Pinellas County Archives - SaintPetersBlog

After strong start, Ed Hooper raises just $640 in April for Senate bid

Call it an April slowdown.

Ed Hooper, the former Republican state representative and Clearwater city commissioner, posted just over $600 in April after two consecutive months of five-digit fundraising.

Hooper, aiming to replace term-limited Jack Latvala in Senate District 16, put up only $640 in contributions and showed $20 in expenditures for the month.

That’s after bringing in more than $25,000 and $24,000 for February and March, respectively.

Hooper, however, still has no opposition for the seat, which covers much of north Pinellas County.

All told, Hooper has raised $65,736, spent $2,721, reported $3,220 in loans and in-kind donations.

The former firefighter served four terms in the House before being term-limited. He lost a combative race in 2014 for the Pinellas County Commission to Democrat Pat Gerard, and has since maintained a public profile in local GOP circles.

Just over a year ago, Hooper filed for Latvala’s seat, when redistricting resulted in an opening after Pasco County’s former state Sen. John Legg chose not to run against Latvala, a popular figure in Pinellas County politics.

IT provider Vology announces major Pinellas County expansion, adding 200 jobs

One of the nation’s largest managed information technology service providers is making a major expansion in Pinellas County, adding hundreds of local jobs over the next few years.

IT company Vology announced plans Wednesday for 200 new jobs in the area within the next four years.

Headquartered in Clearwater, the company has hired 80 staff members in 2016 and now employs 400 people nationwide, 310 of them in Pinellas County.

A statement on the expansion project coincided with a congratulatory visit from Gov. Rick Scott, who is traveling around the state this week on his “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour.

“We’re proud to welcome Governor Scott today to celebrate our growth and our continued investments in the Tampa Bay community,” said Vology CEO Barry Shevlin in a statement. “We appreciate the Governor’s support creating a business environment that helps our company grow and we look forward to welcoming even more Floridians to the Vology team in the years to come.”

Vology manages over 100,000 devices at over 20,000 customer sites nationwide and has been an Inc. 5000-ranked fastest growing private company for 11 consecutive years.

Expansion plans are designed to accommodate growing number of employees and a Network Operations Center, a $3.75 million project for a 60,000-square-foot facility in the Bay Vista Office Park in Largo.

Pinellas County officials collaborated with the State of Florida and the City of Largo to compete with Texas for the final site-selection process.

Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long applauded the move, calling Vology one of “Tampa Bay’s best homegrown technology success stories.”

City of Largo Mayor Woody Brown also praised Vology for its expansion into the Bay Vista office complex, which he described as one of “Pinellas County’s largest tech hotspots.

“We hope that their expansion will be a catalyst for other tech companies to expand into Largo’s market,” Brown said. “Thank you for selecting Largo and we look forward to your continued success.”

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor added that Vology is one of those companies that can count on “Florida’s talented workforce, the state’s strong infrastructure and business-friendly environment to fuel their growth.”

Vology has also been recognized as a Top Work Place of 2015 by the Tampa Bay Times.

Legislature renaming part of U.S. 19 to honor Tarpon Springs officer killed on duty

Officer Charles ‘Charlie K’ Kondek Jr.

Florida lawmakers are seeking to rename a section of Alternate U.S. 19 in northern Pinellas County after a Tarpon Springs police officer killed in the line of duty in 2014.

On Thursday, the Florida Senate unanimously approved changing the name of a stretch between Tarpon Avenue and the Pasco County line to the Officer Charles ‘Charlie K’ Kondek Jr. Memorial Highway.

The House passed a companion Wednesday, reports the Tampa Bay Times.

Kondek had responded to a noise complaint in December 2014 when the 45-year-old officer was shot and killed.

Police later charged Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., with the shooting. The 23-year-old had been released from prison that March and was wanted for alleged probation violation.

“I thought this would be a very good way to remember his service and his sacrifice,” Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala told the Senate before passing the measure.

Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls sponsored the House version.

Pinellas nursing home operators worried about impact of payment system

Leaders from Pinellas County nursing homes joined local residents, families and advocates to voice concern over a prospective payment system (PPS) plan under consideration by the Florida Senate.

Pinellas County has 69 nursing homes, of which 39 (57 percent) could lose money under the Senate budget plan — potentially more than $13 million.

 “On average, our facility has a Medicaid census of close to 70 percent, which translates into 172 seniors, and under the proposed PPS system, we would lose $1.7 million — this is a cost we simply cannot afford and one that would be devastating to our core mission of caring for the sick and dying,” said Kip Corriveau, director of Mission at Bon Secours St. Petersburg Health System.  “I ask lawmakers to prioritize quality care for our state’s most vulnerable and fragile seniors, whose families have entrusted their care to us by deferring the proposed PPS system until a fair solution that truly cares for seniors can be reached.”

Three of Pinellas County’s largest skilled nursing facilities — Bon Secours, Mease Manor and Menorah Manor — have opposed the PPS model, arguing it would negatively affect local nursing homes by shifting resources from high-quality nursing home communities to primarily lower-quality facilities.

“Menorah Manor is a mission-driven, charitable, nonprofit, faith-based organization that strives to provide the highest standards of care, and our doors are open to everyone — regardless of ability to pay, which means our Medicaid census on average is roughly 65 percent,” said Rob Goldstein, CEO of Menorah Manor.

“Yet, under the PPS plan included in the Senate budget, our facility will lose nearly $1 million when the transition funding runs out,” Goldstein added. “Moreover, this proposed PPS plan lacks any requirement that providers who receive new money under the plan have to spend it on care, programs or services.

“I respectfully ask, on behalf of the residents we are committed to caring for, that the legislature rejects this plan.”

Mease Manor president and CEO Kent McRae added: “Mease Manor is focused on the delivery of high-quality nursing home care and we oppose the proposed PPS plan, as it will have a negative impact on the quality of care we provide to our residents. Under the plan in the Senate budget, Mease Manor stands to lose nearly a quarter of a million dollars each year. Losses like this will negatively affect our nursing home, staff, residents and their families.”


February trial date set for John Jonchuck, accused of throwing daughter off St. Pete bridge

A Pinellas County court set a trial date for John Jonchuck, arrested in 2015 for throwing his 5-year-old daughter off a St. Petersburg bridge.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Monday that the trial will begin early February.

In a pretrial hearing Monday, Jonchuck’s three public defenders listened as Pinellas County Circuit Judge Chris Helinger announced the proceedings would begin Feb. 5, 2018, roughly three years after Jonchuck inexplicably threw Phoebe Jonchuck off the Dick Misener Bridge, according to the Times.

The case had been anticipated to begin in fall, and the attorneys from the state attorney’s office requested such, but the judge took into account treatment regimen at a state mental health hospital located in Gainesville, where he is given medicinal injections for bipolar disorder every 28 days, agencies reported.

Jonchuck was not present at Monday’s hearing, said a public information officer working for the courts. He is charged with first-degree murder.

Assistant Public Defender Jessica Manuele said her team needed more time for pretrial preparations, like depositions, the Times reported, and to speak with their client, with whom they have not had any contact in roughly two years.

The defendant was found competent to stand trial in early March.

The narrative has been that on the night of Jan. 8, 2015, Jonchuck’s white PT Cruiser was spotted speeding in traffic by an off-duty St. Petersburg police officer. Jonchuck raced to the bridge, stopping his car in traffic at a point on the bridge, taking his daughter from the car.

He reportedly held her tightly, the officer — who tried to rush and assist the girl, Phoebe — before Jonchuck held her over the railing and let go.

The crime shook area residents, prompting the Department of Children and Families to review their emergency call procedures.

Pinellas County sends more than 26K mail ballots for March 14 elections

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark announced her office mailed 26,512 ballots Tuesday to domestic voters in the 10 municipalities holding elections March 14.

Those municipalities include Gulfport (3,615); Indian Rocks Beach: (1,439); Madeira Beach (1,252); North Redington Beach (548); Redington Shores (220); Safety Harbor (5,606); South Pasadena (2,093); St. Pete Beach (3,506); Tarpon Springs (6,742) and Treasure Island (1,491).

Clark says that all eligible registered voters can request a mail ballot and voted mail ballots must be received at one of the three county elections offices by 7 p.m. Election Day. Additional mail ballot requests will be fulfilled as received.

Changes in postal delivery service mean voters must allow at least one week for mail ballots to arrive at the Supervisor of Elections office. Voted mail ballots cannot be accepted at polling places.

Domestic voters are identified as civilian voters in the United States and active-duty military voters residing in Pinellas County.

To request a mail ballot, visit, call 727-464-VOTE (8683) or email

The deadline to request a mail ballot is 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 8.


Survey shows fewer than half of voters support Penny for Pinellas renewal

A new survey shows fewer than half Pinellas voters would cast a ballot for renewing the Penny for Pinellas if the referendum were held today.

The poll, by St. Pete Polls, shows 48 percent of registered voters in Pinellas County would vote to support another Penny. Another 28 percent would not support it, and 23 percent are unsure. Although the poll shows the Penny failing to pass if the election were today, the vote is close and, with a 2.2 percent margin of error, the referendum could squeak by.

The poll of 2,005 Pinellas County, Florida registered voters was conducted Monday using registered voter lists supplied by the state of Florida as of Dec. 6. The voter sample included randomly contacted registered voters within the boundaries of Pinellas County, using an automated phone call polling system.

Penny for Pinellas is a one-cent sales tax paid by anyone spending money within the county. The Penny, first passed in 1990, is good for 10 years, then voters must pass it again for it to continue. Voters will be asked in November to renew it for a fourth time – from 2020 through 2030.

Proceeds from the Penny are divided among Pinellas County and its 24 municipalities. Its use is generally restricted to capital, or so-called “brick and mortar,” projects.

Pinellas County says that, since its inception, the tax has been used to build 16 major roads with added lanes, and rebuilt bridges; more than 20 fire and emergency facilities built or renovated; more than 150 projects to enhance stormwater systems and flood control. Also, there was protection of natural resources with hundreds of acres of land preserved, as well as upgrades to 21 parks and more than 50 new miles of multiuse trails.

But voters don’t appear to be wholeheartedly convinced, according to the survey results. The only two groups with more than half in favor were Democratic party voters and non-Hispanic white voters.

Of the 768 Democrats polled, 50.7 percent were in support compared with 47.6 percent of the 785 Republicans and 46.2 percent of the 452 independent voters who were polled.

When it came to a breakdown of race, just under 51 percent of the 1,698 non-Hispanic white voters surveyed were supporting the Penny renewal. Of the 203 non-Hispanic black voters polled, only 39 percent favored it; of the 27 Asian or Pacific Islanders surveyed, only 37 percent supported renewal; of the 37 Hispanic voters polled, only 24 said they support it; and of the 40 other/unknown race, only 38 percent support renewal.

Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force to meet to discuss action plan

Pinellas County residents are invited to attend the second countywide Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force meeting at 9:30 a.m. Monday to hear about the team’s Initial Action Plan.

The Technical Working Group will present the Task Force Steering Committee members with its findings and recommendations to reduce wastewater overflow issues around the county.

Monday’s meeting will be held at the University Partnership Center – Digitorium, located at the Seminole Campus of St. Petersburg College, 9200 113th St. N, Seminole. Attendees will have the opportunity interact with Task Force members and share comments or questions.

The Wastewater/Stormwater Task Force formed last year to address countywide wastewater and stormwater issues brought about by heavy rainfall events. Some systems were overwhelmed by the amount of rain and dumped raw and partially treated wastewater into county waterways. Others systems had overflows at faulty manholes.

The countywide team is comprised of leaders and staff from Pinellas County Government, 17 municipal partners, and three private utility systems.



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.”


PSTA to expand Direct Connect program, Uber rides to bus stops

Need a ride to the bus stop? Hail an Uber from anywhere in the county to a PSTA bus stop and PSTA will pick up the tab.

That’s the gist of the Direct Connect program created by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority to solve the problem of the so-called first mile/last mile obstacle to the use of public transportation. Agency officials say the public-private partnership is the first in the country to solve that problem.

At issue is the rider’s ability to get to a bus stop in order to catch a bus. Many stops are not within walkable distance from a rider’s home. Under the Direct Connect program, a passenger can call one of PSTA’s business partners — Uber, Lyft, United Taxi, or Wheelchair Transport — to hitch a ride to and from the bus stop.

Details were not available, but the program is likely an expansion of the Direct Connect service the PSTA piloted last February in East Lake and Pinellas Park.

Pinellas Park and East Lake were chosen because local bus routes in those areas were scheduled to be cut because of low ridership.

Under that pilot, someone who lives in those areas could summon Uber, United Taxi or Care Ride for a lift to a bus stop.

In the case of Pinellas Park, the available stops are the transit center at the Shoppes at Park Place, 3801 70th Ave. N, or the Super Wal-Mart, 8001 U.S. 19 N.

In East Lake, the bus stops are at the Shoppes at Boot Ranch, 246 E Lake Road S, or Tarpon Mall, 40932 U.S. Hwy. 19 N.

PSTA will pay half the fare, up to $3 for rides to and from the designated stops in those zones. The service is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

A second pilot, that extended service to more people was announced last October. Riders could call Uber, Lyft, United Taxi, Care Ride, or Wheelchair Transport for a ride to the nearest designated bus stop. PSTA would pay an average of $1 to use the program.

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