CareerSource office overrun by rats, including the small furry kind

Mark Puente

Zachary T. SampsonTimes staff writer

 

 

Published: March 28, 2018

Updated: March 28, 2018 at 12:12 PM

TAMPA –– Anonymous informers have helped fuel scrutiny of Tampa Bay’s two job placement agencies for months, angering the people who oversee them.

A different kind of rat is now distracting employees at one CareerSource office — the small furry kind that leaves droppings.

And this, too, has gotten state attention.

Rodents plague the CareerSource Tampa Bay office at 9215 N Florida Avenue, according to, yes, an anonymous letter writer. The building is owned by the state Department of Economic Opportunity, to which CareerSource reports job placement figures that are now under question.

This prompted CareerSource Tampa Bay interim director Juditte Dorcy to send a signed letter to the DEO asking it to do something about the infestation.

Dorcy warned her landlord that she will hire an expert to rid the building of the long-tailed beasts and deduct the cost from the rent. The rats are “unacceptable” for employees and taxpayers who visit the centers to find jobs, she said.

“We have been fortunate so far that we haven’t had one of these rodents bite a staff or customer in this building,” Dorcy wrote the DEO on March 21. “What is DEO prepared to do to remove this problem permanently and not just treat the situation when it reoccurs?

The DEO says it has tried to address the matter.

The state’s pest-control vendor has sealed openings in walls and placed traps around the building to keep out the elusive varmints, DEO chief of general services Ramone Smith told Dorcy in a letter Wednesday.

“The agency is committed to providing our tenants and their customers with a safe and healthy work environment,” he wrote. “We have taken every precaution to reduce the possibility of rodents infiltrating into the DEO’s space from the adjacent tenants’s space.”

The jobs center and its sister agency, CareerSource Pinellas, are facing federal and state investigations into whether they inflated job placements figures. The DEO is overseeing the state investigation into the local centers.

In the last two months, CareerSource employees have sent anonymous letters to reporters and elected officials alleging office romances, favoritism and hostile work conditions. Board members at each agency have complained about employees hiding behind their anonymity rather than raising concerns publicly.

The donnybrook about real rats surfaced in anonymous letters sent Saturday to the Tampa Bay Times and Hillsborough County commissioner Sandy Murman.

 

“These rats are leaving feces all over floors, carpets, on top of desks and microwaves. As you know this is a very dangerous situation for employees and our customers and their children,” said the letter-writer. “Several employees have taken pictures of this rat or family a rats and the feces that is left all over the building for some reason there has been no shut down or instant clean up to make this a safe working environment.”

Dorcy’s letter to the DEO left open the possibility that employees have attracted the rats by leaving unopened food around the office.

Meanwhile, a city of Tampa code enforcement officer “didn’t witness any rodents on the interior or exterior” during an inspection on March 19, Smith wrote. The officer also reported that the DEO has taken the necessary steps to stop the rodents from penetrating the 46-year-old building.

“We will continue to monitor and perform preventative actions to prevent any future issues with pests or rodents,” Smith wrote.

He later informed the local CareerSource office that the DEO plans to send its own facilities manger to inspect the property on Thursday.

 

Road improvements coming but not as fast as growth in south Hillsborough

 

By Sheila Mullane Estrada, Times Correspondent

Published: March 27, 2018

 

APOLLO BEACH — The once sleepy southeastern portion of Hillsborough County is sleepy no more and Hillsborough County officials are scrambling to keep up with infrastructure needs.

Meanwhile, motorists in the south county region continue to spend time fighting congested traffic to and from work.

Relief is coming, Public Works Director John Lyons says, but it will take time and a lot of money — and there are no guarantees planned improvements will keep up with residential and commercial growth.

This month, the county got a boost from a $5 million state appropriation to begin work on Big Bend Road west of Apollo Beach and its intersection with three major north-south arteries: Interstate 75, U.S. 301 and U.S. 41.

Between U.S. 41 and U.S. 301, Big Bend Road serves East Bay High School, St. Joseph’s Hospital South and major retail centers such as a Sam’s Club and a Neighborhood Walmart.

Then there is traffic from multiple new residential communities, including Summerfield, Waterleaf, Royal Lakes, Village Brook and Waterset.

“This is just one of the critical corridors we need to get fixed,” Lyons said. “A lot of growth has happened in the south county. Developments have pushed the road’s limits.”

The state’s $5 million contribution, one of the few local projects not vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott, will be used primarily for initial planning, engineering and right-of-way acquisition.

The Big Bend Road project is expected to take 10 years and cost about $75 million, much of it yet to be funded. The will be done in phases, eventually expanding the existing four lanes to six lanes.

The first phase will involve making ramp improvements to the existing Interstate 75 interchange, improving traffic signaling, and adding two limited-access lanes.

A second phase will include a new northbound on-ramp and a new southbound off-ramp onto Big Bend Road.

“In reality, we are looking at two years before any construction starts,” Lyons said. “People are going to have to wait a bit longer for relief.”

Meanwhile, the county is planning other south county roadway improvements, including extending Apollo Beach Boulevard and changing signal timing on U.S. 301 and U.S. 41 to improve traffic flow.

The developer of Waterset is contributing to a project to extend Paseo Al Mar Boulevard from U.S. 41 to residential communities west of Interstate 75.

“This would create a new east-west corridor in about four years,” Lyons said.

In addition, within the next year, the county hopes to begin widening 19th Avenue on the northern border of Sun City to four lanes to ease traffic there.

Currently, there are more than 500 active road projects countywide.

Lyons said more than $100 million needs to be spent every year on roadway improvements “for the foreseeable future” to keep up with population and development growth.

At a workshop last week, county officials presented their latest population growth estimates, emphasizing the pressures they will put on transportation and infrastructure.

The report says Hillsborough County’s population is expected to grow by 150 percent in the next 27 years, much of it in the south county area.

Officials estimated the county’s current population of 1.3 million people will surge to over 2 million by 2045, consuming about 54,000 acres of vacant land and forcing major density increases in already developed areas.

Roadways are inadequate for people driving from south county homes to the major north-south transportation corridors of U.S. 301, Interstate 75 and U.S. 41, said Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief administrator of development and infrastructure services.

The county will need millions of dollars for an estimated 700 miles of new streets by 2045, said Melissa Zornitta, Planning Commission executive director. That doesn’t include money for expanding major roadway corridors, Zornitta said.

In addition to the Big Bend project, the county is fast-tracking expanding 42nd and 46th streets and 19th and 131st avenues in central and north Tampa, as well as Lithia-Pinecrest Road south of Brandon.

The plans do not address rapid transit projects to reduce pressure on roadways, county officials said.

County Commission Chairwomanman Sandra Murman suggested the county consider building a rapid transit system along U.S. 41 when the state Department of Transportation widens the roadway to three lanes. That plan is under consideration, Garsys said.

“The elephant in the room is transportation,” County Commissioner Les Miller said. “Everybody cannot work in the neighborhood where they live. It is just not going to happen.”

 

FL: IRONMAN to Expand Tampa HQ, Create 70 Jobs

23 Mar, 2018

Governor Rick Scott announced that IRONMAN, a global endurance sports brand, will be expanding its Tampa headquarters and creating 70 new jobs. The company currently employs more than 160 Floridians. The new positions will include a variety of positions including sales, marketing, human resources, operations, finance and information technology. Governor Scott also recognized the company with a Governor’s Business Ambassador Award during the Enterprise Florida board meeting in West Palm Beach last week.

 

Governor Scott said, “I am proud to announce that IRONMAN will be expanding their headquarters to create 70 new jobs in Tampa Bay. Our work to cut more than $10 billion in taxes since 2011 has helped encourage global businesses like IRONMAN to continue investing in our state, which means more opportunities are available for our families. It was great to recognize IRONMAN with a Governor’s Business Ambassador Award for their commitment to creating jobs in Florida and I look forward to their continued success.”

 

Andrew Messick, president and chief executive officer of IRONMAN, said, “Since 1989 IRONMAN has had its headquarters in Florida, and we have found a great home here in Tampa over the last 10 years. We are proud of the growth IRONMAN has seen in our time here and we are enthusiastic about collaborating with local partners to continue that growth while showcasing the backdrop and amenities the Tampa Bay area has provided to us and our employees. Add in an accessible airport with national and international flight options and it is easy to see why Tampa is an ideal location for a global headquarters.”

 

Beginning as a single triathlon, IRONMAN is now celebrating its 40th anniversary and has grown to offer more than 250 events across 53 countries, including triathlons as well as running, cycling and mountain biking events. IRONMAN World Headquarters will also lease an additional 10,000 square feet in Tampa at the Lakeside office complex.

 

The project was made possible through strong partnerships between Enterprise Florida, the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, Hillsborough County, the City of Tampa and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. IRONMAN joins a growing number of corporate headquarters that have recently chosen to expand operations in Tampa and Hillsborough County, including Beneficial Blends, BlueGrace Logistics, Nitro, ReliaQuest, and Sunview Software.

 

Peter Antonacci, CEO of Enterprise Florida, Inc., said, “Enterprise Florida’s Board of Directors is proud to be part of this fantastic announcement. Florida’s great weather and business- friendly environment are two of the many reasons Florida is the best place for IRONMAN’s headquarters.”

Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said, “We are proud that IRONMAN chose Florida to expand and headquarter in Florida. This will grow jobs for Florida’s hardworking families and strengthen the Tampa Bay area.”

 

Commissioner Sandy Murman, chair of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners said, “IRONMAN’s expansion is another great business success story for Hillsborough County. We are committed to supporting IRONMAN’s growth and appreciate the jobs they are creating and their continued investment in our community.”

 

Mayor Bob Buckhorn, City of Tampa, said, “We’re proud to have IRONMAN among Tampa’s corporate headquarters and excited to see them expanding in our market. Tampa’s pro-business environment, active lifestyle, and culture of innovation will make it easy for IRONMAN to attract the top international talent they need to keep growing.”

 

Alan F. List, MD, chairman of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation and president and CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center, said, “IRONMAN is another prime example of a locally headquartered company with a global reputation whose success is helping to shape Tampa’s economic future. The strength and diversity of our corporate headquarters are attracting more world-class companies and talent to Hillsborough County each year.”

 

 

Local Leaders Lambaste State Lawmakers For Failure To Listen To Their Concerns

By TIM FANNING  MAR 23, 2018

 

Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman and Kenneth Welch, chair of the Pinellas County Commission at a recent Cafe con Tampa event.

TIM FANNING / WUSF PUBLIC MEDIA

 

Originally published on March 23, 2018 4:11 pm

Some local government leaders are saying state legislators are choking their ability to pay for programs for their communities. City and county governments across Florida face a possible decline in tax revenue. That’s because of a proposed homestead exemption on the November ballot.

At the same time, local leaders are scrambling to find funds to pay for state mandated programs, such as Pinellas County’s new $20 million school safety officer requirement.

On Friday, Hillsborough and Pinellas County leaders lambasted state lawmakers for their failure to listen to the concerns at the local level.

“The state is cost shifting all these other issues down to us,” said Kenneth Welch, the chair of the Pinellas County Commission, at a Cafe con Tampa breakfast.

Welch said leaders in Tallahassee, such as Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran, are out of touch with what happens at the local level.

“Mr. Corcoran talked about unaccountable local governments. That’s baloney. We’re stepping up where the state really should be stepping up,” he said.

Sandy Murman, his counterpart with the Hillsborough County Commission, agreed. The former state legislator said it’s time that local leaders educate Tallahassee on the impact of their decisions.

“I’m continually amazed that there is a lack of respect,” she said. “We have to do a better job at educating them about the impact of their decisions here at the local level.”

If the homestead exemption passes, Pinellas County’s revenue is expected to be reduced by $37 million, Welch said. In Hillsborough, that number will likely be $35 million.

Paying for the exemption would likely see cuts to transportation, infrastructure, public safety and education.

“Things we would otherwise be able to provide,” said Welch. “It’s going to be a significant reduction in our ability to support those services.”

Added Murman: “We don’t know where it’ll come from yet, but it’ll be a big bite.”

To accommodate the mandated programs, both counties are struggling to come up with ways to pay for them. To pay for the school officer safety program, Welch and Murman said Pinellas and Hillsborough will likely have to dip into reserve funding.

 

Hillsborough jobs board delays settlement to former CEO Edward Peachey

Mark Puente

Zachary T. SampsonTimes staff writer

 

Published: March 22, 2018

Updated: March 22, 2018 at 04:52 PM

 

TAMPA –– CareerSource Tampa Bay officials voted Thursday to hold off paying its former leader a $117,000 settlement, a day after Gov. Rick Scott’s administration warned the agency to reconsider its decision to award the money.

Former president and CEO Edward Peachey will only get the pay out if state and federal investigations clear him of wrongdoing. They are looking at whether CareerSource TampaBay and its sister agency, CareerSource Pinellas, inflated their job placement figures or committed any crimes.

CareerSource Tampa Bay had initially agreed to pay Peachey the settlement if he agreed not to sue the agency or any of its board members. During a scheduled meeting on Thursday, the board of directors unanimously voted to delay the settlement until it receives reports from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“I want to make sure he doesn’t get one dime,” board member and Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said after the vote. “This is the best I can do.”

On Wednesday, DEO executive director Cissy Proctor sent letters to the chairmen of both job agencies strongly urging them not to pay Peachey amid “allegations of serious misconduct and potential criminal conduct.” Proctor warned that the agencies shouldn’t use taxpayer money for any payment.

At the start of the meeting, Murman asked board chair Dick Peck and the agency’s attorney, Charles Harris, to discuss the letter and the best ways to move forward.

But nearly all the board members said they didn’t know about the letter. A CareerSource employee told Peck she never sent it to them and hurried to pass out copies.

Harris then suggested several options. He cautioned that revoking the settlement, as opposed to just temporarily delaying it, would most likely prompt Peachey to file a lawsuit. Harris added that Peachey would likely lose the suit because he became an at-will employee after his employment contract expired in January. But win or lose, the agency could end up spending more than $117,000 in court costs defending against the suit, he said.

“There is a great deal of pressure being applied by the governor,” Harris said. “This is a difficult decision. The DEO has to tell us what’s the criminal activity it’s referencing (in the letter).”

The board eventually voted to delay any payment until the investigations are completed, at which time they will discuss the findings and decide whether to pay Peachey the settlement.

“There’s a big question mark out there,” Peck said about the investigations. “If he’s prosecuted, he’s not going to get any money.”

The CareerSource board in Pinellas is set to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the DEO letter.

State and federal authorities launched investigations after the Tampa Bay Times began asking questions about how the two local agencies were reporting their job figures to the state. Since then, the Times has published stories about how both job centers took credit for getting jobs for thousands of people who never asked for help.

On Wednesday, the Times reported the agencies used a fictitious phone number –– 999-999-9999 –– more than 35,000 times when they entered personal information about job candidates into a state network from 2014 through 2017. That’s more than a quarter of the 126,633 job placements the two local agencies reported over those four years.

None of the other 22 CareerSource offices in Florida used the fictitious number nearly as often. In fact, most used it less than 20 times, two never used it, and two others used it only once.

 

Tampa Bay jobs centers entered thousands of fictitious phone numbers in state network

]

 

By Mark Puente and Zachary T. Sampson, Times Staff Writers

 

Published: March 21, 2018

Updated: March 21, 2018 at 07:37 PM

 

Every time the two local jobs centers help find someone work, the person’s address, birth date and other information is entered into a state database.

In more than a quarter of all their entries — more than 35,000 over a four-year period — CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource TampaBay included the same unusual phone number:

999-999-9999.

Most of the other 22 CareerSource offices in the state used the fictitious number fewer than 20 times a piece, state records show. In fact, two never used it, and two others used it only once.

The huge total of fictitious numbers is the latest revelation in the ongoing investigations into whether the two local agencies inflated their job placements figures or committed any crimes.

“There’s a pattern and practice of unacceptable behavior,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. “The Inspector General raised the strong possibility of criminal actions. It’s egregious. The evidence is strong.”

At a meeting Wednesday, local officials could not explain why CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay used the 999 phone number so often. They plan to investigate.

At the same meeting, the board of CareerSource Pinellas voted to fire the president and CEO of the agency, Edward Peachey, and offer him a settlement worth about $117,000 if he agrees not to sue the jobs center. CareerSource Tampa Bay made Peachey the same offer last week.

The firings come amid sprawling investigations from the state DEO, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Just hours after the Pinellas board’s meeting, DEO executive director Cissy Proctor sent letters to the chairmen of both agencies strongly urging them not to pay settlements to Peachey amid “allegations of serious misconduct and potential criminal conduct.” The letter did not mention the fictitious phone numbers.

“Should the conclusion of these investigations result in criminal charges, the boards’ decision to pay Mr. Peachey a severance package or a settlement package of six-figures could be viewed as a flagrant misuse of public funds,” Proctor wrote.

  • • •

Last month, the Tampa Bay Times requested information about how often all of Florida’s CareerSource agencies used the 999 phone number. On Wednesday, the DEO sent the information to the Times and the two local agencies.

From 2014 through 2017, CareerSource Tampa Bay, which serves Hillsborough County, used the number for 20,303 people who they reported helping find work. CareerSource Pinellas used it 15,418 times. In that same timeframe, the agencies reported a total of 126,633 job placements.

The CareerSource office that used the number most frequently outside the two Tampa Bay centers was CareerSource Palm Beach County, with 405 entries.

“It looks like somebody wasn’t doing their job properly, or they were trying to hide that contact information,” said Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard, who’s also a CareerSource Pinellas board member.

“It concerns me that there’s a big discrepancy,” said CareerSource Pinellas chairman Jack Geller.

The frequent use of the number in Pinellas and Hillsborough puzzled leaders from the state’s other career centers.

Anthony Gagliano, business and economic development director at the CareerSource office in Manatee and Sarasota counties, said his agency uses the fictitious phone number occasionally, when homeless people or others don’t have phone numbers. But he could not think of a reason why an agency would need to use the number thousands of times.

“There could be a legitimate reason for some cases,” said Gagliano, whose agency recorded the 999 phone number 56 times during the same four years.

Jerome Salatino, CEO and president of CareerSource Pasco Hernando, said it would be “very rare” to enter that kind of phone number into the system. His agency, for instance, used the 999 number just 18 times, the records show. In some cases, he said, people fill out their information themselves and might not want their personal contact shared. But the high totals for CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay clearly stand out, he said.

“That’s a huge discrepancy,” Salatino said. “That many of them doesn’t sound right.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the fictitious phone numbers represented just the latest issue in a growing list of controversies at the jobs centers.

State and federal authorities launched investigations after the Times began asking questions about how the two local agencies were reporting their job figures to the state. Since then, the Times has reported that both CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay took credit for getting jobs for thousands of people who never sought their assistance in recent years.

 

“It just seems like there’s a problem at every single step,” Murman said.

  • • •

Meanwhile, the CareerSource Pinellas board voted 15-1 to fire Peachey on Wednesday. The lone no vote came from board member Tom Bedwell, who then made the motion that Peachey should receive a settlement equal to five months pay and benefits.

“That’s the least we can do,” he said. The vote to approve the settlement was 9-6.

After the votes, board members said they were ready to begin rebuilding the agency. Their counterparts in Hillsborough had shared the same sentiment a week earlier.

Just a few hours later, the DEO took issue with the boards’ actions.

“Floridians deserve to know their hard-earned tax dollars are not going toward a severance or settlement given the ongoing investigations,” Proctor, the agency’s director, wrote in her letters.

She noted that the local CareerSource boards have not been able to provide a valid employment agreement for Peachey and gave them three business days to come up with such a document before DEO pursues “all available legal remedies to prevent state and federal funds from being used for Mr. Peachey’s severance packages.”

Even if the jobs centers produce an employment agreement, Proctor wrote, “DEO will disallow a severance or settlement package in light of these ongoing investigations.” She also expressed concern that the boards were trying to evade a law that could limit Peachey’s severance package by calling it a “settlement.”

“This thinly veiled attempt to skirt federal law governing severance payments would be entirely inappropriate,” she wrote.

The boards approved the settlements to be paid with private, unrestricted funds — not tax dollars. Dick Peck, chairman of the CareerSource Tampa Bay board, said he has to review the letter in greater detail and will likely direct the local CareerSource lawyer, Charles Harris, to call Proctor on Thursday to get clarity on next steps.

“We have to determine what the law is,” Peck said. “No taxpayer dollars will be used to pay Ed Peachey a separation or severance.”

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow @ZackSampson. Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.

 

More Information

 

The numbers

From 2014 through 2017, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay used a fictitious phone number –– 999-999-9999 –– for thousands of job seekers. The state’s other 22 job agencies used the number only occasionally for homeless people or when others don’t have phones. Here is how the Tampa Bay centers compare to a few of the other agencies:

Agency # of times using 999-999-9999

CareerSource Tampa Bay 20,303

CareerSource Pinellas 15,418

CareerSource Palm Beach County 405

CareerSource Heartland 287

CareerSource Polk 180

CareerSource Pasco Hernando 18

CareerSource Central Florida 37

CareerSource Escarosa 0

 

CareerSource CEO’s firing now being questioned

 

By Fallon Silcox, Reporter
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 21, 2018, 8:52 AM EDT

 

PINELLAS — 

The future of Executive Director of CareerSource Pinellas Edward Peachy is now up for discussion once again.

CareerSource Hillsborough and CareerSource Tampa Bay have already voted to fire Peachy, who is accused of claiming more job placements than there actualy were. Now, CareerSource Pinellas will decide whether to fire him.

Peachy was actually fired once before, but a board member questioned it, so now the board will have to decided where his future lies with the agency.

State and federal investigations are currently underway against the former CEO of CareerSource Hillsborough and Executive Director of CareerSource Tampa Bay.

Peachey was voted out of his position by the board of the organization on Feb. 26, 2018 by a 6-1 vote.

Peachy was first suspended without pay by CareerSource Tampa Bay on Feb. 2 during an investigation into the agency possibly reporting more people placed into new jobs than it actually had.

Members of the CareerSource Pinellas Board voted to form a committee to investigate the matter days later.

On Feb. 21, members of the Hillsborough County Commission voted to demand Peachey resign or face being fired. However, the commission did not have the power to actually fire Peachey.

That power lay with CareerSource Tampa Bay’s board members, who voted to terminate Peachey without cause on Monday.

Hillsborough County Commission chair Sandy Murman was the only commissioner to vote against the measure. Her objection stemmed from Peachey receiving a severance package.

Now, CareerSource Pinellas’ board will decide whether to fire him, and whether he should receive any sort of severance pay.

Vice Chair and Pinellas County Commissioner, Patricia Gerard, said at this point, restoring trust in the organization is a top priority.

“Trust in the organization is zero at this point. We have a public trust to carry out. These are tax payer dollars and I hear nothing on the outside of that organization that tells me people want him back, or frankly, that they want the organization to continue operating like it has been,” Gerard said.

Moving forward, she says the board has a lot of work to do with restructuring the entire organization as they wait to hear back from the federal and state investigations.

 

In Tampa visit, Rick Scott highlights $10 billion in tax cuts…and that gun legislation

Scott is saying Florida is a model for the rest of the nation on gun legislation.

 

By Will Kennedy

19 hours ago

 

 

Gov. Rick Scott kicked off a post-legislative session tour in Tampa on Wednesday by touting $10 billion in tax cuts since he became governor and downplaying the National Rifle Association’s lawsuit against the state over a gun bill he signed into law this week.

Scott chose Cox Fire Protection, a small business in Tampa that installs and manufactures fire equipment, as the stage for the news conference, which had the feel of a campaign event. Scott is considering a run for the U.S. Senate to challenge Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson.

After highlighting more than $550 million in tax reductions passed by lawmakers that amounted to a total of $10 billion in cuts during his span as Florida governor since 2011, Scott shifted attention to Washington D.C., 900 miles to the northeast.

“D.C., they don’t get anything done,” Scott said. “Everything up there always ends up in politics, so nothing happens.”

Scott contrasted the stalemate in Washington to the progress Florida has made in three weeks since the Parkland shooting.

“So in Florida in three weeks from Parkland happening,” he said, “we passed historic legislation, and two days later I was able to sign it.”

Asked by a reporter about the NRA’s lawsuit, Scott said nothing about the challenge from a group that has strongly supported his political career. Instead, he kept his response general, saying “I’m going to fight for this legislation, I think it’s going to do what I believe in, it’s going to increase school safety.”

Scott highlighted other issues from the session, including the hurricane preparation sales tax holiday, as well as reductions in the tax on agricultural supplies and commercial leases.

“We are the only state that has a tax on commercial leases,” Scott said. “For the second year in a row we saw a reduction in this business tax, and we need to continue to do that and eventually hopefully eliminate that tax because it’s unfair to all business but dramatically impacts our small businesses.”

Scott endorsed a constitutional amendment, that will appear on the November ballot, which would prevent future tax increases after he leaves office. If the amendment passes, any proposed tax increase would require a two-thirds majority in the legislature to become law.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the cuts make Florida more appealing.

“Cutting taxes, that’s the American way,” Murman said. “People come here to Florida because of the great quality of life, and they come here because of low taxes.”

Scott also spoke on student walkouts across the state in response to the Parkland shooting last month, saying he doesn’t blame the children for wanting to be safe in school.

“I like the fact that people are active politically,” Scott said. “You can get bills passed if you’re active.”

 

Pinellas to start bus service to Tampa International Airport this summer

Caitlin Johnston

 

 

Published: March 9, 2018

Updated: March 10, 2018 at 02:12 AM

 

TAMPA — Pinellas County will finally get a direct bus to Tampa International Airport starting this summer.

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller announced the new route Friday to a group of politicians from Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who had gathered at the airport to talk about regional transportation options.

Airport CEO Joe Lopano, who often notes that people can fly directly to Zurich from Tampa but can’t take an express bus to the airport, congratulated Miller on the new route. Lopano praised it as a positive development for the airport and those who travel through Tampa Bay.

And he said the airport’s parking garages can handle any loss of business.

“Not that I want to give away parking revenue, but we’re getting kinda full out here,” Lopano quipped.

The service will start in June and operate out of the Gateway area. There is currently no bus from Pinellas County to the airport.

The bus route will only run during peak travel times on the weekdays.

Miller stressed this is not an ideal service. But it is the kind of service PSTA can launch as quickly as possible.

“The number one thing that service is lacking is more frequency,” Miller said. “It will be a great start, but in order to serve more air travelers it will have to operate on Saturdays and Sundays and later in to the evening.”

Though its a barebones service that will need additional funding to expand, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said the ability for PSTA to launch a direct bus to the airport was a challenge to other counties in the region. She also serves on the board of Hillsborough’s bus agency.

“I think the takeaway from me is that we need to step up our game,” Murman said,  “because we need to pass you.”

 

 

Editorial: Hillsborough commission steps up on gun control

 

Published: March 9, 2018

 

It’s not perfect or even a done deal. But the vote by Hillsborough County commissioners this week to look into extending the local waiting period for buying a gun reflects that more local officials throughout the nation are listening to the public’s call for sensible gun restrictions even as state legislators and members of Congress remain timid and fearful of the National Rifle Association.

The commission voted 4-1 Wednesday to have the county attorney draft an ordinance that would extend the local waiting period on gun purchases to five days from three. While the state has a three-day waiting period to purchase handguns, the Florida Constitution gives counties the flexibility to extend the waiting period for the purchase of “any firearm” to five days. The five days also is longer than the three-day waiting period that will now apply to the purchase of all guns as part of the school safety bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law Friday. The commission will vote on the local five-day proposal after holding a public hearing, which has not been scheduled but could be in May.

This may not have been the starting point for Commissioner Les Miller, who proposed the idea, but he made a meaningful contribution nonetheless. Miller had asked commissioners to give their support to a ban on assault weapons — which the Legislature refused to include in the school safety legislation — and to the repeal of a state statute that prohibits local governments from regulating firearms and ammunition. Those two proposals faced an uphill climb; local bans would likely not pass legal muster, and local officials who violate the law can be punished with a $5,000 fine and removal from office. Such is the power of NRA in Florida, which has used its clout in Tallahassee to drown the voice of government that is closest to the people.

Even though only the waiting period proposal survived, Miller advanced the debate by forcing his colleagues to stake a position. To their credit, Commissioners Al Higginbotham, Victor Crist and Sandy Murman supported his call for the staff to bring back an ordinance. Whether the board ultimately votes to extend the waiting period remains to be seen. Commissioner Stacy White, who voted no on moving forward, seems unswayed, and two commissioners were absent Wednesday.

Still, Miller stood his ground, made his point and came away with something better than what the county already had. He gave moral support to state lawmakers who channeled the public’s call for reasonable gun restrictions in the wake of the 17 shooting deaths at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and were defeated. Miller used what few tools he had in hand to make a difference. The commission should follow his lead and approve this modest step for public safety, and other county commissions throughout Tampa Bay should adopt the five-day waiting period as well.

 
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