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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Update: Ethics investigator finds no probable cause in Go Hillsborough contract complaint

Florida Commission on Ethics will hear complaints next month against Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, as well as Commissioner Sandy Murman.

Times File Photo

Florida Commission on Ethics will hear complaints next month against Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, as well as Commissioner Sandy Murman.

TAMPA — A state ethics investigation has found no probable cause to the complaints accusing Hillsborough County officials of steering a transportation contract to a politically connected firm.

The recommendation from investigator Melody Hadley from the Office of the Attorney General was included in a letter informing county commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman that after two years the ethics board would finally hear their case on Oct. 20.

A complaint was also filed against Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, but his office could not say Monday night whether he received similar news from Hadley.

In a summary of her investigation sent to the officials, Hadley found there was no evidence that officials violated state statutes.  

The October hearing in Tallahassee will evaluate the results of the preliminary investigation. Buckhorn, Hagan and Murman will each get 10 minutes to speak but cannot introduce new evidence at that time. …

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Kriseman invites Steph Curry to St. Pete on Twitter

Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle

Charlie Kaijo (2017)

Mayor Rick Kriseman took to Twitter Saturday evening to wade into President Donald Trump's latest social media scuffle

Mayor Rick Kriseman is no stranger to tweaking President Donald Trump on social media.

In December 2015, Kriseman barred then-candidate Trump from St. Petersburg after Trump called for a total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States. That tweet went viral and landed the mayor on national television shows.

You're invited to visit us in St. Pete, @StephenCurry30. No White House, but a beautiful Pink Hotel + plenty of sunshine. pic.twitter.com/oqLvMLj9AD

On Saturday evening, Kriseman again tweeted about a Trump action. After the president attacked Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry earlier in the day for rejecting an invitation to visit the White House with his NBA championship teammates, Kriseman tweeted out an invitation to Curry to visit the Sunshine City.

“You’re invited to visit us in St. Pete, @StephenCurry30. No White House, but a beautiful Pink Hotel +plenty of sunshine,” Kriseman tweeted at 6:51 p.m. with a picture of the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club attached.

Shortly before 8 p.m., Kriseman’s tweet had been retweeted 38 times.

Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby said the mayor likes to keep St. Pete on Twittersphere's radar. …

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Kriseman and Baker cash race continues as campaigns officially reset

Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker are emerging from Hurricane Irma mode and getting back into campaign form

Times File Photo

Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker are emerging from Hurricane Irma mode and getting back into campaign form

The mayoral campaign, mostly operating in stealth mode during the two weeks of Hurricane Irma's build-up, arrival and recovery, has entered its stretch run, a compressed schedule of ten days before ballots are mailed to tens of thousands of voters in the Sunshine City.

On Friday, Rick Baker released the “Baker Plan” on his campaign website, which outlines the campaigns into five points familiar to most who paid attention during campaign up to the Aug. 29 primary: public safety, schools and education, jobs, neighborhoods and city services.

Baker said in a statement that there are some new ideas mixed in with previous policy positions. 

"The Baker Blueprint is a combination of the many ideas we have been talking about. Programs like the privately funded apprenticeship program and recruiting retail opportunities in areas like the Coquina Key shopping center, 62nd Ave South, and South US 19 expand upon the idea-oriented campaign we have been conducting," wrote Baker.

In the section of public safety, Baker writes that he will work on his first day with Chief (Tony) Holloway to bring back the auto theft unit shuttered by Mayor Rick Kriseman.   …

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Kriseman proclaims Buy Local week in St. Pete to quicken storm recovery

Mayor Rick Kriseman wants St. Pete residents to help small businesses recover from Hurricane Irma

Eve Edelheit

Mayor Rick Kriseman wants St. Pete residents to help small businesses recover from Hurricane Irma

Mayor Rick Kriseman has proclaimed next week to be "'Burg Buy Local Week" in an appeal to residents to help small businesses struggling to recover from Hurricane Irma.

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin presented the appeal to City Council at its Thursday meeting, saying the mayor has declared Sept. 24 though Oct. 1 as a week for residents to patronize local businesses.

Irma shut down businesses for several days, interrupting cash flow and placing may small businesses in peril, Tomalin said.

"Our ability to maintain the momentum of our economic development amid this disruption is a test that we cannot afford to fail," said Tomalin, who read the proclamation for Kriseman, who was observing Rosh Hashanah.

Several small business owners told council members that public awareness of their plight is needed as September, traditionally a slow month, has been particularly tough this year.

 

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How should St. Pete make up for dumping all that sewage? How about a street sweeper?

City Council chairwoman Darden Rice said it was important to chose carefully which environmental projects St. Petersburg should spend its $810,000 state fine on because residents will be paying attention.

[Times files]

City Council chairwoman Darden Rice said it was important to chose carefully which environmental projects St. Petersburg should spend its $810,000 state fine on because residents will be paying attention.

ST. PETERSBURG — Every crisis has a silver lining.

In the case of the city’s sewage crisis, which spawned state and federal investigations and led to a state consent decree ordering St. Petersburg to fix its sewer system, the upside is city leaders must satisfy the $810,000 civil penalty levied by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Pete sewage crisis ends with no charges, $326 million bill

Why is that good news? Because the city doesn’t have to pay the state anything. Instead it can spend the money on itself, so as long as the $810,000 pays for projects that will reduce pollution or the consumption of energy or water.

That may be why the City Council committee meeting on Thursday felt a bit like a bunch of kids drawing up their Christmas gift lifts for Santa.

Should the Sunshine City buy a new street sweeper for $200,000 to keep the streets cleaner?

What about buying some waterborne aerators — from $20,000 to $40,000 a pop — to aerate city ponds or even Lake Maggiore? Aerating can help aquatic life thrive, improve water quality and reduce algae blooms. …

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Tampa poll rates streets, flooding, police-community relations and transportation as top public priorities

Survey results

City of Tampa

Survey results

A city of Tampa online survey of the public's priorities for the next 18 months rated improving streets and easing flooding as the top priority of nearly 89 percent of respondents.

Nearly tied for second were police-community relations and transportation options, including light rail. Both were rated as important by nearly 75 percent of those surveyed.

The lowest priorities: additional workforce housing (32.3 percent) and keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in the area (39.4 percent).

Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he launched the survey last month to make sure he focuses "on as many of (residents') concerns as possible” during the 555 days (as of Thursday) he has left before leaving office due to term limits on April 1, 2019.

Buckhorn said he was not surprised by the results of the survey, which 2,043 people filled out.

“I will circulate that survey to all of our senior staff here and remind them that this is what people are thinking,” he said.

Here’s a sample of the hundreds of comments from respondents: …

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City council candidates talk on Rays, solar and sea-level rise

City Hall

[DIRK SHADD | Tampa Bay Times]

City Hall

Candidates for three City Council seats took questions from a polite crowd Wednesday night during a forum organized by the Council of Neighborhood Associations.

Residents asked about prominent issues like the Tampa Bay Rays’ quest for a stadium and the cost of the pier, but they also wanted to know the candidates’ positions on banning plastic bags, solar panels, sea-level rise, historic preservation and improvements away from downtown.

Participating in the forum at the Sunshine Center were District 2 candidates Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless, who are vying to replace City Council member Jim Kennedy, who is term-limited. 

For the District 4 seat, there was Council chair Darden Rice. She is being challenged by first-time candidate Jerick Johnston.

And from District 6, which originally drew eight candidates, only Gina Driscoll was present Wednesday night. Justin Bean, the other top vote-getter from the August primary, sent an apology for missing the forum because of an out-of-town business obligation.

Tom Lally of the Greater Pinellas Point Civic Association pointed his question about the troubled Skyway Plaza shopping center and another near Coquina Key at Driscoll. …

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Vinoy seeks to educate voters before November referendum

The Vinoy is seeking voter approval to build a one-story parking garage behind the resort

Tampa Bay Times

The Vinoy is seeking voter approval to build a one-story parking garage behind the resort

 The high profile match between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker has cast a long shadow over other candidates and issues on the St. Petersburg residents' Nov. 7 ballot.

One of the campaigns pretty much flying below the radar is a referendum question asking voters to approve the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club’s plan to elevate eight tennis courts by one story to create space for 270 parking spaces underneath the garage on land behind the hotel.

The $10 million proposal needs voter approval because the property, south of 7th Ave NE, was acquired in 1984 through a swap of waterfront land with the city. The deal allowed the city to extend its waterfront park system.  In exchange, the Vinoy received more than 4 acres.

On the western half of the property, the resort has constructed a convention space and another one-story parking garage with tennis courts on top. Voters signed off on both projects with in 1997 and 2007. …

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Backstreet Boys' Nick Carter thanks his former dance instructor from Tampa in touching tribute (w/ video)

During a Hillsborough County Commission meeting, Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys appeared via video to thanks local dance instructor Sandy Karl, who retired after 45 years in the business.

Image from Hillsborough TV

During a Hillsborough County Commission meeting, Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys appeared via video to thanks local dance instructor Sandy Karl, who retired after 45 years in the business.

TAMPA -- Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter appeared at a meeting of the Hillsborough County commission on Wednesday.

Tell me why.

County commissioners presented a commendation Wednesday morning to Sandy Karl, a local dance instructor retiring after 45 years in business. Along with her late husband, Karl owned the Karl and DiMarco School of Dance in Tampa.

And before he was a “Larger Than Life” popstar, Ruskin native Nick Carter was Karl’s student.

Oh my god, he’s back again -- by video, at least.

Commissioner Victor Crist played a pre-recorded message from Carter congratulating Karl on her retirement.

“At a very young age I learned so many things just from being able to be myself, to be able to be creative, unique,” Carter said. “And I was able to really build on the things that you taught me and use those things later in life — just values and morals and obviously the dancing.”

Carter also made a pitch for the community to “support the arts because you never know where it’s going to take (kids) in their lives.”

Karl called Carter a “great student.” In accepting the recognition, Karl said her career wasn’t work because she loved it. …

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Tampa Electric rules, Duke Energy drools, Hillsborough commissioners declare

Duke Energy workers cut tree limbs off a power line on Sept. 11 following Hurricane Irma.

CHRIS URSO | Times

Duke Energy workers cut tree limbs off a power line on Sept. 11 following Hurricane Irma.

TAMPA — The pile on of Duke Energy continued Wednesday in Hillsborough County, where commissioners boasted how quickly most of their constituents had power after Hurricane Irma.

During a debriefing of the storm’s aftermath, commissioners repeatedly praised the response from Tampa Electric, the electric utility for most Hillsborough residents. About 300,000 of Tampa Electric’s Hillsborough customers lost power at some point during the storm and nearly all had power restored in less than a week.

Commissioners were quick to note the prolonged outages many Duke Energy customers experienced in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

“If it was a competition with Duke Energy, you definitely won,” Commissioner Sandy Murman said.

Duke Energy vowed to have power restored to its customer by Friday evening but missed that self-imposed deadline. By Monday morning, about 2,549 customers in Pinellas and 280 customers in Pasco were still without power, compared to 165 Tampa Electric customers in Hillsborough. …

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Hillsborough okays $1.25 million in Hurricane Irma-related spending with more to come

The overflowing Alafia River, swollen by rains from Hurricane Irma, caused massive flooding near Lithia Pinecrest Road. On Wednesday, Hillsborough County approved $1.25 million in Irma-related spending.

Christopher O'Donnell, Times

The overflowing Alafia River, swollen by rains from Hurricane Irma, caused massive flooding near Lithia Pinecrest Road. On Wednesday, Hillsborough County approved $1.25 million in Irma-related spending.

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners approved $1.25 million in expenses related to Hurricane Irma on Wednesday with many more costs expected to come.

The county will spend $750,000 on overtime for employees who worked throughout the storm and another $500,000 for disaster-related emergency equipment.

The money was pulled from a $3 million fund set aside for emergencies. It doesn’t cover other expenses from the aftermath of the storm like debris pickup, flooding and damage.

There’s more than 1 million yards of debris to pick up, public works director John Lyons said, which is about what the county normally collects in one and a half years. It may take four weeks or longer to get to all of it, he said.

About 35 waste water pumps that were without power overflowed during the storm and it's not yet clear how much sewage may have spilled out.

An early assessment found about $9 million in damage to homes and businesses. About 290 single family homes and 140 mobile homes were damaged or destroyed, said emergency operations director Preston Cook. …

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Pinellas County to hire an expert to analyze lessons learned during Hurricane Irma

Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard has his own opinions about the lessons learned from Hurricane Irma's reign over the area. But he plans to hire an outside expert to analyze what went right and wrong to better prepare for the 2018 hurricane season.

In a meeting Tuesday with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, also attended by County Commission Chair Janet Long, Woodard said emergency management staff historically conducts the review after a major event. But with the intensity of Irma's impact before and after landfall, “we'd feel more comfortable having a third party come in.”

Woodard said most notably, Irma highlighted the need for more emergency shelter space. About $3 million over the past seven years, paid for through Penny for Pinellas sales tax revenue, has helped create 9,614 additional spaces at six schools to house people during storms. The funding has also paid for those facilities to add emergency lighting, generators and other upgrades to act as shelters during hurricanes.

“If our future is indeed more frequent, more intense storms, having additional shelter space would be important,” he said. …

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St. Pete realtor Brandi Gabbard hopes to bring housing experience to city council

Brandi Gabbard

Gabbard campaign

Brandi Gabbard

ST. PETERSBURG — City Council candidate Brandi Gabbard looks at details and the long-term consequences when evaluating political decisions.

“There’s so many times in these huge policies that there’s an unintended consequence layer that lives underneath,” Gabbard said.

She said she’s seen it with the 2012 Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act and the huge increases many Pinellas County residents experienced. And she’s seeing it again now with the city’s discussion of mandatory solar panels for new roofs.

“I’m in favor of incentives,” she said. “I’m not in favor of mandates when it comes to home ownership.”

Gabbard, a Democrat, met with the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board Tuesday to discuss her thoughts on affordable housing, the redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site and public safety.

Gabbard, 41, a Realtor who lives in the Barcley Estates neighborhood, hopes to replace term-limited Jim Kennedy, a Democrat who has served on the council since being appointed in 2007. District 2 covers most of northeastern St. Petersburg up to Feather Sound, the Gateway and Gandy areas. …

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St. Pete council member Darden Rice talks Duke, hurricanes, sewage

Rice

[Times]

Rice

City Councilwoman Darden Rice is running for re-election in District 4, and believes the lessons she's learned in her first term in office will serve her well in a new term.

Rice spoke Monday with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board on a range of topics from the future of the Tampa Bay Rays to the future of transit. She believes the city responded well to Hurricane Irma. But she also believes that Duke Energy should be held accountable for the power outages that took place after the storm.

"I personally didn't want to beat up Duke too much last week," she said. "It didn't seem helpful. We have time to ask questions."

But, she said, the utility should respond to residents' criticism about how Duke Energy handled those outages.

"There were a lot of people calling even as late as Saturday and getting an answer that 'Oh, this is the first time we've heard a report' and they had individually called numerous times," she said. "And then they said, 'Oh well on our map it looks like you've already had your power restored.' …

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What campaigning? Jameis Winston joins Rick Baker's Irma event

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Bernard Reedy, left, Rev. Wayne Thompson of First Baptist Institutional Church, St Petersburg, center, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, serve free pulled pork sandwiches at a food truck giveaway at Rick Baker's disaster assistance registration center on Central Ave. in St. Petersburg on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

LARA CERRI | Times

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Bernard Reedy, left, Rev. Wayne Thompson of First Baptist Institutional Church, St Petersburg, center, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, serve free pulled pork sandwiches at a food truck giveaway at Rick Baker's disaster assistance registration center on Central Ave. in St. Petersburg on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017.

ST. PETERSBURG — Rick Baker and Rick Kriseman have insisted this week that after Hurricane Irma they’ve put politics on hold in their contentious race for mayor.

But when Baker, a former mayor, asked his boss, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards to open a center to help people register for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance on Wednesday, Kriseman supporters cried foul, saying Baker was trying to politicize a disaster.

SUNSHINE CITY SHOWDOWN: Keep up with the Tampa Bay Times coverage of the St. Petersburg mayoral race.

Baker allies responded that their candidate was just trying to help.

Enter Jameis Winston: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback appeared at the Baker event in person. The campaign said he even paid for soul food  — barbeque and chicken and waffles  — at an Edwards-owned property at 6090 Central Ave.

Baker was also in attendance. But his campaign insisted that it wasn’t a political event. It was also sponsored by state Rep. Wenday Newton, a Baker supporter, and the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP.

That sentiment was echoed by organizer Lewis Stephens, Winston’s friend and "go-to man in St. Pete." …

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