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Joe Henderson: Not just papers; it’s #LoveMyWebsite day, too

On Sunday afternoon, a man carrying an AR-15 assault rifle walked into a popular pizza place in northwest Washington D.C. and began shooting.

No one was hurt, thank goodness and the gunman was arrested.

What he said after being taken away, though, should be a warning to us all. He said he came to “self-investigate” whether Hillary Clinton was using the restaurant as a front for a child sex trafficking ring. Just before the election last month, that story had made the rounds among crazy people who frequent conspiracy-theory websites and believe what they read.

Normally, such a thing would be limited to charter members of the Tinfoil Hat Society. But after the ironically named “fake news” became real news for its impact on the recent elections, I guess we can’t afford to assume people can tell the difference – although I do think a few well-publicized libel judgments against sites that deliberately lie on the scale we just saw might give these miscreants a moment of pause.

I mention this because the hashtag #LoveMyNewspaper was trending Monday on Twitter. That gives me a warm feeling. I worked for about 45 years in the newspaper industry, including nearly the last 42 at the Tampa Tribune before it was bought and closed in May by the Tampa Bay Times.

This is not to lament that day because my attitude is to look forward, not backward. Besides, we know the business side of the newspaper industry overall sucks. The website newspaperdeathwatch.com lists 15 large papers that have closed since 2007 and details cutbacks and layoffs at many others, including the venerable New York Times.

Let’s all just take a deep breath, though. The need for detailed and accurate information doesn’t go away – maybe now more than ever, as the story in Washington shows. That’s where legitimate media comes in.

No matter your political persuasion, you can’t disagree that America is entering uncharted waters. Reporters have always been basically under siege from readers and politicians who don’t like their work, but as the recent national election proves they are more necessary than their enemies would like to admit.

So, I would add to the love for newspapers with another hashtag: #LoveMyWebsite – at least the ones like this one where readers go looking for real information and find it.

Reporters for SaintPetersBlog, FloridaPolitics.com and the Times perform their craft with distinction. They find out things people need to know and they understand the difference between fact and fantasy. That’s what we’re all after.

The Times revolutionized the game eight years ago when it launched PolitiFact, but probably never guessed the Pulitzer Prize-winning site would have to be used, as it was Nov. 4, to debunk the sex-trafficking story with a “Pants on Fire” rating.

And if you a frequent visitor to this site, you understand what a valuable tool it is to help stay abreast of the goings-on in Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and around the state.

When someone is willing to play that kind of mind game to dupe the nation that we see on the splinter sites, you need to ask what else they are willing to do.

The only way to combat that is with inconvenient truths known as facts. That is where reporters come in. That’s where newspapers with resources and willingness to shine a light in dark places are most needed. That’s where websites willing to cover local races with the same vigor as a governor’s race are most needed.

So yes, love your newspaper.

And love your website.

We’re all in this together.

Tampa Bay Times’ mind-boggling figures in ‘rooftop solar fight’ don’t add up

Consider the eye-grabbing Tampa Bay Times’ front-page headline Wednesday: $43M spent to limit solar.

Beyond the silliness of assuming that every dollar utilities donated this cycle is part of a plot to fight rooftop solar — as if there is nothing else they care about — the story is screwed up six ways to Sunday.

If a politician were to use these numbers, PolitiFact would rate them somewhere in the range of Mostly False to Pants on Fire.

Let’s start from the top:

“Lost in the tumultuous presidential election and the down-ballot fears, something big has been happening quietly in Florida this year: Electric companies have dropped $42.7 million into political campaigns.”

Well, $42.7 million rounds up to $43 million so this makes sense … until you read the next line:

“Since January 2015, $20 million of the industry’s profits went to finance and promote Amendment 1, the ballot initiative that attempts to frustrate the expansion of consumer-owned rooftop solar in Florida, but another $15 million went to fuel the campaigns of a select group of powerful legislative leaders to prepare for a prolonged war against rooftop solar.”

Hmm …  $20 million to Amendment 1 plus $15 million on campaigns adds up to $35 million … not $42.7 million or $43 million.

Where’s the other $7.7 million to $8 million? Keep reading.

“According to Division of Elections reports, the biggest spender on the effort is Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility, which has poured $22.2 million into political campaigns this cycle — $14.2 million into state legislative campaigns, and $8 million to Consumers for Smart Solar, the utility-backed political committee promoting the amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot.”

OK, so FPL donated $14.2 million toward “state legislative campaigns” and an additional $8 million to Consumers for Smart Solar for $22.2 million.

If that sounds high, it’s because it is.

The Division of Elections shows the sum of all of FPL’s donations to candidates and political committees excluding Smart Solar this cycle is $6.1 million.

Combine this with about $8 million to Smart Solar, and you get roughly $14.2 million. Not $22.2 million. 

Could this account for the $8 million discrepancy between the headline and second paragraph?

Here’s the story’s next line as it appeared in the Times’ print edition (with bolds added for emphasis):

“Duke Energy, the St. Petersburg-based company and the state’s second-largest utility, spent $13.3 million on legislative campaigns including $6.7 million promoting Amendment 1. “

And here’s the same passage as it appears at TampaBay.com (again, bolded added for emphasis)

“Duke Energy, the St. Petersburg-based company and the state’s second-largest utility, spent $13.3 million on legislative campaigns and another $6.7 million promoting Amendment 1.”

In print, it’s $13.3 million total. Online, it’s $20 million. Which one is right? Checking the Division of Elections database, it turns out neither is correct. 

Duke gave $6.7 million to Smart Solar and about $1.3 million to other political committees and candidates for a total of a little under of $8.1 million. The magnitude of this error is in the $5.2 million to $11.9 million range.

Tampa Electric Co., the third largest utility, has pumped $4.7 million into the political system, including $3.8 million for the amendment, and Gulf Power has invested $2.5 million, including $2.2 million to the political committee backing the amendment.

On the positive side, the Gulf Power numbers appear to be correct! Unfortunately, TECO’s numbers are wrong multiple ways.

First, TECO did not give $3.8 million to Smart Solar; it gave $3.2 million. Second, the story suggests $0.9 million went to other political committees and candidates or, if we account for the first error, $1.5 million. Wrong either way.

The Division of Elections shows about $1.7 million. Add this to $3.2 million in Smart Solar dollars, and the total is $4.9 million, not $4.7 million as reported in the story.

If you’re keeping track, the total of the actual figures for all the utilities combined is $29.7 million, including Smart Solar contributions. 

The Herald/Times inflates this total by more than 40 percent, and the Pulitzer-promoting Tampa Bay Times put a $13 million error on its front page.

How the Herald/Times can jointly botch something this badly is mind-boggling.


New poll shows Charlie Crist with three point lead over David Jolly, but will unforced errors do him in?

First, the good news for Charlie Crist.

A new St. Pete Polls survey shows that the Democrat is maintaining his lead in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District over Republican David Jolly.

The bad news is that this lead is a narrow three points, giving him little margin for error during the final two weeks of the campaign.

But unforced errors seem to be something the Crist campaign can’t avoid lately.

Crist leads Jolly 48 to 45 percent with CD 13 voters. Two weeks ago, Crist was at 48 percent and Jolly was at 43 percent, so not much has changed. Voters in the district prefer Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump for president, 48 to 46 percent. In other words, the top of the ballot and down-ballot are in sync.

At this point, Crist has to be hoping to run out the clock. Two tempests in teapots are brewing in this high-profile race.

The first was Crist’s decision to skip a candidate forum on Saturday noted by the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP. Crist is drawing fire from longtime critic Leslie Wimes, who notes that instead of attending this event (like Jolly did) Crist was putting up signs through the district.

“If he can’t bother to show up for us, why on earth would we show up for him?” Wimes asks.

Not watering the flowers at the NAACP seems like an unforced error that could have been avoided by Crist dropping in at the event, shaking hands with everyone in the room, and then asking who wanted to join him putting out signs.

The second — and probably more damaging — issue for Crist is the ad sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee juxtaposing Jolly with Donald Trump.

The ad drew criticism from the Tampa Bay Times editorial board over the weekend, saying it should be pulled because Jolly has never met Trump and has said he won’t vote for him for president.

After this editorial— and two weeks after the ad first aired — Crist called the DCCC and asked it to pull the spot.

“I wish I’d done it sooner,” Crist told the Tampa Bay Times’ Charlie Frago. “I was moved.”

Crist saying he’s been moved by an editorial reads like intellectual embezzlement. He should have called for the ad to be taken down two weeks or not at all. This unforced error will only serve to breathe life into Jolly’s campaign, which is running on fumes.

Crist played football in college. It’s time for him to dust off the playbook and run the ball until clock hits zero.

5 things I think I think about today’s Tampa Bay Times

Back before there was a FloridaPolitics.com and it was just me blogging at SaintPetersBlog.com, I would write a semi-regular screed about the Tampa Bay Times’ political coverage. This was so long ago, the Times still had St. Petersburg in its masthead.

I gave up the “5 things I think I think…” column after a while because it got repetitive. (And because so many of my favorite writers — Howard Troxler, Eric Deggans, Michael Kruse —  left the newspaper). However, with 15 days left before the election, it’s as good a time as any to check in on what the Times has to offer.

Unfortunately, it’s not much. At least as far as the print product is concerned. There’s some good and interesting stuff about national and state politics, but when it comes to the local scene, the pickings are slim.

There are only two Sundays left before Election Day and there isn’t a story in the newspaper about the high-profile congressional race in the region (Republican David Jolly vs. Democrat Charlie Crist) or the high-profile state Senate race in the region (Republican Dana Young vs. Democrat Bob Buesing and independent Joe Redner). Nothing on any of the state House races, although most of them are snoozers. Nothing on the county commission race between Republican Mike Mikurak and Democrat Charlie Justice.

Like I said, not much.

No wonder Adam Smith has to write about how “the dreaded campaign yard sign appears to be less in demand this season.”

Really, that’s the best the political editor of the state’s largest newspaper has to offer two weeks out from an election? Other than quotes from good guys Brian Burgess and Nick Hansen, this story is even sillier than you might think. It’s as if because Smith doesn’t see any yard signs in his tony Old Northeast neighborhood, there are no yard signs anywhere!

Smith blames The Case of the Missing Yard Signs on “most voters disliking the major presidential nominees too much to want to boast about their choice.” But since when were presidential campaigns even known for having a strong yard sign program? It’s the local campaigns, with their tighter budgets, which rely more on yard signs. And in Smith’s St. Petersburg neighborhood there aren’t as many competitive down-ballot races as there have been in recent election cycles.

Where Smith lives, there aren’t bruising races for state Senate, state House, county commission, or school board as there were in 2012 and 2014. So maybe Smith’s headline should have been “Adored by candidates, the dreaded campaign yard sign appears to be less in demand IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD.”

Ah, the good ol’ days of making fun of Adam Smith‘s work. It’s 2013 all over again. No wonder yellow-bellied Adam won’t participate in a post-election panel with me at the Tampa Tiger Bay club.

Actually, Smith has a must-read piece fronting the newspaper about Hillary Clinton’s connections to the Sunshine State and his “Winner and Loser of the Week in Florida politics” (consultant Rick Wilson is the winner; Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes is the loser) is spot on.

Other thoughts about today’s newspaper:

Months after both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were dispatched from the presidential election by Donald Trump, their names still sit atop the Times’ website when you click on the 2016 CAMPAIGN under the POLITICS link.


I agree with half of what John Romano tries to say about how “Rick Scott might have held the key to an outsider’s successful bid to the White House” because the columnist echoes some of what I’ve recently written about Scott; namely that Scott is under-appreciated as a political force. But where Romano and I diverge is with his thesis that Trump should have relied on the same message-driven playbook that worked for Scott in 2010. To suggest this ignores The Donald aspect of Donald Trump, which is what has propelled him to where he is today.

With Trump, there’s no way to separate the messenger from the message. This can be accomplished with Scott because he was a blank slate before he arrived on the political scene. Trump was already a brand.

Still, Romano’s column is worth the read.

 The Times’ final mission for the 2016 election cycle is to take down the utility industry-backed Amendment 1. The newspaper, of course, will write about Clinton vs. Trump and Marco Rubio’s re-election campaign, but it can’t influence those races. It can be a factor in whether Amendment 1 passes, so look for it to flood the zone — as it does today with not one, not two, but three Amendment 1 related punches, including this editorial.

Such good questions prompted by Charlie Frago’s reporting of how the City of St. Petersburg “experienced the equivalent of an air-raid siren warning about its impending sewage crisis.” Unfortunately, no one at City Hall is talking.

“I have no recollection of that event,” says Bill Foster, the mayor at the time. … Council members who served at that time also had never heard of it.

Former public works administrator Mike Connors, who was there when the Albert Whitted plant was closed in 2015, has retired. Water resources director Steve Leavitt and engineering director Tom Gibson were placed on unpaid leave while the city investigates what happened to the 2014 report, which was brought to light by a whistleblower.

Gibson and Connors declined to comment. Leavitt could not be reached for comment.

Even if any of these people did comment, it would not answer this question: who tipped off Frago to the 10.5 million-gallon discharge in 2013?

Pay attention to Susan Taylor Martin’s reporting about the 400 block of Central Avenue and whether it should be redeveloped into a residential property or into commercial space. Ten years from now, the 400 block could be the most important piece of non-waterfront property in the city, but only if the right decisions about its future are made now.

This was fun, critiquing the Times’ political coverage. Maybe it’s time to relaunch this series …

Mitch Perry Report for 10.21.16 — Rick Scott in 2020?

Forget about Marco Rubio in 2020, what about Rick Scott?

Troy Kinsey from Bay News 9 reports that “some GOP operatives are floating him as a potential presidential contender in 2020, should Trump lose in November.”

Kinsey then quotes all of one lone such operative in his story. But it does make for a good headline.

Now, what about Marco Rubio? The Florida lawmaker made news this week when he declared in his debate against Patrick Murphy, “I’m going to serve in the Senate for the next six years, God willing.”

Even if Rubio does break that pledge, will the GOP primary voters in 2020 become warmer to his candidacy than they were this year? Well, a Bloomberg poll of 404 Republicans nationally taken last week doesn’t even put Rubio in the top five contenders for 2020.

Mike Pence, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan and John Kasich finished in the top five, with five percent listed as “other,” including, presumably, some Rubio fans.

Meanwhile in South Florida yesterday, the President of the United States continues to enjoy his freewheelin’ campaign style in the waning months of his tenure, slamming Rubio mercilessly for his continued support of Trump.

“How can he call him a con artist and dangerous, and object to all the controversial things he’s said, but then say, ‘I’m still going to vote for him?’,” Obama said at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.

“C’mon, man,” he said.

“That is the sign of someone who will say anything, do anything, pretend to be anybody just to get elected. If you’re willing to be anybody just to be somebody, man, you don’t have the leadership that Florida needs in the United States Senate.”

Closer to home, a quick correction to Patrick Manteiga’s column in today’s La Gaceta. Patrick reports Lisa Montelione has “failed to receive any endorsement of her peers on Tampa City Council” in her House District 63 race versus Republican Shawn Harrison.

Au contraire. Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen did announce their endorsement earlier this week.

The Cubs thrashed the Dodgers last night, and are looking pretty up 3-2 going back to Chi-town tomorrow night. I may be the only man in the Tampa Bay area rooting for the Dodgers, which is really weird. I mean, I’m a Giants fan, for heaven’s sake.

And the Bucs travel to San Francisco, Santa Clara this weekend to play Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. Will any Bucs take a knee in solidarity with the now nationally famous activist?

In other news …

Victor Crist is calling for an emergency meeting next week of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to deal with the negative fallout of recent press reports.

Speaking of which, newly released emails show PTC executive director Kyle Cockream communicated freely with officials of taxicab and limousine companies his agency is supposed to be regulating.

After getting his column on the more unseemly side of the Clintons spiked, Chris Ingram quit the Tampa Bay Times.

Republican Eric Seidel continues his campaign against Democratic incumbent Pat Frank for the clerk of the court.

Sarasota U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan hopes to get federal assistance in cleaning up Sarasota and Manatee County’s red tide problem.

After spiked column, Chris Ingram quits writing for Tampa Bay Times

Conservative commentator Chris Ingram has penned his last column for the Tampa Bay Times.

Ingram announced on his Irreverent View blog that his most recent submission to the paper — a sharply worded takedown of Hillary Clinton’s behavior in relation to Bill Clinton’s checkered sexual history — was rejected by the Times’ editor of editorials, Tim Nickens, earlier this month. Nickens informed Ingram the piece “does not fit in tone or substance.”

Now Ingram says he’s done writing for the only daily newspaper publishing in the Tampa Bay region.

“The tone? Really? I couldn’t have been any nicer,” Ingram says. “It was polite. It was factual. It was certainly opinion, but it was opinion based on fact.”

Nickens said he reviewed the piece with Perspective editor Jim Verhulst, and they both agreed it didn’t fit the newspaper’s substance or tone. “I just don’t think it added anything new to the discussion,” he said.

Ingram has only been a contributor to the Times since the spring. He was one of several columnists who transitioned to the paper after it bought out the Tampa Tribune, where he penned a column for over five years.

On his website, Ingram blasted the Times decision as “an example of a today’s liberal media.”

“They embrace thought-provoking differences of opinion — so long as those opinions are theirs, and they conform with the propaganda it calls journalism,” he writes.

However, Ingram wrote for several months for the Times and collected paychecks from them, begging the question of what did he exactly think he was getting into?

“Obviously, I’m not a fool and I know that the Tampa Bay Times has a liberal bent,” Ingram says, adding that he thinks the paper should be “embarrassed” that it has never endorsed a Republican for governor or president in its illustrious history. He now charges the paper’s editorial staff with stifling debate about one of the two major candidates for president.

“I just happen to be taking the advocacy position for, in my opinion, the lesser of the two lousy candidates, and for them to take a blind eye and to shut down a fair and honest debate about a legitimate issue that is a fair criticism based on fact on Hillary Clinton’s action’s related to her husband’s actions? It’s just disgraceful that the Tampa Bay Times doesn’t have the balls to let that run in their newspaper.”

“He seems to be arguing that we killed it because we didn’t like the position or because it was critical of Hillary Clinton,” counters Nickens, who says the Times did publish a similar story on Bill Clinton‘s sexual past in the Sunday Perspective section days after rejecting the column. “You can look at other stuff you know we’re running. There’s lots of stuff on the op-ed page that we choose to run that we don’t necessarily agree with editorially, including some of Chris’ own columns,” referring specifically to a piece Nickens described as an attack on unions.

What’s apparent in hearing the two men’s perspectives is that there also appears to be a lack of communication.

Nickens says that with other columnists who contribute once or twice a month to the editorial page such as Bill Maxwell and George LeMieux, he has in the past rejected some of their column ideas — which he admits is easier to handle before they were completed. “I want to emphasize Chris seems to feel he was singled out or treated unfairly but he was treated no differently.”

For his part, Ingram says there were some column ideas he proposed at the Tribune that were shot down by opinion editor Joe Guidry, but never on ideological grounds, which is what he believes happened with the Times.

When the Times purchased the Tribune, publisher Paul Tash wrote, “At the Times, we recently expanded the opinion pages to include more conservative commentary, so that readers can find views from all points of the political spectrum,” a sentiment he has also been expressing in public forums since the acquisition.

Ingram now says that claim is “total bullshit.”

Nickens says Ingram and other readers have been slightly confused about the paper’s intentions with respect to the op-ed page after the acquisition of the Tribune.  He said that the expansion of space in those pages meant the paper was going to “redouble their efforts” at getting new voices into the paper, including conservative voices, but it would not change its general philosophy.

“This paper has historically stood for certain issues and what would be hypocritical is if we said, ‘OK, we bought another newspaper and now we’ve got all of these new readers and we’re going to start changing our editorial position.’ Now THAT would have been hypocritical.”

After Nickens killed the column two weeks ago, he said he didn’t hear back from Ingram until earlier this week, when he informed the Times editor he was no longer going to write for the paper. Nickens says he’s he’ll keep on looking to bring local conservative voices to the op-ed page.

“It’s his initiative that he doesn’t want to write anymore,” Nickens says. “It’s not ours.”

Ingram will continue to get his conservative message out to Tampa Bay area citizens with his regular gig as an analyst on Bay News 9, as well as his weekly Internet radio program, “The Anarchy Show,” that airs on the internet live every Thursday night.


DCCC says David Jolly ‘lied and it backfired’ regarding Donald Trump ad

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee boasted this weekend that David Jolly‘s campaign “lied and it backfired” regarding his camp’s announcement Friday that a local television station had pulled a controversial ad that uses doctored photos of Jolly with Donald Trump.

“Jolly’s bizarre strategy to solely object to dramatized pictures in a DCCC ad depicting a potential “President Trump” working with a future “Congressman Jolly” — failed miserably,” the DCCC chortled triumphantly in a statement issued Saturday. It was referring to a statement issued out by the Jolly campaign on Friday that Tampa Bay-area CBS affiliate WTSP-TV had announced on their Facebook page they were removing the ad.

“We have taken all photos and videos regarding the matter off our website and our television channel,” the station wrote back to one Sarasota resident who complained on the station’s Facebook page that the ad was “false and misleading.”

However, those and other statements on the WTSP Facebook page regarding the ad apparently weren’t authorized, according to WTSP news director Bob Clinkingbeard.

“Someone sending private messages using WTSP’s Facebook account” without authorization was what Clinkingbeard was telling the Tampa Bay Times on Friday.

The Trump-Jolly television ad has become one of the most controversial of any produced nationally this election cycle. It begins with a narrator asking viewers to “imagine David Jolly in Congress, supporting Trump’s dangerous agenda,” as an image of the Congressional District 13 incumbent shaking hands with Trump is shown on the screen. As more photoshopped images of Jolly and Trump are shown, the word “dramatization” is flashed on the screen. The ad also features doctored photos of Trump with Vladimir Putin.

The Jolly campaign immediately cried foul, calling on local television stations in the Tampa Bay area market to stop airing the ads, while threatening the DCCC with a lawsuit. Jolly and Trump have never met, Jolly has not endorsed Trump, and Jolly actually called on Trump to leave the race last December after the Republican presidential nominee proposed a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

The ad links Jolly to Trump by referring to their shared support of restrictions on abortions and denying federal funds to Planned Parenthood, and it concludes with the narrator saying, “imagine Donald Trump as president and how dangerous he would be with David Jolly supporting him in Congress.”

Attorneys for the DCCC have said it’s clear from the context of the ad and the disclaimer that the images are not real, “but are used to depict what the future might look like if voters support Rep. Jolly’s candidacy. There is no risk of confusion on this point. The images simply contribute to the advertisement’s central message that Rep. Jolly and Donald Trump share the same dangerous positions on important issues and that if Mr. Trump is elected president and Rep. Jolly is re-elected to his seat in Congress, he will support Mr. Trump’s agenda on these issues. This advertisement is accurate in every respect, raises critical public policy issues, and should continue to air.”

“For a candidate who regularly uses the term ‘liar’ to describe his opponents, it’s ironic that Jolly has been flatly caught doing exactly that — lying,” said Jermaine House of the DCCC. “David Jolly is so desperate to hide this Trump-like record from voters, that he will do anything — even misleading the public — only this time it backfired.”

Kyle Cockream’s appearance before Palm Beach County Commissioners this year wasn’t his first time

(UPDATED with responses from Kyle Cockream).

When Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission Executive Director Kyle Cockream appeared in front of the Palm Beach County Commission on a ridesharing ordinance it was reviewing last April, some state lawmakers and officials with Uber questioned his visit, saying it had the appearance of taking sides in the now two-and-a-half year battle between the taxicab industry and the ridesharing companies in Hillsborough County.

Cockream said at the time he was in West Palm Beach for four days “on personal business” — but emails recently reviewed by SaintPetersBlog reveal he had been communicating with taxicab officials for a full week in advance of that meeting.

Cockream testified in front of the Palm Beach County Commission April 5. He was photographed sitting next to Louis Minardi, the president of Yellow Cab in Tampa. Minardi has hired attorneys to oppose PTC attempts to introduce regulations to legalize ridesharing.

But Cockream denied at the time that he was with Minardi.

“I was not there with Lou,” he said.

However, a review of Cockream’s emails in the week before his appearance in front of the Palm Beach County Commission show he shared exchanges with Minardi, Brock Rosayn, who runs Metro Taxi in Palm Beach County, and Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former state legislator and now a lobbyist with the taxicab industry in Palm Beach County.

SPB also learned it was not the first time Cockream appeared before the Palm Beach County Commission.

He also spoke in front that board July 21, 2015, when he criticized Uber for its reluctance to engage in Level II background checks — which continues to be an issue in Hillsborough County. Minardi and Rosayn spoke immediately after him at that meeting. And while Cockream has said he was on his own personal time when he spoke before the Palm Beach Commissioners in April, it appears his 2015 meeting could have been on PTC time.

On April 11 of this year, a week after his second appearance before the Palm Beach County Commission where he identified himself as executive director of the PTC, Cockream wrote to a county staffer that he needed to make an adjustment on his Kronos account. Kronos is a electronic timekeeping system to monitor employee records.

“I recently noticed on July 21, 2015, I was off and and my Kronos apparently does not reflect that. How do I submit a change form?” he requested to Deborah Mingo in an email entitled, “Kronos Adjustment.”

“This request, made in April, was tied to a review I did of 2015 work time, to ensure that everything was properly documented,” Cockream says. “In that process, I found that one day was incorrectly notated, so I requested that the day be moved from PTC to personal time. I did this via email to ensure transparency.”

After SPB and WFLA-TV reported on Cockream’s appearance in Palm Beach County in April, he suddenly announced he would be resigning from the agency in July, but has subsequently said he would step down at the end of this year. At last month’s PTC meeting, however, he said he would stay on until March 2018.

On Friday, Hillsborough County Commission Chair Victor Crist said PTC attorneys last week went through a batch of emails and discovered a number of troubling issues.

One set of issues was the report in Friday’s Tampa Bay Times that revealed Cockream had been coordinating with local taxicab and limousine firms to conduct sting operations against Uber and Lyft drivers. Another was the visit to Palm Beach County Commissioners.

At the time of that appearance in Palm Beach County, Crist told SPB Cockream “just basically told me that he was down there for a few days with family, visiting friends, got a phone call from one of his colleagues who’s a regulator, asking him his opinion on some things, found out that he was in Fort Lauderdale, and invited him to the meeting, so he went.”

Crist said Friday the release of the emails reveal he had been misinformed by Cockream.

“It was shocking to me, it was embarrassing to me, and it was extremely concerning to me,” he said, adding that he wants to give Cockream a chance to explain what happened and why. He also wants to give PTC attorneys and consultants time to review what is appropriate and what proper recourse the PTC should take.

Crist says he would support a motion to launch an investigation, and says that will probably have to come up at the board’s next meeting scheduled for next month. That’s the same day the PTC board is scheduled to vote on a temporary operating agreement Uber has approved that would allow them continue to operate legally in the county. The board could reject that proposal and vote on a set of rules that include fingerprint-based background checks that Uber and Lyft oppose.

“If one thing has become clear in the past 24 hours, it’s that the PTC has consistently colluded with entrenched special interests at the expense of people who rely on ridesharing,” Uber spokesman Colin Tooze said. “Based on these recent revelations, the PTC owes the public a full and transparent accounting of how it conducts its operations and all conflicts of interest.”

The series of emails released last week shows Cockream had engaged in discussions about the Palm Beach County appearance for a full week. In an email exchange with Carol Vallee of Checker Leasing in St. Pete Beach on April 4, he wrote,”I’m headed to West Palm to speak to commission members today and Tuesday.”

On Friday, April 1, Rosayn forwarded an email to Cockream and Minardi headlined, “Uber info for meeting.”

On Tuesday, April 29, Cockream received an email from Minardi regarding an Associated Press story about Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport stepping up background checks for Uber drivers. That original email had also been sent to Ellyn Bogdanoff, a former state legislator turned lobbyist for the taxicab industry in Palm Beach County.

SaintPetersBlog reported in April a contact log for the 12th floor of the Palm Beach County government building for Monday, April 4, showed Cockream signing in, where he says he met with Commissioner Shelly Vana. The log showed later in the day that Bogdanoff signed in as well, where she said she was meeting with Commissioner Stephen Abrams.

Cockream says he did not meet with Bogdanoff. “She was in one or two of the rooms that I was in. She was speaking with council members. I did not meet her.”

When he came before Palm Beach County Commissioners, two of them – Mayor Mary Lou Berger and Commissioner Hal Valeche – asked why was the man who ran the Hillsborough County PTC doing at their discussion on ridesharing?

“Mr. Cockream, how did you come to be here today at this meeting? Did you just hear about it and decide to drive across the state?” asked Berger. Cockream said he was there to serve as a “resource,” and referred to his previous 29 years in law enforcement before becoming the PTC Chair. “I know about as much as fingerprinting … as anyone in this room.”

Berger also asked if he was to invited by the cab companies to appear before the commission. “More specifically, I was invited to speak by Mr. Rosayn.”

Commissioner Caleche then  questioned why Cockream was weighing on a Palm Beach County ordinance.

“We’re conducting this like a trial, and Mr. Cockream is acting like an expert witness, and we’re relying on his testimony,” he told his board members.“We’re talking about the ordinance, not about what’s going on in Tampa and Hillsborough County, and let’s stick to the ordinance.”


Cockream responded via email on Friday night that,”My appearance at a Palm Beach County Commission meeting last spring was to share knowledge about rideshare regulatory issues, and to talk about fingerprint background checks, which are mandated by state law in Hillsborough,” he wrote. “My appearance was not planned far ahead of time. I was copied on several emails a few days before the meeting as part of general industry information-sharing, before I was requested to speak. The comments I made at the meeting were my own.”


Pinellas Tea Party group endorses every local Republican except for David Jolly and Chris Latvala

The Tampa Bay Times isn’t the only local organization David Jolly didn’t receive an endorsement from this weekend in his race for re-election to his 13th Congressional District seat against Democrat Charlie Crist. 

The South Pinellas 912 Patriots has produced a voters guide for next month’s election, and the group’s list of candidates noticeably omits Jolly — one of only two local Republicans on next month’s ballot who isn’t getting the group’s backing.

The group has been a member of the national tea party movement since 2009. It’s most successful entry into electoral politics was their creation of No Tax for Tracks in 2014, the group formed to advocate against the passage of the Greenlight Pinellas transit tax measure.

The South Pinellas 912 Patriot’s list of endorsements is extensive. In addition to weighing in on judicial, legislative and county races, the group also gives their endorsements on state and county ballot measures.

Barb Haselden, one of the leaders of the South Pinellas 912 Patriots, was not available for comment.

Update — 9:57 a.m.: State Rep. Chris Latvala noted on Twitter that he, too, was not endorsed by this organization.

David Singer’s big mistake would be worth blogging about — if Jackie Toledo weren’t so press averse

It’s not clear who made the bigger mistake in the race for House District 60.

Is it Democrat David Singer, who falsely claimed the endorsement of the Florida Chamber of Commerce?

Or is it the Tampa Bay Times’ Richard Danielson for reporting about the endorsement without verifying it with the Chamber?

“We have not and will not be taking a position on House District 60,” Chamber spokeswoman Edie Ousley told Danielson. “We will be remaining neutral in that race.”

(When I read in the Times that the Chamber had made an endorsement in a state House race in my neck of the woods without SaintPetersBlog breaking that news, I was surprised because I assumed SPB’s relationship with the Chamber was much stronger than Danielson’s.)

Either way, this is a major gaffe by Singer. It’s the kind of gaffe that will bring all sorts of scrutiny to his campaign at exactly the wrong moment (thousands of ballots are being mailed this week to Hillsborough voters.)

It’s also the kind of rookie mistake that plagued the campaign of Singer’s opponent, Jackie Toledo, when she ran for the Tampa City Council. It will be interesting to see if Danielson and Co. give Singer as much guff as they gave Toledo in 2015.

All of this said, don’t look for the local media, including SaintPetersBlog, to bludgeon Singer over this issue because, quite frankly, Toledo’s campaign is so press-averse.

Toledo’s non-response responses to questions from a SPB reporter recently forced me to bring up the issue with Ryan Wiggins, the campaign’s spokesperson. Wiggins told me Toledo was too busy meeting with voters to answer our reporter’s questions.

Ducking the press and (Tiger Bay appearances) is certainly Toledo’s prerogative.

Just don’t look for the media to carry your water when the story should flow your way.

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