The End is Near … for panhandling in St. Pete

UPDATE (10:55 p.m.): After a marathon council session, the ordinance passes.

Tomorrow, the St. Petersburg City Council is expected to ban all street solicitations from city roads, including panhandlers, newspaper hawkers and charity volunteers carrying boots.

Frankly, I’m upset. Mostly because I had a really cool blog video I was going to do focusing on panhandlers and their really uninspired signs.

If you’re planning on going to the meeting at 6 p.m. and speaking, I’d suggest you read two things:

The first is an article I wrote about panhandling back in 2008 called “When Panhandler’s Attack.” Hopefully, you get my sarcasm.

The second is an e-mail I received from a friend, G.W. Rolle. He is formerly homeless and has an interesting perspective. He doesn’t like panhandling either, but instead of a simplistic solution, he decided to start a street newspaper. Like other street newspapers across North America, he wanted to convince the panhandling homeless to sell these papers instead of begging. This new ordinance could kill those plans.

Read his thoughts after the jump.

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City leaders destroy Central Avenue, now complain about it (REDUX)

Over the last week, Central Avenue has a hot topic with the St. Petersburg Times’ editorial encouraging artists to take over the 600 block. And once again, they mention the efforts of City Councilmember Leslie Curran. So, once again, I must remind folks how city councilmembers, including Ms. Curran, ruined that block to begin with. To take credit for any burgeoning artist scene now is, well, infuriating.

Please check out my rant on that here.

I hate to be a Negative Nelly — I’m glad something is happening as oppose to vacancies or, gasp, condos — but I can’t help but think how this all could have been avoided if city officials had any sense of — well, let’s just leave it at “any sense.” I also take great umbrage to Councilmember Curran newest quote to the Times:

Curran says the renaissance along the 600 block is similar to what happened years ago in Ybor City when artists went into empty storefronts long before developers took an interest in the area.

“My wish is that it (Crislip) becomes a viable art center that connects to the Beach Drive art scene, the Florida Craftsman Gallery, the Dome District and the Craftsman House in the Grand Central District,” said Curran. “Whatever we can do to get those folks out in the forefront and tie them together, that will be great for the city.”

Yes, Curran, and we all now how Ybor turned out …

Feral cats invading Pinellas County (and my backyard)

I first met Frisky about three weeks ago. It was a short interaction. I came crashing through my back gate with a load of groceries; she ran as fast as her little legs could carry her.

Oh, a new cat, I thought. Maybe it’ll make friends with the other stray cat that haunted this side of Crescent Lake – a large, tenacious stray tabby with absolutely no fear. His torn ear and smashed in face gave the impression the cat had been hit by a car – or several.

But this new cat seemed less street-savvy. She was dark grey, striped with darker grey, with a large head plopped on a much smaller frame. Her ribs stuck out. She had obviously not eaten as well as the other strays.

So, I began leaving cans of cat food outside. Last year, in one of my more unusual interactions at Crescent Lake, I inherited about a dozen cans of Nine Lives cat food from an odd couple staying at the motel across the street.  These very distraught folks had lost their cat, Tiger, who turned up in my backyard. I know this because I came home one day to find an older, shabbily-dressed man climbing out from under my deck.

“Uh, who are you and what are you doing?”

“Oh, Tiger, Tiger, my cat, she’s escaped and under-”

Hi reply was broken by sobbing from his girlfriend standing behind me.

“Oh, please, PLEASE, HELP ME FIND TIGER!”

They left after I assured them I would capture the cat. Tiger must’ve thought they were as crazy as I did because he came out about five minutes later. I scooped him up and dropped him off at the couple’s hotel room. They were so happy I found Tiger that they gave me a dozen cans of cat food, for what use I don’t know. Perhaps to offer to Tiger when he showed up again.

I never saw Tiger, or the couple, again. But I did begin to see this new grey cat,  usually for just a few seconds at a time. Every other day, I left a can of food for her. I never saw her approach, but the can was always empty the next day. That cat was so skittish; in fact, I almost stopped leaving cans out, fearing I was giving the possums or raccoons a free meal.

Which is why it was so surprising when, one day, the cat suddenly came right up to me, purring, meowing loudly and trying to force its furry little body inside my house.

Immediately, I began to see a lot of her. She brushed up against my leg every time I stepped outside. She purred and tried to jump in my lap when I sat down. And she meowed. Constantly. For hours on end. When I went out to my car, she followed me meowing. When I stepped out on the porch, she followed my voice around the house and began another round of meowing. One night, when my friend Sal stopped by to chat on the porch, she meowed for over three hours straight.

It took me two days to figure out why. This cat was, well, feeling frisky (hence her name). She was in heat. Sure enough, over the next, Frisky presided over her own harem under my deck. I saw a lot more of the tough tabby, a fatter grey cat who only appeared on the weekends and a few other felines I’d never seen before, no doubt attracted from blocks around by Frisky’s incessant meowing.

“Great,” I groaned. Little baby Friskies all meowing on my back porch. I shuddered at the thought. Unfortunately, I was (and am) working constantly and there’s just no time to take her to the free spay clinic.

Coincidentally, feral and stray cats are in the news again.

According to a report by the St. Petersburg Times, there are an estimated 100,000 stray cats roaming Pinellas County. County officials have known about the problem for years, but this year they decided to create a focus group to study the issue.

From the article:

Tuesday, the group presented the results of the yearlong study at a special commission work session at the Pinellas County Courthouse. Commissioners agreed to take the group’s suggestions to promote spay and neuter education, support and expand the spay and neuter programs for low-income citizens at Pinellas County Animal Services, and share resources like the county’s Animobile with nonprofit animal groups.

Doesn’t it seem like this should have been done years ago? After a year-long study, you’d think they’d have some more, uh, innovative ideas. Well, at least they aren’t going to go around killing them all as the Clearwater Audubon Society suggested.

I’m happy to say Frisky is no longer in heat. But she is still hanging around, meowing and generally trying to adopt me as her owner. Unfortunately, I can’t have a cat. Too many reasons to list here. So, if anyone can help, please e-mail me.

She’s very loving, I can assure you.

How’s that for civil discourse? Baywalk vote ends in brawl!

Just when you thought the Baywalk Bruhaha couldn’t get any more ridiculous… two old men battle out in the City Council chambers! One of them is City Councilmember Bill Dudley’s brother. Go coach!

Basically, after the City Council reversed a previous vote and decided to privatize one of Baywalk’s sidewalks, several protesters in the crowd left in a huff. Peace activist Dwight Lawton chides the City Council for something about stabbing the Constitution, while homeless advocate Bruce Wright told the dias, “You’re so full of shit.”

But the shit-talking did not stop there.

Another anti-privatization guy, 61-year-old Ronald Deaton, says something about the city turning fascist when 76-year-old Fred Dudley — Councilmember Bill Dudley’s bro — yells, very loudly, “Why don’t you just MOVE!”

Deaton snaps back, “Why don’t you just EAT SHIT!”

Well, I guess Dudley doesn’t get too many retorts to his jingoistic comments (“Love it or leave it!), so he lunged at Deaton, who wasn’t going down without a fight. Police eventually broke up the scuffle, but there’s some controversy surrounding that, too.

First, though, watch the scene for yourself. There are two videos making the rounds today. The first was captured by a cameraman for WTVT. It begins right after Polson switches his vote and agrees to privatizing Baywalk’s sidewalk:

This second video was taken by Leonard Schmiege, an engineering consultant and City Council candidate. It’s the best video to see Dudley take the offensive:

Who started the fight is important, because by watching the videos, you can see police chose to take down Deaton and not Dudley. It wasn’t until protesters complained that police chose to take Dudley down to jail, too. St. Petersblog 2.0 makes a good case about this here.

And all this for one lousy sidewalk in front of one lousy mini-mall. Wow.

Did the St. Petersburg City Council destroy Baywalk?

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For the last two months, I’ve tried hard to avoid the debate over Baywalk’s public sidewalk. I did not ignore the subject because I hate free speech or love Baywalk, or any version of these two. No, I avoided it because the whole damn thing is a non-issue.

Like many “big stories” in this town — and come to think of it, across the country — this is another “us vs. them” argument that seems to make good soundbites and elicit a flood of Letters to the Editor. But, frankly, this idea that city councilmembers are fighting for “the soul of dowtown St. Petersburg” is complete rubbish. I have even more disdain for those business owners and editorial writers (see “They Put the Dagger into Baywalk” Tim Nickens) who cry wolf at the City Council’s recent decision not to privatize the Baywalk sidewalk.

By reading the St. Petersburg Times, I’m supposed to pick one of two arguments:

1) Baywalk is the Golden Boy (or Girl) of downtown St. Pete. Without it, our vision of a thriving downtown is dead. But poor, poor Baywalk is on life-support due to a bunch of unruly protesters who prevent decent hardworking Americans from shopping at Chico’s. We should allow the new owners of Baywalk to control their sidewalk. That’ll fix the recession!

or

2) Hell no! We won’t go! Giving up a public sidewalk to the evil capitalists at Baywalk will destroy the fabric of democracy! Sure, we haven’t protested there in ages, but by golly, when George Bush’s henchmen overthrow Obama we need to be ready! Hell no! We won’t go! Hell no! We won’t …

Now you see why I’ve shut my ears and eyes to this nonsense?

But, alas, after reading a recent Times’ editorial, I’m compelled to respond. So let’s break this down so even Tim Nickens can understand it:

  • Baywalk is in trouble because we are in a recession. Baywalk isn’t the only Tampa Bay retailer experiencing hard times.
  • The few people who can afford to visit the movie theater or shop at Trade Secret may be more scared of the recent shootings than protesters. I’m not sure how privatizing the sidewalk will solve that. Maybe Mayor Rick Baker should spend his time looking into the crime problems in St. Pete instead of how to sell off public land.
  • These protesters never prevented anyone from seeing a movie or buying a hamburger. We’re not talking about throw-blood-on-your-fur-coat protesters or huge aborted fetus protesters. These are PEACE protesters with, you know, PEACE signs. Not to mention the fact that these protesters have not been there for several months anyway.

So if just one sidewalk is really not the issue, why are the new owners of Baywalk so adamant about controlling it? Two reasons …

The first one is simple: Why not? As business owners, they want to leave as little to chance as they can. If they have the chance to control more area in order to bring in customers, they’ll take it. Hell, I’m sure they’d ask to own all the sidewalks in St. Pete if they thought it would pass!

The second reason is a little more insidious:

While the city fights over the sidewalk, reporters and citizens are distracted from the real issue — the City Coucil giving nearly $700,000 of taxpayer money to a failing private enterprise in the midst of a recession.

Someone please tell me the difference between giving taxpayer money to Baywalk and using taxpayer money to build a new stadium for the Rays?

What’s more infuriating is the lack of historical context in this debate. Tens of millions of dollars have already been spent on Baywalk over the years. And even before Baywalk, city leaders bulldozed six blocks and spent millions on the Bay Plaza boondoggle.

The Times’ Tim Nickens and others screaming about “the death of Baywalk” don’t seem to understand what has revitalized St. Petersburg over years. It certainly was not Baywalk. Sure, we should have a movie theater and some high-end shops downtown. But Ybor and Channelside have the same thing — and yet they aren’t attracting people from all sides of Tampa Bay, except for maybe bachelorette parties.

What made downtown St. Pete is the mixed-use projects that allow folks to live, work and play downtown; the charming restaurants and hip bars; the eclectic shops; the art galleries; the walkability; the waterfront; the major venues like State Theater and Jannus Landing, which recently closed. If we’re throwing around thousands of dollars, why not invest public money to open Jannus back up? I guarantee that venue has brought more people downtown than some cheesy mini-mall.

In short, screw Baywalk.

If the owners can’t make money because of a handful of protesters, then they deserve to go under. With that kind of attitude, they might as well give up now.

Just give us back our $700,000 before the door hits your ass.

(Photo courtesy of Vera Devera/Flickr)

Track St. Petersburg crime in your neighborhood

Hey, congrats to the St. Petersburg Police Department for making it to the 21st century!

Next month, Chief Chuck Harmon will officially unveil the SPPD’s participation in CrimeReports.com, a crime map tracking service for us common folk. For the very crime-conscious neighborhoods of St. Pete, this is fairly exciting. CrimeReports.com allows you to search your neighborhood for crimes, provides e-mail alerts and maps all the sexual predators throughout the city.

Best of all for reporters like me, this site can easily track crime trends  in certain neighborhoods. Hey look! A homicide on the north side. I don’t remember hearing about that!

If you want to hear the official ra-ra over the site, Chief Harmon is leading a presentation at the Sunshine Center on Oct. 6 around 7 p.m.

Best of G20: The People’s March

On September 25, the last day of the G20 conference, several groups organized a “People’s March” from the University of Pittsburgh campus through downtown. Weeks ago, the city granted a permit for the march and accompanying rally, but that didn’t stop scores of riot cops from escorting the estimated 5,000 protesters through the city. At one point, the crowd stretched eight blocks long, the hodgepodge collection of activists chanting, beating drums and holding every manner of protest signage. Here’s the people that stood out:

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A guide to following the G20 if you’re not in Pittsburgh

Due to the limitations of my stay in Pittsburgh, and the annoying fact that my phone can’t even Tweet, this blog is not the best resource if you’re stuck at work in Tampa or Des Moines and want hour-by-hour protest action.

But even if I did have those capabilities, the only way to get a true picture of what’s happening on the ground in Pittsburgh is to read a variety of independent media. So, here’s what I’m looking at:

Pittsburgh IMC By incorporating Twitter feeds, video, audio and loads of photos, this local Independent Media Center is one of the best resources to catching some crazy anarchist protest or the latest arrests.

Mobile Broadcast News I met the guy running this site a few days ago and he’s one hard workin’ videographer. Check this site a few times a day for quality, edited video and interviews.

Pittsburgh City Paper‘s blog Although they don’t update often enough and sometimes over-snark, I usually enjoy the alt-weekly take on events — an equal skepticism of the G20 conference and the protesters, topped with a little humor and local advocacy.

Look hard and often!

Tampa Tribune blames blog theft on technical difficulties; bloggers pursue issue

The plot thickens over the Tampa Tribune‘s theft of bloggers’ work:

  • Local bloggers tell me TBO.com may have taken posts from the local blog aggregator TampaBLAB for the last three months. Notable point: bloggers must sign up to TampaBLAB to have excerpts of their blogs posted on that site; TBO.com took blog posts without any such agreement.

The Tampa Tribune fesses up to blog post theft. Well, kind of.

For the last few weeks, local and national blogs buzzed with the story of Tina Dupuy, a L.A. freelance writer (and blogger) who sent an opinion column to the Tampa Tribune for possible publication. Well, the Tribune did indeed publish the op-ed, but they never paid Dupuy for her work. When she contacted them about it, an editor claimed any unsolicited article sent in was ripe for free publishing. She didn’t agree and made this video.

But this act by Tribune editors did not surprise some local bloggers, including myself. We’ve had our blog posts outright stolencopied word-for-word and pasted onto the Tribune‘s website, TBO.com. Michael Hussey of Pushing Rope even started a Facebook page after editors ignored his request to cease such unethical behavior. And most recently, Dave Dugan of Zencomix sent the Tribune a $400 invoice after finding out the newspaper reprinted at least four blog comics without permission.

Well, the Tribune finally decided to do something about all the negative attention.

First, they paid Tina Dupuy. Here’s her new video about it:

And sometime over the last few days, the Tribune edited those orginal posts they stole from local bloggers to just an excerpt that links back to the original story; basically, what they should’ve done to begin with. I hope this was an effort to right a wrong and not an attempt to erase any evidence of unethical behavior (either way, I do have screenshots and the cached version is still available).

But honestly, a little apology would have sufficed.

UPDATE: Sticks of Fire has a response from TBO.com’s director of content here.

Is the Tampa Tribune stealing bloggers’ work?

Sure looks that way.

Tina Dupuy is a freelance writer and blogger from L.A. She recently sent an op-ed piece to the Tampa Tribune for possible publishing. Well, the Tribune did publish the piece, but never paid Dupuy for it. So she made this video:

Unfortunately, this is no isolated incident. The Tribune has also stolen posts from Michael Hussey’s Pushing Rope blog. Litbrit had a small post copied word for word with no byline, too. And last month, the Tribune did the same thing with my entire post on Charlie Crist and his congenial letter to some neo-nazis. Although these are the only instances I know about, it seems reasonable to conclude they’ve done this to other bloggers who didn’t catch on.

Michael Hussey has contacted the Tribune editors about the plagarism, but they have yet to reply.

Even if there is no copyright infringement here, which I find hard to believe, Tribune editors should regard stealing bloggers’ work as unethical and unbecoming of a huge news organization that brings in millions of dollars a year.

Anyone else have similar experiences?

UPDATE (9/8/09): The Tribune finally noticed all the negative attention and agreed to pay Dupuy. Read about it here. Also, they edited the stolen blog posts on their site to just excerpts, so I changed one of my links above to a cached version of the post they copied from me.

St. Petersburg Mayoral Primary: Kathleen Ford and Bill Foster jockey for losing candidates’ support

As Bill Foster and Kathleen Ford celebrate primary wins this evening, the losing eight mayoral candidates wrapped up election parties and drove home. But their roles in the mayoral election are not finished. Over the next few weeks, Foster and Ford will jockey for the remaining 47 percent of voters who didn’t choose them tonight, and attempt to turn former opponents into friends.

That won’t be easy.

The third and fourth top vote getters — Deveron Gibbons (19 percent) and Scott Wagman (15 percent) — won’t say who they’ll support in the general election.

As Gibbons left Push Ultra Lounge, he promised to meet with Ford and Foster to “discuss the issues.”

“Then let me sit down with my supporters and decide who I run the race with,” he said.

Wagman said he was hesitant to back either candidate.

“At this time I’m not even thinking about it,” he said from his event at Outback Steakhouse. “I have issues with both [of them].” He paused and added, “I will back Ken Welch. At some point, he will be mayor of this town.”

John Warren, the owner of Savannah’s Cafe who championed smart growth and economic recovery, also wasn’t prepared to support either candidate.

“I’ve had a chance to speak with [Ford and Foster] and each has some decent ideas,” he said. “But a big issue that hasn’t been discussed is community planning. A lot of the other individual issues you could categorize under community planning.”

The importance of the other candidates was not lost on Ford or Foster.

At her victory party at Red Mesa Cantina, Ford praised all contenders for running great campaigns, singling out Gibbons and Wagman. At Midtown Sundries, Foster told supporters, “I intend to be everybody’s mayor, whether they supported me or not.”

Like the other office-seekers, former city councilmember Larry Williams, who finished fifth in the primary, knows the remaining two candidates will seek his support.

“I’m going to meet with them and I have three questions,” he said. “What are you going to do about D and F schools? What are you going to do about panhandling? And what about the baseball team?”

After finishing off a chicken wing, Williams added, “Before I ran my first campaign, a friend of mine in Tampa, who worked on many political campaigns, told me, ‘Sometimes you’re more powerful when you’re not elected.'”

Florida Gov. Crist denies Neo-Nazi connection, story goes national

Two days ago, I wrote a post about a Florida white supremacist who sent several public officials copies of a anti-Semetic film. One of those officials was Charlie Crist, who seemingly wrote back to the Nazi thanking him for the film and promising to share it with the “people of Florida.”

I cross-posted the blog on the popular progressive blog, Pushing Rope. Well, the story got out. Quick.

First, TBO.com ran the entire post on their website (without Pushing Rope’s consent I might add). Then, the Associated Press (and then Huffington Post) picked up on the story. At least the Associated Press added some new reporting:

The governor’s office, however, said it was an embarrassing mistake. The signature was made by a machine and Crist never saw the letter, said Sterling Ivey, the governor’s press secretary. “We are NOT sharing the DVD with the people of Florida,” Ivey said. “The governor does not support this view. The letter was sent out prior to us reviewing the DVD that was sent.”

But my favorite part is the upset White Reference blog who decries me calling them a bunch of Nazis.

Hats off, by the way, to the Ybor City Stogie who is the first blogger to find out about the letter.

The last days of a Denver newspaper

I meant to post this e-mail a while back when the Rocky Mountain News closed shop, but it became lost in my inbox. Nonetheless, I still think it’s important for those reporters who have (so far) survived the painful layoffs at their newspapers.

The e-mail is written by a Denver Post reporter in response to a question about how she felt about the Rocky Mountain News‘ demise.

A big thanks to the reporter who forwarded this to me after he became a self-proclaimed member of LOJA — that is Laid-Off Journalists of America

Here’s the e-mail (without any edits):

It’s been an awful month for Denver newspapers. First The Post laid off six managers. Then the rest of us were told our pay/benefits would be cut by an average of 13 percent. Then the Rocky closed. I worked there four years before I came to The Post, and I knew so many of the faces in their photo galleries and videos … very sad.

I’ve never worked as journalist in a town that didn’t have two newspapers — even Iowa City had the Daily Iowan.

And now we have hired 11 Rocky staffers (thus the laid off managers) to try to retain their readers. Supposedly we are all one big family now. It’s hard not be bitter. They get jobs at the expense of my friends, plus they come in with at least 2 months pay in severance (plus whatever the Guild negotiates) while our pay is getting cut. But this is the new reality, and I need to embrace it.

And I still get a paycheck, and it hasn’t bounced. My owner hasn’t filed for bankruptcy or put us up for sale. We still print seven days a week. So I guess I’m better off than many journalists.

I’ve been looking for work in another field for a year already — I just dont’ want to go where newspapers are going. I was into working with my reporters on stories that mattered to people’s lives and giving them information they needed about their communities. Telling people’s stories and adding to the public discourse. We don’t get to do that much any more around here. Our staff is cut, our newshole is cut and more and more resources go online. And that online audience isn’t the same as the print audience. Many days now I feel like a TV news producer — all small bites with no substance.

But it’s up to me make a change, and I dont’ want to take a big pay cut or leave Denver, so I’m picky about what I apply for. Last year I was a finalist for three communications jobs. During the interviews I was told each time that more than 250 had applied. I know it will take awhile.

Especially with 200-plus Rocky colleagues now in the job market. …

God bless us all

St. Pete panhandlers make it to USA Today!

USA Today mentioned our fair city this week in regards to (what else?!) homelessness!

We even make the lede:

In doorways of shops in downtown St. Petersburg, Fla., one finds people sleeping and urinating amid piles of filthy blankets and empty bottles.

The article goes to talk about the predictable two-sides of the homeless issue with hum-drum quotes from national homeless advocates and upset business owners. Yawn.

The whole article is really not worth reading, except for a real interesting quote from St. Pete’s Deputy Mayor David Metz talking about the lawsuit over last year’s ordinances against sitting or lying on a sidewalk:

Deputy Mayor David Metz said St. Petersburg altered its laws because of an increase in complaints by businesses and residents about public drunkenness and public nuisances.

Pinellas County’s homeless population has increased 20% in the past two years, according to a homeless coalition. And while Metz acknowledges that there are not enough beds in shelters to accommodate all those who want them (the city says it has 2,200 people living on the streets) he said there’s no reason for them to move onto a sidewalk.

“We are blessed to have (34) public parks in downtown St. Pete, and there’s nothing to prevent any individuals from using those facilities,” Metz said.

Did Metz really just encourage homeless people to sleep in the parks?! Wait ’til the condo dwellers hear this!!!

Mayor Iorio snubs CAIR

It’s the hottest story on TBO.com for the last few days: After pressure from “interest groups,” Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio renounces “CAIR Day,” the annual recognition of the city’s Muslim-American community. The mayor has proclaimed “CAIR Day” every year since 2005.

For those who may not know, CAIR stands for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, a “civil rights group” that attempts to “enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding,” according to their Website. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, CAIR has been a controversial organization that some say is anti-Semetic and sympathetic to terrorist groups.

But the Tampa chapter, while in the news frequently over two high profile cases, hasn’t garnered the outrage that some other chapters have. Nonetheless, the mayor’s spokeswoman says, Iorio is distancing herself from the group. But she won’t give any specifics.

This is an interesting move on Iorio’s part. As I’m sure she is well aware, she risks losing this political constiuency. Plus, it could make her look intolerant and bowing down to some anti-Muslim activists with a clear axe to grind. So what could she have found that made her wary of endorsing this group?

After a little research, I think I know why: According to some news outlets (of the semi-true, right wing variety), the FBI severed some ties to the group back in January over suspected funding of Hamas. This has always been a backdrop to some CAIR criticisms, but seeing it in national news is a new one.

From FOX News:

The FBI is severing its once-close ties with the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, amid mounting evidence that it has links to a support network for Hamas.

All local chapters of CAIR have been shunned in the wake of a 15-year FBI investigation that culminated with the conviction in December of Hamas fundraisers at a trial where CAIR itself was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator.

An official at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington confirmed to FOX News that his office directed FBI field offices across the country to cut ties with local branches of CAIR.

The new policy marks a major shift for the FBI, which has long been close to CAIR. The agency has previously invited CAIR to give training sessions for agents and used it as a liaison with the American Muslim community.

I couldn’t find this info on any other news source. Is it because FOX scooped them? Nonetheless, the FBI has distanced itself from the group. And with Iorio weighing a political run in the next several years, if CAIR turned out to be related to Hamas, she’d have an instant attack ad ready for her Republican opponent.

But also recognize this: There are always two or more sides to every story. For example, CAIR claims the FBI deceived them, so the group stopped cooperating in some investigations. Perhaps they are referring to the myriad of informants hovering around that community.

City leaders destroy Central Avenue, now complain about it

600 central

Oh, how St. Petersburg’s city leaders love to ignore history.

I read with interest yesterday’s St. Petersburg Times article on the 600 block of Central Avenue. Basically, city leaders are scrambling over themselves about the sorry state this block is in.

A little memory refresher: This block is the one in downtown St. Pete that has all the vacancies and “No Loitering” spray-painted on the storefront glass. It’s become a haven for some downtown street people, graffiti taggers and hipsters in various states of inebriation after a visit to the Emerald.

So what’s our fair city to do? Well, they want to “revitalize” the block. But they don’t mention that back before 2006, this block was already thriving with unique local small businesses.

There were bohemian joints like the Surreal Bowl and eccentric boutique shops like Woodies Hat Box, all centered around one of the city’s historical treasures, Crislip Arcade.

That is, before another developer — Gerald R. Pacella of 601 Central Ave LLC — came in, bought that part of the block and evicted all the shops to construct a bunch of condos. Condos that never saw the light of day. Another developer, Thomas Gaffney of Oldsmar Land Holding Group, bought the property in 2008. His intentions are not yet known, but some Google sleuthing shows his company likes to hold on to property and then sell it to the highest bidder. He’s already mentioned to the Times that he has no plans to refurbish the storefronts.

While preservationists are calling for, well, preservation and some cultural leaders want, well, cultural space, City Councilmember Leslie Curran is lobbying for art galleries, because you know, she owns one. But she cares a lot about the arts, too, as evidenced by her push for the firing of former city’s cultural affairs manager Ann Wykell.

Oh, and this is the same Leslie Curran who voted for the previous developer’s condo wet dream back in 2006 along with the rest of the City Council at the time. Other city officials and downtown leaders backed that sale, too:

“It’s an evolutionary kind of thing,’’ said Don Shea, director of the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership. “The uses that evolved in that block in the last few years are not the highest and best.’’

Now, after selling part of Central Avenue’s soul to developers, city officials are once again throwing money at a problem they created:

Last week, the city began removing old benches and pruning trees on the street. In coming weeks, benches with bumps that deter sleeping will be added, along with better lighting. Sidewalks will be cleaned and parking spaces restriped.

This focus on the 600 block of Central is also part of the city’s efforts to “bridge” the different districts of downtown. Curran is leading a workshop this summer on that. Neighborhoods should tell Curran they don’t need any more of her “help,” lest the rest of St. Pete end up like 600 Central Avenue or, perhaps worse, Baywalk.

As for the problem of homeless and graffiti taggers? Just send them on over to the offices of 601 Central LLC and tell those developers to deal with the mess.

(Photo Credit: unprose/Flickr)

Advice for fellow unemployed journalists at WFLA and the Tampa Tribune

Another round of layoffs for our friends at Media General. The Tampa Bay Business Journal reports that the company eliminated 17 Tribune positions and six from WFLA. As recently as March, the Tribune let go dozens of employees and those left must take nearly two week vacations this summer.

So welcome to the club, boys and girls. So what the hell are you going to do now?

First, join a community of journalists in a similar situation. Right now, I’m particularly fond of Jilted Journalists. Maybe it’s just because the name sums up my feelings on the whole unemployment thing. (h/t to Virtual Journalist for the link.)

Next, apply for the dole. But figure you’ll only get $300 a week at most.

Then, start looking for jobs. If you’re thinking about government work, I have one piece of advice: Don’t take postal service jobs from private companies promising you sample exams and study guides. With all the layoffs, the feds are seeing more of these scams. Get more info here.

(Oh, and if you’re thinking of moving to some hip town and becoming an alt-weekly writer, I’ve got some bad news.)

Now you need some extra money. Check out the latest list of class-action lawsuits. You, too, could get a few bucks in the mail.

In the meantime, you’re going to need to save some money. So, join one of those food warehouse memberships for a 60-day free trial and spend your severance on snacks for the next year. You’re gonna need it.

Finally, join the blogosphere! Come on, all the other reporters are doing it! Believe me, there’s nothing like embracing the technology that destroyed your life’s career. Good luck!

Another Sunday, another Bill Maxwell column about the homeless

Jesus, will someone please remove Bill Maxwell’s foot from his mouth?

The St. Petersburg Times columnist is back at it again this week with another tirade about the homeless. Well, I guess it’s less a “tirade” then a little piece of self-congratulatory nonsense.

For those of you that remember his last column (memory refresher here), Maxwell has his undies in a wad over the homeless folks in his neighborhood doing all sorts of nasty homeless things like giving mean looks and living out their cars. He was especially mad at the Salvation Army for allowing these bums anywhere near his neighbors, as if the Salvation Army could ring a bell and bring back its patrons.

Anywho, judging from the first few paragraphs of his new column, Maxwell got reamed by the city’s citizens for being such a heartless asshole. Nonetheless, Maxwell is taking some credit for getting the ball moving on some new changes at the Salvation Army:

Here are three specific changes that will begin on July 2: Individuals no longer will be permitted to take up residence outside the building; the 100 beds in the shelter will be available only those people who show need; and those who seek help must indicate that they want to be “more productive members of society.”

The latter change is a huge leap for the Salvation Army. It is known for aiding all comers. Some officials believe the time has come to stop enabling individuals who have no intention of improving their lives.

I find all that very interesting in light of a recent conversation I had with another Salvation Army neighbor. My source, who I have no reason to doubt, said he talked to Major George Patterson about these issues right after Maxwell’s column, and the Major mentioned that Maxwell had never approached the Salvation Army before writing that first article. Only after publishing the article did Maxwell set up a meeting with the Salvation Army director.

But for this latest column, Maxwell did talk to Mayor Rick Baker and Police Chief Chuck Harmon, who — by all accounts — are the most sympathetic homeless advocates in the city. In fact, these two men thought that homeless people living in tents was so horrible and undignified, that they ordered the police and city workers to slash those tents!

But don’t be dissuaded, Maxwell says, those tent slashing days are over. We’re in the age of legal manuevers that just make it a crime to hang out on the streets if you have no where else to go.

Ironically, and maybe he was going for that, Maxwell makes reference to a recent federal lawsuit that accuses the city of trampling on the constitutional rights of the area’s homeless. Here’s part of the press release I received a few days ago:

Southern Legal Counsel (SLC), Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS), and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday on behalf of a class of homeless plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of a number of ordinances and practices that target homeless individuals living in St. Petersburg.


Since early 2007, St. Petersburg has passed six ordinances that target homeless individuals, including four different ones that make it unlawful to sleep, lie down or recline outside at various locations throughout the city and prohibiting the use of temporary shelters. The other ordinances outlaw panhandling throughout most of downtown and prohibit the storage of personal belongings on public property.

“The City of St. Petersburg has essentially turned the issue of homelessness over to the criminal justice system. Subjecting homeless individuals to an endless cycle of arrest, incarceration and homelessness under these city ordinances and practices wastes valuable city and county resources and is ineffective in addressing the root causes of homelessness,” said Kirsten Clanton, a staff attorney at SLC.

I wrote about these ordinances here and here. The latter article is appropriately headlined, “Don’t sleep so close to me.” And really that’s what this is about. People who are uncomfortable about those on society’s fringes, and instead of dealing with the problem, human-to-human, they try to solve them through “sweeping” laws that invariably hurt those who least can afford it.

So, when the city of St. Petersburg spends $100,000 or $1 million defending against this lawsuit, and your precious little parks don’t get mowed or you have to pay more in parking fines, remember Bill Maxwell and the rest of the ‘burg who thought it easier to criminalize homelessness than tackle this difficult problem with some sort of tact and compassion. Not to mention, legality.

UPDATE #1: Peter Schorsch is reporting that, per one of his sources at the SPT, Maxwell may retire. We could only hope …

UPDATE #2: Some folks who actually have conversations with the homeless in their neighborhoods have recently written me (and the Times) with much more eloquent arguments against Maxwell’s article. Here they are after the jump:

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There’s a whole lot more unemployed journalists in Florida

Bob Norman of the Broward County New Times has the latest on the staff cuts at the Sun-Sentinel:

I got Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman on the phone in Chicago, and all he would give me were corporate platitudes. “We are constantly trying to improve the business model,” he told me. “We are doing a number of things to be efficient across the company. Getting into the nitty gritty details is not something I’m going to do.”

He told me to call Jennifer Sacks, the Sentinel spokeswoman. She told me that whatever was happening in classifieds was something she couldn’t “expand on.”

Isn’t it great how the Sun-Sentinel is so accountable to the public about what’s going on? For them, it’s all about sunlight, openness, and the power of the truth — as long as it’s another company.

Check out the list on his blog here. He’s also got an item up about layoffs at the smaller Palm Beach Daily News.

Hillsborough County residents to Catholic Charities’ tent city proposal: NIMBY!

STOP_tc_hcSpeaking of the homeless, some Hillsborough County residents crying NIMBY packed a county land use hearing earlier this week, trying to convince officials to deny a permit for a tent city much like Pinellas Hope.

Catholic Charities, the same group that set up Pinellas’ tent city, wants to put up a similar camp on 6410 E. Hillsborough Avenue near Harney Road, on a piece of property they own. When neighbors found out about the proposal, they organized fiercely against it with images like the one to the right (OMG! Syringes!). One East Lake Park woman even created a little group: Stop Tent City. They even have T-shirts. Yes, T-shirts!

The residents do have some good points — Pinellas Hope isn’t located near a neighborhood and Catholic Charities is counting on tax dollars instead of their own wealth to bankroll the project — but the rest of the site is filled with a lot of misinformation on how much the homeless want to be homeless and how a large percentage are snowbirds. They also complain that the homeless would be so far from social services. But where were these people when the city of Tampa began harrassing the homeless downtown? Hillsborough County’s street people have been pushed from one side of the county to the other when some neighborhood complains about them. Now, in this recession, the number is growing rapidly and there just is not enough shelter space for them.

Of course, residents are just falling over themselves about the poor conditions inside the Pinellas tent cities and suggesting alternative plans for more dignified housing (as if a tent is worse than sleeping behind a dumpster). But what happens when the permit is denied? Does anyone honestly think any of these residents will be helping Catholic Charities implement another plan?

Maybe these Stop Tent City folks could get together with Bill Maxwell. He might like one of those shirts.

New credit card rules great for the unemployed

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There’s been a lot of buzz about the new credit card bill that moved through Congress and is heading to President Obama to sign. Right-wing talk radio has made much hoopla of the changes; their rallying cry is good credit consumers will subsidize the bad. Even some news reports have made the same statement. (Back to that argument later.)

But for the jobless, this bill will give some much needed relief, from banning the practice of raising interest rates on existing balances and double-cycle billing. Here’s a rundown of the proposed changes:

  • Companies can no longer charge consumers for paying their bills by phone;
  • Creditors cannot raise your APR in the first 12 months of a new account;
  • Promotional rates must last at least six months;
  • No longer can your interest rate on existing balances increase unless you fail to pay for 60 days;
  • Payments must be applied to the balance with the highest APR first;
  • Credit card bills must be sent at least 21 days before the due date;
  • Companies must give 45 days notice before changing your rates or fees;
  • Credit card statements must be told how long it will take to pay off their balance if they only pay the minimum amount due;
  • Creditors must remove any info given to a consumer reporting agency (Equifax, Experion, etc.) about new accounts if that card has not been used or activated within 45 days;
  • The legislation bans double-cycling billing.

The new rules will probably help some people who have gotten behind on their credit card and have the means to pay it off. I, for one, don’t agree with the argument that the bill makes good credit holders pay for the bad. It’s entirely the choice of credit card companies to raise rates on the good consumers. They are choosing that option, so they can continue to enjoy enormous profit margins.

Of course, my ultimate advice is for everyone to cut up their credit cards. But, hey, that’s just me.

Unemployed journalist rule #1: Get copies of your work immediately!

As any motivated journalist knows, our “clips” — copies of our work for media outlets — are the single most important possession in order to advance our careers. New employers ask for them, current employers review them before giving promotions. Especially in this media downward spiral, our clips are more important than ever.

So what the hell do you do when your employer destroys them?

My friend and former co-worker Anthony Salveggi has a great post up on his site concerning a “reporter’s worst nightmare.” He links to a story about a former International Herald Tribune writer who lost all the online links to his work when the New York Times merged the two paper’s websites:

… my entire journalistic career at the IHT – from war zones to SARS wards – has been erased.

In the past, reporters would photocopy their articles from the newspaper. But in this digital climate, when some stories never make it to print and live only online, more and more editors request digital copies of prospective employee’s work. And the New York Times just royally screwed this guy, well-respected reporter Thomas Crampton.

Turns out, the IHT isn’t the only paper to delete employees’ work. After Crampton detailed the incident on his blog, other reporters wrote to vent their own frustration about losing years of work instantly. From Fortune magazine and Time’s AsiaWeek to all of Knight-Ridder’s local newspaper websites, hundreds of reporters have seen their work disappear.

So, what’s the moral of the story? Get digital copies of your work! Within a week of leaving Creative Loafing, I had both paper and PDF copies of my best stories. (You can find a few examples in my About Me section.) Try to compile your clips as you write them.

Of course, that won’t help all future readers find your content in the future, but it will save you much hand-wringing down the line.

Florida’s vanishing wetlands: A talk by two St. Pete Times reporters

Partly to give props where props are due, and partly so my readers won’t think I’m always dissing the St. Pete Times, I’d urge any enviros out there to hear investigative reporters Craig Pittman and Matthew Waite talk about Florida’s dwindling natural resources tomorrow.

The talk is called “Paving Paradise:Florida’s Vanishing Wetlands and the Failure of No Net Loss” and its based off a book of the same name. The two reporters are the author of that book.

Details on who/what/when/where after the jump.

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