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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 leaders heap praise on County Attorney Jewel White

    News

    CLEARWATER — The first public job review of County Attorney Jewel White became a laudatory meeting that brought the chief lawyer a 3 percent pay raise.

    The Pinellas County Attorney Oversight Committee, composed of the seven county commissioners and five constitutional officers, conducted its first review of White after appointing her to replace her former boss, Jim Bennett, who retired in May after three decades....

  2. A public job review in front of 12 bosses? Yes, in Pinellas County.

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– When most supervisors review an employee's performance, it's not usually in front of 12 bosses at a public meeting.

    But that will occur Tuesday –– a first for Pinellas County government and its top attorney.

    The county's 12 elected leaders will hold their first performance review of newly-appointed county attorney Jewel White at 9:30 a.m. inside the courthouse....

    Pinellas County Attorney Jewel White. [Photo courtesy of Jewel White]
  3. Assistant Pinellas administrator John Bennett departs for private sector

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– Assistant Pinellas County administrator John Bennett left his position Thursday to return to his passion: law enforcement.

    Bennett, who oversaw emergency management, accepted a position NC4, a California-based firm that provides such services as cyber threat intelligence, emergency management and risk management for law enforcement agencies and Fortune 500 companies....

    Assistant Pinellas County administrator John Bennett is stepping down from his post to take a private-sector job that taps into his experience in law enforcement. Bennett, a former assistant police chief in Tampa, will go to work for a California-based firm that assists law enforcement and Fortune 500 companies with cyber threat intelligence, emergency management and risk management.. [Times (2015)]
  4. Pinellas County off the hook for $16.5 million judgment in zoning case

    Civil

    Pinellas County residents do not have to pay $16.5 million to a developer over a Safety Harbor apartment complex that commissioners rejected.

    A ruling Wednesday from Florida's 2nd District Court of Appeal said the county does not owe the money to the Richman Group of Florida for damages and interest after county commissioners unanimously denied zoning changes to stop the project in 2013. ...

    Richmond Group planned a 246-unit luxury apartment complex near McMullen-Booth Road and State Road 590 in Safety Harbor.
  5. With Penny for Pinellas approval, wishlists get more real

    Local Government

    With an estimated $2 billion coming in the next decade or so, county and city officials can now start planning to build bridges, fire stations and sewer upgrades.

    But it's still too early to start cutting checks.

    Officials will have to wait until 2020 to start spending the money collected from the next iteration of the Penny for Pinellas sales tax. On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly approved –– 83 percent –– to extend the 1 percent sales tax between 2020 and 2030....

    The Penny for Pinellas 1-cent sales tax helped East Lake Fire Rescue buy three fire engines from Pierce Manufacturing at a cost of $1.6 million. The county's voters renewed the tax to run between 2020 and 2030. [Courtesy of East Lake Fire Rescue]
  6. Penny for Pinellas: Voters overwhelmingly pass the tax for another decade

    Elections

    After county and city officials spent months touting the Penny for Pinellas sales tax, voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved the program for another decade.

    With all precincts reporting, about 83 percent of voters supported approving the 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax. More than 168,000 voters weighed in on the tax, with almost 139,000 voting for it.

    "It's a great day for Pinellas County," commission chair Janet Long said about the landslide tax victory. "Clearly, the residents see the value in the Penny and the infrastructure it pays for."...

    The Pinellas County Public Safety Complex opened in 2014. It is a Category 5-rated facility that houses the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the Emergency Operations Center, the 911 dispatch center and Emergency Medical Services. It was paid for by the previous 10-year round of the Penny for Pinellas 1-cent sales tax, which was up for renewal on Tuesday. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  7. Pinellas lawmakers approve sweeping changes for licensing board

    Local Government

    TARPON SPRINGS — The embattled Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board may soon get a makeover and new oversight.

    After months of debate, Pinellas lawmakers voted unanimously on Wednesday to support legislation in early 2018 that would give the County Commission control of the agency that is charged with protecting residents from shady building contractors but has itself come under scrutiny....

    Brandes
  8. Pinellas lawmakers to discuss fate of construction board

    Local Government

    It's reckoning day for the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

    Pinellas lawmakers will discuss the troubled agency's future when they meet on Wednesday in Tarpon Springs to discuss their priorities for the 2018 legislative session.

    The 10 Pinellas County legislative delegation members agree that the licensing board needs improved accountability and transparency to better protect the public from unscrupulous contractors. The question is whether lawmakers will seek to keep it independent or fold it into Pinellas government like in Florida's other 66 counties....

    State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he supports a proposal to move the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board under the control of county government. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  9. Pinellas sheriff's team follows signs on hunt for unlicensed contractors

    Local Government

    Pinellas County sheriff's deputy Tony DeAngelo spied the two roofers pulling metal panels from a trailer and slowly rolled by. He parked around the corner from the Redington Beach home and keyed in their license plate.

    It took the 34-year deputy about a minute to find that the roofing company was licensed in Pinellas. So he drove off to continue his search.

    This was no ordinary patrol....

    Pinellas County Sheriff's Deputy Tony DeAngelo, checks contractor names and licenses plates in the Harbourside Condominium complex in South Pasadena last Tuesday. Deputies are searching for unlicensed contractors as part of a new pilot project. In this case, the contractor had a proper license. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  10. Turmoil surrounds Pinellas construction board manager Anne Maddox

    Local Government

    LARGO — The executive director resigned amid controversy. Two investigators were forced out after they were accused of wasting hundreds of hours of county time. And an inspector general report excoriated the agency's management for among other things being "unconcerned with ethics, which can have a trickle-down effect on employees."

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders...

    Anne Maddox, the administrative manager of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, would not tell the Tampa Bay Times how much potential work the agency sent to vice chair Tom Tafelski.  [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  11. Pinellas deputies go door-to-door at dawn to arrest unlicensed contractors

    Crime

    For years, licensed contractors in Pinellas County have yearned for law enforcement to target unlicensed roofers, painters and others in the construction trades who perform shoddy work and swindle money from homeowners.

    Deputies fulfilled that wish on Tuesday.

    At 5 a.m., they began pounding on doors in a roundup of contractors accused of working without licences and workers' compensation insurance....

    Pinellas Sheriff deputies J. Short, left, and T. Festa, right, arrest suspect Christopher Parsells, Pinellas Park, center, early Tuesday as part of a joint roundup of unlicensed contractors. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  12. Pinellas construction board member denies influencing rule change

    Local Government

    LARGO –– A member of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board has denied allegations that he abused his position to push through a rule change that could have benefitted his own business.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders...

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, located at 12600 Belcher Road in Largo, has come under scrutiny from the county's inspector general and a grand jury. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  13. County land deal loses $1.7 million in Penny for Pinellas dollars

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission is trying to convince voters to renew the 1-cent Penny for Pinellas sales tax for another decade.

    So this news comes at an inconvenient time: The commission recently decided to sell off a piece of land at a loss of $1.7 million — money that was raised by the penny sales tax.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Officials will use Irma to convince voters to renew Penny for Pinellas tax...

    County owned vacant land between 23rd Avenue and 24th Avenue on Gulf Blvd. in Indian Rocks Beach. In 2006 the Pinellas County Commission voted to spend $2.8 million in Penny for Pinellas dollars for a beach parking lot that never came to be. The commission recently voted to sell the parcel for $1.1 million, at a loss of $1.7 million, while it is also pushing for renewal of the penny sales tax. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  14. Last-second issue could hamper reforming Pinellas licensing board

    Local Government

    Pinellas commissioners and legislators have spent 10 months debating how to fix the dysfunctional Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board. But as the deadline to submit legislation to reform the independent agency approached Friday, County Attorney Jewel White dropped this bombshell:

    Pinellas County may not have the legal authority to take over all the duties of the licensing board.

    If that's the case, then the county could not take over the agency. The licensing board would remain independent, although with new accountability measures recommended by a grand jury....

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is located at 12600 Belcher Road, Largo, in a small strip mall. The agency has come under much scrutiny and criticism this year, and now there are questions about whether the county can legally take over its duties. [SCOTT KEELER   |  Times]
  15. Pinellas County Commission approves next budget: $2.2 billion

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– It's easy to pass a $2.2 billion budget when rising property values bring in extra cash.

    The Pinellas County Commission unanimously approved the 2017-18 budget this week with little discussion. The millage rate stayed the same, so commissioners said they were also to continue providing residents with "high-quality services" without increasing taxes.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas County budget on the rise thanks to high property values (July 19, 2017)...

    The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday approved a $2.2 billion budget for next fiscal year. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]