Charlie Justice has big plans for 2013 and beyond

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For a long time, Charlie Justice was one of the most promising local Democrats with a political future in Pinellas County. Elected to the state House in 2000 and the Senate in 2006, Justice was most likely assured another term in Tallahassee in 2010 when he decided to leave that body and take on what has become the impossible — beating Congressman Bill Young.

Justice didn't do that. In fact he didn't come close. But while continuing to work at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg — under the gaudy title of assistant director of leadership — he plotted his comeback on a lower scale (though not salary wise), opting to run for a Pinellas County Commission seat last fall against GOP incumbent Nancy Bostock.

Using her vote for removing fluoride from the drinking supply as his main attack weapon, Justice eked out a four-point victory last fall.

Monday night at the Pinellas County Democratic Inauguration Ball, Justice talked about his goals now that he's working in local government.

Last week, Justice was on the losing end of a vote regarding the county's 911 dispatchers, who now will only send an ambulance to about 14,000 low-priority calls classified as "falls" and "sick persons." It was the latest development along the slow moving issue of what to do with the county's extremely expensive EMS system, funded through a special property tax.

Commissioners Ken Welch and Norm Roach joined Justice on the losing side of the vote. Justice said he wanted to wait until the Fitch and Associates report — commissioned last September — for an operational analysis of the system was completed.

St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster also indicated that his city might sue if the county voted on the issue before this June, when the report is due. But the board opted for the changes to wait until this summer.

Justice said that's the last thing the community needs.

"It is one of the most frustrating things for me and most people to see. 'Oh, they're suing each other,'" he told CL. "I find it's a lot easier to sue people when you're not using your own money to pay the lawyers. So I think that's part of it."

The local economy is something else Justice wants to address. He's interested in fostering an environment that will lead to jobs for residents, as well as learning what students in local colleges and universities are studying, and whether it's preparing them for the outside world.

"Why is it that the fine arts are in Tampa, why is that the tourism is in Sarasota? Why don't we have some of those opportunities here, when tourism and fine arts are such a big part of Pinellas County?" he asked, before mentioning the work that St. Pete College is doing with job training in engineering and technology.

"The next guy who creates a certain app could be a multimillionaire. We want him to stay here and create more jobs, so that's a big thing I want to do. I want to continue to cultivate tourism and the film industry so we get the Pinellas County we want in 10-20 years down the road," he said.

In addition to those ideas, Justice said he's looking forward to coming together with board colleagues on issues like public transit and the Tampa Bay Rays stadium.

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