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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 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]
  2. 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]
  3. 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]
  4. 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]
  5. 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]
  6. 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....

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board,  located at 12600 Belcher Road in Largo, has admitted it needs help targeting unlicensed contractors. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office will provide that assistance. [SCOTT KEELER  |   Times]
  7. 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....

    Barb Haselden, 65, a St. Petersburg resident and activist, announced she is a 2018 Republican candidate for the Pinellas County Commision District 6 seat. [Handout]
  8. 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....

  9. 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....

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long (above) said her counterpart, Hillsborough County Commission chair Stacy White, agreed that both boards should hold two joint meetings. But Hillsborough officials recently nixed the idea. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  10. 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....

    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]
  11. 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.
  12. 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....

    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]
  13. Drew Atkinson drops out of contention to lead the Pinellas County Attorney's Office

    Blog

    As Pinellas County's 12 elected leaders work to select a new legal adviser, one of the five candidates under consideration withdrew from the hiring process.

    Drew Atkinson, 44, the general counsel at the Florida Department of Management Services, notified county leaders Wednesday that he was withdrawing his application to lead the Pinellas County Attorney's Office. That leaves four candidates vying for the post, which pays more than $215,000 a year....

    From left, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, Commissioner and County Attorney Oversight Board Chair Janet Long, attorney Wade Vose and Commissioner and Board Vice-Chair Kenneth Welch are seen during an organizational meeting of the County Attorney Oversight Committee in the Clearwater courthouse in February.
  14. Legal Idol: Pinellas leaders select five candidates for county attorney's job

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — The committee of Pinellas elected leaders tasked with hiring a new county attorney said Thursday the old one has left them in a bit of a bind.

    The Pinellas County Attorney Oversight Committee — comprised of seven county commissioners and five constitutional officers with the power to hire and fire the county attorney — finalized a list of five candidates who are being considered to replace departing county attorney Jim Bennett....

    The Pinellas County Attorney Oversight Committee, a new government body comprised of seven county commissioners and five constitutional officers, met Thursday and picked five finalists to become the next county attorney. (From left) Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, Commission and oversight board chair Janet Long, attorney Wade Vose and Commissioner Ken Welch attended the meeting. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]
  15. Pinellas County Attorney Jim Bennett exits early to use up vacation hours

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– After nine years as the Pinellas County Attorney, Jim Bennett is no longer advising county leaders. He left his post May 27 and is collecting unused vacation until he retires July 5.

    Jewel White, Bennett's chief assistant attorney since 2014, now leads the office.

    "He's gone, " Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long said. "He is taking his vacation time. I'm fine with that."...

    Pinellas County Attorney Jim Bennett, who announced in January that he would retire in July,. is now collecting unused vacation hours until July 30. He turned the office over to his chief assistant attorney. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]