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City across bay isn't looking to sell parks

Times Staff Writers
Published March 19, 2004

The parks have been saved! Whew!

County Commissioner Jim Norman this week said a constituent told him the city of St. Petersburg was considering selling two huge parks, Lutz's Lake Park and Odessa's Lake Rogers Park. Totaling 1,600 acres, those county parks double as Tampa Bay Water wellfields. St. Petersburg owns the land.

"That could have been thousands of houses," Norman said. "It was gone."

But Norman remembered something the rest of the county government apparently forgot. In 1998, Hillsborough obtained a "right of first refusal" to buy both park properties before St. Petersburg sold them to anybody else. At Norman's insistence, an intense search ensued until the document was found. County commissioners sent a letter to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker reminding him of it.

Folks in St. Petersburg find this a little perplexing.

Neither the mayor, nor City Council members, nor top managers have indicated interest in selling the property at all, the city administrator said in a March 3 letter. Water agreements won't let the city change the use before 2008.

And City Hall was well aware of the right of first refusal, even if Hillsborough County wasn't.

"Had they called us," said Assistant City Attorney Kim Streeter, "we would have been glad to provide them a copy."

* * *

EX-ATTORNEY'S ASSISTANT RESIGNS: Jim Porter, a top assistant and friend of former County Attorney Emmy Acton who was accused, in so many words, of being her main henchman, announced his resignation Thursday.

Porter said he will be taking a good job in private practice, declining to name his new employer. As he does now, he will continue to work in the area of land use, though he will not be able to appear on behalf of clients before the county for two years.

His last day is tentatively April 2, though he offered in his brief resignation letter to linger awhile if needed. The four-sentence letter also said he had appreciated the opportunity to serve Hillsborough County for 14 years.

"I was presented with a really good opportunity to enter private practice and it seemed like a good time to do that," Porter said in a phone interview. He noted that he recently turned 40 and, given that, it just felt like the right time to make a change.

His former boss left office last year citing her declining health. But her resignation also came after several of the office workers lodged a series of initially anonymous allegations that she was an abusive employer, misused an office fund and failed to report all the leave time she was taking.

State Attorney Mark Ober, requested by Acton to review the most serious charges, declined to prosecute after a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.

Porter was frequently described in the allegations as the equivalent of Acton's enabler and enforcer. Though, like Acton, Porter generally is well regarded by commissioners and others for his legal work.

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MARK YOUR CALENDAR: The Tiger Bay Club of Tampa Bay wades into same-sex marriage at its monthly slam dance today, after an earlier scheduled speaker had to cancel.

The initial updated invite listed the debaters as Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, speaking on the pro side, and a player to be named who would make the case against gay unions.

Apparently, the club has corraled Frank Shannon, a Republican candidate for the Florida House District 56, to play that role. District 56 is the seat currently occupied by Sandra Murman, who is leaving due to term limits.

The luncheon debate starts at noon at the Wyndham Harbour Island Hotel on Harbour Island. Entry is $18 for members and $25 for nonmembers.

The club says it's cracking down on late gate crashers who fail to reserve a spot in advance. So be warned: You could be turned away if you haven't already reserved if you're not a member.

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce leadership put out a press release this week announcing its quarterly meeting with Hillsborough commissioners. It will take place at noon Monday at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse, 800 E Twiggs St., Room 202.

You may recall that it was recently noted that nobody had been publicly announcing similar meetings with Tampa City Council members, as required by the state Sunshine Law. The media alert for this meeting assures recipients: "This meeting will operate in the "Sunshine."' Capital "S."

Denise Layne kicks off her campaign for an open countywide seat on the Hillsborough County Commission Tuesday afternoon in Ybor City. It's her second County Commission race in two years, but is a testament to the fluid nature of politics.

In 2002, Layne ran as a Republican in north Hillsborough's District 2, and finished last in the GOP primary won by Ken Hagan. Now, she's running countywide as a Democrat.

Two other Democrats have filed to run - Edward J. Austin, of Odessa, and Willis "K.C." Bowick, of Thonotosassa. The only Republican in the race so far is Brian L. Blair, of Tampa, who challenged Commissioner Pat Frank and lost in 2002.

Layne's kickoff party is a $5 fundraiser at 5:30 Tuesday at Romeo's Studio 1515 Coffeehouse at 1515 Seventh Ave.

A co-owner of the coffeehouse is Sara Romeo, who two years ago lived in Lutz and represented a north-central Hillsborough district in the Florida House. But Romeo, a Democrat, had snatched the seat from Republican hands in 2000. Her fellow legislators promptly remapped Romeo's district to add oodles of Republican voters from New Tampa. Romeo lost to Ed Homan in 2002 and moved back to Tampa.

- Compiled by reporters Bill Varian and Bill Coats.

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