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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

March: Dominoes set to fall after Sen. Tom Lee decides what to do

Political dominoes could start falling Monday in East Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties.

That could be when politicos learn whether state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, has decided to run for re-election. If he doesn't - he's pondering whether to run instead for a Hillsborough County commission seat - five Republican House members could be among those who jump into the scramble to replace him.

The worst-case scenario for Republicans - five House members leaving their seats to chase one Senate seat - isn't likely to happen. Several said they'd likely negotiate among themselves to avoid it.

Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Land O'Lakes Republican who controls party campaign money and committee assignments, could create incentives to avoid such a scenario.

If Lee doesn't seek re-election, time is short for a potential replacement to mount a Senate campaign. Monday starts a new monthly campaign finance reporting period - a good time to open a campaign - and the qualifying period is rapidly approaching, starting at noon on June 20. Some expect Lee's decision by Monday or soon after. …

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Marijuana civil citation advances in St. Pete

A St. Petersburg with City Council commiittee  approved a civil citation ordinance Thursday that would decriminalize possessing small amounts of marijuana and other misdemeanors after months of deadlock.

The Public Safety and Infrastructure Commitee voted the ordinance over the objections of Police Chief Tony Holloway, who urged that the city would for a county diversion ordinance, currently under discussion, that would create uniformity among Pinellas County's nearly two dozen governments.

Competing programs will complicate an officer's job , creating a "buffet option" for the arresting officer: misdemeanor, diversion or citation.

"It gets confusing," he said.

But council member Steve Kornell, who introduced the measure, said the city was tired of waiting for the county to move on the issue. A county workshop earlier this month gave a Jan. 1 target date for a diversion program that would steer low-level offenders toward community service rather than creating a criminal record.

"It's astounding to me that all these high-level officials support a program that doesn't even exist," Kornell said. …

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Pace of game problems? St. Pete's campaign is on track, says city

When the "Baseball Forever" campaign was launched at Ferg's at the end of February, people cheered and danced at the prospect of keeping the Tampa Bay Rays right where they play now: Tropicana Field.

Since then, the 37-member commission put together by Mayor Rick Kriseman and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce  has held a meeting to pick subcommittees and given away nearly 1,000 t-shirts with the campaign's logo, hundreds of them on Opening Day.

But some commission members have privately grumbled that the campaign isn't moving quickly enough to pitch the city's case before the Rays make up their minds on where to build a new stadium.

And powerful State Sen. Jack Latvala this week blasted the committee for being too St. Pete-centric in both its membership and its focus.

One committee member, Ed Montanari, said he agreed with a lot of what the Clearwater Republican had to say. …

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Tax collector aide to seek Pasco property appraiser's post

Pasco County continues to keep it all in the family this political season.

First it was Debbie Wells, former wife of retiring Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr., filing to run for the Pasco Commission District 1 seat. If elected, she will serve with her former son-in-law, Commissioner Mike Wells Jr.

Now, the race for property appraiser has drawn a little less well-known political name, but one that’s been on the ballot before. Gary Joiner, 52, the director of operations at the Pasco Tax Collector’s Office, has filed candidacy papers to run for property appraiser.

Joiner is the son of Gary W. “Buck’’ Joiner Sr., a 12-year member of the Pasco Mosquito Control District Commission. Joiner Sr., 76, is seeking re-election to the part-time, non-partisan mosquito board and his name will be on the November ballot. …

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Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr. picked to be deputy CentCom commander

Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr. has been nominated to be deputy commander of U.S. Central Command.

Air Force handout photo

Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr. has been nominated to be deputy commander of U.S. Central Command.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Brown Jr. has been nominated to become the No. 2 officer at U.S. Central Command based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, the Defense Department announced Tuesday.

Brown is currently the head of Air Forces Central Command, which is waging the air war against Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria. 

If confirmed by the Senate, Brown would become CentCom’s deputy commander. Army Gen. Joseph Votel became CentCom commander on March 30.

Brown was commissioned after graduating from Texas Tech University in 1984.

According to his official biography, he has “commanded a fighter squadron, the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, and two fighter wings.”

He has more than 2,890 flying hours, including 95 combat hours. 

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FDOT says TBX still on track, despite drop in land acquisitions

The Florida Department of Transportation is putting the brakes on buying up land around the Tampa downtown interchange, but the state said its plan to expand the highway is still going forward.

FDOT reduced the money budgeted for voluntary property acquisition downtown in fiscal year 2017 from nearly $25 million to about $500,000,  Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization executive director Beth Alden told an MPO committee Tuesday morning.

Those opposed to Tampa Bay Express -- the state’s plan to widen the area's interstates and add toll lanes -- celebrated the news on social media. Tampa City Councilmember Lisa Montelione called it a “huge win.”

“The Community Redevelopment Agency had been pushing for the acquisition phase to be delayed until all the impact studies could be completed,” Montelione wrote on Facebook. “Thank you to our citizens and to my fellow board members for your perseverance.”

But Debbie Hunt, the director of transportation development for the local FDOT district, said “nothing about TBX has changed” and the project is still going forward as planned. …

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Stu Sternberg to Tampa Bay business community: Rays need corporate support now

Rays owner Stu Sternberg didn't mince words at Tuesday's annual Rays luncheon sponsored by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Rays need the region's business community to step up and buy sponsorships, season tickets and otherwise show their support as the team decides where to build a new stadium.

After the event, Sternberg said, that hasn't happened yet. And he's running out of ideas, he said.

"The only thing to do, and I'm loathe to do, is to threaten, but you can't really threaten," Sternberg said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times after the luncheon. "There's nothing really at this point. It's got to be a value proposition, two-fold really: at the ballpark and sponsorships, but, most important, they believe having major-league baseball near where their business is located versus not having it anywhere near where their business is located is important."

Sternberg said he's talked to people in cities that have lost a major-league team---Montreal, Seattle and Milwaukee. …

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Former Dunedin assistant city manager Maureen "Moe" Freaney to run for commission Seat 1

Maureen "Moe" Freaney worked for the city of Dunedin from 1984-2006, spending some time as assistant city manager and interim city manager. Afterward, she worked for Pinellas County in various capacities until resigning in March 2015, when she said she "decided to move in a different direction."

Now, it seems her direction has been revealed. She says she plans to run for Seat 1 of the City Commission this November, and her reason is simple.

"I love Dunedin," she said. "and I want to be here to help it move forward in a way that preserves its special character."

Freaney said she hopes to be a voice for smart development that protects green space and preserves the city's vibrancy.

"There are so many spokes on the wheel of Dunedin. So many things people love about it," she said. "We have to figure out how to continue that charm and elect leadership that will work toward those goals."

Some of Freaney's other platforms, as listed on her campaign website, include a push for more transparent and accessible government and a focus on Dunedin's special events, neighborhoods, community programs, history and culture. …

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Jolly should stay in House, take on Crist, says Clearwater mayor

David Jolly is preparing for a big debate tonight against Alan Grayson, a possible Democratic opponent this November for a U.S. Senate seat.

But a political ally Monday said he wished Jolly would reconsider his decision to run for Marco Rubio's seat and stay in his current job, congressman for the 13th District.

Jolly would be the best bet to take on the Democratic nominee of a now heavily Blue district either former governor Charlie Crist or former Obama admnistration official Eric Lynn, said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos.

Cretekos, who served for decades as a top aide to Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young, said he's recently encouraged Jolly to  keep the Congressional seat in Republican hands.

"He is a rising star," Cretekos said of Jolly, who gained national exposure Sunday on CBS's "60 Minutes" for advocating that federal officials be barred from soliciting campaign donations. "I think you can make the argument that he could continue to serve Pinellas County in a very powerful position if he stays on the House side." …

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When MOSI moves, will USF football finally get its stadium? Don't hold your breath.

South Florida Bulls head coach Willie Taggart is congratulated by fans after beating Syracuse at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Saturday. If the Museum of Science and Industry moves, will USF football games move too?

Octavio Jones, Times Staff Photographer

South Florida Bulls head coach Willie Taggart is congratulated by fans after beating Syracuse at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Saturday. If the Museum of Science and Industry moves, will USF football games move too?

TAMPA — After the Museum of Science and Industry announced last week it would move to downtown Tampa, it didn't take long for University of South Football fans and observers to eye the museum's current digs for a future on-campus stadium.





There are a lot of reasons why proponents of an on-campus football stadium think the MOSI site would be perfect for USF to finally get its own home.

The most obvious is proximity. MOSI is just across the street from the USF campus on East Fowler Avenue. That would make it a lot easier for students to attend games than the trek to Raymond James Stadium, where the Bulls have played their games since 1997.

The team's practice facility is nearby too.

There's also already a pedestrian crossway over East Fowler Avenue that would allow student foot traffic to safely cross one of Tampa's busiest thoroughfares.

And it's certainly big enough. The parcel that hosts MOSI is more than 75 acres, meaning plenty of room for a stadium, parking, tailgating and other amenities, with space to spare.

So why throw cold water on this idea? …

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Latvala urges Kriseman to include the rest of Pinellas in pitch to Rays

State Sen. Jack Latvala helped bring the Tampa Bay Rays to St. Petersburg nearly 20 years ago.

[SCOTT KEELER | Times (2014)]

State Sen. Jack Latvala helped bring the Tampa Bay Rays to St. Petersburg nearly 20 years ago.

State Sen. Jack Latvala helped bring the Tampa Bay Rays to St. Petersburg nearly 20 years ago.

And, in a letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, he wants a role, along with elected officials outside of St. Pete, in keeping the team in the county.

We'll have more to come on this breaking news story.

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Group protests Hillsborough sheriff's refusal to budge on marijuana civil citations

About 40 people circled the bricks Thursday night in front of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Operations Center in Ybor City. They held signs bearing messages like “Stop criminalizing our children” and wore T-shirts with words reflective of the message: “Say yes to second chances.”

They chanted: “Justice for our children!”

The marchers were members of the Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality - HOPE - a coalition of local religious groups. They were there to protest Sheriff David Gee’s refusal to support civil citations for juveniles caught with small amounts of marijuana.

“We have been trying for over a year to explain our position,” said Rev. Bernice Powell Jackson, a leader of HOPE. “He’s refused to meet with us.”

The issue became a point of contention earlier this month during a meeting the group held to demand that local leaders support the cause. At the meeting, Hillsborough sheriff’s Maj. Willie Parker read a letter from Gee, in which he cited negative biological and social effects caused by marijuana use.  …

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St. Pete selects NYC design firm HKS to plan Trop reboot

The water won it.

After a day of presentations by seven finalists, bidding for the right to redevelop the 85 prized acres of Tropicana Field, a seven-person city selection committee picked HKS Architects, Inc, a Dallas-based firm with its urban design operations in New York City to negotiate for a contract to craft a master plan.

Alan DeLisle, the city's development administrator, said he had never thought about the Trop being connected to the city's fabled waterfront.

"I thought that was visionary," DeLisle said.

HKS project manager Julie Hiromoto said the company was "super-excited" to win a competition that originally involved 15 firms, many of them global heavyweights. 

She said focusing on linking the Trop with the water was a no-brainer.

"This area is all about water, " she said.

Next, the city will negotiate a contract with HKS, including how much it will cost. A similar plan for the downtown waterfront cost just under $500,000.  …

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March: Hillary Clinton to make Tampa her Florida headquarters

During the run-up to the Florida primary, the Hillary Clinton campaign had several Florida field offices, including spaces in Ybor City, Jacksonville, Orlando and West Palm Beach.

But while Clinton's Florida finance operation will continue to be headquartered in South Florida, her state headquarters is expected to be in Tampa, local party insiders are saying. They said it's not a done deal, but locations are being scouted.

She would be following the lead of Barack Obama, who kept his state headquarters in Ybor from 2004 through the 2012 campaign.

Local backer and spokeswoman Ana Cruz said only that the campaign "is looking at multiple office locations around the state including Tampa." 

Tampa's advantages: central location, good airport, anchor of the famed Interstate-4 corridor and the largest media market in the state. 

Tom Lee's dilemma

State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, faces a difficult decision about his political future, and must make it soon: run for re-election to the Senate, run for a statewide office or drop back to a Hillsborough County commissioner race?  …

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Want to plant a tree? Do it in a city

St. Petersburg is contemplating planting hundreds of trees, perhaps paid for by some of the millons from the city's settlement with BP over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. 

Turns out the U.S. Forest Service thinks that's a pretty good ideaThe Atlantic's City Lab summarized a recent study by the federal agency showing the biggest bang for the buck for tree planting occurs in cities. U.S urban areas are also losing their tree canopy at a rate of about 4 million trees a year.

So where is Tampa Bay's Lorax? Well, former St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer is leading the charge on one side of the bay---with the support of Mayor Rick Kriseman. Tampa, got a shout out for its successful urban forestry program from The Atlantic, a model that St. Pete hopes to emulate. 

The St. Petersburg City Council is scheduled to hear the $500,000 pitch to plant up to 550 trees and perform a tree inventory in May. 

Turns out, the Forest Service has an app for that: a free software program called i-Tree. 

Can't beat free, especially when spending a multi-million dollar windfall. 

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