Former State Sen. Dennis Jones, left, and St. Petersburg College president Bill Law unveil the inaugural Public Service Award from the Institute of Strategic Policy Solutions at SPC. Jones is the recipient of the first award following his 32 years of contributions to the area as a member of the Florida Legislature.
SEMINOLE – Before State Sen. Dennis Jones retired from public life in 2012, the honors and accolades rolled in from around the community. Then they continued after he stepped down.
But one of the biggest accolades came slightly more than a year later when Jones, a longtime leader in the Florida Legislature, a successful Pinellas County chiropractor and director of the Institute of Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College, was awarded the inaugural Public Service Award from the Institute of Strategic Policy Solutions during a dinner Feb. 21 at the SPC Seminole campus.
More than 200 community, education and government leaders turned out for the event, which featured comments by many of Jones’ colleagues during his 32-year political career. Among them was Kim Black, president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association; close friend Jack Hebert, founder of the Mallard Group, which formulated most of Jones’ election campaigns; Jim Olliver, provost of the SPC Seminole campus and Jones’ son, Dr. Rod Jones.
Dr. James Winterstein, president emeritus of the National University of Health Services, provided a letter of congratulations that was read aloud and Fred Lippman, chancellor of the Health Professions Division at Nova Southeastern University and a 20-year member of the Florida House of Representatives, provided a video message.
“I want to thank the board of directors of this institute to allow me to be your first recipient,” said Jones. “It certainly was a shocker to think of all of the choices you had. I appreciate it.”
Jones served in leadership roles in both the Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate but perhaps his biggest accomplishment was pushing through the Florida Beach and Shore Preservation Act in 2012. The legislation authorizes the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to regulate construction on Florida beaches and offshore of state beaches.
“It took me 10 years to pass the beach legislation,” said Jones “With term limits, I could have never done it. I would have been put out to pasture before we ever could have passed the bill. And we could have never passed this legislation without the tremendous partnership we had with Congressman (Bill) Young and (his assistant) Harry Glenn. That bill, in my opinion, is one of the best bills for Florida, but it’s also the best partnership between the federal government, the state and our local communities. And everyone wins.”
Jones was a strong supporter of public education throughout his career, which continually brought the endorsement of Pinellas teachers. But his biggest goal never came to fruition, he said.
“I’ve always supported public education,” said Jones. “My mom and dad were public education. I went through public education and my kids went through public education. When I got elected I made a pledge that I would do my best to get our teacher salaries to the upper core level in the nation because my parents worked their butts off and didn’t get paid squat. Unfortunately, I failed. Now 32 years later, our teachers aren’t even close to being paid in the upper core for the work they do. I just think that’s a crime.”
Jones discussed the days before term limits when he and Lippman, a Democrat, worked closely on a number of successful bills, which Jones attributed to team work at the time in the legislature.
“That’s when we worked together,” said Jones. “That’s when members actually talked to each other and sat down and had dinner and talked about bills. You didn’t have partisanship and follow the leader.”
These days, life is more relaxed for Jones. He and his wife Susan live in their Dunnellon home. However, his legacy will live on for many years in Pinellas County.