CLEARWATER – In a work session that lasted less than an hour on Feb. 3, the Clearwater City Council tackled a variety of subjects, some of which will be discussed in further detail before voting on them at the council’s Feb. 6 meeting. The following were among them:
Human trafficking task force funding
Police Chief Anthony Holloway reported that the federal grant with which his department has funded its fight against human trafficking since 2006 has not been renewed for the upcoming year. He asked the council to allocate $87,000 from the city’s General Fund to pay for the overtime associated with that project.
“Since 2006, the (U.S. Department of Justice) has recognized (the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking) as one of the most successful in the nation,” Holloway told the council. “(That department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance) used Clearwater’s task force as a training site for law enforcement and non-governmental organizations from across the country. The object was to learn about advanced human trafficking investigative techniques from our investigators.”
He added that the U.S. Department of State facilitated a meeting of law enforcement officers and academics from more than 20 nations with members of Clearwater’s Human Trafficking Task Force to learn the latest techniques for tracking human traffickers. The attendees included officials from Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Mexico, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Israel, India and China.
“Since the start of the task force, the Clearwater Police Department has conducted hundreds of criminal investigations resulting in 33 confirmed adult human trafficking victims and 42 confirmed juvenile human trafficking victims,” Holloway said. “These long-term and complex investigations have resulted in over 161 arrests,” including a major one earlier that day.
“Keep locking them up,” Vice Mayor Paul Gibson told Holloway. “You do good work and these are bad people.”
The council put Holloway’s request on the Feb. 6 consent agenda, making it likely to pass without further discussion.
Mayor George Cretekos suggested that if the federal grant is again denied in the following year, that Holloway seek a state grant to continue the project.
State grant to Ruth Eckerd Hall
Felicia Leonard, the administrative support coordinator for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, told the council that the city-owned Ruth Eckerd Hall had been promised a $500,000 state grant to renovate its Murray Studio Theatre. But the grant has a couple of strings attached to it.
One says that the city must match the state grant with a $500,000 contribution of its own. The other stipulates that if the property ceases to be used as a theater in the next 10 years, the city must refund the $500,000 to the state.
The item was put on the Feb. 6 consent agenda.
Additional beach access
Taub Entities, LLC, is building the new Finale residential development at 1590 Gulf Blvd., southwest of Bay Park on Sand Key. In lieu of paying an impact fee of approximately $122,000, the company has offered to give the city almost a half-acre of land that will allow pedestrian access to the beach.
“This is an important piece (of real estate) to the city,” Kevin Dunbar, the city’s Director of Parks and Recreation, told the council. “We think it’s a win-win and a good project for everyone … We already have a beach access there and this will add to it.”
If the deal is approved, as expected, a small part of the land will be used for showers where beachgoers can wash the sand off their feet before returning to their cars.
“More and more people are using that area, so we think it’s important to have a shower facility there,” Dunbar said.