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Hillsborough MPO head wants to slow down talk of new regional transportation authority

Beth Alden is looking to have a serious discussion about regional transportation in the Tampa Bay area.

In early 2017, the consensus among the political and business establishment is that the Tampa Bay region must come together as one cohesive regional entity to maximize its leverage before anything can be done about transportation.

However, Alden, the head of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization (MPO), wants to put on the brakes.

“Let’s not do this half-assed,” she asserted in an interview earlier this week. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do this for real. Let’s have a real conversation about this.”

Alden fears that with the regular legislative session scheduled to begin in just a few weeks that conversation with all the key players involved won’t happen in time.

According to a new white paper prepared by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation, a regional structure for transportation planning, operations and decision-making is paramount to developing a regional transportation system.

The document was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Partnership, who is leading the way to have the eight-county region come together as one unit to facilitate and expedite transportation improvements.

Speaking at a meeting of the Tampa Bay Area Legislative Delegation in Clearwater last week was Veology CEO Barry Shelvin, who is the co-chair transportation working group with the TBP with Jeff Vinik.

Shelvin said two goals for the Partnership this year is to create a multicounty MPO and to a support a regional center for transit operations.

HART and PSTA, the two biggest transit agencies in the Bay area, should have a “closer relationship,” he said, leaving it open as to how that happens.

HART and PSTA formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding this week, which some transit critics fear is a stalking horse toward another sales tax referendum, or possibly a merger of the agencies.

That concern led HART officials to explicitly add language to the agreement saying that won’t happen.

The Hillsborough County MPO already has formal planning agreements with Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota and Manatees counties, all working within the MPO TBARTA coordinating committee.

In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly finalized a new rule calling for MPO’s in urbanized areas to merge. It was first promulgated last summer, and Alden says her organization has spent the past six months studying four different cases on how MPO’s organize planning processes in other parts of the country.

“We think we have crafted a thoughtful approach that includes public discussion of the issue, and independent nationwide research into effective strategies to address the issue of regionalization,” she says. “We can do this well, but we need to do our homework.”

Alden was inspired to post a lengthy comment on the MPO’s Facebook page last week following a Tampa Bay Times editorial lauding the Enos Center report, writing: “I’m not at all saying we should do nothing for regional transit. I’m saying we have to walk before we can fly.”

The Times editorial and Clearwater state Sen. Jack Latvala have invoked the example of Tampa Bay Water as a template for creating a regional transportation authority, but Alden questions that logic.

In the case of Tampa Bay Water, local governments turned over their own water resources to a third party to sell the water back to them at wholesale prices. Alden wants to know how that apply to regional transit.

“The primary source of operating funding for transit is a property tax levy, so what are we talking about, asking HART and PSTA to begin turning over their property tax to an independent agency across multiple counties?” she asks.

Disagreeing with Alden is Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who says the time is now for the Legislature to create a Tampa Bay area transit authority.

“Now they’re going to do another study?” she asked disdainfully. “As if this issue has not been studied to death.”

At long last, Jamie Grant files bill to kill Hillsborough PTC

Tampa GOP state Representative Jamie Grant has filed a bill (HB 647) that would eliminate the controversial Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

“With new information being made public every day, it becomes increasingly clear that this agency needs to be abolished,” Grant said in a statement. “Everything that has come to light has confirmed what we knew all along; that this agency no longer serves a useful purpose and the residents of Hillsborough County deserve better.”

That ‘new information’ Grant is referring to is the continued negative reports regarding the PTC’s former Kyle Cockream, who resigned at the end of last year.

Over the weekend, expletive-laden text messages between Cockream and PTC chief inspector Brett Saunders surfaced in a story published in the Tampa Bay Times. They were discovered as a result of an investigation being conducted against the PTC by a Sarasota law firm.

Cockream resigned last fall (the second time that he had announced he would be leaving the agency) after former PTC chairman Victor Crist called for an investigation as the result of reports about Cockream showing favoritism towards the taxicab industry. The PTC regulates all vehicle-for-hire companies in Hillsborough County, which over the past three years has included trying to get transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to come to terms with the PTC.

For years, the PTC had agents who had been issuing citations against Uber and Lyft drivers for operating illegally in the county. The PTC and the ridesharing companies did finally come to an agreement last fall.

The announcement of Grant’s legislation is no surprise, as the entire Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted to support the bill when he proposed it back in December. It calls for the agency to  end all operations on December 31, 2017.

As of now it is not certain who would inherit the duties of the PTC, although every other county in the state finds a way to do so (the PTC is the only type of agency of its kind in Florida). The Board of County Commissioners could be that agency, although Tax Collector Doug Belden has recently said his office could take over those responsibilities.

Corey Givens Jr. says he’s ready to serve on the St. Petersburg City Council

Corey Givens Jr. isn’t even 25 years old, yet the millennial activist is immersed in a panoply of local organizations in St. Petersburg.

In addition to being president of the Lakewood Terrace Neighborhood Association, he serves on the local chapters of the NAACP, the Sierra Club and the Citizens Advisory Council for the South St. Pete CRA.  And now he’s running for the St. Petersburg District 6 City Council seat being vacated this year by Karl Nurse, who is term limited.

“I want to focus on accountability,” he says. “Making sure that we’re voting on issues that are relevant to people who were serving.”

When asked who or what was an influence in his intense interest in the community, he credits his journalism professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the late Bob Dardenne, for inspiring him.

“It started in his classroom,” Givens said speaking to this reporter earlier this week at the Panera Bread outlet on 4th Street North. Givens’ beat on the Crow’s Nest paper was covering local government, and he said he observed the discontent among citizens in St. Petersburg and Gulfport regarding red-light cameras, who didn’t feel like their interests were being heard. Covering issues like that made him realize how vital the role of local government is in people’s lives, he says.

Givens calls former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and former City Councilman Frank Peterman to be some of his mentors, and says he honors some of other African-American leaders who previously served in the seat, like David Welch and Ernest Williams.

Another theme of his candidacy is embracing the future while respecting the past, something that he says informs his opinion on the latest developments regarding the Pier, where he celebrated at Cha Cha Coconuts when graduating from Lakewood High. He says it needs to be family friendly, yet responsive to small business needs.

Despite his youth, this isn’t Givens first run for local office. As a 20-year old in 2012, he ran for a seat on the Pinellas County School board, but his campaign efforts ended ignominiously when it was discovered that he falsely boasted to the Tampa Bay Times that he had an associate’s degree from St. Petersburg College, a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University and was pursuing a master’s degree at the USFSP.

With a whopper like that on his resume, Givens addressed the issue head on in his statement announcing his candidacy last month.

“I made a mistake,” he said this week. “It’s how we rebound from those mistakes is what truly defines us. And I worked my behind off to earn the trust back from my family, my supporters, my friends, my community. Making sure that they could feel that they could trust me again, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the past six years is serving, and ever since that hiccup back in 2012 I’ve made sure that I’m doing my part.”

Givens says he’s all about uniting the city, and isn’t interested battles of downtown vs. the Southside, black vs. white, or rich vs. poor.

“It’s about making sure that we’re all working together, to build up our community, so that we have a more vibrant, economic base, so that we are preserving and protecting our waterfront, so that we are making sure that our children and our young adults are prepared for jobs for the future in tech and trade.”

When asked if some voters might hesitate to vote for someone only in his mid-20’s, Givens says he uses “haters” to motivate him to prove that he’s worthy. He says he’s a workhorse, not a showhorse, referring to the fact that he started serving on the NAACP youth council when he was 17. “That’s what folks want to see, somebody who’s not necessarily been at the top, but somebody who’s been behind the scenes, doing the work, putting in the ground work, because those are the kind of folks we want to see serving in our govt. not those who have a sense of entitledness, but those with humbleness. Those who have the heart of public service, and that’s what I bring to the table.”

Givens is the first candidates to declare for the District 6 seat. He turns 25 in April, and if elected in the fall, he’d become the youngest council member in St. Pete history.

Saying voter intent ‘ignored’ on medical marijuana, Tampa Bay Times is just plain wrong

The Tampa Bay Times is just plain wrong about something, and it has stuck in my craw for nearly a week now.

Last Thursday, a Times headline read: “Voter intent on medical marijuana ignored.” Two days later, columnist John Romano followed suit with virtually the same narrative.

“Ignored?”

The clear inference of the editorial – notably, the word “ignored” – utterly fails to acknowledge reality.

“Ignored” clearly and purposefully claims the will of those who voted for the constitutional amendment has been intentionally disregarded or not considered. Whether you agree or disagree with the direction things are headed, clear evidence suggests Amendment 2 is NOT being ignored.

If the amendment were indeed being ignored, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) would have done nothing. Nada.

Instead, the DOH – absent legislative guidance and before rule hearings or public testimony – took a fairly dramatic stance expanding access to medical cannabis. The Department publicly stated physicians can now order medical marijuana for those patient conditions identified in the amendment.

That’s not ignoring. That’s the Department of Health taking a pretty bold step forward. (Applause?)

Typically, state agencies have limited authority to make such a determination. But in this case, the DOH action – taken within days of Amendment 2’s enactment – allows for the expansion of conditions precisely as directed under the newly passed amendment.

One could make the argument that this is the exact opposite of “ignored.”

Further, DOH did not (and does not) have authority to simply wipe away statutes put in place explicitly to handle an array of issues that deal with a substance that is (may I remind everyone) STILL illegal at the federal level.

The agency could not have, for example, issued an edict allowing anyone to grow marijuana or to sell it as that person saw fit. And they cannot just wipe away licensure requirements or legislatively mandated training requirements for physicians that are currently still on the books. Instead, they let the current statutory framework for growing, distributing and selling to stand – concepts that are clearly articulated under the law as it stands now – taking the bold step of allowing physicians to immediately begin ordering medical cannabis for a new group of patients.

Seriously, what more do the good folks at TBT want?

Second, and equally bizarre: they roundly criticize lawmakers.

This accusation – plainly false – simply makes no sense.

Lawmakers are, right now, in the business of meeting, taking public testimony and considering various viewpoints. They drafted bills, weighing different options and are moving forward with great speed, even though the start of the legislative session is still weeks away.

There have been three public hearings and, as of this writing, two separate Senate bills are being floated, and we can expect one from the House any moment now.

Again, what more do they want?  Session hasn’t even started.

Let us keep in mind that 70 percent of voters did NOT vote for recreational marijuana usage. Voters said “yes” to the PHYSICIAN-directed use of MEDICAL marijuana for patients with extreme conditions. The proponents repeatedly and steadfastly maintained that we would not have widespread use of marijuana but that it would ONLY be available for the severely ill.

One must presume that the critically ill are under the treatment and care of a licensed and, hopefully, fully trained physician.

The paper’s position that the Board of Medicine should have no role in the administration of medicine is not only misguided, but entirely inconsistent with the promise made by those who supported this amendment.

As a father and a citizen of this state, I am genuinely terrified that Florida could become the next California – or worse. We have seen what happens when imperfect, but well-intended, laws are exploited.

Once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s almost impossible to put it back in.

I don’t want to live in a state where anybody with a smartphone can feign virtually any illness and have pot delivered to their front door. I am fairly confident that most who voted in support of Amendment 2 will agree.

Of course, we will never know exactly what anyone who voted for (or against) it was thinking.

But here is what we do know.

You may not like the way things are headed. You may prefer Sen. Brandes’ approach over the one from Sen. Bradley. You may think DOH moved too quickly or was too narrow in their interpretation. Fine. Fair enough.

But saying the Department of Health has “ignored” Amendment 2, or imply that lawmakers have done likewise, is simply – and demonstrably – wrong.

Alan Clendenin dismisses complaint filed against him as ‘baseless’

The battle to be the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party is becoming increasingly crazy – and intense. Two of the five candidates have had to move to different counties to be eligible for the position and one of them, Alan Clendenin, has been hit with a complaint regarding his election as state committeeman in Bradford County last month.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times Adam Smith was first to report that Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, filed a complaint last week with current chair Allison Tant, calling on her to reject Clendenin’s election.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Clendenin is dismissing the complaint, alleging that Byrd is a supporter of Stephen Bittel, the Coconut Grove developer whose own election as state committeeman in Miami-Dade County last month has been subject to criticism.

“Instead of making the case for why he’s the best person for the job, it appears as though this candidate is trying to win by clearing the field using baseless and unfounded complaints to disqualify his opponents,” Clendenin says about Bittel.

“I want to be clear – the complaint filed today with Chair Tant is baseless,” Clendenin continued. “Like other candidates in this race, as well as the past four FDP Chairs, I qualified for this position within our current rules. I know that these rules do not make sense to many people which is why I’m calling for them to be changed and will make this a top priority if elected. This complaint is nothing more than an unnecessary distraction from talking about how we move this party forward.”

Clendenin and former state Senator Dwight Bullard both lost in their bids for state committeeman at their respective counties reorganization meetings last month, making them ineligible to run for state party chair. However, both have now relocated to different counties where there were positions open for committeeman; both were elected.

In Clendenin’s case, it necessitated moving from his South Tampa home to Hampton in Bradford County. Bullard moved to Gadsden County, after losing his bid for committeeman in Miami-Dade.

Bittel won that vote, but only he was able to run after the party’s former committeeman, Bret Berlin, resigned to make way for Bittel.

Duval County Committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carius round out the field.

Media lawyer Alison Steele leaving Rahdert, going solo

Longtime media attorney Alison Steele is leaving the St. Petersburg law firm she has helped build for the last quarter-century and starting her own solo practice.

Steele
Steele

Steele, a name partner in the firm of Rahdert, Steele, Reynolds & Driscoll, Friday said she was sending announcements out over the past weekend.

She will continue to focus on media and employment law and civil litigation.

According to her online bio, Steele “has concentrated in legal issues affecting journalists, including litigation and appeals in cases involving Florida’s public records and open meetings laws, public access to judicial records and proceedings, the federal Freedom of Information Act, subpoenas to journalists, libel, invasion of privacy, copyright and trademark matters, and labor and employment law.”

Steele has long represented the Tampa Bay Times, recently including a libel suit brought by Palm Beach billionaire developer Jeff Greene.

He claimed the Times and Miami Herald derailed his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign that year with coverage of alleged fraudulent real estate deals and wild parties on his 145-foot yacht. The suit settled earlier this year on confidential terms.

Steele also has represented the Miami Herald, the New York Times, the First Amendment Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union, according to her bio.

Steele said she’s leaving the firm on good terms: “I started out with George (Rahdert) in 1987, then took a year and a half for a federal clerkship, then returned to practice with George in 1990.

“We have coming up on 30 years of friendship, more than 25 practicing law together,” she added. “We built a great firm together. We have a great legacy together. We’re going to continue to be great colleagues and friends.”

Florence Snyder, a First Amendment lawyer and FloridaPolitics.com columnist, called Steele “the best reporter’s lawyer I’ve ever seen—and a gifted corporate counsel as well.”

“It’s hard to operate with integrity in both those quadrants of the galaxy, but Alison sets the bar very, very high and jumps it with ease,” said Snyder, who served as a Poynter Institute trustee before becoming an administrative law judge in 2000. “She’s the lawyer I would most want by my side in a knife fight,”

Steele “is a 1984 graduate of Stetson University in DeLand, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Stetson Reporter, Florida’s oldest collegiate newspaper,” her bio says.

She received her law degree with honors in 1987 from Stetson University College of Law, where she’s an adjunct professor. Steele also is visiting faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and the University of South Florida.

As 2016 closes, Hillsborough’s transportation problems still mostly unsolved

Another year of our lives is about to become history, and that means another year where little tangible was accomplished in terms of addressing the transportation needs of the citizenry in Hillsborough County.

But a whole lot of people did get angry with each other over the process, anyway.

At this time a year ago, the biggest concern was: What would come out of the Hillsborough County Sheriff Department’s investigation into Go Hillsborough, the two-years-in-the-making transportation plan that called for a 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase?

“The Sherriff’s Office has completed most of the work in its investigation of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan but the results won’t be made public until mid-January,” the late and lamented Tampa Tribune wrote in December of 2015.

But it would not be released in January. Nor in February.

When it was ultimately released in March, the 1,974 page-report from the Sheriff’s office and State Attorney Mark Ober found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing in how county staff, commissioner and private consultant Beth Leytham acted in the months leading up to the selection of Leytham’s client, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to the project. But any momentum for what was always a rather large lift had been severely thwarted, thought it didn’t mean it was DOA, at all.  The referendum always required a simple majority of commissioners to vote to put the half-cent plan on the November 2016 ballot.

However, some Tampa liberals – considered to be the base of support for the tax – balked at what they said was a plan with too heavy an emphasis on roads and a lack of transit in the city.

On April 27, after hearing more than 60 people speak during a four-hour hearing, the BOCC rejected the plan on a 4-3 vote. The proposal died after Commission Victor Crist, always considered the swing vote on the seven-member board, said he was going with his “gut feeling” in opposing the measure.

But like Freddie Krueger, Go Hillsborough wasn’t quite dead yet.

Flash forward to six weeks later, when another 67 people came before the BOCC to give their views on a slightly revised measure. In this case, the tax would have gone for 20 years instead of the original 30 year-plan. But the vote tally on the BOCC was still the same. Go Hillsborough was dead. Again.

Several months later, the board ultimately voted to approved dedicating $600 million over the next decade to fix roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersections. But not much for transit, which upset newbie Commissioner Pat Kemp.

There is no talk about a referendum going up anytime soon.

While the county went nowhere on addressing transit, the Florida Department of Transportation’s ambitious plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 275, Interstate 4 and Interstate 75, as well as overhauls to the Howard Frankland Bridge moved forward. Sort of.

Opposition to the $6 billion plan Tampa Bay Express project has come most prominently from the areas that would be directly impacted, in Tampa’s Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor neighborhoods, and it’s been lasting and sustaining for more than a year-and-a-half.

The single biggest public hearing on the project took place on a summer night in June, when the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization held a public hearing on whether the TBX plan should be placed in its Transportation Improvement Plan for the next five years.

The 12-4 vote in favor of the plan came after eight hours of public hearing and 180 people signed up to speak, with the meeting concluding at 2:18 a.m.

Considered the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay area, the vote showed that while there are some lawmakers who strongly oppose the plan, the majority of the political and business establishment still remained solidly behind it.

In December, FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold said that he was hitting the “reset” button on the project, bringing in new staff to manage the project, “and work more intensively with the local communities.”

According to a Tampa Bay Times investigation, 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that FDOT aims to raze for TBX are in black and Latino households.

Another ongoing story that began in 2014 and lasted through most of this year was the continuing drama playing out at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

At one point during the acrimonious negotiations regarding the level of severity on background checks for ridesharing drivers, Uber pulled out their “Work with us or we’ll leave” card, which carried some real force after they literally did leave the Austin, Texas market over a similar disagreement with local regulators. And in this seemingly never ending saga, the public has, for better or worse, always been on the side of Uber/Lyft, and against the perceived stuffy bureaucrats not willing to adapt to a “disruptive” new mode of transportation.

At times, it got very ugly – and that was just between PTC Chair Victor Crist and his executive director, Kyle Cockream. Neither man ended up looking great at the end of it all, with Cockream first announcing his resignation, then postponing, then resigning again.

Crist, meanwhile, did a 180 from his previous stance in support of going hard on Uber and Lyft, and seemingly overnight became their ally, much to the consternation of fellow PTC board members David Pogorilich and Frank Reddick.

By the end of the year, the beleaguered PTC was barely standing, after a vote by the Hillsborough legislative delegation may ultimately give the agency just twelve more months to find a graceful way to exit the scene, with presumably the regulatory duties being handled by the BOCC, which is the case virtually everywhere else.

And oh, yes, Uber and Lyft drivers are now legally good to pick up and drop off passengers (not that their illegal stance did much to deter them previously).

And then there was the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project taking residents from Tampa to St. Petersburg and back, a plan spearheaded privately by former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and publicly by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who, hat in hand, was able to procure $350,000 each from the local governments of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Tampa and his own City Council in St. Pete, respectively.

And while there was a lot of fanfare when the rides began, with seemingly every local official being captured on Facebook Live taking a maiden journey, WFLA- Newschannel 8 reported in mid- December that one recent day, only two people had taken the ferry, and a week before, only one passenger was on a trip from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

With its Lego project, the Tampa Bay Times crushes my hopes and dreams

Last week, the digital geniuses at the Tampa Bay Times debuted a multimedia presentation that used animated Lego figures and constructions to tell a complicated story about a planned toll road on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

“How the plan to fix Tampa Bay’s most important bridge fell apart, told in Legos” from Eli Zhang, Caitlin Johnston, Anthony Cormier, and Martin Frobisher is an absolute must-click for its combination of shoe-leather reporting and “Everything Is Awesome” visualization.

It’s a great read.

It’s visually stunning.

It’s also — to me and only me — heartbreaking.

Please allow me to explain, without taking anything away from the great work of the Times reporters, while also knowing that many in the Times newsroom will take some pleasure in my agony.

Back in May, I wrote in a Facebook post: “it hit me what my next project will be. The next enterprise of Extensive Enterprises, so to speak. People won’t get it at first. They’ll think it’s silly. Then it will get the right people’s attention. And then everyone will say, ‘How much does it cost to do that for us?'”

My excitement originated from a video from Bloomberg: “The White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Legos.

The introduction was — “Curious how the White House Correspondents’ Dinner works? We explain … with Legos.”

It’s that simple.

As soon as I finished, I had a Eureka moment. Why not bring the Lego video concept to Florida politics? Isn’t that what I’ve done before — take a national idea and make it Sunshine State-sized?

My plan was straightforward. I would first produce a video about some storyline involving Florida politics. From there, I would partner with public relations firms who needed a new way to tell their side of a food fight happening in the Florida Legislature.

“Marion Hammer wants 18 year-olds to bring guns to college campuses … told in Legos.”

“The Workers Comp food fight … told in Legos.”

“Why you can’t get Uber in Miami … told in Legos.”

Whatever. You get the point.

A team of folks (much funnier than I) would help write the scripts. I’d build the Lego sets. Kevin Cate would shoot the videos.

It’s ratings gold, Jerry.

Except for one thing — Lego sets are not very easy to build. At least not the interesting ones.

And, like the Times, finding the right Lego Minifigures is next to impossible.

Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute details the roadblock the Times team faced.

“We’ve found many Lego-people-packs online,” said (Adam) Playford, director of data and digital enterprise at the Times. “But they all have too many weirdos, like Lego Bananaman and Lego Grim Reaper. Regular Lego people are apparently no longer in vogue.”

Playford and Co. solved their Lego-people-problem by putting out an all-hands-on-deck request to the staff at the Times. I, of course, do not have that luxury.

So … and here’s where some of the agony begins to set in … I worked with a firm in London to create custom Lego Minifigures.

For the script of the first video, I would tell the story of Marco Rubio and the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.

I ordered Minifigures resembling Rubio, Donald Trump, Patrick Murphy, Alan Grayson, Carlos Beruff (in a trademark black shirt), Ron DeSantis (pictured here in a Navy outfit, of course), and David Jolly.

As for the sets; well, let’s just say what the Times built for its very nice story about a bridge is, um, child’s play.

I started by building the small city building sets:

Soon, I became more ambitious, building bigger sets:

I assembled cars, planes, and trucks (including a replica of one the U.S. Senator drives) so we could shoot the pivotal scene from outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera tells Rubio he should re-enter the race.

I even built The White House (which was very difficult because it’s from the “Architect” class of Lego sets, which is basically Lego’s way of saying “A lot of f*cking pieces are in this box.”

I’ve been building and collecting Lego sets for nearly seven months, thinking the entire time that no one else would bring an idea I first saw on Bloomberg to Florida politics.

And then my bitter rival, the Tampa Bay Times, unveils its pretty little story about a bridge.

When I read the first tweet about the story, I knew what it was about without clicking on the link. My heart sank to a depth deeper than those caissons that hold up the Howard Frankland.

Sure, as my wife and other friends have said, I could continue my Lego project — and I still might.

But that’s like making “Deep Impact” after you learn that “Armageddon” is in production.

“Deep Impact” is probably the better film, but everyone remembers “Armageddon.”

If I do a ” … as told by Legos” video now, critics will say, “but didn’t the Times do that first?”

And screaming “but Bloomberg did it before either of us” does nothing to solve the problem.

Now I am stuck with a whole lot of Legos — which is OK, since my daughter, Ella Joyce, loves building with them.

In fact, Legos are one of the things we’ve been able to do together.

Just yesterday, Ella became sick on our way to a Christmas event replicating a train ride to the North Pole (it’s awesome, and I recommend it to every parent.) We were forced to turn around, missing one of our favorite holiday traditions.

To make up for it, I finished building this — bringing the North Pole to Ella:

If this episode has taught me anything, it’s that, as an entrepreneur, when a light bulb goes off, move quickly. That’s what worked for Sunburn, Florida Politics, INFLUENCE Magazine and everything else I’ve done.

I moved too slowly on this project and, subsequently, I lost out.

That won’t happen again.

Speaking of which, I have an idea for a …

Union activists want Wal-Marts in Tampa Bay region to pay price for offshoring security costs

Although retail giant Wal-Mart is known for low prices, it’s increasingly earning a reputation for offshoring security costs to local law enforcement agencies.

Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Times reported that law enforcement in four counties logged 16,800 calls to Wal-Marts in one year alone.

It’s much the same around the nation. An Arizona Republic investigation published this month revealed that between 2011-2016, three of the top five addresses to which Phoenix police officers responded were Wal-Mart stores.

In Beech Grove, Indiana, city officials in 2015 declared Wal-Mart a public nuisance, after a local news station reported that Beech Grove police had been called to the store more than 1,000 times in the last two years.

“We’re very concerned about this issue,” said Marc Rodriguez of the West Central Florida Labor Council. Rodriguez was gathered with activists with the Fight for $15! movement in front of the Wal-Mart store on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

“We know that Wal-Mart is a tremendously profitable corporation. They’re the largest retailer,” he said. “The largest private sector in the world, and with all of that we feel that a basic level of responsibility should come with that as well.”

Jenny Divish, an organizer for Making Change at Wal-Mart, said that they’re working on trying to get the Tampa City Council to pass an ordinance that would penalize and fine a property owner or tenant $2,500 for every call that exceeds more than 10 calls to the police per month.

“Until we get them to the city council until we pass this resolution like Beech Grove, Indiana and all these cities,” Divish said, “Wal-Mart’s not going to be held accountable and they’re still going to take these public dollars, until they’re held accountable at a higher level.”

Divish said in her discussion with council members, there is a desire for more hard data on calls to service before they come forward with any resolution.

Making Change at Wal-Mart is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

 “The reason why this issue exists its part of a pattern on the part of Wal-Mart in terms of irresponsible business practices and in terms of trying to cut corners,” Rodriguez said. “We know that in recent years Wal-Mart has eliminated a lot of positions. They’re eliminating cashiers and replacing them with machines. It gives people the message that Wal-Mart doesn’t care about what’s going on in their stores.

“This is part of a pattern, the same way in which Wal-Mart cuts corners and passes the cost of securing their stores onto the public in terms of relying on the police and straining the resources of communities, that’s the same way that they pass the cost of their low wages and lack of benefits on to the public as well.”

Making Change at Wal-Mart said this television ad (shown below) is running in Tampa and other cities Thursday:

 

Mitch Perry Report for 12.15.16 — Pier politics, part VIII

St. Pete City Council members are scheduled to receive a report on the progress of the St. Petersburg Pier at City Hall this morning.

Architects from ASD Architects, Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, representing the Pier and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture and Wannemacher Jensen Architects, representing the Pier Approach will present updated renderings of the new Pier. According to a news release, City staff will report on timing, budget and next steps.

Not covering St. Petersburg on a regular basis these days, I have to admit I wasn’t aware where we all were in the process. Otherwise occupied, I didn’t realize that there has been an additional $20 million added to the budget from Pinellas County. For years the top line had been $46 million, which it remains in terms of how much the city will allocate to it.

As reported in yesterday’s Times, now Mayor Rick Kriseman wants the county to cough up an additional $14 million that has been earmarked to build an intermodal transportation center for light rail and buses. That now pushes the budget up to $80 million.

“I don’t want us to have any regrets down the road,” the mayor tells Times columnist John Romano this morning. “I want to be able to give the community something really special.”

When I closely covered the saga of the Pier in 2012-2013, I learned that while removes the element of the downtown crowd was all in for “The Lens” and couldn’t be bothered to hear arguments for maintaining the now razed inverted pyramid Pier, many people in the community felt otherwise. Though Councilman Wengay Newton was depicted as just being eccentric in supporting the 1973 model, he was actually onto something with his resistance to making such a change.

So, yes, people, the Pier is a complicated thing.

Like the never-ending saga of the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s still hard to predict how this whole Pier thing is going to work out. Though there is a sentiment within the same circle of folks who liked the Lens to just quash the whole damned thing, that won’t work.

So maybe Kriseman is on to something. It’s hard to say when it comes to the Pier. City Council members in the past year have found their voice in confronting the administration regarding the sewage crisis — will they as a whole resist the urge to keep on spending on something “really special”?

In other news …

In a health care committee meeting in the Florida Senate yesterday, some health care providers say this whole managed Medicaid system isn’t working out so well for them.

While Tampa Bay area lawmakers try to pass a law that removes the suspension of driver’s licenses for a series of crimes unrelated to driving, they don’t do so for drug crime.

Hillsborough County Commission Pat Kemp heard from some Tampa-based constituents not happy with the low salaries that are so prevalent in the area.

The Tampa Bay History Center is about to go through an $11 million expansion.

And critics of the Tampa Bay Express project aren’t surprised to hear FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold call for a ‘reset,’ but they want the whole thing killed.

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