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B2 Communications expands with three new hires

A St. Pete-based public relations firm is expanding its operations in the area. B2 Communications recently hired Diane Jones, a 20-year PR veteran in the Tampa Bay area.

Jones most recently ran her own firm, DJ Public Relations, for eight years. Her company worked with high-profile clients including the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, Pasco County Utilities, Tampa Bay Water, Visit Citrus and Independent Financial Services.

She also served as public communications manager for Pasco County for four years and director of public and government relations for AAA Auto Club South in Tampa for eight years.

“We are thrilled to have Diane join our team, not only because of her extensive experience in public relations in the Tampa Bay community but also because of her specialized knowledge of transportation and water issues and in working with local governments,” said Missy MacFarlane, co-founder and principal at B2 Communications.

Jones is accredited in public relations from the Public Relations Society of America. She’s also a member of the group’s Tampa Bay Chapter and previously served as its president in 2002. She serves on the national Universal Accreditation Board overseeing the Accreditation in Public Relations.

Jones is also a past chair of the Public Relations Society of America’s Sunshine District representing seven chapters and serving nearly 1,000 members in the state.

B2’s latest hire received her Master’s degree in Public Administration and a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with a public relations concentration. Both degrees were earned locally from the University of South Florida.

B2 also recently hired two account coordinators. Tyler Killette and Keeley Sheehan are both University of South Florida St. Pete grads who worked in journalism before joining B2.

B2’s growth stems from some new high-profile projects including representing design teams for the new Pier and the Pier approach. The group has also taken on the role HDR Engineering’s communications and outreach consultant for the City of Tampa’s Streetcar Extension and Modernization Feasibility Study.

Other B2 clients include Colliers International Tampa Bay, Central & Southwest Florida; Colliers International South Florida, USAmeriBank, Paramedics Plus, Revenue Management Solutions, SPCA Tampa Bay, Marlow’s Tavern, Lennar Homes, Premier Eye Care, Metro Development Group, St. Petersburg Free Clinic, Fisher & Phillips, and Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture & the Arts.

For all the shouting over access to alley recycling, an awful lot of folks are still bringing the blue bins to the curb

Universal curbside recycling became universal ‘recycle where you put your trash’ last month, but not everyone has caught on.

I was recently taking a stroll through Historic Kenwood and stumbled on a number of big blue bins used for the new-ish recycling in St. Pete. They were parked on the curb, where the city told them last July they should be put.

But then the city changed that up after an uproar of citizens in places where trash is collected from alleys, not the curb, demanded access to alley pickup instead. Those types of homes account for about 40 percent of the city and most don’t have easy access to the curb from their front yards.

As of January 25th, the city instructed by way of literature tucked into utility bills, residents whose trash is picked up in alleys will also have recycling picked up in the alley.

But alas, who the heck bothers with those utility bill inserts? They wind up in the garbage – er – recycling probably more often than not.

So now the city is placing neon orange flyers directly onto misplaced blue bins.

“Oops! You’re recycling collection is now in the alley,” the flyers remind. “On your next recycling day please move your blue bin to the alley.”

The flyer lists guidelines for the new recycling location. The blue bins should be placed on the resident’s property within a “few feet of the alley.” Residents should allow three feet between the recycling bin and the giant, black solid waste containers and one foot between the container and fences, utility polls or any other items that might get in the way of collection. Residents should also not put their bins in a place that could block driveways or create traffic hazards.

And perhaps most important to the success of St. Pete’s modified recycling program, residents should move the recycling bins back into a secure area on their property such as behind a fence or in a garage after recycling has been picked up until the next recycling day. This will help avoid non-recyclable materials contaminating the bins by people placing miscellaneous items in an easily accessible bin along the alley.

The other side of the flyer also reminds users the dos and do nots for recycling in St. Pete’s program.

Do, in most cases, recycle plastic items with the recycling triangle numbered one through seven.

Do not place into blue bins, plastic grocery bags, plastic trash bags, plastic wrapping such as that from packages of water bottles or flimsy plastic packaging.

The new fliers also remind residents to break down cardboard boxes before placing them into bins and to never place recyclables for pickup outside the blue bins.

More information on how to be a good recycling steward is on the city’s website. There’s also a more comprehensive list of recycling dos and do nots on the St. Pete Collects app’s Waste Wizard. Both the website and app have an ongoing calendar of pickup dates and locations.

Pie in the sky transit proposal: Gondolas in St. Pete

St. Pete wants to move its people around St. Pete over the roads. Earlier this month the city submitted an application for a $40 million federal grant with its big-ticket item focused on Aerial Cable Propelled Transit. Or Gondolas.

It’s an almost Jetsons-like vision invoking images of people floating along in bubbles. Though, in St. Pete’s vision they’re not floating, they’re being pulled along cables connected to intermittent posts. Plus it’s technology that already exists. Other countries use Gondolas as a means of transportation and they’re used here in the U.S. at some sky resorts.

So why the lofty ambition? St. Pete is participating in a Federal Department of Transportation “Smart City Challenge” and its trying to set itself apart.

“Fourth Street is good example,” said Evan Mory, the city’s transportation director. “We wouldn’t be widening Fourth Street because the buildings are close to the road, but with this, we can mount the supports in existing median and bypass the traffic below it.”

The plan included in a grant proposal submitted last week would move people about the city from both North to South and East to West. It would include a line connecting to the beaches, with stop offs at Tyrone Mall and other popular destinations outside the downtown core.

Business districts like Carillon would be covered. So to would South St. Pete including the Skyway Marina District.

It’s a step outside the current transportation initiatives underway in the city and county. A bus rapid transit line in the works to connect downtown to the beaches leaves out Tyrone and parts of West St. Pete. City Councilman Charlie Gerdes who represents that area has lamented that.

The Central Avenue Trolley that the city subsidizes each year to make lower fares for uses doesn’t branch south into South St. Pete where transit is a much-needed commodity.

A proposed bike share program that would go into the Midtown area of South St. Pete would help with the first and last mile issue associated with the current bus system whereby riders have a difficult time getting to and from bus stops. But it does little to provide more robust transit options for people in a community among the most transportation-challenged. And City Council doesn’t seem in too much of a hurry to get the plan approved.

After a sweeping proposal to increase transit in Pinellas County failed in 2014, it also seems unlikely that voters would be willing to approve a sales tax hike to pay for improvements.

With all of that in mind, the pie in the sky idea of Gondolas suddenly doesn’t seem such a stretch.

It’s cheaper than rail – the token component of the failed 2014 Greenlight Pinellas sales tax referendum. The city already owns most of the space needed to build the infrastructure since it would use medians in most cases. And they aren’t even the first city to think up the idea. Clearwater City Council member Doreen Hock-DePolito has had her eye on something similar for quite some time to connect that city’s downtown with Clearwater Beach where congestion along the Clearwater Causeway has long been a problem.

The applications containing what Mory described as “30,000-foot type of applications” were due Feb. 4. Five finalists will be chosen in March and given $100,000 each to further develop concepts. Fine tuned concepts would be due in May with the winner announced in June.

The winner would also be eligible for a potential extra $10 million to help pay for infrastructure.

Other components of the city’s grant application include parking management improvements downtown The city is already slated to get $3.6 million in 2018 for things like message board signs downtown. They hope to further leverage those funds with the $40 million if the city wins.

They also included in the grant application plans to finish converting street lights to LED. That new technology allows the lights to serve as wireless hotspots meaning much of the city would be wired for Wi-Fi.

However, Mory explained that wouldn’t mean people in businesses near a traffic light could ditch their internet. The system would work best for people driving in cars or standing at street corners.

St. Pete will compete with more than 75 other cities and metropolitan areas including Tampa. Tampa’s goals are not quite as fanciful as St. Pete’s. They’re proposing a series of gadgets to help with transportation including real time parking info that can direct drivers right to parking spaces and various uses of autonomous vehicles.

The grant is exclusive to just midsized cities like St. Pete and Tampa. The grant money, if awarded, would be spread out of three years with $15 million issued this year and next and another $10 million in 2018.

Pinellas County MPO backs St. Pete bike share

The Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization is backing St. Pete’s initiative to implement a bike share program in and around downtown. But they’re doing so with some caveats.

In an update penned by MPO executive director Whit Blanton, the board spent an hour and a half hearing from St. Pete’s director of transportation Evan Mory, Coast Bike Share’s Eric Trull and a member of its own staff, Rodney Chatman about the plan. That also included a robust discussion among the board.

“It was the longest and most energetic discussion of my tenure here as the MPO’s executive director,” Blanton wrote. “Every board member participated in the discussion with thoughtful questions and insightful observations.”

Blanton explained the board recognized St. Pete’s urban core as a good place to launch a bike share in Pinellas County because it “functions best in a compact urban environment with multiple destinations within a one to three-mile distance.”

They also applauded the program as a way to bridge the “first mile, last mile” issue with public transportation. The county’s bus service run by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or PSTA, offers bus routes all over the county from the beaches to the Bay and from South St, Pete all the way to the northern part of the county.

But for individuals who rely on buses as their main form of transportation, getting to and from bus stops can be a problem. The bikes could, in some instances, allow riders to use a bike to get from stop to bus or vice-versa.

They also looked at it as a way to increase multi-modal transportation options.

But the group also had some concerns.

“Here in Pinellas County, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) is challenged with funding replacement buses and other capital facilities to maintain a state of good repair, and does not have the operating revenue necessary to expand service at the frequency and coverage needed to attract a larger share of the population,” Blanton wrote.

Within the next several years, PSTA is going to be charged with the tough task of trying to figure out how to maintain current service levels at its existing funding level.

Blanton pointed out that a bill co-sponsored by Florida U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican, and Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon would make bike share programs eligible for federally funded transportation grants.

“While I recognize that bike share is a form of public transportation and applaud that kind of flexibility in use of federal funds, I worry that it could be used to divert needed dollars away from cash-strapped transit agencies that depend on every dime of federal funds they are eligible to receive,” Blanton wrote.

He continued that the organization’s support of one component of transportation won’t undermine support for the entire system.

St. Pete’s proposed program would be funded solely from city money. Parking and impact fees would pay for $500,000 each while another $500,000 would be used from the city’s BP oil spill settlement money.

The issue is dragging slowly through the halls of City Hall as some City Council members question the wisdom of using city funds for bike share when there are other more pressing uses.

Just Wednesday, City Council member Steve Kornell took to Facebook to lament the city should instead get behind efforts to expand trolley service into Midtown and further West into St. Pete. While trolley service is facilitated and largely funded through PSTA, the city subsidizes fares on the route with about $70,000 per year.

And City Council member Karl Nurse is reluctant to use BP oil spill settlement money because the city is staring down the barrel at millions of dollars in repairs and replacement of wastewater infrastructure.

During a workshop this month council voted to bring it back for a committee discussion, but stopped short of putting on a council agenda for a vote.

Blue Laws restricting Sunday booze may soon be lifted in Pinellas

Super Bowl Sunday was this past weekend, one of the booziest of all Sundays. Yet, people hosting parties in Pinellas County couldn’t throw the beer in their grocery carts any earlier than 11 a.m.

And all those tourists flooding the county’s beaches during the winter months (or any month, for that matter) can’t hit the Bloody Mary bar before 11 either.

Why? Because Pinellas County abides by a set of regulations — known as Blue Laws — that allow counties to prohibit alcohol sales before a certain time on Sundays. The laws were originally aimed at prohibiting certain actions for religious reasons — Sunday being the holy day and all.

But they could go away.

“I don’t understand what the purpose is at this point,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. “It just seems like it might be time to take that one off the books.”

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is leading a charge among Pinellas County mayors to make that happen. According to his spokesman, Kriseman is in the process of gather support among the Council of Mayors to ask the Pinellas County Commission to ax the restriction.

According to Commission Chairman Charlie Justice, no one has brought it up yet. But it seems likely to come if Kriseman has anything to do with it and it doesn’t seem likely to get much pushback.

“I don’t hear any arguments against that,” Welch said.

Justice agreed it didn’t seem like too contentious of an issue. However, Welch did say he’d want to hear from all of the county’s law enforcement leaders before making a final decision. That includes Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, St. Pete Police Chief Anthony Holloway and Clearwater Police Chief Dan Slaughter.

In order to get the ball rolling, an item would have to be scheduled with the county commission. That could happen in any number of ways. The county administrator could ask that the item be scheduled for a vote. Kriseman could come to the commission and any commissioner could request an item be scheduled or Justice could just put it on the agenda himself.

From there it would follow the same regulatory process as any other ordinance or ordinance change. The public would have a chance to weigh in and votes would be taken.

“If the mayor’s council passed unanimous resolution saying we need to do something countywide, that’s something we would take seriously,” Justice said.

Both he and Welch said if an ordinance does come up to repeal the pre-11 a.m. Sunday moratorium on booze it would include an opt-out provision for cities just in case there was any objection.

In 2016, though, Welch isn’t convinced there would be any pushback.

“The last time we changed the ordinance there was no outcry against it,” Welch said.

In 2003 the county changed the time people in Pinellas County could start imbibing from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m.

Lifting the county’s Blue Laws could also be a boost for tourism. One of the reasons Kriseman is pushing it is because brunch-going tourists don’t always understand why they can’t have a mimosa at 10:30.

In a recent WTSP report on the issue, a Cassis manager told reporters there were some questioning customers.

Blue Laws in some areas across the nation include more than just moratoriums or restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales; they can also apply to retail stores.

Toast to the Bay/Dump into the Bay: Two Bay area judges; Jim Frishe

Toast: Two judges, some murderers (unfortunately) and death penalty critics

The death penalty doesn’t exist in Florida. At least not for now. And that’s a thing of beauty for the folks who don’t care for the policy much. Especially considering Florida is the second most murderous state in the nation in terms of capital punishment.

Two judges, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Samantha Ward and Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Michael Andrews, found consensus that right now, Florida doesn’t have a death penalty.

Last month, following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down part of Florida’s death penalty law, Andrews refused prosecutors’ request to seek the death penalty in the case of a Pinellas Park man (monster if he’s indeed guilty) accused of shaking and striking his three month old daughter to death.

And then this week Ward did the same in the case of a 30-year old woman who killed both her mother and father in-law. She also sited the Supreme Court ruling.

“The United States Supreme Court held Florida’s capital sentencing scheme unconstitutional. This Court, therefore, concludes that there currently exists no statutory authority in Florida under which the State can seek the death penalty, nor this Court impose the death penalty,” Ward wrote, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

But despite that ruling, prosecutors have continued to seek the death penalty in capital cases arguing only a portion of Florida’s law was struck down. In the Pinellas case, they argued lawmakers would have time to sort out the language before the April Trial.

Defense attorneys in that case successfully argued that the ruling did indeed squash Florida’s death penalty law as is evidenced by the Florida legislature hurrying to replace it.

Two versions are floating. One in the Senate would require unanimous jury consent for both qualifying a case as capital and again to implement the death penalty. It remove discretion by a judge to implement the death penalty despite a jury’s recommendation to the contrary.

Another version in the House would simply require a 9-3 majority in favor of the death penalty.

Prosecutors support the latter, defense attorneys the prior.

It’s probably (if not certain) that the death penalty will make a resurgence in the Sunshine state, but these rulings and the judges associated with them will no doubt have succeeded in making the process a little less easy for prosecutors.

It’s worth noting, this issue could also have wound up in the “Dump” category this week if we had looked exclusively at the victims and their families. Without overlooking what may feel an injustice to them, we send heartfelt condolences to the families wrapped up in this legal red tape.

Dump: Jim Frishe

Jim Frishe has been in the race for Pinellas County Property Appraiser for about ten months. His opponent, Mike Twitty, has been in it for about six. Yet Twitty his out-raising Frishe by more than $60,000.

Twitty has raked in contributions in excess of $103,000 compared to Frishe who comes in just under $40,000.

That’s a huge gap even if Frishe hadn’t have had a four month jump. And to make it worse for Frishe, he’s a former veteran member of the Florida House of Representatives. That means he should have plenty of name recognition and gobs of GOP friends with deep pockets.

Twitty, well he’s just a first time candidate who’s managed to sack Frishe in terms of fundraising and support.

Frishe may have been doomed from the start. He lacks any real tangible experience to tout on a resume for Property Appraiser. He claims his experience in real estate qualifies and said he’s taken some classes along the way. Against some candidates that may have been enough.

But Twitty comes to the table with an entire career of property appraisal experience under his belt. Clerk of the Court Ken Burke, a prominent member of the local GOP, recruited him. And he earned an endorsement from the incumbent, Pam Dubov, who isn’t seeking re-election.

It’s worth noting that it’s not likely anyone would have run against Dubov had she decided to seek re-election instead of devoting more of her time to her church as a Deacon.

The numbers coming in this week couldn’t have felt good for Frishe. If he’s not considering hopping out of the race he’s got to at least be examining some pretty extreme measurers to remain competitive.

First Pier Approach public workshop scheduled for same day as Presidential Preference Primary

It’s been a while since much has happened in the Pier debacle. The inverted pyramid has been gone for months and design teams and the city are working behind the scenes to finalize details on the new Pier.

Those designers are about to come out from behind the curtain.

On March 15th, the team working on the Pier Approach – not the Pier itself – will meet with members of the public to discuss that portion of the project. The public forum will be at the USF St. Pete Student Center in the ballroom at 6:30 p.m.

That’s the same day as the Presidential Preference Primary, which could diminish attendance.

The Pier Approach project is aimed at bridging the Pier and downtown with a seamless transition. It’s expected to include a grand entryway to the Pier, an art promenade and complete streets making it accessible and welcoming to pedestrians and cyclists as well as vehicles.

The city selected W Architecture along with the local architecture firm Wannemacher Jensen and New York Landscape Architecture for the Pier Approach project last October. That’s the same team that lost the bid to build the new Pier. There design, Destination St. Pete Pier, was chosen as the public favorite in a poorly participated in public survey, but lost to “Pier Park,” which it is no longer being called, during the selection process.

Designers for the new Pier, ASD Architects and Rogers Partners, are expected to complete the schematic design for the pier sometime this month or next with that design heading to City Council for approval sometime next month.

The public will have an opportunity to speak during public forum at that meeting, though it has not yet been scheduled.

The entire design development phase is expected to be complete sometime in late Spring and permitting and construction documents should be ready in the Summer or Fall. Groundbreaking for the new Pier is expected sometime in late 2016.

The new Pier is expected to be complete in the Summer of 2018 with opening slated for that Fall. The city plans to have both the Pier and Pier Approach timelines in sync.

Steve Kornell blasts bike share program on Facebook

St. Pete City Council member Steve Kornell is calling the Rick Kriseman administration “tone deaf.”

For that matter, he’s calling anyone who supports spending city money on a proposed bike share program “tone deaf.”

In a Facebook post Wednesday morning, Kornell linked to a story published by the Tampa Bay Times online Tuesday about the failures of a bike share program in Seattle, Washington.

“It is tone deaf to think a bike share program for short term trips downtown is our top priority at this time. It is no even the top transportation need,” Kornell wrote. “That would be running the central avenue trolley all the way up central to help the west central business district, running the trolley in the Skyway Marina District and running BRT (bus rapid transit) into the deuces to support the Renaissance that has started there. None of those were even considered!”

Now, I’ve defended Kornell over and over amid the senseless attacks directed at him by the Times over his passionate and strong-willed stance on the Tampa Bay Rays stadium debacle. It was an issue on which we did not even agree, but I still thought the treatment he received from a newspaper so blinded by dollar signs was unfair.

I say that only to say this: I don’t have his back on this one. Most who read my work know that even those with whom I seem to be the most friendly can fall victim to my wagging finger when they deserve it. This is one of those times for so many reasons.

First, check out my write-up yesterday of the Times piece Kornell shared. It uses an example from a city clear across the country to show a potential financial boondoggle. But the Seattle program was run by an outside company. In the very last quote of the article it’s pointed out that perhaps it would be more successful if Seattle had owned its own program.

That’s exactly what St. Pete is planning.

So there’s the first problem. You’re linking to an article making a case against a program when the comparison isn’t even relevant.

But then there’s also Kornell’s complaint that bike share being a “top priority” over issues like expanding BRT. Transit is handled, and funded, through the – what’s that thing called? – transit agency.

Now does that mean the city can do absolutely nothing to further transit initiatives? Of course not. The city funds the Central Avenue Beach Trolley and theoretically could expand trolley services to other areas. But the city is able to recoup a ton of money by giving tourists staying on the beach a way to easily visit downtown. That same economic benefit may not be as available.

I spoke with Kornell about this and he’s got some good ideas. Increasing bus service for the Skyway Marina District and Midtown should be a priority and he thinks the city can and should take the reigns on that. And he said it’s not that he’s against bike share, it’s just that he doesn’t think it should take priority over expanding transportation options in areas where some of the city’s most transportation-challenged live.

But bike share is a transit option St. Pete can control, fund and implement. And to think it’s somehow a slight to other transit options is simply, well, tone deaf.

And some of the comments on Steve’s post kind of prove that.

“I look at it as an opportunity to start a trend toward a more sustainable community and I think that is valuable,” wrote Andrea Leavitt-Anderson.

One resident, Rob Bocik, pointed out that an insurgence of bikes along Beach Drive wouldn’t work out so well, but he was quickly shut down.

“The idea that is working in Tampa with its BikeShare program is that the more cyclists that drivers see on the road, the more they’ll respect their legal right to share those roads with cars and trucks,” wrote Phil Compton of the Sierra Club.

Elizabeth Erhardt wrote that the bike share program in Washington D.C. seems to be doing just fine. The racks containing the rentable bikes are often empty.

Mayor Kriseman’s chief of staff chimed into the conversation pointing out that the mayor can multitask.

“We’re doing it all. Transit improvements across city. Bike share is one small component and about quality of life. It’s popular and successful across America. No reason we can’t provide our residents and visitors with it,” King wrote.

There were some commenters who agreed with Kornell’s sentiment though. Several pointed out that there are better things the city can spend money on – particularly the funds awarded through the BP oil spill settlement – instead of bike share.

Now, if Kornell were running for re-election, which he’s not anymore, this would not be cause to call for his removal from office, but it is moderately concerning that he would link to a story that’s entirely irrelevant and then suggest transit improvements that are best handled by the county’s transit agency.

Bike share is a $1.5 million endeavor with $500,000 each coming from parking fees, transportation impact fees and BP oil spill settlement money so whether or not that money should be spent is a valid question and an important conversation.

Let’s just make sure the conversation is comprised of facts and relevant info.

Bill Dudley running for Pinellas School Board to offer fresh set of eyes

Former St. Pete City Council member Bill Dudley is running for Pinellas County School Board. Dudley is the third candidate to enter the race to replace three-term board member Janet Clark. Clark has not filed for re-election yet, but said she plans to.

Dudley joins retired Gulfport Elementary teacher Joanne Lentino and SPC adjunct professor Matthew Stewart in the race.

“I’ve been an educator all my professional life,” Dudley said of his decision to run. “The only time I haven’t been was when I ran for City Council and was on council.”

He said he considered running for something like the State House, but decided that wasn’t for him.

“I’m one of those guys who likes to keep it local because I think that’s where the rubber meets the road,” Dudley said.

Dudley has been an educator for 35 years. He spent most of his career teaching at Northeast High School in St. Pete but also had short stints teaching in elementary and middle schools.

He’s running for a seat on the school board at a time when public perception of the school district is failing. After last year’s “Failure Factories” report that uncovered five chronically failing schools in South St. Pete, those in the know have been crying foul over a school board that not only did nothing, but reportedly took steps to create the problem.

“If it was easy to solve, it would be solved,” Dudley said of the impoverished public schools on the Southside.

But he also acknowledged that it was time for a change.

“I’m not real sure how effective [Janet Clark] has been,” Dudley said. “If the schools have been in that situation that they’re in, she was part of all of that.”

Dudley has some preliminary ideas on how to improve the failing schools and educational outcomes as a whole. First, he said students need to be ready to start school. That’s an issue of better utilizing early childhood education.

He also suggests taking a look at better compensating teachers in struggling schools.

“Good teachers shouldn’t be only for the IB programs and the special programs,” Dudley said. “Good teachers need to be in those schools and the reason they don’t go is it takes a lot of work in those schools, and quite frankly I think we need to compensate them for extra time.”

But as far as a concrete plan for the five failing schools — Melrose, Maximo, Lakewood, Campbell Park and Fairmount Park Elementary — Dudley said he’s not ready to dive into the details. Instead, he’ll be meeting in the coming days and weeks with current school board members, Superintendent Michael Grego, and school administrators to get a better feel for what needs to happen.

And he’s also going to be talking with teachers. After all, they’re the ones in the classroom with students every day, which reminds Dudley of another thing he’d like to change — scheduling teacher meetings during class time.

“That’s just stupid,” he said matter of factly.

Currently, teachers are sometimes pulled from class to go to mandatory meetings leaving students to be shuffled into other classrooms and taken away from valuable classroom time. Instead, Dudley suggests looking at other alternatives like paying teachers what the district would pay a substitute teacher to attend meetings during non-school hours.

He’s also not a big fan of the current standardized testing structure.

“The state testing is crazy,” Dudley said. “You spend half the year teaching kids how to take a test. It’s stupid.”

In the coming weeks, in addition to meeting with stakeholders, Dudley will also be working on getting his campaign together including establishing a website with more information for voters.

Seattle’s bike share failure an unfair comparison with St. Pete’s plans

The Tampa Bay Times is drawing attention to a possible hang-up for bike share aspirations in St. Pete: Seattle’s program is saddled with debt. That’s a scary prospect, indeed.

But the article is, at best, making a mountain out of a molehill and, at worst, entirely irrelevant.

Let’s first look at the mountain-out-of-a-molehill scenario. Seattle, huh? Short of Hawaii or Alaska, you can’t get any farther from the Sunshine City than that. What about Tampa where the program is a great success?

“While success stories for bike share abound, providing council members evidence to move forward, Seattle’s road to bike share can be used by skeptics to apply the brakes,” the Times piece reads.

Let’s translate that. There are lots of success stories, but let’s look at just this one. The article says skeptics “can” use the Seattle example to apply the brakes not that they could or might.

The article explains that the company contracted to run the bike share program in Seattle, and that owns the infrastructure, became insolvent. But if the city discontinues the program, it would be on the hook for $1 million in federal grants.

Here’s where the mountain becomes irrelevant: St. Pete is not relying on federal grants. The program would be funded in a three-way split among parking fees, transportation impact fees and BP oil spill settlement money to the tune of $500,000 each.

Further, the city would own the infrastructure. The only outside influence would come by way of a company managing the program.

The Times article glosses over that when ending its story with a quote from Holly Houser, the former executive director of Pronto, the company facilitating Seattle’s bike share program.

“It makes all the sense in the world for the city to own and operate the bike-share system,” Houser told The Seattle Times. “The only reason the nonprofit was formed 3½ years ago was because the city wasn’t interested in owning and launching bike share at the time, and now that’s changed.”

If anything, that last quote could be used as an argument FOR bike share in St. Pete. It could be a “learning from another city’s mistakes” sort of thing.

It’s unfair to claim, entirely, that St. Pete City Council should ignore potential financial risks associated with launching bike share. Indeed, it’s a costly venture using city funds that arguably could be spent elsewhere.

It’s equally unfair to claim that a bike share snafu across the country based on a model entirely different than the one St Pete is planning is cause for pause.

Officials need only look across the Bay for evidence that bike share could work in St Pete. The model in St Pete is mirrored on Tampa’s program. That program has been a success. As of last summer, the Coast Bike Share system had reached 10,000 members, a number impressive enough to prompt a planned expansion.

St. Pete, perhaps, has an even better opportunity for bike share success. Its downtown model is light years ahead of Tampa’s in offering a robust array of activities for locals and tourists alike including restaurants, bars, breweries, a movie theater, night clubs, theaters, and a giant system of waterfront parks to explore.

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