Pinellas County Archives - Page 2 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Mites, scabies only the latest trouble in Oldsmar motel’s sordid history

A Pinellas County motel with a sordid history is now being accused of offering guests an unwelcome amenity — scabies.

Rhonda Baxter and Alex Rodriguez were guests at the Bayview Motel on 501 S. Bayview Blvd. in Oldsmar; Baxter visited in December 2014, Rodriguez in May 2015.

In two separate lawsuits filed earlier this month in Pinellas County’s 6th Judicial Circuit Court, each claim bedrooms they stayed in were infested with mites causing scabies, a skin condition.

Both say mites infested luggage and clothing and the plaintiffs claim they were “severely bitten” to a degree it required hospitalization.

Despite being a traveler’s worst nightmare, however, mites and scabies are only the most recent — and relatively minor — difficulty taking place at the Bayview over the past few years.

In June 2016, two men and a woman were arrested for allegedly using a dating website to lure victims to the Bayview, and robbing them at gunpoint.

According to the Tampa Bay Reporter, unsuspecting victims had gone to the Bayview after visiting the dating website “Plenty of Fish” to meet women. The suspects — identifying themselves as “Jessica” or “Curvy_Cameron93” — continued texting the victims, agreeing to meet them in a room at the Bayview.

After arriving, two men battered and robbed victims at gunpoint, stealing cash and personal items before fleeing the scene.

Suspects were identified as Charlie L. Woodley of Largo (charged with two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon or firearm); Cameron M. Davis of Oldsmar (also charged with two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon or firearm) and Rachel C. Brown, also of Largo, who was charged with one count of principal to robbery with a deadly weapon or firearm.

In 2008, the Bayview — known as the Aday Motel at the time — was also the scene of a kidnapping, which resulted in the shooting death of 18-year-old Javon Strange.

A September 2008 Tampa Bay Times article outlines the incident where Gregory Longley was held at gunpoint by teenagers hoping he would lead them to a man who they were disputing over stolen coins.

Three individuals — Strange, Abdusbasiyr A. Blake and Juan Carlos Morales — forced Longley into a 2000 Chevy Malibu.

As Longley and Strange, who was holding the gun, sat in the back seat, Strange lowered the weapon to start text messaging. Longley then grabbed the gun, deputies said, shooting Strange and Morales, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, before ordering Blake to stop the car.

Blake went to the McDonald’s at 4085 Tampa Road, where restaurant employees called 911. After paramedics arrived, Strange was pronounced dead at the scene.

At the time, Aday assistant manager Archie Viray told reporters that the motel is “generally quiet.”

“Nothing happens here,” he said.

Nevertheless, as for Bayview’s latest troubles, records from inspections taken around the dates of the alleged scabies incidents make no mention of an insect infestation. The 12-unit property is owned by Tarpon Springs residents Jose Ang Pe, 66, and his 56-year-old wife Maria Obra Pe.

Rick Scott reappoints two to Pinellas Housing Authority

Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday the reappointments of Joseph Triolo and Michael Guju to the Pinellas County Housing Authority.

Triolo, 59, of St. Petersburg, is a program manager for Duke Energy. He is reappointed for a term beginning Dec. 16 and ending Jan. 21, 2018. Triolo was appointed to PCHA’s board of commissioners in 2009 and served as chairman from 2009 through June.

Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Triolo also serves on the board of directors of the Florida Green Building Coalition, the city of St. Petersburg post-disaster committee, the judicial nominating commission Sixth Circuit, the supervisory committee for the Bay Pines Federal Union, and the Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Network. He is also a member of the International Code Council and American Legion Post 273.

Triolo brings expertise in green initiatives through housing construction and rehabilitation to PCHA’s Board. Additionally, holds several licenses: state of Florida building inspector, My Safe Florida wind mitigation Inspector, and EPA lead inspector and risk assessor.

Guju, 57, of Palm Harbor, is the president of Guju Law Firm and Equity National Title. He is reappointed for a term beginning Dec. 16 and ending Dec. 1, 2020. Guju was appointed to the PCHA board in 2013.

Guju is an entrepreneur and businessman with broad management, legal and marketing experience in real estate development, mortgages and real estate-related services. An attorney, licensed in three states (Florida, Ohio (inactive) and Michigan (inactive), with more than 26 years’ experience in real estate and business law, mortgages, real estate title insurance and closings, contracts and business matters, the PCHA said that Guju’s service on the board has been extremely valuable.

His expertise is particularly helpful, officials said, as the housing authority continues its’ forward momentum toward developing additional housing opportunities for low to moderate income veterans and families in Pinellas County.

Formed in 1965, the PCHA is an independent agency, operating under state statute. PCHA is governed by a five-member board appointed by the governor.

The PCHA is the largest housing authority in Pinellas County. It provides housing and rental assistance to about 8,500 individuals through the agency-owned affordable housing, public housing, assisted living and the administration of the Housing Choice Voucher program. Its area of operation for the public housing and housing voucher program includes all unincorporated and incorporated areas of Pinellas except the cities Clearwater, Dunedin, St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs.

Pinellas County Commission moves toward moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries

Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to hold a public hearing Jan. 10 to decide a possible moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and treatment centers.

The moratorium would remain in effect for 180 days to give the commission time to pass an ordinance regulating such issues as the location of dispensaries and treatment centers.

A proposed ordinance is expected to come before the board in April.

If the moratorium is adopted, Pinellas County will join other governmental bodies across the state that are trying to figure out how to handle the medical marijuana industry. The sale of medical marijuana became state law with the overwhelming passage in November of Amendment 2.

Locally, the city of Largo and Hillsborough County have already passed moratoria. Madeira Beach passed an ordinance last year requiring anyone who wants to open a dispensary to go through an approval process. Among the items that city officials would look at — compatibility with neighbors and how close the dispensary would be to schools, churches, parks, day cares and the like.

Pinellas commissioners wondered Tuesday if they could pass a countywide ordinance that would apply everywhere unless cities opted out. However, board attorney Jim Bennett said they could not because the location of dispensaries is a zoning issue and the county cannot control zoning within city limits.

Commissioner Karen Seel suggested working with the cities to come up with ordinances that would be adopted by all governments to make the rules uniform across Pinellas.

Rick Kriseman sets next steps to reach 100 percent clean energy goal

St. Petersburg became the first Florida city last month to sign on to the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, which seeks to convert the city to 100 percent renewable, green energy.

Mayor Rick Kriseman on Friday set out the first steps the city is taking to reach that goal. It’s an initiative he calls the Integrated Sustainability Action Plan. The city has earmarked $250,000 for the ISAP.

First on the ISAP list is an overall energy audit to help discover the city’s problem areas. That data will be used to create a long-range plan and set target dates to get to interim and ultimate goals. That could take about a year.

City officials are not waiting a year to get started, they’re partnering with a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa to have students perform mini-energy audits on departments that seem to consume a lot of energy. The idea is to be able to quickly solve problems where St. Pete officials know they exist. The city has allocated another $250,000 for audits and retrofits.

St. Pete is also collaborating with Pinellas County in developing a vulnerability assessment and modeling program that will allow the two to estimate the risks and impacts from potential future impacts, such as sea level rise and direct hurricane hits. The city has $300,000 set aside for this project.

The total $800,000 comes from BP settlement money.

The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign is an attempt to convince cities across the U.S. to lead the way in moving from electrical power to renewable, clean energy. St. Petersburg is the first in Florida and the 20th city in the U.S. to take the pledge.

Kriseman said the decision to become a part of the Ready for 100 campaign was an outgrowth of a 2015 executive order he made to net zero energy usage.

Pinellas County launching educational campaign to renew Penny for Pinellas

Pinellas residents can expect to hear a lot next year about the number of roads, fire stations, parks, buildings and other projects the county and cities have constructed during the past 30 years.

Residents will also hear a lot about construction planned for Pinellas’ future.

It’s all part of an education campaign that the county and municipal governments will undertake as they try to persuade Pinellas voters to renew the Penny for Pinellas sales tax for the fourth time. If approved, the renewed Penny would be collected from 2020 through 2030. The current Penny will end in 2020.

“Job No. 1 in 2017 is to educate the public, so when they cast their ballots, they will make an informed decision,” Pinellas County Administrator Mark Woodard said Tuesday.

He was speaking during a Pinellas County Commission workshop that was devoted in part to the Penny for Pinellas.

Pinellas County commissioners agreed.

“The Penny is so precious,” Commissioner Ken Welch said. “We have to be very clear what these dollars are used for.”

Commissioner Dave Eggers said, “It’s critical in so many ways.”

The Penny for Pinellas was first passed by voters in 1990. Since then, three major bridges have been built, more than 1,000 miles of roads have been resurfaced, more than 20 fire stations and emergency facilities have been constructed, and water quality and drainage projects have been completed, county records show.

“They Penny for Pinellas has been a ‘good news’ story for the city of Clearwater,” said Bill Horne, the Clearwater city manager.

Among the projects Horne said could be traced to the Penny: Fire Station 45, Pier 60 and the Countryside Library.

It’s unclear how the future Penny money might be used. County commissioners will develop a wish list next year as will the 24 municipalities, each of which gets part of the Penny.

The Penny referendum is Nov. 7.

Lauralee Westine appointed to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday named local-government and land-use attorney Lauralee Westine to replace retiring Judge Bruce Boyer on the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court.

Westine, 45, of Palm Harbor, concentrates on zoning and permitting for cell towers and other towers through the Law Office of Lauralee G. Westine, according to her practice’s website.

She has worked in private practice since 2000, the Governor’s Office said. Earlier, she was a prosecutor in the Sixth Circuit, which includes Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Westine is married to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

She holds master’s and law degrees from Stetson University.

Boyer, first elected in 1991, was running into the mandatory retirement age for judges — 70.

Jeff Brandes to file flood mitigation bill

State Sen. Jeff Brandes says he will file legislation for the 2017 Legislative Session to fund flood mitigation in affected communities.

The idea is to lower the cost of flood insurance by decreasing flood severity in areas covered by the National Flood Insurance Program’s (NFIP) Community Rating System.

The legislation will create a matching grant program, in part through the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, for “local projects (that) reduce flood risks and acquire conservation land for the purpose of mitigating flood risk,” Brandes’ office said in a statement.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, backed a bill last year (SB 1094) that became law that “require(s) local governments to include development and redevelopment principles, strategies, and engineering solutions that reduce flood risks and losses within coastal areas.”

The matching grants, to be administered by the Division of Emergency Management, would not exceed $50 million a year for “technical and financial assistance to local governments implementing flood risk reduction policies and projects.”

His bill also would authorize the Florida Communities Trust to “undertake, coordinate, or fund flood mitigation projects and to acquire and dispose of real and personal property or specified interest when necessary or appropriate to reduce flood hazards.”

Pinellas County residents and others living along Florida’s coasts have long sought affordable flood insurance.

In 2014, Brandes told the Tampa Tribune some homeowners faced insurance premiums so costly, “it would be the equivalent of paying off their home every 5-7 years, even though they haven’t had a flood in 40 years.”

Accused pot smoker looks to get gun returned from St. Pete Police

Rebecca Marsh
Rebecca Marsh

After an arrest for possession of marijuana, a Pinellas County resident had a firearm confiscated by the officer who caught her smoking in downtown St. Petersburg.

Now, 57-year-old Rebecca Marsh of Tierra Verde is filing a petition to have police return her .380 Ruger LCP.

The police report said the gun and concealed carry weapons permit (CCW) would not be permitted to be brought into the jail, so a St. Petersburg Police officer put into an SPPD locker.

On Sept. 13, 2015, an officer — unnamed in court documents — was patrolling the area just after midnight. The officer first smelled “a strong odor of marijuana.”

According to the incident report, the officer identified a red Dodge pickup truck where the smell was emanating.

Upon seeing a female passenger light a pipe and blow smoke out the truck window, the officer approached the car on the driver’s side.

After the officer asked to hand over the pipe, Marsh, who was in the vehicle along with 66-year-old Pinellas Park resident John Joseph Steimel, attempted to hide it by her side. After a short struggle, the pipe was turned over to the officer.

While Marsh exited the truck, a baggie containing roughly a half-gram of marijuana fell to the ground.

As backup rolled in, the officer searched Marsh’s purse, finding a gun and CCW permit. The officer had the items transported to a locker at the police station.

Along with the pot and gun, police also found prescription pills in the driver’s possession.

In March 2016, Marsh, a licensed facial expert, pleaded “no contest” to the charges, paying $450 in fines. On Oct. 31, she filed a petition without the help of an attorney to have her gun returned.


Darden Rice named outstanding ‘green’ elected official

rice-darden3-300x336St. Petersburg Council member Darden Rice has been named the outstanding green elected official by the U.S. Green Building Council Florida Gulf Coast Region.

The nonprofit organization’s seventh annual LEEDership Awards celebration earlier this month recognized and honored outstanding projects, businesses, volunteers and individuals, and instrumental Chapter members who are LEEDing the way to a more sustainable built environment in the Florida Gulf Coast community.

LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. Created and administered by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based national rating system for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. To receive LEED Certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. LEED addresses all building types and emphasizes state-of-the-art “green” strategies in five areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials and resources selection, and indoor environmental quality. LEED Accredited Professionals have demonstrated a thorough understanding of green building techniques and the LEED Green Building Rating System.

The U.S. Green Building Council Florida Chapter is a nonprofit organization committed to a prosperous and sustainable future through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings that conserve land, energy, water, resources and materials. Its mission is to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.

Other winners named by the council included:

Outstanding Green Government — City of Largo

Outstanding LEED for New Construction / Education — University of Tampa / Daly Innovation and Collaboration Building

Outstanding LEED for New Construction / Education — Eckerd College / James Center for Molecular and Life Sciences

Outstanding LEED for New Construction / Nonprofit — Metropolitan Ministries / Miracle Place

Outstanding LEED for New Construction / Public — Pinellas County / Public Safety Building A

Outstanding LEED for New Construction / Public — City of Oldsmar / Reverse Osmosis Water Treatment Plant

Will ‘fair districts’ in Florida lead to a fairer outcome?

Six years ago, Florida voters approved constitutional amendments with the catchy title of “Fair Districts” that promised to end the political games that surrounded drawing legislative and congressional districts.

Due to expensive court battles and standoffs in the Florida Legislature, this year’s election will mark the first time the full effort to end gerrymandering will be in place.

As Election Day nears, however, it’s becoming apparent that the changes have not caused any major disruptions politically. Republicans are expected to retain control of the state Legislature. The gap between Democrats and Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation will probably shrink, but the GOP will likely remain in the majority.

“We never expected this to be a revolutionary change, it was an evolutionary change,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the Florida State League of Women Voters, whose organization challenged in court how legislators enacted the standards.

There have been some shake-ups as a result of the amendments finally kicking in: Two incumbent members of Congress, both Democrats, will be leaving office this year due in part to their reshaped districts. And several Republican members are also in tight battles that could result in their defeat Tuesday.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist, who was once a Republican but is now running as a Democrat, may revive his political career if he wins a redrawn Democratic-leaning seat in Pinellas County.

Florida has long been divided politically, and has emerged again as a key battleground in the presidential race between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

President George W. Bush, a Republican, carried the state in 2004, but President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won the next two elections. Critics have long complained that the districts don’t reflect the close divide of the electorate.

Florida voters in 2010 overwhelmingly approved the “Fair Districts” amendments which mandated that legislators cannot draw districts intended to help incumbents or a member of a political party. The group that backed the amendment was financed largely by unions and donors aligned with Democrats.

Legislators adopted new maps in 2012 that they said followed the guidelines, but a coalition of groups sued. The legal battles resulted in several key rulings, including one where the state Supreme Court ruled that GOP operatives had “tainted” efforts to draw up congressional districts.

Legislators deadlocked over how to respond, leaving the final map put in place by the court. A separate battle over state senate districts also resulted in a circuit court judge saying that legislators had acted with “partisan intent.”

The final result, which came after the Legislature spent more than $12 million in taxpayer money fighting the lawsuits, means that congressional and state senate districts were put in place by judges not legislators. State House seats adopted by legislators were not challenged.

Matthew Isbell, a data consultant who tracked redistricting and has worked for Democratic-leaning organizations, said while the changes “have put more seats in play” it will not result in Democrats taking back either chamber in the Legislature. Currently the GOP holds a 26-14 edge in the 40-member state Senate that could narrow some. Isbell predicts the 17-10 split in the congressional delegation will also shrink, but Republicans will still be in the majority. Part of it, he said, is due to the GOP’s fundraising advantage in the state.

“It’s a long game for Democrats,” Isbell said.

Ellen Freidin, a South Florida attorney and one of the main architects of Fair Districts, said she is satisfied with the outcome. She said because of the power of incumbents “you can’t judge the merits on one cycle.” But Freidin maintains there has been more competition for legislative and congressional seats this year and more people have chosen to run for office.

“This idea has always been about the rights of people of the state of Florida to choose their representatives instead of representatives choosing voters,” Freidin said.

Top Republicans, however, don’t share the enthusiasm.

State Rep. Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican who led House redistricting efforts last year, says that the “Fair Districts” amendments are nearly impossible to implement and that all it has done has shifted power over to judges who can also act in a partisan manner.

“Anytime something has ‘fair’ in it, it’s anything but fair,” said Oliva, who is line to become House speaker in 2018. “The only thing we did with Fair Districts is we diluted one branch of government.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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