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The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College will host a forum featuring local candidates seeking public office and information about key issues that will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. The free event is open to the public and will be held:

5:30-9 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 2
Digitorium UP 160
Seminole Campus
9200 113th Street N
Seminole, FL 33772

The debates are presented in an effort to dispel voter apathy and to honor the importance of an informed electorate. Facing off will be candidates for Pinellas County Commission from Districts 2 and 4, and candidates for the eight most highly contested seats in the state legislature. Also up for debate will be three proposed amendments to the State Constitution.

Admission is free but advance registration is requested.

A distinguished panel of experts will question the candidates and provide background on the issues. They are:

  • Frank Alcock, associate professor of political science, New College of Florida, Sarasota
  • Adam Smith, political editor, Tampa Bay Times
  • Roy Slater, social science professor, St. Petersburg College
  • Noah Pransky, investigative reporter, WTSP 10 News, St. Petersburg
  • Moderator: Joni James, deputy editor of editorials, Tampa Bay Times

The debates will be split into three one-hour sessions, with the first two combining state legislative races whose district borders are relatively contiguous, for the convenience of voters interested in their home district candidates. A brief discussion of the three constitutional amendments will precede the candidate debates. The schedule is:

  • 5:30-6 p.m. – Constitutional Amendments 1 2, and 3
  • 6-7 p.m. – House Districts 65, 66 and 67
  • 7-8 p.m. – Senate District 22, House Districts 68 and 69
  • 8-9 p.m. – County Commission Districts 2 and 4

The event is co-sponsored by the Tampa Bay Times.

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It’s back to school time, and festival season is just around the corner in Florida. To kick off the festivities, the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art at the St. Petersburg College Tarpon Springs Campus will host its annual Artists’ Market on:

Saturday, Sept. 27
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sunday, Sept. 28
noon to 5 p.m.

Visitors can browse and buy original works by more than 30 local artists inside the comfort and ambiance of the museum and get a head start on their holiday shopping. Original artwork on display will include wearable art, paintings, jewelry, prints and more. Also available is an Art Book Nook offering gently used books and magazines for sale.

Admission to the museum, market and parking are free both days. Food and beverages will be available from the Bayou Cafe of Tarpon Springs.

All proceeds from the event support participating artists, Isabelle’s Museum Store and LRMA’s educational mission.

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The Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College will present the final forum in a three-part series on Pinellas County’s transit sales tax referendum, this time in the North County area. The forum, titled “Dealing with Gridlock: Is there a Light Rail in Pinellas County’s Future,” will be held:

6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 30
SPC Clearwater Campus ES 104
2465 Drew St.

As have the two previous programs on this issue, held at SPC’s Midtown Center and Seminole Campus, this forum will examine the pros and cons of a referendum on the November ballot that would raise the sales tax rate by one cent per dollar of spending, from 7 to 8 cents, to finance improvements to the Pinellas County public transportation system.

The transit tax proposal, if approved by more than 50 percent of voters, would affect every Pinellas County taxpayer whenever they purchase goods subject to the sales tax. It has become one of the most hotly debated local issues of the 2014 election season, perhaps second only to a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize use of marijuana for medical purposes.

The forum will open with pro-con presentations on the proposal by advocates for and against passage. Speaking for the amendment will be Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala. Speaking against will be Barbara Haselden, campaign manager and spokesperson for No Tax for Tracks, a citizens group which opposes the proposal.

The final portion of the program will be devoted to answering questions from the audience. Moderating the debate will Dr. Nicholas Manias, Professor of Applied Ethics at SPC.

The proposed tax increase would authorize a one-cent sales tax increase for 30 years, which would raise a projected $130 million per year. The tax hike would be partially offset by eliminating the current .75-mill property tax for transit that brings in $32 million. For that revenue stream, PSTA promises a 65 percent increase in bus service, a Bus Rapid Transit line, that is, dedicated bus lanes, on major corridors; and, eventually, a 24-mile light rail line that would roughly follow the I-275 corridor north to the Gateway area, then head west along Ulmerton/Roosevelt Road/East and West Bay Blvd. to downtown Clearwater.

Advance registration is requested.

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The 40-acre park Natural Habitat Park at SPC’s Seminole Campus will serve as one of two public landscape locations for the Florida Native Plant Society Pinellas Chapter’s eighth annual Tour of Native Landscapes on Saturday, Sept. 27.

The self-guided tour, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will involve a total of six sites throughout Pinellas County. Participants are given maps and information about each site and they can visit them on their own based on their schedule during the day.

Candace “Candy” Arnold, President of the Pinellas Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, said that restorative efforts were part of the reason why the organization selected SPC’s Natural Habitat Park as one of the locations for the tour.

“One of the reasons is that our mission is the restoration of native plants and native plant communities,” Arnold said. “The habitat is just absolutely gorgeous.”

In 2010, the Natural Habitat Park opened after undergoing a restoration, removing exotic and non-native vegetation to better highlight the natural plant life.

“We thought this would be a great opportunity for our members to see what great restoration can look like,” she said. “If you see some of the pictures from before when they were removing some of the exotic plants, it was thick with exotics. Now it’s filled with beautiful native vegetation.”

Maura Scanlon, Assistant Professor of Biology in Environmental Science Technology at the Seminole Campus, said the habitat also serves as green space for relaxing and as an outdoor classroom for field studies.

“It is ideal as it highlights not only the beauty of native plants and animals, but also how impacted urban land can become ecologically functional again through wetland restoration,” Scanlon said.

While the habitat has not been featured on the landscape tour in prior years, members of the Florida Native Plant Society have served as speakers for students in the Associate in Science Environmental Technology program and Seminole Environmental Club at the Seminole Campus.

The Natural Habitat Park is teeming with life – including more than 250 species of birds, dragonflies, reptiles and native plants. The park features a 200-yard-long boardwalk with 12 viewing stations, a 50-seat teaching pavilion, a floating dock and a butterfly and sculpture garden.

Students from the SPC Seminole Environmental Club will provide assistance to visitors and answer questions during the tour.

“Having the park be a stop on the tour provides an opportunity for the public to learn more about SPC, our programs, and this great resource,” Scanlon said.

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Bridgette Bello

Bridgette Bello

St. Petersburg College Board of Trustees member Bridgette Bello will address SPC Women on the Way meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 24, from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on Clearwater Campus, ES-104.

Publisher of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, Bello was named Business Woman of the Year in 2011 by the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. Bello will introduce Bizwomen.com, a subsidiary of the Tampa Bay Business Journal that provides women with information and inspiration.

The meeting is open to SPC students, faculty, staff and the community.

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nat-large
One by one, audience members stood up as their country was called. By the time the 34 countries were announced, 100 people were standing in the Fine Arts Auditorium at SPC’s Clearwater Campus, ready to take the Oath of Allegiance to become American citizens.

Wednesday’s naturalization ceremony held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was a first for the college. Since January, SPC has worked with USCIS to host free workshops for those interested in becoming United States citizens.

SPC student Vlora Neziri

SPC student Vlora Neziri

“It’s amazing that SPC helped organize this,” said SPC student Vlora Neziri, who addressed the audience and has been a Student Citizenship Ambassador since the program began. “Not only are they celebrating but we are celebrating with them. It shows that the college is there for the community.”

During the workshops, potential citizens learn about U.S. history and government through conversations with SPC professors and students. SPC students lead lessons plans provided by USCIS covering 100 questions that could be asked on the citizenship exam.

“We are a community institution and we thought this would be a wonderful place to hold this event,” said Joseph Smiley, Dean of Social and Behavioral Sciences at SPC. “The very essence of our society is based on the Constitution. It’s the most important document to any person becoming a citizen.”

The USCIS ceremony helped commemorate Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, held every Sept. 17 in honor of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. This year marks the 227th anniversary of the Constitution. Celebrations are usually held the entire week and this year, USCIS will welcome more than 27,000 new citizens during 160 naturalization ceremonies from Sept. 17-23.

Along with fulfilling class requirements for service, students are getting an opportunity to give back to their community, a focus of ongoing efforts by the college and its Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions (ISPS) to strengthen civics education and engagement.

“Our students are meeting people from all over the world and seeing America through their eyes,” said Professor Suzanne Preston, who has helped spearhead the citizenship project. “It is a privilege for our students to be a part of this life-changing process.”

After issuing the formal oath, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich congratulated the group on their accomplishment and noted the responsibility that comes with it.

U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich

U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich

“By becoming a citizen, you’ve made a contract with every other person in this room and in the country,” said Kovachevich, herself an SPC graduate. “We are the people and we make this country what it is. Remember this date, Sept. 17, because it is your new birthday.”

The 100 new citizens came from the following countries: Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, China, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Dominican Republic, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Haiti, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mexico, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

“What struck me about the ceremony was the sheer happiness of it,” said Neziri, who went through the naturalization process when she was 20. She will graduate in December with her A.A. degree and plans to pursue her bachelor’s at SPC. “I’m so honored to do this, because it’s important me to inspire people and give them hope. That’s the least I can do.”

USCIS invites new citizens, their families and friends to share their experiences from the ceremonies via social media using the hashtag #newUScitizen.

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Help spread the word and make a difference by joining St. Petersburg College and the local movement of people who will honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 19, 2015 with a Day of Service.

This annual event draws hundreds of groups that volunteer their time and resources to make a difference in their local community. This is the third year SPC has received funds from the Florida Legislature for the event.

As part of the MLK Day of Service, you can:

  • Plan a service project and apply for a 2015 MLK Day of Service Award of up to $5,000 to fund the project
  • Serve as a volunteer in another organization or group’s service project on the MLK Day of Service
  • Organize a service project and have the project posted on this website
  • Become a donor or sponsor

To apply for a service award, applicants are strongly advised to attend an info session:

SPC Allstate Campus
3200 34th Street S., St. Petersburg, Desoto Room #103

  • Tuesday, Sept. 23, 6-7:30 p.m.
  • Thursday, Sept. 25, 6-7:30 p.m.

SPC St. Petersburg/Gibbs Campus
6605 5th Avenue N., St. Petersburg, AD 180

  • Saturday, Sept. 27, 10 a.m.-Noon

For more information visit www.spcollege.edu/mlkservice or contact James Robinson at Robinson.james@spcollege.edu or call 727-341-4121.

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