Jack Latvala Archives - Page 6 of 35 - SaintPetersBlog

Director of Pinellas construction licensing board retires

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

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

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

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

In the end, the proposal to dissolve the PCCLB was withdrawn while the other was unanimously passed.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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinellas legislative delegation could dissolve contractor licensing board

Members of the Pinellas Legislative Delegation are scheduled to consider a local bill to dissolve the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board.

The bill is one of two regarding the PCCLB sponsored by state Rep. Larry Ahern and state Sen. Jack Latvala. A local bill applies to a certain area only, rather than the entire state. In this case, the law would only affect the PCCLB, not any other licensing boards.

The other bill would increase the number of members of the board from 21 to 22 and directs what organizations will be represented on the board.

They will be considered at Tuesday’s delegation meeting.

Ahern, from Seminole, said the measures are designed to give delegation members a choice of how to handle the PCCLB. If members think the problems lie with the membership of the board, they could choose just to change the membership.

On the other hand, if they believe construction licensing and complaints could better be handled under the control of the county, they could vote to dissolve the agency.

Ahern said he believes licensing oversight is needed, but that it might be time to change the way it’s done. One possible advantage to dissolving the board and giving control to the county, he said, is the possibility of using other agencies, such as the Sheriff’s Office, to beef up enforcement.

The proposed dissolution bill would ban the PCCLB from incurring “any additional obligations or indebtedness” and directs it to “avoid wasting its assets.” It additionally gives a deadline for board members to wind up the board’s business: “By Dec. 31, 2017, the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board shall wind down its affairs, including liquidating all of its assets and satisfying all of its obligations and indebtedness.”

The other bill increases the number of members of the board from 21 to 22 and directs what organizations will be represented on the board.

The PCCLB came under fire after a Tampa Bay Times story alleged that homeowners and contractors feel “cheated, ignored and even stonewalled” by the PCCLB. The board has called that story false and misleading.

Pinellas commissioners ask for power to revamp construction licensing board

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long sent a strongly-worded letter to the head of the county’s construction licensing board telling him to get the agency’s house in order.

Long also sent a letter to state Sen. Jack Latvala asking that Pinellas’ legislative delegation give the county the power to determine how best to provide the board’s services to residents.

The construction licensing board regulates certain construction and home improvement contractors practicing in Pinellas County, including all local municipalities. In addition, the PCCLB provides countywide certification and registration of contractors and countywide certification of journeyman.

The agency has come under fire recently for a lack of accountability and a failure to adequately police those contractors who come before it, especially if the contractor serves on the board. A study by the Tampa Bay Times concluded that homeowners and contractors feel “cheated, ignored and even stonewalled.”

Long referred to the Times story in her letter:

“On behalf of the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners, I am writing about continuing  concerns related to the practices of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board (PCCLB).

“As the Legislature looks at potential options for reform, we strongly encourage the PCCLB to address the issues reported in the Tampa Bay Times to increase accountability and oversight, eliminate conflicts of interest, and adhere to Florida’s Public Records and Sunshine Laws. The public and Board of County Commissioners desires the PCCLB to operate in a transparent, ethical, and fair manner in order to restore the public’s trust and confidence in Pinellas County’s institutions.”

The Pinellas County delegation is expected to discuss the matter at its meeting next Tuesday.

In a letter to Latvala, who heads the delegation, Long wrote:

“Enclosed please find the attached letter to Mr. (Paul) Skipper, Chairman of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board (PCCLB). The Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners encourages the Legislature to seek an expeditious solution to the ongoing issues with the PCCLB. We also ask that, should the PCCLB be dissolved and its activities assigned to the Board of County Commissioners, the county administrator be provided the latitude to  determine  the  structure  needed  to  deliver  these services  in an  efficient  and  effective manner.”


Pinellas legislative delegation schedules meeting next week

State Sen. Jack Latvala, chair of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation, has scheduled the second regular public hearing for the upcoming 2017 Legislative Session.

The meeting will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 31 at the Largo Public Library, 120 Central Park Drive in Largo. The library is located in the Central Park complex near the intersection of Missouri and East Bay Drive.

This meeting will include voting on proposed local bills, presentations focusing on jobs and economic development, as well as limited time to hear from local organizations and agencies.

For a speaker request form, contact Latvala’s district office at (727) 793-2797 or by email at caddell.tracy@flsenate.gov. You can also obtain a form by visiting the delegation’s website at pinellascounty.org/delegation/.

Richard Corcoran: House won’t OK legal money for DEP

House Speaker Richard Corcoran late Monday said his chamber won’t agree to hand over any more money for the Department of Environmental Protection to pay its legal bills until the agency gives a full accounting of what’s already been spent.

Corcoran was reacting to the DEP’s request to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission for an additional $13 million to pay outside legal counsel in an ongoing court fight between Georgia and Florida over water use. (Earlier story here.)

The commission is scheduled to take up the request Tuesday.

Coincidentally, DEP Secretary Jon Steverson resigned Friday and is going to work for one of the law firms, Foley & Lardner, that’s representing the state in the matter. Steverson is an attorney.

“We won’t approve the money until an audit is done and we will pass legislation barring the revolving door from agency head to lobbyist/lawyer,” Corcoran said in a statement.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission acts as a joint committee of the Legislature, charged with reviewing and approving the equivalent of mid-course corrections to the current year’s state spending plan.

It’s made up of seven members of the state House and seven of the Senate. Of those House members, five belong to the House’s controlling Republican caucus, including commission co-chair Carlos Trujillo, who also heads the House Appropriations committee.

Earlier Monday, Trujillo told FloridaPolitics.com he would “need additional information before we can even consider approval,” noting the state will have dedicated over $100 million to legal and related fees in the water use case if the latest dollars are OK’d.

The nearly two-decade dispute centers around upstream water use from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. They meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which empties into the Apalachicola Bay.

water use

“Water war” could cost the state another $13M in legal fees

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has busted its outside legal expenses budget over the ongoing ‘water war’ between Georgia and Florida, legislative records show.

It’s asking for an additional $13 million from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which meets Tuesday — and even that may not be enough.

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office approved the request to the commission, made up of House and Senate members, for “litigation costs.”

“This increase is necessary to meet projected expenditures for outside counsel as it relates to the ongoing litigation in the Florida v. Georgia Supreme Court case for equitable apportionment of the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin,” the request says.

If the extra money is approved, the state will have dedicated over $100 million to legal and related fees in the water use case, said state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the Miami-Dade Republican who co-chairs the commission.

“I’m very concerned about the costs of this litigation and we need additional information before we can even consider approval,” added Trujillo, the House Appropriations chair. “It’s been somewhat of a surprise.”

Commission co-chair Jack Latvala, the Senate Appropriations chair, was not immediately available.

The request was submitted before DEP Secretary Jon Steverson suddenly resigned his post on Friday, giving no reason in his resignation letter to Scott, to whom he reported. His official departure date is Feb. 3.

A spokeswoman for Scott Monday evening said there was “no connection” between the escalating legal costs and Steverson’s resignation.

His leaving “will be discussed at tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting, but since it was not properly noticed, no action is scheduled to be taken,” Scott spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said in an email.

Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times that Steverson was going to work for the lobbying team at the Foley & Lardner law firm, one of four firms representing the state in the water use case. The law firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The legal dispute focuses on water use from a watershed in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers flow through Georgia and meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay.

Florida blames rapid growth in metropolitan Atlanta and agriculture in south Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Georgia has argued that Florida didn’t prove its water use is to blame for the low flows and says a cap will damage the state’s economy.

Alabama isn’t directly involved in this case but has sided with Florida, encouraging a cap on Georgia’s use.

A federal court official recently ordered attorneys for Florida and Georgia to try again to settle the yearslong disagreement.

According to budget documents, the DEP was given $18.6 million in the 2016-17 budget year to pay for legal expenses.

“The department utilized $2.4 million in base funding and processed a budget amendment to increase base funding by $3.0 million for litigation expenses, for a total of $23.9 million in available funding,” its request explains.

“The DEP carried over $11.7 million in expenditures from Fiscal Year 2015-16, has $7.1 million in actual billings for July and August of 2016, and the projected expenses from September 2016 through June 2017 are $22.2 million, for a total of $41.1 million in projected costs,” it says. “The estimated additional need in excess of current appropriations is $17.1 million.”

The added $13 million would be made of $9 million from the state’s Internal Improvement Trust Fund and another $4 million from the Permit Fee Trust Fund, according to the request.

“The remaining projected deficit is $4.1 million,” it says.

Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

Jack Latvala says he’ll support legislation banning fracking again in 2017 Session

State Sen. Jack Latvala opposed a bill to regulate the use of fracking in the 2016 Session, and in the upcoming Session, he’ll support legislation that would do so again.

“I’m where I was last year,” he said when asked about the controversial practice to extract natural gas and oil out of the ground.

“I helped beat it last year, so … I’m in the same place, and I’ll support a bill to ban it,” the Clearwater Republican said while exiting Sunlake High School in Land O’Lakes after a long afternoon hearing from the public at the Pasco County Legislative Delegation meeting.

Last year, Naples Republican Garett Richter‘s bill died in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would have directed the Department of Environmental Protection to set up a regulatory scheme for onshore oil and gas drilling, provide $1 million to study the impact of fracking on Florida’s aquifer and unique limestone bedrock, as well as pre-empt local government ordinances seeking to ban the practice.

“We saw the issue of banning fracking come up in many races in the past election,” said Michelle Allen, the Florida organizer with Food and Water Watch. “And we believe it’s going to continue to come up until we pass a statewide ban on it.”

Allen addressed the issue Wednesday before the six-person body.

The issue was certainly hot last fall in the three-way Senate District 18 race in Hillsborough County between Republican Dana Young, Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner.

Young was dogged by environmental groups (as well as her two opponents) of being pro-fracking by supporting the Richter bill; she insisted it was, in fact, a vote to ban the practice.

Immediately after winning the race, Young announced she would be proposing a bill in the 2017 Session to ban fracking.

The number of local governments in Florida that passed resolutions or ordinances denouncing fracking in Florida is now up to 89, Allen said.

“Floridians do not want fracking,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director with Environment Florida. “Over 75 percent of Floridians live in a city or county that has passed a resolution or an ordinance opposing fracking. That includes Dade City and Zephyrhills here in Pasco County, and Tampa, St. Pete and Pinellas County as a whole.”

Rubiello added that the Legislature shouldn’t vote for more studies. They were “a waste of time, money and energy, even when they’re attached to a true ban,” she said.

In a report released last month, the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that, in some circumstances, hydraulic fracturing has contaminated drinking water.

The report came just as President-elect Donald Trump vowed to expand fracking and roll back existing regulations on the process.

(An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that Latvala was chair of the Appropriations Committee last year. He did not take over those duties until this fall.)

At swearing in, Bob Dillinger says it’s his last term as Pinellas/Pasco public defender

The event was set up as a festive ceremony to swear in six of Pinellas County’s constitutional officers.

But amid the laughter, hugs and cheers, there were some serious moments.

One came just after Pinellas-Pasco public defender Bob Dillinger was sworn in by Anthony Rondolino, chief judge of the Sixth Judicial Circuit.

In a voice choked with emotion, Dillinger announced that this would be his “last term as public defender for the Sixth Judicial Circuit.”

Dillinger did not offer reasons for his decision, saying, “It’s an honor to have served.”

He also offered his hopes that people who are powerless, poor and forgotten would be remembered and would receive “liberty and justice for all.”

Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe praised Dillinger, saying, “We genuinely get along. … We collaborate together. We have a collegial atmosphere…That’s something you don’t find everywhere else.”

Another solemn moment came when Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark was sworn in. In a teary voice, Clark remembered Judge Pat Caddell, who died in 2014. Caddell had chaired the Pinellas County Canvassing Board in every election for 22 years.

“Pat was my close friend and mentor, I miss him every day,” Clark said.

For the most part, the rest of the evening was full of joking and laughter.

Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala swore in Clerk of Court Ken Burke.

“I’ve sworn at him,” Latvala said. “I guess he thought it appropriate that I swear him in.”

Rondolino, who also swore in McCabe, joked as McCabe put his hand on the Bible and raised his right hand: “I’ve been waiting 40 years to get him under oath.”

Dillinger is a native Floridian who moved to Pinellas County in 1973. He has an undergraduate degree from Columbia University (1973) and a juris doctor degree from Stetson College of Law (1976).

He served as assistant public defender from 1976 to 1981 when he left for private practice. He was elected public defender and has served in that position ever since.

‘Mr. Lealman’ Ray Neri dies

Ray Neri, the man who put the unincorporated Lealman area on the map, died Tuesday at Northside Hospital.

Neri was taken to Northside on Monday. He had fallen earlier in the day.

Neri was a well-known community activist whose persistent lobbying brought attention to the problems in his community. With the light he shone on Lealman came help. His activism resulted in, among other things, a renovated park, a new park, and Pinellas County’s first community redevelopment area designed to solve the problems of poverty that permeates the community.

Lealman is located between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg on the north and south and between I-275 and Park Street on the east and west. Kenneth City divides the area into two. Most of Neri’s activism centered on the portion of the Lealman area to the east of Kenneth City.

“He’s Mr. Lealman to me,” Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala said Tuesday. “Who in the world is going to keep the focus on that community?”

Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said, “Ray was a character who could drive you nuts but you never minded. He was so persistent in his efforts to make things better for children, specifically the children in Lealman, that you always came away admiring the way he kept pushing us forward.

“He was one of those folks that you just assumed would always be there. Hard to fathom things without his input.”

Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long said, “Such a tragedy for our county and the Lealman area. … There’s a lot of things that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for him.”

Neri served on the Juvenile Welfare Board, the Emergency Medical Services Advisory Council, the Lealman Community Redevelopment Area Citizen Advisory Board, the Police Athletic League and was a member and former head of the Lealman Community Association.

Details about arrangements were not available late Tuesday.

Tom Lee wants to eliminate agency designed to use taxpayers funds for constructing or improving sports facilities

Less than three years after Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation providing for state revenues to go toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities, state Sen. Tom Lee wants to eliminate the agency created to distribute those funds.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived and based on the false premise that these capital improvements are a boon for economic development,” the Brandon Republican said Tuesday. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”

Under the Sports Development Program created by the Legislature in 2014, sporting projects and complexes seeking Florida tax revenue must submit proposals to be evaluated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Then the disbursement of funds must pass approval by the Florida Legislative Budget Commission. The state can award up to $13 million annually for all certified applicants. The maximum annual distribution for a single sports franchise facility is for only $3 million, and distributions can be made for up to 30 years.

In spending $100 million to upgrade Raymond James Stadium over the past year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had hoped to procure $3 million in Sports Development Program funds to help pay for that upgrade. However, their application was rejected because it wasn’t completed on time. The NFL franchise reapplied to the program last month, requesting $1 million a year for at least 10 years.

Scott hailed the legislation when he signed it into law in June of 2014, saying that the program would add more jobs to the state, as well as increase tourism.

“I am proud to support this legislation, and this Sports Development Program will allow franchises to expand in Florida, and create more jobs and opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said at the time.

The legislation was also supported by Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, now serving as Senate Appropriations Chairman. But it will undoubtedly be backed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has historically opposed giving sales-tax dollars to professional sports facilities.

The anti “corporate welfare” attitude espoused by Corcoran prevailed last year in Session, when three different sports facilities — EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County and Daytona International Speedway — received no funding from the Legislature, despite the Department of Economic Opportunity finding they qualified for the state sales-tax money.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Stuebe has filed legislation (SB 122) that would prohibit a sports franchise from constructing, reconstructing, renovating, or improving a facility on leased public land. Hialeah Republican Rep. Bryan Avila has filed a companion bill in the House.

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