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Mark Puente, Times Staff Writer

Mark Puente

Mark Puente covers Pinellas County government, including the constitutional officers and the way they operate their offices. Puente returned to the Tampa Bay Times in July after two years at The Baltimore Sun. He worked as an investigative reporter and was on the team that was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the Freddie Gray saga and city's riots. His "Undue Force" series about police brutality led to reform efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice and the city of Baltimore. The series won the Institute on Political Journalism's Clark Mollenhoff Award for Excellence in Investigative Reporting and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism's Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award for reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States.

He joined the Times in November 2010 and covered real estate issues as part of the Times' Business team until June 2012. He then covered St. Petersburg City Hall until March 2014. He spent more than five years with the Plain Dealer in Cleveland where he won multiple journalism awards for his investigative work. His reporting forced a 32-year sheriff in Ohio's largest county to resign from office in 2009 and plead guilty to theft-in-office charges.

He took a different path to journalism, logging more than 1 million miles in the cab of a semitrailer truck over 14 years. After leaving the trucking industry, Puente earned a political science degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has a wife and three sons. Go Tar Heels!

Phone: (727) 892-2996

Email: mpuente@tampabay.com

Twitter: @MarkPuente

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  1. Pinellas wants to see impact of tourism bucks spent on big events

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– Pinellas County relies on more than just beaches to attract visitors. County government also spends millions to help sponsor big-name events to draw even more tourists.

    But now the Pinellas County Commission wants to see exactly how many visitors and how big an economic impact they're getting in return for that investment.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Nearly $40 million in bed tax to fund five Pinellas County projects...

    The Pinellas County Tourist Development Council awareded up to $250,000 to help sponsor the 2018 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  2. Email shows Rep. Larry Ahern disagreed with law he drafted

    Local Government

    When state Rep. Larry Ahern was tabbed earlier this year to craft a bill to reform the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, he said publicly there was no need to disband the agency.

    But privately, the Seminole Republican held a much different view.

    In a Feb. 1 email sent from his private account, Ahern ripped the board for being useless.

    "... If the intent was to prevent unlicensed activity, it's not very effective or efficient," the legislator wrote to a contractor. "Even the amount of unpaid/uncollected fines is staggering ... nothing is usually done to make the consumer whole again after the damage is done."...

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is running for governor. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. Pinellas sheriff steps in to start policing contractors

    Local Government

    LARGO — Starting Monday, the troubled Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board will no longer investigate contractors accused of ripping off homeowners.

    For the next six months, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office will become the first line of defense against all contractors operating in the county.

    TAMPA BAY TIMES INVESTIGATION: THE PINELLAS COUNTY CONSTRUCTION LICENSING BOARD

    ...

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said his agency will start policing contractors who operate in the county. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  I  Times]
  4. Pinellas licensing board asks Sen. Jack Latvala for $500,000 loan

    Local Government

    The troubled Pinellas County agency that regulates contractors wants Sen. Jack Latvala to help it get a $500,000 lifeline from the state to stay afloat.

    Without that bridge loan, the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is projected to go broke in February and shutdown, said interim executive director Gay Lancaster.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: The Pinellas agency that's supposed to crack down on bad contractors is about to go broke...

    State Sen . Jack Latvala, R- Clearwater, is being asked to help the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board get $500,000 from the state so it can stay open beyond February.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  5. Rick Kriseman's administration lashed in St. Pete sewage report

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — A state report places much of the blame for the city's 200-million gallon sewage spill crisis on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman.

    The 7-page draft report by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which was obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, does not name Kriseman or any of his staff. It also starts with the long view, blaming two decades of city leadership for setting the stage for St. Petersburg's massive sewage problems....

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system. St. Petersburg dumped up to 200 million gallons of sewage over 13 months from 2015-16. A new state report blames much of the crisis on mistakes made by the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman, but also critcizes past administrations. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  6. St. Pete sewage crisis ends with no charges, $326 million bill

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — The city has put the legal fallout from the sewage crisis behind it.

    Last week, St. Petersburg officials learned that the criminal investigation into the crisis — the city dumped up to 200 million gallons of waste from 2015-16 — would not result in any city employees facing charges.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Minor St. Petersburg sewage spill causes major headaches...

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system in September 2016. The city recently learned that no employees will face charges as a result of that crisis. The St. Petersburg City Council also agreed to spend $326 million fixing its sewer system. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  7. Pinellas County budget on the rise thanks to high property values

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– After another year of growth, Pinellas County commissioners won't have to fight to pay for critical needs in the 2017-2018 budget.

    Higher property values brought in an additional $77 million over the prior year. But that won't lead to a spending frenzy.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas officials appoint Jewel White as new county attorney...

    The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday learned the first details of its $2.3 billion spending plan for next fiscal year, which includes funding for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  8. Pinellas officials appoint Jewel White as new county attorney

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– Pinellas' elected officials on Tuesday unanimously voted to appoint the chief assistant county attorney to the top legal job in county government.

    The new Pinellas County Attorney is Jewel White, who replaces her former boss, ex-county attorney Jim Bennett. He retired in May after three decades of service.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas officials grill candidates vying to be county's next legal advisor...

    Pinellas Assistant County Attorney Jewel White, 46, was appointed as County Attorney on Tuesday. [Handout from Jewel White]
  9. Top prosecutor tells Pinellas licensing board: grand jury starts next week

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board was visited by a special guest on Tuesday: Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe.

    It's not often that a prosecutor investigating a public agency stops by a meeting of its governing board to tell them he plans to empanel a grand jury next week to investigate their past management, operations and practices.

    "When it will end, I don't know," McCabe told the board. "We might call on some of you to go before the grand jury."...

    Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, seen here in January,  told the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board on Tuesday that a grand jury will start investigating the agency on July 28.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  10. Hey Pinellas homeowners: the county does target unlicensed contractors

    Local Government

    Whenever homeowners were fleeced out of their money by unlicensed contractors, the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board was once considered consumers' first line of defense.

    It shouldn't have been. The troubled agency was ineffective against unlicensed contractors.

    But jilted homeowners have another option: The Pinellas County Consumer Protection department works with prosecutors to bring criminal charges against the worst offenders and help homeowners recoup their losses....

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, located at 12600 Belcher Road in Largo, hasn't proved to be effective at curbing unlicensed contractors. But county officials and prosecutors say consumers have other options in the criminal justice system. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  11. Interviews start for those vying to become Pinellas County's new attorney

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Pinellas County's 12 elected leaders will perform a first on Tuesday: They will conduct public interviews of the four candidates vying to lead the Pinellas County Attorney's Office.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Legal Idol: Pinellas leaders select five candidates for county attorney's job...

    Interviews start Tuesday to select replacement for lontime Pinellas County Attorney Jim Bennett, who retired this month. He turned the office over to his chief assistant attorney. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  12. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri to join fight against unlicensed contractors

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Pinellas County sheriff's deputies could soon start hunting for unlicensed contractors who skirt licensing laws and bilk homeowners out of thousands of dollars by performing unfinished and shoddy work.

    Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced Monday that he plans to develop a pilot program so that his deputies can help the troubled Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board crack down on unlicensed contractors....

    Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said he will develop a trial program to help the PInellas County Construction Licensing Board target unlicensed contractors. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
  13. Three Republicans vying to replace Pinellas commissioner John Morroni

    Local

    The 2018 primary election is 14 months away, but a crowded field of Republicans has already emerged to replace longtime Pinellas County Commissioner John Morroni.

    So far, the District 6 race, which generally includes Pinellas Park, Seminole, northeast St. Petersburg and the south beaches, has attracted two state lawmakers and a community activist who helped defeat a transportation sales tax in 2014....

    A map of District 6 for the Pinellas County Commission. The district includes Pinellas Park, Seminole, northeast St. Petersburg and the south beaches. In 2014, voters in the district elected a Republican commissioner and Democratic school board member. [Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections]
  14. Where's the synergy between Hillsborough and Pinellas leaders?

    Blog

    Political leaders talk about regionalism, but the synergy between Pinellas and Hillsborough leaders isn't exactly gushing into Tampa Bay.

    Consider the recent jockeying by Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long to get Hillsborough County commissioners to hold two joint meetings to discuss the region's biggest issues. Long wants t public officials to talk about sewers, transportation and other problems that cross county lines....

  15. Hillsborough and Pinellas officials can't even agree that they agreed to meet

    Local Government

    Tampa Bay political leaders often tout taking a regional approach to solve the area's most pressing issues. But the challenge has been getting Hillsborough County and Pinellas County leaders together on the same page.

    Or in this case, in the same room.

    Pinellas County Commission Chairwoman Janet Long has been jockeying behind the scenes to schedule a joint meeting of both county commissions to discuss transportation and infrastructure problems — issues that cross county lines....

     Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long said her counterpart, Hillsborough County Commissioner Chair Stacy White (above) agreed that both boards should hold two joint-meetings. But White’s aide now says the commissioner was merely receptive to the idea. Hillsborough officials have nixed the meeting. [CHARLIE KAIJO |  Times]