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Bay Buzz

The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Legislators to look for quick fix of short-term rental problems

Local legislators will spend the next month studying the short-term rental problem in Pinellas County's beach communities and present possible solutions to the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation in January.

Sen. Jack Latvala appointed newly elected Rep. Ben Diamond, an attorney, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, who's fielded complaints from residents, to the task at Friday's delegation meeting.

A handful of Redington Beach residents over the last several months have urged the elected officials to take action as more vacation homes sprout along the affluent, residential strip on the Gulf.

“Our life is holy hell, it has been now for the past year,” said Steve Fields, who lives next door to an eight-bedroom mansion used as a short-term rental. “(They) have parties all night long, karaoke into the night. We were waking up at 2:45 on Thanksgiving morning... I don't know what else to do.”

A 2011 state law, amended in 2014, took away cities' ability to regulate the duration and frequency of short-term rentals. Cities with bans already in place were grandfathered in, but changing even a word in existing ordinances will void the laws entirely. …

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St. Petersburg awards 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade to new organizer for first time in three decades

ST. PETERSBURG — The founder of the largest Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. parade in the Southeast will not be running the event next year.

The city has rejected the application of Sevell Brown III, who has overseen the parade for more than 30 years. 

But the event will go on, with a new group preparing a new parade route.

 Brown has had control of the parade since its founding in 1985. A court settlement four years later cemented that role by ruling that the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to which Brown was affiliated, had the sole right to organize the parade.

But questions about Brown’s financial interests in the parade have come under scrutiny. And last month a Pinellas County judge ruled that Brown, who broke off his affiliation with the SCLC, and two of his affiliated non-profits no longer had the exclusive right to put on the parade. 

Soon after, the city awarded the right to organize the Jan. 16, 2017 parade to the Southern Christian Conference of Pinellas, Advantage Village Academy and community activist Toriano Parker.

Brown’s application was the only other one submitted.

City administrator Gary Cornwell said that the city could only accommodate one MLK Day parade. …

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State proposes $820,000 fine for St. Petersburg's sewage failures

ST. PETERSBURG — The bill for the city’s 13-month sewage crisis is coming due — and it looks steep.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection plans to fine the city $820,000 in civil penalties according to a 12-page proposed consent order drafted by the state, which also outlines the steps St. Petersburg needs to take to fix its aging, leaky and overburdened sewer system.

The order, delivered to the city late Thursday, can be read as a verdict woeful system that has released 200 million gallons of sewage since August 2015.

Much political damage has already been done. Three top administrators have been removed and Mayor Rick Kriseman came under heavy criticism.

But on Friday, city officials said they were already working toward complying with the order or planning to do so. And they said the state’s mandate that the work be done by mid-2018 gives St. Petersburg plenty of time to make that deadline.

“I’m pushing for us to do it much faster,” said Public Works Administrator Claude Tankersley. “Everything they have proposed to us, we plan on doing anyway. We would do with or without a consent order.” …

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Largo commissioner proposes committee to discuss options for Armed Forces History Museum

LARGO — The day after Armed Forces History Museum leaders announced the museum would close in January, a resident reached out to city commissioners about its future.

"This is one of the best museums I have ever been to and is a jewel of the city," wrote Ashley Crawford in an email. "As commissioners and the mayor you should be doing what you possibly can do to save this Museum."

In response, Commissioner Samantha Fenger floated an idea in an email to commissioners and city leaders Wednesday morning to create a committee made up of citizens, veterans organizations and other stakeholders to discuss the future of the museum. 

"As Ms. Crawford mentioned, the museum certainly is a destination within our City, has the support of many, and may just need the right people at the table to continue its legacy," she said.

As of this writing, no one had responded. Mayor Woody Brown told the Tampa Bay Times after the closing announcement Tuesday that he plans to meet with a board member in the next week or so to discuss options. 

"Most people that are involved with the museum would love to see it continue, but I'm not sure what organization would be able to take it up," he said. …

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St. Pete City Council slows process of tall ship's relocation to downtown waterfront

Plans to relocate a visiting tall ship near the Pier weren’t permanently scuttled Thursday by the St. Petersburg City Council, but the Nantucket-based Lynx will have to wait at least a week to see if it can dock on the downtown waterfront.

Council members balked at the last-minute request to spend $65,000 to buy a gangplank and make other improvements to the North Yacht Basin to accommodate the War of 1812 replica, which is used to educate school children about American seafaring history and for corporate team-building exercises.

Instead, the city’s request to use BP settlement money for the relocation will be taken up next week at the committee level.

Council member JIm Kennedy objected to being asked to spend BP money without it being vetted at the Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee.

“It feel very rushed and that makes me uncomfortable,” Kennedy said. He is the chairman of the committee.

Chamber board president Greg Holden and consultant Mario Farias said several private companies had pledged roughly an equal amount of money to provide power to the 122-foot-long ship and provide a floating dock. …

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Jim Davison'€™s talk about New Tampa secession drives Bob Buckhorn to back Luis Viera for City Council

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn typically does not take sides in City Council races, but he said Thursday morning he is backing Luis Viera in the runoff of a special City Council election in District 7.

“I had not planned on it, but as the campaign went on and I was hearing more and more outrageous and patently false statements coming out of Mr. (Jim) Davison, I decided to step in,” Buckhorn said.

He said there were three reasons for his decision.

“One, the city is firing on all cylinders, and the last thing we need is someone whose intent is to just cause more drama and divide the community,” Buckhorn said. The idea of New Tampa seceding from the rest of the city — something Davison said Wednesday night that he said he would want to leave on the table — is “just patently ridiculous,” Buckhorn said. …

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Pasco to end lobbying pact in 2017

DADE CITY - The Pasco County Commission on Tuesday fired its contract lobbyist, effective next year.

During a discussion of extending lobbyist Shawn Foster’s $60,000-a-year contract, commissioners authorized a one-year extension, but said the agreement, signed a year ago, would not be renewed when it expires Nov. 30. 2017.

The final vote was 4-1 with Commissioner Jack Mariano dissenting. Mariano said he wanted to terminate the contract immediately in light of recent commentary by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes.

Earlier this month, Corcoran said it was “a disgrace’’ for cities, counties, school boards and other local governments to hire Tallahassee lobbyists.

“I think it’s disgrace that taxpayer dollars are used to hire lobbyists when we elected people to represent them. The state doesn’t do it and neither should the locals,’’ Corcoran told the Times/Herald.

The commission hired Foster of Trinity-based Sunrise Consulting Group in 2015 and had used him previously when Foster worked as part of Southern Strategy Group. Foster’s other clients include the Hernando County Commission and the city of Brooksville …

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Pasco picks Mike Moore as new chairman

The Pasco County Commission picked Mike Moore as its new chairman Tuesday morning. 

Moore, a  Republican representing District 2 based in central Pasco, had served as vice chairman for the past year. He replaces District 3 Commissioner Kathryn Starkey in the annual rotation of the chairman’s position. The board picked Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. as its new vice chairman. 

The board unanimously elevated Moore and Wells, both first-term commissioners, immediately after the public swearing-in ceremonies for  Commissioners Ron Oakley, Jack Mariano and Starkey. Voters re-elected Starkey and Mariano in November and also picked Oakley to succeed four-term Commissioner Ted Schrader. 

“I’m truly humbled,’’ Moore told the board after accepting the chairman’s gavel. 

“I have all the confidence in the world in this commission,’’ said Moore. “I’m proud of what we’ve done, I’m excited about what we can accomplish in the future.’’  …

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Alternative transportation — electric shuttles, ferry, rental bikes — rolling up mileage on both sides of Tampa Bay

One month in, Tampa's new Downtowner free electric shuttles have covered 7,840 miles, carried 13,000 riders and made a lot of trips to Publix.

That's clear by this heat map of Downtowner destinations. The University of Tampa, Skyhouse Channelside Apartments, Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina and the Publix just across from downtown on Platt Street all are hot destinations.

Organized by the nonprofit Tampa Downtown Partnership and supported by community development property taxes from the city of Tampa, the Downtowner is run by a contractor that already provided similar shuttle service to four other cities. But Downtowner chief operating officer Travis Gleason said the company's launch in Tampa has been its biggest and busiest yet.

Users hail the electric shuttles using an app available at Commuters covering the first or last mile of their trip to and from work account for a little more than half the rides, according to the downtown partnership. More than 60 percent of the shuttles' passengers are repeat riders. The service is popular enough that organizers suggest planning ahead and checking wait times, especially around lunch and dinner. …

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Pinellas County administrator earns praise from commissioners

Pinellas County commissioners continued to heap praise on their chief executive.

The seven-member board again gave county administrator Mark Woodard glowing evaluations on Tuesday during a review of his performance.

"The amount of work and expertise and poise that Mr. Woodard demonstrates on a day-to-day basis is impressive, and it's been a joy to work with you," Chairman Charlie Justice told Woodard.

Woodard was scored by each commissioner in 10 categories and earned 193.7 points out of a possible 210. He scored perfectly in professional skills and characteristics and ensuring public health, safety and welfare.

Near-perfect marks followed in budget management, relations with commissioners, communications and reporting and delivering first-class services.

Woodard joined the county in 1988 as senior financial analyst and served as director of the Office of Management and Budget from 1994 until 2001, when he was tapped to serve as assistant county administrator. He kept that role under Bob LaSala, who was fired in April 2014 amid commissioners' growing discontent with his job performance. Woodard was first named acting administrator and given the permanent position four months later. …

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Pinellas County commissioners pick 2017 leaders

Without any drama during nominations on Tuesday, Pinellas County commissioners picked their leaders for 2017.

Commissioner Janet Long was picked by a unanimous vote to lead the board next year. She has served as vice chair alongside Chairman Charlie Justice in 2016. Commissioner Ken Welch will serve as vice chair in 2017. He also earned a unanimous vote. The terms begin Jan. 1, 2017.

Commissioner John Morroni nominated Long to serve as chair, saying: "I think you're ready. I think you'll do an awesome job."

Commissioner Pat Gerard told her colleagues that Welch was "wonderful" before she nominated him. The nominations and voting only took minutes to finalize.

While the seven commissioners don't typically cast votes along party lines, Democrats continue to hold a 4-3 majority over Republicans on the board. Democrats include Long, Justice, Welch and Gerard. Republicans are Morroni, Karen Seel and Dave Eggers.


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Uber, Lyft on hold in St. Pete while city tweaks business tax

The St. Petersburg City Council has decided to defer a vote on an ordinance legalizing ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft after a dispute emerged over those companies should be subject to the city’s business tax.

Council members appeared poised Monday to approve the measure, first discussed at a council workshop in February 2015, before an Uber representative said his company was exempt from the tax because it didn’t employ any workers who received W-2 tax forms from Uber. Lyft officials had similar concerns.

The Uber representative, Cesar Fernandez, managed Mayor Rick Kriseman’s 2013 mayoral campaign.

City attorneys said the city’s tax code had been simplified in recent years, but its procedures had remained consistent: taxi and other vehicle-for-hire services were assessed the tax not by workers, but by individual vehicles.

The current tax code wasn’t explicit on this point, conceded Heather Judd, an assistant city attorney, but she said the city would need only to clarify the code to legally assess the tax, which is pegged at $65 per vehicle.  …

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No one wants to sit on the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission

TAMPA — Apparently, nobody wants to serve on the embattled government agency that oversees taxi cabs and ridesharing companies in Hillsborough County.

County commissioners met Tuesday to organize for 2017 and dole out assignments to various boards and committees. Commissioner Victor Crist begged to be taken off the Public Transportation Committee, where he just spent as chairman during the acrimonious and litigious Uber/Lyft debate.

“I’m respectfully requesting the board to allow me to move on from the Public Transportation Commission,” Crist said. “I don’t wish to serve on that board any longer.”

Commissioner Stacy White, a few minutes earlier named the county board chairman, then asked if anyone was willing to take the seat.


Finally, Commissioner Les Miller, offered himself up as tribute.

“This hurts, Mr. Chairman,” Miller said, followed by a long pause. “I’m going to be a nut, lose my mind, jump off a cliff, and take the PTC.”

The board applauded. …

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St. Pete funds Uptown shelter after changes made

St. Vincent de Paul's shelter in Uptown will continue receiving city money, ending a contentious chapter between the Catholic non-profit and surrounding neighborhoods, whose complaints about trash, feces and crime from homeless people drawn to the shelter spurred some council members to call for a halt in city support earlier this year.

The $148,633 for the St. Vincent's shelter was approved unanimously by the City Council Monday. City Council member Karl Nurse, who had led the chage to deny city funding if conditions around the shelter didn't improve, complimented the improvements put in place by St. Viincent in recent months.

Some of those changes include: limiting services to 120 people who are paired with a St. Vincent "navigator" to help them develop a plan to find "self-sufficiency/permanent housing". The Society hopes to place 20 percent of its clients within permenent, transitional or other types of housing by the end of next September..

If a client isn't registered for day services at the shelter, they can't spend the night, St. Vincent's chief executive offier Michael Raposa said. …

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Transportation looms large as Hillsborough commissioners sworn in

TAMPA -- If you thought transportation was going away as Hillsborough County’s top issue, think again.

Recently elected county commissioners were sworn in Tuesday during an investiture ceremony. As the new board was seated, each commissioner highlighted their agenda for the coming year, and there was a persistent nod to the continuing need to address the county’s gridlock and crumbling roads.

"I really want to finish the job with transportation,” Commissioner Sandy Murman said. “We cannot take our eye off the ball."

In her first remarks from the dais, newly elected Commissioner Pat Kemp said she was encouraged by her two kids to continue to fight for transit in Hillsborough County and would take up that mantle on the board.

Kemp, a Democrat who was sworn into office by former boss and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, also said she will fight for “good-paying jobs,” particularly in the renewable energy sector, during her four-year term in office.

Commissioners voted earlier this year to spend $600 million on transportation improvements -- mostly roadwork -- over the next decade from the existing county budget. …

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