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Online poll shows majority of Floridians support sanctuary cities

An online poll of 600 Florida residents conducted by Florida Atlantic University shows that by a 52-36 percent margin, Floridians do not want the Trump administration to cut off funding to sanctuary cities. And a plurality – 46-38 percent – don’t want the U.S. Justice Dept. to take any legal action against sanctuary cities.

However, the same poll also shows that only a slight majority (fifty-five percent) have ever heard of the term ‘sanctuary city,’ before being polled to opine on it. Sanctuary cities are generally defined as localities that help shield undocumented residents from deportation by refusing to fully cooperate with detention requests from federal immigration authorities.

After President Donald Trump signed an executive order threatening to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced that his county would abandon the practice of being a sanctuary city. That decision by itself could affect the fate of more than one million undocumented immigrants. By a 62 to 39 percent majority, those surveyed said that Miami-Dade County shouldn’t end the practice of being a sanctuary county.

Interestingly, the poll also asked if Tampa should become a sanctuary city (the question posed said that it is considering becoming one). By a margin of a 61%-39%, those surveyed said Tampa should designate itself as such.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said that officially Tampa is not a sanctuary city and would not become one, but that he won’t be directing Tampa Police Officers to act as immigration agents anytime soon. Those responsibilities are actually handled by Hillsborough County. Last week, the Hillsborough County Diversity Council voted 8-1 to recommend that county commissioners look into becoming a sanctuary county, However, County Commission Chair Stacy White says that won’t be happening.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has essentially said the same thing, though he confused some people over the weekend by issuing a statement saying that, “I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws.”

Republicans were the only group who supported cutting federal funds with 70 percent in support and 24 percent opposed.

A full two-thirds  of those surveyed also said they do not want to pay for a border wall on the Mexican border (66 percent to 33 percent).

The poll also shows that 66 percent of those surveyed disapprove of President Trump’s job performance, with only 34 percent approving.

But the attitude of those surveyed was equally critical towards incumbent Democrats. Only 28 percent said he deserves re-election in 2018, while 72 percent said it was time to give someone else a chance.

The online survey was taken between February 1 and February 4, , with a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson appears vulnerable in his 2018 re-election attempt in this poll, with 28 percent saying he deserves re-election while 72 percent said it was time to give someone else a chance.

Of the 600 people surveyed, 148 were Democrats, 147 were Republicans, 144 were independents, and 161 were not registered to vote.

With sanctuary city comment, Rick Kriseman defiant, but misguided

Whether you agree with the rules or you don’t, it’s never wise for a person in authority to say they are not going to follow the law. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman essentially did that when he stated the following in a blog post:

“While our county sheriff’s office is ultimately responsible for notifying the federal government about individuals who are here illegally, I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws,” he wrote.

“We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States. Should our solidarity with ‘Sanctuary Cities’ put in peril the millions of dollars we receive each year from the federal government or via pass-through grants, we will then challenge that decision in court. Win or lose, we will have upheld our values.”

Kriseman was forced to retreat Sunday after Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his officers would enforce the law. That’s when Kriseman said in an interview that St. Pete isn’t really a so-called Sanctuary City — it just agrees with the concept.

That’s called trying to have it both ways. It usually doesn’t work.

That said, I agree completely with Kriseman that President Trump’s demonization of undocumented immigrants goes against everything America is supposed to stand for. So much about the president’s immigration policy is morally and ethically repugnant, designed to stoke irrational fear among the citizenry.

I just wish Kriseman had taken the approach of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. He visited the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque Friday to support those jittery about the travel ban Trump wants to impose on people from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

“This city has your back,” Buckhorn told them. “I don’t care what this President did — that is not who America is. That is not what we represent. That is not what we are all about!”

See the difference in the approaches of the two mayors?

Buckhorn stepped up to the line and maybe jumped up and down on it a bit, but Kriseman stepped over it.

Buckhorn was supportive. Kriseman was defiant.

Both are Democrats, by the way.

Buckhorn told reporters covering the Friday event that Tampa is not a Sanctuary City, but he left enforcement up to his police department. When Kriseman said St. Petersburg police wouldn’t stop someone suspected of being here illegally, that took it a bit too far.

Hence, his retreat Sunday.

That could have repercussions for Kriseman in a re-election bid. While Pinellas County has only 245 more registered Republicans than Democrats (out of 641,484 voters), Trump won there in November by about 5,500 votes over Hillary Clinton.

A recent poll showed Kriseman trailing former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker in a theoretical rematch (Baker has not declared he is running).

That’s a discussion for another day, though.

For now, I’ll give Kriseman high marks for having his heart in the right place. On the rest of it, though, he gets an incomplete.

Don’t forget about Shawn Harrison as a possible candidate for Tampa mayor

In his “As We Heard It” column, Patrick Manteiga writes that candidates of all stripes are starting to measure their strengths for a potential run for Mayor of Tampa.

Among the names the plugged-in Manteiga mentions are the obvious contenders, like former police chief Jane Castor and current City Councilman Mike Suarez, as well as Councilmembers Yolie Capin and Harry Cohen. Also in the mix, Manteiga says, are Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, Public Defender Julie Holt, former state Rep. Ed Narain, and Republican County Commissioners Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman.

That so many local heavyweights are interested in running for Tampa Mayor speaks to what kind of exciting race this will be.

Of course, there are several people not mentioned in Manteiga’s column who are probably interested in running. First among them has to be state Rep. Shawn Harrison, who previously served on City Council.

Manteiga himself called Harrison — in an endorsement over Democrat Lisa Montelione for House District 63 last year — as a “moderate Republican. Democrats can work with him.” His win in November was impressive, taking into account that HD 63 was a top Democratic target in 2016; Montelione was one of about a dozen Democratic state candidates endorsed by President Barack Obama.

“Normally, we support Democrats,” Manteiga wrote, “but lately, we’ve noticed some Democrats aren’t acting like Democrats … Montelione is on that list.”

Yes, Harrison would be a Republican running in a Democratic town, but in a multi-way race, might he be able to consolidate much of the GOP vote — or at least enough to propel him into a runoff where all bets would be off?

As an example of his appeal beyond the GOP, Harrison has been open to some version of Medicaid expansion. In a letter to the Tampa Tribune, he spoke of “a plan for private health coverage that draws down federal dollars with reasonable review, opt-out and sunset provisions included.”

Harrison also has the advantages of knowing how to win tough races (his legislative district is the very definition of a battleground seat), being able to transfer whatever he has in his legislative campaign account to a municipal bid, and a smart political team around him (master strategists Anthony Pedicini and Tom Piccolo advise Harrison.)

We’re not ready to predict Harrison will be Bob Buckhorn‘s successor, but with his experience and capabilities, he certainly merits keeping an eye on as the race unfolds.


Rick Kriseman declares St. Petersburg a ‘sanctuary from harmful immigration laws’

Although St. Petersburg isn’t officially classified as a sanctuary city, Mayor Rick Kriseman all but declared that’s exactly what his town is on Saturday. And if the Trump administration wants to deny the city federal funds because of that stance, the mayor’s response is essentially, ‘We’ll see you in court.’

“While our county sheriff’s office is ultimately responsible for notifying the federal government about individuals who are here illegally, I have no hesitation in declaring St. Petersburg a sanctuary from harmful federal immigration laws,” Kriseman wrote on Medium on Saturday.

“We will not expend resources to help enforce such laws, nor will our police officers stop, question or arrest an individual solely on the basis that they may have unlawfully entered the United States,” the mayor added. “Should our solidarity with ‘Sanctuary Cities’ put in peril the millions of dollars we receive each year from the federal government or via pass-through grants, we will then challenge that decision in court. Win or lose, we will have upheld our values.”

In general, sanctuary cities are defined as localities that help shield undocumented residents from deportation by refusing to fully cooperate with detention requests from federal immigration authorities. The right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies listed Pinellas (as well as Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando) as sanctuary counties in a 2015 report, but that classification has been strongly disputed by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

“When they ask us to do things within the law, we operate with them and their programs to help them take those that are illegal who have committed crimes . . . and get them out of here,”” Gualtieri told the Tampa Bay Times’ Laura Morel last week.

Although sanctuary cities and counties have existed in some form since the 1980’s, they became a much more potent political flash point in the summer of 2015, after 32-year-old Kate Steinle was fatally shot while walking on San Francisco’s Embarcadero by a Mexican national with a criminal record who had been deported several times.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump vowed to dismantle sanctuary cities, citing those areas for harboring dangerous immigrants who commit crimes against Americans. He followed up on that promise shortly after being inaugurated last month, signing an executive order threatening to pull federal funding from sanctuary cities.

While nearly every mayor of a sanctuary city has brazenly defied Trump’s executive order with rhetoric indicating that they will dig in and resist the threat (and in the case of San Francisco, gone ahead and filed a lawsuit blocking that executive order), Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has been one of the few local officials to heed Trump, ordering his jails to comply with requests from the federal government on detaining illegal immigrants.

There have been efforts by immigration activists in Tampa for months to persuade Mayor Bob Buckhorn to convert his municipality into a sanctuary city, and Kriseman acknowledges in his post that he too has received similar requests. Both have deferred on the issue, saying that the responsibility for holding undocumented immigrants is left to their respective county governments and law enforcement officials.

While the issue of sanctuary cities isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it’s been superseded by the fallout from Trump’s executive order signed last week banning travel into the U.S. by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.

On Friday, Buckhorn attended Friday prayers at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque, where he called Trump’s actions “an attack on Islam as a religion.”

In his post on the online platform, Kriseman wrote that “the larger debate is no longer about sanctuary cities but about President Trump’s demonization of Muslims and the recent suspension of our refugee program.”

On Saturday morning, the State Department announced that previously banned travelers will be allowed to enter the U.S after a federal judge in Washington state on Friday night temporarily blocked enforcement of the president’s immigration ban.

“We have reversed the provisional revocation of visas under” Trump’s executive order, a State Department spokesman said Saturday. “Those individuals with visas that were not physically canceled may now travel if the visa is otherwise valid.”

Bob Buckhorn, other mayors trying to get Donald Trump travel ban reversed

Showing support for the Muslim community, Bob Buckhorn attended prayer services Friday at an east Tampa mosque.

Afterward, Tampa’s mayor ripped into President Donald Trump‘s executive order banning travel into the U.S. by citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.

“This city has your back,” Buckhorn told congregants packed into the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay mosque.

“I don’t care what this President did – that is not who America is. That is not what we represent. That is not what we are all about!” he shouted toward the end of his seven-minute address.

Trump’s controversial executive action that he announced last Friday afternoon – which also indefinitely suspends the Syrian refugee resettlement program – led to large protests in airports across the nation last weekend, and has been denounced by most congressional Democrats.

However, like opinions of Trump himself, Americans are divided on the move.

A majority of Americans — 51 percent — disapprove of the ban, while 45 percent approve, according to a CBS News poll released Friday.

The Trump administration criticized the media’s reporting on the executive order, denying it’s a travel ban at all.

But Buckhorn wasn’t buying that.

“For anyone, including the President of the United States, to demonize any religion, and make no mistake, they can call it what it is, but it’s a ban, it’s an attack on Islam as a religion,” Buckhorn said, voice rising in intensity. “It is not vetting. It is singling out a single religion. And specific countries.”

“We don’t have a litmus test based on religion in America,” the mayor added. “We never have, and we never will.”

A coalition of progressive groups, working under the title #WeAreAllAmerica, called for a national day of action with community rights leaders, activists and leaders to protest Trump’s actions Friday.

Buckhorn said he was contacted earlier this week by officials from the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay, and he leaped at the invitation.

Speaking to reporters after he shook hands and took selfies with dozens of men who observed Friday prayers, the mayor said he had participated in a conference call earlier this week with a handful of other mayors like Los Angeles’ Eric Garcetti, New Orleans’ Mitch Landrieu, Austin’s Steve Adler and four other mayors representing the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

“We’re looking at legal action,” he said about the group’s response to the executive order. “We’re looking at internal action, in terms of lobbying. We’re looking at every avenue we possibly can.”

Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Washington state all filed lawsuits in the past week, contending the order violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom.

The city of San Francisco is challenging another Trump directive – the tone that would deny federal funds to so-called “sanctuary cities,” a term defined as cities having adopted sanctuary policies toward undocumented immigrants, which local officials argue help local police by making those immigrants more willing to report crimes.

Buckhorn said Friday again that Tampa is not such a city, but added he wouldn’t be directing his police to act as officials with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the White House confirmed an earlier story first reported in Friday that Trump will be making a stop at MacDill Air Force Base Monday morning.

When asked if he would be accompanying the president, Buckhorn quipped: “He hasn’t invited me.”

“He probably won’t after today,” he joked.

Buckhorn then took a serious note, saying that if Trump did ask him for a visit, he certainly would honor his request.

“He’s the President of the U.S.,” he noted. “We want him to succeed, because if he succeeds, the country succeeds. This is the wrong way to go about doing that.”


Tampa City Council takes issue with Bob Buckhorn’s decision to close park to homeless

In the lead up to last weekend’s Gasparilla events, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn tweeted with tongue firmly planted in cheek that, “Next year we build a wall and make the pirates pay for it.”

But on Thursday, Councilman Frank Reddick and some of his colleagues criticized the very real wall – or fence, actually – that the Buckhorn administration constructed at a cost of $32,000 around around Phil Bourquardez Park in Tampa Heights in late December. For years, the park had become a gathering for the homeless, but no more.

“It had really turned into what I can only call a semi-permanent encampment, and we simply can’t have that,” said Dennis Rogero, Buckhorn’s chief of staff, in addressing the council. “The sanitation conditions, the waste, the drug use, including ‘Spice’ that you saw prevalent in some areas.”

For now, the green space is fenced, gated and locked up.

“You sent a sad message across this city and across this country, because basically we’re you’re saying is we’re not giving a damn about the homeless population,” said Reddick.

The fencing occurred just weeks before thousands of people were scheduled to flock to Tampa for the national college football playoff championship. On the weekend before the championship game, the Tampa Police arrested seven members of Food Not Bombs for feeding the homeless in Lykes Gaslight Square without a permit, an incident that generated headlines around the nation.

“You keep running these people away, and you keep running away from the vicinity of the downtown core,” Reddick continued, who said he now is poised to receive calls from people in the V.M. Ybor neighborhood, where he expected the homeless to transition to. “We just can’t keep boxing them out and think we’re going to solve the problem.”

Homelessness has been a problem for every American city since the late 1980’s, but Tampa seems to have had their most contentious issues on the subject only in the past decade.

When Buckhorn, Reddick and the majority of the City Council was running for office back in 2011, the issue of panhandling was front and center of that campaign. The issue has ebbed and flowed since then, but several dozen homeless people (on average) had been congregating in that park for years.

Councilwoman Yolie Capin agreed with Rogero’s description of the park pre-fencing as looking like “an encampment,” but said the city never addressed the situation. “We just threw ’em out and boarded up, so now we have this on our hands,” she said.

The fact that the city used $32,000 of taxpayers dollars to gate the space up did not play with other council members as well.

“That fence ain’t going to stay up there permanently,” said Councilman Charlie Miranda, who said he “appreciated” what the city did, though he also said he didn’t agree with that decision.

“In the future, building walls and gates, really isn’t the direction we want to go,” said Councilman Harry Cohen.

Council chair Mike Suarez said the decision to enclose the space should have been vetted publicly in collaboration with the council, if for no other reason than to let the public know how limiting the options are for the city.

“It was not a good decision to do it without consultation without all of us,” Suarez said. “We need to know what’s happening before something happens, or else we’re going to a much more difficult time cooperating with the administration to get things done in a positive way.”

Rogero said the administration isn’t sure what they’ll do with the space, “but we intend to find one.” He said one possibility could be an expanded transit hub if an expanded street car system does ultimately run up downtown Tampa.

The council had already scheduled a workshop on the issue of feeding the homeless on February 23. Councilman Guido Maniscalco called on city staff to research a program in New Mexico that picks up panhandlers who want to work and gives them odd jobs around the city.

Bob Buckhorn announces paid family leave plan for full-time city of Tampa workers

Nearly six years into his tenure, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn says the City of Tampa will now begin providing paid parental leave to full-time workers.

The new policy will provide primary caregivers with eight (8) weeks and secondary caregivers with two (2) weeks of paid leave after the birth of a new child or placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care. Full-time employees who have completed their first year with the City of Tampa will be eligible for the new benefit beginning on February 12.

The Center for American Progress reports that five states and the District of Columbia have passed paid family and medical leave laws. San Francisco became the first city in the nation to offer such benefits to its employees back in 2002. St. Petersburg began offering paid family leave in 2014, while the city of Miami Beach began offering the benefit last fall.

In a statement issued out by Ashley Bauman, Buckhorn’s press secretary, “Providing paid parental leave will improve the City’s ability to recruit and retain talent, decrease worker turnover, and boost productivity. In addition, paid parental leave increases the likelihood that employees return to work and keep progressing in their careers in the City of Tampa.”

“Attracting and retaining the most talented workforce does not solely lie in downtown amenities and adding jobs, it also requires providing a twenty-first-century workforce for twenty-first-century families,” says Buckhorn. “The progress we make on this front will directly impact our competitiveness in attracting and retaining the best employees we can. Creating an environment in the City of Tampa that values the contributions of everyone.”

In his video statement (shown below), the mayor urges other companies to offer similar benefits.

At Tiger Bay event, George Cretekos calls for Clearwater to get more respect

As leaders of the region’s two biggest cities, Bob Buckhorn and Rick Kriseman dominate headlines in Tampa Bay politics.

But it was Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos who became the breakout speaker at Tuesday’s meeting of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.

All three mayors were on stage at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Only recently has Cretekos emerged as a leader in his own right, coming into the spotlight after 36 years serving as an aide to the late C.W. Bill Young before he was elected to the Clearwater City Council in 2007, then mayor in 2012.

Clearwater is the third major city in the greater Tampa Bay area, which has now developed into the 11th biggest media market in the U.S.

Currently, city leaders are discussing the Imagine Clearwater master plan, which seeks to establish a framework for the future of the downtown Clearwater waterfront area. Cretekos’ biggest concern these days, he said, is that the city will still be discussing Imagine Clearwater five years now, vowing “that cannot happen.”

“We need the private sector to step up and take a role in reclaiming our downtown in investing in what we’re trying to do to imagine Clearwater that not only draws tourists but also has a high-tech center in downtown,” Cretekos said.

The mayor added that a redeveloped U.S. 19 corridor is also part of the plan.

Being an elected official in Clearwater can be challenging, particularly when dealing with the fact that the city is the “spiritual home” for the Church of Scientology, the incredibly controversial organization which owns more than half a billion dollars of property in the city.

Cretekos was asked to comment on actress Leah Remini‘s popular A&E docuseries “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” The show featured former Scientologists sharing stories of their involvement with the church: being abused, stripped of money or separated from families.

Cretekos praised Clearwater citizens who are members of the COS, saying they cared about the community as much as everybody else.

Then he went further.

“What we’ve seen in the Leah Remini story is one — the Church of Scientology has a terrible PR department. They are just awful. And they also need to understand that … churches support families. They shouldn’t divide them,” Cretekos said, adding the Church “ought to think twice about its policies on families.”

Cretekos lashed out at the editorial direction of the Tampa Bay Times, blasting the paper for concentrating resources far too much into St. Petersburg and Tampa, while forgetting “the rest of the communities.”

“They think that what goes on (in Clearwater) should only be in a weekly section. Well, it’s embarrassing when you read the Sunday paper, and there are four pages of obituaries in the local section, and two pages of news,” he said indignantly.

“That’s not Pinellas County. That’s not Tampa Bay,” he said, generating a large round of applause.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman just held his campaign kickoff fundraising event for his re-election effort last week. The year 2016 was rough the mayor, ostensibly because of how he handled the city’s problems with wastewater management, which has led to several harsh editorials in the Times.

“Mayor Cretekos was saying that he’d like to get some more ink from the Times versus St. Pete and Tampa,” Kriseman cracked after his introduction. “I’d be OK with it,” which elicited perhaps the largest collective laugh of the afternoon.

During the Q&A portion of the luncheon, Matt Lettelleir, director of party development for the Pinellas County Republican Party, asked Kriseman directly if last summer’s sewage dumps negatively affected Tampa Bay,

Lettelleir wished to know whether it ultimately did “no damage,” as Kriseman told the Times last month.

“Anytime that you’re discharging into the Bay, it’s not a good thing,” Kriseman admitted. “Fortunately for us, what we did discharge into the Bay was partially treated wastewater, it wasn’t raw sewage. And fortunately for us, what we did discharge into the Bay had low fecal coliform levels, instead of high ones, which are what causes health issues.”

“Any discharge is not a good discharge,” he added.

Kriseman said his administration intended on doing everything possible to avoid that from happening again but added that he can’t control the weather.

Although the mayors deliberately downplayed partisan politics when talking about how they go about doing their jobs, the facts are that Buckhorn and Kriseman are Democrats, Cretekos is a Republican.

When the Clearwater Mayor somewhat spontaneously delivered a tribute (of sorts) to President Donald Trump, the crowd went strangely silent.

“I know that many of you are frustrated that Donald Trump is our president, but I’ve got to tell you, and you’ve got to admit that Donald Trump was saying things that many of us were too embarrassed to admit.”

It should be noted more than a few people were shaking their heads quietly as Cretekos went on.

“I’m not saying that he’s right. I’m saying that some of the things that he was saying is that we all believe, and that’s how he got elected.”

Former Sarasota Mayor Kelly Kirschner indirectly asked the mayors if their cities were sanctuary cities, classified as communities opting not to cooperate with the federal government in identifying undocumented immigrants.

Cretekos used the occasion to mention how Clearwater is the home to many Mexican-Americans.

“Those who are legal in the United States, we will protect and we will work with them. Those who are illegal are an important part of our economy,” he said before being literally cut off by a bell.

Cretekos chose not to speak over the sound.

Buckhorn said Trump’s emergency order, issued Friday night setting up a temporary ban on refugees, “was inherently wrong.”

“I think it was a religious litmus test,” he said. “I think it goes against the values of who we are as Americans and what we stand for as Americans,” generating a healthy cheer. He went on to say that the country needed to improve the immigration system which included tough vetting of anybody legally entering the country, but noted that “you do not put a religious test on the ability to come to America. That’s not who we are.”

And Buckhorn repeated that, while Tampa is not a sanctuary city, his officers are “not the immigration police;” they won’t be chasing after the undocumented.

Kriseman said, philosophically, the city will embrace everyone but then pointed out it was Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri who is the law enforcement official in charge of that effort.

Naturally, the issue of a Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium came up.

The saga — now more than eight-year-old — is currently at the stage where, within the next few months, the Rays are expected to announce where they intend to play in the Tampa Bay area.

Buckhorn was asked if he knew for certain that the team would draw more fans in Tampa than they currently do in St. Petersburg, where the Rays languished on the bottom with the worst home attendance for several years in a row.

“I can’t tell you that I can assure you that would be the case,” Buckhorn acknowledged. Nor did he say he had any idea how the city could pay for a ballpark estimated to cost at least $600 million.

All three mayors also discussed transportation.

Cretekos called the lack of a mass transit system in the area “an embarrassment.”

Buckhorn, blasting Tea Party activists, said “some people think rail is a U.N. plot. That’s how patently absurd some of the arguments I heard during the course of this.”

Kriseman once again called for the state Legislature to allow cities like Tampa and St. Petersburg to hold their own transit referendums. But, despite pleas to do so, the Legislature has shown zero inclination to support such a proposal.

Sal Territo to succeed Julia Mandell as Tampa City Attorney

There’s a changing of the guard with the top legal position in the City of Tampa.

After three and a half years as City Attorney, Julia Mandell announced her resignation. She is leaving the position to become an attorney at Carlton Fields.

Mandell will be succeeded by Sal Territo.

Since 2005, Territo has served as Chief Assistant City Attorney as the head of the transactional and administrative section of the Legal Department.

“I want to thank Mayor Buckhorn for the opportunity to serve as the City Attorney for a City I have had the privilege to work for, on and off, since 1972,” says Territo. “The City Attorneys who have come before me have cultivated some of the best and brightest legal minds and I look forward to continuing that practice.”

Territo actually started his career with the City of Tampa in 1980 after graduating from the  Stetson University College of Law. He’s served in various roles in the private sector, as well as Planning Commissioner and Chairman and Hearing Examiner in Lee County. And for nearly a decade he was an adjunct professor at the University of South Florida.

Mandell served for a total of 12 years with the City of Tampa, before taking over as City Attorney in August of 2013.

“It has been an extraordinary experience to serve as City Attorney these last three years and an honor to work under such exceptional Mayors,” said Mandell “A special thank you to Mayor Buckhorn for supporting our team at the City Attorney’s office, this team of dynamic lawyers in support staff is one of the best in the nation. I look forward to continuing to contribute to the City of Tampa in my new position with Carlton Fields, a well-known and respected law firm with long ties to Tampa.”

Prior to joining the City of Tampa, Mandell was an assistant county attorney with Hillsborough County for seven years. She received her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Mandell succeeded Jim Shimberg as City Attorney in 2013. Shimberg was Buckhorn’s first City Attorney, before he left the city to work for developer/Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s organization. For months Mandell served as the interim attorney before Buckhorn ultimately decided that she was the best candidate for the position.

Buckhorn thanked Mandell for her service.

“She has been a true public servant in every sense of the word and her contributions to this administration’s success are many.  While we will miss her, we could not be happier for her continued success.”

The Mayor says the promotion for Territo “is a natural and seamless transition.”

“Sal has served the City through nine administrations and his expertise in municipal finance and underwriting is unparalleled,” said Buckhorn. “He knows city government as well as anybody and will not miss a beat stepping into this role.  I look forward to Sal’s service to this community for the remainder of my time as the Mayor.”

Mandell said gave tribute to her colleague.

“I wish Sal continued success in his next role. He has been a great mentor to me during my years with the city and will continue to be a great mentor to all of the attorneys and staff in the office.”

Bob Buckhorn and Bill Nelson call on Donald Trump to back up plans on infrastructure spending

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is calling on President Trump to stand by his campaign pledge to spend up to a trillion dollars on improving the nation’s infrastructure needs.

“If there ever was an opportunity for us to potentially find common ground with the new president, it would be over infrastructure,” Buckhorn said at a press conference held in Senator Bill Nelson’s Tampa district office on Wednesday. “Because for us, infrastructure is the lifeblood of what we do. We can’t grow this country’s economy, I can’t grow this city’s economy without adequate roads, bridges water and sewage systems.”

You don’t need a weatherman to know if you’ve lived in the Tampa Bay area over the past two summers that both Tampa and St. Petersburg need hundreds of millions of dollars to improve their stormwater systems, after they were overwhelmed by major floods in 2015 and 2016.

“I am basically dealing with 100-year-old pipes, trying to push 2017 growth patters through 100-year-old pipes. It doesn’t work,” complained Buckhorn. “We haven’t had an infusion of capital in our infrastructure system for decades. And so for us, the ability to fix what we have, and then to grow and add additional capacity, for what we need…is absolutely critical. This should not be a partisan issue.”

It may not be.

On Tuesday, Nelson joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats in calling for a $1 trillion proposal that would potentially create 15 million jobs over 10 years. It includes $210 billion for road and bridge repair, $110 billion for water and sewer programs, $180 billion for rail and bus systems, $200 billion for new projects deemed as vital, $75 billion to rebuild schools, $70 billion for ports and $100 billion for energy grid upgrades. Democrats say they want to use taxpayers money to pay for the package, but Republicans have floated a plan to give tax credits out to private industry to help in the building.

“The question is: how is this going to be funded?” Nelson asked on Wednesday.  He said that’s where his GOP colleagues “are just in a war” about how they will figure that question out in the coming months.

Nelson said that there are over 200 bridges that the Florida Dept. of Transportation has ruled to be “structurally deficient,” including the 22nd Street Bridge in Ybor City near Ikea that crosses over the CSX rail line that takes over 25,000 cars a day; the 9th Street Bridge over Brooker Creek in Pinellas County, and the bridge at State Road 684 into Bradenton Beach.

Nelson dismissed the notion of public-private partnerships to pay for all of the nation’s infrastructure needs (as the Trump team has floated), saying that won’t help add broadband to underserved areas of the country.

Regarding possible funding for transit, Nelson bemoaned Rick Scott’s veto of the billions of dollars he single-handedly rejected for high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando back in 2011.

Buckhorn said federal funds could help Tampa with a much desired transit system.

Meanwhile, Nelson says the consequences of President Trump’s announcement earlier this week that he will impose a federal freeze on all government jobs is potentially “terrifying.”

Trump announced on Monday that he was imposing a freeze on all sectors of the federal government, with the exception for the military and other positions affected national security and public safety.

But Nelson says there’s already a shortage of air traffic controllers,  and says a lack of sufficiently trained new staffers in that department “could really harm our nation’s safety.”

Speaking in Tampa, Nelson also says that while the Pentagon is exempt under the new policy, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs is not, which he says makes little sense, alluding to the much reported on problems with that federal agency in recent years. “Not only do they need people working in the hospitals, but they desperately need people to do the administragive things to get the veterans the appointments that they need. That’s where we’ve had so much fo the problems over time that you’ve read about it,” he said.

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