CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners voted unanimously April 22 to waive the policy on voting at work sessions and approved the appointment of Mark S. Woodard as acting county administrator.
Commissioner John Morroni was absent.
Woodard will take over the work of former county administrator Bob LaSala, who was terminated without cause on April 15.
“I’m glad he’s there,” said Commissioner Ken Welch. “He’s fully qualified.”
Woodard has worked for Pinellas County since 1988, most recently as an assistant county administrator. He began his stint at the county as a senior financial management analyst and then director of the Office of Management and Budget.
“I am gratified by the confidence shown to me by the Board of Commissioners,” Woodard said in a press release. “I have always been proud to serve the citizens of this county, and I look forward to working with the commissioners, staff and citizens as we continue to strengthen our community and enhance the quality of life we enjoy here in Pinellas County.”
Woodard had applied for the administrator’s position during a search that led to LaSala’s hiring after previous administrator Steve Spratt resigned. Woodard withdrew his application.
SEMINOLE - Third-grader Joshua Steijger has always loved playing on the swings. Trips to Largo’s Central Park playground rank high among the 10-year-old’s favorite pastimes. Some days it even rivals his love of wrestling and WWE star John Cena.
But the trips to the park have stopped since Joshua began chemotherapy in December. In November, doctors discovered a tumor on an optical nerve. They began treatment within weeks, before the holidays were even over, in hopes of shrinking the mass and saving his vision.
Though the rocking sensation of the swings soothes him when he isn’t feeling well, the drive to the park, and crowds of children can be overwhelming for him, said his grandmother and legal guardian Maria Vanderham.
So last month a team of volunteers from Bauder Elementary School, where Joshua goes to school, reached out to local businesses for donations to build him his own backyard play set with swings, monkey bars, a slide and a sandbox.
“It’s hard when he’s on the playground and doesn’t feel well,” Vanderham said. “But the swinging calms him. Now he can go right out the back door. If it’s hot out when he’s playing and he feels sick, he can just run inside.”
BAY PINES - The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System will host a medical center renaming ceremony in honor of the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young on April 25, at 10 a.m.
The public ceremony will take place at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Bay Pines in the courtyard located between Building 37 and Building 2.
U.S. House of Representatives Bill 3302 was signed into law (Public Law 113-49) by President Barack Obama Nov. 13, 2013. The law officially changed the name of the facility from the Bay Pines VA Medical Center to the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in honor of the Congressman’s work on behalf of Veterans and their families during his 22 terms as a member of Congress.
Congressman Young passed away on Oct. 18, 2013 at the age of 82 and was laid to rest at the Bay Pines National Cemetery on Oct. 24.
“We look forward to hosting this wonderful event to honor the legacy of a longtime partner and ardent advocate of the men and women we serve across southwest Florida,” said Suzanne M. Klinker, director, Bay Pines VAHCS. “Congressman Young’s impact during his more than 50 years in public office and work on behalf our nation’s heroes will forever be remembered inside and outside the walls of our medical center,” she said.
CLEARWATER - Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos and Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons presented Pinellas County Commissioners with an overview of what’s going on with the Gulf Boulevard beautification project April 15.
The county signed an interlocal agreement with the Barrier Islands Government Council on July 10, 2012 for Penny for Pinellas funding to pay for undergrounding of utilities, streetscape enhancements and pedestrian safety improvements.
Plans called for creating a uniform corridor for all 11 beach communities through common amenities and streetscaping. The project focuses on elimination of “visual blight” caused by overhead utilities, development of an “attractive roadway experience” to encourage tourism and economic development, and pedestrian safety improvements.
“Unfortunately, it has taken an awful long time,” Cretekos said. “We started talking about this in 2000 - 14 years ago.”
In 2007, officials found that initial plans approved in 2001 were infeasible, he said. They weren’t economically possible, so they had to be changed. The project also was delayed due to the economic downturn that resulted in less money coming in to the Penny for Pinellas fund.
TARPON SPRINGS - Tarpon Springs will soon be home to the largest and most technologically advanced gun range in the southeast United States.
For 10 years, a 4-acre lot of land has sat empty on U.S. 19. Days Inn and IHOP have both deserted the property at 40050 U.S. 19 N., but nobody wanted it. Nobody, that is, until Clearwater-based developers European Equities decided to build the 60,000-square-foot Reload Gun Range.
City commmissioners gave final approval to the project April 15.
The gun range will feature 45 shooting lanes (seven at 100 yards, 18 at 25 yards and 20 at 15 yards) and a full tactical range for law enforcement training. Reload Gun Range will also have a café, classrooms (which will be used for classes including women and youth groups), a gunsmith and a 10,000-square-foot store that would sell guns, ammunition, hunting equipment and clothing.
Plans for the 57,533-square-foot range also include two 5,500-square-foot storage warehouses, 177 parking spaces, a high-tech ventilation system to filter gun smoke residue from the air, concrete walls for soundproofing and safety, machinery that automatically collects bullet fragments to be recycled and a practice room with lifelike scenarios.
INDIAN SHORES - Plans to close the Park Boulevard Bridge for needed repairs have been moved back a minimum of two months.
The estimated $800,000 job was originally scheduled to begin June 1 and last about 30 days. The latest target date to begin is Aug. 1, at the earliest, according to Pinellas County engineer Thomas Menke, who is the project manager.
Menke said last week the project has yet to be advertised and a contractor selected.
“There are some things in the contracting process we can’t control,” Menke said. “We’re still working with the contract. We’re doing our best to accelerate it but it’s difficult to write a contract of this magnitude.”
Menke said he hopes to have the contract language finalized by early May and then advertise the job on the purchasing page of the county’s website. The bidding process will take another 30 days and then the cost must be approved by the County Commission.
“It’s really hard to pinpoint the start date,” Menke said. “It takes time for them (contractors) to get insurance too.”
County officials announced plans for the bridge closure in late October.
TARPON SPRINGS - After months of public meetings and architectural designs for the sponge dock improvement project, the city of Tarpon Springs is trying again.
On Tuesday, to the applause of the self-proclaimed “Save the Sponge Docks” group, Tarpon Springs City Manager Mark LeCouris presented revised plans after the City Commission temporarily postponed the project.
The new plans, approved by a 5-0 vote, are now being labeled as a streetscape project.
- The comprehensive lighting project will replace all of the present streetlights leased from Duke Energy with new decorative lights owned by the city. The new lights would allow the city to attach banner arms to the poles, add electric outlet capabilities and decorate for Christmas and other special occasions. The present lights, which are more than 15 years old, do not have the capabilities of new lighting fixtures.
- Various amenities, including benches, trash receptacles and decorative pots will be replaced throughout the Sponge Docks area with input from all concerned citizens and especially those affected by the project.
- A comprehensive review will be made of all areas to determine any need for sidewalk and curb replacement, enhancement or repair. Input from business owners, property owners and shop operators will be taken into consideration.
CLEARWATER - Molly, 8, of Largo lives with malignant neoplasm of the eye but recently embarked on a journey from Clearwater Marine Aquarium to San Diego Zoo courtesy of Make-A-Wish and the United Health Foundation.
According to Molly’s wish granters, she chose a San Diego Zoo wish because of her love for animals, specifically Australian animals - koala bears and kangaroos. Molly’s one specific request is to attend the Roar N’ Snore at the San Diego Zoo, which is an overnight camping experience inside the park with the animals. Finally, she would like to spend a day at the beach with her family surfing. Molly is traveling with her parents Ashley and Sean.
Employees from UnitedHealthcare hosted a send-off party for Molly April 13 at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, where she was able to meet Winter the dolphin.
“We are very happy to play a role in making Molly’s wish trip come true,” said David Lewis, CEO, UnitedHealthcare of Florida. “Make-A-Wish truly makes a positive impact in our communities and brings joy to so many children courageously facing life-threatening medical conditions.”
Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. According to a 2011 U.S. study of wish impact, most health professionals surveyed believe a wish-come-true can have positive impacts on the health of children. Kids say wishes give them renewed strength to fight their illnesses, and their parents say these experiences help strengthen the entire family.
CLEARWATER - The first clue that something was awry came from media reports about less-than-satisfactory reviews given during an annual performance review.
Then Commission Chair Karen Seel removed the review of Pinellas County’s administrator from the April 15 meeting agenda and later replaced it.
The first item of business at that meeting was unanimous approval of Bob LaSala’s termination. Commissioner Norm Roche was not at the table during the vote.
Commission Chair Karen Seel began by asking if a commissioner would 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 report to her or her designee for assigned duties.
Commissioner Ken Welch made the motion. Commissioner Janet Long seconded it.
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 as Pinellas County Administrator,” he said. “Please know that has been an honor to serve this community.”
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority are making progress toward a final interlocal agreement to govern distribution of revenue from a 1 percent Transit Surtax.
Officials want an agreement in place prior to the Nov. 4 referendum on the proposed Greenlight Pinellas plan. If voters approve the use of a 1 percent transit tax in place of the current funding method of ad valorem taxes, the increased revenue would fund improvements to public transportation systems, including bus service and a future light-rail system.
CLEARWATER - Pinellas County Commissioners voted against staff’s recommendation April 15, after listening to Tierra Verde residents’ overwhelming support for a five-year fire service contract with Lealman.
County staff had proposed a two-year extension to accommodate potential changes coming to delivery of emergency medical services. Tierra Verde residents and Lealman Fire & Rescue preferred going with the five-year extension. The initial contract was signed Aug. 18, 2009.
PALM HARBOR - Pinellas County Sheriff’s detectives arrested a Clearwater man April 18 wanted in connection with an April 8 robbery that occurred in front of the Trust Pharmacy, 36515 U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor.
Anthony James Henderson, 37, was charged with one count of strong arm robbery and one count of failure to appear petit theft. Bond was set at $10,515.
According to the sheriff’s report, detectives arrested Henderson at his home in Clearwater on Friday. During an interview with detectives, Henderson “admitted to the allegations,” the report said.
LARGO - Pinellas Heights, a new 153-unit complex built for low-income seniors, is nearing completion.
The Pinellas County Housing Authority is waiting for the final inspections to be completed to obtain the certificate of occupancy for the building, hopefully this week, said its executive director Debra Johnson. The complex was built at 11411 Ulmerton Road in Largo, next door to the headquarters of the nonprofit.
CLEARWATER - With little discussion April 15, Pinellas County Commissioners unanimously approved a consultant’s plan for replacement of Beckett Bridge over Whitcomb Bayou in Tarpon Springs.
The decision was a long time coming. Officials have been looking for a way to solve problems with the aging bridge since January 2011 - the start date of a PD&E study by the county and Florida Department of Transportation.
MADEIRA BEACH - The city of Madeira Beach’s building department has apparently become the major moneymaker that had been predicted when it was created, just a year and a half ago.
The department’s revenue producing status was evident at the April 8 City Commission meeting, when a resolution was passed increasing the budgeted building permit revenue for the current fiscal year by $260,000. Another resolution took out $15,000 in expenses to run the building department.