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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Vito Sheeley headed to Kriseman campaign?

Vito Sheeley, left,  appears headed to Mayor Rick Kriseman's reelection team

File photo

Vito Sheeley, left, appears headed to Mayor Rick Kriseman's reelection team

Vito Sheeley has been newly-elected Congressman Charlie Crist's district director for two months after playing a key role in the former governor's succesful run for Congress. 

Sheeley remains in that post--for the time being.

But St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has asked Crist if Sheeley will come work on his reelection campaign.

Sheeley, 44, a St. Petersburg native, said he's looking forward to working for Kriseman.  Sheeley was outreach director during Crist's victory last fall over incumbent Republican David Jolly.

"I'm excited at the possibility," Sheeley said. But he hasn't talked to Kriseman or the mayor's campaign manager, Tom Alte, yet. 

Alte said the Kriseman campaign wasn't planning on hiring anyone for at least another month.

"Lucky to have his support personally and he's well respected," Alte texted Tuesday.

So far, the only person Sheeley has talked to about the possible move is Crist. …

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Al Higginbotham won't seek re-election to Hillsborough County Commission in 2018

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham says he won't seek another term in 2018.

Times files

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham says he won't seek another term in 2018.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, a key figure in county government and local Republican circles for more than two decades, announced Thursday he won’t run for re-election to his countywide seat next year and is getting out of elective politics.

Higginbotham, 62, said he made the decision because of worsening health issues connected with the 1995 hunting accident that left him partially paralyzed and a desire to spend more time with his family and in outdoor activities, a major part of his life that continued after the accident.

He denied that anger over some of his stances by conservatives in eastern Hillsorough County, the base of his support for years, is any part of the reason for his decision.

“I know it would be a hard election, but I know I could win,” Higginbotham said. “A typical work week for me has been 50 to 60 hours. I truly want to spend more time with my family and I miss the outdoors.” 

Higginbotham, who has leg braces and uses crutches and occasionally a wheelchair, has been seen more often using the wheelchair in the county center lately. …

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Hillsborough Commissioner Stacy White to attend Trump's inauguration in Washington

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White will attend next week's inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Times File Photo

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White will attend next week's inauguration in Washington, D.C.

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White will be among the tens of thousands of people traveling to Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of Donald Trump next week.

White, an east Hillsborough Republican, and his family decided to attend the Jan. 20 ceremony soon after Trump’s election night victory in November.

He said it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for himself, his wife and three children, two girls ages 17, 14 and a 12-year-old boy.

“We just want to see the swearing in, the peaceful transition of power, the presidents riding together to the inauguration, the parade,” White said. “I think all those things are critical for them to see.”

White, who is the commission chairman, will miss next Thursday’s meeting. He plans to drive to the nation’s capital and while there will also attend the inaugural ball hosted by Gov. Rick Scott on Jan. 18.

Though Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won Hillsborough County, an overwhelming majority of voters in White’s suburban and rural district pulled the lever for Trump on Election Day.

White is very optimistic about what a Trump presidency will mean for Hillsborough and the country. …

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Pinellas County considers moratorium on medical marijuana

CLEARWATER--Amid passionate pleas from residents, Pinellas County commissioners took the first step Tuesday to consider enacting a sixth-month moratorium on medical marijuana facilities in the county.

With a tentative ordinance being considered, 12 residents offered reasons why commissioners should pass and reject the proposal. It's rare for 12 residents to speak on any issue before the board.   

Supporters worried the moratorium could delay getting medical marijuana into the hands of sick patients. Critics countered that children would be at risk if marijuana was added to gummy bears, chocolate bars and other food items.

"Our family should not have to wait one more day because of politics," said Clearwater mother Dani Hall, whose two autistic sons would use the drug. "We will never stop fighting for our kids."

But a local leader of Drug Free America disagreed.

"Our concern is with public health and safety," said Amy Ronshausen, deputy director of the organization.

Commissioners will vote Jan. 24 after residents offer input at a second hearing.

Several residents urged commissioners to not forget that 75 percent of Pinellas voters approved the law in November. …

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New rules for medical marijuana dispensaries move forward in Hillsborough County

Hillsborough County commissioners set a schedule to vote on new rules for medical marijuana dispensaries, despite calls by some commissioners to extend a moratorium until after the legislative session.

File photo

Hillsborough County commissioners set a schedule to vote on new rules for medical marijuana dispensaries, despite calls by some commissioners to extend a moratorium until after the legislative session.

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners on Tuesday narrowly rejected a call to delay the opening of new medical marijuana dispensaries until October.

Instead, commissioners set a schedule that would put them on track to approve new regulations for such facilities by April, when the county's six-month moratorium on new medical marijuana establishments is set to expire.

Several commissioners insisted the county board should extend the moratorium until after the 2017 legislative session ends to see how state lawmakers address the expansion of medical marijuana that Florida voters approved in a November referendum. It’s possible whatever happens in Tallahasse could undo any rules Hillsborough passes regarding where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate.

But in a narrow 4-3 vote, commissioners decide to charge ahead with proposed guidelines for setting up a dispensary in Hillsborough.

“It would be reckless for the Legislature to step in and preempt a county from making local land use rules,” Commissioner Stacy White said.  …

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Tampa police warn of phony CFP ticket scams; lowest online ticket price drops below $1,800

Raymond James Stadium as seen from the Goodyear dirigible Wingfoot One on Sunday.

LUIS SANTANA | Times

Raymond James Stadium as seen from the Goodyear dirigible Wingfoot One on Sunday.

Don't mess with Alabama fans.

It's a lesson a ticket scalper from Orlando learned after Tampa police arrested him before Monday night's national championship between Alabama and Clemson at Raymond James Stadium.

Working through Craigslist, the scalper sold two fake tickets for $1,000 each to a couple of Alabama fans on Sunday night.

“They look like the real thing,” police spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. Suspecting they had been scammed, the buyers contacted the scalper and asked to buy more tickets. When they met him again, they called police and restrained him until officers arrived.

Police, who are expected to release more information about the incident later, were seeking a search warrant for more evidence. In a text message sent Monday afternoon, they warned fans, “beware of individuals on the street selling tickets to tonight’s game. TPD has seen a handful of cases of ticket scams.”

With one hour to kickoff, tickets from several online resellers generally were selling for $2,000 or more (often, a lot more), but the prices for the cheapest seats had fallen as game time approached. The minimum on StubHub was $1,795. …

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Givens in 6th District race

Corey Givens

Givens campaign

Corey Givens

The St. Petersburg City Council's 6th District, stretches from Midtown into Old Northeast. The downtown boom of recent years has shifted the demographics in the traditionally African-American district and made it an intriguing political prize for the 2017 election.

Coucil member Karl Nurse  has represented the district since 2007, is stepping down because of term limits at the end of the year. 

A potentially crowded field of contenders is rumored to be eyeing the race. On Monday, one stepped forward to file paperwork: Corey Givens.

At 24, if he's elected, his campaign asserts he'll be the youngest council member in city history. 

Givens, is no stranger to City Hall. He's a member of the South St. Petersburg Citizen Advisory Committee, the City Beautiful Commission and president of the Lakewood Terrace Neighborhood Association. 

Despite his youth, this isn't Givens' first race.

In 2012, he ran for Pinellas County School Board where his candidacy blew up after the Tampa Bay Times revealed he had embellished his educational attainment. …

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Estimated cost of ads for College Football championship: $1 million

Television advertising during Monday night's College Football Championship is expected to cost an estimated $1 million for 30 seconds.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times (2016)

Television advertising during Monday night's College Football Championship is expected to cost an estimated $1 million for 30 seconds.

Buying 30 seconds of advertising on ESPN's broadcast of Monday night's College Football Playoff championship likely will cost an estimated $1 million to $1.1 million. (By comparison, a similar ad cost $5 million during last year’s Super Bowl.)

The estimate comes from Navigate Research, a Chicago-based company that evaluates and measures spending on marketing, primarily in sports and entertainment.

A rate of $1 million for 30 seconds is what the same ad cost two years ago during the first year of the championship. Rates went up last year to an estimated $1.2 million to $1.3 million for a 30-second ad, but TV ratings for the game broadcast dropped.

This year, the cost of advertising has probably come back down to reflect the lower ratings or stayed flat at the very least, said Brandon Korody, Navigate's manager of data strategy.

"Considering the fact that ratings dipped so much last year, I don't think ESPN could guarantee the higher ratings from the first year that might justify an increase in price this year," Korody said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.  …

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Several Tampa Bay lawyers honored with pro bono awards

The Florida Bar announced Thursday who will be honored Jan. 19 during a Florida Supreme Court ceremony to recognize lawyers, several from Tampa Bay, dedicated to their volunteer work.

Kathlyn Mackovjak and Adriana Dinis, who founded the Immigration Law Group of Florida in St. Petersburg, will receive the 2017 Law Firm Commendation, which “honors significant contributions in the delivery of legal services to individuals or groups on a pro bono basis,” according to a Florida Bar release.

They hold free monthly clinics at the Hispanic Outreach Center in Clearwater and also made more than a dozen community presentations in 2016 on a wide range of issues, including refugees and human trafficking.

Jennifer Edwards of St. Petersburg is the recipient of the 2017 Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award for her work as a guardian ad litem and court-appointed advocate for children in Pinellas County. The award is given each year to a lawyer who is younger than 36 and has practiced law no more than five years. …

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St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman files for re-election

In a widely-expected turn, Mayor Rick Kriseman has filed for re-election. Elected in 2013, the mayor released a statement earlier today.

Read below: 

St. Petersburg – On Thursday, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman filed for re-election after three years in office. St. Petersburg's primary and general election dates are August 29, 2017 and November 7, 2017, respectively.

“I’m asking the citizens of St. Petersburg to continue the progress of the past three years,” Kriseman said. “Working together, we've taken on the serious issues and made a positive impact in all corners of our city."

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and newly elected Congressman Charlie Crist are endorsing Mayor Kriseman's re-election. Crist said: "Rick Kriseman is working hard every day for the people of the Sunshine City. He does what's right and isn't afraid to take on the serious issues. I'm excited to see four more years of Mayor Kriseman's leadership." …

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Latest sewage crisis twist : St. Pete sewer chief warns staff about using email

Last month, a Tampa Bay Times request for emails from interim Water Resources Director John Palenchar and Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley yielded a much different version of events than originally related by city officials regarding the courting of a Department of Environmental Protection employee involved in investigating the city's sewage mess.

First, the city said that Michele Duggan had merely been the best applicant who applied after a high-paying  job was posted.

Times public record request uncovered a much different scenario.  Tankersley had reached out to Duggan weeks before the job was posted and invited her to his City Hall office to discuss job opportunities.

The next day, Mayor Rick Kriseman vetoed the hiring of Duggan, who has since resigned her state job.

On Dec. 20, sewer officials met in a leadership meeting. 

One agenda item? How to keep future embarrassing information out of the public eye. Palenchar laid out the following directive for emails in the besieged Water Resources Department.

From the notes of that meeting obtained Thursday in a public records request.   …

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Yellow Dot program could help Hillsborough residents pass along life-saving information

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County may soon provide a new way for residents to relay important information to first responders during an emergency.

County commissioners voted Thursday to explore joining the “Yellow Dot” program, an initiative that allows drivers to alert first responders that their glove compartment holds a card with their emergency contacts or pertinent medical information by placing a yellow sticker on their rear windshield.

The sticker would signal to first responders to check for the information when they happen upon an emergency.

The state approved a measure in 2014 allowing counties to start local Yellow Dot programs. Broward County created one in 2015.

The initiative was brought to the county board by Commissioner Les Miller, who said “it can save lives in Hillsborough County.”

“The moments following those crashes are vitally important to saving someone’s life,” Miller said.

County staff will study the cost of printing 100,000 pamphlets and decal stickers that could be distributed at libraries and fire stations across Hillsborough. Commissioners are expected to vote on whether to join the program in March.

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With football championship making docks scarce in Tampa, Cross-Bay Ferry won't run Saturday

Because of a conflict created by demand for dock space near the Tampa Convention Center this weekend, the Cross-Bay Ferry will not be running on Saturday.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Because of a conflict created by demand for dock space near the Tampa Convention Center this weekend, the Cross-Bay Ferry will not be running on Saturday.

With college football crowds expected in downtown Tampa this weekend, city officials have recommended that visitors and residents make the most of alternate forms of transportation to get to events, including using the Cross-Bay Ferry from St. Petersburg.

But it turns out the bay area's big weekend means increased demand for dock space near the Tampa Convention Center, and as a result the ferry won’t be running Saturday.

“Due to increased boat traffic by the convention center this weekend, the dock the ferry typically uses is not available on Saturday,” Rich Mullins, a spokesman for the ferry, said in an email Thursday. “A backup dock was also not available due to other operations. The online ticket system has a note that alerts travelers to the change. All other runs are still on schedule: Friday, Sunday and Monday.”

The ferry loads and unloads passengers at a dock owned and operated by the Yacht StarShip dinner cruises charter. Yacht StarShip has provided the dock to the ferry at no charge subject to availability, owner Troy Manthey said, and the dock has two sides, so usually the ferry and Yacht StarShip can use it at the same time. …

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Uber, Lyft ordinance pushed to next month in St. Pete

The nearly two year process to legalize ridesharing companies in St. Petersburg will take at least another month.

The City Council unanimously voted Thursday to defer an ordinance to regulate companies like Uber and Lyft. Newly-installed council chairwoman Darden Rice said the proposal could be brought back as soon as February.

Mayor Rick Kriseman said he appreciated the council's action and expressed optimism about neogtiations with the ridesharing companies. 

The sticking point so far has been the city's business tax, which officials want to apply $65 per vehicle. The ridesharing companies have objected, saying their drivers are often temporary and part-time and such a tax would be unduly burdensome.

Taxi companies have complained about the insurance requirements in the new ordinance give Uber and Lyft an undue advantage. 

Although the issue has been discussed and deferred for months and first surfaced in February 2015,  council member Steve Kornell said the process has been smooth, He said" the media" had sensationalized the issue to  "sell newspapers." 

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Tampa video listing Uber among downtown transportation options annoys taxi company president

A city video produced to help visitors get around downtown mentions rides-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, but not taxicabs, much to the annoyance of the president of the Yellow Cab Company of Tampa.

City of Tampa

A city video produced to help visitors get around downtown mentions rides-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, but not taxicabs, much to the annoyance of the president of the Yellow Cab Company of Tampa.

With thousands of visitors heading to Tampa for Monday night’s College Football Playoff championship, the city of Tampa produced a video with ideas on ways fans can get around downtown.

It mentioned the Downtowner electric shuttle, In-Towner free bus, Coast Bike Share, Pirate Water Taxi, TECO Line Streetcar, Cross-Bay Ferry, Zipcar, Uber and Lyft.

It did not suggest hailing a taxi, which disappointed Yellow Cab Company of Tampa president Louis Minardi.

“Someone has purposely left out the taxi industry that has serviced this community for over 70 years,” he said in an email sent Wednesday afternoon to five of the seven members of the City Council. Its subject line: “Taxi Industry Displeased.”

Minardi said he learned about the video after a telephone call with the Tampa Police Department  Wednesday morning. He said he was asked to supply people to help load passengers at different locations for events downtown and at Raymond James Stadium, where Alabama and Clemson will meet Monday night. …

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