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    Week in review

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 27, 2002

    Satan ban may bedevil town leaders

    INGLIS -- Mayor Carolyn Risher's now-famous official proclamation that forbade the devil from ever being a part of Inglis seems only to have spurred talk about the Prince of Darkness.

    On Monday, town leaders will discuss a letter the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida sent that says it will unleash the furies of a federal lawsuit unless the proclamation is repealed.

    Inspired by the pastor of a local church, Risher crafted the five-paragraph communique on town stationery.

    "Be it known from this day forward that Satan, ruler of darkness, giver of evil, destroyer of what is good and just, is not now, nor ever again will be, a part of this town of Inglis," it read.

    The proclamation, inserted into hollowed-out fence posts at the four entrances to town, declared Satan "powerless" over Inglis citizens.

    As word spread, Risher was deluged with media inquiries from across the nation and abroad.

    The Daily Show With Jon Stewart did a sarcastic bit (the interviewer's eyes glowed red as he spoke to the mayor) and there was a mention on Saturday Night Live.

    But the ACLU isn't laughing. The action clearly damages the principle of the separation of church and state, an ACLU lawyer wrote, and Risher should reimburse the town for any public funds used.

    Police chief leaves burger battle behind

    INVERNESS -- The Inverness police chief will take his "burger imbroglio" to go.

    Three weeks after a dispute over two hamburgers he didn't receive, Inverness police Chief Joe Elizarde announced his resignation Wednesday at a news conference he didn't attend.

    A few hours later, prosecutors said they would not file formal charges against Butch Ramsey, the owner of Happy Dayz Diner.

    Elizarde, 53, had accused Ramsey, 55, of "manhandling" him during a New Year's Day argument over the chief's missing hamburger order. Ramsey maintained that he only tapped the chief.

    Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni, who was asked by Elizarde to speak on his behalf, said the chief decided to quit for the "greater good" of the community.

    City Hall had been besieged by angry callers, many of whom said Elizarde abused his police powers.

    "He realizes clearly the city needs to get beyond this," DiGiovanni said.

    Fingers point after police, crowd clash

    ST. PETERSBURG -- After two incidents in which an explosive device was hurled at police officers, debate has rekindled over whether the Police Department is scaling back enforcement to avert confrontations in high-crime neighborhoods.

    After a drug arrest late Tuesday, someone tossed an object about the size of two "D" batteries at officers. It exploded, causing five officers to go to the hospital for powder burns, ringing ears and a nosebleed.

    On Friday, another explosive device was thrown, this time at a marked police cruiser on 18th Avenue S. Police were told to be careful when driving through the area, especially with open windows.

    Mayor Rick Baker said he was "outraged that anybody would in any way attack our police officers when they're doing their job."

    Police Chief Chuck Harmon said he considered the incidents isolated and not an escalation of tension between police and black residents in some high-crime neighborhoods.

    Financial woes might slow desal facility

    An engineering company hired to build and operate Tampa Bay's first desalination plant has run into financial trouble, the second time in two years the $110-million project has been jeopardized by money problems.

    Covanta Energy's difficulties could spell trouble for Tampa Bay Water, possibly delaying construction and raising the price tag for the desalination plant under construction next to Tampa Electric Co.'s power plant in Apollo Beach.

    Replacing the engineering contractor at this point, with the plant half-built, could delay completion by a few months, according to Tampa Bay Desal spokeswoman Honey Rand.

    But if the plant isn't finished by Dec. 31, it faces fines of $10,000 a day from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, Tampa Bay Water chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said.

    Tampa Bay Water officials say they are working around the clock to redo their financing to keep Covanta's woes from dragging down the desalination project.

    St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport begins to scan faces

    St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport began to scan faces Thursday, but fliers said security concerns trump those about invasion of privacy.

    By late afternoon, the airport's two cameras, one posted at each security checkpoint, had scanned 600 to 800 faces.

    The biggest problem was following directions. Many people looked at security guards or up in the air -- anywhere but into the camera monitor. A computer repeated instructions until people complied, looking straight ahead for a few seconds as their image was checked against a database of some 500 photos of terrorists and fugitives.

    It was Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice's idea to put the scanners in the airport, making it one of the nation's first airports to use them on passengers. His office received a $3.5-million federal grant in December 2000 to use the face recognition technology to overhaul the county jail's booking photos and help with police investigations.

    The technology sparked controversy after it was used to scan the crowds at last year's Super Bowl and after Tampa police began using it to watch Ybor City visitors. Civil libertarians say the scanners invade privacy, risk false arrests and have no proven track record. They point out that the technology has netted few arrests -- none at the Super Bowl, none in Ybor City.

    In short . . .

    TAMPA -- About 300 people showed up at the gates of MacDill Air Force Base last week in the largest peace rally in the Tampa Bay area since the U.S. military response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Organized by the newly formed Florida Alliance of Peace and Social Justice, the rally drew a diverse crowd from around the state.

    CLEARWATER -- The Army Corps of Engineers began dredging shallow spots in Clearwater Pass at no cost to the city last week. It will cost the corps $400,000. In some places in the channel, the depth has dropped as low as 3 feet, causing boats to run aground and damaging propellers.

    Coming up this week

    A Pinellas County custody case garnering national attention is expected to conclude next week. A transsexual named Michael Kantaras says that he is a loving father and wants custody, while his former wife wants to keep the person who began life as a girl named Margo out of the two children's lives.

    State Rep. Sara Romeo, D-Lutz, underwent a successful lumpectomy for breast cancer and plans to rejoin her colleagues in the Legislature this week. "I am joining thousands of women in the Tampa Bay area who will continue to live healthy, cancer-free lives thanks to the Moffitt Cancer Center," Romeo said.

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