Tampa Bay Archives - Page 7 of 65 - Florida Politics

Jeff Brandes calls for investigation of Tri-Rail contract

Saying that testimony before his committee convinced him that inadequate time was set aside to decide what is now a controversial $511 million contract award, state Sen. Jeff Brandes Thursday called for an investigation of Tri-Rail.

Brandes asked Interim Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Rachel Cone to have the department’s investigator general look into how the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority handled its selection process that ultimately disqualified five companies and awarded Tri-Rail’s 10-year operations and maintenance contract to the bidder with the highest price, Herzog Transportation Services, in late January.

Officials of the authority were not immediately available Thursday to comment in response. The authority operates the Tri-Rail commuter trains through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Earlier Thursday, authority Executive Director Jack Stephens testified before Brandes’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development and defended the award as proper and appropriate. The process began with a request for proposals in September, the proposals came in December and the decision to reject five bids was made in late December. The board awarded the contract in late January, which Stephens acknowledged gave little time for a transition from current contractors before the July 1 turnover.

However, Stephens said the rules of the proposals were clear, and it was clear to the authority’s staff and lawyers that only Herzog followed the rules.

But Brandes peppered Stephens with questions about the length of the process and the apparent rush to award and administer the contract.

And Brandes apparently was unconvinced that the authority handled it as it should. Brandes expressed particular concern that the process gave no time for appeals or considerations for unusual circumstances, such as five of six bids being rejected before they were even compared.

“The awarding of a contract in excess of $500 million in public funds after such a short bidding process is disturbing,” he wrote in his letter to Cone. “The procurement policies appear to lack adequate time for disqualified applicants to appeal administrative actions taken by the authority. I am concerned that appropriate competition did not take place during the procurement process for this contract.”

There also were concerns raised abut Stephens contention that if Herzog’s contract was not awarded, that company had grounds to challenge, just as four of the rejected companies now are doing, and that could lead to more delays.

Yet the contract itself includes language that allows the authority to terminate it “without cause upon thirty (30) calendar days written notice to the contractor.”

Brandes suggested the authority’s procurement policies may be flawed.

“The authority maintains their actions are defensible because they complied with their internal procurement policies. However, the taxpayers deserve a higher scrutiny of this process,” he write.

“Therefore, I am requesting the Department initiate an official investigation by the Investigator General into this matter. I further request the investigation review both the facts of this particular procurement in question, as well as the entire procurement policy of the authority.”

Top Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner to speak in St. Petersburg next month

Former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, who became a national cable news star as a top surrogate for Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign, will be speaking in St. Petersburg in March.

The 49-year-old Cleveland native served on the Cleveland City Council from 2005-2008. She resigned her seat that year to accept an appointment to the Ohio Senate in 2008. She won a full term in 2010, before losing a contest for Ohio Secretary of State in 2014.

Recently there has been a movement to draft her to run for governor of Ohio in 2018.

Last year Turner became a prominent supporter of Sanders campaign. After he lost the Democratic nomination for president to Hillary Clinton, Turner admitted that she was considering an offer to run for vice president on the Green Party’s national ticket, but ultimately opted to stay within the Democratic Party.

Turner will speak at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7 at the United Methodist Church Allendale at 3803 Haines Rd. N. St. Petersburg. To purchase tickets, go to movetobuild.us.

House Speaker: ‘Zero’ chance Bucs get state money for stadium

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shouldn’t hold their breath for any state subsidy to renovate Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran told WTSP’s Noah Pransky in an interview there was “zero” chance his chamber will fund the pro football team’s $10 million subsidy request – and didn’t think the Senate would go along either.

The Bucs “applied under a statutory scheme put in place” that may be eliminated, he said. The team is the only professional team seeking money from the state this year.

Sen. Tom Lee, a Tampa Bay-area Republican, last month filed legislation to do away with a 2014 state program to provide revenue toward constructing or improving professional sports franchise facilities.

“The Sports Development Program was ill-conceived,” he said. “Professional teams are vying for taxpayer funds to pay for largely superficial facility upgrades, many of which are already in progress or completed. History has shown that team owners will make these investments without hardworking families having to foot the bill.”

Corcoran, an enemy of what he calls “corporate welfare,” agrees. This year, he’s looking to eliminate the public-private Enterprise Florida economic development organization and VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency.

“We shouldn’t be building stadiums or subsidizing billionaire owners of professional sports franchises,” he said. “It’s a multibillion-dollar industry. That’s just insane.”

The $10 million asked for Raymond James Stadium breaks down to $1 million a year for at least 10 years. And that’s just a fraction of the projected total costs for the renovations, pegged at a minimum of $120 million.

“We have an education system that needs improvement,” said Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican. “We have seniors who need a greater safety net. We have law enforcement and its needs. Those are the things we should be engaged in.

“Or just returning (money) back to taxpayers,” Corcoran added. “…Giving subsidies to billionaires and picking winners and losers is horrible public policy.”

House committee forwards faculty physicians bill that would help All Children’s Hospital

A bill that would allow All Children’s Hospital to have 30 medical faculty certificates cleared its first House committee Wednesday.

The medical faculty certificate is a special designation which allows a physician to practice medicine without sitting for a licensure examination, though their practice is limited to the teaching hospital they are affiliated with and its related clinical facilities.

Though All Children’s was folded into the Johns Hopkins Health System in 2011, it hasn’t been granted any medical faculty certificates.

HB 209 would put the St. Petersburg hospital on even footing with seven Florida universities and the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville which already have certificates to employ medical faculty.

The bill was approved by the Health Quality Subcommittee with a unanimous vote and only a slight language tweak by bill sponsor and first-term Republican Rep. Alex Miller.

HB 209 now moves on to the Health & Human Services Committee.

The Senate version of the bill, SB 496 sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, has yet to be heard in committee.

In 1st House speech, Charlie Crist vows ‘Commitment to Civility’

Charlie Crist wants to see more of the Golden Rule in Congress, with a call for civil discourse on Capitol Hill.

In his first speech on the floor of the U.S. House, the St. Petersburg Democrat joined a bipartisan class of 46 freshman lawmakers who signed a “Commitment to Civility” pledge.

This pledge seeks to “restore collegiality, trust and civility to Congress, encourage productive dialogue, and work to build consensus and the public’s trust in America’s institutions.”

In the letter, the group promised to remain: “dedicated to showing proper respect to one another and all others, encouraging productive dialogue, and modeling civility in our public and private actions.”

“While we may vehemently disagree on matters of law and policy, we will strive at all times to maintain collegiality and the honor of our office,” they write.

Crist represents Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

“I am honored to represent Pinellas County in Congress, and I promise to fight for the needs of my home county. But I pledge to do so in keeping with the ‘Golden Rule,’ to do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” Crist said in his speech. “I am proud that our freshman class has put forward this ‘Commitment to Civility’ pledge. It states that despite our political differences, at the end of the day we must work together to move our country forward, putting people over politics and treating each other with respect — even when we disagree.”

Other first-year members of the Florida delegation signing the Commitment include Matt Gaetz of CD 1, Neal Dunn of CD 2, John Rutherford of CD 4, Al Lawson of CD 5, Darren Soto of CD 9, Val Demings of CD 10, Brian Mast of CD 18 and Francis Rooney of CD 19.

Tampa Bay Times’ acknowledges its recent stories on Mosaic spill are inaccurate

Last week, the Tampa Bay Times quoted two retired hydrology experts who slammed the phosphate giant Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over the massive sinkhole that exploded under a gypsum stack at Mosaic’s New Wales plant in Mulberry last summer, resulting in 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater released into the Florida aquifer.

Don Rice and Mary Hrenda told the Times that a full year before the incident, monitoring wells around the stack showed a sinkhole was developing, and that both Mosaic and the DEP should have been aware of the sinkhole at the time. The information was also presented at a news conference last Friday with environmental groups in Manatee County.

“They should have seen this 2016 sinkhole coming,” Rice told the Times last Thursday. “Alarm bells should have been going off — danger, danger!”

Now the Times acknowledges that Rice and Hrenda have retracted their statements.

“News organizations routinely cover disputes between two credible sides, and that’s what we did in our original story,” says Jennifer Orsi, managing editor of the Times, in an email. “Mosaic, which declined to discuss the allegations for that story, responded the next day, and we covered that as well. Now, the hydrologists quoted in our original story have retracted their findings and expressed regret, which we will cover in a story on the front page of Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times. Stories evolve, and we routinely cover those steps as they happen.”

Upon publication of the story Friday, both the DEP and Mosaic strongly disputed the report, and on Tuesday the first independently affiliated group, a relatively new organization based in Florida called the Center for Sustainability and Conservation (CFSC) weighed in.

The group released findings from an independent, Florida-licensed geologist, which also contradicted information originally published in the Times about the genesis of last year’s spill.

“Our geologist concluded that the increase in water levels were due to a grouting program in the area and not the precursor to a sinkhole. In his opinion, an indication of a sinkhole would have produced a drop in water levels, not an increase,” said Dave Gray, founder and Executive Director of CFSC.

Gray said he had his own independent Florida-licensed geologist, Abner Patton, reviewed the data and information Rice provided to environmental groups at last week’s news conference.

In his report, Abner writes that the “significant rise in water levels” in the three recognized aquifers near the New Wales facility “is not related to an event associated with the 2016 sinkhole collapse. In fact, our interpretation would be just the opposite response, significant decline in water levels would have occurred as the sinkhole was developing.”

Abner also refers to a grouting program conducted in the spring and summer of 2015. He notes that it is his interpretation that significant level changes in the three wells “are the result of a successful grouting program within the confining unit.”

“The data and information surrounding Florida’s natural resources and geology are complex and multidisciplined,” Gray said. “It is imperative that everyone understands such data can be used to draw false claims and manipulate conclusions to different outcomes, especially if examined by someone who is not licensed in Florida and does not have a thorough understanding of Florida’s unique geology.”

Rice and Hrenda, who is his wife, both worked as hydrologists in New Jersey, not Florida.

The Times report was challenged last week by the DEP, which said that the data in question have “nothing to do with the formation of the 2016 sinkhole.”

“The data the Tampa Bay Times provided is referring to monitoring wells under the closed North stack at the New Wales facility, which was closed in 2005, not under the South stack where the 2016 sinkhole formed,” the DEP said on Friday.

“I don’t think they did their diligence on evaluating the data, I think they chose some data they thought could carry a message and ran with it, whether or not that message was correct,” said David Jellerson, Mosaic’s Senior Director of Environmental and Phosphate Projects.

At the news conference in front of the Manatee County Commission last Friday, a host of environmental groups called for an investigation of the DEP, and said they were sending a letter to Gov. Rick Scott and State Attorney General Pam Bondi. It was signed by Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, People for Protecting the Peace River, ManaSota-88, Sierra Club Manatee-Sarasota and Saving the Face of Florida.

They said that the agency was “negligent, possibly criminally negligent” when it failed to recognize warning signs of a sinkhole and taking preventive measures to drain the stack.

On Wednesday, Mosaic officials are set to go before the Manatee County Commission over the proposal to approve the expansion of a phosphate mine on a 3,600-acre plot in Myakka City. The environmental groups strongly oppose the plan.

On MSNBC, David Jolly wonders how serious Donald Trump is taking the presidency

David Jolly is in New York this week, making the rounds at the cable news networks as one Republican not afraid to criticize Donald Trump.

On his latest appearance on MSNBC’s The Last Word (with guest host Joy Reid), the former (and possibly future?) congressman from Florida’s 13th District called Trump’s first month in office “his JV moment,” specifically referring to Stephen Miller’s performance on the Sunday morning shows.

Miller is the 31-year old senior adviser to Trump who is reported to be working alongside Steve Bannon in crafting the President’s messaging.

Among Miller’s most provocative comments was on CBS’ Face The Nation, when he said, “The media and the whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

“The first month of the Trump administration has been his JV (junior varsity) moment,” Jolly said on MSNBC. “Get the 31-year-old sweaty kid off the TV, and bring in the steady senior hand.”

Jolly compared the beginning of Trump’s presidency with that of George W. Bush’s, the last president elected without winning the popular vote. Jolly said that Bush 43 surrounding himself with senior Washington officials like Dick Cheney and Andy Card, who, he said, “whether you liked them or not, we’re a steady hand.”

“We will see turnover, and frankly, this 31-year old should not have been the voice of the president on Sunday morning TV when we’re in such a pivotal moment,” Jolly said.

Jolly also questioned how seriously Trump is taking his job as the most powerful man in the free world.

“I think this is the very quiet anxiety of most Republicans, including congressional Republicans, is how serious is the president taking this job?” he asked. “He is our president. President Donald Trump. Like him or loath him. But how seriously is he accepting this responsibility and the anxiety we have is based upon the decisions he made in the first 30 days, the people he is surrounding himself with?” Jolly asked.

Jolly appeared Monday on CNN’s New Day as well and is scheduled to make another appearance on MNSBC later this week.

The 44-year-old Jolly has been increasing his media profile in recent weeks (complete with stylish glasses and a new beard) as he keeps his options open regarding 2018. Jolly lost by 3.8 percentage points against Charlie Crist, in the race for Florida’s 13th Congressional District last fall.

He engendered speculation that he was considering another run for the seat in 2018 when he hired former Crist staffer Vito Sheeley last monthThe circumstances behind Sheeley’s departure from working for Crist remain shrouded in mystery, part of was has led people to wonder about Crist’s somewhat rough beginning in his short time in Congress.

Kathy Castor calls some of Donald Trump’s actions ‘beneath the dignity of the office’

It’s less than a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, but Congresswoman Kathy Castor is not impressed so far, describing some of his actions and demeanor “beneath the dignity of the office.”

“President Trump is simply unprecedented,” the Tampa Democrat said to reporters following a news conference held at the USF College of Nursing George & Marian Miller Center for Virtual Learning. “His actions and demeanor are really beneath the dignity of the office. And I worry about young people and kids seeing that as an example of their president and Commander in Chief. Hopefully he’ll rein that in.”

Castor joined her House Democratic colleagues at a retreat in Baltimore last week, where they attempted to find a common strategy to combat Trump and the GOP-majority Congress over the next two years. She said that she is well aware that the Democratic base is alive and engaged in politics in a way never before seen in her decade long in Washington.

“The grassroots are on fire,” she said. “People want to know – what’s coming up on the floor of the House this week. So that’s a little bit different, where we’re having to educate all of our neighbors and encourage them and teach them how to weigh in.”

Castor says that the nature of Trump’s attempted ban on refugees and his “playing footsie” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin are actions that “really undermine our national security.”

“So there are a lot of very serious issues, and you can’t blame our neighbors for being on edge, upset and wanting to be engaged,” she surmised.

For the second consecutive weekend, one of Castor’s GOP colleagues in the Tampa Bay Congressional delegation, Pasco/Pinellas Representative Gus Bilirakis heard from dozens of angry constituents regarding his intent to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act. Eight years ago, it was Castor who was singled out for her support of the ACA, specifically when facing a hostile crowd of Tea Party activists at a town hall on the ACA at the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County.

“People are scared and that’s what you’re seeing at these town hall meetings for members of Congress,”she said, adding that “folks are reasonably frightened that there’s going to be this radical repeal plan, they’re just going to rip the rug out from under families. That’s the fight right now.”

Vern Buchanan to co-chair Florida Delegation meeting on water issues

The co-chairs of Florida’s congressional delegation, Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, and Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings will hold a bipartisan delegation meeting on some of the state’s most pressing water issues.

The meeting is Wednesday, Feb. 15, at 8:30 a.m. in 2020 Rayburn House Office Building, in Washington, DC.

The delegation will discuss red tide, harmful algal blooms, beach renourishment and other water quality issues. This will be the first meeting of the 29-member bipartisan Florida congressional delegation in 2017.

“Our pristine beaches and rivers are a draw for Floridians and countless visitors each year,” Buchanan said. “That’s why it’s so important that our delegation works together to ensure Florida’s oceans and waterways are clean and healthy.”

Recently, red tide outbreaks left thousands of dead fish along the Suncoast’s shores. The tide produces a toxin that can harm and kill a variety of animals, including birds, fish, sea turtles and marine mammals such as dolphins and the already endangered Florida manatee. It can also have devastating effects on humans, as shellfish from active red tide areas can cause poisoning.

Panelists will include Sarasota Mayor Willie Shaw and representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“Each year, red tide poses a serious threat to Southwest Florida’s wildlife, ecosystems and economy,” Buchanan said. “We need to do everything we can to stop future damage.”

This past summer, record amounts of toxic algae wreaked havoc across Florida, producing a bloom so large it was visible from space. The blue-green guacamole-thick algae, also known as cyanobacteria, forced many Floridians to wear masks near the water and some complained of skin rashes, headaches and respiratory issues, according to press reports.

Harmful algae blooms cause $82 million in economic losses to the seafood, restaurant and tourism industries each year in the U.S., according to NOAA.

Buchanan said he also looks forward to hearing from Mayor Shaw about beach renourishment. In 2007, the congressman secured $1.7 million in federal funding for beach renourishment projects in the 16th Congressional District.

Rick Kriseman campaign says it has raised $200K towards re-election

Incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has some important news to share about his re-election campaign.

“Now that we’ve had a chance to add everything up and double-check everything, it’s clear we’ve passed an important milestone,” Kriseman wrote in an email that was distributed last week. That milestone is that he has crossed the $200,000 raised threshold for his re-election bid.

Kriseman is seeking a second term as mayor of the Sunshine City. Voters will decide his fate later this year, with a primary election in August and a general election in November.

Currently, no serious contender has filed to challenge Kriseman, but it’s widely reported that former Mayor Rick Baker is contemplating a return to local politics.

Having $200,000 in the bank should send any would-be challengers the message that Kriseman is not taking his re-election chances for granted.

As impressive as that $200K number sounds, it should be noted that $92,450 of it came in before the end of 2016, according to Kriseman campaign staffer Tom Alte. That’s contrary to how the Times’ Adam Smith framed it when he reported that “the mayor raised $200,000 in the first month since he announced his re-election kickoff.”

Still, 200 grand is 200 grand. That will buy a lot of TV time and direct mail in a citywide race. As Kriseman noted in his email, this is a “historic” level of early support.

“Mayor Kriseman is grateful to have the support of voters, activists, community leaders, and employers who have donated to his campaign so that he can continue leading St. Petersburg,” Alte said. “They’ve said loudly and clearly that when we stand together for progress, we can take on the tough issues and move our city forward.”

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