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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 deputies go door-to-door at dawn to arrest unlicensed contractors

    Crime

    For years, licensed contractors in Pinellas County have yearned for law enforcement to target unlicensed roofers, painters and others in the construction trades who perform shoddy work and swindle money from homeowners.

    Deputies fulfilled that wish on Tuesday.

    At 5 a.m., they began pounding on doors in a roundup of contractors accused of working without licences and workers' compensation insurance....

    Suspects who have been arrested by Pinellas County Sheriff deputies in connection with a joint roundup of unlicensed contractors. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced the arrests in a Tuesday press conference. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
  2. Pinellas construction board member denies influencing rule change

    Local Government

    LARGO –– A member of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board has denied allegations that he abused his position to push through a rule change that could have benefitted his own business.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders...

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, located at 12600 Belcher Road in Largo, has come under scrutiny from the county's inspector general and a grand jury. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  3. County land deal loses $1.7 million in Penny for Pinellas dollars

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission is trying to convince voters to renew the 1-cent Penny for Pinellas sales tax for another decade.

    So this news comes at an inconvenient time: The commission recently decided to sell off a piece of land at a loss of $1.7 million — money that was raised by the penny sales tax.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Officials will use Irma to convince voters to renew Penny for Pinellas tax...

    County owned vacant land between 23rd Avenue and 24th Avenue on Gulf Blvd. in Indian Rocks Beach. In 2006 the Pinellas County Commission voted to spend $2.8 million in Penny for Pinellas dollars for a beach parking lot that never came to be. The commission recently voted to sell the parcel for $1.1 million, at a loss of $1.7 million, while it is also pushing for renewal of the penny sales tax. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  4. Last-second issue could hamper reforming Pinellas licensing board

    Local Government

    Pinellas commissioners and legislators have spent 10 months debating how to fix the dysfunctional Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board. But as the deadline to submit legislation to reform the independent agency approached Friday, County Attorney Jewel White dropped this bombshell:

    Pinellas County may not have the legal authority to take over all the duties of the licensing board.

    If that's the case, then the county could not take over the agency. The licensing board would remain independent, although with new accountability measures recommended by a grand jury....

    The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board is located at 12600 Belcher Road, Largo, in a small strip mall. The agency has come under much scrutiny and criticism this year, and now there are questions about whether the county can legally take over its duties. [SCOTT KEELER   |  Times]
  5. Pinellas County Commission approves next budget: $2.2 billion

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– It's easy to pass a $2.2 billion budget when rising property values bring in extra cash.

    The Pinellas County Commission unanimously approved the 2017-18 budget this week with little discussion. The millage rate stayed the same, so commissioners said they were also to continue providing residents with "high-quality services" without increasing taxes.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas County budget on the rise thanks to high property values (July 19, 2017)...

    The Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday approved a $2.2 billion budget for next fiscal year. [Courtesy of Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  6. Deputy mayor says she was racially profiled. Store owner says she wasn't.

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — The city's African-American deputy mayor, Kanika Tomalin, turned to Facebook over the weekend to call out a local clothing store for what she says was blatant racial profiling.

    Tomalin said she was shopping at the Central Avenue boutique MISRED Outfitters on Saturday when a clerk asked her and her cousin to prove they were eligible for the store's "Healthcare Appreciation Day Discount." The clerk, Tomalin said, had not asked the white woman in line ahead of them to prove she was a health care worker....

    Kanika Tomalin
  7. Pinellas commissioners: Give us control of licensing board

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– Pinellas County's seven commissioners declared that they're ready to take over the responsibility of regulating contractors.

    The commission on Tuesday renewed its call for lawmakers to place the independent but flawed Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board under the control of county government.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders...

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  8. Pinellas, Hillsborough join forces to enter Amazon bidding war

    Economic Development

    Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will join forces in an effort to convince Amazon to build a new world headquarters in the Tampa Bay area.

    ROBERT TRIGAUX: Tampa joins most competitive pursuit — to capture Amazon's new HQ2 (Sept. 8, 2017)...

    Amazon announced Sept. 7 that it has opened the search for a second headquarters, promising to spend more than $5 billion on the opening. [AP file Photo/Richard Drew
  9. Pinellas: It could cost $15 million to remove storm debris

    Blog

    CLEARWATER--The removal and processing of debris from Hurricane Irma in unincorporated Pinellas County could cost an estimated $15 million.

    County administrator Mark Woodard told commissioners Monday the county is working to "optimize" reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The county estimates it must clear 600,000 cubic yards of debris, enough to fill a line of 50,000 dump trucks stretching 221 miles....

    Pinellas County estimates it will take at least four weeks to remove debris from unincorporated areas.
  10. Pinellas commission set to discuss next budget, licensing board

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission will be busy on Tuesday.

    The end of the current fiscal year is approaching, so the commission's agenda includes setting the final millage rates for the 2017-2018 budget.

    The commission could also address the situation with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, which was the subject of two reports Sept. 20. An inspector general's report outlined 93 problems with the agency while a grand jury outlined how to reform it....

  11. Pinellas licensing board loses support for staying independent

    Local Government

    CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board on Monday lost its strongest supporter for staying independent.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    State Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican running for governor, told the Pinellas legislative delegation that he would not sponsor any new legislation reforming the agency. Those reforms were suggested by a grand jury report released Sept. 20, the same day that an inspector general's report lashed the agency and its former leadership....

    State Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican running for governor, said Monday that he will no longer support any legislation to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board independent. This photo was taken in August. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]
  12. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders...

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  13. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    The 10 members of the Pinellas legislative delegation are set to meet Monday to discuss a law that would overhaul the troubled agency but some officials have questioned whether they'll be able to agree on what that law should say....

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  14. South Florida poaches debris pickup trucks once headed to Tampa Bay

    Hurricanes

    The Tampa Bay area has an estimated 2 million cubic yards of debris from Hurricane Irma waiting at the curb — enough to fill a line of dump trucks stretching 735 miles, or from Tampa to Tupelo, Miss.

    But many trucks that could help make those tree limbs disappear are instead heading to South Florida, where hauling fees have shot up since the hurricane.

    That has left several bay area communities and their private storm debris contractors scrambling....

     Tree debris from the winds of Hurricane Irma lay along the curb and in Demens Dr. South near the intersection of 16th St. S., St. Petersburg, 9/22/17
  15. Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

    Local Government

    LARGO — The Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board mismanaged its finances, lacked accountability and disregarded its own rules, according to a scathing report released Wednesday by the county's inspector general.

    The report outlined 93 problems at the agency responsible for protecting residents from shoddy contractors, including that former executive director Rodney Fischer "violated county rules and ethics requirements" and that a member of the agency's governing board "misused his position."...

    Rodney Fischer, the executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, resigned in January.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]