Wednesday, August 31, 2016

County playing coy with ZIKA information

I do not think the County Health Department is giving the citizens enough credit.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Here is an e-mail response to my recent post on ZIKA: ZIKA We should know where it is.

Pinellas county isn't taking this seriously. I'm 5 months pregnant and I called the national hotline and the Pinellas Health department Friday morning. I was told the hours of testing went until 4:30 and went on Friday at 3:30 to get tested and to get a prevention kit. I was then told that they don't do testing on Fridays or give kits without doing testing. Are the mosquitos taking this weekend off?

With the wet weather, everything around my house is a potential breeding zone. I had the sense to arm myself with repellant, but what about the other people? If my coworker goes to Clearwater beach and gets bitten by a mosquito that bit an infected person, I'm at risk. I have about 20 weeks to go and slathering myself and my husband in repellant daily for 20 weeks is not ideal. As the infection is close to me, the health department needs to be more responsive near me. 

For all the talk of preparation, genetically modified mosquitos and kits, I'm a pregnant woman on a peninsula on a peninsula, and the county has provided me with nothing to fight Zika but generally available mosquito avoidant advice through poorly informed call center reps. The general public needs to know what area to avoid before my neighbor goes fishing in Safety Harbor or takes her dog to Fort Desoto and gets bitten by an infected mosquito.


I do not think the County Health Department is giving the citizens enough credit.

Most people are aware of the ZIKA virus and its potential side effects, and it just seems to me letting the citizens of Pinellas county know where the ZIKA cases are located could spurn some extra caution in those areas and probably County wide.

The experience of the commenter above calls into question how the County Health Department is handling this serious problem. The County commission and the Chairman along with the County administrator should take control of this problem and make sure information and help available.

Not testing on Friday for a problem this potentially serious problem and blowing off someone who is pregnant and concerned sounds alarmingly like Pinellas County bureaucratic BS.

It is time to stop hiding behind the political and medical double speak, let the public know what is going on and provide preventative and testing services when and where people need them. That is why we spend all that money on the County Health Department.

I hope we are not more worried about ZIKA's effect on tourism than we are about its effect on local public health.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Respect the Will of the People So Tampa Bay Can Lead the Way in Transportation Innovation

Tampa, Fl
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

Rail is like a cat with nine lives. While the rail cartel has lost every transportation sales tax hike referendum in Tampa Bay since 2010, they continue pushing their rail agenda.

With a sales tax hike now dead for November, the rail cartel shape shifters are morphing into their latest two prong strategy. The first prong is pushing AGAIN to create a regional transit agency that will result in a regional taxing authority. Their second prong is to push our state legislature to allow cities to have their own "transit" (not transportation) referendums to fund high cost rail.

These are bad ideas on numerous fronts! 

In government, bigger is not better nor more efficient, especially over the long term. Bigger agencies just keep getting bigger and bigger and more powerful. Powerful government entities can be a breeding ground for more corruption. When local taxpayers are an arms length away from the decision makers, their influence is diluted while special interest influence increases. It is much harder for local taxpayers to fight a regional taxing authority's bad policies. 

Regarding city referendums, where is the business model and business case that confirms the cities of Tampa or St. Petersburg could ever fund costly rail projects? Remember Buckhorn was on the only NO vote on the Tampa Streetcar when he was on the Tampa City Council in the 1990's. He said back then the Streetcar did not have a viable financial model. And he was absolutely right.

Taxpayers do not want to be responsible for bailing out more rail boondoggles. State taxpayers bail out Tri-Rail in South Florida every year to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. State taxpayers have been forced to pay for SunRail that is drowning in deficits through 2020. If the state legislature ever passed legislation to allow transit referendums by cities, they better ensure there could never be any taxpayer bailouts when the high cost rail projects go financially south and drown in deficits. 

The reason for a regional transit taxing entity? The entire region would fund the costly rail boondoggles and bail out the financial disasters.

The media arm of the rail cartel is doing their part. The TBT published this editorial recently.
The half-full, half-empty Tampa Bay transit debate
Any significant change — from merging the Hillsborough and Pinellas bus systems to creating a new regional transit authority to allowing transit referendums by cities — would require action from the Legislature.
It's going to take multiple approaches to meet this challenge, from better bus service to express highway lanes to light rail.
Too many public officials still lag behind private business leaders in acknowledging the urgency of the issue and agreeing that mass transit including light rail, not more roads, is the long-range solution. 
The earliest another voter referendum could be held on a new transit plan may be 2020. That's how long it likely will take for any structural changes to transit oversight to be adopted, a premium transit study by the state and HART to be completed, and a new transit vision to be created and sold to voters.
State Senator Latvala, Appropriations chair, is pushing for a third time the merger of HART and PSTA. He already forced two taxpayer funded studies previously done and after both studies a merger was rejected. Latvala must not threaten to withhold state funds to our local transit agencies if they don't agree to merge. That is bully tactics and totally unacceptable behavior.

Latvala should focus instead on a real problem in his own backyard - reforming PSTA. PSTA has been fiscally mismanaged for years.

Latvala should focus on overhauling the incompetent PSTA Board dominated by almost all electeds who continue to provide too little oversight and allow CEO Brad Miller to run amok. It was Brad Miller who misused Federal transit security funds to promote Greenlight Pinellas. That alone should have been grounds for removal.

PSTA has too many issues and Hillsborough county taxpayers want no part of them. Merging PSTA into HART is not the answer to PSTA's problems.

If Latvala wants better productivity and to save taxpayers money, he should focus on getting rid of agencies we simply do not need. Start by eliminating the Hillsborough County PTC that is the inhibitor to innovation and the poster child for cronyism and corruption. Then get rid of TBARTA which is duplicative, a waste of taxpayer money and their responsibilities can be folded in elsewhere such as FDOT.

Also, according to the TBT editorial:
The 2010 Hillsborough referendum was supported by voters in Tampa, and the 2014 Pinellas referendum won its strongest support among St. Petersburg voters.
Sunbeam times blog reported after the 2014 defeat of Greenlight: Majority of St. Petersburg Residents Also Rejected Greenlight Pinellas, 52:48
An analysis of voter data by the Sunbeam Times reveals that the measure failed by a 4 point margin, with 52% of residents voting it down and 48% voting in favor (the county rejected by 62% to 38%). 49 of St. Petersburg precincts voted against Greenlight Pinellas and it was only favored by 40 precincts. It was approved only in a geographically contiguous area largely in the South and East of the city. The Greenlight plan was soundly defeated in Western and northern areas of the city.
Below is a picture of the precincts (in green) that supported the 2010 Hillsborough County rail tax.
Hillsborough County 2010
Rail tax map of vote results by precinct
Precincts near the proposed rail lines voted for the tax in 2010. However, there were still a significant number of precincts in the city of Tampa that voted against the tax. Since then, voters within the entire Tampa Bay region have become more educated on the issue, thus the even bigger defeat of Greenlight Pinellas in 2014. 

The Go Hillsborough debacle did not help the rail cartel's cause. It simply added more skepticism and distrust. 

There is absolutely no guarantee that voters in the cities of Tampa or St. Petersburg will vote for a sales tax hike into perpetuity to pay for high cost trains that few of them will ride.

The reality is innovation and technology are and will continue disrupting traditional transit services.  Uber and Lyft continue to expand their quasi-transit businesses, UberPool and Lyft Line. We used UberPool numerous times when we were in San Francisco last March and it worked great at a real nice price. 

Hat tip to Robert Poole's Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter this month that included "Disrupting urban transit":
If automated shuttle buses and automated versions of Uber/Lyft/Didi (Didi is in China) ride-sharing vehicles materialize in a decade or two, does it really make sense to be investing many billions of dollars in light-rail and heavy-rail systems over the next several decades? In an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Daily News on July 6th, Susan Shelley raised this question about current transit expansion plans in that region:
"Metro CEO Phil Washington says his agency is building a transit system for 100 years from now, but every day that sounds more disconnected from reality. The future has arrived, and it's on the road. We could be planning for improvements to our freeways, and transit service upgrades made possible by cost-effective driverless buses."
Three days later Bryan Mistele, the CEO of traffic firm INRIX, had an op-ed in the Seattle Times, headlined "Sound Transit's Expansion Will Be Obsolete Before It's Built." That plan, estimated to cost $54 billion, would be constructed over the next 25 years, and would provide transit with an additional one percent of daily trips by 2040. He argued that autonomous, connected, electric, and shared vehicles will likely cause the system to be obsolete before it opens. These are sobering thoughts, from a transportation professional who is very knowledgeable about these disruptive forces.
According to this recent article, Columbus will 'leap-frog' light rail as transit option after Smart City Challenge win
A wave of new transportation technology is coming to Columbus after the city won the federal Smart City Challenge. 
The grant money will usher in driverless cars but could end the idea of rail as a mass-transit option.
“The City of Columbus plans to leap-frog fixed rail” by using new modes of transportation, Columbus says in the U.S. Department of Transportation application.
The reality is the window of opportunity for building costly rail systems is quickly closing and our local rail cartel surely understands that. 

As costly rail becomes passe, the Feds and the States may stop funding costly outdated rail projects as more cost-effective, flexible and more efficient transportation solutions are available.

The best place to be to take advantage of the biggest transportation disruption since the automobile is to stay flexible and not get financially forever locked into costly projects.

It's exciting times for transportation as innovation is fast emerging. From platooning and "connected" vehicles to autonomous vehicles and buses to deliveries being made by drones, we will be able to more efficiently utilize our existing rubber-wheeled infrastructure. 

The rail cartel needs to change course because they have lost every transportation sales tax hike referendum they have championed. They must respect the will of the voters, the will of the taxpayers and the consent of the governed. 

Stop trying to push tax hikes for costly trains!

Because Tampa Bay is in a great position to take advantage of new technology and innovation. 

Instead of looking in the rear view mirror, we can charge ahead and lead the way in Transportation solutions for the future.

Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A City Transportation Referendum is a bad idea

Once this mess begins, getting the locals to work together will be a bigger nightmare than the recent referendum efforts have been.

St. Petersburg Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
Talk continues to surface regarding a city only transportation referendums in the bay area. The thinking seems to be these over hyped transit ideas would be an easier sell in the big Cities than they are in the un-incorporated areas and smaller towns.
It seems odd when these same people were talking about the “regional” benefits from a transportation tax and light rail during GeenLight and Go Hillsborough.
Locally, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman are supporting the idea of a city referendum to get the transportation ball rolling or more likely the trains running.
Most of the opposition I have seen is based on Republican reluctance to raise taxes. So far, the local transit tax initiatives of the mayors have died a quiet death in the Florida Legislature.
There are a number of reasons why city transit referendums are a bad idea.
For any transit system to work in the bay area, it must be regional in design and scope. The thought of each of the larger cities in Pinellas or Hillsborough county developing their own public transit project is humorous at first and frightening when you think about it.
How do we provide for common technology, physical connection, intersystem transfers, ticketing and so on?
What this concept leads to is a patchwork quilt of disparate transit systems that do not communicate or seamlessly interconnect at any level.
A lot of people will make a lot of money, and nothing will work.
This whole approach is just another way for the light-rail  people to get their foot in the door. It is easier to fool a few people than all the people.
Once this mess begins, getting the locals to work together since each will have a fixed amount of money will be a bigger nightmare than the recent referendum efforts have been.
Then there will be the hold out(s) who will refuse to go along and the whole process will be a huge waste of taxpayer money, political capital and effort.
Instead of running around the state Buckhorn, Kriseman and the rest of the mayors pushing this local transit tax effort should work together to develop a multiphase transportation plan for their respective areas that shows some common sense and actually works.
Here locally, that means dumping the MPOs, TBARTA, transit oriented redevelopment disciples, light rail lobbyists and hire a group of professionals who can develop a multiphase transportation plan the people can have confidence in.
Hash it out, refine it. Use best brain power available. Put that plan on the ballot supported by a sales tax increase and watch it pass.
The people are not opposed to a transit plan that is based on common sense and regional needs.
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Friday, August 26, 2016

ZIKA We should know where it is

Withholding information on where the ZIKA infection is in Pinellas County is not good public Policy.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

I am not sure why the state, and the County are keeping the location of the Pinellas County ZIKA case a secret.

It seems to me that everyone in, around and near the area would want to take extra steps to make sure they are protected especially those women who are pregnant or think they might be.

The Kriseman administration is taking some preliminary action as Mayor Rick Kriseman on Tuesday designated Dean Adamides, the division chief of emergency management in the St. Petersburg Fire Rescue Department, to oversee the city’s response to the Zika threat.

More detail from saintpetersblog Anne Lindberg:  Education, collaboration are key tactics in Pinellas’ war on Zika.

Dr. Ulyee Choe, the Pinellas Health Department director indicated that one case does not make an epidemic. It does not even make “active transmission. That would take at least two to three cases of non-travel-related Zika.”

That may well be the case, but I think the sooner you get started with a problem like this the easier it is to solve.

Christopher O’Donnell Tampa Bay Times sheds some light on the issue: Scott meets with Hillsborough leaders as state investigates Pinellas Zika case. “Despite calls from U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs, for residents to get more information, Philip said the department won't reveal where the woman lives unless it is classified as an active transmission zone. That would require the presence of additional related infections.”

So we have the potential of a serious virus, but we want a few more people to be infected before we tell you where to be careful.

Is it just me or does the sound more than a little stupid?

If the objective here is not to start a media panic and affect tourism; here is a news flash – too late!

The fact we have not identified the general area is probably already causing people to change their travel plans since they have no idea of where the virus is centered, and they certainly can’t rely on public officials to keep them informed.

This to me seems like public health gone way off the rails. The objective of public health is to protect the public’s health and the best way to protect the public is to keep them informed.

Keeping the public in the dark serves no really useful purpose and delays potential individual action, which might prevent further infections.

Pinellas county, dotted with little ponds, lakes and those really dumb retention ponds, is a mosquito haven. Let’s not wait. Will we have emergency rooms full of ZIKA patients before we give people the information, they need to protect themselves.

The public health people need to start worrying more about the actual effects of ZIKA in Pinellas and Hillsborough and less about fallout from people knowing it’s here.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Largo Zip Line Generates Neighborhood Opposition

Tampa, Fl
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

 Who knew that the City of Largo was pursuing a "tree adventure", more commonly known as a zip line, in a park and recreational complex that backs up to residential homes?

Apparently the neighboring residents who use the park did not know.

A community meeting was held on Monday, August 15th at the Largo City Hall about the proposed zip line/tree adventure proposed at the Highland Recreation Complex. The Eye was there, and so was a packed room full of residents who live near Highland park and had strong opposition to the proposal that is literally almost in their backyard.

Daryl Works, in the blue shirt speaking in the video below, brought his own picture board armed with information and concerns for why he and his fellow neighbors oppose this proposal. Works thinks there are alternative locations better suited for this type of venture by the city. A direct link to the Youtube video is here.


It appears that those who would be most impacted by the "tree adventure" proposal were not made aware when this project started over two years ago.

According to the Minutes of the May 13, 2014 City of Largo Commission Work Session
As part of the recreational offerings at Highland Recreation Complex, staff have researched the viability and revenue potential of a tree adventure course. A tree adventure course is a collection of aerial games and zip lines in the canopy of a forest where participants face varying challenges.
There were some questions raised by the commissioners at that meeting about noise and the impact on parking and neighboring homes but no question was raised whether the idea or proposal had ever been brought up with the residents most impacted. The commissioners reached a consensus at that May 2014 meeting to support city of Largo staff soliciting proposals for a tree adventure course at Highland Recreation Complex. 

According to the city of Largo's Parks and Recreation website, there are numerous parks and nature preserves in Largo.

Why did staff recommend Highland for this "tree adventure" course? According to the Commission Work Session minutes, the county had already been engaging with vendors and took some vendors there who "liked Highland Complex's central location and visibility."

Didi the vendors drive the decision for the location? Were any other locations seriously considered?  

An RFP was solicited by the city of Largo and TreeUmph was selected as the vendor for the proposed zip line tree adventure project at Highland park. It appears that it was after a vendor was already selected that the city finally made the effort to inform the neighboring residents about the project. 

Residents told us that some small signs were placed this past June (two years after this effort started) to notify the residents of a community meeting about a "tree adventure" - no mention of the "zip line". Only three people showed up at that meeting. 

The residents felt that meeting was not properly noticed and it was very late in the process to finally be engaging those most impacted. There was never any notice placed at the park itself about the zip line/tree adventure proposal. The notice about the June community meeting was never posted at the park complex.

Many of the community residents did not know what a "tree adventure" was but they would have understood "zip line" if that term had been used on the meeting notice signs.

Needless to say, the neighboring residents most impacted are not happy and they oppose this project. Once many of them understood what this project actually was, they started organizing with their neighbors who showed up in droves to voice their opposition at the August 2nd city of Largo commission meeting. An ordinance authorizing leasing the city property at Highland Recreation Complex for a tree adventure course was on the commission agenda.

Go to 42:15 of the video recording of the August 2nd meeting to hear the discussion and public comment. 

A motion was made to deny the ordinance but it failed 2-5. 

Further discussion by the commissioners requested city staff reach back out to the neighboring residents regarding the proposed design. Motion to bring the zip line/tree adventure ordinance back to the September 6, 2016 commission meeting passed 6-1.

And thus the August 15th meeting held at Largo City Hall.

City staff brought renderings to Monday's meeting, "Rendering A" for the original zip line/tree adventure plan and a slightly modified version "Rendering B". Version B moved the end of the zip line a bit further away from some residences backyards.  

City staff emphasized at the beginning of the meeting they were there to get input on which version (A or B) at Highland the community preferred not whether the zip line/tree adventure should be there or be somewhere else. 

City staff attempted to use the infamous "put your dot on the plan you prefer" consensus building technique. However, the consensus from those attending this community meeting appeared to be "Neither".
Neighboring resident weighs in at
City of Largo community meeting on zip line/tree adventure
proposal at Highland Recreation Complex
The opposition in the neighboring community has done their homework, perhaps much more than the city of Largo staff. 

Information they have found include:

  • Other zip lines are not as close to a residential neighborhood and in larger footprints further away from where people live.
  • Tree adventure vendors will place a zip line where ever they may be provided an opportunity to do so and site is not driven by the vendor
  • While other zip line locations have limited access that can be gated or chained, Highland has numerous open access points.
  • The city has insisted there are restrictive covenants to prevent use of the Nature Preserve for such "tree adventure". The restrictions in the Quit Claim Deed for the property deeded from SWFMD to city of Largo convey the Preserve cannot be used for hunting, firing ranges, rehabilitation camps, sports stadiums, arenas, or commercial amusement parks. The city has insisted the "tree adventure" zip line is not an amusement park. 
  • The Largo FY2017 budget capital improvement plan includes adding restroom facility to Largo Central Park and creating a master plan for the use and access of the park's 100 acre midsection. The budget document states "Public input will be sought once the process begins." 
Why didn't the city of Largo seek out public input when the process began on this tree adventure venture? 

Some opponents believe Largo Central Park or the Nature Preserve that have a bigger footprint away from residential would be better suited for a zip line/tree adventure.

The city of Largo expects at least 45K guests to use the zip line the first year. The city will get 5% of the annual revenues. The city says they will receive $50K to $100K a year but if 45K ride the zip line the first year at a cost of about $50 a ride, the city will receive over $112K. 

All the money received from this venture will go into the general fund for use anywhere.

The Largo city commissioners will vote on September 6th whether to approve the "tree adventure" zip line at Highland park. It is expected the opponents will show up again to voice their concerns. 

The project has generated ill will from those who live nearby who felt there was not proper public outreach from those impacted the most.

The Largo commissioners will have to decide whether it is worth approving the now tainted project. 

And fair warning if a proposed zip line disguised as a "tree adventure" comes your way.

Links to recent local media coverage:
Opponents target Largo zipline course

Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

Sunday, August 21, 2016

It only took $531 to expose the highly partisan St. Pete City Council for what it is

Many people think since City Council election races are "non partisan" that the Council is not politically motivated.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

The request by the Pinellas County Democratic Party for a Grant from the City of St. Petersburg's South St. Pete Community Development Area (CRA) has created a bit of a firestorm and some well-deserved  consternation for the Kriseman administration.

The St. Pete City Council is composed of seven Democrats and one Republican, Ed Montanari.

Council Member Kornell (D) tried to remove the request for the Pinellas County Democratic Party, but his motion failed for lack of a second.

You would have thought Montanari would have been the second. Logical thought does not apply here.

At this point, the whole mess was too good a story to pass up so here are some links you must read.

Charlie Frago Tampa Bay Times Staff writer: Pinellas Democrats get TIF dollars to spruce up HQ.

The Democrats were enraged that anyone would be concerned at their attempt to raid a CRA dedicated to improving the lot of south side residents.  See Charlie Frago Tampa Bay Times Staff writer: Pinellas Democrats switch course on TIF grant.

At this point, the Tampa Bay Times editorial board spoke up: Editorial: Bad start for St. Petersburg CRA.

In the end, the Pinellas Country Democratic Party wisely decided not to take the money.

You could take this as a tempest in a teapot, but it does emphasize the cavalier approach of the Kriseman administration when dealing with high-visibility  issues.

Kriseman’s chief of staff Kevin King said about the Democratic Party grant, “Outside the legal ramifications, we were kind of indifferent.”

One would wonder if they are equally indifferent about issues favorable to Republican organizations.

There is enough basic stupidity in this whole mess to go around and cover everyone. The Democratic Party of Pinellas should have been smart enough to see this as a really dumb idea.

Rick Smith the City's lead CRA Official should not have taken his bosses political status into account when he authorized the grant.

Mayor Kriseman should have put a stop to it when it came to his attention.

The problem here is it appears the staff is intimidated by the administration to the point of not challenging things that are obviously wrong.

There are many people that think since City Council election races are "non partisan" that the Council is not politically motivated.

This little flare up should put that argument to a complete rest.

Next election cycle you might want to pay just a little more attention to who is a Republican and who is a Democrat.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Victory for Taxpayers - Now County Center Must Commit to Making Board Policy Work

Tampa, Fl
Posted by: Sharon Calvert

 Cross Posted with permission from: Eye On Tampa Bay

The Eye was at the county commission Transportation Workshop last Wednesday. The video of that meeting can be found on the HTV website by selecting the meeting date August 10, 2016. Everyone should watch it. 

The Workshop was opened for public comment. All but one of the citizens who spoke were supporting Commissioner Murman's proposal for an ordinance to use our growth revenues within our existing budget to fund our roads and transportation.

It has taken years to get here, but finally the county commissioners voted 6-1 (Miller voted no) to pursue a Board policy requiring 1/3 of our new revenue growth to be put aside to fund our roads and transportation. The Board policy language will be brought to the September 8th BOCC meeting for approval. 

While Murman's proposal will be accomplished through a board policy and not an ordinance, this is a seismic shift from where we were a year ago. 

This is a victory for the taxpayers of Hillsborough County.

After Hagan fought the effort with Merrill (watch the video), he ended up voting for the motion. We will watch closely to see if there's an attempt to obstruct the intent of the policy or water it down when the policy is up for Board approval September 8th.

The eventual 6-1 vote is not representative of the discussion that actually occurred at the meeting. Hagan's mocking comments did him no favors but they are recorded for all to see.

County Administrator Mike Merrill brought in the big guns, the county's financial advisor and bond counsel, to provide their comments on Murman's proposal. 

Budget Director Tom Fesler presented an analysis on 10 years of revenue growth, analysis of 1/3 of new revenue growth going to transportation and 10 years of funding analysis. The budget analysis was done based on numerous factors including estimated population growth, estimated inflation rate and estimated growth rate. 

The presentation was flawed, however, as Commissioner Murman pointed out Merrill had left out 20% of the revenues in the analysis. Somehow the Times failed to report that tidbit.

This is the first time we've ever seen such level of analysis during the budget cycle. Unfortunately, too many budgets recommended by Merrill have simply been rubber stamped, no questions asked.

We're a growing county and their doom and gloom attitude towards funding transportation within our existing growing budget was quite astonishing. More astonishing when we continue to watch Merrill pull tens of millions of dollars out of his rabbit's hat to spend on all kinds of other things. 

This behavior is no longer acceptable!

The meeting showcased that County Administrator Mike Merrill and Commissioner Hagan do not want to prioritize our county's budget. 

Neither does the Tampa Bay Times. According to their Sunday Op-Ed, prioritizing our county budget is an "empty gesture".
The county is not creating a new revenue stream for transportation; it's merely raiding money already there.
Their attitude is absurd and out of touch with reality and the electorate today. 

The Tampa Bay Times would better serve their readers if they started questioning the county budget. There are a number of questionable oddities including ghost projects being financed by debt and budgeting for capital projects with no known operating costs. These oddities go against any normal budget process we know and is not good governance.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Trump battle with the Florida RNC heats up

If the RNC drops support for Trump, will you still vote down ballot for Republican candidates?

St. Petersburg Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
As  the Trump battle with the RNC heats up Florida Republican politicians and the party faithful are running from Donald Trump in all directions.
The latest from Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times Washington Bureau Chief: Florida Republicans beg RNC to cut off support to Donald Trump.
Trump has not done his candidacy any favors in the last few weeks, and the Clinton team has pushed relentlessly with anti-Trump ads in Florida.
The Republican concern about the down ballot effect of Trump is driving the party to distraction.
Desperate to hang on to the US House and Senate, Republican power players are trying to move RNC funding from Trump to the down ballot races.
The questions being raised by the Clinton campaign and by the Republican establishment questioning Trump’s ability to serve as president are having a significant effect. Trump has dropped in the polls with college-educated white males and females as his campaign strategy, which worked so well in the primary faltered.
The problem is Republican voter registration is way up in Florida thanks to Trump and how will these new and empowered voters feel if the Party turns its back on the person who brought them into the Party?
More directly if you are a Republican. How do you feel?
Would you feel comfortable with the RNC abandonment the Presidential candidate that received more primary votes than any primary candidate in history?
If the RNC drops support for Trump, will you still vote down ballot for Republican candidates?
Will you still vote for Trump or just pass this election cycle?
I have been a registered Republican for most of my adult life but the last three Presidential election cycles, I have grown more and more uncomfortable with the whole Republican establishment thing.
I was an early-on  Trump supporter, but I must admit his recent campaign efforts have caused me to rethink that support.
One thing I am sure of is if the Republican Party walks away from Trump in an effort to please the power players without a whole hearted effort to bring Trump into the proper focus on the Presidency and with due respect for those who supported him; I for one am through with the Republican Party.
Change doesn’t always come in a nice neat respectful package, and running from change may well be the last big mistake the Republican Party will make.
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Contributor to: Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff
Contributor to: Carlos Beruff for US Senate

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

What's next for the Midtown Shopping Center?

Mayor Kriseman and his dream team are quick to promote success on their shiny web site but slow to acknowledge problems.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Another well-intentioned effort by the City of St. Petersburg has come to a dismal end. Tangerine Plaza in South St. Pete will be sold in a foreclosure process later this week.

Here is some background from the Tampa Bay Times:

Everyone knew the Tangerine Plaza was a risky gamble. Time and poor management finally caught up with the troubled shopping center.

The decision by the City to attempt to buy out the foreclosure is a good one.

The timing and handling of the foreclosure and the City funding of the buyout are troubling.

Over and over City Council has complained about the Kriseman administration's tendency to bring issues like this to the City Council in panic mode. Council members Steve Kornell, Jim Kennedy and Karl Nurse questioned why the administration did not notify the council sooner about a problem that arose last year.

The City staff excuse regarding the foreclosure process is lame at best. When a major piece of the south side puzzle gets in any trouble City Council should be the first to know.

Mayor Kriseman and his dream team are quick to promote success on their shiny web site but slow to acknowledge problems.

Is there anything that could have been done? Hard to say at this point, but the unpleasantness and stigma of the foreclosure process might have been avoided by some early intervention by City Council.

Larry Newsome was the principal in the Tangerine Plaza and also the recently failed Sylvia's Restaurant in South St. Pete where the City had a major financial interest in the property.

Newsome's bad luck and timing are unfortunate, but I thought questions about the City's commitment to African American owned businesses were a little off base.

The real question here is how can the Kriseman administration do a better job at keeping the elected officials, and the public informed about what is going on?

Or maybe the real question is do they want to?

It would seem that the City Council can no longer rely on Mayor Kriseman and the City staff to tell all the story.

Staff seems to be muzzled by the Mayor's office.

All of this does not bode well as the City looks at bringing Pier Park and the Pier approach on line where significant problems are likely to occur.

City Council needs to develop a reporting process from internal staff like Property Management and from the Pier Project managers that ensure they are getting all the facts about significant city projects and investments.

Kriseman and his team simply cannot be trusted.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pier Park and the Uplands – will they work?

These large-scale projects are being designed by two separate teams that are not yet talking to each other.

St. Petersburg Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
The Kriseman administration has forced its personal choice for the Pier through the selection process and the re-visioning process as the design moves from concept to actual plans.
Momentarily, the focus has changed to the Pier uplands.
The Goals of the Upland Project:
Develop The Pier Approach, Unify The Pier District, Bring The City To The Water
These large-scale and very expensive projects are being designed by two separate teams. It was a bit startling to hear they are “Not yet talking to each other.”
As these two efforts move forward, the esoteric design concepts need to give way to the more practical consideration of “Will the Pier Approach and the New Pier work together to meet the needs of all the citizens and attract visitors?”
Will the $70 million being spent on these two large public projects be integrated and create something that works for everyone?
For now, the emphasis seems to be on the millennials, the runner, the bikers, the athletic but what about everyone else? The pier project is a long-time investment and there is one thing we can count on - people; their needs, wants and desires change over time.
The millennials will move on, and no one knows what the next generation will want.
The St. Pete Pier and the Pier approach need to be flexible enough to adjust with changing nuances of our society.
People came to the inverted pyramid because it was something to see. The New Pier and the Pier approach are based more on activities than visual impact. Will a meandering garden leading to a pier with a sundrenched event field and an oddly shaped box at the end draw tourists?
Kriseman and his team are betting $70 million of your tax dollars on this one and it will not address or solve any of the pressing issues in St. Pete.
Let's hope they get it right.
e-mail Doc at mail to:dr. send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend Request, and be sure to Like of Share on Facebook.
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Friday, August 12, 2016

Where is your Mail in Ballot?

The School Board could be the most important vote you will cast his year.

St. Petersburg Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
If you live in Pinellas County and are signed up for a mail in Ballot your Ballot should have been in the mail last week.
If you haven’t seen it check in the stack of mail on the coffee table, bureau, kitchen table or where ever you throw your mail and dig it out.
With all of the current political noise about the Presidential race you may be tempted to just pass on this primary election.
Bad decision.
Remember this is a Primary election, not the general election so your Ballot is Party specific and you don’t have to choose between Trump or Clinton they are not on this Ballot.
There are several really important items on his ballot including US senate races.
There are also some nonpartisan races where the outcome is final. Most important is the Pinellas County School Board where some serious changes are needed.
Also there is the Amendment 4 question related to solar energy. That alone should send you digging through the mail pile to find your ballot.
Need some more information?
Lost your mail in Ballot?
Also note that you should have received a new Voter ID Card in the last month or so. If you don’t have it, you may want to dig a little deeper in that mail pile.
Maybe your like and me this whole election cycle driven by the Republican madness with Trump and the credibility issues with Clinton have really turned you off.
As a really smart person once said, “Local government is really the one that affects you the most.”
Not sure about the judges? Just Google their names you should get enough information to make an informed decision.
And the School Board? Could be the most important vote you will cast his year.
I mailed my Ballot in last week. Join me won’t you and make sure we get the best local, State and national representation we can.
e-mail Doc at mail to:dr. send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend Request, and be sure to Like of Share on Facebook.
See Doc’s Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos
Contributor to:
Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff
Contributor to:
Carlos Beruff for US Senate

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

St. Pete Pier Park How much will the maintenance cost

Notably missing to me was any conversation about what this very large park will cost to maintain.

St. Petersburg Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Last Thursdays Aug 4, 2016, Pier Approach Presentation to City Council went largely unnoticed by the local media. This was a concept presentation by W Architecture & Landscape Architecture, LLC for The Pier Approach Project

If you would like to see the detail, click the link above for the formal presentation graphics.  The well-spoken presenter used all of those key catch phrases architects use when they are presenting “concept” plans which is a technical term for throw stuff up on the wall and seeing what will stick.

The Goal of the Pier Approach Project:
Develop The Pier Approach, Unify The Pier District, Bring The City To The Water
Granted this is early in the process and the actual Pier Project team and the Pier Approach Project team are not really talking to one another yet so it would be difficult to even imagine where all of this may end up.

Prior to the City Council meeting one of the more controversial parts of the initial concept, a large restaurant in the Pelican Parking lot, had been pulled by the planners. Probably a good idea, but don’t count it out just yet.

The concepts as presented seem to indicate a large park area with many amenities, dedicated areas and lush landscaping.

Obviously many details are missing at this point and the next Council update in a couple of months should begin to put the flesh on the plans.

Notably missing to me was any conversation about what this very large park will cost to maintain. Nor did there seem to be any consideration at this point for using cost to maintain as a design criterion.

There are limited revenue generators in the Pier Approach Project Design and given the goals it is unlikely there will be few if any.

Given the Goals as stated and the importance of the new Pier as a “destination,” this park will need to be maintained in a near commercial theme park condition an expensive process.

Careful consideration of operating and maintenance costs for this park are a necessity.

St. Pete has one of the finest park systems anywhere and an award winning Parks and Recreation department.

The Kriseman administration cannot dump this new park and the New Pier on Parks and Recreation without some significant increase in budgeting. I think we are talking millions not just a few hundred thousand.

There will be significant capital equipment and human resource needs that should begin to be filled even as the planning and construction process gets underway.

This budget cycle is not too early to start.

Also of interest is how much, if any, staffing this park will require. There is talk in the concepts about an information center but will some of the other areas require attendants?

Finally, there is the issue of both day and nighttime security. The design can significantly add to this cost or reduce it.

These are some of the many issues that City Council must assure are part of the design planning so the City does not end up with a Park and Pier they cannot afford to operate.

e-mail Doc at mail to:dr. send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend Request, and be sure to Like of Share on Facebook.
See Doc’s Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos

Contributor to: Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff
Contributor to: Carlos Beruff for US Senate