Anne Lindberg - SaintPetersBlog

Anne Lindberg

Survey shows fewer than half of voters support Penny for Pinellas renewal

A new survey shows fewer than half Pinellas voters would cast a ballot for renewing the Penny for Pinellas if the referendum were held today.

The poll, by St. Pete Polls, shows 48 percent of registered voters in Pinellas County would vote to support another Penny. Another 28 percent would not support it, and 23 percent are unsure. Although the poll shows the Penny failing to pass if the election were today, the vote is close and, with a 2.2 percent margin of error, the referendum could squeak by.

The poll of 2,005 Pinellas County, Florida registered voters was conducted Monday using registered voter lists supplied by the state of Florida as of Dec. 6. The voter sample included randomly contacted registered voters within the boundaries of Pinellas County, using an automated phone call polling system.

Penny for Pinellas is a one-cent sales tax paid by anyone spending money within the county. The Penny, first passed in 1990, is good for 10 years, then voters must pass it again for it to continue. Voters will be asked in November to renew it for a fourth time – from 2020 through 2030.

Proceeds from the Penny are divided among Pinellas County and its 24 municipalities. Its use is generally restricted to capital, or so-called “brick and mortar,” projects.

Pinellas County says that, since its inception, the tax has been used to build 16 major roads with added lanes, and rebuilt bridges; more than 20 fire and emergency facilities built or renovated; more than 150 projects to enhance stormwater systems and flood control. Also, there was protection of natural resources with hundreds of acres of land preserved, as well as upgrades to 21 parks and more than 50 new miles of multiuse trails.

But voters don’t appear to be wholeheartedly convinced, according to the survey results. The only two groups with more than half in favor were Democratic party voters and non-Hispanic white voters.

Of the 768 Democrats polled, 50.7 percent were in support compared with 47.6 percent of the 785 Republicans and 46.2 percent of the 452 independent voters who were polled.

When it came to a breakdown of race, just under 51 percent of the 1,698 non-Hispanic white voters surveyed were supporting the Penny renewal. Of the 203 non-Hispanic black voters polled, only 39 percent favored it; of the 27 Asian or Pacific Islanders surveyed, only 37 percent supported renewal; of the 37 Hispanic voters polled, only 24 said they support it; and of the 40 other/unknown race, only 38 percent support renewal.

Split delegation gives Redington Beach chance to regulate short-term rentals

Members of the Pinellas Legislative Delegation voted 6-4 Tuesday to pass a local bill that would give Redington Beach a chance to regulate short-term rentals.

The bill, if passed by the Legislature, would give the town a chance to cure a mistake that was made in 2008 when town officials adopted a rule against short-term rentals.

Although the council approved the ordinance, they did not give voters a chance to endorse the rule during a referendum. A referendum is required by the Town Charter. The item never went to a referendum because the then-town attorney said it was unnecessary.

In 2011, the Legislature passed a statute grandfathering in municipal ordinances that were already on the books but banning cities from passing new rules against short-term rentals.

Redington Beach officials thought their ordinance had been grandfathered, but when they went to shut down a short-term rental, they found out the ordinance was invalid. Their current town attorney advised them not to test it in court.

That decision not to test the ordinance irked some delegation members, who said the town was attempting to make the Legislature solve a problem that it had not tried to solve.

“I appreciate the concerns of the residents. I really do. I represent that area,” state Sen. Jeff Brandes said. “The city is unwilling to stand up and defend its own ordinance.”

Some delegation members were also concerned the ordinance would spark lawsuits against the state and the town. And, they worried that the local bill would be precedent setting.

Brandes, and state Reps. Chris Sprowls, Wengay Newton and Jamie Grant, voted against the proposal. All are Republicans except Newton, who is a Democrat.

The other six members of the delegation voted in favor. If the bill passes the Legislature, the town would be allowed to take the 2008 ordinance to a referendum. If that passed, then the ordinance would become retroactively effective to 2008.

Director of Pinellas construction licensing board retires

Rodney Fisher, the executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, announced his retirement during a meeting Tuesday of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation.

Fisher, who has been the target of recent stories in the Tampa Bay Times, referred to those saying, “The issue with the PCCLB should not be about me. … I am retiring as the executive director.”

The stories have alleged that some homeowners and contractors feel “cheated, ignored and even stonewalled” by the agency. As for Fisher, stories have claimed that he is a “bully” who can be “charming and knowledgeable, but also volatile and vindictive.”

The announcement of Fisher’s retirement came as delegation members considered two proposed local bills — one would have dissolved the board; the other would have made changes to the board’s membership.

In the end, the proposal to dissolve the PCCLB was withdrawn while the other was unanimously passed. But it’s unlikely that will be the final solution for the board’s future. State Sen. Jack Latvala, the head of the delegation, appointed state Sen. Jeff Brandes and state Rep. Larry Ahern to meet with Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long to try to find a solution.

It’s likely the solution will reflect a proposal sent to the delegation Monday by Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard. The proposal reached the delegation too late to be considered at Tuesday’s meeting. But some delegation members indicated they liked the concepts.

Woodard’s proposal would make three changes to the 1973 act that created the PCCLB:

— Update the names of the nominating organizations and adds a remodeling contractor to the membership of the PCCLB.

— Reinstate term limits, which were a part of the original special act, for the PCCLB members who are not serving as a function of their job with a local government.

— Place all employees of the PCCLB under the County Commission while reporting to the county administrator. Organizationally, this function would report to consumer protection.

Clearwater Chamber names Karen and Brian Aungst Sr. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Clearwater’

Karen and Brian Aungst Sr. were named the 2017 “Mr. and Mrs. Clearwater” by the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce.

During the 95th annual Chamber meeting last week, Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel was named AchieveHERs Woman of the Year. At the banquet — themed “Imagine Clearwater” — the Chamber announced its 2017 Business of the Year winners. The theme served as not only an ode to the city’s bluff development, plan but also a celebration of the assets that Chamber officials say make Clearwater such a unique and thriving city.

At the banquet — themed “Imagine Clearwater” — the Chamber announced its 2017 Business of the Year winners. The theme served as not only an ode to the city’s bluff development, plan but also a celebration of the assets that Chamber officials say make Clearwater such a unique and thriving city.

“I see a room full of business leaders, entrepreneurs, civil servants, and educators who come from so many diverse backgrounds and who choose to spend their time and energy focusing on giving back, helping others and accomplishing great things,” new board Chair Stephanie Schlagater said. “We are here because we care about the Clearwater region and we take responsibility for making it a better place.”

Brian Aungst Jr. wrote a tribute to his parents:

My parents together possess that special blend of continuous community service, philanthropy, and lifelong dedication to Clearwater that I believe embodies the Mr. and Mrs. Clearwater tradition.

My mother and father co-chaired several major and successful community events.

In 1999, they co-chaired the Morton Plant Mease Foundation’s Toast to Life at Innisbrook. The Toast to Life raised over $200,000 that year — a record at the time.

In 2002, Mom and Dad co-chaired Charity Works Monopoly Night.

In 2003, my parents co-chaired the American Cancer Society’s Cattle Baron’s Ball.

My mom has been active in the community since we moved to Clearwater in 1988.  She was the president/chair of several PTAs, PSTAs and School Advisory Councils.  She was Volunteer of the Year at Safety Harbor Middle School and Countryside High School. She operated a not-for-profit handbag business whereby she made and donated tens of thousands of dollars of cigar box handbags to numerous charity auctions in the early to mid-2000s (she did not make any profit and took no salary she just did it because she liked doing it).

She has been active on numerous committees for the Arc (formerly UPARC) for decades and has been instrumental in organizing their annual fashion show.  She has also been active on the Charity Works committees for years and works on their annual events including Monopoly Night.

My mom was also incredibly supportive of the Abilities charity and helped them coordinate their annual Uncorked event at Tropicana Field and on Clearwater Beach.  My mom was recognized as ‘Mrs. Countryside’ in 2002 for her community service.”

Chamber officials also added its praise for naming the couple Mr. and Mrs. Clearwater.

For Aungst, a former Clearwater Mayor who moved to the city in 1988, the Chamber said there has been one theme that served as a driving force behind everything he does: “To do everything he can to enhance the quality of life for the people of Clearwater and Pinellas County.”

This theme of service has carried through all aspects of Aungst’s life; from his involvement in the business community as senior director of Bright House Networks to his many personal commitments through numerous nonprofits and social agencies.

Aungst implemented a public relations initiative that led to Bright House’s being recognized as the “Philanthropic Corporation of the Year for Tampa Bay” in 2008. Through his efforts, millions of dollars are directed to more than 700 nonprofit organizations throughout the Bay area.

During his six years as Mayor, Aungst led an unprecedented sweeping $750 million redevelopment effort that saw major infrastructure improvements including significant improvements to Clearwater Beach, a new bridge to the beach, new libraries, recreation centers and a new home for the Phillies and Threshers, Bright House Networks Field.

Aungst is also credited with starting a Neighborhood Services Division in the city which strengthened neighborhoods during his tenure. Recently, he played an instrumental role in bringing Clearwater Beach Uncorked and the Super Boat National Championship Festival to Clearwater Beach, both held at historically quiet times for tourism. The economic impact has been substantial.

Super Boat Races infused a documented $18.6 million into the community in a single weekend. It is now listed as the largest spectator sport in Pinellas County.

Aungst, chamber officials said, is committed and involved with a variety of nonprofits, as well as serving on numerous boards and committees in the greater Clearwater area. As a champion of Clearwater for Youth and chairman of the board, Aungst led a successful endowment campaign that matched a $700,000 pledge and raised the endowment to $2.2 million. Some of the other nonprofits he has been active with over the years are the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, the Abilities Foundation, Charity Works, Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Chi Chi Rodriguez Foundation, the Children’s Dream Fund, Hand Across the Bay, the Lighthouse of Pinellas, and the Morton Plant Mease Foundation just to name a few.

Aungst’s son Brian Jr. lives in Clearwater with his wife, Cary and new baby, Brynn. They are active in the community as well.

The 2017 Business of the Year Winners:

Medium Business of the Year: CTS Towing & Transport
Large Business of the Year: WestCMR
Small Not-for-Profit Business of the Year: Placement Works
Large Not for Profit BOTY: HEP (Homeless Empowerment Program)
Judges Choice Award: Ruth Eckerd Hall
Ambassador of the Year: Jo Dee Colonius
Tourism Person of the Year: Eric Waltz
Phillies All-Star in the Community: Alan Bomstein
Economic Advancement Award: St. Petersburg College


Brandi Gabbard running for St. Pete City Council

Realtor Brandi Gabbard has filed papers to run for the District 2 seat on the St. Petersburg City Council.

“I have been selling real estate since 2005 and have gained an intricate knowledge of our city,” Gabbard says on her campaign Facebook page.

She adds, “I see through the eyes of current residents and those moving here what our strengths are but also our weaknesses. The resurgence of our downtown is astounding and something to be so proud of. Now is the time to spread that throughout our great city. I see a vision for the Gateway area that will provide that same vibrancy but on a smaller scale serving our residents right here in their backyard.”

Gabbard said she grew up in a small town in Indiana as the only child of a single mother who often worked several jobs to make ends meet. Her upbringing, she said, taught her the value of hard work and never giving up.

Her experience as a Realtor, she said, gave her the opportunity to “advocate on behalf of business people and property owners. I have been working not only on St Pete and Pinellas County issues but with officials at the state and national level.”

Gabbard was president of the Pinellas Realtor Organization in 2014.

The District 2 seat, currently held by Jim Kennedy, covers the Gateway area of the city. Banker Barclay Harless has also filed papers to run for that seat.

The primary election is Aug. 29 and the general election is Nov. 7. The winner will serve a four-year term.

Joe Ayoub releases new campaign video

Joe Ayoub, who’s running for Safety Harbor mayor, has released a new campaign video.

Ayoub uses the three-minute video to set out his vision for Safety Harbor:

“As your mayor, I will lead this city with an exciting vision,” Ayoub says. “This vision includes a more vibrant and thriving downtown, protecting our small-town charm, adding amenities to our waterfront park, and reducing the height and scale of the proposed seven-story condo building.”

Ayoub goes on to point out the many vacancies and empty buildings in Safety Harbor’s downtown area. There is a “revolving door,” he says, of businesses moving in and then moving out.

There has been, he says, a “steady transition from a vibrant downtown where people gather to a suburban office park, which is not good.”

Ayoub says his plan to revitalize the downtown area includes public-private partnerships, tax incentives and the hiring of an economic development officer.

As for maintaining Safety Harbor’s small-town feel, that must be done, he says, without impinging on property rights. Ayoub advocates holding the height of buildings along Main Street to 35 feet and protecting the tree canopy.

Ayoub says that the city has spent $5 million during the past four years on the waterfront park but “we still don’t have any picnic benches or shade pavilions.”

He advocates further improvements to the park that include landscaping, more walking trails and a kayak launch.

“This does not include adding a restaurant or a parking structure as I have never supported these ideas,” Ayoub says.

The seven-story condo building was approved before Ayoub’s election to council, but once on the council, he said he led the charge to reduce the size of the development from two buildings to one.

“If elected, I will take further measures to reduce the height and scale of this project,” Ayoub says.

Ayoub has lived in Safety Harbor for 26 years and served for seven years as a council member and mayor.

He is facing Council member Janet Hooper in the March 14 election. The last day to register to vote in the election is Feb. 13.


Ballots mailed to military, overseas voters for municipal elections

Pinellas County’s Supervisor of Elections Office mailed a total of 411 ballots to absent military and overseas voters Friday for the March 14 municipal elections.

Ten municipalities are conducting elections March 14: cities of Gulfport, Indian Rocks Beach and Madeira Beach, the towns of North Redington Beach and Redington Shores, and the cities of Safety Harbor, South Pasadena, St. Pete Beach, Tarpon Springs and Treasure Island (Districts 1 & 3 only).

Absent military and overseas voters include all active-duty military, their spouses and dependents currently absent from their places of residence, and civilians who are U.S. citizens residing outside the U.S.

A ballot mailing to about 27,000 domestic voters is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 7. State law requires domestic ballots to be mailed between 35 and 28 days before an election.

Domestic voters are civilian voters who reside within the U.S.; active-duty military voters are those residing in Pinellas County.

Additional mail ballot requests will be fulfilled as received. To apply for a mail ballot, visit, call 727-464-VOTE (8683), or email to The deadline to request a mail ballot is 5 p.m. March 8.

Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force to meet to discuss action plan

Pinellas County residents are invited to attend the second countywide Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday to hear about the team’s Initial Action Plan.

The Technical Working Group will present the Task Force Steering Committee members with its findings and recommendations to reduce wastewater overflow issues around the county.

Monday’s meeting will be held at the University Partnership Center – Digitorium, located at the Seminole Campus of St. Petersburg College, 9200 113th St. N, Seminole. Attendees will have the opportunity interact with Task Force members and share comments or questions.

The Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force formed last year to address countywide wastewater and stormwater issues brought about by heavy rainfall events. Some systems were overwhelmed by the amount of rain and dumped raw and partially treated wastewater into county waterways. Others systems had overflows at faulty manholes.

The countywide team is comprised of leaders and staff from Pinellas County Government, 17 municipal partners, and three private utility systems.



St. Pete releases rehabilitated pelicans back into wild

Following two weeks of care and rehabilitation, seven brown pelicans have been released back into their native habitat – near the rookery at Snell Isle in the waters of Coffee Pot Bayou.

“I’m happy with that,” said Kris Porter with Owl’s Nest Sanctuary for Wildlife.

Porter and her team of rescuers were responsible for nursing the sick pelicans back to health after almost 70 birds were found sick or dead near the site of a fish kill earlier this month in a retention pond near Riviera Bay located close to the pelican’s breeding colony at Snell Isle. That rookery is also home to hundreds of birds who have exhibited no ill effects since the initial discoveries.

Warning signs were posted by the city of St. Petersburg on Jan. 15 as a precaution, while scientists took water samples and studied potential causes of the avian sickness. The signs were later removed as water quality test results were found to be well within the accepted parameters for recreational use.

Studies by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Arcadis, an independent firm hired by the city, continue. Those results are expected within the week. So far, tests have ruled out a number of possibilities, but no specific reason has been found.

Porter, who has more than 40 years’ experience working with wildlife and wildlife rescues, says while the pelican deaths may actually be from natural causes, the nearby fish kill and red tide caused by the cold weather inversion, may also be factors.

“It seems that we see pelican issues every January, but I’m just happy to have these birds better,” Porter said.

More information will be released when results of toxicology and in-depth water testing are finalized.

Rick Kriseman meets with MLB commissioner

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman met Thursday with Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred at the commissioner’s office in New York City.

Kriseman updated the commissioner on St. Petersburg’s Baseball Forever Campaign and shared the community’s vision for the Tropicana Field site – a vision that includes a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I am thankful for Commissioner Manfred’s time and share his desire for the Rays’ success,” Kriseman said. “I am confident that the team’s regional search will make clear that their current site, reimagined and redeveloped, remains their best option.”

The city launched its Baseball Forever campaign last February. Baseball Forever is an initiative of the city of St. Petersburg, St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, residents, and fans of the Tampa Bay Rays. The goal of the campaign is to  convince the Tampa Bay Rays that their current site, re-imagined and redeveloped, remains the best location for Major League Baseball in Tampa Bay.

One of the ways the campaign aims to show support for the Rays is to invite fans to take the pledge to encourage the Rays to build a new ballpark in St. Petersburg. There’s a button on the website to enable fans to show support.

Although the goal is to have the Rays stick around, the campaign concedes it will work closely with the Rays, county officials, the private sector, and other stakeholders should the team identify a future stadium site adjacent to or impacting St. Petersburg.



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