St. Petersburg Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley
St. Petersburg Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley generated headlines this week when it came to light that he had recruited a Department of Environmental Protection employee for a high-paying city job.
At the time, that DEP employee, Michele Duggan, was part of a state investigative team looking into more than 160 million gallons of sewage dumped or spilled under Tankersley's watch.
Tankersley, who started his job in February, won't face any major disciplinary action for reaching out to Duggan, according to Mayor Rick Kriseman's office, which responded late Friday to questions asked earlier this week by the Tampa Bay Times.
"The mayor and (City Administrator) Gary (Cornwell) met with Claude yesterday and communicated their concern and expectations moving forward," wrote Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby in an email.
Would that be considered a verbal reprimand, a Times reporter asked?
"You can consider it that," Kirby responded.
DEP officials declined to comment when asked if Duggan faced any disciplinary action for applying for a job and meeting privately with Tankersley in his City Hall office while helping investigate the city's massive sewage discharges.
ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman on Thursday vetoed a plan to hire a state employee involved in the state investigation of the city's massive sewage problems to join the city's sewer department.
The hiring of Florida Department of Environmental Protection official Michele Duggan was set in motion by St. Petersburg Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley. City emails obtained by the Tampa Bay Times revealed that it was Tankersley who reached out to Duggan and brought her to City Hall for an Oct. 14 meeting.
The job of environmental compliance manager was posted Nov. 4, she applied three days later and was interviewed on Nov. 30 by a three-person board that did not include Tankersley.
However, during that time frame, Duggan was the point of contact for the DEP investigation looking into the 200 million gallons of sewage relased by St. Petersburg's overwhelmed sewer system since 2015. City officials denied that Tankersly was recriuting Duggan, saying their Oct. 14 meeting was a casual conversation.
Kriseman met with Tankersley on Thursday morning and decided that Duggan will not become a city employee, said mayor's spokesman Ben Kirby. …Full Story
TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioners took a step Wednesday to ban texting with lobbyists during meetings, a move that would echo similar reforms coming to Tallahassee.
In a 5-1 vote, commissioners asked county staff to draft an ordinance that would prohibit electronic communications with registered lobbyists during county board meetings or other committee meetings where there’s a quorum. If a lobbyist or commissioner violated the policy, the communication would have to be disclosed immediately.
But even as they moved ahead, several commissioners criticized the proposed ban as toothless and unnecessary. And it’s unclear if it will pass when it comes back to the county for final action.
For one, there are no plans to punish commissioners who violate the ordinance.
“It’s symbolism over substance. This is attempting to solve a problem that does not exist here,” Hagan said. “I don’t see the value in a policy that not only doesn’t have any teeth but also allows a lobbyist to text us at 8:59 a.m. … but between 9 a.m. and 12 they can’t?”
Commissioner Sandy Murman, who proposed the ban, said it would ensure the public that commissioner won’t be influenced during meetings. …Full Story
Courtesy Alan Clendenin
Alan Clendenin lost his bid for Hillsborough County delegate to the state Democratic executive committee by a vote of 42-30.
The hopes of Tampa’s Alan Clendenin to run for state Democratic Party chairman apparently ended in a raucous Hillsborough Democratic Party meeting Monday, in which Clendenin was voted out of the local party office that qualifies him to run for state chair.
In the meeting, several local Democratic elected officials – members of the Tampa City Council, the county school board and Mayor Bob Buckhorn – weren’t allowed to cast votes, after a controversial ruling by party Chairwoman Ione Townsend.
Townsend ruled that only holders of partisan offices, such as county commission or state legislative seats, were “automatic members” of the party executive committee and entitled to vote in executive committee elections. Non-partisan officeholders are not, she ruled.
Clendenin’s backers say the non-partisan officials have voted in past elections, and would have voted for Clendenin, and that the move to eliminate them was engineered by his opponents.
His opponents say he wouldn’t have won anyway, and dispute that they engineered anything. …Full Story
A federal judge in Tampa tossed a lawsuit filed last week by three environmental groups against St. Petersburg for its massive sewage discharges, saying the legal claims advanced by their complaint "a shotgun pleading."
U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore gave the groups 14 days to file an amended complaint or the case will be dismissed.
The three groups, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Inc,, Our Children's Earth Foundation and the Ecological Rights Foundation, filed their suit in the Middle District of Florida, contending that the city had violated the federal Clean Water Act for its intentional dumping as well as spills from an overburdened, aging sewer system.
Two months of negotiating with the city had been fruitful, both sides said, but the environmentalists decided that a consent order governed by the federal courts would be the best way to compel the city to solve its sewage mess, which has resulted in about 200 million gallons being discharged since August 2015.
Justin Bloom, an attorney and executive director of Suncoast Waterkeeper, said the lawsuit was written to be efficient, but the groups respect the judges' order and plan to refile an amended complaint Wednesday.
Courtesy of Andrew Warren
Andrew Warren, incoming Hillsborough State Attorney, has named two top office administrators
Gary Weisman, a Tampa civil litigation lawyer, will be chief of staff for newly elected Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, and Rena Frazier, a Brandon real estate lawyer and unsuccessful candidate for the District 59 state House seat, will be his chief of policy and communications, Warren will announce today.
Warren, a Democrat and former federal prosecutor in Tampa and Washington, D.C., unexpectedly upset Republican State Attorney Mark Ober in the Nov. 8 election.
Weisman, 42, is a solo practitioner whose firm focuses on complex insurance-related litigation, according to a news release from Warren. He is a board member, general counsel and former board chairman of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay who has practiced law in Tampa for 15 years.
Frazier, viewed by many local Democrats as a potential rising star, lost to Republican state Rep. Ross Spano, R-Riverview, in the Nov. 8 election.
She’s a Hillsborough County native who has practiced commercial and real estate litigation law in Tampa for 12 years.
Warren has said he does not expect to enact large-scale turnover in the State Attorney’s Office, which has been run by Ober for 16 years. Full Story
Three environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit seeking to hold St. Petersburg accountable for the 200 million gallons of sewage that the city has been discharged August 2015.
The three groups — Suncoast Waterkeeper, Inc., the Our Children’s Earth Foundation and the Ecological Rights Foundation — filed suit Friday in Tampa’s Middle District of Florida alleging “serious and ongoing” violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
The aim of the lawsuit is to get the city to comply with the law. The groups have been negotiating with the city over the past two months, said Justin Bloom, executive director of SunCoast Waterkeeper. “But we feel the most appropriate venue is federal court where a broad-ranging consent order that is enforceable is obtainable,” Bloom said.
Former Environmental Protection Agency official Christopher Sproul, an attorney involved in the suit, said in a statement that the sewage discharges present an unusual threat: “I have rarely if ever seen a situation worse than the one in St. Petersburg.” …Full Story
Pinellas County officials want to hear from residents about making changes to an ordinance that regulates pet dealers and kennels.
Staffers from the county's animal services will hold a workshop Wednesday in the Magnolia Room of the Florida Botanical Gardens on Ulmerton Road in Largo. The workshop is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
The changes will help improve animal welfare and provide more consumer protection for pet purchases, the agency said.
Doug Brightwell, director of animal services, said officials want to hear from "hobby breeders" and any other residents who have concerns about tightening rules.
He classified hobby breeders as individuals who breed no more than two litters or 20 animals a year and belong to a local, state or national association.
In October, the agency presented information to county commissioners to update an old ordinance, but hobby breeders raised concerns, Brightwell said.
He expects to present a new ordinance to commissioners sometime in January. A new ordinance could also focus on animal sales at flea markets and roadside stands, he added.
"We need to update it and bring it into the modern day," Brightwell said about the older ordinance.
Local legislators will spend the next month studying the short-term rental problem in Pinellas County's beach communities and present possible solutions to the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation in January.
Sen. Jack Latvala appointed newly elected Rep. Ben Diamond, an attorney, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, who's fielded complaints from residents, to the task at Friday's delegation meeting.
A handful of Redington Beach residents over the last several months have urged the elected officials to take action as more vacation homes sprout along the affluent, residential strip on the Gulf.
“Our life is holy hell, it has been now for the past year,” said Steve Fields, who lives next door to an eight-bedroom mansion used as a short-term rental. “(They) have parties all night long, karaoke into the night. We were waking up at 2:45 on Thanksgiving morning... I don't know what else to do.”
A 2011 state law, amended in 2014, took away cities' ability to regulate the duration and frequency of short-term rentals. Cities with bans already in place were grandfathered in, but changing even a word in existing ordinances will void the laws entirely. …Full Story
SCOTT KEELER | TIMES
Members of the Flawless Diamonds of Tampa, warm up in the parking lot of Tropicana Field prior to St. Petersburg's 30th annual MLK Drum Major for Justice Parade in 2015. There will be a new organizer for the 2017 parade honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a new parade route.
ST. PETERSBURG — The founder of the largest Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade in the Southeast will not be running the event next year.
The city has rejected the application of Sevell Brown III, who has overseen the parade for more than 30 years.
But the event will go on, with a new group preparing a new parade route.
Brown has had control of the parade since its founding in 1985. A court settlement four years later cemented that role by ruling that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to which Brown was affiliated, had the sole right to organize the parade.
But questions about Brown’s financial interests in the parade have come under scrutiny. And last month a Pinellas County judge ruled that Brown, who broke off his affiliation with the SCLC, and two of his affiliated non-profits no longer had the exclusive right to put on the parade.
Soon after, the city awarded the right to organize the Jan. 16, 2017 parade to the Southern Christian Conference of Pinellas, Advantage Village Academy and community activist Toriano Parker.
Brown’s application was the only other one submitted.
City administrator Gary Cornwell said that the city could only accommodate one MLK Day parade. …Full Story
LARA CERRI | Times
In September, signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warned people to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system. Now the city is facing up to $820,000 in fines from the city for releasing 200 million gallons of waste over 13 months. St. Petersburg must also tell the Florida Department of Environmental Protection its plan for solving the sewage crisis.
ST. PETERSBURG — The bill for the city’s 13-month sewage crisis is coming due — and it looks steep.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection plans to fine the city $820,000 in civil penalties according to a 12-page proposed consent order drafted by the state, which also outlines the steps St. Petersburg needs to take to fix its aging, leaky and overburdened sewer system.
The order, delivered to the city late Thursday, can be read as a verdict woeful system that has released 200 million gallons of sewage since August 2015.
Much political damage has already been done. Three top administrators have been removed and Mayor Rick Kriseman came under heavy criticism.
But on Friday, city officials said they were already working toward complying with the order or planning to do so. And they said the state’s mandate that the work be done by mid-2018 gives St. Petersburg plenty of time to make that deadline.
“I’m pushing for us to do it much faster,” said Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley. “Everything they have proposed to us, we plan on doing anyway. We would do with or without a consent order.” …Full Story
JIM DAMASKE | Times
The Armed Forces History Museum announced Wednesday morning that it will be closing January 29 2017. The museum has been running in the red since it opened in 2008 but was financially supported by it's founder John J. Piazza, Sr. who passed away recently. Unless an entity steps up to take over the finances of the out of the way attraction it will be closed for good.
LARGO — The day after Armed Forces History Museum leaders announced the museum would close in January, a resident reached out to city commissioners about its future.
"This is one of the best museums I have ever been to and is a jewel of the city," wrote Ashley Crawford in an email. "As commissioners and the mayor you should be doing what you possibly can do to save this Museum."
In response, Commissioner Samantha Fenger floated an idea in an email to commissioners and city leaders Wednesday morning to create a committee made up of citizens, veterans organizations and other stakeholders to discuss the future of the museum.
"As Ms. Crawford mentioned, the museum certainly is a destination within our City, has the support of many, and may just need the right people at the table to continue its legacy," she said.
As of this writing, no one had responded. Mayor Woody Brown told the Tampa Bay Times after the closing announcement Tuesday that he plans to meet with a board member in the next week or so to discuss options.
"Most people that are involved with the museum would love to see it continue, but I'm not sure what organization would be able to take it up," he said. …Full Story
Plans to relocate a visiting tall ship near the Pier weren’t permanently scuttled Thursday by the St. Petersburg City Council, but the Nantucket-based Lynx will have to wait at least a week to see if it can dock on the downtown waterfront.
Council members balked at the last-minute request to spend $65,000 to buy a gangplank and make other improvements to the North Yacht Basin to accommodate the War of 1812 replica, which is used to educate school children about American seafaring history and for corporate team-building exercises.
Instead, the city’s request to use BP settlement money for the relocation will be taken up next week at the committee level.
Council member JIm Kennedy objected to being asked to spend BP money without it being vetted at the Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee.
“It feel very rushed and that makes me uncomfortable,” Kennedy said. He is the chairman of the committee.
Chamber board president Greg Holden and consultant Mario Farias said several private companies had pledged roughly an equal amount of money to provide power to the 122-foot-long ship and provide a floating dock. …Full Story
City of Tampa
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn typically does not take sides in City Council races, but he said Thursday morning he is backing Luis Viera in the runoff of a special City Council election in District 7.
“I had not planned on it, but as the campaign went on and I was hearing more and more outrageous and patently false statements coming out of Mr. (Jim) Davison, I decided to step in,” Buckhorn said.
He said there were three reasons for his decision.
“One, the city is firing on all cylinders, and the last thing we need is someone whose intent is to just cause more drama and divide the community,” Buckhorn said. The idea of New Tampa seceding from the rest of the city — something Davison said Wednesday night that he said he would want to leave on the table — is “just patently ridiculous,” Buckhorn said. …Full Story
DADE CITY - The Pasco County Commission on Tuesday fired its contract lobbyist, effective next year.
During a discussion of extending lobbyist Shawn Foster’s $60,000-a-year contract, commissioners authorized a one-year extension, but said the agreement, signed a year ago, would not be renewed when it expires Nov. 30. 2017.
The final vote was 4-1 with Commissioner Jack Mariano dissenting. Mariano said he wanted to terminate the contract immediately in light of recent commentary by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.
Earlier this month, Corcoran said it was “a disgrace’’ for cities, counties, school boards and other local governments to hire Tallahassee lobbyists.
“I think it’s disgrace that taxpayer dollars are used to hire lobbyists when we elected people to represent them. The state doesn’t do it and neither should the locals,’’ Corcoran told the Times/Herald.
The commission hired Foster of Trinity-based Sunrise Consulting Group in 2015 and had used him previously when Foster worked as part of Southern Strategy Group. Foster’s other clients include the Hernando County Commission and the city of Brooksville …Full Story