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Toast to the Bay/Dump into the Bay: Bill Edwards and Mike Deeson

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Toast to the Bay: Bill Edwards, the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Al Lang Stadium

Fox 13 reported this week St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is on board with plans to expand Al Lang Stadium and supports efforts to put a referendum to voters. The expansion would more than double capacity for Tampa Bay Rowdies Fans from 7,500 to more than 18,000.

The entire project is expected to cost about $70 million.

Some of that would likely be paid using Pinellas County Bed Tax revenue. That caused a minor amount of worry that spending county tourist taxes could dip into money available for a new baseball stadium to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Pete. However, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and Kriseman’s chief of staff Kevin King both verified that’s not the case.

The news means there’s ambition in the city to grow the already bustling soccer fandom that comes with the boisterous Ralph’s Mob at Rowdies matches.

Also this week, Rowdies owner Bill Edwards responded to musings that he was making an active push toward attracting Major League Soccer to St. Pete. He called that notion “premature,” but noted the commitment to the North American Soccer League and the Rowdies who play in that second tier league.

That represents a win for soccer in St. Pete in general because there’s competition for who can have an MLS team. The Orlando City Soccer Club has rights to not only televised MLS matches, but also to recruiting players.

If soccer’s regional popularity is demanding that kind of competition, it’s a good bet Edwards and his team are poised to continue growth.

It’s also a win for the city considering an Al Lang Stadium expansion could provide an additional venue for large-scale events like concerts or even expo football games.

Dump into the Bay: Mike Deeson

Mike Deeson is one of the most respected journalists in the Tampa Bay area. He’s a veteran whose amassed quite the resume including 11 Emmys and a lifetime achievement award.

He’s broken several high-profile stories including one that had resounding implications in 2014 to the county’s transit initiative that ultimately failed miserably at the ballot box. He uncovered a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority ad paid for by a Department of Homeland Security grant that was supposed to tout bus safety. Instead it appeared little more than an advertisement for Greenlight Pinellas.

But despite his enviable list of accolades, Deeson was named in a slander suit stemming from a 2014 race in which yard signs were reportedly being stolen.

The case centered on Safety Harbor Mayoral candidates Andy Steingold and Joe Ayoub. An Ayoub supporter was caught on video  removing a Steingold sign from a neighbor’s yard.

The man accused of the sign theft, Jim Barge, claims the sign was on private property and he was given permission from the owners to remove Steingold’s sign he claims was placed there without authorization.

The video was given to Deeson, an investigative reporter for WTSP, amid other news that signs were being stolen. Deeson aired the story and the video of Barge removing he sign the night before the election. Ayoub ultimately lost.

Barge is accusing Deeson, among several other defendants, of making false accusations, not retracting the story after speaking with the homeowners in question and of damaging his reputation.

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, being named in a slander lawsuit as a journalist is never good news. Even if Deeson is ultimately exonerated of Barge’s accusations, the mere fact that a lawsuit was filed raises questions as to whether or not Deeson acted on a story prematurely without having necessary information to verify the details he reported.

Deeson will no doubt be well-defended by WTSP against the allegations especially since its parent company, Gannett, is also named in the lawsuit. But even still, it can’t be a good week for the otherwise good guy reporter.

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Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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