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Tampa Bay Times investigative editor Chris Davis to join USA Today Network

Chris Davis, the deputy managing editor for investigations and data for the Tampa Bay Times for the past five yearsis moving to the USA Today Network, where he will lead investigative reporting stories at USA Today.

In his tenure with the Times, Davis led three Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting projects, including this year’s winner for Local Reporting for its “Failure Factories” series on how five once average St. Petersburg schools became some of the worst in all of Florida.

Davis also led the reporting that went into the joint effort between the Times and Sarasota Herald-Tribune that won a 2016 Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting for its year-long examination of Florida’s six primary mental health hospitals.

“We’re thrilled to add such a deeply experienced and talented team member of Chris’ caliber,” said USA TODAY NETWORK Chief Content Officer Joanne Lipman. “Having Chris on board demonstrates our ongoing dedication to deepening the level of our investigative capabilities NETWORK-wide and propelling them to new height

“I’m excited by the chance to join the USA TODAY NETWORK and help build on its commitment to strong journalism and deep investigative work,” Davis told the USA Today. “We have a unique opportunity to combine resources and to collaborate across multiple newsrooms to create groundbreaking, impactful reporting.”

Before joining the Times in 2011, David was an editor at the Herald-Tribune, he wrote or edited an additional two Pulitzer finalists plus the 2011 Investigative Reporting winner.


Mitch Perry Report for 7.1.16 — The wheels of justice move excruciatingly slow

American celebrates its 240th birthday on Monday, and the 40th anniversary of the Bicentennial.

I was a relatively young kid who doesn’t have a whole lot of recollection of that particular day (other than our family was on vacation someplace in Northern California), but I certainly do remember the yearlong hype into that summer.

Two days ago in this space we commented on the length of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton‘s emails at the State Department, and what was up with the delay? The New York Times reports this morning that Attorney General Loretta Lynch will announce later today that she will not overrule her investigators whenever they finally produce their final verdict. That’s significant in that when the F.B.I. sought to bring felony charges against David Petraeus for mishandling classified information and lying about it, then Attorney General Eric Holder stepped in and reduced the charge to a misdemeanor. That won’t be happening this time, and how could it? After Lynch compromised herself by meeting up with Bill Clinton in an airplane on the tarmac in Phoenix earlier this week in an absolutely inappropriate get-together.

And get this; the paper reports that while the FBI is expected to make a recommendation to the DOJ “in the coming weeks, though agents have yet interview Mrs. Clinton.”

I don’t really get that at all.

Speaking of the criminal justice system moving at a molasses-like pace, Curtis Reeves Jr.’s trial on charges that he shot a man in a movie theater in Pasco County in 2014 will apparently not take place until next year. The 73-year-old former Tampa police officer continues to live the good life at home, and the Tampa Bay Times reports that Reeves will get to make his case that he acted in self-defense at a court hearing that will start Feb. 20, 2017.

Sorry, folks; I get how slow the justice system can work, and some people complain about convicted murderers being on death row for more than two decades, but this is absurd. Back in January, the FBI said they were doing analysis that would take another six weeks, and the state of Florida’s prosecutor said he had to yet to depose at the expert witness in the case. That’s two years into the case.

What are these people waiting for?

Meanwhile, regular readers might recall how engrossed I was after reading an excerpt of Gay Talese‘s new book in the New Yorker a few months ago. It’s a tale about a Colorado man who allegedly spied on guests at his Colorado motel from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s. Now, apparently, after The Washington Post noticed that this man lied about when he owned the motel, Talese appears to be running away from his entire book and its premise. Not good at all.

And that controversial abortion law sponsored by Lakeland Republican state Senator Kelli Stargel that would allow the state to contracting out with Planned Parenthood (for non-abortion services) and require 50 percent of all abortion clinic records to be reviewed by the state each year will not go into effect today.

Last night U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle blocked those parts of the law from going into effect while the case is argued or unless a higher court overturns his decision. The Times reports that he wrote in the opinion that he expects the defunding and record inspection provisions will likely be ruled unconstitutional.

Hinkle’s ruling simply blocks these parts of the law from going into effect while the case is argued or unless a higher court overturns his decision. He wrote in the opinion that he expects the defunding and record inspection provisions will likely be ruled unconstitutional.

Over 100 Bernie Sanders supporters have gone to court in Miami to sue Debbie Wasserman Schultz and the Democratic National Committee over what they say was a “rigged” primary system set up for Clinton to win.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine says he believes that the results from the UK’s ‘Brexit’ vote last week will adversely affect Florida’s tourism industry, but others don’t think so.

Former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco is backing Republican Shawn Harrison in the HD 63 race against Democrat Lisa Montelione. You’ll hear some hype that it’s another “D” crossing party lines to support Harrison, but when was the last time Greco endorsed a Democrat, anyway?

HD 59 Democratic candidate Rena Frazier gets the backing of Hillsborough County Commission Chair Les Miller and his wife, former Tampa City Councilwoman Gwen Miller.

And Rand Paul is endorsing former Secret Service agent Dan Bongino in the CD 19 race.

Tampa Bay Times Mike Van Sickler named Government & Politics Editor

Michael Van Sickler, the talented Tampa Bay Times investigative reporter behind numerous must-read stories for more than a decade before moving into an editing position in 2015, has received a promotion.

The Cleveland native has been named Government & Politics Editor, replacing Jeff Harrington, who is returning to business reporting.

“I’m pretty excited about teaming up again with an incredibly talented Times/Herald staff as we enter the home stretch of the strangest political cycle in my lifetime,” he wrote to FloridaPolitics.com in an email.

“Hold on to your hat — we’re in for a wild ride.”

Van Sickler has reported and edited for the Times since 2003. He became an assistant metro editor for the paper in early 2015.

His reporting on the foreclosure crisis in the late aughts for the paper brought him to the attention of New Yorker reporter George Packer, who featured Van Sickler in several chapters of his 2013 book, “The Unwinding.”

Packard highlighted Van Sicker’s reporting about Sang-Min (Sonny) Kim, a house-flipper in Tampa who had colluded through a shell company in the flipping of more than 100 mostly abandoned properties around the city, and cleared more than $4 million in profit. That reporting led to Kim ultimately pleading guilty to money laundering and fraud charges.

If you’re trying to figure out the hierarchy of Times political editors, Amy Hollyfield is Deputy Managing Editor/Politics and Business, which oversees Political Editor Adam Smith and now Van Sickler.

Mitch Perry Report for 6.22.16 – TBX showdown tonight

Our latest form of participatory democracy takes place in Tampa tonight, where scores of people will comment on whether or not the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization should include the Tampa Bay Express project in what is known as their Transportation Improvement Plan.

If past is prologue, the majority of speakers will be against the project, and the MPO will go ahead and approve the plan.

That’s what happened ten months ago on a very similar vote. Only one member of the MPO, Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, opposed the plan, and 13 supported it. That was despite the fact that two other members of the Tampa City Council, who had voted against the plan while on the Council (acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency), approved it on the MPO.

So in analyzing if the votes have changed much over the past 10 months, you need to look at those on the board representing people in Tampa, since the opposition is greatest in the neighborhoods who will be directly affected by the construction of the project — in Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor.

Councilman Harry Cohen, perhaps realizing the inconsistency of his vote(s) last year, was the only member of the Council recently to resist opposing the TBX in a recent vote. Lisa Montelione (who is running for the state legislature this year) told me last week she could make a case for and against the project, leaving her vote in question.

County Commission Chair Les Miller has already declared his opposition, saying that the Florida Dept. of Transportation has failed in its outreach efforts with the community over the past year. County Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who supported the project last August, could be a no vote this time around. He was seen at an anti-TBX rally in Ybor City a few months ago and is in a tough election battle for Hillsborough Clerk of the Courts.

But the other members of the MPO, who don’t represent Tampa on the board? It’s hard to see how many minds have been changed. The political/business establishment in this town is solidly pro-TBX, and the Tampa Bay Times editorial page weighed in for the project just the other day.

In a move which critics would say is worthy of the best extortionist sports owners, the DOT has threatened to take their billions of dollars earmarked for TBX elsewhere in the state if the MPO rejects the project, further emboldening the business establishment that it would be the send the wrong signal for the community to oppose it.

The meeting takes place tonight at 6 p.m. at the County Center in downtown Tampa.

In other news …

On the eve of the Hillsborough County MPO’s vote on the Tampa Bay Express Project, a new economic analysis says it would bring nearly 7,000 jobs to the greater Tampa Bay area.

Rick Baker chose not to run against Charlie Crist for Congress in Pinellas County, but he’ll help David Jolly, as he was named Jolly’s campaign manager yesterday.

Kimberly Overman is challenging Les Miller for the Democratic nomination for Hillsborough County District 3.

Alan Grayson will introduce a bill today in the House that would ban assault weapons in America. 

CD 15 Democratic candidate Jim Lange has blasted Dennis Ross for not mentioning the LGBT community in his post-Orlando comments.

Bob Buckhorn slams Donald Trump’s economic policy — at least the part The Donald has announced.

Tom Lee to run for re-election to the Florida Senate

After months of deliberation, Hillsborough County Republican Tom Lee has apparently decided to run for re-election to the newly created Senate District 20 seat later this fall.

The Tampa Bay Times first reported the news.

Lee is currently serving in Senate District 24, a seat he won back in 2012. It was a return to the Legislature after a six-year interregnum following his defeat to Alex Sink in the contest for Chief Financial Officer in 2006. Before that, he served a full decade in the state Senate, including two years (2005-2006) when he served as Senate President.

But his current district was redrawn last year, and it put him in the same district as Manatee County Sen. Bill Galvano (who met up with the Tampa Bay Young Republicans at a mixer in Ybor City on Monday). Lee had declared earlier that he wouldn’t challenge Galvano, but left it open about his future options.

He hinted strongly that he was considering a run for Hillsborough County Commission, which would allow him to stay closer to his home in Brandon.

His decision Tuesday will no doubt provide a bit of relief to the two Republicans running for the District 6 countywide seat that Lee presumably would have entered, Jim Norman and Tim Schock. 

It also ends any blunts the ambitions of two local House Republicans who were considering a run for the SD 20 seat if Lee had opted not to run for re-election. Those officials include Ross Spano and Shawn Harrison.

The newly drawn Senate District 20 includes parts of Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk counties. No Democrat has entered the race.

Tampa Police Dept. to host community forums this week in wake of Justice Dept. report on bike citation policy

Following a Justice Department’s report on the Tampa Police Department’s controversial policy on citing bicyclists, the TPD announced that they would hold three community listening sessions  to get there feedback. Those meetings take place this week, with the first meeting scheduled for later this evening. Here’s the schedule:

Tuesday, June 7, 2016
6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Hillsborough Community CollegeDale Mabry Campus, Student Services Auditorium
4001 West Tampa Bay Boulevard, Tampa 33614
Parking in Lot #1

Wednesday, June 8, 2016
6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Springhill Community Center
1000 East Eskimo Avenue, Tampa 33604

Thursday, June 9, 2016
6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Middleton High SchoolAuditorium
4801 North 22nd Street, Tampa 33610

The DOJ released their 82-page report in late April. It said that the agency’s policy of stopping and citing black bicyclists was not discriminatory.

It did, however, state that the TPD’s bicycle enforcement policy did not produce a community benefit in terms of bicycle safety, bicycle theft, or crime generally. And it said that the policy “did burden individual bicyclists, particularly Black bicyclists in high crime areas of Tampa.”

The report was released slightly over a year after the TPD’s disproportionate rates toward citing black bicyclists for infractions was made public in an expose by Tampa Bay Times reporters Alexandra Zayas and Kameel Stanley. That story reported that the TPD had written more bike tickets from 2012-2014 than the police departments of the cities of St. Petersburg, Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando combined, and that eight of 10 were black. That’s despite the fact that blacks made up just 26 percent of the city’s population.

The TPD said that the reason for the high level of citations was threefold: 1) To improve bicycle safety; 2) to reduce bicycle theft, and 3) to prevent crimes in high-crime areas using the stops are part of a proactive police strategy.

Police Chief Eric Ward told the Tampa City Council after the report was issued that he intended to hold such forums, one of a series of recommendations listed at the conclusion of the DOJ’s report.

Those meetings begin on Tuesday night.







Mitch Perry Report for 6.7.16 – Hillary now officially the candidate? Yes, according to AP

Happy Tuesday, everybody.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, you won’t need a weatherman  to tell you how many streets will be inoperative in Tampa today, after an onslaught of rain touched down on the area overnight. We’ll have to wait and see how bad the flooding is, but one has to wonder how long before the Buckhorn administration will feel confident enough that they’ll have the four votes to pass an stormwater infrastructure bill that failed last fall.

There’s been lots of developments since I last visited this page on Thursday. The biggest political news is the development where the Associated Press has already declared Hillary Clinton to have the sufficient delegates to be the Democratic presidential nominee. They reached that conclusion by reaching out to superdelegates who had not announced which candidate they were supporting. They then confirmed that enough were backing Hillary, getting her to the magic number of 2,383.

Although Clinton supporters were celebrating the news throughout the night, it’s not necessarily beneficial for Hillary as voters are poised to go to the polls in California, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Montana and New Jersey today.

Meanwhile, there were lots of developments that have taken place in recent days one could touch upon. How about a favorite subject – as per Charlie Frago in Tuesday’s Tampa Bay Times, about the ideas that Tampa Bay Rays management are floating about how to enhance the fan experience in a newly created stadium.

Some of the ideas are definitely outside the (band) box, such as “a new kind of ticket that allows the fan to roam.” Forgive me for being a bit cynical, but would an executive have an idea like that if they thought their new park would be filled most nights, making it rather difficult for that “new type of ticket” to flourish?

Another idea floated – not having an upper deck – is indicative of this stadium not being that large. Both Fenway Park and Wrigley Field, two of the smallest (and most classic and iconic) parks in the game, have more than one deck. So how big or small of a park are we thinking?

And while we’re on this subject, how realistic is it that the Rays, after holding months of discussions with Hillsborough County officials, will ultimately decide that the best place for them to play is – exactly the same place that they’re trying to escape?

And lastly, with all the obvious reflection over the late Muhammed Ali since Friday, I watched parts of a fight I had never viewed before last night – his October, 1980 loss to Larry Holmes.

It is shocking how badly outmatched “The Greatest” was in that one (by the way, did you ever see the 1977 “The Greatest” a dramatic bio of the champion that featured playing himself? Not bad), and it seems to me so tragic that he was allowed to even participate in that fight (amazingly, he fought one more time, and lost, to Trevor Berwick in 1981).

Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, a/k/a “The Fight Doctor,” told journalist Jon Saraceno in 2010 that he left the Ali camp in ’77 because his team was continuing to put him in challenging fights, when he no longer had the capacity to maintain his previous skills. He said he showed Ali’s medical exam results to his team after his fight against Earnie Shavers in 1977-

“I sent them to Angelo, (Dundee, the manager) Herbert Muhammad, Ali and his wife (Veronica). I wrote, “This is what’s happening to you. If you want to continue, you have no shot at a normal life.” I never heard a word — a word. Because they knew I was right.”

It’s tragic that the man was just a shell of himself for so many years after his boxing prime was over. I get it while it’s not being emphasized in the current coverage, but it’s not irrelevant.


AFP-Florida warns Tampa Bay lawmakers to not use taxpayer funds for potential Rays stadium

Americans for Prosperity Florida is calling on lawmakers from both sides of Tampa Bay not to use public taxpayer dollars in the financing of any potential new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

“As the Rays search for a potential new sandlot to call home, their focus should steer clear of calling on taxpayers to sacrifice anymore, ” said AFPF state director Chris Hudson.

His statement comes on the same day that the Tampa Bay Times published a front-page story on the latest discussions that the ball club with officials from Hillsborough County on Tuesday regarding potential sites for a new park.  The Rays refused to acknowledge what sites were discussed, but the Times reports that up to nine different potential locations were mentioned.

One important item that rarely gets discussed in this continuing drama, which has gone on since the previous decade when the Rays declared they didn’t see a future for themselves at Tropicana Field, is how much this stadium will ultimately cost, and more importantly, who will pay for it.

“Major League Baseball has a rich history in Florida, but that history has been marred by greedy franchise owners and misinformed elected officials that have raided taxpayer coffers to the detriment of the communities that house these teams,” said Hudson. “Local officials need to stand by their citizens and disregard any attempts by MLB teams, like the Rays, that use faulty expectations and more broken promises.”

Rays management suggested several years ago that they would be able to front approximately a third of the costs of a new stadium, which could ultimately cost more than $600 million to construct. If that were the case, the community would be responsible for raising the additional $400 million.

While naming rights could reduce that amount, it seems inevitable that taxpayers would still be called on to foot the rest of the bill. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and other local officials have mentioned several funding possibilities in the past, including accessing hotel bed taxes and, if the stadium were placed in a certain part of Tampa, accessing community redevelopment agency funds.

Lawmakers have been reluctant to say that they would call for a referendum, a la the 1996 Community Investment Tax. That tax included funding for education and public infrastructure facilities, but was the main vehicle to help pay for the entire construction of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium.

“It is unfair to ask taxpayers to help a sports club enrich itself at the expense of real community infrastructure needs,” said AFP’s Hudson.

AFP Florida has been leading the charge in Tallahassee over the past few years to deny government subsidies for sports facilities, luring Hollywood productions, and recruiting businesses to Florida vis a vis Enterprise Florida.

They were unpersuasive, however, in getting members of the Tampa City Council, the Hillsborough County Commission and the Tampa Sports Authority to reject funding renovations to Raymond James Stadium and Steinbrenner Field in recent months.

“At what point have taxpayers finally given enough?” Hudson asks. “County and city officials in the Tampa Bay area need to get a grip on the real priorities facing their communities, and allow wealthy team owners to fend for themselves because the money they are promising doesn’t belong to them – it belongs to taxpayers.”

AFP applauds Sarasota for rejecting incentives to lure national roofing company to relocate

Americans For Prosperity Florida is praising the Sarasota County Commission for rejecting a financial incentive to help lure an out of town private company to relocate their business in the county.

“We’re thrilled to see Sarasota County reject the calls from special interests to take taxpayer dollars and give it away to a private company,” said state director, Chris Hudson. “These local businesses have every right to be upset that their tax dollars are being used to bring their competitors in from other states and compete against them. It’s not governments place to pick winners and losers, the other 66 counties should take Sarasota’s lead and do away with these failed corporate welfare handouts.”

Sarasota Commissioners voted 4-1 on Tuesday  against providing $720,000 in local tax refunds and grants to an undisclosed national roofing company that would compel them to move to the county. The state had pledged another $864,000 in incentive money to help Sarasota County land the headquarters, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

The vote is being decried by economic development officials who say that such incentives are absolutely required to attract companies to relocate to their region. Local contractors lobbied heavily against the commission granting the incentives.

The vote could be interpreted as a statement opposing the narrative driven by the economic development community about bringing new business. And in Thursday’s Tampa Bay Times, business columnist Robert Trigaux speculates on whether the deleterious affects of the Sarasota County Commissioners “thumbing its nose” at a headquarters relocation could actually affect Jeff Vinik’s attempts to attract out-of-state corporations to relocate to his proposed 40-acre redevelopment in the Channelside area of Tampa.

Trigaux writes:

It seems unlikely the Sarasota denial of a deal would influence Vinik’s efforts, but it’s early to assess the Sarasota impact. Site selectors are a clubby bunch and talk to one another frequently — more so when one of them feels unexpectedly spurned in what should have been a slam-dunk deal. And Sarasota’s county commissioners bowing to the wishes of local companies, however well-intentioned, could spark more pushback against economic development in other metro areas.

Americans for Prosperity Florida has been one of the few prominent organizations to fight against such economic incentives. They’ve concentrated their work in the legislature in recent years against proposals for incentives to Hollywood producers and sports franchises, and applauded legislators who worked against Governor Rick Scott’s request for $250 million for Enterprise Florida, the state’s mostly taxpayer-funded economic development agency charged with creating business deals.

Kathleen Peters responds to Jennifer Webb’s comments on her support of fracking bill

Commenting on the same day that the Pinellas County Commission was poised to vote on a fracking ban, House District 69 Democratic candidate Jennifer Webb announced that she not only supports such a ban, but took the opportunity to take a swipe at her GOP opponent, incumbent Kathleen Peters.

Noting that there were bills presented in the Legislature banning fracking that never received a hearing, Webb said that, “Rep. Peters has had ample opportunity to take the lead on protecting our beaches and tourism from fracking, but once again put the needs of lobbyists and special interests ahead of Pinellas families and small businesses. ”

Webb added that “Our environment and our state’s main industry, tourism, are inextricably bound, to not recognize this fact is troubling.”

Peters was nearly incredulous to hear Webb’s statement read to her. She says she proudly supported the fracking bill sponsored by Naples Senate Republican Garett Richter that failed to get a hearing. That legislation would have directed the Department of Environmental Protection to set up a regulatory scheme for inshore oil and gas drilling, provide $1 million to study the impact of fracking on Florida’s aquifer and limestone bedrock, and pre-empt local government ordinances banning the practice.

“The only bill that was presented to any legislator to stop fracking in Florida was that bill,” Peters said Tuesday.”So in my opinion, anyone who opposes that bill, then supports what happened and now anyone can come into this state and do fracking. Anyone who voted no was absolutely irresponsible, because we do not have a moratorium on it.”

Peters also strongly disputed Webb’s comment that she put the needs of lobbyists ahead of her constituents, calling such a change, “ludicrous.”

“She can make all the claims that she wants, but my track record shows that it’s not the lobbyists that drives my legislative language,” Peters said, citing her sponsorship of a 2015 bill that, among other things, requires the Public Service Commission to conduct additional meetings related to electric utilities; requires PSC to post information on website; requires persons who lobby PSC Nominating Council to register as lobbyist; requires PSC commissioners to take ethics training courses,  granted additional powers to Public Counsel; revises provisions regarding utility billing practices and clarified the use of funds received to encourage development of certain energy systems.

Webb says there have been enough studies, and says it’s time to shut down the possibility of such technology ever being employed in Florida.

“Fracking has been extensively studied and the risks of fracking are well documented,” Webb said. “As such, the motivation for that study must have been political. It is outrageous that the Florida Legislature would spend even a dime of taxpayers’ money to study fracking in Florida. The voters didn’t want fracking, and the legislature could have banned it outright in 2016. I’m not willing to risk polluting our drinking water, beaches, and waterways for antiquated energy solutions that benefit dirty oil and gas companies.”

Webb is a USF administrator running for office for the first time. Peters was initially elected to the Pinellas County seat in 2012, and was re-elected in 2014.

If the Pinellas County Commission approves a fracking ban on Tuesday, there would be a public hearing on the matter to take place on June 7.

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