Make us your home page

Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Largo city manager search narrowed to 2 finalists

LARGO — City commissioners chose two finalists for city manager Friday afternoon following a round of phone interviews.

The commission decided on Henry Schubert, one of Largo's assistant city managers, and Russ Blackburn, who served as Gainesville's city manager for a decade until November. Mayor Woody Brown said the candidates were great across the board, but Schubert and Blackburn came out on top because of their experience and emphasis on building city pride.

"Both interviewed well and discussed reaching out to the community more. Both had a great track record," Brown said. "With either one of them, we'll be in a good spot."

Commissioners chose from eight semi-finalists after the applicant pool was cut down from more than 150. They included Mike Staffopoulos, Largo's other assistant city manager; Rob DiSpirito, the ex-Dunedin city manager who resigned in January following mixed reviews of his performance; and four out-of-state candidates.

The commission will make its decision after a round of in-person interviews on Feb. 24. 

Full Story

Aquarium brings in the bucks

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium today announced the dollar impact of all those people who've flocked to see Winter the dolphin and his prosthetic tail.

Between 2012 and 2015, the aquarium has had a $2 billion impact on jobs and hotel room nights, according to a study performed by Toursism Economics.That's billion with a 'B.'

The study found the aquarium supported 44,444 jobs and helped book 2.2 million hotel room nights over the four year period.

“All of this adds up to global promotion of our mission of marine life rescue, education and inspiration,” CEO David Yates stated in a press release.

Check back later with for a more complete news story.  

Full Story

Kriseman says canceled "Arts in Transit" project wasn't orphaned

When a much-touted project bites the dust, the natural question to ask is why?

City officials said they canceled negotiations with the artistic team of Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse because the team didn't have the technical expertise to pull off the $2.3 million project that would transform bus shelters along Central Avenue from ho-hum places to escape the rain to works of art.

Mickett and Stackhouse vociferously disagreed, pointing to large-scale installations in Richmond, Va. and Chattanooga, Tenn.

Cultural officials, including the Dali Museum Director Hank Hines, spoke highly of their qualifications and said they were surprised at the turn of events.

After the Tampa Bay Times published its story, Mayor Rick Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby asked to weigh in. Here is his response:

“No one is questioning the reputations of Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse. They are phenomenal artists. The engineering component of this project simply requires a new and different approach. Mayor Kriseman remains excited about this project’s ability to elevate our city even more.” …

Full Story

Tampa to offer free tire disposal in response to Zika virus concerns

Old tires can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. So, you know, get rid of them.

CLAIRE MCNEILL | Times (2014)

Old tires can serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. So, you know, get rid of them.

With concern on the rise over the mosquito-borne Zika virus, the city of Tampa is offering residents chances to get rid of old tires where mosquitoes can breed in stagnant water, officials said Thursday.

From Saturday through Feb. 20, residents will be able to drop off up to eight tires, without rims, at the city's McKay Bay garbage plant at 114 S 34th St., for free as long as they show a city utility bill and matching ID. Businesses will still have to pay normal disposal fees.

Residents also can put out up to four tires (again, no rims) at the curb on their regular garbage pickup day. Residents of New Tampa should call Hillsborough County at (813) 272-5680 about its tire collection plans.

Questions? Call (813) 274-8811 or check 

Full Story

Montanari needs heart surgery, will miss a few months of City Council

Ed Montanari announced Thursday that he is scheduled for heart surgery later this month, which will remove him from City Council duties for until the spring.

The newly-minted council member was elected without an opponent to replace term-limited Bill Dudley in January.

An airline pilot, Montanari recently learned he needed surgery to repair a heart valve. The Feb. 23 surgery will be performed at the Cleveland Clinic.

"During my recovery, I will monitor all City Council meetings in order to stay informed of those matters that are important to St. Petersburg. I will be back in the office in a few months and look forward to joining you as soon as possible to help make St. Petersburg a better city for our current and future residents," Montanari wrote in a statement.



Full Story

Divestment v. Dividends: St. Petersburg Council debates trade offs

Ideology mixed it up with bread-and-butter politics at St. Petersburg's City Hall on Thursday.

At issue was the city's investment strategy, particularly in the parts of the  Weeki-Wachee and Water Cost Stablization funds that have been invested in the stock market.

That money has been put in stocks in to gain dividend revenue and help offset the cost to the consumer of the city's ever-increasing water rates and pay for parks and recreation projects.

But how does that investment strategy square with calls for the city to divest its portfolio of fossil fuel investments, asked Council member Charlie Gerdes.

The answer? It's hard to say. About $20 million in index funds might contain some oil or coal-related stocks, city financial officials have said. 

And many oil stocks, for example, pay handsome dividends.

In December, Mayor Rick Kriseman joined activist calls for the city to divest its portfolio of fossil fuel-related stocks. And council member Karl Nurse wants to start discussing how to eliminate fossil fuels from the city's portfolio at an April workshop. …

Full Story

Schrader, Nocco show fundraising prowess

The companies seeking to turn 7,800 acres of central and eastern Pasco into the nation’s first smart gigabit community built from the ground up are throwing their financial support behind Commissioner Ted Schrader in the race for Pasco property appraiser.

Metro Development Group and four affiliated companies bundled a total of $5,000 to Schrader’s campaign on Jan. 11, according to the most recent campaign finance reports. Metro previously bundled $2,500 to Commissioner Jack Mariano’s re-election effort in November 2015.

County commissioners still must approve the connected city corridor, including its transportation network, infrastructure financing and oversight panel. The special planning area, bordered by State Road 52, Interstate 75 and Curley and Overpass roads is a 10-year state pilot project that eases government review in exchange for promoting innovation via job creation, alternative transportation, limiting sprawl or protecting the environment. 

So far, reaction from neighbors living in the vicinity has been largely negative as measured by their public comments at a series of community meetings. …

Full Story

Challenger cries foul over free press for incumbent

New Port Richey Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips thinks incumbent Commissioner Jack Mariano is getting some free and advantageous campaign publicity – from Pasco County government.

Tuesday morning, the county announced its commission meetings can be viewed via the MyPasco app for smartphones and tablets. The press release included a photo taken from a broadcast of a more than year-old commission meeting depicting Mariano as chairman.

“Needless to say, it appears that Jack has received an endorsement from the Pasco County government, which is disappointing since he is up for re-election,’’ Phillips wrote in an e-mail to County Administrator Michele Baker. “I guess I should not be surprised since some of the commissioners feel as though they can push the envelope or blur the lines between their office and campaigning.

“Of course, the damage has already been done with this additional publicity, which I hope he shows as an ‘in-kind’ contribution on his campaign report from Pasco County government.’’ …

Full Story

Wells Sr. backs Schrader for property appraiser

County Commissioner Ted Schrader picked up a key endorsement Tuesday in his bid to become Pasco's next property appraiser -- the backing of retiring Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr.

In a statement released by Schrader, Wells called the commissioner "uniquely qualified" to succeed him. Schrader, a four-term county commissioner faces Randy Evans of Trinity in the Aug. 30 Republican primary.

In announcing his candidacy last week, Evans cited the previous words of Wells that "it was time for new blood'' in the Property Appraiser's Office. Wells, who is retiring after 20 years as appraiser, replied by backing Schrader publicly.

"Ted was born and raised in Pasco County," Wells said. "He knows the people; he knows the process, and he knows the players in Pasco County government. I feel confident leaving the Property Appraiser's Office in his hands. He will serve the people of Pasco County well." …

Full Story

As Kriseman pushes for bike share, Seattle offers up a cautionary tale

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has struggled to get City Council members to support his bike-share program. 

They resisted the idea of using BP settlement money for the program last year. After raising a series of questions about the viability of the program last week, Council members decided to bring it up again next month.

While success stories for bike share abound, providing council members evidence to move forward, Seattle's road to bike share can be used by skeptics to apply the brakes.

According to The Seattle Times, that city's bike-share program needs $1.4 million after its program, Pronto, became insolvent. Apparently, the program didn't raise enough money before launching, has "substantial overhead costs" and racked up debt. If the program discontinues, Seattle would be on the hook for $1 million in federal grants. …

Full Story

Clearwater Chamber endorses Jay Polglaze

The political arm of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce has endorsed incumbent Jay Polglaze for Seat 3 in the March 15 City Council election.

Polglaze, a postal worker running for his second term, is being challenged by St. Petersburg College professor Robert Cundiff, who is seeking elected office for the first time.

Mayor George Cretekos and Seat 2 council member Doreen Hock-DiPolito are running unopposed.

“I'm really excited and proud that they have recognized my position and passion and have acknowledged some of the successes that this city council has been able to accomplish and that they have confidence and full faith in me to pursue those opportunities as far as economic development, growth and diversifying the tax base,” Polglaze said of the endorsement.  

CLEARPAC, which also represents the Chamber's board of directors, based the endorsement on its mission to further the success of local business.

“Polglaze has the drive and vision to facilitate initiatives that encourage the growth and continued vitality of our local businesses,” CLEARPAC chair Judy Mitchell said in a statement.  …

Full Story

Pasco taps new emergency management boss

Flagler County’s emergency management chief has been tapped for the same role in Pasco County.

Tuesday, county commissioners are scheduled to confirm the appointment of Kevin J. Guthrie, 45, as Pasco’s new emergency management director effective Feb. 29. Guthrie replaces Annette Doying, who announced her resignation in November and left the post Dec. 31.

Guthrie, who will earn $90,000 annually, spent 23 years with the city of Jacksonville as a police officer and emergency preparedness coordinator and then moved to his post in Flagler County in 2013.

In a Feb. 2 article, described Guthrie as a “stickler for written policies and procedures, emphasizing inter-agency cooperation to a degree not seen in many years here. He was brought in in response to pressure from fire chiefs and the sheriff to give emergency management a structure it had lacked.’’



Full Story

Former council member Bill Dudley to vie for Pinellas School Board

Former St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Dudley filed Friday to run for the District 1 seat on the Pinellas County School Board, becoming the third candidate to challenge three-term incumbent Janet Clark.

Dudley, who left the council after hitting the two-term limit, said he decided on the move in the fall and has since received encouragement from many in the community.

“I have been a public servant all of my adult life,” he said. “That's where my calling is, and I'm not done yet.”

Dudley, 71, worked for the Pinellas County school system for 37 years, almost all of it at Northeast High School. He coached wrestling, football and cross country and taught driver's education as well as American history and government.

He retired in 2006 and said moving to the School Board was a “natural progression” for him. He said he still spends two or three days a week at Northeast High, but as a volunteer.

He said the issues he would work on as a School Board member would include student attendance, early childhood education, the budget and teaching conditions. …

Full Story

Commuter rail, TBX top 2016 regional transportation priorities

Transportation leaders from Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough discussed their 2016 priorities for the tri-county area Friday.

The following projects lead the list, which has not been finalized: Tampa Bay Express, a transportation hub at West Shore connecting downtown and the airport, commuter rail along CSX tracks, a regional farebox system, and improvements to the Duke Energy Trail.

Of the five, the possibility of bringing commuter rail to Tampa Bay dominated Friday’s discussion. Converting CSX freight tracks to a commuter rail system has been a hot topic since last fall, and it’s a solution many are hoping could help ease the area's traffic problems.

But Florida Department of Transportation planning manager Ming Gao reiterated to the group Friday that a premium transit study first needs to be completed to determine if this transit mode is the best solution for the area. It will likely be another two years before that study, spearheaded by the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, is completed.

It could take several months beyond that to conduct an appraisal to determine the cost of purchasing the 96 miles of track from the railroad giant. …

Full Story

Fourth candidate joins District 5 Pasco Commission race

The line of challengers to incumbent Pasco Commissioner Jack Marino is growing with Hudson business owner Thomas Celotto joining the Republican field.

Celotto, 48, filed his candidacy papers Thursday to seek the District 5 commission seat held by Mariano since 2004. Besides the incumbent, the candidates include New Port Richey Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips and business owner Chris Cooley.

Celotto founded Micro Solutions of Pasco Inc., an information technology company, more than 20 years ago. He also owns a seasonal retail fireworks store.

Celotto is president of Leadership Pasco and a graduate of the Pasco County government citizens academy. He said he began planning a run for office several years ago after seeing how hard the local economy was hit by the slowed construction industry.

“Our primary industry is construction; that needs to change, said Celotto. “We need more diversity. We need to be entertaining businesses in technology and solar energy to come here.’’ …

Full Story