Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on the Port:

 

Overspending accusations spur stricter policies at Port Tampa Bay

Tuesday, August 15, 2017 2:24pm

 

TAMPA —Port Tampa Bay’s governing board approved a new spending and expense policy Tuesday amid recent reports of excessive spending among its employees.

The revised policy, which went into effect Tuesday, forces port officials to forgo renewing golf memberships or Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets and will require detailed documentation of all business and travel-related expenses. Port employees will be required to attend a training session about the new policies and to fill out a new form to document every expense.

Staff members made it clear during a presentation to the board that alcoholic beverages paid for during any business engagement — which came under close scrutiny after a local ABC Action News investigation — will not be reimbursed for employees. However, port employees can pay for alcoholic beverages for guests who could potentially do business with the port.

In addition, the board will require all employee expenses to undergo a third-party auditing procedure by Tampa accounting firm Rivero, Gordimer & Co. every quarter and annually, for review. The port’s ethics commission is also reviewing the accusations of overspending.

Several instances of overspending, which included port employees using port-paid-for golf memberships for personal use, lavish meals at expensive restaurants like Bern’s Steakhouse in Tampa, and season tickets for the Tampa Bay Lightning games, have been reimbursed, said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay president and CEO.

“It’s our goal to be the region’s economic leader. We work tirelessly to bring state, national and international companies and jobs to the Tampa Bay area,” Anderson said at the meeting. “Recent questions about our expenses have prompted us to take a closer look at the controls in place. We want to infuse greater disclosure, clarity and accuracy when it comes to our expenditures. It is my responsibility to make that happen.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Mike Griffin to the Tampa Port Authority. Griffin, 36, fills a vacant seat on the board, but Scott touted Griffin as a new overseer of the port’s operations after the overspending accusations. Griffin is the senior managing director of Savills Studley Occupier Services in Tampa and is also the current chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

“Recently, I was concerned to see media reports detailing wasteful spending by the executives at Port Tampa Bay. The actions detailed in these reports should serve as a reminder of the importance of the oversight every appointee is charged with providing. I look forward to the Tampa Port Authority governing board reviewing policies to prevent wasteful spending by employees,” Scott explained in a statement when Griffin was appointed. Scott was a major supporter of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, two statewide public agencies that marketed Florida for tourism and corporate development. Both agencies faced scrutiny from legislators this year about overspending.

Port Tampa Bay board members seemed pleased with the swift action to revise and implement new policies.

“Some things that took place were unnecessary and unreasonable, but the port’s staff recognized that and have taken the aggressive steps to fix its culture,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said the revised policy was among the most conservative she’s seen at a public agency.

Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Carl Lindell said “We don’t want to take the tools away to compete globally. This port is subject to competition. We need to assure that we’re still backing them up and giving them the proper amount of dollars to make business happen.”

Contact Justine Griffin at jgriffin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on storm water rates:

 

Stormwater rate hike coming to Hillsborough residents, businesses

 

Steve Contorno, Times Staff Writer

 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 11:41am

Single-family households will pay $36 this year, an increase of $6. Apartment complexes will now pay $18 per unit and non-residential parcels will pay $0.03 for every 1.5 square feet.

The new rates, approved 5-1, also give commissioners the option of raising the rate for residents to $42 next year.

Commissioners hope the hike can help the county address a significant backlog in the kind of culvert and watershed improvements that can alleviate flooding that habitually occurs after even modest rains.

“I’m exhausted in my office dealing with situations of storm water problems. My staff is exhausted,” Commissioner Sandy Murman said. “We are trying to answer the needs. This is a quality of life issue that’s really important to our residents.”

It’s necessary for Hillsborough to address stormwater infrastructure because of its “special problems” as a coastal county that sees heavy rainfall in summer months and is susceptible to sea level rise and tropical storms, Commissioner Pat Kemp said.

Administrator Mike Merrill, however, said that while this is a step forward but many larger stormwater projects remain unfunded in the capital plan.

Commissioner Victor Crist was the lone no vote.

In 2015, commissioners raised the fee from $12 a year to $30, the first rate increase since the stormwater fee was first assessed in 1991.

 

At the time, county staff recommended a hike to $36 dollars a year but commissioners split the difference, fearing a 200 percent increase was too aggressive for residents.

The new rates will generate about $19.7 million a year.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this SPB article on TBARTA appointment:

 

Kathleen Shanahan appointed by HART to new transit board, but not without controversy

by Mitch Perry

 

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) voted to appoint Kathleen Shanahan as its representative on the newly reconstructed TBARTA (the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority) board on Monday, but only after debating whether it was better to appoint an elected official or a member of the general public.

Shanahan is a private businesswoman who for decades has been a major player in Republican circles in Florida and Washington D.C. Originally nominated by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to serve on the board for a three-year term in the fall of 2014, she’s frequently discussed the importance of HART getting a seat at the table with state and federal officials to benefit the agency.

Shanahan initially declined the nomination and instead backed Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who was originally nominated by her Board of County Commission colleague Pat Kemp. 

But sentiment quickly grew on the board that it would be better if they selected a non-elected member of its board to TBARTA’s board.

“I don’t think there’s a confidence in our elected community at this point in time and I think it’s our responsibility to reach beyond that and bring somebody in who’s really passionate about this and has knowledge as well,” said HART board member Mickey Jacob, who then nominated John Melendez, an engineering consultant who has served on the board since being appointed by Governor Rick Scott in 2012.

During the 2017 Legislative Session, Florida lawmakers supported the proposal of reconfiguring the TBARTA board. Among those changes was altering the title of the organization from the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Agency to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Agency, reducing the counties in the agency from 7 to 5, and creating a new 13-member board; Five will represent the specific counties in TBARTA (Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Manatee and Hernando); two members will be selected by the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg; PSTA and HART will select a single memebr, and Governor Rick Scott will get four picks.

It was a major priority for the Tampa Bay area business community, though some have criticized the fervor for what on the surface seems to be a simply reshuffling of an agency that hasn’t been very relevant in the discussion about improving transportation in the region.

While Kemp and Hillsborough County Commission ChairStacy White backed their colleague Murman’s selection to the new TBARTA board; Commissioner Les Miller said a non-elected appointee to serve would be a “breath of fresh air,” a sentiment echoed by Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez.

But Murman warned the board that the lack of a second BOCC member of the HART board could hurt Hillsborough County when it comes to funding in the future.

“Pinellas County is going to have two county commissioners on TBARTA,” Murman said. “Legislatively they have the power in Pinellas county right now, I think you need to understand that from a state perspective.”

Murman said she was stunned to see how much funding goes to places like Pasco and Pinellas Counties in the last budget. “It’s all in the political influence. And if you think otherwise, you’re just not looking at the facts.”

“Our county is far bigger than the other counties in the region and is really ground zero in the region for transportation,” said Kemp, adding that a decision not to appoint Murman would be doing Hillsborough County wrong.

But Murman said she could count the votes and realized they weren’t there for her. She then withdrew her nomination and asked that Shanahan be renominated.

Shanahan reluctantly accepted the renomination, but echoed Murman’s concerns that it would not be beneficial for HART to choose a non-elected official.

“We’re not being strategic about this and now we’ve turned it into a personality choice, which is unfortunate, because this is really an opportunity for the strength of building on regional funding,” Shanahan said.

She also said that the voters should be more involved in the process, and indirectly criticized Murman and White when she said she believe the County Commission made a mistake a year ago in not putting the Go Hillsborough transportation referendum before the public.

Shanahan, 58, serves as the CEO of URETEK Holdings, Inc., and has previously worked for Jeb Bush, George H.W. Bushand Dick Cheney over the years.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this CL article on Tampa Bay Next:

 

Hillsborough leaders approve five-year funding for controversial “Tampa Bay Next” project

Despite extensive opposition, Hillsborough’s Metropolitan Planning Organization board approved the toll road-centric project.

ZEBRINA EDGERTON-MALOY

 JUN 14, 2017 9 AM

 

Tampa Bay Next is moving forward after Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board approved the transportation plan, despite local opposition and concerns from several Hillsborough leaders.

The MPO board voted 12-3 Tuesday night to fund Tampa Bay Next, which is a “reset” of the contentious Tampa Bay Express (TBX) project that was approved a year ago but is now defunct. The Tampa Bay Next project will add 90 miles of toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates, in addition to other transportation initiatives. Tampa Bay Next is a part of Hillsborough County’s five-year Transportation Improvement Project, though Florida Department of Transportation is at its helm.

“I think we’ve made enormous progress in this year. I believe we are in a better place today than we were a year ago,” said Tampa City Councilman and MPO board member Harry Cohen. “We may not be as far as some would want us to get, but we are definitely headed in the right direction.”

However, critics are concerned and even outraged about how several of the projects outlined in Tampa Bay Next are from the controversial TBX project.

Activists who railed against TBX last year, like Tampa Heights Civic Association president Rick Fernandez, called Tampa Bay Next a “repackaging of the same old plan.”

“If we are in a new day, then TBX should be in a bureaucratic timeout. When I look at [Tampa Bay Next], it’s hard to maintain my cautious optimism because TBX DNA is scattered throughout,” said Fernandez. “When it comes to TBX, the devil is in the details. If you don’t burrow in, if you’re not really careful, you’re going to get burned. We in the neighborhoods know this all too well.”

Other contenders expressed concerns about the negative impact Tampa Bay Next, its toll lanes, and expanded interstates will have on communities, especially low-income neighborhoods.

“This is larger than a matter of transportation. It’s larger than a matter of economics. We’re talking about the future of communities in general and communities of color,” said Dr. Kurt Young, associate professor and chair at Clark Atlanta University. “When we look at construction projects, we understand that when we talk about the removal of communities in urban areas in history, they are African-American communities and other communities of color… When we look at what can come from these types of policies, we cannot sit back and allow for the same type of impact to occur in our community.”

Supporters among the large crowd of critics claimed that it is necessary for the Tampa Bay Next to continue moving forward because of FDOT’s cooperation since TBX was approved last year.

“You did the right thing for Tampa Bay one year ago by voting yes. You gave FDOT a chance to get it right. You challenged FDOT. Since then, I believe that FDOT has genuinely demonstrated a new spirit of collaboration and is making efforts to listen and respond to the concerns of and the aspirations of the impacted communities,” said Rick Homans, CEO of Tampa Bay Partnership. “FDOT has listened to the community and they are working with the community. They can always do better and we need to keep the pressure on. We need to allow this process to continue.”

Before Tuesday’s passage of five-year funding of Tampa Bay Next, County Commissioner Sandy Murman made a motion to hold FDOT officials accountable to their plans and goals for Tampa Bay Next.

Murman’s amendment to the Transportation Improvement Project requested that the department FDOT of District 7 continue their structure of communication and feedback between the MPO, FDOT, and the citizens with regular feedback and quarterly updates to the subject of Tampa Bay Next. She also requested that FDOT “provide updates on mitigation efforts for the neighborhoods, community engagement, status of PD&E, options for premium transit, and efforts to report on the human impacts of the projects and to continue their reevaluation process on the Tampa Bay Next.”

“We need to hold their feet to the fire,” said Murman.

The motion unanimously passed.

Nearly a year ago, Murman made a similar motion with former County Commissioner Kevin Beckner during an 8-hour MPO public hearing. During this hearing, MPO voted 12-4 to fund the since-dissolved TBX project. MPO also approved of Murman and Beckner’s motion to hold FDOT accountable for the transportation project.

Since then, FDOT has not held their end of the bargain, said County Commissioner and MPO Chair Les Miller.

“Every time DOT came to us, the presentation they gave us could have been done by an elementary school child. There was nothing in place to show me anything they were doing at that particular time,” said Miller. “They have yet today to uphold those stipulations that we put in place [last year]… Now, they have Tampa Bay Next. Where’s the plan? Where is the plan? I have yet to see a plan, but we want to talk about $300 million? Where is the plan?”

 

 

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this StPetersBlog article on Tampa Bay Next:

 

Despite intense opposition, Hillsborough MPO votes to support ‘Tampa Bay Next’ project

MITCH PERRY

11 hours ago

 

For the third year in a row, the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization voted to maintain what is now known as the Tampa Bay Next (TBN) project, despite dozens of citizens who told them that they should remove the plan from the MPO’s Transportation Improvement Project (TIP).

Although the controversial Tampa Bay Express (TBX) is gone in name, critics who spoke before the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization meeting Tuesday night said that it’s DNA remains throughout its named successor, Tampa Bay Next.

“Is TBN just the repackaging of the old plan, or is it truly something new? ” asked Rick Fernandez, the president of the Tampa Heights Civic Association.”TBX deserves no prioritization over and above any other plan that this community might be able to contribute to the discussion. Not now and not until evaluations have been completed,” he added.

 

The TBX project presented by the Florida Department of Transportation more than two years ago was the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay region. The plan would ultimately remake I-275, I-4, and I-75, and bring new toll lanes from Pasco County south to Manatee County and from Pinellas County east to Polk County.

Critics have contended that the plan would negatively impact a low-income and minority area of Tampa, which had little input on what was happening in its neighborhood. They told the MPO to drop TBN from the MPO’s TIP (Transportation Improvement Project).

“This will be economically disastrous, especially for the minority residents of these neighborhoods,” said Sara Kennedy, referring to the Tampa neighborhoods that could be impacted by the construction of the project: Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and V.M. Ybor. “Residents face noise, air pollution and visual blight streaming from stretches of concrete bisecting their streets.”

 

“We told you that we would never relent, and we never have,” said Michelle Cookson, part of the anti-TBX activist group Sunshine Citizens. She questioned the meaning of the reset, saying that toll lanes are in the Tampa Bay Next project, as are the letters “TBX.”

 

Chris Vela also called for the TBN to removed from the TIP. He called on FDOT to stop buying and moving properties in Ybor City, all part of the what the agency has called “the ultimate downtown interchange”— the widening of both I-275 and I-4.

 

TBX and now TBN have been consistently supported by the business establishment in Hillsborough County, and no one is more establishment than Bob Rohrlack, President and CEO of The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. He said that while the Chamber does support the project, it also supports transit, autonomous vehicles, improved busing, walkable communities, and all other viable options.

 

Rohrlack also called on the MPO board to make sure to follow the money requested by Hillsborough County state lawmakers to pay for removing a Tampa Heights community center which sits in the middle of potential construction for TBN.

Anne Kulig, the president of the Westshore Alliance, said her group has also maintained steadfast support for the project, but like Rohrlack and Rick Homans, the president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, she also gave praise to FDOT for their evolution in dealing with the public and the neighborhood groups directly affected by TBN.

 

“We hope they’re sincere. We think they’re sincere, ” she said. “They really are looking at this as a multimodal opportunity.”

TBX/TBN foe Mit Patel said the project was a parade of horribles.

 

“How can one project be racist, be economic boondoggle, happen to not serve the future, happen to be based on studies from 30 years ago, how it can hurt our environment? how can it hurt our air quality? How can it be downright ugly? All this in one project.”

After more than four hours of discussion, the MPO board rejected a proposal by Tampa City Councilman Guido Maniscalco to remove TBN from the TIP.

 

They then supported a proposal by County Commissioner Sandy Murman to request that the FDOT District 7 office provide quarterly updates to the MPO about TBN – specifically on mitigation efforts for the neighborhoods, community engagement, status for PD&E, options for premium transit and efforts to report on the human impacts on the projects.

 

Commissioner and MPO Chair Les Miller didn’t support the proposal, saying he had made similar motions over the past two MPO meetings on the TIP, and said that FDOT had utterly failed to provide adequate updates. Nevertheless, the rest of the board supported Murman’s proposal, and an FDOT official will presumably update them on TB Next at the next meeting in August.

 

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on Tampa Bay Next:

 

Hillsborough leaders move forward with toll lanes, Tampa Bay Next

Tuesday, June 13, 2017 11:43pm

 

TAMPA — Hillsborough County leaders voted Tuesday to move forward with a plan to add 90 miles of toll lanes to Tampa Bay’s interstates despite continued opposition from people who would live near them.

The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization — a 16-person board which approves transportation projects — listened to more than three-and-a-half hours of public comment on its Transportation Improvement Program, which lists the county’s priorities for the next five years. Though the TIP includes dozens of projects, from road maintenance to bike paths, the evening’s debate centered around only one of those: Tampa Bay Next, the interstate expansion plan formerly known as Tampa Bay Express.

The vast majority of speakers urged the board to remove Tampa Bay Next from the TIP, but the board voted 12-3 to approve the five-year plan as is. County Commissioner Ken Hagan was not present for the final vote.

“There’s no construction for the most contentious parts of this project until years and years and years from now,” said Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen, who expressed concerns over Tampa Bay Next but voted to approve the plan. “I believe we’re in a better place today than we were a year ago. I’m just not willing to pull the plug on that.”

About 60 people spoke at the public hearing required to approve the TIP each year. Tuesday’s meeting lasted more than four hours — only half of the length of the 2016 meeting which didn’t end until nearly 2:30 a.m.

About a dozen speakers were in favor of the Tampa Bay Next, which, like its predecessor TBX, aims to add toll lane along Interstates 275, 75 and 4.

Most of the people who addressed the board wanted the proposal removed from the county’s transportation list altogether.

“To the extent that any TBX related projects still appear as priorities in our TIP, they should be gone,” said Rick Fernandez, a member of Sunshine Citizens, which opposes toll roads and interstate expansion.

Fernandez and many others who spoke against Tampa Bay Next pointed to former Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold’s call for a reset of TBX about eight months ago.

DOT officials scrapped toll lane plans for the Howard Frankland Bridge last fall and said the agency was reevaluating TBX. When the department rolled out Tampa Bay Next last month, officials said it would include options other than tolls, such as transit, bike and pedestrian facilities. It was not, local officials said, simply a rebranding of TBX.

Many who spoke Tuesday night were not convinced.

“We’re either in a new day or we’re not,” Fernandez said. “If TBX is still in the TIP, everything to do with this new plan is still a shell game.”

More than $300 million is allocated in the next five-years for land buying for Tampa Bay Next. The plan also includes money to rebuild the Howard Frankland Bridge — which is reaching the end of its lifespan and will soon be structurally deficient — and for construction along I-275 between the West Shore interchange and downtown Tampa.

Tampa resident Amanda Brown said it’s impossible to trust that DOT is open to new options when money is still allocated for Tampa Bay Next.

“More than anything, we have seen that Tampa Bay Next is still TBX,” Brown said. “We don’t feel (DOT is) acting in good faith.”

Like dozens of others, she urged MPO members to remove Tampa Bay Next projects from the five-year plan, which also includes money for road maintenance, intersection improvements, county buses, bike paths and cross walks.

The MPO board is comprised of elected officials from Hillsborough County, Tampa and Temple Terrace, along with representatives from Tampa International Airport, the school district, and others local entities.

Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco and Hillsborough County Commissioners Les Miller and Pat Kemp voted against approving the five-year plan.

“I still can’t wrap my head around why we need these express toll lanes,” Maniscalco said. “I choose to stand with the citizens.”

About one in five speakers Tuesday advocated for Tampa Bay Next, which they said provides transportation options for the business community, brings additional highway capacity and includes the much-needed reconstruction of the West Shore Boulevard interchange.

The project also includes plans for express bus and potentially other transit options, supporters said. A vote in support of Tampa Bay Next is not a vote against transit, said Mike Peterson with Greater Tampa Realtors.

“We need to be funding both our interstate system and our region’s transit needs and they don’t need to be mutually exclusive,” Peterson said.

Several MPO members said approving the TIP with Tampa Bay Next projects in it allowed them to keep refining the plan instead of scrapping it completely.

County Commissioner Sandy Murman and Tampa City Council member Luis Vierra expressed trust in the new DOT leadership and hoped that the turnover would lead to increased collaboration with the community. Two key district DOT officials have resigned since last hearing: Secretary Paul Steinman and director of transportation development Debbie Hunt.

Vierra said he hopes that by approving the TIP, it will allow DOT time to alter the plan to include more transit options and less tolls. He said he’ll also be watching DOT closely to see whether they’re actually taking community input seriously.

“If we see the plan next year or the year after and it still has express toll lanes, there’s going to be some explaining to do,” Vierra said. “But I think we’ve got to keep that dialogue going.”

Tampa Bay Partnership president Rick Homans said the Tampa Bay Next has evolved to look at a variety of different options, not just toll lanes. Tuesday’s vote, he said, keeps that project alive and allows that evolution to continue.

“This was a good step forward tonight,” Homans said. “They were voting for collaboration, and they were voting to continue the process.”

Michelle Cookson, spokeswoman for Sunshine Citizens which opposes Tampa Bay Next, said the it was encouraging to see all speakers Tuesday, including those supporting Tampa Bay Next, calling for more options other than just the toll lanes.

“It’s evident our efforts have moved this conversation to where it’s needed to be — transit and mobility first,” Cookson said. “We are more committed than ever.”

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on MOSI:

 

Hillsborough County, Jeff Vinik plan to bail out Museum of Science and Industry

Thursday, June 8, 2017 11:12am

 

TAMPA — Hillsborough County is preparing a seven-figure bailout of the beleaguered Museum of Science and Industry, and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is going to help.

The museum, known as MOSI, owes more than $2 million to vendors, banks and creditors and doesn’t have the money to pay them.

Additionally, MOSI leaders need $350,000 to bankroll their plan to shutter part of the museum’s building and move operations to a smaller wing of the 80-acre north Tampa campus. Downsizing operations is expected to save money, but in the meantime, they need cash to close the old building and reopen as a smaller science center.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told the Tampa Bay Times this week that the county is inclined to pay off those bills and loans and provide the startup money. MOSI will not have to pay back the county.

Key to the financial rescue is Vinik, who has offered to split the cost of the debt with the county in hopes of keeping the museum afloat as it awaits relocation to his downtown Tampa redevelopment project. His share would be about $1 million

Vinik declined to comment Thursday on the details of his contribution, but he confirmed that his charity, the Vinik Family Foundation, has “agreed to share in the costs of preserving this community asset during its transition period.”

“We look forward to working with all stakeholders in trying to build a great new MOSI in downtown Tampa,” Vinik said.

Putting the museum in bankruptcy was considered, Merrill said. However, they ultimately decided MOSI, already in significant decline, couldn’t recover from that kind of negative publicity.

And as the owner of MOSI’s building and land, Hillsborough officials were concerned creditors and disgruntled vendors might have showed up on the county’s doorstep asking to be reimbursed.

They also discussed closing the museum entirely until the move downtown, but MOSI would have had to pay back a $2.5 million state grant it received to host an exhibit.

“At that point we had three options, none of which were great,” Merrill said. “We chose the one that we thought was the best of the worst.

“We debated back and forth: ‘Does MOSI still have a brand that has value?’ And we concluded that it does because it still has a strong following and it has a legacy. More importantly for Jeff Vinik, he had to feel comfortable that there was enough of a brand value that it could transition downtown. So that’s why we rejected bankruptcy or just shutting it down.”

The financial rescue of the museum comes less than two years after MOSI leaders rejected the terms of a $400,000 loan from the county and instead vowed to retire the nonprofit museum’s debt through charitable donations.

But fundraising fell well short of goals, a common theme in recent years. Meanwhile, admission sales plummeted, deficits grew, and vendors remained unpaid.

Asked why the museum was now willing to accept financial help, MOSI board chairman Robert Thomas said it was “just a normal evolution to figure things out.”

“Things change,” he said.

Merrill has been reticent in the past to extend financial aid unless the museum made significant concessions, such as county oversight of its finances. But he said consultants have vetted the museum’s plan and leaders are finally making tough decisions.

MOSI owes vendors about $1.15 million, according to a presentation by museum leaders at this week’s County Commission meeting. The museum must also reimburse the company that took over the MOSI restaurant — after cost overruns and poor health inspections — for $300,000 in improvements made to the cafe. The cafe is closing with the rest of the main building in August.

The museum also owes a $372,000 bank loan. Merrill acknowledged that loan was taken out by former president and CEO Molly Demeulenaere. The Times reported in 2015 that Demeulenaere borrowed that money without approval from the county in violation of a previous agreement.

Demeulenaere resigned earlier this year.

To pay off MOSI’s debt, the county will tap into money it receives from the state’s gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe as well as the cultural assets grant program. That program requires participating institutions to match the grant. That provision will have to be waived, Merrill said.

Still needed is the approval of the County Commission. A vote could some as soon as the next board meeting on June 21.

Though symbolic, commissioners offered a unanimous vote of confidence Wednesday in the plan by museum leaders to turn around MOSI in its waning years on E Fowler Avenue near the University of South Florida.

The museum announced in May it would close at the end of summer and reopen only the Kids In Charge wing in November. A move to the downtown development project of Vinik and Bill Gates’ Cascade Investments is likely still five years away.

By slashing expenses, cutting staff and downsizing from 300,000 to 40,000 square feet, the museum should operate at a slight profit, chief financial officer Julian MacKenzie said. Even if there are losses, they should be much more manageable because day-to-day operational costs will shrink with the smaller footprint.

“It is a bailout,” Commissioner Sandy Murman acknowledged. “They have a lot of bills.”

But she said she was encouraged by Vinik’s contribution and his increased involvement in the museum’s operations. The Vinik Family Foundation will have a seat at the table as the museum plans its next steps and two of Vinik’s close associates have joined MOSI’s board.

“It’s a new day,” Murman said.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on Palm River bridge:

 

Palm River will be without Maydell Drive Bridge until 2019 or later

Thursday, June 1, 2017 5:00am

 

PALM RIVER — A year and a half after the Maydell Drive Bridge was closed as unsound, the people who relied on it still are taking detours.

That’s not likely to change for at least a couple more years.

The 616-foot long bridge carried traffic over the Tampa Bypass Canal and needs to be replaced entirely, Hillsborough County officials have learned. That will take until 2020 at the earliest.

“Following closure of the bridge the county conducted an engineering analysis to determine if the bridge could be repaired and reopened,” said Jim Hudock, technical services director with the public works department. He said it “resulted in the conclusion that complete replacement of the bridge was required.”

Hillsborough County closed the bridge in December 2015 after an independent engineering study found it was structurally unsound.

The 344-page report by HDR Engineering Inc. recommended on Dec. 17, 2015, that the structure — then 47 years old — be “closed to traffic immediately” because its underwater pilings could no longer support the weight of the span let alone a daily load of traffic. About 2,700 vehicles used the bridge every day.

Four days after the report, the county announced it was closing the bridge.

The Maydell Drive Bridge crosses the Tampa Bypass Canal just south of the Selmon Expressway and connects the Palm River community to State Road 60. Without it, cars have been detoured to other bridges over the canal on U.S. 41 and 78th Street.

Those are much busier thoroughfares than the Maydell Drive, a two-lane road, and its closure has added to growing congestion in the Palm River area.

It will cost $6 million for Hillsborough County to replace the bridge. The project was included in the county’s 2017 budget.

But it will take several more years for the bridge to open because of federal hurdles. The county first needs environmental approval from the Army Corps of Engineers as well as the go-ahead from the U.S. Coast Guard “due to the navigable waters status of Palm River,” Hudock said.

Construction is expected to begin in February 2019 and will take one year.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, whose district includes Palm River, likened the impact to that from another lengthy bridge closure in her district, on Second Street in Ruskin.

First closed in 2014, the bridge, also about 50 years old, is causing traffic nightmares for locals with its closure. It will cost $1.5 million to replace the Second Street Bridge and construction will begin in 2019.

Murman said she has been assured that all other bridges in the county have been inspected and these are the only two in such poor condition.

“This is a situation where we haven’t had the money to do it,” Murman said. “It’s very unfortunate.”

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com and (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on burn ban:

 

Hillsborough exempts fireworks shows from burn ban after hearing company’s plea

  • By Langston Taylor, Times Staff Writer

Wednesday, May 31, 2017 3:23pm

 

TAMPA — Hillsborough County officials exempted the use of fireworks from the ban on open burning Wednesday out of concern for business and fun as the Fourth of July approaches.

Since April 27, the Emergency Policy Group has met weekly to extend a ban on campfires, fireworks use and other open burning as drought and heat put the county at risk of wildfire.

But at the group’s meeting Wednesday, representatives from a local fireworks retailer asked members to legalize their products’ use.

They found a receptive audience.

“Fourth of July without fireworks seems pretty un-American,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White.

The Emergency Policy Group is made up of representatives from the county and the cities of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City. The only members in attendance Wednesday were two county commissioners and county Administrator Mike Merrill.

Sharon Hunnewell-Johnson, president of Galaxy Fireworks, said news coverage of the burn ban is hurting her company.

“Our phones are not even ringing the way they should, to even apply for positions,” Hunnewell-Johnson said.

Her Tampa company typically hires 300 short-term employees to sell fireworks from temporary tents, she said.

Luke Lirot, a Clearwater lawyer speaking on behalf of Galaxy Fireworks, asked the group to consider those jobs in addition to public safety.

“We’d love for you to err on the side of benevolence toward the business interests involved,” Lirot said.

White proposed exempting fireworks from the open-burning ban but leaving the rest of the prohibition in place for another week.

A burn ban in Pasco County will remain and continue to include fireworks, county spokesman Doug Tobin said. He said Pasco hopes to rescind the ban on June 20.

Pinellas County restricts all fireworks use without a county permit, spokeswoman Irena Karolak said.

During the Hillsborough County meeting, fire Chief Dennis Jones said he would be concerned about allowing fireworks use right now. After the meeting, he advised residents to “use the fireworks in the way they are intended.”

Since October, Tampa has received just 8 inches of rain, less than half its normal amount for that period, according to the National Weather Service.

On Wednesday, the county’s average drought index was 588, the fifth highest in the state, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Patrick Keogh, a supervisor with the Florida Forest Service, said the number last year was 342.

Keogh said April, May and June are always busy times for him, but this year has been extreme. The heat across Florida has helped fuel more than 2,200 wildfires across 174,000 acres so far this year.

Officials hope for and expect some relief in coming days.

“I know — we all know — the rain’s coming,” said County Commissioner Sandy Murman.

Keogh cautioned that even with a little rain, grass can dry out quickly, becoming flammable again within an hour.

Hunnewell-Johnson defended the safety of fireworks, noting that the state tracks causes of wildfires and none in the past year has been caused by fireworks. Keogh said that’s correct, but said the tally doesn’t include fires that drew only local or municipal fire departments.

The ban prohibited fireworks over the Memorial Day weekend. Channelside Bay Plaza, which held a celebration with live music Sunday, apologized on its Facebook page for its lack of fireworks.

White said that if the drought continues, the Emergency Policy Group will be sure to reconvene before July Fourth.

“We always have the ability to put the brakes on,” he said.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this WUSF article on medical marijuana:

 

Hillsborough To Consider Cap on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

By JULIO OCHOA  WUSF

15 HOURS AGO

 

Hillsborough County commissioners will consider placing a cap on the number of medical marijuana dispensaries that can open in unincorporated parts of the county.

A public hearing will be held June 7 to consider a cap based on population and patient demand. The proposal would allow 13 dispensaries to open in Hillsborough County based on a cap of one for every 67,222 people.

Commissioner Ken Hagen proposed the cap because the industry is new and untested in Florida.

“It may not be a perfect comparison but I am having flashbacks to the pill mill nightmare and I am confident having dealt with that that we want to prevent anything like that from happening again,” Hagen said.

The dispensaries would be awarded through a selection process that was adopted by the board in March.

Hagen proposed the cap as a starting point.

“If we need or want more dispensaries later we can add them,” Hagen said. “As patient demand and population increases we can amend it.”

Commissioner Sandra Murman requested to include an amendment that would ban smoking marijuana.

“This is for medical needs,” Murman said. “This is not about any kind of recreational issue.”

Murman said it’s is important that the community gets that message and limiting the number of dispensaries will help.

“Young kids are experimenting with marijuana at a very young age now,” she said. “They think it is no worse than alcohol and you can’t die from it and I think limiting the number of dispensaries will be good for us in enforcing our message that we are restricting it to medical use.” 

 
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