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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tampa extends moratorium on new local rules for medical marijuana dispensaries

The Tampa City Council on Thursday voted to extend a moratorium on rezonings or permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. A 90-day moratorium that the city enacted before the Legislature’s spring session is scheduled to expire on May 17. The council voted to extend it to Aug. 15.

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The Tampa City Council on Thursday voted to extend a moratorium on rezonings or permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. A 90-day moratorium that the city enacted before the Legislature’s spring session is scheduled to expire on May 17. The council voted to extend it to Aug. 15.

With competing bills in the Legislature on how to implement the voter-approved constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana, Tampa City Hall has decided to wait a little longer before drafting its own zoning or other rules for pot dispensaries.

So on Thursday, the City Council voted to extend a temporary moratorium on rezonings or permits for medical marijuana dispensaries. A 90-day moratorium that City Hall enacted before the Legislature’s spring session is scheduled to expire on May 17. The council voted 6-to-1 to extend it to Aug. 15.

The no vote came from Frank Reddick, who said he felt the city could move sooner. But a city attorney said the proposed extension would allow the city to look at whatever laws Tallahassee passes in response to Amendment 2, then come up with ideas and maps, hold a council workshop on June 15 and have time for any proposed development rules to be reviewed by the Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission and go through two public hearings. …

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Former Hillsborough Commissioner Beckner named director of county civil service

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner was named the director of the county county civil service.

Times File Photo

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner was named the director of the county county civil service.

The Hillsborough County Civil Service Board has selected former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner as its new executive director.

The job was slated to pay $115,000-$140,000.

Beckner has said if he got it, he’d stay out of elective politics for the indefinite future.

Term-limited in his countywide commissioner’s seat last year, Becker challenged Clerk of Court Pat Frank in a Democratic primary, but lost in a hard-fought race that created enmity among Democrats on both sides.

There were more than 200 applicants to replace Director Dane Petersen, who’s retiring after 30 years with the agency.

The Civil Service Board, among other things, hears appeals of disciplinary actions by employees of county government and various county agencies. The seven-member board is appointed by the governor.

Beckner was one of four finalists for the job along with Alma Gonzalez, currently the board’s employee relations manager and a high-level Democratic Party activist.

Beckner’s resume listed no experience in employment law or human resources organizations, but he said his eight years as commissioner and experience in running small businesses gave him that experience.

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Hillsborough takes step to bring back Cross-Bay Ferry in November

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted Wednesday to explore how to bring back seasonal CrossBay Ferry service this November.

Times File Photo

Hillsborough County Commissioners voted Wednesday to explore how to bring back seasonal CrossBay Ferry service this November.

TAMPA -- The Cross-Bay ferry’s six-month trial hasn’t even ended yet and Hillsborough County Commissioners are already looking to bring it back.

Commissioners on Wednesday directed county staff to identify money in next year’s budget that could again contribute to a seasonal ferry connecting the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa. Hillsborough, along with St. Petersburg, Tampa and Pinellas County, contributed $350,000 last year to pay for the ongoing pilot program.

The show of support for the ferry came after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman updated commissioners with preliminary ridership figures and survey data on the habits of its users.

In all, the Cross-Bay Ferry has carried more than 36,000 riders -- including 5,100 in the first few weeks of April. He said ridership could reach 10,000 this month before the pilot program ends.

Kriseman also predicted that each government will have about $30,000 returned to them since ticket sales have exceeded their investments.

“The future of this service is exciting,” Kriseman said. “I think all of us come May 1 are going to hear from our constituents, 'Where did the ferry go, and when does it come back.'" …

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Hillsborough honors former Tampa Tribune editorial writer Joe Guidry with inaugural conservation award

Former Tampa Tribune editorial writer Joe Guidry was named the inaugural recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Hillsborough Forever Conservation Award on Wednesday.

Times File Photo

Former Tampa Tribune editorial writer Joe Guidry was named the inaugural recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Hillsborough Forever Conservation Award on Wednesday.

TAMPA -- Hillsborough County Commissioners on Wednesday honored former Tampa Tribune journalist and editorial writer Joe Guidry with the county’s new conservation award.

A committee chose Guidry as the inaugural recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Hillsborough Forever Conservation Award last month because of his career advocating for the county’s natural resources and the environment through the power of the press.

A Tampa native and University of South Florida graduate, Guidry spent 45 years as a newspaperman in his hometown, first with the Tampa Times and then at the Tampa Tribune. In congratulating Guidry, commissioners credited his countless editorials for championing the clean up of Tampa Bay and pushing the creation of the county’s environmental lands preservation program.

Guidry continues to write on water issues for the Florida Aquarium.

In accepting the award, Guidry said he “can’t imagine a better job than writing editorials about what you care about in your hometown.” And while the Tampa Tribune editorial board was known as a conservative voice in the Tampa Bay area, he said proudly pushed back against claims that their environmental stances skewed liberal. …

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Political activist Sam Rashid sues former hair salon employee over Facebook post

East county political activist and donor Sam Rashid is suing a former employee

Times file photo

East county political activist and donor Sam Rashid is suing a former employee

Powerful east county political activist and donor Sam Rashid has twice in recent years walked away from seats on prestigious boards because of fallout from controversial posts he made on social media. 

Now, he is suing a former employee for her Facebook post.

In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Friday, Rashid claimed that he has been libeled on social media by Jacqueline Lilley, a former worker at a Brandon hair salon and spa that he co-owns.

The complaint against Lilley includes a screen grab of a March 6 Facebook post about her former workplace in which she wrote that “the owners are thieves.” The post also states that workers at Divine Designs Salon and Spa employees were told they cannot communicate or even text with former workers who left on “bad terms.”

The post attracted more than 39 comments and was “liked” at least 14 times, the lawsuit states. Rashid is seeking damages in excess of $15,000.

A Republican, Rashid has had Facebook trouble of his own in the past.  …

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James Scott is 8th candidate in crowded St. Pete Council race

James Scott says sustainability and resilience should be top city priority

Charlie Frago

James Scott says sustainability and resilience should be top city priority

James Scott, a 29-year-old graduate student and community organizer, told about a dozen supporters Tuesday on the steps of City Hall that he had done his homework and was ready for City Council.

Active in the city’s Sustainability Council and local Sierra Club, Scott said the city needed to prioritize sustainability and resilience in the face of climate change and rising seas that threaten a city surrounded on three sides by water.

“We are a vulnerable community and I don’t like that,” Scott said.

Scott said he’s pored over city budgets, helped found the city’s sustainability council and supported its commitment to become fully reliant on renewable energy.

“I’ve practiced for the role of public leadership for many years,” he said.

Although he had strong opinions on the environment, transportation and economic development, Scott said he planned to listen to voters in the district, which stretches from Midtown, through downtown and into Old Northeast.

“What’s really important is what the people of St. Pete want,” he said.

Scott’s announcement made him the eighth candidate to declare for the District 6 race, a crowded field likely to get even more so before the filing period ends in June. …

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$33,000 lawnmower blows St. Pete council member Ed Montanari's mind

St. Petersburg Council member Ed Montanari

Times File Photo

St. Petersburg Council member Ed Montanari

St. Petersburg Council member Ed Montanari has a keen eye for items tucked away on the City Council's consent agenda, a document usually containing dozens of purchases, contracts, and other city business.

Consent agendas are usually approved in full; usually without discussion.

It's called consent, after all, because the items on it are not considered to be controversial.

That's not always the case. Montanari pulled a $225,000 item to pay for "influencers" and other marketing campaigns off of a consent agenda last month, sparking a political brushfire. Mayor Rick Kriseman's office hasn't brought that proposal back to council.

On Thursday, at a preview meeting for the council's April 20 meeting, Montanari had another bone to pick. This time, with three high-priced lawnmowers the city wants to purchase for cutting its golf course greens and raking sand traps.

The price tag? $82,398. 

"We keep them a long time," said Leisure Services Administrator Sherry McBee. In fact, the city is replacing lawnmowers that it has operated for 17 and 18 years respectively.  …

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DOT: Revamped TBX plan expected in 2019

Opponents of Tampa Bay Express march past Interstate 275 in Tampa during a 2016 protest of the $6 billion toll road project.

Times file photo

Opponents of Tampa Bay Express march past Interstate 275 in Tampa during a 2016 protest of the $6 billion toll road project.

The Florida Department of Transportation is taking two years to reevaluate its controversial plan, known as Tampa Bay Express, to add toll lanes to nearly 100 miles of interstates.

Director of Development Bill Jones made a 10 minute presentation to the Tampa City Council Thursday about what exactly the TBX “reset” means. He told the board for the Community Redevelopment Area that DOT will have a new plan for the project by the end of 2019.

“Over next two years, 30 months, express lanes are going to be reevaluated,” Jones said. “We’re also going to look at other options as well.”

Former DOT Secretary Jim Boxold called for the reset at the end of 2016 following public outcry against the project which would bulldoze minority-dominated neighborhoods in downtown Tampa and also convert an existing free lane on the Howard Frankland Bridge to a paid toll lane. …

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Solar panels on new police headquarters would take 1/3 of a century to make good on cost, council hits pause button

Faced with estimates that placing solar panels on the roof of the new police headquarters would take 32 years to start making good on the $2.7 million cost, St. Petersburg City Council members decided to hit the pause button Thursday.

Several council members questioned whether it made better sense to wait for technology to produce more efficient panels in a few years.

“Thirty two year rate of return. That’s not impressive to me,” said council member Jim Kennedy, chairman of the Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee.

Council chairwoman Darden Rice argued that while it might not show up on a spreadsheet, moving forward with the 489 kilowatt solar array on the $79 million new headquarters, made long-term sense. The panels would save the city from burning about 100 tons of coal per year, she said.

“That cost isn’t measured here,” Rice said, waving a sheet of paper showing the return on investment for the solar panels.

St. Petersburg has made a commitment to being a green city, she said.

“It comes back to walking our talk as a city,” Rice said. …

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Justin Bean jumps in St. Pete City Council race

Justin Bean jumps in St. Pete City Council race

Justin Bean Twitter profile picture

Justin Bean jumps in St. Pete City Council race

Justin Bean has been active in city politics for the past several years.

Appointed by Mayor Rick Kriseman to the Pier Uplands Selection Committee, Bean is also part of the Complete Streets Committee, which seeks to make the city’s streets safer for bikers and pedestrians.

He worked as a consultant on a proposal to redevelop Tropicana Field.

Bean, 30, is also spearheading a fledgling business district for the downtown Williams Park area. He also recently served as chairman of the St. Petersburg Young Professionals.

Jumping in the crowded District 6 City Council race is a logical next step, he said.

“I really just want to continue what I’ve been doing,” Bean said.

Bean also addressed a 2013 DUI conviction in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. He was arrested in Tampa that February with a blood-alcohol level more than .15. The legal limit is .08.

“That was a mistake. It’s something I learned a lot from since then. I made a bad decision, since then, I’ve moved away from that kind of thing,” Bean said. …

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Cross-Bay Ferry enters final weeks of pilot

People take advantage of the view from the upper deck as the ferry left Tampa for St. Petersburg on Feb. 9.

Octavio Jones | Times

People take advantage of the view from the upper deck as the ferry left Tampa for St. Petersburg on Feb. 9.

The Cross-Bay Ferry is entering the final stretch of its 6-month pilot program, which is set to end April 30.

March was a record month for ticket sales, said spokesman Richard Mullins. The ferry generated more than $57,000 in ticket sales to return to the the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa, and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

HMS Ferries started covering its management costs in late January, which meant money from ticket sales has since gone back to the four governments who invested in the pilot.

Since March, nearly $112,000 has been returned. This is less than one-thirteenth the $1.4 million paid by the four governments at $350,000 each.

Those who are interested in riding the ferry before the pilot ends can purchase tickets through the mobile app or www.crossbayferry.com.

Tickets are $10 each way, though promos can be found on the website. The ferry makes two or three roundtrip departures each day between St. Petersburg and Tampa.

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Tampa says Vila Brothers Park isn't for parking, but latest city work there concerns neighbors

A city of Tampa work crew installed heavy wooden posts around the playground at Vila Brothers Park this week.

Photo courtesy of Sandy Sanchez

A city of Tampa work crew installed heavy wooden posts around the playground at Vila Brothers Park this week.

Just days after City Hall said it would let the Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center use Vila Brothers Park for overflow event parking just three more times, tops, residents got an unsettling surprise.

On Monday, Armory Gardens Civic Association president Sandy Sanchez noticed a city work crew at the park installing a line of heavy wooden posts around the playground. When she asked why, she said city employees told her it was to protect the playground from the cars that would be parking in the park, which is just across N Armenia Avenue from the JCC.

“Needless to say, this is of GREAT concern,” she said in an email to residents and city officials. The posts will interfere with groups who use the park for games of soccer, lacrosse and football, and do not appear in the city’s long-range plans to improve the park. What park residents want, she said, are upgrades like drinking fountains, bathrooms and shade.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who last week wrote the civic association to say that he regrets the problem is occurring and that “the Vila Brothers Park is a park and will remain a park,” said on Wednesday the work does not represent a change in the city’s position. …

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State Rep. Larry Ahern files to run for Pinellas County Commission

State Rep. Larry Ahern has filed to run for the Pinellas County Commission seat being vacated next year by John Morroni.

SCOTT KEELER I Times

State Rep. Larry Ahern has filed to run for the Pinellas County Commission seat being vacated next year by John Morroni.

While the Florida Legislature is still in session, one Pinellas lawmaker is already eyeing another job.

State Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, filed paperwork this week to run for the Pinellas County Commission District 6 being vacated next year by commissioner John Morroni.

Ahern won reelection for the third time in November to the Florida House in a rematch against Democratic opponent Lorena Grizzle. This will be his fourth and final term in the House.

Ahern made recent headlines when he allowed the then-executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board to craft new legislation that would make the nomination process more transparent.

Ahern spiked the bill hours after the Tampa Bay Times asked about the proposed legislation.

The move came after executive director Rodney Fischer, whom a county commissioner suspected of submitting those fake nominations, announced his retirement on Jan. 31 after the Times reported about issues with how he managed the agency and how it treated customers and disciplined contractors during his tenure. …

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Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore seeks re-election

Pasco Commission Chairman Mike Moore filed for re-election Tuesday, to seek a second term for the District 2 seat based in central Pasco.

Moore, 46, released the following statement in announcing his re-election bid:

‘‘To build a small business or achieve other success in any area of life, you must set goals and then work tirelessly to deliver results,” said Commissioner Moore. “Over the past two years, our community has set goals and we’ve worked together to accomplish them.

“We’ve worked tirelessly to improve our economy and bring good paying jobs to Pasco County. We’ve accelerated improvements to our county’s roads, parks and infrastructure. We’ve funded public safety so our residents are safe and secure.

“We’ve targeted blighted areas and we are improving those areas, benefiting our entire community. We’ve accomplished all of this while working to keep taxes low, reduce wasteful spending, right-size our local government and improve responsiveness and customer service. …

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Criminal charges dropped against Congemi

St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Paul Congemi

Times File Photo

St. Petersburg mayoral candidate Paul Congemi

Paul Congemi has run for mayor a lot. The perennial candidate has never received more than a handful of votes in his previous runs in 2009 and 2013.

Congemi's latest mayoral bid was marred in January when he was charged with felony elder abuse. Police said his elderly mother ended up in intensive care in the hospital because of bed sores. Congemi said his mother had been without home care for three days while he changed providers. 

He said he would stay in the race against incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, who he has criticized for too liberal and too friendly to the city's large gay community. 

Last week, investigators dropped the criminal charges, according to the Pinellas County State Attorney's Office. The case was closed on April 5.

Congemi's lawyer, Rex Blake, said his client had always maintained his innocence "in these wrongful accusations."

Anthony Cates III and Jesse Nevel have also filed paperwork for the election. The filing period ends in June. 

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