Charlie Justice Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Pinellas Legislative Delegation to consider changes to construction licensing board

Responding to a request from Charlie Justice, the Pinellas Legislative Delegation will consider changing the way members of the Construction Licensing Board are chosen.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, the delegation chair, called on state Rep. Larry Ahern to come up with a plan by the delegation’s Jan. 31 meeting. State Sen. Jeff Brandes said he wanted Ahern to consider dissolving the board so it would come under control of the Pinellas County Commission.

The licensing board, created in 1973, regulates some construction and home improvement contractors practicing in Pinellas County. It also provides countywide certification and registration of contractors.

It has come under fire in recent weeks because of the way the board members are chosen. Certain organizations and others, named in the statute, suggest members and the chair — currently Justice — of the Pinellas County Commission is responsible for appointing them.

Justice explained the problems in a Nov. 16 letter to Latvala and the delegation:

“When the request to appoint various positions of the PCCLB came before me this fall, I noticed some discrepancies as to the number of appointees provided by the various appointing organizations … In addition, some of the appointing organizations no longer exist or have been adopted under the umbrella of another, similar organization.”

Justice concluded, “I would ask that the Pinellas Legislative Delegation review the laws that pertain to the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and consider amending them to reflect the makeup of the appointing organizations as well as the process by which the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners chair would go about appointing/reappointing board members to the PCCLB.”

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Janet Long elected chair of Pinellas County Commission

The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners elected a new chair and vice chair for 2017 on Tuesday.

Janet Long was elected chair. Ken Welch will serve as vice chair. Both choices received a unanimous vote from the seven-member commission.

The two will serve for a year. Their terms begin in January.

Long is succeeding Commissioner Charlie Justice who served as chair for 2016. Welch will succeed Long, who is the current vice chair.

“I’m truly honored and humbled to serve on this Board of County Commissioners,” Long said. “I look forward to finding more ways to make life better for the citizens of Pinellas County in 2017. These are exciting times.”

Long, Welch and Justice, Democrats who were reelected to the commission, were also sworn in for their new terms. Republican Karen Seel, who was also reelected, was not present for the ceremony.

Long, who represents District 1, a countywide seat, was first elected to the commission in 2012. Before that, she served in the state House of Representatives from 2006 to 2012. She served on the Seminole City Council from 2002 to 2006 and as a deputy commissioner for the Florida Department of Insurance from 1986 to 1998.

Welch, who represents District 7 which covers St. Petersburg and the unincorporated Lealman area, was first elected to the County Commission in 2000. He was reelected in 2004, 2008, and 2012. Before serving on the commission, Welch spent 14 years in accounting, information technology, and financial systems administration with Florida Power Corp. (now Duke Energy), and more than 20 years of entrepreneurial experience as technology manager for Welch Accounting & Tax Services, a family-owned business.

Justice represents District 3, a countywide seat. He was first elected to the commission in 2012. Seel represents District 5, a north county seat. She was served on the commission since 1999.

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Down-ballot races throughout Florida provided some interesting results as well

With so many high-profile races going on in Florida, other contests were on the ballot, but under the radar. Florida Politics pointed out 10 of those down-ballot races to watch with backgrounds on each.

While not as momentous as Donald Trump winning Florida, these races were interesting in their own right.

Miami-Dade County Mayor

Republican Mayor Carlos Gimenez went from a confident incumbent to someone battling to keep his job. He and many others thought he could win another term on Aug. 30.

In the end, he was forced into a runoff with Raquel Regalado. After a judge threw out a challenge to Gimenez’s place on the ballot, the race was on.

On Tuesday night, he earned a clear victory over Regalado, garnering 55 percent of the vote. Regalado earned 44 percent. The margin of victory was nearly 100,000 votes.

Kissimmee Mayor

Jose Alvarez and Art Otero survived a highly contentious primary. These two sitting county commissioners squared off on Tuesday.

When the votes were counted, Alvarez rolled to a fairly easy victory. With 11 of 12 precincts counted, he had an insurmountable 63 to 37 percent lead.

Otero was a solid candidate, but helping Alvarez was the endorsement of the two labor unions representing the region’s theme park and hospitality workers.

St. Cloud Mayor

This race pitted a pastor against the community’s deputy mayor. Pastor James Nathan Blackwell wound up defeating Jeff Rinehart in a reasonably close race.

Blackwell earned 56 percent of the vote, but his election may have been in doubt earlier when he got into some trouble for talking politics from the pulpit.

In the end, he survived the legal challenge as well as the challenge from Rinehart.

Orange County Commission

The Orange County Commission District 5 race was an intense battle between the incumbent Ted Edwards and Emily Bonilla. The race was dominated by an issue involving projects on Lake Pickett.

When the votes were counted, Bonilla, an environmental activist, upset Edwards and won the seat. Her margin of victory was more than 11,000 votes out of more than 78,000 cast, translating to a 57 to 43 percent victory.

Tampa City Council

The Tampa City Council District 7 race was a free-for-all involving six candidates. This made it unlikely any candidate would earn a majority, which is precisely what happened.

Jim Davison advanced to a runoff with Luis Viera. Davison earned 30 percent of the vote while Viera came in with 22 percent.

Davison was put in the hot seat when he received a $1,000 contribution from the local Republican Party, which is forbidden for municipal candidates. He returned the contribution.

Orlando GudesAvis Simone HarrisonGene Siudut, and Cyril Spiro divided the remaining votes.

Pinellas County Commission

Charlie Justice was looking to keep his District 3 seat on the Pinellas County Commission. He faced a strong challenge from Republican retired businessman Mike Mikurak.

Mikurak hammered Justice on his positions on zoning and environmental issues. He nearly pulled off the upset.

When the votes were counted, Justice had a narrow 52-48 percent victory. His victory allows the Democratic Party to keep a 4-3 majority on the commission.

Leon County Superintendent of Schools

Democratic incumbent Jackie Pons was challenged by former friend Rocky Hanna in a bitter race for Leon County Superintendent of Schools. Hanna, a former member of Pons’s administration, ran against him as a no party affiliate.

A controversial television ad against Hanna backfired against Pons, prompting some prominent supporters to abandon him. Hanna built on his record generated during his successful tenure as principal at Tallahassee’s Leon High School.

When the votes were counted, Hanna rolled to a convincing victory over Pons and two other candidates. Hanna earned 54 percent of the vote to 36 percent for Pons. Patricia Sunday and Forrest Van Camp split the remaining 10 percent.

Leon County Sheriff

This race involved four candidates, three of which switched party affiliations during the campaign. Incumbent Mike Wood, running as an NPA, was challenged by former Tallahassee police chief Walt McNeil, a Democrat, as well as Republican Charlie Strickland and NPA Tommy Mills.

McNeil described the incumbent Wood as “Rick Scott’s sheriff.” Wood was appointed by the governor following the death of longtime Sheriff Larry Campbell.

McNeil won the race by earning 46 percent of the vote, while Strickland and Wood gained 25 and 24 percent, respectively.

Jacksonville slots referendum

Supporters of CR 1, which would allow slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities, were placing their bets on the ability of increased gambling to increase jobs.

Apparently, that argument won the day because 54 percent of Duval County voters voted to approve the measure.

One hurdle remains. The Florida Supreme Court is considering a case that would decide whether a countywide vote for slots is constitutional.

Monroe County Zika Initiative

The fight against Zika was put before Monroe County voters on Tuesday. Residents were called on to weigh in on deploying genetically modified insects.

The measure was a non-binding poll and not a mandate. When the votes were counted, 57 percent voted in favor of the idea.

While not binding, three of the mosquito control board members said before the election they would take the public’s view into account before moving forward.

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Charlie Justice wins second term on Pinellas County Commission

Democrat Charlie Justice faced down a challenge from first-time candidate Mike Mikurak to win a second term on the Pinellas County Commission.

Justice took the lead early in the evening with about 53. 5 percent of the vote and never looked back.

Voters were treated to two distinctly different styles in the race for the District 3 seat, which was voted on countywide.

Republican Mikurak, who was making his first run for public office, was on the attack early on calling Justice a “career politician” for having served in both the state House and Senate before running for the County Commission. Mikurak also criticized the county as lacking leadership. In turn, Mikurak, a retired businessman, argued the county needed to be run more like a business.

Justice, on the other hand, took a softer approach, talking about his love for the county and his desire to see Pinellas as a place where his daughters would want to live. He also ran on his record, saying the county had come a long way since he first took office in 2012 when there was infighting on the commission and between the county and cities, fire districts, fire chiefs, and other county commissions. Collaboration, Justice said, was the way to get things done for the future.

In other county races, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri won another term. Gualtieri, a Republican, clobbered both James McLynas, who ran without a party affiliation, and write-in candidate Greg Pound.

Republican Mike Twitty also became property appraiser when he took about 96.7 percent of the vote against write-in candidates.

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Mike Mikurak’s donations to his campaign fatten his fundraising balance

Mike Mikurak’s fundraising total far outweighs the amount raised by incumbent Charlie Justice.

The two are battling it out for the District 3 seat on the Pinellas County Commission. The District 3 seat is at large and voted on countywide.

Mikurak, a retired businessman, has deposited a total of $156,352 in his campaign account; Justice, $105,928.

But a sizable portion of Mikurak’s total came out of his own pocket. As of mid-October, Mikurak had given about $42,700 in cash and in-kind donations to his campaign.

That trend has continued as the campaign has wound down to its final days. During the period from Oct. 15 through Oct. 21, for example, Mikurak put $8,000 of his own funds into the race. From Oct. 22 through Nov. 3, he put in another $2,160 in-kind towards advertising.

Justice has benefited from union money in the closing days of the race.

Union pac donors include the Millwrights and Machinery Local 1000 ($1,000), Ironworkers ($500), Local Union 915 ($500), WCFFL ($250), and the Florida Fire Pac ($250).

The battle between Mikurak and Justice has been nasty at times.

Mikurak, a Republican, has attacked Justice, a Democrat, as being a career politician. (Justice served in both the State House and Senate before being elected to the county commission). He has also called Justice arrogant and accused him of wasting taxpayers’ money.

Mikurak says he has also brought employment to 200 Pinellas residents and that more of the same is needed. Mikurak says a businessman is necessary on the commission.

Justice has countered with a lower-key campaign that focuses on the changes that, he said, have been made since his election to the county commission four years ago. Among them, a calming of the disputes among commissioners themselves and between the county and cities, fire districts, fire chiefs, and other county commissions.

Justice says the county needs more collaboration and willingness to cooperate with other governments to accomplish things.

The election is Tuesday.

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More than just the presidency: 10 down ballot races to watch on Election Day

Presidential races get all the attention, but it’s the folks down ballot that make the real decisions.

In the Sunshine State, there’s no shortage of high intensity — and sometimes high drama — battles for office.

And we aren’t talking about the races for state House and Senate. There have been allegations of election fraud in a mayor’s race, dirty tricks in a superintendent battle, and fights over genetically modified mosquitoes.

Here are 10 down ballot races and referendums we think you should be paying attention when the polls close on Tuesday

Miami-Dade County Mayoral

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez thought he had it in the bag.

Going into the Aug. 30 primary, Gimenez was believed to have a leg up on his competitors. Internal polls showed him ahead of the Raquel Regalado and five other competitors, enough to avoid a run-off.

Then the results came in: Gimenez got 48 percent of the vote; Regalado came in with 32 percent. That wasn’t enough to secure the win, and set the mayoral hopefuls up for a rumble in November.

And what a fight it has been. Regalado filed a lawsuit to disqualify Gimenez because a technicality. The lawsuit, according to WPLG in Miami, claimed the Miami-Dade election office received a qualifying check, which was rejected by the bank.

A Miami-Dade County dismissed the suit during a hearing last week.

The lawsuit wasn’t the only thing hanging over the election. In October, a 74-year-old woman was charged with two felony counts of marking another person’s ballot. The Miami Herald reported the woman’s coworkers caught her illegally marking ballots for Regalado.

Regalado told the Miami Herald that she didn’t know the person and it had “nothing to do with” her.

An October poll, according to the Miami Herald, showed Gimenez beating Regalado by 22 percentage points.

Kissimmee Mayoral

A bloody primary between hopefuls Jose Alvarez, Art Otero and Freddy Villaneuva ended in a run-off, pitting Alvarez and Otero against each other in November.

Both men are sitting Kissimmee commissioners, and in July, Alvarez told the Osceola News-Gazette he was running because he wanted “newcomers to know the satisfaction of community that I know, and I want natives to know that the things that they cherish are not lost, but rather overshadowed by the pains of growth – and that’s unacceptable.”

Wage increases have been a key issue in the non-partisan race, and Alvarez scored the endorsement of the two major labor unions representing the workers at Walt Disney World and other hospitality businesses in Central Florida.

Otero has his own top-notch credentials to tout. He’s the former vice mayor, a member of the Osceola Expressway Authority Board, and former chairman of the Osceola Housing Commission. But he appears to be running as an outsider, telling the Osceola News-Gazette in July the mayor’s seat has “been filled by a lifelong career politician long enough.”

“It is time for new ideas and a fresh perspective. It is time to move our city into an entirely new level and make it an even better place to live, work and play,” he told the newspaper“The time has come to ultimately unite our city and listen to its citizens and their needs.”

St. Cloud Mayoral

The race for the St. Cloud mayor pits a well-known pastor against the community’s deputy mayor.

James Nathan Blackwell faces Jeff Rinehart in the November election.

Blackwell moved to St. Cloud in 1988, and became the founding pastor of Cornerstone Family Church. The church has a weekly attendance of about 1,000, and his position means he’s accountable for a team of 53 staffers and managing a $2.3 million budget.

But his role at the church has gotten him in a bit of hot water. In August, WFTV reported Blackwell used one of his sermons to talk about parties among politicians. According to the report, his decision to talk politics from the pulpit might have been a violation of the federal tax code.

Rinehart served as a St. Cloud city councilman for four years.

“Serving on the City Council is an honor and a responsibility that requires time spent in City Hall and interaction with the residents,” he said on his website. “When a council member is “disengaged” they can make decisions that may not best serve the residents of St. Cloud. I am the Councilman that proved that there was money in the budget, ultimately saving all our taxpayers money and reducing the waste of taxpayer dollars.”

Orange County Commission

Development is at the heart of a contention race in Orange County.

The race for Orange County District 5 pits incumbent Commissioner Ted Edwards against Emily Bonilla, an environmental activist. Both candidates admit it’s become a heated race, divided over a single issue: the two Lake Pickett projects, Grow and Sustany, which promise to bring thousands of new homes to the area east of the Econlockhatchee River.

Edwards is all for the projects, saying they are community oriented.

“I understand that any time you develop open land, people hate to see it go,” he said. “There’s been a lot of opposition, but it has misstated a lot of facts about these projects.”

Bonilla is squarely on the opposing side. While she has stressed she isn’t anti-growth, she has focused her campaign on mobilizing the county against urban sprawl. In August, she called on the County Commission to take another vote on the Lake Pickett project, saying the project would encroach on the Econlockhatchee River Basin and displace many wild animals from their homes.

Tampa City Council

Everyone loves a special election, and Tampa residents have one on their ballot this election cycle.

The Tampa City Council District 7 election was needed to replace Lisa Montelione, who is running as a Democrat in House District 63. It’s a crowded field, with six candidates — Jim Davison, Orlando Gudes, Avis Harrison, Gene Siudut, Cyrial Spiro, and Luis Viera —all vying for a spot on Tampa City Council.

Davison had the lead in an October poll conducted by St. Pete Polls. The survey showed 27 percent of voters said they were backing the emergency room physician, while 10 percent backed Harrison. The mid-October poll found 36 percent of voters said they sure who they were going to vote for.

Issues like transportation, economic development and crime are hot topics this election cycle. But there’s also been a few controversial moments.

Davison returned $1,000 contribution from the Hillsborough County Republican Executive Committee, after the chairwoman of the Hillsborough Democrats filed a complaint asking the the Florida Elections Commission to look into the contribution. The Tampa City Charter prohibits candidates for municipal office to “solicit or accept party funds or endorsements.”

Davison, according to the Tampa Bay Times, raised about $12,000. Viera, the newspaper reported, has raised $71,000.

With six candidates in the running, it’s unlikely one candidate will receive the necessary votes to come out on top come Election Day. That means Tampa residents should gear up for a run-off election in December.

Pinellas County Commission

Three Pinellas County Commission candidates got a pass, winning their seats after running unopposed.

The fourth seat, that’s where all the action is.

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice is hoping to keep his seat, and faces retired businessman Mike Mikurak, a Republican, in the District 3 race.

Justice has been hammered for his positions over the years, including the commission’s unanimous vote to refuse a developer’s request to rezone land in Safety Harbor. The developer later sued, and a judge entered a $16.5 million judgement against the county.

Justice has said the charges aren’t gaining traction, in part because he said the county is doing better than it was four years ago. Commission members work together, and the county has worked through financial issues and have made peace with cities and other commissions across the Bay.

The two men have also clashed over sewage being dumped into the Bay. During the last two tropical storms, the St. Petersburg sewer system was overwhelmed by millions of gallons of partially treated or untreated wastewater.

Leon County Superintendent

The race to lead Leon County Schools has been one of the nastiest on record.

Need proof? Superintendent Jackie Pons came under fire in September after he launched a TV spot that focused on a 2013 paternity lawsuit involving opponent Rocky Hanna. His longtime media consultant left over the ad, a top supporter withdrew his support, and Pons faced immediate backlash on social media.

Pons, who has served as superintendent since 2006, apologized and pulled the ad after a few days. He said while the advertisement was truthful and factual, “it was a mistake.”

“I wouldn’t have even expected Donald Trump to do that, quite honestly,” said Hanna during an October debate hosted by WCTV. “But there’s a line you don’t cross. No job, winning no election is worth sacrificing someone else’s family when you have no idea what’s gone on.”

A Tallahassee native, Hanna has spent the past three years working with special sites and programs, including students in foster care. Before that, he served as the dean of students at Leon High School, moving his way up the ranks to becoming the school’s principal.

Pons and Hanna aren’t the only ones in the race. Patricia Ann Sunday and Forrest Van Camp are also running.

Leon County Sheriff

Leon County Sheriff Mike Wood is hoping to keep his seat, but will need to fend off three other hopefuls to keep his job.

Wood, who is running as a no party affiliate candidate, has built up good will in the community and the department over the years. He joined the force as a deputy sheriff in March 2983, moving up the ranks over his 30-year career. He was hired as Under Sheriff on Jan. 1, 2015. He was appointed sheriff 22 days later following the death of longtime Sheriff Larry Campbell.

The battle to keep his job won’t be an easy one. He faces three former law enforcement officials, including the former Tallahassee police chief.

Walt McNeil, who’s running as a Democrat, served as the chief of the Tallahassee and Quincy policy departments, as well as a stint as the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Department of Corrections. Like Wood, he has deep roots and deep connections in the community.

Republican Charles Strickland, a former lieutenant with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and the CEO of Talon Training, and Tommy Mills, a no party affiliation candidate, are also running. Strickland, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, has the backing of Machelle Campbell, the former sheriff’s wife.

Sheriff Campbell, according to the Democrat, had planned to back Wood as his successor.

Jacksonville slots referendum

For the second time this year, Jacksonville voters are faced with a County Referendum 1 on their ballot. The first CR 1 authorized the extension of the current half-cent sales tax past its current 2030 sunset date, and earmarking funds from that to address the city’s $2.8 billion unfunded pension liability.

The new CR 1? It would allow slot machines at licensed pari-mutel facilities in Duval County. The initiative is backed by Jacksonville Greyhound Racing, which owns the bestbet facility expected to house the slot machines if it passes.

Supporters of the initiative say it will create jobs, and $5 million or so in anticipated tax revenue (1.5 percent of gross proceeds) will go to much-needed city services.

But the Florida Times-Union points out, the referendum could be moot, regardless of the outcome. The Florida Supreme Court is considering a case that will decide whether slots can be legalized through a countywide vote.

Monroe County Zika initiative

Maybe Forbes said it best: The fate of fight against Zika rests on voters in Monroe County.

For more than a decade, Oxitec has found genetically modified insects have served as an effective mosquito control tool, reducing the population and slowing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. The process has worked in Brazil, the Cayman Islands and Panama, and the company is prepared to begin its first trial in the United States.

But before the trial can start, Monroe County residents have to head to the polls to say whether they support the proposed trial.

The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District agreed to put a non-binding referendum on the ballot to gauge support for the ballots. The decision came after residents expressed concern about the trial, despite years of discussion over it.

Two referendums will be on the ballot — one in Key Haven, and a second on ballots across Monroe County. Although the referendum is non-binding, Forbes reported three of the five mosquito board members said they would take the public’s decision into account before moving forward.

There’s been a big push to rally support for the referendum. The Florida Keys Safety Alliance formed earlier this year, launching a public education campaign to reach residents in the Keys.

__Staff writers A.G. Gancarski, Lawrence Griffin, Anne Lindberg, and Mitch Perry contributed to this report

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Direct mail round-up: Charlie Justice urges voters to make their ways down-ballot

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice has dropped two mail pieces as the election winds down to its final days.

One urges voters to “vote down ballot.” The other, on some of his endorsements and “the issues that matter.”

Justice, a Democrat, is facing retired businessman Mike Mikurak, a Republican, in the race for the District 3 seat on the county commission. District 3 is voted on countywide.

Even though the mailers are a bit different, they repeat Justice’s campaign themes: The county is doing better than before he was first elected four years ago. And, there’s still work to be done.

“While the presidential election gets far more attention, it’s the race for Pinellas County Commission that will more directly impact your everyday life,” the down ballot mailer says.

It adds, “Remember when they took fluoride out of the water? Charlie Justice is running for re-election and needs your vote. The fluoride is back in the water — Thanks Charlie! — but there are plenty more challenges to deal with, like making sure we investin infrastructure to attract and grow new businesses.

“That way, you can have career choices instead of just a job. That you have transportation options besides a car. That we deal with climate change like adults, instead of denying what’s happening.

“That’s the difference your vote can make, but only if you vote down ballot. Make it really count by voting to re-elect Charlie Justice to the Pinellas County Commission.”

The other mailer is headlined: “Getting the important work done!” And “Focusing on the issue that matter.”

Justice says he was praised by the Florida Realtors, the Sierra Club and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

It lists some accomplishments:

“Charlie helped secure a $1 million highway beautification grant for our county. He’s working to use our hard-earned dollars efficientlyand effectively!”

“Pinellas County saw no millage increases under Charlie’s leadership. He also helped Pinellas get to the lowest debt ratio of any Florida county.”

“Charlie led the charge to ban fracking in our county and keep Tampa Bay clean.”

It concludes: “Call Charlie and thank him for putting Pinellas County first!”

The final day of early voting is Sunday. The election is Tuesday.

   sgs-fl-pinellasccd3-fr-16g-justicemail1-v1-1-1  Charlie Justice

justice-mail-nov-1-1  justice-mail-nov-1-2

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Charlie Justice stands by his vote to do what the people in Safety Harbor wanted

During his campaign for re-election, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice has heard some of the same charges over and over from opponent Mike Mikurak.

Two of the most frequently repeated comments have to do with a unanimous vote by the County Commission to refuse a developer’s request to rezone land in Safety Harbor. The developer sued and a judge entered a $16.5 million judgment against the county.

The other has to do with St. Petersburg’s dumping millions of gallons of raw and partially treated sewage into Tampa Bay during two tropical storms last summer.

But Justice does not seem overly worried about Mikurak’s charges.

“His role is to tear things down. To put a chink in the armor,” Justice said Tuesday. “All his mail has had an ounce of truth and a pound of twist to it.”

The charges, he said, aren’t getting traction. That’s in large part, he said, because people can remember what the County Commission was like four years ago when he first came on board. Commissioners were fighting with each other, with then-County Administrator Bob LaSala, with fire chiefs and fire districts, with cities and with other commissions.

But LaSala is gone, and the new County Administrator Mark Woodard brings a more collaborative outlook to the role. Commission members themselves are more cooperative, Justice said. They’ve worked out the financial issues that beset the county’s emergency medical services system, and they’ve made peace with cities and that other commission across the Bay.

People are so happy with the county’s direction, that more than 90 percent said in a survey that they had faith in the Pinellas County government.

It’s that kind of collaboration and peaceful resolution to issues that Justice said he wants to continue, which is why he’s running for re-election.

As for the sewage issue — St. Petersburg has become the poster child for a local environmental disaster. But that’s not something the county could have stopped. Full-service cities like St. Pete run their own systems, and the county can’t force its will on them.

“He’s trying to blame me for something that’s not Pinellas County’s responsibility,” Justice said. “To me, that’s very misleading.”

The county, he said, has doubled its budget for pipelining. And Justice recently spearheaded the formation of a sewer task force comprised of, among others, St. Petersburg.

One goal is to open up communication between governments about sewer issues. Another is to find ways each member can help the others, Justice said. And, ultimately, the task force will try to find the means to connect systems to serve all in the county better. That might be actual connections between systems, or it could be building more sewer plants. Or, there might be some other solution out there.

Justice is also sticking by his vote against the Safety Harbor developer. The vote, he reminds, was unanimous from a commission that was dominated at the time by Republicans. Justice is a Democrat; Mikurak, a Republican.

The case is on appeal and Justice said he’s sure it will be overturned. His reasoning: The commission has the power to weigh all sides of development issues and determine what’s in the best interest of the community.

“It’s not that you check all the boxes, you get a land use change,” Justice said. “You check all the boxes, and you get to ask for a land-use change.”

The cities and county still have to weigh what’s best. Otherwise, “developers will be able to build whatever they want without the commission having a say in it.”

In the case of the Safety Harbor proposal, more than 300 people said they did not want the change. They wanted their community to remain as it was.

“I have no problem with standing up for” what the people want, Justice said.

Justice holds the District 3 seat on the Pinellas County Commission. The seat is voted countywide. Early voting ends Sunday. The election is Tuesday.

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Mike Mikurak mailer portrays Charlie Justice as arrogant spendthrift

Mike Mikurak has stepped up his attack against Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice in a campaign mailer that accuses Justice of raising taxes and wasting money.

Mikurak, a Republican is seeking to unseat Justice, a Democrat, who is running for his second term in the District 3 seat on the County Commission. District 3 is voted countywide.

The main thrust of the mailer is a $16.5 million judgment that hit the county in June. The ruling arose from a 2012 request made by the Richman Group that the city of Safety Harbor rezone a 34.55-acre parcel of land at the intersection of McMullen-Booth Road and 10th Street so that it could 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.

The proposal won preliminary approval with a 3-2 vote from the Safety Harbor City Council. The proposal had to win the county’s approval before it went back before the Safety Harbor council for the final OK.

But, after hearing from 308 residents opposed to the development, Pinellas County commissioners turned down the proposal saying they believed in the preservation of “industrial” land.

Richman appealed to an administrative law judge, who ruled that the commission had erred. Preservation of industrial land was not one of the reasons the county code listed as an allowable reason for turning down a zoning or land use change.

The case went back to the county commissioners who were cautioned by Bennett that they needed to follow what the administrative law judge had said. But commissioners ignored the advice and unanimously voted to deny the zoning and land use change.

The county has appealed the judgment.

Mikurak’s mailer has a picture of a dollar bill on fire and the headline: “$16.5 million of your money up in smoke.” It then asks, “What does Commissioner Charlie Justice say about wasting your money?? ‘I’m not going to apologize for that …’”

The other side of the mailer quotes from a Tampa Bay Times editorial that said the commissioners “squandered” the money “to protect their political futures.”

The mailer says, “Charlie is a lifetime government employee, not a lawyer! He should have known better. But arrogant politicians like Charlie Justice think they are above the law. It is time to hold him accountable.”

Elsewhere, Mikurak says that Justice has been on the “government payroll” for almost 20 years — referring to Justice’s time in the Florida House and Senate and his employment at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and as a legislative aide to former state Rep. Lars Hafner.

During those 20 years, Mikurak says, “he has wasted our tax dollars and raises our taxes too many times to count.”

Mikurak charges that “during his time in Tallahassee, he voted to increase our taxes by over $2 billion!”

Among those tax increases, Mikurak’s mailer says: increased fees on driver’s licenses and motor vehicle tags, raised cigarette taxes by $1 a pack, and voting against an increase in the homestead exemption, portability for Save Our Homes, and limits on future property tax increases.

The remainder of the mailer focuses on Mikurak’s background in business and his service on the Juvenile Welfare Board and the boards of the BayCare Health System and St. Anthony’s Hospital. He also says he has brought manufacturing jobs to Pinellas with CareerSource Pinellas.

Early voting ends Nov. 6. The election is Nov. 8.

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Charlie Justice, Mike Mikurak clash over sewage

The two candidates for the District 3 seat on the Pinellas County Commission spent the last forum before the election as they have spent the campaign — wrangling over leadership.

Democratic incumbent Charlie Justice says he has displayed leadership during his term on the commission. The commission, he says, was a “mess” when he took office four years ago: Commissioners were fighting with each other, with the mayors, with fire districts and with cities across the bay.

“It was not a good place to do business,” Justice said.

But all that has changed and a new spirit of collaboration has swept over the commission.

Retired businessman Mike Mikurak, a Republican, doesn’t see it that way. Justice, he says, is a “career politician” who lacks leadership skills and vision. What’s needed, Mikurak says, are creative solutions for the future that can be implemented now.

For Mikurak, that lack of leadership and creativity is apparent in the condition of St. Petersburg’s sewers. During two summer tropical storms, the city’s system was overwhelmed and millions of gallons of partly treated and untreated wastewater was dumped into Tampa Bay.

That, he said, should never have happened if the county had been proactive about its leadership. The fact that the county doesn’t control the St. Petersburg sewer system is “not important,” Mikurak told the crowd at Thursday’s candidates’ forum in Gulfport. With “thoughtful leadership and guidance … proactive guidance,” the problem could have been averted.

What’s needed now, he says, is a plan to fix the system.

Justice agrees fixing all the sewer systems in the county is an important issue. But, he says, the county could not tell St. Petersburg, or any other city, what to do.

“Pinellas County can’t come into Gulfport and tell you how to do your business,” Justice said.

Justice has called for a task force, which met earlier this month, comprised of members from cities and private owners with sewer systems to come up with a countywide plan to remedy the sewer woes facing the county.

The District 3 seat is voted on countywide. Early voting ends Nov. 6. The election is Nov. 8.

 

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