revised list ready by the June 8 meeting. The county wants the city to outline its spending plans by early July deadline for the next round of funds raised by the Penny for Pinellas. It will begin in 2020 if voters approve renewing the 1-cent sales tax in November. …

Full Story

Hillsborough commissioners request report on juvenile car theft from sheriff

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s “Eagle” helicopter unit tracks a car from the air with its infrared camera.

DIRK SHADD | Times

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s “Eagle” helicopter unit tracks a car from the air with its infrared camera.

Hillsborough commissioners, distressed by a Tampa Bay Times report about the juvenile auto theft epidemic in neighboring Pinellas County, ordered the sheriff to provide a rundown of the crime in the Tampa area on Wednesday.

Commissioner Sandy Murman asked the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office to draw up a report on kids stealing cars and potential solutions. She said deputies have seen some teens come from Pinellas to Hillsborough in stolen cars or to break into cars.

“Car theft is a very serious problem with juveniles in Pinellas County,” Murman said. “I don’t want Hillsborough County to get in that.”

She referenced statistics from the Times series, "Hot Wheels," which showed that police in Pinellas arrested a juvenile for auto theft on average at least once a day. In 2015, officers arrested more juveniles for stealing cars in Pinellas than in any other Florida county. Reporters detailed the thieves' methods and motivations, as well as the serious danger of the crime. Kids driving stolen cars crashed once every four days in Pinellas, the newspaper's analysis found. …

Full Story

Karl Nurse wants to swap Penny money for TIF dollars to free up cash for buses and affordable housing

Council member Karl Nurse, in his last year in office, has been a dynamo of ideas so far in 2017.

Zoning revamps. Affordable housing plans. Energy efficiency. Nurse has been busy.

His latest? Take $21 million in next round of Penny for Pinellas projects slated for St. Petersburg and swap them out into the city’s Downtown Tax Increment Finance district to free up dollars for affordable housing and transit.

Nurse sent council members his proposal on Tuesday in advance of tomorrow’s Committee of the Whole on Penny for Pinellas funding. Voters will  decide to authorize the next round of Penny fund in November.

He would take $15 million in sewall maintenance pegged for the central and south yacht basins along the downtown waterfront and $6 million earmarked for a downtown parking garage and shift those projects to the TIF.

With $21 million in Penny money freed up, Nurse wants to work with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority on a plan where the city would buy buses to increase service on corridors like 4th Street, where shorter waits could persuade people who don’t ride PSTA buses to do so. …

Full Story

Puppy sale ban approved in Hillsborough County but with exemptions

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioners on Wednesday voted to prohibit any new puppy stores from opening in an effort to curb dogs from puppy mills from entering the county.

Three stores already operating here can remain open if they abide by a new rules, also approved Wednesday, that will require them to keep tabs on their breeders.

The decision was the culmination of weeks of back and forth and after dozens of speakers weighed in on whether to make an exception for the existing businesses -- divided by backers of the local puppy stores in powder blue shirts and animal advocates in red calling for a full ban on puppy sales.

The debate was complicated last week when the owner of one of those stores, Puppies Tampa, was arrested by the Florida Department of Agriculture for failing to have health records for some of its puppies. The owner, Michael Lamprea, disputes that.

Commissioner Ken Hagan proposed excluding Puppies Tampa from the provision to grandfather existing facilities, but was rebuked in a 5-2 vote.  …

Full Story

Big names from inside and outside St. Pete step up to raise money for Rick Baker

Rick Baker's May 23 fundraiser invite

Baker campaign

Rick Baker's May 23 fundraiser invite

Check out the big, heavily Republican group of  civic leaders stepping up to raise money for Rick Baker's mayoral campaign at a May 23 reception at the Moreon Center for Clay in St. Pete.

Several former mayors -- Bob Ulrich, David Fischer, Bill Foster are on there, So are prominent business leaders such as banker David Feaster, Chico's Chairman Ross Roeder, Ashley Furniture founder Ron Wanek. High profule developers including Darryl LeClair, Mark Stroud, and Jonathan Daou. Business leaders best known for their GOP activism are on there, including Ambassador Mel Sembler, former Jeb Bush and Dick Cheney Chief of Staff Kathleen Shanahan, and Jim Holton. Prominent African-Americans tight with Baker, including Goliath Davis, Donnie Williams and Deveron Gibbons. A bunch of current and former politicians including state Sens. Jeff Brandes and Jack Latvala, state Rep. Wengay Newton, former state Rep. Frank Farkas, city council members Jim Kennedy and Ed Montanari, and former city council members Leslie Curran and Larry Williams.

Full Story

Sewer probes deepen: US Attorney's Office requests consent order

It’s no secret that federal agents have been looking into St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis since at least 2016, when the issue boiled over into the congressional campaign between Charlie Crist and David Jolly.

Then-congressman Jolly and Sen. Marco Rubio both called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last fall to probe the causes behind the city’s discharging 200 million gallons of sewage into Tampa Bay, Boca Ciega Bay and city streets since August 2015.

Politicians got involved after Craven Askew, the chief operator of the city's Northeast wastewater treatment plant, blew the whistle on a buried 2014 study that showed sewage problems could occur if the city shut down the waterfront Albert Whitted plant, which it did in April 2015. Askew later challenged Mayor Rick Kriseman's contention that a 58 million-gallong spill at the city's Northwest sewer plant was fully treated waste, which posed no threat to residents. Kriseman later admitted he had been wrong and the city amended its report to the state, reclassifying the spill as partially-treated sewage.

Soon after, word of EPA investigators interviewing Water Resources Department officials were confirmed by city officials. …

Full Story

Old Baker signs cause stir

An old sign for Rick Baker's 2005 campaign at Pinellas Point Drive and 70th Avenue S on Sunday morning

Tony Marrero

An old sign for Rick Baker's 2005 campaign at Pinellas Point Drive and 70th Avenue S on Sunday morning

The signs lined Dr Martin Luther King Street S by Lake Maggiore Park Saturday when former mayor Rick Baker greeted supporters in his first post-announcement campaign event.

They've also popped up around other parts of the city in the week since Baker, who was mayor between 2001 and 2010, plunged into his bid for a third term. 

Problem is, the signs are from his 2005 reeelection campaign and violate state election law by urging voters to "re-elect" Baker, who isn't an incumbent. And they're out too early. Candidates aren't supposed to distribute signs until after qualifying period ends in June.

Baker's campaign attributed the false start to overzealous supporters.  …

Full Story

Baker kicks off campaign with barbeque and conversation

Former Mayor Rick Baker greets supporters at Lake Maggiore Park on Saturday.

Charlie Frago

Former Mayor Rick Baker greets supporters at Lake Maggiore Park on Saturday.

Rick Baker greeted dozens of supporters Saturday at Lake Maggiore Park, kicking off his quest for a return to the mayor's office by forgoing a stump speech in favor of casual small group chats with supporters at a picnic organized in part by his former deputy mayor Goliath Davis III.

“There was a rule I had as mayor--some things I won’t do the same---this one I’ll do the same. The whole community knew that if there was food, I was going to show up,” Baker said before blessing the steaming trays of chicken, ribs and sausage links served up by the Nite Riders Van Club.

Baker announced his candidacy this week to challenge incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman. The picnic, which also functioned as a low-grade fundraiser, was the first organized event of his political comeback.

Baker talked to reporters about his work cleaning up the once muck-filled Lake Maggiore, but avoided attacking his opponent’s environmental record. He didn’t mention Kriseman once.

Nor did his supporters. Al White, a retired police sergeant who helped organize the event, said he returned from out of state to help because he admired Baker’s integrity and his work diversifying the police department. …

Full Story

St. Pete workers nervous about insurance coverage at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital because of dispute

Of the city’s 2,600 workers, many have children. An exact number is unknown because of patient privacy rules.

But it’s safe to say that if you work for the city and you have kids, you’re probably nervous tonight.

That’s because of a contract dispute between the city’s insurer United Health Care and John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

A breakdown in negotiations between the hospital and the insurance company prompted an email to be sent to city employees late Wednesday stating that starting today new patients would have to pay out-of-network fees if they wanted to use All Children’s.

These types of contract disputes are fairly common. City Human Resources Director Chris Guella cited a 2012 dispute involving BayCare a recent example.

But City Council members at a prep session for the May 11 meeting on Thursday wanted to know more, saying they’d been getting frantic emails.

“It’s causing angst for them,” said council member Amy Foster. …

Full Story

Despite lawmakers' opposition, smokable medical pot being sold

Trulieve's medical cannabis dispensary on Dale Mabry in Tampa.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Tampa Bay Times

Trulieve's medical cannabis dispensary on Dale Mabry in Tampa.

From the News Service of Florida's Dara Kam: …

Full Story