Mitch Perry Report 4.15.14: Exposing govt. incompetence gets rewarded


After St. Petersburg passed laws against panhandling several years ago, reports began surfacing of a large increase in panhandling in Tampa and Hillsborough County. This was right in the middle of the Great Recession, and by 2010 was considered such a problem that the Tampa City Council spent months (if not years) discussing and then passing an ordinance cracking down on panhandlers. They went further with that in 2013.

During those discussions, nearly every member of the Council expressed frustrations that the city couldn't do more to help the homeless. But such services were under the jurisdiction of Hillsborough County, not the city, and when it came to doing something new for the homeless, county commissioners appeared to be unengaged, particularly after they succumbed to community outrage about a proposed "tent city" along Eastern Hillsborough Avenue.

But at least the county was already providing services to the homeless, right? Well, sort of, but nobody really knew what a terrible job officials were doing until Tampa Bay Times reporters Michael LaForgia and Will Hobson began detailing the level of incompetence and indifference inside the Homeless Recovery Program last fall.
As you no doubt know by now, those two reporters' dogged reporting earned them journalism's highest honor yesterday — the Pulitzer Prize. For months beginning last September, the pair detailed how the county — that means you, Mr. and Mrs. Hillsborough Taxpayer — was paying millions to house homeless people in wretched conditions. 

The county is now dealing with homeless housing by handing it off to professional and private nonprofit groups. Would that be the case if these reporters hadn't focused attention on the problem? 

No doubt it's part of the DNA for Times editors to look for stories that can make an impact — and also win some awards. We're told that this story came via a tip from a homeless man. It wasn't drawn up in advance, but once LaForgia and Hobson found it they were relentless. The community is better off for it.

In other news.....Yesterday Tampa area Democrats Kathy Castor and Mark Danish blasted the Legislature for its handling of funds for maintenance and infrastructure of public schools. Although the funding might be more equitable  this year, the fact is those dedicated funds have gone exclusively to charter schools in recent years.

Tampa Democrat Pat Kemp announced she will run for the Countywide District 7 Hillsborough County Commission seat this November, a race in which Republican Al Higginbotham is the presumed favorite, though he's never run countywide. 

And in the House District 61 race which encompasses much of downtown Tampa, Democrat Sean Shaw appears to be the early favorite to succeed Betty Reed. Shaw hosted an inaugural event for his 2014 campaign over the weekend.

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