Pinellas County Archives - Page 7 of 22 - SaintPetersBlog

Pinellas voter information cards in the mail starting today

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections began mailing new voter information cards to all 623,000 registered Pinellas County voters today.

“Voters should carefully review the information on their new voter information cards – including name, address and political party affiliation – to make sure it is correct,” Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark said. “If voters need to update any information, please call (727) 464-VOTE to make changes before the Aug. 1 deadline to register to vote and change political party affiliation for the primary election.”

The mailing will take place over four weeks, with the last cards scheduled to be mailed June 27. Voters who do not receive voter information cards by July 5, or have misplaced their card, can call (727) 464-VOTE to request a replacement card. Voter information cards are not required to vote and are for informational purposes only.

Clark was required to redraw precinct lines because of recent special redistricting. Pinellas County is now represented by two congressional districts. Additionally, boundaries for all three state senate districts changed and state senate districts were assigned new district numbers:

  • Congressional Districts 12, 13 (formerly districts 12, 13, 14)
  • State Senate Districts 16, 19, 24 (formerly districts 19, 20, 22)

Clark wanted to make sure the redistricting caused as few changes as possible for voters. She did this by minimizing the number of precinct and polling place changes. Efforts to maintain continuity resulted in:

  • 89 percent of precincts having the same boundaries as before;
  • 6 percent of voters are assigned to the same polling place as before;
  • the addition of two precincts, increasing the total from 299 to 301.

Voters can go to votepinellas.com/electionready to make sure their information is correct.

Draft changes to Pinellas charter ready to go before public

After almost a year’s work, members of a volunteer group tasked with proposing changes to Pinellas’ charter are ready to take their suggestions to the public.

They’ve scheduled two hearings to give residents a chance to comment. The hearings are one of the last steps before the six proposed changes are put on the November ballot so voters can decide whether to adopt them. The county charter acts like a constitution, providing the framework under which Pinellas is governed.

The first hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Petersburg City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N. The second is planned for 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. June 15 at the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

The proposed amendments:

  1. Under current law, a citizen-based drive to put a charter amendment on the ballot requires that petitions be signed by 10 percent of the registered voters in Pinellas. The petitioners have 180 days to gather the signatures. The suggested change would require only 8 percent of the voters to sign the petitions and would give the petitioners more time — 240 days — to gather the signatures.
  2. The second proposal would require the Pinellas County auditor to evaluate the potential financial cost to voters of any charter change. That evaluation would be placed on the ballot after the summary of the proposal. This would be a new addition to the charter. There is no such requirement currently.
  3. This proposal would also add a new section to the charter. The proposal would create a county redistricting board that would meet every 10 years after the census to recommend the ways new district lines for county commissioners should be drawn. The recommendations would go to the county commission.
  4. Under the current charter, the county attorney is hired, evaluated and fired by the seven county commissioners. Under the proposal, the county attorney would be hired, fired and evaluated by the seven county commissioners and the Pinellas County sheriff, tax collector, clerk of court, property appraiser and supervisor of elections.
  5. The current charter provides that nine members of the charter review commission should be appointed by the Pinellas County Commission from the county at large. The proposal would require that seven of those would have to live in the commissioner’s district. The other two would be selected at large from the county.
  6. This amendment would “clean up” or take out any provisions that have been found to be unconstitutional, remove references to organizations that no longer exist and revise references to make them consistent with Florida statutes.

Republican Pinellas Tax Collector candidate to hold fundraiser Wednesday

Charles Thomas has scheduled a fundraiser for his bid to be Pinellas County’s next tax collector.

The event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Marina Cantina, 45 Causeway Blvd., Clearwater Beach. If you want to go, you need to RSVP by contacting Charles@VoteCharlesThomas.com or (727) 201-5456.

The list of hosts for the event reads like a Who’s Who of the Pinellas Republican Party. The hosts include state Sens. Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes; state Reps. Chris Latvala and Chris Sprowls; former state Rep. Kim Berfield; Sheriff Bob Gualtieri; county Commissioner John Morroni; State Attorney Bernie McCabe; Public Defender Bob Dillinger; and Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters.

Thus far, Thomas is the only one in the race for tax collector. According to the most recent filing, he’s garnered $30,000 for his war chest.

Thomas, who has served as Pinellas’ chief deputy tax collector since 2000, announced his candidacy in April after his boss, Diane Nelson, announced her retirement. Before working for Pinellas, he was the program manager for Gordon-Darby, Inc. where he was responsible for the operation of 11 locations that generated $14 million in annual revenue. He was also responsible for maintaining the company’s $5 million annual budget and served as the organizations’ government relations’ liaison.

Thomas is married, has two children and one grandchild.

May_25_Invite-charles thomas

Pinellas County moves to ban fracking

Pinellas County Commissioners are poised not only to prohibit fracking in the county but also to penalize drilling companies that violate the ban.

If commissioners give the proposal tentative approval at Tuesday’s meeting, the ban would likely come before them at a June 7 public hearing.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said the issue of fracking — a method of drilling into the ground to get oil and gas from the rocky substrate — has been talked about by commissioners for the past couple of years. The concerns included the possible pollution by toxic chemicals used in the process should they get into the groundwater or the air.

Originally, Long said, the thought that fracking needed to be banned seemed “laughable” because “we’re not going to have fracking in Florida.”

That proved to be wrong as drilling companies moved into the state and in the recently ended Legislative session, a bill was introduced that not only would have allowed fracking but also would have prevented cities and counties from banning it.

“It didn’t turn out to be so laughable,” Long said. The commission wants to “try to ensure the welfare of our beautiful little paradise here.”

Fellow Commissioner Ken Welch agreed that fracking has no place in Pinellas: “It’s absolutely wrong that we would have fracking in Pinellas County.”

Under the proposed anti-fracking ordinance, the practice would be banned in Pinellas although cities could opt out of the prohibition if they wanted. Violators would be liable for, among other things, a fine of up to $10,000 for each offense. Each day fracking occurred would be considered an independent offense.

The county would also have the option to force an offender to reimburse Pinellas for the cost of remediation and removal of the contaminated soil or water.

If the ordinance passes, the county will become the second Pinellas government to take a stand against fracking. The St. Petersburg City Council has proposed banning the practice within the city limits.

Long agreed that the Pinellas proposal is not unique to the state. Other counties have already passed resolutions or ordinances banning the practice. Among those are Brevard, Broward, Seminole, Volusia and Wakulla counties.

The news that Pinellas County is moving to ban fracking comes on the eve of “Hands Across the Sand,” a worldwide event designed to draw attention to the need for clean energy and a way to say no to “filthy fuels.”

Three of the 83 global events planned are in Pinellas County. One is in Tarpon Springs, another in Indian Rocks Beach and a third on Treasure Island.

Local, state and federal officials, business owners and activists from across Pinellas have indicated they plan to attend the Treasure Island event, which includes a living art display. Internationally renowned aerial artist John Quigley will design and help create a human sun with up to 300 people on the beach behind the Bilmar Beach Resort, 10650 Gulf Blvd. The sun, with “100 percent” inside, symbolizes the need for transitioning away from dirty fossil fuels like coal and gas and toward 100 percent clean energy like solar power. Creation of the human art is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m.

Welch said he planned to be at the Treasure Island event. He was at the first Hands Across the Sand about six years ago and says the issues are just as important now as they were then.

“There’s some short memories in Congress, and perhaps our Legislature, who forget the impact of even an oil spill” in the Gulf and the Tampa Bay area, he said. Yet, the issues of near drilling, fracking and other environmentally dangerous practices keep cropping up.

“It’s still a vitally important issue,” Welch said. “We don’t want people to forget.”

Pinellas County Tax Collector Diane Nelson awarded Governor’s Sterling Award

In 2013, the Pinellas County Tax Collector’s office was awarded Florida’s top honor, the Governor’s Sterling Award, for operational and service excellence. The office is now the proud recipient of the 2016 Governor’s Sterling Sustained Excellence Award for its commitment to continuous improvement.

“I am so proud of the team members in my office for not just accepting the sterling journey, but adopting and living it. Best-in-class operational efficiency and continuous improvement is the new norm in our office,” said Diane Nelson, Pinellas County Tax Collector. “I am most proud of our outreach into the Pinellas community through public/private partnerships like the Kids Tag Art Pinellas program. Becoming a sterling organization has elevated our business from status quo to being a true community partner for the residents of Pinellas County.”

The Pinellas County Tax Collector has maintained focus on its vision of World-Class Service, Anytime, Any Place by leveraging its core competencies of workforce training and development, customer service excellence, compliance and transaction accuracy, and continual process improvement. This is evidenced by results in customer satisfaction for walk-in customers that has shown sustained high performance moving from 98% in 2012 to 99% in 2015. The Pinellas County Tax Collector’s Office continually pursues organizational excellence through its mission of empowering its workforce to excel; serving its customers respectfully, accurately, and professionally; and providing exceptional stewardship of public funds.

The Pinellas County Tax Collector’s office acts as an agent for multiple state departments to provide a wide range of services for 930,000 residents. The office is also responsible for collecting and distributing over $2 billion annually in taxes and fees for state and local agencies.

Former Pinellas commissioner waits to see if his “unhiring” lawsuit against county can continue

Before Norm Roche was elected to the Pinellas commission in 2010, he had spent a decade as a county employee. So when he lost his bid for re-election to former state Rep. Ed Hooper in the Republican primary, he figured he could go back to work for the county.

He figured wrong.

Roche said he was turned down for 26 county positions. On his 27th attempt, he was successful.

He was hired April 28, 2015, as a customer service specialist. He passed all the background and other checks county employees undergo. He was fingerprinted, photographed, given the same employee number he’d had before, and received an employment packet containing a “welcome aboard” letter. He was told he’d start work on May 18, 2015.

But he never started. Roche said an assistant county administrator, Paul Sacco, called him on May 8, 2015, and told him not to report to work because he could not be hired. Roche said he tried to find out why but was denied an explanation and public records.

So, in December, he sued the county, County Administrator Mark Woodard, Sacco, and unidentified county commissioners who may have been involved in the “un-hiring” decision. The county has not responded to the suit, but asked instead that Roche’s claims be denied. Woodard could not be reached for comment.

The case went to court earlier this week. Now Roche is waiting to see if the judge kicks out his case or allows it to proceed.

Roche, who was an often controversial commissioner for his views and statements, says that county hiring should be based on merit, not on political views or other political criteria. Among other things, Roche is asking the courts to decide if the county and other defendants was not only to “unhire” him but to “black ball” him from county employment and to make sure he’d never work for the county again despite his experience and qualifications. Roche is also asking for an unspecified amount of damages for what he calls the wrongful actions of the county and Pinellas officials.

Roche’s third claim involves public records. Roche alleges he paid the county $576.20 for records that pertained to his retraction of employment. The documents he received did not include “any reasoning or explanation for the ‘unhire’ action,” according to the suit.

Lack of competition hasn’t slowed down fundraising for some Pinellas County candidates

There aren’t too many candidates running for each of the Pinellas County constitutional officer posts up for election in 2016, but that doesn’t mean the donation money isn’t flowing.

According to the Supervisor of Elections’ most recent finance reports, in the Pinellas Property Appraiser race, Mike Twitty, a political newcomer and 25-year professional real estate appraiser, is handily out-fundraising his lone opponent, fellow Republican and former state Rep. Jim Frishe, $120,820 to $44,065.

Current Pinellas Property Appraiser Pam Dubov is stepping down at the end of her current term. She endorsed Twitty as her successor back in 2015.

Meanwhile, Pinellas’ Sherif, Bob Gualtieri, has raised an impressive $118,505 since filing to run for re-election back in November of last year.

In April alone, Gualtieri brought in $31,950 on 50 donations. It was his best month since January, a month in which the Sheriff raised $62,785 on 189 donations.

Gualtieri’s complete campaign expenditure total only amounts to about $8,000, the majority of which has gone towards paying for food and drinks for fundraisers, as well as printing and postage fees.

His only competition so far is fellow Republican Joshua Black, a St. Petersburg activist who just jumped into the race for Sheriff last month. So far, he’s only raised $20 for his campaign.

Over in the one-man Clerk of the Circuit Court race, Republican — and long-time incumbent — Ken Burke has raised $35,604 for his re-election campaign, none of which taken in April. His total expenditures come in at just under $4,000.

Pinellas’ current Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark is also running for re-election. And, like Burke, she has no filed competition. To fund her campaign, the Republican loaned herself $11,000. She also received a $500 check from St. Petersburg attorney Susan Churuti back in March but raised nothing before or since. Her campaign purse is holding exactly $11,500.

As for Pinellas’ Tax Collector spot, Republican Charles Thomas is the only person filed to run the office. Pinellas’ longtime tax collector, Republican Diane Nelson, is opting for retirement rather than another term and Thomas was her handpicked successor.

Thomas, who served as Pinellas’ Chief Deputy Tax Collector since 2000, only began his election efforts last month, but his campaign wallet is already holding $30,000. About $12,000 came from donations while Thomas funded the rest himself.

Thomas’ host committee includes six of Pinellas’ seven constitutional officers: Nelson, Public Defender Bob Dillinger, State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Clerk of the Court Ken Burke, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and outgoing Property Appraiser Pam Dubov.

The primaries are August 30; the General Election is November 30.

Mike Twitty adds to fundraising lead over Jim Frishe in Pinellas Property Appraiser race

In the race for Pinellas County’s Property Appraiser post, Mike Twitty is continuing to out-fundraise his lone opponent, fellow Republican Jim Frishe.

According to the latest campaign finance reports from the Supervisor of Elections, Frishe hauled in $3,750 on six donations in April. Not a bad showing, considering that until now he hasn’t raised over $650 in any monthly reporting period since the start of 2016.

Twitty, however, had a stronger showing, coming close to doubling Frishe’s April fundraising total, reeling in $6,620 on 47 donations last month.

As for the source of Frishe’s six donations, two maximum allowable $1,000 contributions came from PAC’s: Tampa’s Creating Possibilities, and St. Petersburg’s Suncoast Better Government Committee, respectively.

St. Petersburg real estate developer Mel Sembler also kicked in $1,000. While Pinellas Park Doctor Gary Heller contributed $500 to the Frishe campaign.

The other two donations to the Frishe camp came from retirees.

Twitty, on the other hand, had a wider array of donors.

Palm Harbor’s Prior Marina gave the only $1,000 April donation to the Twitty campaign, while Indian Shores redevelopment company Page Companies, and Belleair Beach retiree Kelly Coleman gave the only two $500 donations.

Twitty also grabbed donations from a couple of area politicians in former St. Pete City Council candidate and Democrat Winthrop Newton, and current St. Pete City Councilman Ed Montanari, who each gave $100.

Overall, Twitty is leading the fundraising race by a count of $120,820 to Frishe’s $44,065.

Frishe, however, does have a moderately hard-hitting list of support. His endorsers include State Sen. Jack Latvala, former State Rep. Ed Hooper, Treasure Island Mayor Bob Minning, and Gulfport City Councilman Dan Liedtke.

Although, Twitty’s list of supporters might stack even higher — and weigh a bit more too. In his corner are Montanarioutgoing Pinellas Property Appraiser Pam Dubov, Pinellas County Clerk of the Court Ken Burke, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, and longtime Pinellas Tax Collector Diane Nelson, among others.

The Republican primary is August 30.

Lealman improvement plan moves forward

Back in June, county commissioners made a historic decision: They created the first community redevelopment area in unincorporated Pinellas County.

It was a move that, for years, was unthinkable with Pinellas officials saying they would never sanction a CRA in unincorporated Pinellas. CRAs were something cities did. That changed under a county administration and commission that’s become willing to try new things. In this case, the new thing – a county CRA – is the most recent effort to solve longstanding problems of poverty and deprivation in the Lealman area. It’s an area county officials have long struggled to help.

The Lealman CRA took another step forward Tuesday when commissioners passed a proposed plan to solve the region’s many problems to the Local Planning Agency for review. If the LPA says the proposal conforms to county planning rules, it will come back to commissioners for adoption.

“There’s nothing but excitement for the potential” of the CRA for Lealman, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said.

Ray Neri, a longtime Lealman activist, who serves as the head of the neighborhood CRA board, said residents are excited that real progress appears to be on the horizon. But it’s frustrating, he said, that the plan has to go through so many hands before the real work can begin.

“We live with this issue, and we’ve lived with it a long time,” Neri said. “It just takes time. I hate that it takes time.”

The unincorporated Lealman area spans a portion of south Pinellas County that’s located generally between Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg and I-275 and Park Street. Kenneth City divides the area into two segments. Pinellas County has been working to revitalize the Lealman community since at least the late 1990s. Most of the efforts have focused on east Lealman, the portion on the eastern side of Kenneth City that’s generally west of I-275.

It’s an area of high poverty – one of the poorest in the county – that lacks infrastructure, including few fire hydrants, sidewalks and narrow streets flanked by steep ditches. Much of the area lacks street lights. Absentee landlords are in part responsible for the poor condition of some of the housing stock, which tends to be older.

The county, helped along by area activists, has had some success in the area. The amount of green space has been increased with the cleanup of Lealman Park on 54th Avenue N and the addition of Joe’s Creek Greenway Park. A street light district provides nighttime lighting in part of the area. Lealman boasts the unincorporated area’s first unified garbage service. Some new fire hydrants have been installed. And, recently, newly constructed apartments were opened for veterans.

But the area remained poor, depressed and was classified as a slum and blight area as part of the process for creating the CRA. A CRA uses money generated in the area exclusively for improvements in the area. The immediate oversight is provided by a citizens’ board, but the County Commission serves as the ultimate authority.

The first duty has been to come up with a plan. Once approved by the County Commission, it will be the framework used for future development and improvements in Lealman. The 44-page plan proposed for Lealman notes that the ultimate goal is making Lealman economically and socially self-sustaining.

It identifies eight areas of concentration: economic development and innovation, retail and business investment, improved housing stock, infrastructure and transportation, communitywide curb appeal and livability, sustainability, health and safety, and the creation of a sense of place.

Among the possible strategies for getting to those goals: creating a Lealman logo to use on marketing and other materials, purchase of property, installation of streetlights, increasing the number of fire hydrants, façade grants to encourage housing and business improvements, and the development of incentive programs.

Dwight Dudley files to run as judge in Pinellas County

Pinellas County state House Democrat Rep. Dwight Dudley has filed to run for Judge of the County Court in Pinellas County’s Group 9.

Dudley is a St. Petersburg-based attorney who operates his own law firm. He announced last week that he would not run for reelection for his HD 68 seat that he was first elected to in 2012, and reelected to in 2014.

Dudley will be running against Judge Myriam Irizarry, who was appointed to her position last July by Gov. Rick Scott to  fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Walt Fullerton.

Previously, Irizarry served as chief deputy and general counsel to the Pinellas Clerk of the Circuit Court since 2003.

Dudley’s abrupt departure from the Legislature has left a heated Democratic primary in the Dem-leaning seat, where Dudley fended off a significant Republican challenge in 2014.

Former Obama administration Eric Lynn has exited a Congressional primary against former Gov. Charlie Crist in CD 13 to seek the seat. Meanwhile, attorney and longtime Democratic politico Ben Diamond, filed first for the HD 68 seat after Dudley’s departure, has garnered the support of Democratic establishment operatives in Tallahassee and elsewhere around the state.

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