CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners voted unanimously April 15 to terminate the services of Administrator Bob LaSala.
The administrator’s annual review was the first action taken at the afternoon meeting.
Commissioner Norm Roche was absent.
Commission Chair Karen Seel asked a commissioner to make a motion to terminate LaSala’s contract without cause. She said the contract called for a 90-day notice provision. She said during those 90 days, LaSala would be reporting to her or her designee for assigned duties.
Commissioner Ken Welch made the motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Janet Long.
Welch thanked LaSala for his service.
“But I think this is an appropriate step forward,” he said.
LaSala thanked the commission for the opportunity to serve Pinellas County.
“It is with mixed emotions I leave my position,” he said. “It was an honor to serve the community.”
He said a number of the county’s goals had been accomplished during his tenure. He also pointed out that controversy resulted in some areas, specifically emergency medical services and health and community services.
He thanked his executive staff, some have been reassigned, he said.
SEMINOLE - On Nov. 4, registered voters throughout Pinellas will go to the polls to decide on a change in funding for local transportation.
Supporters say the additional funding from a 1 percent sales tax compared to the amount available through ad valorem taxes is necessary to improve transportation to provide sustainable economic growth into the future. Opponents say the current funding method would be sufficient with better use of the money.
On April 3, the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College, based on the Seminole campus, hosted a two-hour public forum - Dealing with Gridlock: Is There a Light Rail in Pinellas County's Future? Representatives from both sides were invited to present their case.
SPC Seminole Provost James Olliver moderated the event inside the college’s Digitorium. Don Ewing, co-chair of Yes for Greenlight, provided information in support of the Greenlight Pinellas initiative. Barbara Haselden, campaign manager and spokesperson for No Tax for Tracks, presented information for the opposition.
SPC plans to use the forum process to cover all the referendums on the November ballot to provide the public an objective and nonpartisan view, Olliver said. A test of the forum’s ability to help the public make up its mind was used for the first time ever that Thursday night when instant polling via cellphone texting was introduced to the audience.
ST. PETE BEACH - It started last summer when St. Pete Beach Recreation Director Jennifer McMahon saw the impact a robotics program at the Science Center of Pinellas had on her 10-year-old son.
She thought the concept would be great for St. Pete Beach. So McMahon, hobbyist Alan Oates, City Commissioner Jim Parent and his wife Leslie came together late last summer to kick off a youth robotics program at the Recreation Center that later evolved into a competitive robotics team called the Lego Terrestrials.
The idea took off and so did the seven team members. In November, they won a local Robofest competition and in mid-March finished second in a regional competition in Oldsmar. Next up is the World Competition May 16-17 in Detroit where the LTs will be going up against teams from around the United States, as well as England, Canada, China, France, India, South Korea and Singapore. They will compete with other junior teams in grades 4 to 8.
Members of the St. Pete Beach team are Alex Carroll, 9; Shane Fort, 10; Dannick Febrizio, 10; Charlie Kidder, 9; Kayla Oates, 11, Jamison Solomon, 12; and William Solomon, 9.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - A planned Saturday afternoon on the beach turned out to be much more than a Tampa family expected and they were delighted with the surprise. Little did Queen and Ra Smith know that April 5 the day they had planned also was the time of the annual Beauty and the Beach celebration in Indian Rocks Beach.
The event has been held for more than 20 years and besides the revelry on the beach it also includes an arts and crafts show and sale in Kolb Park and a Pancake Breakfast at Calvary Episcopal Church.
At the beach by mid-afternoon the Smith family had been treated to a sand castle contest and a children’s beauty pageant. They also were kept busy keeping track of their daughters Ana, who liked the water, and Anastasia who loved the music, so much in fact she couldn’t stop smiling.
“This is amazing,” she said. “I especially like the music and the food, and the slushy.”
Her mom and Dad were just as enthusiastic about the event.
“This is our first time here,” said Queen. “We just came over for a day on the beach and encountered all this. The food; everything is very good here. Now that we know about it we’ll be back for sure.”
DUNEDIN - City commissioners received assurances April 3 that a study on the Dunedin Causeway will consider several alternatives and the process will involve heavy public input.
A presentation by a county official to city commissioners was intended to allay the public’s fears that the public is not going to have a say in the project, Mayor Dave Eggers said. The process, which could take a couple of years, is just in its beginning stages, he said.
David Talhouk, Pinellas County’s grant program administrator, gave an overview of process, which is being done in conjunction with a federal policy for federally funded projects.
He emphasized that the feasibility study conducted in 2009 on the bridge “in no way prejudices or contaminates” the process.
“In other words we are basically revisiting all the alternatives,” he said. “No decisions have been made.”
The 2009 study said the existing Dunedin Causeway bridges do not meet current design standards and are classified as “functionally obsolete.” It said the replacement of the existing bridges and improvement to the causeway will result in improved traffic flow, increased safety for area residents, and reduced operating and maintenance costs.
LARGO - The Largo Commission took the first step April 1 toward suing the county to obtain more EMS funding, rejecting its system-wide proposal, referred to as CARES 2.
Commissioners - minus Mayor Pat Gerard, who was absent - directed staff to draft a resolution “to initiate the conflict resolution process in accordance with chapter 164,” the state law that dictates mediation between governmental entities prior to litigation. The resolution makes Largo the first to make an official move in response to the county’s proposed Advance Life Support Contract.
Before making the motion, Commissioner Harriet Crozier suggested that the city could wait until the next commission meeting to see what the other large recipients of county EMS funding might do.
“Do we want to give staff two weeks and wait to hear? Because obviously, there’s not going to be any negotiations (with the county). Or do you want to just jump into the pot?” she asked her fellow commissioners.
Commissioner Jamie Robinson said that representatives from at least three of the municipalities were at the meeting.
“So, I think what they’re doing is waiting for us,” he said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience, made up of mostly firefighters and supporters. “If they’re going to wait for us, let’s get on it and go.”
Despite protests from parents and students, the Pinellas Park Police Department has decided not to extend current School Resource Officer Harold Behar’s assignment at Pinellas Park High School. Behar will rotate to a new assignment at the end of the school year.
According to Sgt. Brian Unmisig, spokesperson for the PPPD, this rotation is part of a department protocol that rotates officers after five years on one specialized assignment. In certain circumstances, these assignments can be extended for an extra year, and Behar has already has his SRO assignment extended one year.
“(The decision) goes back to our rotation policy in place,” Unmisig said. “To extend (Behar) again would have been against our normal procedures and policies.”
In “Keep Officer Behar,” a Facebook group created by his supporters, Behar broke the news that he won’t be returning to PPHS next year.
“This news has me disappointed, but I am a loyal employee to my agency and respect (Chief Dorene Thomas’) decision. I am asking all of you to do the same,” he wrote. “This minor setback will not stop me from achieving my goal. My plan is to take my knowledge and experience and move forward into another position. I assure all of you, this will not be the last you hear of me. The Marine Corps has taught me to be a leader and make positive changes that would benefit everyone. I transformed the school into a positive and safe learning environment for all of you.”
CLEARWATER - When it comes to major traffic arteries in Pinellas County, U.S. 19 is the aorta. State and federal traffic engineers are constantly scrambling to find ways to keep the traffic moving smoothly. But, until recently, little thought has been given to coordinating the growth of the business districts along the roadsides.
In December 2012, the city hired HDR Engineering, a firm with which the city frequently does business, to create a coordinated plan for the redevelopment of the U.S. 19 corridor within the city limits of Clearwater. HDR executive Steve Schukraft was put in charge of the project.
“The U.S. 19 Corridor Redevelopment Plan is a guiding document that summarizes the current context of the corridor and sets forth an implementable vision to strengthen the identity, design, mobility and completeness of the corridor in the region,” a staff memo to the Clearwater City Council explained. “With assistance from a consultant team led by HDR, the (city’s) planning and development department worked with corridor stakeholders to define land use and development strategies to leverage the corridor’s unique locational advantages, capitalize on market opportunities, and maximize benefits of planned transit and transportation improvements.”
CLEARWATER - While some folks will try for years just to get tickets to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., a Clearwater 11-year-old gets to compete on the course this year.
Tia Walker has earned an invitation to the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on Sunday, April 6, which also will be aired live on TV. The championship is a collaboration by the Masters Tournament, the USGA and the PGA of America and is a free, nationwide golf development initiative open to boys and girls ages 7 to 15.
Tia, a fifth-grader at Plato Academy in Palm Harbor, only just started golfing, said her mom, Vanitha Walker.
“It was very surprising and exciting for us because Tia only started golfing a year and a half ago,” Vanitha said. “So in June, she was very new to golf. And she was in the top two, so she advanced.”
After Tia placed second in the local competition in her group - girls ages 10 and 11 - she advanced to the regional competition, which pitted the top two golfers from each of the 10 regions in Florida against each other last August. The fact that Tia was brand new to the sport certainly didn’t hold her back, as she came in first in the competition, which earned her an invitation to the national finals.
Places of worship throughout Pinellas County are making plans for special Holy Week and Easter services, including the following.
Peace Memorial Presbyterian Church CLEARWATER - Holy Week events include the following:
- Palm Sunday service - Sunday, April 13, 10:30 a.m. - Maundy Thursday memorial meal - Thursday, April 17, 6 p.m. - Good Friday service - Friday, April 18, noon - Easter Sunday celebration - Sunday, April 20, featuring an egg hunt and brunch, 9 a.m.; and worship with Communion, 10:30 a.m.
Alex Sink announced April 15 that she is not running for the 13 Congressional District seat in the 2014 election.
“I want to thank every voter, volunteer and donor for standing beside me these past months - we can all be proud of the strong campaign we ran, Sink said in a post on her Facebook page. “ While I will not seek election in 2014, I will continue our dialogue here so that we can continue to work together to find new ways to continue to find common ground, to promote problem solving and find commonsense solutions to our most pressing problems.”
PALM HARBOR - Palm Harbor Community Services Agency board members were unhappy with the results - or rather the lack of feedback - from an annual audit reported to the board March 19.
The agency, commonly referred to as PHCSA, switched to a new auditing company this year, after its longtime auditor retired. In the report delivered to the board members Jan. 14, representatives from DKM certified public accountants stated that financial statements of the agency “present fairly” the financial position of the agency.
DUNEDIN - Attendance was up about 30 percent at the 2014 Dunedin Highland Games and Festival April 5, with just under 5,000 people coming through gates.
“The games, by all accounts, were our biggest and best ever,” Alan McHale, president of the Dunedin Highland Games, said in an email. “In athletics two world records were broken. In piping and drumming, solo performance, with 110 contestants - this was the highest in the state of Florida. The weather, of course, was perfect, and the entertainment went on well into the night.”
Like many invasive species, the red lionfish is nice to look at, reproduces prolifically, has few natural predators and preys on native species.
A few examples of similar invasive marine activity are witnessed in the Cuban tree frog, Asian swamp eel, and suckermouth catfish. These aquatic animals were introduced to Florida either intentionally or by accident, and have since established themselves by displacing native species.