The Bay and the 'Burg Archives - Page 5 of 588 - SaintPetersBlog

Appeals court overturns decision clearing Tampa, officer in 2014 ‘suicide by cop’ shooting

Jason Turk

Federal appeals judges overturned a court ruling that cleared the city of Tampa and a police officer in an attempted “suicide by proxy” case where a local real estate agent was shot after threatening to kill himself.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling Friday that had absolved the city and officer Timothy Bergman, who shot Jason Turk twice in the face while he sat in a car Jan. 9, 2014. Amanda Turk, Turk’s estranged wife, called 911 telling dispatchers her husband was threatening suicide. The Turks and their attorney claim Turk never pointed his gun at the officers.

They also argue that Bergman, a K-9 officer, was not adequately trained to handle the situation. The couple sued police for violating Turk’s constitutional rights by using excessive force.

“The suit is about law enforcement being accountable,” Michael Maddux, the Turks’ lawyer, told the Tampa Tribune. “They had a cry for help and the response was tactical, almost like he was committing a crime.”

Although the lower court decided Turk’s rights were not violated, the appeals court overturned the ruling, sending it back to the lower court.

“We cannot say that a police officer in Officer Bergman’s position would reasonably perceive Mr. Turk, a non-suspect sitting in the BMW, as posing an imminent threat of serious physical harm to the police officers on scene,” the ruling said. “We must reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment on all counts and remand for further proceedings. On remand, the district court in the first instance should consider the other defenses raised by Officer Bergman and the City of Tampa but not ruled on in the first summary judgment order.”

Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg ‘under siege’ by bad bills, budget cuts

Donald Trump’s proposed budget and bad bills in Tallahassee are putting cities “under siege,” according to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“Our city is under siege by bad proposed bills and budgets,” Kriseman said in a news conference Thursday. Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman joined the mayor to speak in front of a home in South St. Petersburg.

Urging residents to call their representatives in protest, the mayor blasted the Trump administration for efforts to shut down the Community Development Block Grant program, as well significant cuts to the Housing and Urban Development budget.

The president was actively standing in the way of efforts to help low-income citizens, Kriseman said.

St. Petersburg receives about $3 million in CDBG funds, which goes to improvements to homes in low-income neighborhoods like the one where the event was held at 2645 14th Ave. S.

“These programs are vital to our community,” Wheeler-Bowman said. “The loss of these programs will be devastating.”

Kriseman also had strong words for the Florida Legislature, which is considering changes in the tax increment financing (TIF) process.

Legislation sponsored by Republican State Rep. Jake Raeburn of Valrico and Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa are seeking to change the rules governing TIF funds.

TIF’s use tax revenues for specially designated community redevelopment areas (CRA), financing improvements in low-income communities. St. Petersburg has four CRA’s.

The bills from Raeburn and Lee (HB 13/SB 1770) came after reports of mismanagement in a single Miami-Dade CRA in Hallandale Beach.

Kriseman criticized blaming an entire system for the “actions of one community.” Residents should contact Senate President Joe Negron directly, Kriseman said, calling him to stop the bills.

“We need to hold them all accountable for their votes,” he added.

Jeff Brandes wants to keep renewable energy bill clean

A Senate panel approved a bill by St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes that would implement solar tax breaks approved by Florida voters in last year.

More than 70 percent of Florida voters backed Amendment 4 in August, which makes it so the increased value of a home due to renewable energy improvements such as solar panels can’t be included when assessing a property’s value for tax purposes.

SB 90, which is supported by environmental groups and solar panel installers, doesn’t include the same safety standards and disclosure requirements found in the House version, HB 1351.

House bill sponsor Rep. Ray Rodrigues worked with solar experts, including Florida Power & Light, SolarCity and local solar installers to develop consumer protection language, much of which mirrors the recommendation of the Solar Energy Installers Association.

The Energy & Policy Institute, a secretive group that does not disclose its funding sources, has claimed that the House bill would put a damper on solar panel sales, however, former Arizona regulator Bob Stump countered that solar sales increased after similar consumer protection legislation passed in his state.

Brandes told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Finance and Tax that he is in talks with the House on an implementing bill for the tax break, but said he hasn’t agreed to the extra regulations in their bill.

The Republican lawmaker said, “all the options are on the table” when asked if he would be willing to let his bill die if he can’t reach an agreement with the House on the so-called consumer protections.

“Clearly we’d prefer a clean bill,” he said.

The committee approved SB 90 with a unanimous vote and it now moves on to the full Senate Appropriations Committee, its last stop before its ready for the chamber floor.

The House’s preferred bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues, is awaiting action from the Commerce Committee.

A House bill filed by Democrat Lori Berman that is identical to Brandes’ solution has yet to be heard in committee.

USFSP librarian arrested on child pornography charges

James Anthony Schnur

A University of South Florida St. Petersburg librarian was arrested Wednesday on child pornography charges, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

James Anthony Schnur, 51, is facing 10 charges of possession of child pornography and two charges for the prohibition of certain acts in connection with obscene materials.

According to PCSO records, his bond is set at more than $1 million.

Deputies said they started investigating Schnur in January after getting a tip about him having the obscene material, and when they arrested him Wednesday morning they were able to recover images from his computer depicting bestiality and child pornography.

Possession of child pornography is a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 per charge.

Schnur is a three-time graduate of USFSP who works at the Poynter Library on campus as a Special Collections librarian.

His faculty bio sketch on the USFSP website describes as a “prolific author” and “coveted lecturer.”

“Archivist, author, faculty, public speaker — Jim Schnur rarely takes a break from his sundry creative labors,” the bio reads.

Schnur was the inaugural recipient of Lester Tuttle Award from the USF Pinellas County Alumni Chapter and was inducted into the Rays Wall of Fame in 2010. He’s also been recognized for his work as a librarian by the Society of Florida Archivists.

USFSP declined to comment on the arrest, though spokeswoman Jessica Blais said Schnur has been placed on leave while the university reviews the case.

Frank Reddick worries that community members are getting ‘paid off’ to back TBX project

In an effort to retool and “reset” the troubled Tampa Bay Express project, the Florida Department of Transportation led a coalition of local public officials and members of the community this week to St. Louis, where it spoke with officials there about how they worked with the community to rebuild a highway construction project.

Speaking before the Tampa City Council on Thursday, Bill Jones with the FDOT gave an update on TBX, and discussed the trip and how officials will meet next month to “debrief” on what they learned.

But City Councilman Frank Reddick apparently wasn’t aware of the trip and grew suspicious. He demanded that Jones provide the Council with a list of those people who went to St. Louis.

“It reminds me when I was growing up and when they brought the interstate through the neighborhood and displaced a lot of us,” Reddick said. “You find a way to pay these people off … and then they support what you want done. And I’m starting to see that happen.”

One of the biggest concerns about the construction of the TBX project is the displacement of citizens who live in Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and V.M. Ybor.

For two decades, FDOT has been buying properties in those areas for the right-of-way for what has ended up to be the TBX project, which was only announced to the public in 2015. Critics contend that the plan would negatively impact a low-income and minority concentrated area of Tampa, who had little input on what was happening in their neighborhood. The Tampa Bay Times reported last year that 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that Florida’s Department of Transportation plans to demolish are black and Latino.

Council Chair Yolie Capin said that her family had been displaced when construction for the highway interstates in Tampa began in the late 1950’s. She said the difference between then and now was that there is now the internet or the CRA. “That’s a huge difference,” she said. “We’re going to make sure to hold DOT accountable for all of the things that take place in our neighborhoods.”

Capin said it was very difficult for her as a youth to move into a new neighborhood, and cautioned Jones to not forget that it was human beings whose lives may be upended because of the construction of the project.

Jones explained that there were ten members of the community who had their trip paid for by front grants from the Federal Highway Administration. The six representatives from Hillsborough County were chosen by Les Miller, the chair of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

East Tampa businesswoman and community activist Dianne Hart was one community member chosen by Miller to attend the trip.

“If you saw Facebook you knew I was on the trip,” she told the council. Other members of the coalition also prominently posted photographs on their Facebook pages as well. She told Reddick that not everybody on the trip is in favor of the TBX.

Hart added that she was impressed that the Missouri Dept. of Transportation “really listened to their citizens.” She said she hoped it would be an opportunity for FDOT to pay attention to what Tampa citizens are concerned about. “They really see that without the community’s input and without the trust of the community, it will never be able tot take place. There will be a constant controversy around this forever, and it will never happen, if the two sides don’t come together.”

Councilmembers Harry Cohen and Guido Maniscalco are members of the Hillsborough MPO, and were also part of the coalition which went to St. Louis. Cohen said his number one takeaway from the trip was discovering how the community and the government were able to work together in harmony on the project. That included the government building parks and bike paths, and in some cases, not removing houses that were part of the original plan.

Cohen also noted that there was an obvious difference in the two communities.

In St. Louis, the public has been supportive of taxing themselves to improve their transportation services. Notably, Hillsborough County has not, though the citizens were not even given that opportunity when County Commissioners declined to put up a transit referendum for a vote last year. “These things didn’t happen for free,” he said. “They paid for this stuff, and that’s why they have a train system and other forms of transportation to move people around.”

The Tampa Bay Express project is the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay area. The plan would ultimately remake I-275, I-4 and I-75, and bring new toll lanes from Pasco County south to Manatee County and from Pinellas County east to Polk County.

Suarez asked Jones if the debriefing of those who visited St. Louis scheduled would be open to the public.  Jones initially said it would not be. Suarez suggested to Jones that he open it up. “There’s nothing wrong with having the public there,” Suarez said. “It’s probably the smart thing to do, since you just mentioned the date on a public forum.”

Last December, then FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold announced that it was time for the TBX project to hit the “reset” button.

“We probably have 2-3 years before that project is what we call ‘production ready,’ ready to turn dirt,” he said. “And so we’re going to sort of hit the reset button, bring in additional staff or different staff to manage that project, and work more intensively with the local communities.”

Jones told council members on Thursday that in this reset period, FDOT is not purchasing any right-of-way acquisitions, though they won’t turn down citizens who approach them about selling their homes.

Charlie Crist to be ‘carved up’ at Suncoast Tiger Bay After Hours April 20

Suncoast Tiger Bay Club often likes to “carve up” politicians for lunch. Next week, they will have one for dinner, too.

Congressman Charlie Crist is the special guest for the Club’s “Tiger Bay After Hours” event Thursday, April 20. The St. Petersburg Democrat will appear at a special evening meeting, which begins 6:30 p.m. at The Hangar Restaurant at the city’s waterfront Albert Whitted Airport downtown.

There will be appetizers and a cash bar. Sponsorship opportunities are available.

As seating will be limited, organizers have announced a firm RSVP deadline of Monday, April 17 – walk-ins will not be accommodated. Tickets are free for Tiger Bay Club members, and $10 for guests.

Reservations are available online. The Hangar is at 540 First St. SE in St. Petersburg.

Scientology leader details downtown plans in closed-door meeting

Downtown Clearwater stakeholders got a preview of Scientology leader David Miscavige’s retail and entertainment plan for the area during an invitation-only presentation at the Fort Harrison Hotel Tuesday.

Scientology spokesperson Ben Shaw denied media requests to attend the meeting, reports Tracey McManus of the Tampa Bay Times.

The two-hour presentation included the church’s plan to pay for new facades for stores on the stretch of Cleveland Street between Osceola and Myrtle avenues, as well as the organization’s use of consultants to bring business owners on board for the plan.

Well-known Scientologist celebrities John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Kirstie Alley and pianist Chick Corea were also at the event.

“Sitting there and watching this just stunned everybody,” Signworx owner Leif Oskarsoon said of the video and renderings. “It was so gorgeous.”

Miscavige said the plan would cost $8 million on top of the $30 million the church has already put into the plan through hiring consultants and buying up tracts of land in the area.

Former Mayor Frank Hibbard said the Scientology leader implied the crux of the plan was the church’s ability to buy a 1.4-acre lot owned by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The aquarium turned down a $15 million offer from the church and offered to sell it to the city for $4.25 million, with a vote from the City Council expected on April 20.

“It comes down to execution and commitment and the way the city and the church are right now, I think some things have to change,” Hibbard said. “There’s trust issues with all parties involved. And I think to make something like that work, I don’t know if you can overcome them. I think the church needs to show the public the plan and let the court of public opinion really drive whether this is viable or not.”

Sparks fly with Tampa Bay GOP senators over Tom Lee’s call for Tampa International Airport audit

Sparks flew on the floor of the Florida Senate Wednesday between Tampa Bay-area Republicans after Tom Lee stated that “potential public corruption” is taking place at Tampa International Airport.

The Brandon Republican then proposed inserting an amendment to the Senate budget calling for the Auditor General to review spending at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, which is currently in the midst of a billion-dollar-plus master plan renovation.

“There have been allegations of gross representation,” Lee told Dana Young of Tampa (as well as the rest of the Senate), saying reports surfaced on local television and in “newspapers.”

Young objected, as did Jack Latvala of Clearwater; both stated that they had no idea what Lee was talking about.

“That’s a very inflammatory thing to say,“ Latvala said. “Can you tell me which channel it was on and maybe a little more about it, because obviously none of us condone corruption, but since you’re the only one in the delegation that has seen it, maybe help us a little bit?”

Senate President Joe Negron then interrupted, saying all legislators should be cautious when talking about the reputation of others, or, in this case, Tampa International Airport.

Lee then backed away slightly, saying that what he has seen was the definition of public corruption, but “perhaps I shouldn’t use that term.”

After seeing a report on WFLA News Channel 8, Lee said he reviewed the financial statements on the airport’s website, as well as pulling the Fitch bond report from last summer.

“I concluded that … rental fees going up from $2.50 a couple of years ago to $5.00 and now $6 a day … maybe our airport is having a problem sinking those bonds,” Lee said. “Based upon that personal analysis … I concluded that we needed a second set of eyes.”

Latvala noted that several lawmakers had just tried to Google “Tampa airport corruption.” They came up empty.

“So maybe you can tell what they said?” he asked.

Lee said he was convinced financials from the airport “weren’t just matching up.”

Young added that she believed in complete transparency; her only concern was the method Lee presented his amendment.

By bringing the issue up without making very much concrete information available, Latvala said: “We’re potentially putting a black mark on the name of that airport.”

Jeff Brandes then piped up. The St. Petersburg Republican took Lee’s side, saying: “We should give great deference to any senator who asks for an audit.”

But after a 20-minute debate, the Senate rejected Lee’s amendment. Nevertheless, Lee’s proposal had one effect — a dramatic spike in interest on the spending habits of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority.

Term-limited, Larry Ahern files to run for Pinellas County Commission

Larry Ahern has one more year left before he’s term limited out of his District 66 seat in the Florida House of Representatives, but he’s already thinking about the future.

The Seminole Republican filed to run for the District 6 seat on the Pinellas County Commission which is being vacated next year with the announced retirement of longtime incumbent John Morroni.

Ahern has lived in Pinellas County since 1978, where he started his own swimming pool service and retail business, which grew to 20 employees and 600 clients over 25 years.

He’s served in public office since 2010, when he first won election to the HD 66 seat, which encompasses Northern Pinellas, specifically Clearwater, Largo, Seminole and Belleair.

Among the bills he’s sponsoring in the House this session (with Deltona Republican David Santiago HB 205) one would allow police officers the discretion to decide when offering a first time juvenile offender a civil citation is appropriate. That’s a distinction from the Senate companion by Miami Republican Anitere Flores (SB 196), which would mandate that law enforcement offer civil citations to juveniles guilty of a variety of 11 first-time misdemeanors.

Morroni announced last month that he would not run for re-election in 2018. He’s represented the residents of District 6 in Pinellas County since 2000.

Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project to end on April 30

The Cross-Bay Ferry’s last trip from St. Petersburg to Tampa and back is scheduled for Sunday, April 30.

The pilot project was always planned to last for just six months, and as that deadline approaches, the service has become increasingly popular. Ferry officials announced last week they had sold a record 7,990 tickets in March. That marked a 31-percent increase over its previous record, which ferry officials said was in February.

The private partnership between HMS Ferries and St. Petersburg, Tampa, Pinellas and Hillsborough included a $350,000 contribution from all four local governments last year. According to ferry officials, preliminary figures “suggest the ferry has generated enough from tickets to reimburse the four government sponsors $57,332 for March. That sum is on top of $44,693 in February and $9,909 in January, for a total of $111,934 to date with two-and-a-half weeks to go.” However, it should be noted that none of those local governments have received a single dollar back yet.

The schedule for the rest of April includes three trips leaving St. Petersburg and two leaving Tampa Monday through Friday, beginning at noon. There are three round trips on Saturday beginning at 2:30 p.m. and two round trips on Sunday.

Although final results and analysis are a few weeks off, conventional wisdom in Tampa and St. Petersburg is that the Cross-Bay Ferry has been a success. Certainly, Hillsborough County Commissioners seem to think so, as they were motivated enough last week to ramp up a proposal originally announced in 2013 to launch a ferry service in Hillsborough County.

The board approved a proposal last week that could tap into the $22 million received from the BP oil spill of 2010 to use on the proposed public-private partnership plan to take passengers from South County to MacDill Air Force Base, then on to St. Petersburg.

Appearing before the Pinellas County Commission last month, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, the leading public official advocating for the ferry, said that his staff is contacting federal and state officials to see what is required for those governments to possibly contribute money for the temporary service. The mayor will address the Hillsborough County Commission on April 19 and the Tampa City Council on April 27, where he is expected to make similar comments.


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