Kenneth City welcome sign is unwelcome sight for some

People who live at the edge of cities often face special difficulties.

Just ask Jennifer Garwood.

She lives in St. Petersburg on the edge of Kenneth City near the border with unincorporated Lealman. Like many in that situation, she and her neighbors often have trouble getting city services because officials can be unclear about who’s in what jurisdiction.

Take the garbage service. Even with St. Pete waste containers “we get passed over time and time,” Garwood said.

And now, it’s about to get worse.

That’s because Kenneth City has erected a brand new “Welcome to Kenneth City” sign at 62nd Street and 42nd Avenue North. Trouble is, the sign is not in Kenneth City. It’s actually in the unincorporated Lealman area. That makes garbage truck drivers, and others, think they’re in Kenneth City when they’re not, Garwood said.

“It’s ridiculous,” Garwood said of the service issues. “Then they put the sign there. … My initial inclination was they just put it on the wrong side of the bridge.”

Adding to the service and safety issues is the matter of aesthetics.

“I think the sign is ugly,” Garwood said. “It’s this concrete sign …. It’s an ugly sign right there.”

She wrote an email to Kenneth City Council members, Town Manager Matt Campbell, and Pinellas County Commissioners Ken Welch, Janet Long, and Charlie Justice. It was titled “ACTION REQUIRED — Assistance with Sign Removal.”

In it, Garwood pointed out the safety and service problems with the sign placement:

“The new sign makes it difficult to see oncoming foot and car traffic when traveling on 42nd Avenue. (Students from nearby Dixie Hollins High School utilize this path walking home and there is a bus stop directly adjacent from the new sign.)

“The new sign is in direct opposition to the Welcome to St. Petersburg sign.

“Residents on 42nd Avenue North contact the city of St. Petersburg Sanitation Department many times during the year (can be verified by the department), due to garbage collection truck drivers skipping pickups on 42nd Avenue North because they do not believe our street is within St. Petersburg city limits (although we have city collection containers).  The new sign’s placement will not help with this issue, only increase current confusion.

“I have already worked with the U.S. Postal Service to correct their system error, which previously only allowed Kenneth City to appear as a city selection for the Florida zip code 33709. It now allows city selection of St. Petersburg, Florida, as well. The new sign’s placement will only increase confusion by postal employees delivering mail.”

She included photographs to illustrate her points.

Matt Campbell
Matt Campbell

Campbell, the town manager, said the sign is one of six Kenneth City has planted near town entranceways over the past few weeks. Before the signs were erected, he said, the town got a permit from the county for all six. Part of that process, he said, was making sure the signs were not in sight triangles and were on available right of way, which is limited in certain areas.

Campbell agreed the sign is not at the Kenneth City border, but said it doesn’t have to be because it’s “a welcome sign, not a city limits sign.”

On the other hand, Campbell said, the St. Petersburg sign across the street is a city limits sign, so its placement has to be on the line.

Campbell conceded the town could move the sign. But, he said, given the limited right of way and other issues in the area, the sign would have to go north of the bridge over Joe’s Creek. But doing that, he said, would mean drivers are inside Kenneth City before they’re welcomed. Kenneth City residents who would be living south of the sign might be unhappy, he said.

Campbell said, however, that Garwood has some valid concerns.

“If there’s a significant hubbub over it, we could move it,” Campbell said.

TKenneth City Welcome Sign

Welcome to Kenneth City Sign

 

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Back to the drawing board for Toytown property

Pinellas officials have tried for years to figure out what to do with Toytown, a 240-acre closed landfill in the Gateway area.

They tried selling it but had no takers. So last year, in an effort to spark some interest, they asked for proposals and got three – a mixed use development, a solar farm, and a sports complex.

The $662-million sports complex, which would have been anchored by a spring training center for the Atlanta Braves, caught officials’ eyes. But county officials weren’t sure they could commit the necessary money to the project until a decision had been made on the future location for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Charlie_Justice_5x7Before any decision could be made, Pinellas Commissioner Charlie Justice said, the Braves pulled out. Then the developer, SportsPark Partners, LLC, pulled out. Now the county’s pulling out.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday to reject not only the SportsPark proposal, but also the other two.

“It just wasn’t going anywhere,” Justice said.

Justice said it’s unclear what will happen from here. It’ll likely stay on the county’s “for sale” list. Other than that, it’s wide open. Commissioners haven’t discussed the future of the acreage with the county’s economic development experts.

Part of the difficulty in developing the property, Justice said, is the acreage’s past as a landfill. It’s unknown what’s underneath the center of the property and what kind of development it would support.

But, if it proves buildable, the property is in a prime location near I-275, and the Gandy and Howard Frankland bridges. It’s an area that has often been mentioned as a possible site for the Rays.

Now that it’s available, does this mean it could be the next home for the Tampa Bay Rays?

“Theoretically, yes,” Justice said.

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Pinellas Commission appears ready to get aboard the ferry

Pinellas County commissioners appear poised to get on board a high-speed commuter ferry between St. Petersburg and Tampa.

Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the item during Tuesday’s meeting. If the commission agrees, Pinellas would become the fourth government to collaborate to fund the six-month pilot program. The Hillsborough commission and the Tampa and St. Petersburg councils have already signed on.

Charlie justice 07.11 (3)“If I’m reading the tea leaves, it’ll pass 6 to 1,” said Charlie Justice, chairman of the Pinellas Commission. The possible holdout, he said, would be Dave Eggers, who has expressed reservations about the project.

If the Pinellas Commission signs on, it, like the other governments, would put up one-quarter of the $1.4 million cost, or $350,000. In Pinellas’ case, the money would likely come from BP settlement monies. Commissioners had said they wanted to use the $7.1 million in settlement funds for one-time, one of a kind, statement projects and other innovative ideas.

“I think it’s what this kind of money is for,” Justice said.

The main purpose of the pilot ferry service is to measure whether a ferry service can be sustained in the future for the Tampa Bay region. The pilot will measure demand for commuter and non-commuter service, pricing feasibility, revenue generation, consumer preferences, marketing effectiveness and impact on vehicle use.

Assuming Pinellas does join the others, the ferry service would likely begin sometime this fall. Under the proposed agreement, HMS Ferries would provide a minimum of two trips between St. Petersburg and Tampa Mondays through Thursdays and Saturdays and Sundays. There would be a minimum of three trips on Fridays. Officials believe that schedule will test both the commuter market and the tourist market. The ride would cost $10 for a one-way ticket.

The first $125,000 generated from the service would go to HMS, and any income above that would be split among the four governments.

Janet LongPinellas Commissioner Janet Long said she’s going to vote for the pilot.

“To me, it’s a no brainer,” Long said. “I think it’s worth a shot to see.”

Ferries are a common mode of transportation all around the world, she said. Long said she spent some time in Savannah, GA. There was a ferry just outside her hotel, she said, that took her to the other side of the river for free.

“It was just part of their transportation system,” she said.

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Police union endorses Charlie Justice’s re-election

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice has won the endorsement of the Police Benevolent Association in his bid for re-election.

The PBA endorsement was based on Justice’s commitment to our community and understanding of the important issues before Pinellas County.

“I’m grateful for the support of our local law enforcement. They are on the front lines in our community offering themselves in service for our protection,” Justice said. “I look forward to working with the officers, support personnel and their association in making our community safer today than it was yesterday. It’s important work.”

Justice, a Democrat, is seeking his second term for the District 3 seat on the commission. The seat is one of three countywide seats on the seven-member commission.

Justice is facing Republican Mike Mikurak in the Nov. 8 election.

Justice is a native of Pinellas County who lives in St. Petersburg with his wife and two daughters. He was first elected to the Pinellas County Commission in 2012. He currently serves as chair of the commission.

Justice also serves on the health and human services leadership board, the area agency on aging of Pinellas-Pasco and the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority. Before serving on the county commission, Justice served in the state Senate from 2006 to 2010 and in the Florida House from 2000 to 2006. While in the Senate, he served as the minority leader pro-tem. While in the House, he served as the Democratic caucus whip.

Justice has also been endorsed by the Pinellas Realtors Organization, the AFL-CIO, the Equality Florida PAC and the Sierra Club.

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Pinellas commissioners turn to staff to evaluate ideas for BP money

After two surveys and a two-hour workshop spent listening to ideas on spending $7.1 million in BP settlement money, Pinellas commissioners turned everything over to the county staff.

Once staff members have evaluated the ideas, they’ll bring everything back to commissioners. But it won’t happen before July 19. That’s when commissioners are scheduled to get the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year and staff is tied up with those preparations.

Charlie Justice
Charlie Justice

“At some point, we will have to start whittling them down,” Commissioner Charlie Justice said.

Justice was speaking at the end of a workshop Tuesday designed for residents to present their ideas and make their cases for pet projects.

Among those: a charging station for electric buses, dredging of the Anclote River, seed money for the Solar Energy Loan Fund, help for kids who are aging out of foster care and funds to help build a “fire education station” in the Palm Harbor area.

The $7.1 million in BP settlement money arose from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Pinellas County and other local governments filed suit against BP for damages sustained from the spill. The $7.1 million was the county’s share of the settlement after taxes and attorneys’ fees were deducted.

Because the money is from a one-time source, commissioners wanted to do something special and lasting with it. They asked Pinellas residents for their ideas. The first time they asked, more than 800 people responded with general ideas. Then, they went back to residents for more concrete ideas and more than 300 responded.

Bob Matthews
Bob Matthews

“It’s a challenge for you,” Seminole commissioner Bob Matthews said. Matthews was at the workshop to plead for funds for water park, crosswalks at 102nd Avenue N and 113th Street, and help preserving the water tower at the intersection of Park Boulevard and 113th Street.

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$16.5 million judgment – political game changer in Pinellas commission race?

When a judge ruled last month that the Pinellas County Commission had violated a developer’s constitutional rights by denying a zoning and land use change, he did more than hand the company a win.

The judge also handed Mike Mikurak a club he could use in his race against Charlie Justice for the District 3 at-large seat on the commission. Justice, like all the other commissioners, had voted to refuse the zoning and land-use change that sparked the lawsuit and eventual judgment.

“I’m gravely concerned about it,” Mikurak, a Republican, said Monday. The ruling proves there’s a “real lack of leadership, a lack of planning and a real lack of concern for taxpayers’ dollars.”

He added, “They owe [taxpayers] an apology.”

Justice, a Democrat, doesn’t see it that way. Mikurak, he said, is seizing on the court’s decision because he has no other specific issues to object to.

“He’s trying to find something,” Justice said. “I don’t expect it to be a game changer. … Campaigns do what campaigns do. … We expect to be victorious in November.”

The ruling arose from a 2012 request by the Richman Group of Florida for the city of Safety Harbor to rezone a 34.55-acre parcel of land at the intersection of McMullen-Booth Road and 10th Street. Richman wanted to build a 246-unit apartment complex and 25,000-square-feet of single story office space. To accomplish this, the land — which had several zoning designations — had to be rezoned to residential. About 15.8 acres of the larger property was zoned industrial.

A split Safety Harbor council gave it preliminary approval; then it went to the county commission for adoption. Had the commission approved, it would have gone back to the Safety Harbor council for final approval.

But the county, confronted with protests from more than 300 residents, did not approve. Commissioners said they wanted to “preserve” industrial lands. It has since been added. Richman appealed to an administrative law judge, who sent the case back to the commission saying they had erred because preservation of industrial lands was not part of the county land code. (It has since been added.)

When it came back to county commissioners, their attorney told them they had to stick to the legalities as set out by the administrative judge. That meant they could not turn down the zoning and land-use request based on preservation of industrial land. If they did, then they risked a lawsuit and liability. All seven commissioners ignored that advice and turned down the request.

Richman sued and got a $16.5 million judgment for lost profits and interest. The judge also granted Richman attorney’s fees, which have not been determined, but will up the sum. And, daily interest is compounding on the multi-million-dollar judgment.

Justice said Monday that it’s likely the commission will appeal the ruling. Commissioners, he said, are confident it will be overturned, and the county will owe Richman nothing.

Win or lose, an appellate decision will likely come after the Nov. 8 election. The judgment, as it stands, will be what voters have in front of them on election day.

Mikurak said he thinks many voters will be angry enough to spurn Justice. Commissioners, he said, not only did not listen to their attorney, they ignored the administrative law judge, and overruled a decision by the Safety Harbor council. It appears, he said, that they put themselves above the law.

“That decision was made by the city for the city,” Mikurak said. “I don’t believe the county commission had any right” to override the Safety Harbor council.

Mikurak said he’s also wondering where the county intends to get the money to pay the judgment, interest and attorney’s fees.

“I want to know how they are going to pay for this,” he said.

Justice said he’s sticking with his vote. He pointed out that the decision to turn down the developer’s request was unanimous. And, he said, it was made by a commission of four Republicans and three Democrats.

As for how the board plans to pay the judgment, Justice said, “Well, I’m confident it will be overturned.”

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BlakPAC endorses Mike Mikurak for Pinellas County Commission

Republican Mike Mikurak, who is running for the District 3 at-large seat on the Pinellas County Commission, has been endorsed by BlakPAC. BlakPAC is a national organization that, among other things, is working to elect conservative Republicans to office.

“BlakPAC is working to win the White House and expand and open the GOP to new conservative candidates and new voters. We are active from local school boards to city, county, state and federal elections through our use of the largest database of registered Black voters in America,” the organization’s website says.

BlakPAC has endorsed only 13 candidates across the U.S. Endorsements include Donald Trump and candidates in Colorado, Michigan, Texas, Arizona and Maryland. The organization has endorsed four candidates in Florida. Mikurak is the only candidate in Tampa Bay who has received BlakPAC’s endorsement.

Mikurak’s endorsement was announced Thursday during a meeting of the Pinellas Suncoast Black Republican Club. The endorsement, said George T. Farrell of BlakPAC, is in line with the organization’s focus on character.

“It’s not about color; it’s about character,” Farrell said. “He’s good. … This is one of the guys who sees character and not color.”

Mikurak said he was honored by the endorsement.

“I’m honored by the fact they see I’m a person who wants to hear” what people want, Mikurak said. This is a time, he said, when people need to have a say so they can work together to find solutions.

Mikurak also received praise from the evening’s keynote speaker, state Rep. Chris Latvala.

Referring to the Democratic majority on the Pinellas County Commission, Latvala said that Mikurak gives Republicans a chance to take back control of the commission.

“He’ll do a great job,” Latvala said.

Someone in the audience commented that Mikurak’s opponent, incumbent Charlie Justice, had never visited the southside in St. Petersburg even though he holds one of the at-large seats on the commission. The at-large seats are elected countywide and represent all Pinellas residents.

Latvala said that would not happen if Mikurak were elected: “He goes everywhere, including the southside.”

Latvala had harsh words for Justice, a Democrat, saying, “He’s a nice guy who never has accomplished much.”

The election is Nov. 8.

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Mitch Perry Report for 7.7.16 – Tea Party Patriots heart Marco Rubio

f you remember when we first heard about the Tea Party in early 2009, its supporters talked about having a pox on both houses – that is, they felt that Republicans and Democrats were part of the same dirty cesspool that is Washington D.C.

A lot of things have changed since then, but I became a bit cynical in early 2010. That’s when the late C.W. Bill Young received a Tea Party challenger by the name of Eric Forcade in his Pinellas County congressional election. Anyone remember him?

To go back to a story I wrote for Creative Loafing back in 2010, Forcade said the problem he had with Young wasn’t his famous predilection for earmarks, but that ” “we have 535 Bill Youngs out there, with everyone trying to bring pork home. It’s not just him, it’s everyone stealing from Peter to pay Paul, as long as Paul is one of his constituents.”

Two months later, Forcade endorsed Young. Hypocritical? Forcade said not really, and that Young was still far preferable than Young’s Democratic opponent that year, Charlie Justice.

“Do you support the guy who’s spent more than $500 million in earmarks, or the guy [Justice] who’s part of the problem by supporting spending a trillion dollars on health care and cap-and-trade and other government takeovers?” he said at the time.

Flash forward to yesterday, when Tea Party Patriots endorsed Marco Rubio over Carlos Beruff in the Florida Senate race.

Group leader Jenny Beth Martin said in her statement that yes, Rubio did essentially stab the Tea Party activists who helped elect him in 2010 in the back with his support for comprehensive immigration reform, but all is forgotten, because he’s now seen the light on the issue.

“Let’s be frank: That mistake hurt him with Tea Party activists in Florida, and across the nation,” she said. “But he now says he recognizes the difficulty of dealing with such an issue in a comprehensive fashion, and instead supports a one-at-a-time approach – first, implement real border security, and don’t make any further moves until the public agrees that our borders are secure. Then, and only then, will we be able successfully to move on to other aspects of the immigration reform agenda. Tea Party Patriots believes that will be a successful strategy, and we support Sen. Rubio’s decision to follow that course.”

Far be it for me to suggest what the Tea Party is or who they should represent. However, on a number of fronts, one can argue that Senator Rubio is very much a creature of Washington these days. But there are several folks in the Senate who wear their Tea Party roots strongly – Utah’s Mike Lee, Texas’ Ted Cruz, perhaps you could say Kentucky’s Rand Paul. So why not Rubio?

Has the Tea Party “gone Washington” themselves? The message certainly has changed a little bit since those halcyon days in ’09…

n other news…

A D.C. watchdog group is calling on the Florida Inspector General and the Commission on Ethics to investigate Pam Bondi’s lack of an investigation of Trump University. 

Hillsborough County State Attorney Democratic candidate Andrew Warren was rebuked by a federal judge last year for requesting a couple of days off.

Joni Ernst keynotes a big Americans for Prosperity Florida event in Orlando in September.

Ben Diamond is challenging Eric Lynn to a series of debates before the Aug. 30 Democratic primary in House District 68.

Ed Narain goes up with the first ad in the Senate District 19 campaign.

And Equality Florida says that the fundraising campaign for the victims of the Orlando shooting massacre last month has now raised over $7 million.

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Matt Stewart picks up broad base of endorsements for Pinellas School Board bid

Matt Stewart announced Wednesday that he’s picked up the endorsement from a broad base of Pinellas power brokers who support his run for the District 1 at-large seat on the Pinellas County School Board.

Those endorsements: Pinellas County Commission chairman Charlie Justice, Pinellas County Clerk of Court Ken Burke, Pinellas County Tax Collector Diane Nelson, Tarpon Springs City Commissioners Rea Sieber and Susan Slattery, Largo City Commissioner Michael Smith, and St. Petersburg City Council member Lisa Wheeler-Brown. The support comes from both sides of the political spectrum. Justice, for example, is a Democrat. Burke and Nelson, Republicans. The school board race is nonpartisan.

Charlie Justice
Charlie Justice

“Dr. Stewart is the most qualified candidate for the job,” Justice said. “He has a doctoral degree in education, he teaches at St Petersburg College, and he’s a foster parent. The Pinellas County School Board will benefit tremendously from his unique perspective.”

Wheeler-Brown said, “Dr. Stewart recognizes that while our schools are struggling, our students are not failures, and our teachers are not failures. He will be a leader in ensuring that all of our children receive a quality education and our teachers have the support they need.”

Nelson said, “I’m proud to endorse Dr. Stewart because he understands how important our schools are in strengthening our economy. We need to make sure our children have the training they need to succeed, and Dr. Stewart has the experience to make sure to implement that vision.”

Diane Nelson
Diane Nelson

Stewart said, “I’m so honored to have the support of such a dedicated and hardworking group of leaders. The Pinellas County school system holds a special place in my heart because I attended our public schools. I want to give back to the system I grew up in and to do my part to help our students, teachers, and our community.”

Stewart is a Pinellas County native who graduated from Largo High School in 1998. He earned a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, an M.A. in Religious Studies, an M.A.  in Theology, and a B.A. in Philosophy. He also holds certifications in Human Resources.

He is a deputy director for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections and a member of the adjunct faculty at St. Petersburg College in the College of Policy, Ethics, and Legal Studies. Stewart has worked for the Pinellas County government and Eckerd Youth Alternatives.

Matt and his husband, who live in St. Petersburg, are foster parents with Eckerd Community Alternatives and are members at St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral. Their foster children have attended Pinellas County Schools.

Stewart is one of four candidates in the race for the District 1 at-large seat, which is voted on countywide. Other candidates are Robert J. Beal, Bill Dudley, and Joanne Lentino. The position is held by Janet Clark, who is not running for re-election. The election is Aug. 30.

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Mike Mikurak hangs on to fundraising lead over Charlie Justice in Pinellas commission race

First-time candidate Mike Mikurak is holding firmly to his lead in the fundraising race for the District 3 at-large seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

Mikurak, a Republican, raised another $2,405 in June, bringing his total to $102,885. That is almost double Charlie Justice’s total of $55,582. Justice, the incumbent, raised $1,100 in June.

Justice could narrow that gap or overcome it. He has a fundraiser scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. July 26 at the Sheraton Sand Key, 1160 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach. It’s hosted by fellow Democratic county Commissioners Janet Long and Ken Welch.

The District 3 at-large seat is voted on countywide.

The election is Nov. 8.

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