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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.

Five months after buying Tampa Trib, Tampa Bay Times announces more layoffs

Five months after purchasing rival Tampa Tribune, the Tampa Bay Times will be eliminating more jobs in the upcoming budget year, in an effort to bring the newspaper to the same staffing levels as 2015.

Benjamin Mullen of Poynter.org reports that Paul Tash, Times Publishing Company chair and CEO, announced the cutbacks in a memo to employees Monday.

“Payroll is our biggest single expense, and in 2017 we will return to the same overall levels we had in 2015 — before we bought the Tribune (without the Tribune purchase, the cuts would have gone much deeper),” Tash said in the memo. “Managers will build their payroll budgets for the next year based on what their departments spent last year. And managers will fill those jobs with staffers who best help the company meet its goals, including staff we hired this year from the Tribune and elsewhere.”

Much of the budget constraints can be traced back to the Tribune purchase — which ended a decades-old rivalry over advertisers and readers in the Tampa Bay region.

“In the last months of its life,” Tash writes, “the Tribune’s advertising revenues were unraveling faster than we understood. So, our ad revenues are up substantially since we bought the Tribune but not as much as we anticipated. Second, the advertising climate remains challenging for all newspapers, in part because of the turmoil in retailing.

“The recent closing of Sports Authority is one example.”

Tash concludes by saying the work “will not be easy, but our company will be stronger for it,” adding that the Times will survive to serve Tampa Bay.

“That remains good news for the region, and for us,” he said.

Mitch Perry Report for 10.3.16 – The Tampa Bay Rays long, bad 2016 comes to an end

We’ve had Brexit and Donald Trump; now we have the nation of Colombia rejecting a landmark peace agreement between the government and the former rebel group FARC — a deal that took over four years to negotiate and would have formally ended five decades of war.

Who can predict anything with accuracy these days?

Closer to home, for the second straight Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their game extended more than an hour over lightning strikes.

Coincidentally, it was their second straight 4:05 p.m. game.

Maybe the NFL should start scheduling late September/early October games at the regular 1:05 p.m. kickoff, which might preclude such delays in the future?

The Major League Baseball regular season has ended, and not a day too soon for the Tampa Bay Rays, whose 68-94 record ties them with San Diego and Cincinnati as the second-worst team in the game.

And attendance-wise? Their average home attendance of 15,878 was again the worst in the game, nearly 3,000 fewer fans than in Oakland.

“The losing stings. It burns,” Rays baseball operations manager Matt Silverman was quoted as saying in Sunday’s Tampa Bay Times.

Meanwhile, Rays’ former manager and South Tampa restaurateur Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs begin the postseason later this week as the prohibitive favorite to win it all for the first time in more than a century. I get that it will be “America’s story,” but, sorry kids, I ain’t a Cubbies fan. Will the Cubs suffer the same fate of the Golden State Warriors, who set an all-time NBA record for most regular season wins, yet failed to win it all at the end?

There’s big-time pressure on the Cubs to come through this fall.

They could be facing my San Francisco Giants, who will play a one-off against the New York Mets this Wednesday night, with the winner facing the Cubs, starting on Friday. And maybe this is the year the L.A. Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw and their expensive payroll find a way not to choke and go to the Series?

In other news …

In Ybor City on Sunday, Patrick Murphy labeled Marco Rubio a “puppet of the Koch Brothers,” among other unpleasantries expressed about his GOP Senate opponent.

Jeff Zampitella labels Sandy Murman’s transportation proposal ‘a gimmick’

(UPDATED) The Democrat trying to oust Sandy Murman from the Hillsborough County Commission says she was disingenuous when she offered an alternative to a proposed transportation tax last fall.

“I think Sandy Murman’s plan was a gimmick to get in the headlines,” Jeff Zampitella said Tuesday night at his campaign kick-off event at Anise Global Gastrobar in downtown Tampa.

Ken Hagan‘s words — it was irresponsible because it jeopardized our credit rating, our reserves, and our essential services. So that being said, I think it was a gimmick, that’s what the Tampa Bay Times said, and that’s what I say.”

Murman disagreed, telling SPB later on Wednesday that,”The transportation plan we put forward and passed dedicated $600 million from within our budget for back logged transportation projects over the next 10 years without raising taxes.   That’s funding for transportation projects we could begin immediately.   There are no gimmicks
to finding common-sense solutions to our communities’ problems, which I have been doing my entire career.  At the same time we have started to create the robust transit plan that our community needs and wants for the future. Over the next 18 months after people see the value of transit projects, we can present a comprehensive mobility plan with a long-term funding source to the public for their input and approval.  I listen to my constituents and our community wants a proven leader who will put forward plans to solve the challenges we face.   I will always fight hard for my constituents to produce the right solutions that will create jobs and keep our county vibrant for the future.”

The 47-year-old Zampitella is a commercial airline pilot and downtown Tampa activist attempting to take on Murman, who has been elected by Hillsborough County voters six previous times over the past two decades in her previous runs for the Florida House and county commission. In order to defeat his much better-known and better-financed opponent, he needs to show clear differences with her. He puts transportation at the top of his agenda.

Murmun’s introduction of an alternative plan to the Go Hillsborough proposed transportation tax was initially met with disdain by her colleagues on the board and the Policy Leadership Group last fall, who had worked for a couple of years building up toward putting a the sales tax referendum for transportation on this November’s ballot. In lieu of a sales tax, Murman proposed a plan that would use funds from a gas tax, mobility fees, a trust fund for transportation based on new growth, money from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil settlement, and reserves. It was not an immediate hit with some of her colleagues.

“Any plan that uses reserves, and one-time funding to solve long-time needs is irresponsible and risks adverse credit rating consequence for the county,” responded County Administrator Mike Merrill.

“We have voted to move the half-cent sales tax forward and you’re still proposing that you bring your plan forward?” added Commissioner Les Miller. “You’re digging a deep, deep hole that future county commissioners would have a real problem trying to fund,” he said.

Although commissioners ultimately didn’t approve Murman’s original plan, they came close. After twice rejecting putting the Go Hillsborough measure on the ballot, they approved Commissioner Al Higginbotham’s plan last month, which would dedicate $600 million over the next decade toward transportation, beginning with $35 million in 2017 and increasing the amount by $5 million each following year. Murman took credit for its approval last week.

“If it hadn’t been for me bringing my new plan forward, we would not have $600 million in transportation approved a couple of weeks ago,” the Davis Islands Republican said last Friday.

Zampitella calls the Higginbotham plan a gimmick as well, and accuses Murman of a lack of leadership on the issue.

“The week after Sandy Murman agreed to mobility fees, she started walking that back,” he said. “I would actually strengthen those. I would further encourage urban infill. I would encourage a true transportation plan. She had three-and-a-half years to be a leader on Go Hillsborough, she could have inserted herself in the process and have been the champion of Go Hillsborough.”

Murman tells SPB that the BOCC “imposed mobility fees at a level that will  help pay for infrastructure costs for projects and at the same time keep us competitive in the marketplace to attract new homeowners and create jobs.  Our commission board has started work on a master plan to modernize our land use policies to target sprawl and build densities in areas where we want growth to occur and where county services already exist or can be connected.   With over 500,000 new residents expected by year 2040 it is imperative now to get us on the right track with our growth policies.”

Having lived in Spring Hill from 1991-2003, he calls himself a “reformed suburbanite.” He moved to Tampa’s Hyde Park in 2004, and downtown Tampa in 2009. He says he’s running on a smart growth platform. He says he wants to reverse the growth patterns that have occurred in Hillsborough County over the past three decades. He wants mobility fees, transit corridors, and to encourage urban infill. “That means giving tax incentives and incentivizing people to build within the urban service core,” he says.

Zampitella was the former chair of the Downtown Tampa Parking Task Force, a treasurer with Walk Bike Tampa, and the president of SkyPoint Condominiums since 2012. He’s also been an active critic of the Florida Department of Transportation’s Tampa Bay Express toll lane project that has roiled the Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights communities.

District One encompasses not just parts of downtown and South Tampa where the two candidates live, but also stretches out to Ruskin, Apollo Beach, and Gibsonton; and out to the northwest, including Town N’ Country, Westchase, and Keystone.

“I was in Keystone the other night and it was an eye-opening experience,” he says. “Everything that we love about downtown, they are exactly the opposite. But I totally got it. They want low density. …They want to preserve their way, pristine way of living, and I get that and that’s all about not promoting sprawl. They want that for themselves, so that’s great, so that feeds into building the urban core.”

 

 

Gwen Graham wants to know why the DEP didn’t tell the public about Mosaic’s toxic sinkhole

Tallahassee U.S. Representative and potential gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is blasting the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection, claiming it failed local citizens by failing to alert them of the massive leak of contaminated water that occurred through a sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales Facility in Polk County last month. 

The company did immediately inform the Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection and other agencies, but many members of the local community said they had no idea about it until they saw media reports about it last weekend.

The DEP issued its own press release on Tuesday, where they claimed that the Tampa Bay Times had failed to report that they had notified the nearest adjacent homeowners who may want their drinking water wells tested.

“This information was provided in writing to the Times, but the paper chose to omit this fact and mislead their readers,” the statement read.

In a letter sent to Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Jonathan Stevenson on Wednesday, Graham is criticizing the agency for failing to alert surrounding communities of a toxic sinkhole, and calling on the DEP to use all means available to protect Florida families and the environment from a potential health crisis.

“I was extremely disappointed to learn the Department of Environmental Protection had known about this toxic sinkhole for almost a month before taking measures to alert the public. The DEP should warn Florida families of potential contamination before they’re drinking toxic water, not after it’s been contaminated,”  Graham said. “Their excuse for inaction – that they weren’t legally required to do so – is appalling. It’s an excuse we should expect from a special interest group – not from a group whose only interest should be protecting Florida’s environment and citizens.”

“This failure is just the latest example in an alarming pattern of the state placing polluting special interests ahead of the environment and communities they’re charged with protecting,” Graham added. “I hope they will quickly change course and use all resources available to remedy this immediate threat, and in the future work with greater transparency and respect for the public.”

Governor Scott weighed in later on the issue on Wednesday. Spokesperson Jackie Schutz said that Scott has directed the DEP to expedite their investigation “which began almost a month ago.”

“This includes directing DEP to expedite all water quality tests to ensure safe drinking water for residents,” Schutz said in a statement. “Governor Scott has also directed the Department of Health to partner with DEP in their investigation to ensure all drinking water in the area is safe.  We know Mosaic has taken responsibility, but our job is to ensure 100 percent safe drinking water in Florida and to protect our pristine environment.  We will continue to expedite this process until all questions are answered.  We encourage lawmakers and others to make decisions on this issue based on facts and not on their own political interests.”

In a statement issued on Tuesday, DEP Secretary Jon Stevenson said that his agency is “absolutely committed to the safety of all Floridians and our shared environment, which is why we have worked closely with Mosaic since learning of this issue to ensure that proper actions are taken”

“In an abundance of caution, and above and beyond the requirements of law, DEP is working with Mosaic and through the company’s ongoing efforts to ensure families in the community who want testing for their drinking water wells are offered that service,” he said. “While there continues to be no evidence of offsite movement or threat to offsite groundwater supplies, DEP will continue to ensure Mosaic’s efforts properly resolve this issue. Once the issues surrounding this sinkhole are resolved, DEP will finalize its ongoing investigation to determine any necessary accountability measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Here is Graham’s letter in full:

Dear Secretary Steverson:

I was troubled to learn that the public was not immediately notified about possible groundwater contamination from more than 200 million gallons of industrial waste leaked into a sinkhole at a Mosaic phosphate plant in Polk County. Given the potential consequences, I urge you to conduct a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the leak and to ensure the site is fully remediated to prevent long term environmental and public health risks.

Media has reported that the leak was discovered by plant personnel and reported to county, state and federal officials nearly a month ago. Yet, most of the general public did not become aware of the potential problem until it was reported by the press last Friday, September 16. Your office claims to have followed notification requirements prescribed by current law, but I believe the Department of Environmental Protection has a greater responsibility to the public. When public health is at risk, the state has a duty to notify nearby residents as soon as possible and before their wells are polluted so they can take appropriate action.

I urge you to exercise your full ability to investigate the causes of and response to the leak by public and private stakeholders. If this was purely an unforeseen natural event, we may still be able to take action to prevent future incidents. If this leak was inadvertently man-made, we need to know that so we can keep it from happening again. If there was mismanagement either before or after the fact, we need to hold the responsible parties accountable. Only a thorough and timely investigation can answer these questions.

Most importantly, we need to do everything we can to clean up the damage that has been done. The substances reported to have leaked from the site are potentially harmful to people and the environment. Given the enormous size of the leak, I expect this remediation to be a substantial undertaking, but it is essential. As we have learned from the contamination of Florida springs and pollution in the Everglades, the hydrology of Florida is uniquely connected. All Floridians are heavily invested in this clean up. Please use your authority to make sure it is done thoroughly and completely.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you.

Sincerely,

Gwen Graham

HART board member Kathleen Shanahan latest to call for abolishing PTC

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s vote last week to approve new rules that could compel ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to leave the area has given new life to those who believe the agency should be abolished.

The latest entrant in that camp is HART board member Kathleen Shanahan, who, in a letter published in Monday’s Tampa Bay Times, invokes the U.S. Constitution in arguing why the PTC should not be imposing any rules on the transportation network companies.

“The rationale behind the interstate commerce clause in the U.S. Constitution is to promote fluid commerce between states for those doing business in multiple states,” Shanahan writes. “For the exact same reason, ridesharing companies doing business in multiple Florida counties should be subject to statewide standards, not inconsistent county-by-county rules that potentially impede regional commerce.”

In a letter calling on the PTC to resist passing the regulations (which include Level II background checks which include fingerprinting drivers) last week, Tampa Republican state Representative Dana Young said that the agency should hold off and wait for the state Legislature to address the issue in the 2017 session. A year ago the PTC essential made that decision – they opted not to pass new rules, and also said they would no longer issue citations to Uber and Lyft drivers – until the Legislature dealt with the issue in the 2016 session.

That never happened, however, as talks broke down in committee with bills sponsored by Fort Walton Beach Republican Matt Gaetz in the House and Altamonte Springs’ Dave Simmons in the Senate.

Shanahan was named by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to serve as the City of Tampa representative on the HART board in October of 2014. A former chief of staff to both former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and former Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, Shanahan has definitely made her presence felt at HART meetings, particularly in making sure that the agency has fostered good relationships with lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington D.C. to secure federal and state money for the transit agency.

Shanahan’s call for the PTC to be abolished echoes similar comments made over the years by Buckhorn, as well as Tampa Bay area state Republicans like Senator Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant.Those two lawmakers have been unsuccessful in recent years in trying to get legislation passed to kill the agency.

“This is a perfect example of government run amok,” Brandes wrote in August of 2015 on his Facebook page after the agency resumed citing Uber and Lyft drivers. “Enough is enough. I’m drafting sweeping legislation to reform the PTC. It’s time our leaders stood up on behalf of our residents, tourists, and businesses to make sure Tampa Bay has the most robust network of transportation options available.”

The PTC is the only agency of its type in Florida. It was created by the state Legislature in 1976 as a Special Act, which means that the Legislature has the power to end it.

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