Make us your home page

Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Kriseman returns early from Cuba because of storm

Mayor Rick Kriseman's trip to Cuba ended early.

The mayor is heading back to St. Petersburg with Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, City Council chairman Charlie Gerdes and Chief of Staff Kevin King this morning. They should be back in the city by lunchtime, said Kriseman's spokesman Ben Kirby.

Tropical Storm Erika is approaching Cuba and Kriseman has said that he would return early if severe weather threatened. Forecasts show the storm reaching Tampa Bay early Tuesday.

Kriseman's trip was to have ended Sunday. In Cuba, the group visited government officials, academics and cultural representatives.


Full Story

Interactive: Where does Tampa Bay rank in affordability?

It's been pretty clear for a pretty long time just how much of a joke the federal poverty line is.

In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau had it at $24,008 for a two-parent, two-child family. Like the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour (which earns a full-time annual wage of $15,080), this doesn't come close to covering real world expenses, nor does it take into account the wild variations in cost of living expenses for different cities.

The Economic Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank founded in 1986 to study the needs of low- and middle-income workers, this week provided a more accurate measure of what it truly costs to secure an "adequate but modest standard of living" in the United States, circa 2014. 

And it's fascinating.

EPI has estimated the income needed for housing, food, child care, transportation, health, other necessities (such as apparel, entertainment, personal care expenses, household supplies, school supplies, telephone services) and taxes for 10 family types (two parents, two kids; one parent, one kid; 1 adult, no kids, etc) for 618 specific U.S. communities.  …

Full Story

St. Petersburg grills wastewater staff on recent sewage dumps

It wasn't an easy first public appearance for Tom Gibson, the city's interim public works administrator.

Gibson replaced Mike Connors, who abruptly retired on Monday, after months of controversy, the most recent episode being the city's dumping of more than 16 million gallons into Tampa and Boca Ciega bays this month.

On Thursday, Gibson faced council members that demanded answers and solutions. Gibson and Water Resources Director Steve Leavitt held to their position that the dumping was due to an extraordinary weather event from mid-July to early August.

But several council members weren't buying that explanation. They wanted to know how much it would cost to fix leaky sewer pipes and manhole covers. 

The answer? At least $350 million dollars. 

Council member Karl Nurse said the city needs to raise its wastewater rates from a proposed 3.75 percent to 4.50 percent---that would raise about $350,000. 

He acknowledged that was a drop in the bucket. Even if the city doubled its efforts---already budgeted at about $4 million for next year---it would take 50 years to fix all the pipes, he said. …

Full Story

Tampa Bay Young Republicans elect all-female executive board

The 150-member Tampa Bay Young Republicans this week elected its first all-female executive board. Its members are:

• President Janine Kiray, who was re-elected to a second term. She is a Florida native, University of South Florida graduate and legislative assistant to state Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater. 

• Vice president Holly Holobyn, an Indiana native, Indiana University graduate and a casualty adjuster for USAA in Tampa. She previously was the group’s secretary.

• Treasurer Dana Gordon, a Florida native from Ocala and graduate of Vanderbilt University with a doctorate in clinical psychology who specializes in medical drug research and bio-medical device technology. 

• Secretary Sammy Jo Baker, a New Jersey native who received a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University-Maryland and a law degree from Ave Maria School of Law in Naples. She currently works as a Florida assistant attorney general in the agency’s child support enforcement unit.

Full Story

Kriseman, Gerdes and other St. Petersburg officials to visit Cuba

Mayor Rick Kriseman will visit Cuba, leaving early Thursday morning for three-day visit to the island.

Accompanying the mayor will be Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, City Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes and Kriseman's chief of staff Kevin King. 

The group will fly from Tampa to Havana on a chartered flight. The entire trip will be paid for by the Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy Foundation, said Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman.

In Cuba, the mayor will meet with government ministries, economic development officials and take a bus tour of the Plaza de la Revolucion.

 “I am excited about the opportunity to introduce St. Petersburg to the people of Cuba and to learn how our city and our residents can benefit from increased interaction between Cuba and America," said Kriseman in a statement.

The group will return on Sunday. 



Full Story

Dem congressional candidate Eric Lynn debuts campaign policy videos — or ads, by another name

He's still the only declared candidate in the 13th Congressional District and Democrat Eric Lynn is determined to claim his share of a political stage currently crowded with speculation about Charlie Crist's intentions.

On Wednesday, Lynn, whose campaign handlers who complained hasn't received adequate coverage from the media on policy issues, took matters — and some of his considerable war chest (more than $400,000) — into his own hands. 

His campaign released the first of a promised series of videos — which look, sound and feel like a campaign ad — on his positions. The video outlines his support of women's access to healthcare and equal pay. More on jobs, the economy and defense issues are on the way.

The 1 minute, 27 second spot has uplifting music and a close up of Lynn outlining his commitment to women's issues, including abortion rights and access to contraception. 

"These aren't women's issues, these are family issues," Lynn says.

You can watch the entire video on Lynn's campaign website.

Full Story

St. Petersburg moves to protect Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin speaks at press conference announcing plans to spend $1.1 million to acquire nearly 35 acres near Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Charlie Frago

Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin speaks at press conference announcing plans to spend $1.1 million to acquire nearly 35 acres near Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

The hawk screeching and fluttering on the arm of a handler was the only one who wasn't seemingly thrilled Wednesday as city officials, environmental activists and Lakewood Estates residents cheered the news that the city has reached an agreement to buy nearly 35 acres in a thin band along the southern perimeter of Boyd Hill Nature Preserve.

The $1.1 million purchase is meant to ensure development---like a controversial town home plan a few years ago---won't threaten the sanctity of the preserve or the character of the neighborhood.

"It's a happy ending," said St. Petersburg Country Club president Mike Kiernan. "It means the golf course can't be developed-- ever."

Since the money will come from the Weeki-Wachee Fund, a pot of cash meant to enhance recreation and environmental activities, the City Council will have to approve the purchase. 

Council member Steve Kornell has pushed for an equitable solution for the financially-strapped country club, which had planned to sell part of its golf course to a developer, and the neighborhood and environmental activists who had opposed development near the 245-acre park. …

Full Story

Clerk's race in '16 could be repeat

The battle for Pasco County clerk of circuit court is shaping up to be a rematch of 2012, when no-party candidate Roberta Cutting challenged incumbent Republican Paula O’Neil.

Cutting filed her candidacy paperwork Monday. She ran in 2012, highlighting what she called wasteful spending on the part of O’Neil. Cutting also charged that O’Neil “sabotaged” her career by dismissing her after a weeklong stint in the clerk’s office. Cutting was a paralegal student at the time.

O’Neil, who has held the post since winning it in 2008, filed her candidacy paperwork on May 27. Her campaign had raised $6,255 as of July 31, most of the money coming from attorney donations and a bundled contribution from businesses tied to funeral home director Thomas Dobies.

Financial records for Cutting’s campaign will not be available until the end of August.

Full Story

How very un-Tampa Bay: Light rail wins (again) in Phoenix election

Phoenix voters on Tuesday approved a sales tax increase that would pay for an expansion of its light rail system.

By a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, voters nearly doubled the sales tax for transit from 0.4 percent to 0.7 percent (the overall sales tax in Phoenix was bumped from 8.3 percent to 8.6 percent) until 2050 to fund 42 new miles of light-rail tracks, more bus routes and street improvements that are part of a $31 billion plan (also funded by passenger fares and federal and county money) called Proposition 104.

"This is a great night for the future of the city of Phoenix," declared Mayor Greg Stanton, a big promoter of the light rail initiative who also won reelection by a resounding 65 percent margin.

The victory for Phoenix light rail came three days after the system opened a new 3.1-mile extension into Mesa -- seven months ahead of schedule.  …

Full Story

Wheeler-Brown, Newton win District 7 primary, will face off Nov. 3

A paltry number of primary voters in District 7 picked Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton to advance to the general election, setting up a November showdown that could determine the future home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Of the 2,749 people who voted, which was 14.5 percent of those eligible, Wheeler-Brown won 37.4 percent. Newton was close behind, trailing by 79 votes with 34.5 percent.

Sheila Scott Griffin won 17.7 percent, Aaron Sharpe won 6.7 percent and Lewis Stephens Jr. won 3.7 percent. At Sylvia’s Restaurant in Midtown, Newton celebrated Tuesday night with two dozen supporters, including Council member Amy Foster and Democratic congressional candidate Eric Lynn.

“It’s a new race altogether,” said Newton, who was clearly happy but not ecstatic.

Nearby at Parker Financial Services, two blocks down from Sylvia’s, the crowd was nearly double and more enthusiastic about Wheeler-Brown’s victory.

“They had me as the underdog, but I’m Superwoman,” said Wheeler-Brown, who celebrated with council members Karl Nurse, Darden Rice and, making a second appearance, Lynn. …

Full Story

St. Petersburg Council primary cash flows in final days

Within a few hours, the two winners in the District 7 primary will be known. 

While we wait for the results in the district that covers Midtown, Childs Park and other southern neighborhoods, here are the latest campaign filings. They show the amount of money raised and spent through Aug. 16.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown leads with $33,032. Next is Will Newton with $26,615. Sheila Scott Griffin finished strong with $3,480 raisd from Aug. 3 to Aug. 16, second only to Newton's $5,050. Griffin has raised $10, 598.

Perhaps just as important is cash-on-hand. Newton has the most: $9,452. Wheeler-Brown isn't far behind with $8,127. Griffin has $1,924.

The other two candidates, Aaron Sharpe and Lewis Stephens raised far less. Sharpe netted $5,055 while Stephens raised $821.


Full Story

PSTA exploring partnership with Uber for north Pinellas pilot project

Pinellas County’s transit agency is working on a partnership with Uber to get riders to and from bus stops and transfer hubs in north Pinellas County.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority chief executive officer Brad Miller met with Uber representatives Monday to discuss a pilot project that, if successful, could be expanded to other parts of the county, Miller said.

“We’re very much looking to provide alternatives to as many people in Pinellas County as we can and a partnership with Uber would really fit a niche,” Miller said.

Under the proposal, riders would contact Uber to set up a one-way ride from a prearranged location to a PSTA bus stop or transfer center within a designated zone. A rider connecting with a PSTA bus could pay Uber an additional $2 to cover the cost the bus fare.

PSTA would pay a subsidy to Uber to lock a discounted rate, which Miller said would be about $4 for a one-way trip.

Miller wants to roll out the pilot project in the area currently served by the East Lake Connector, one of four underperforming routes on the chopping block in a plan that PSTA’s board of directors will consider at a public hearing set for 9 a.m. Wednesday.  …

Full Story

Low turnout so far in St. Petersburg City Council race

It's primary day in District 7

Charlie Frago

It's primary day in District 7

A lot of candidates, five to be exact, and, at least on Election Day, not so many voters. So far. 

A unscientific lunchtime tour of polling places in the district revealed empty voting booths and lonely poll watchers. The primary election in District 7, which coves Midtown, Childs Park and other southern neighborhoods, has five candidates: Will Newton, Lisa Wheeler-Brown, Sheila Scott Griffin, Aaron Sharpe and Lewis Stephens. 

One of those election day volunteers was council member Wengay Newton. Camped in a folding chair in the scant shade outside Thomas "Jet" Jackson Recreation Center, 1000 28th St. S, Newton, the older brother of Will Newton, said the slow trickle of voters was to be expected.

"This is a primary. It's been a long time since we've had a primary in District 7," Newton said. "There's more election officials than voters."

The polls close at 7 p.m. As of Monday, 1,993 mailed ballots had been returned out of 6,235 or 32 percent. The district has about 19,000 registered voters. 

At 2p.m., the Pinellas County Supervsior of Election estimated Election Day turnout to be 1.28 percent.  …

Full Story

St. Petersburg's Connors retires abruptly

Public Works Administrator Mike Connors, under fire for months for city missteps on the Pier, the recycling rollout and recent sewage dischages into Boca Ciega and Tampa bays, has resigned.

He's retirement takes effect immediately:

Here's the release:

Public Works Administrator Mike Connors announced his retirement today, effective immediately.

Said Mayor Rick Kriseman: "Mike Connors has made immeasurable contributions to St. Petersburg in his 28 years of service. His recent leadership helped to make three of my top priorities a reality: universal curbside recycling, a new police station, and a new pier. I wish him well in the next chapter of his life."

Said Mike Connors: “After a weekend of contemplation, I decided to discuss my retirement with Mayor Kriseman this morning. Following our discussion, the mayor and I have mutually agreed to my retirement, effective today. I look forward to new adventures and challenges, as well as more time with my wife and family. I thank the City for the opportunity to serve for nearly three decades.” …

Full Story

Brandon Democrat Upshaw-Frazier to run in Florida House District 59 race

A new Democratic candidate, Rena Upshaw-Frazier, has filed to run for the state House District 59 seat now held by held by Republican Ross Spano.

Frazier, 36, is a Brandon attorney specializing in real estate litigation.

Her entry in the race creates a Democratic primary contest with Golnaz “Naze” Sahebzamani an International Baccalaureate social studies teacher at Robinson High School, who filed July 9.

Frazier is a University of South Florida and Stetson law school graduate married to a former USF basketball star Anddrikk Frazier. The two have four children, the oldest an Air Force Academy freshman.

In a news release, Frazier said “dysfunction … has overtaken Tallahassee,” citing the Legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid and difficulty passing a state budget.

“The people of our community deserve better.”

Local democrats have put the Brandon/Bloomingdale/Valrico district on their list of a dozen or so GOP-held seats that could swing Democratic in a presidential year.

Full Story