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    The week in review

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 13, 2002

    Backers bail on museum that floats

    TAMPA -- A bid to bring the USS Forrestal to Tampa as a floating museum has been dry-docked for lack of money.

    For three years, the true believers pushed on, fighting to bring the world's largest floating museum to the Ybor Channel. The USS Forrestal would draw a half-million tourists a year, they promised, double as a hurricane shelter and convention center, and serve as a stunning visual reminder of American military might.

    Critics called it a supersize white elephant, a 1,086-foot pipe dream. But now, even champions of bringing the supercarrier to Tampa admit the idea is sunk. Minus a large, unexpected infusion of cash, "You could give the post-mortem right now," said Frank Eurice, a board member of the USS Forrestal Sea, Air, Space Museum Inc.

    The museum group, which was behind the Tampa effort, voted last Thursday to close its offices, saying it was $400,000 short of funds needed to pay off debts and perform feasibility studies required by the Navy.

    The group, which has raised $1.2-million but remains $182,000 in debt, will continue to exist as a nonprofit corporation just in case someone pumps in enough cash to resurrect it. But the project fell prey to a Catch-22, because donors refused to give money until the Navy awarded Tampa the carrier, and the Navy wouldn't award it without assurances Tampa had the money to take care of it.

    County administrator allowed to keep looking for new job

    BROOKSVILLE -- As Hernando County commissioners debated Administrator Paul McIntosh's fate Tuesday, little did they know he had set alternate plans in motion.

    The administrator, under fire and possible investigation for how his office handled a consultant's contract, applied a week earlier to replace Marion County's retiring administrator.

    Hernando commissioners reacted swiftly Wednesday. Two who had wanted to fire McIntosh on Tuesday were joined by two others who suggested that he had better commit to Hernando County or get lost.

    But a day later, tempers had cooled, and commissioners who earlier in the week had wanted his dismissal seemed unwilling to stand in his way out the door. Each wished him luck in the job search.

    Meanwhile, McIntosh has some fires to put out. Last week he reprimanded a top administrator for taking college bowl game tickets from utilities consultant Hartman & Associates at the same time he was securing the company's services for the county.

    And the Hartman contract itself has been troublesome. Commissioners voided it, saying they believed the selection process was tainted, and asked prosecutors to look into it.

    Inverness burger imbroglio being sorted out by attorney

    INVERNESS -- A fact-finding investigation by the Inverness city attorney into the New Year's Day incident at Happy Dayz Diner is expected to wrap up next week.

    A dispute between Inverness police Chief Joe Elizarde and the restaurant over a lost hamburger order turned ugly when the chief said he was "manhandled" and arrested the owner. Owner Butch Ramsey contends the chief was abusive to him and his staff, and that he merely placed a hand on Elizarde's shoulder to show him the door. A firestorm of debate erupted, and the town has talked of little else.

    City Manager Frank DiGiovanni, who placed the chief on paid administrative leave, will make the final call.

    Dog in heat? Keep it away from the males, owners told

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- In an effort to cap the population of dogs, Pasco County commissioners voted Tuesday to fine the owners of female dogs if the animals aren't supervised or locked inside a cage or house while they are in heat. A fenced yard is not good enough.

    Commissioners Ted Schrader and Peter Altman voted against the measure, arguing that property owners with sturdy fences should be exempt.

    "I suggest the inconvenience of having (pet owners) be responsible for female dogs in heat is a very small price to pay ... compared to the heartbreaking waste of animal lives," Denise Hilton, manager of Pasco County Animal Control, told commissioners.

    Male dogs often will jump over or dig under fences to reach a female dog in heat, Hilton said.

    Hillsborough's animal control ordinance doesn't mention fences but calls for dogs and cats in heat to be confined in a building or enclosure to prevent unintentional breeding.

    Pinellas County's ordinance also is similar to Pasco's new law, calling a fence insufficient.

    In short . . .

    ST. PETERSBURG -- Police officers voted 214-122 to retain the Police Benevolent Association, the sometimes combative union, to represent them instead of a rival union. The election prompted the PBA's leaders to respond to complaints from some members who think the union is too antagonistic toward administrators. "Now's the time to mend the fences," said Bill LauBach, the PBA's executive director.

    TAMPA -- Robert Pettyjohn, 19, was sentenced to 10 years, with release and probation possible after three years, for shooting two bulls with a bow and arrows. The judge fretted about the sentence for an obviously disturbed teenager who is also accused in other cases of torturing llamas, a goat and a gerbil. The prosecutors had asked for a 15-year sentence, with the option of letting Pettyjohn out after five years. But Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ron Ficarrotta said he would not consider other incidents in rendering his sentence, as they were only allegations and had not been proved.

    TAMPA -- Criticized for being too soft on ousted Tampa housing chief Steve LaBrake, the state Ethics Commission has backed off its earlier finding and now says questions remain about whether LaBrake misused his official position to build a home in South Tampa with his girlfriend, Lynne McCarter. LaBrake said he is compiling a rebuttal to charges that he misused his position.

    Coming up this week

    Opening statements begin Monday in the long-anticipated trial that will determine whether four prison guards murdered one of their inmates. Was death row inmate Frank Valdes beaten and stomped to death by guards at Florida State Prison on July 17, 1999, as prosecutors allege? Or did he injure himself, as the guards contend, by falling off his bunk and flinging himself repeatedly from the cell bars to the concrete floor of his solitary cell? The trial is expected to take four to six weeks.

    By Tuesday, Gov. Jeb Bush will release his entire budget proposal for next year. He has already announced plans to restore some of the money cut from school budgets last year and to add more money to the state's school recognition fund to reward schools with excellent or improved test scores. That could be a sign that Bush expects the state's new school grading system to result in more improvement among schools.

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