CLEARWATER - The Pinellas County Commission is taking steps to address the problem of wage theft within its borders.
At a July 30 work session, commissioners instructed staff to begin work on an ordinance that would give employees a way to get help when their employer steals from them. Paul Valenti, director of Human Rights, said wage theft occurs whenever employees are promised pay they don’t receive - regular pay, overtime pay or vacation pay.
The federal government regulates businesses that have $500,000 in annual gross sales, which tend to be the larger and more sophisticated employers, Valenti said. Businesses that use credit cards on an interstate basis also are regulated; however, the federal government only mandates that businesses pay the federal minimum wage, $7.25, even if the worker was promised a higher wage.
Smaller employers are not subject to federal law, including small restaurants, landscaping companies, contractors and other service-oriented businesses. And not all employees of businesses that engage in interstate commerce are covered.
In a report to commissioners, Valenti gave an example of a small restaurant, which has less than $500,000 in annual sales. A server that swipes a customer’s credit card would qualify for protection under federal law, but other employees would not, including cooks, bus-persons and dishwashers.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - New manatee-protections zones for western Pinellas County, which continue to spark criticism from boaters, are expected to take effect in six to 12 months.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the zones after its final public hearing on the rules June 24 in Sarasota. The total area in Pinellas affected by the zones is about 11.6 percent of inshore waters, including most of Indian Rocks Beach, except the Intracoastal Waterway. Regulations will be in effect April through October.
The agency’s decision has prompted Indian Rocks Beach boaters and others to threaten legal action to overturn the decision. That includes hiring an attorney to file an injunction against the state’s action and distributing a petition to local state and federal representatives to relieve IRB citizens from “undue interference” with the rights of fishers, boaters and water skiers.
Bob Griffin, president of the IRB Boat Club, said the agency held meetings at times and places people couldn’t go to because of work and other obligations.
LARGO - When the second season of “Time Keeper” left off, its memory-deficient protagonist Mitch Manners stared at the desolate horizon of Earth shockingly dominated by the looming surface of Jupiter, unsure how his actions in the past had changed the future.
Now series creator and director Daryn Murphy of Largo wants to continue the story. The 38-year-old has raised $2,000 for the web series in 20 days through an Indigogo campaign. His goal is to raise a total of $15,000 through the crowd-funding site in twice that time.
It’s a lofty goal, even for an award-winning web series that has claimed the title of best web series at the 2015 GeekFest and best fantasy/sci-fi series at the 2014 Miami Web Fest. “Time Keeper” also has been nominated for best sci-fi series in the 2014 Atlanta Web Fest, best cinematography in the 2014 Snobby Robot Awards, best actor and best sci-fi series in the 2015 Vancouver Web Fest, best cinematography in the 2015 IAWTV Awards and best web series in the 2015 Film Quest Film Festival.
“The figuring out how to make money off of it, that’s the hard part,” Murphy said.
“Time Keeper” follows in the tradition of Felicia Day’s “The Guild,” Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” and, also raising support on Indigogo, Alan Tudyk and Nathan Fillion’s “Con Man” - shows broadcast and streamed entirely from the Internet. The medium allows for a direct connection to the audience, Murphy explained.
LARGO - Even two weeks later, the plaza at 12580 Seminole Blvd. looks much as it did the morning of July 5, after a fire destroyed the longtime businesses that called it home.
The roof of the L-shaped building is collapsed, and its insides are charred black. The iconic brick fireplace of the Fireplace Restaurant still stands, and a bench still sits outside Debbie Allen’s hair salon.
But it will be months before the local businesses can return, and much depends on how well and fast insurance claims can be paid. Until then, the business owners are in a state of limbo.
“It’s hard to put a price tag on what I had in there: hundreds of dollars worth of equipment,” said Allen, who opened her salon in the plaza 26 years ago.
The family that owns House of Shades, Lamps and Lighting is renovating an old convenience store across the street, at 12691 Seminole Blvd., into a suitable display room for their merchandise. Michael and Sharon Carter will reopen their business relatively soon after the fire, but in many ways, it’s like starting over again, 18 years after the first time around.
MADEIRA BEACH - The Florida Department of Transportation plans a $2.8 million maintenance project to the Tom Stuart Causeway Bridge, which will require occasional lane closures during evening hours over the next year.
The work is expected to begin this month and last through the fall of 2016.
According to an FDOT release, construction will include concrete restoration of support beams and the bridge foundation, repairs to the bridge decks and pedestrian railings.
The project also includes work on the tender house and sidewalks, which will force closure of the sidewalks on occasion. When necessary, roadway lane closures will occur from 8 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. Electronic message boards will alert motorists in advance.
Quinn Construction of Palmetto is performing the work.
The bridge, which opened in 1962, is part of State Road 666, or 150th Avenue. It features four lanes of traffic with a concrete and steel low-level median barrier. It is one of eight thoroughfares leading to the Pinellas beaches.
The cyclists of Project HERO Pinellas literally push each other along the road to recovery.
The group provides an outlet for veterans to recover from physical and psychological wounds through cycling. Every Thursday, dozens of members gather for a group ride on the Pinellas Trail. They motivate new members to become physically active again and help each other prepare for upcoming challenge rides.
Support comes in the form of camaraderie and encouragement. But it often means a hand at your back, boosting your speed, or at the bar of your recumbent bicycle to help propel you up an overpass.
“And it’s not just the folks that are helping injured vets - it’s the veterans helping the rest of us. It’s as much mental as it is physical,” said one of the group leaders, Army veteran Mitch Lee. “It’s been extremely rewarding.”
The group is a local training group for a national movement: Ride 2 Recovery Project HERO, short for Healing Exercise Rehabilitation Opportunity. Along with helping veterans get back into shape with bicycles that are fitted to meet their physical needs, the project offers six different multi-day challenge rides that cover 350 to 450 miles apiece.
MADEIRA BEACH - Every day is Bring Your Pet to Work Day for Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford.
After emergency surgery saved the life of Crawford’s beloved pet MJ, the fluffy little dog has practically become city hall’s newest employee.
It all started when Crawford realized that something was wrong with MJ a few months ago. It was a Friday afternoon at about 4:30, and there really wasn’t anything that a veterinarian could do other than prescribe the dog pain medication.
“I thought, ‘He’s got his own pain medicine, I’ll just manage it myself,’” said Crawford. MJ had previously undergone surgery to fix a dislocated hip. Crawford figured that MJ’s prior injury might have something to do with his new problems.
But as MJ’s condition worsened over the weekend, it became clear that something else was the cause of his pain. On Saturday, the dog was stumbling around the house in what Crawford describes as a tipsy, drunken stupor. By Sunday, MJ was completely paralyzed from his front shoulders down.
“His tail didn’t work, his legs didn’t work, nothing worked,” said Crawford. “He was dragging his back legs like a fish tail.”
CLEARWATER - It’s been five years since the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. Now, five states will benefit from the billions of dollars in claims and penalties the oil company must pay.
Attorney General Pam Bondi announced July 2 that Florida had joined four other Gulf States, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, in an “historic multi-billion dollar joint federal-state agreement in principle” with BP Exploration and Production Inc. to resolve economic losses, natural resource damage claims and Clean Water Act penalties associated with the April 20, 2010 spill.
“In 2010, our state - and the entire Gulf region - woke up to a story that shook the nation; an oil spill that not only threatened states that depend on the Gulf for their economic livelihood, but their very way of life,” Bondi said in a press release. “Today, after just five years of negotiations, I’m pleased to announce that Florida has entered into an agreement in principle of more than $3 billion with BP for the state’s economic and environmental recovery which will benefit areas of the state most devastated by the spill. I want to thank all of the people who came together, in common purpose, to do the right thing for our state.”
CLEARWATER - After being open to the public for 33 years, Moccasin Lake Park will receive a much-needed facelift through grants and other funds totaling $600,000.
The 51-acre nature preserve features six different ecosystems teeming with wildlife, a network of trails that circulate throughout the park, and a visitor’s center that houses live animals.
“It’s the only true environmental nature park in Clearwater,” said Lynn Sumerson, a board member of the Friends of Moccasin Lake Park.
The park is a popular field trip destination for school groups and summer camps. It also hosts meetings for a variety of organizations at the Environmental Education Center, from the Pinellas Native Plant Society to the Suncoast Sierra Club to The Florida Herb Society.
The Land and Water Conservation Fund recently awarded Moccasin Lake Park a $200,000 grant to renovate its facilities.
“We applied for 200,000 and we had to match it with $200,000,” said Felicia Donnelly, administrative support manager for the city of Clearwater. “The city has also budgeted an additional $200,000, so the project total for renovations at this point is $600,000.”
Days of rain have left some areas of Pinellas County under water, and the rain continues to fall.
Due to high water levels, Tarpon Woods Boulevard in Palm Harbor is closed to through traffic, according to a media release from Pinellas County Communications. Local traffic may continue to use the roadway, but all drivers are encouraged to detour to Ridgemoor Boulevard.
Residents of the Tarpon Woods subdivision who need to evacuate can take shelter at Clearwater Community Church, 2897 Belcher Road in Dunedin. Animal Services will shelter any pets evacuated with their owners.
LEALMAN - Unincorporated Lealman is one of the most impoverished areas of Pinellas County. It is a hotspot for crime with more than its fair share of abandoned properties being used by prostitutes and drug dealers.
The streets are old, narrow and unsafe, and many are flanked by open drainage ditches. Sidewalks are few and most do not connect. Streets running east to west don’t connect either, due to a railroad track and Joe’s Creek that run through the middle of the community. Drainage is a major issue.
Beginning at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 7, and continuing through 11:59 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16, Floridians can take advantage of tax-free shopping on clothing, footwear, school supplies and personal computers.
Florida Department of Revenue has strict rules as to what qualifies for the tax exemption. Clothing items that cost more than $100 are not eligible, nor are school supplies that cost more than $15. The exemption only applies to the first $750 of purchases of personal computers and related accessories for noncommercial home or personal use. In addition, sales of qualified merchandise at theme parks, entertainment venues, public lodging establishments or airports will be taxed.
LARGO - Three children have already died in the backseat of hot cars in Florida since April. On July 31, National Heatstroke Prevention Day, five community organizations came together to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
A press conference at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal’s Largo campus focused on educating the public on the dangers of leaving pets and small children locked in hot cars.
Members from the Florida Department of Children and Families, Pinellas County Animal Services, SPCA Tampa Bay, Suncoast Safe Kids Coalition and Sunstar Paramedics spoke at the event.
LARGO - The Greater Largo Library Foundation celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Largo Public Library’s latest building with the announcement of a campaign to fund a mobile branch library July 30.
During the cocktail reception that evening, harpist Victoria Garcia entertained more than 150 guests, who enjoyed hors d’oeuvres by R.G.’s Bookmark Café, Maggie Mae’s on the Bluff, Wing House, First Watch, and Anthony’s Deli, Pizzeria & Bakery.