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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 3, 2002


    Students tap top teacher of their own

    INVERNESS -- This time of year, school districts around the state are evaluating their candidates for Teacher of the Year. But some students at Citrus High School staged a coup of sorts.

    Miffed that the traditional teacher of the year selection had no student input, a separate award was organized.

    While Citrus High's faculty members selected Lisa Sperry, an exceptional education teacher, as the school's Teacher of the Year, students declared geography-world history teacher Scott Waters their teacher of the year.

    It all started in September when George Beck, president of the school's junior class, asked the principal to include student input in the selection.

    But principal Mike Mullen said there was no room in the guidelines for such student participation.

    So Beck waded through the bureaucracy of the School Advisory Enhancement Council and helped organize an election among the school's 1,500 students.

    Waters, who also coaches softball, said he was "touched" by the student vote.

    Inglis' Satan debate quelled, even as mayor enjoys support

    INGLIS -- Satan's ban from the town of Inglis was revoked, but the Dark Prince won't find a welcome mat anytime soon.

    Nearly 100 supporters packed Town Hall on Monday to support Mayor Carolyn Risher's proclamation banning Satan from town and to decry what they view as discrimination against Christians.

    But with the American Civil Liberties Union showing interest in the issue, the Town Commission declared the proclamation the work of an individual, not a town official, because it was never authorized despite being on town stationery.

    But it was clear many townspeople agree with Risher, 61, a lifelong resident of the Levy County community 90 miles north of St. Petersburg.

    They spoke up in a raucous meeting punctuated with amens and heartfelt speeches. Later the group joined hands to sing God Bless America.

    Risher issued the Satan ban on Halloween, ruling that in the town of Inglis, "Satan is hereby declared powerless, no longer ruling over, nor influencing, our citizens."

    What followed were punch lines and grist for comedy shows that Town Commission member Floyd Craig said "made the town the dang laughingstock of the country."

    Airboaters look for ways to retain nature-friendly fun

    BROOKSVILLE -- The constant whine of the engines has to stop, but that doesn't mean airboat fun has to be sunk, Hernando officials decided.

    County commissioners Tuesday set up a task force to create airboat regulations after listening to the concerns of airboaters and environmentalists.

    Airboats are flat-bottom boats moved by propellers that rotate in the air. They can travel in areas inaccessible by other boats, and when they exceed 55 mph, they ride on a cushion of air above the water.

    The task force will deal with problems created by what one activist called the "2 percent idiot factor."

    Frank Johnson of Hernando Beach told commissioners that they need not destroy the recreation of airboating while setting rules. He said he has a muffler on his airboat, follows established trails and curses those who don't.

    "I've got a $1-million view," Johnson said. "I don't want to see any more of it ruined."

    Expressway repairs are zooming ahead of schedule

    TAMPA -- Work on the Veterans Expressway has moved so rapidly that officials say it may reopen sooner than expected.

    That's good news for thousands of commuters who had been told it would take until March to repair the toll road, which was crippled after a gasoline tanker crashed in December.

    Although a spokeswoman was not able to specify a date for the reopening, it is expected to happen in February.

    Workers had to demolish the old southbound span of the bridge after the Dec. 28 accident in which the tanker careened out of control on Independence Parkway, igniting an inferno that closed the parkway's on-ramp and a portion of the Veterans.

    Nice weather and a hard-working crew have contributed to its rapid construction, said a Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

    Christian charity opens its board to other faiths

    TAMPA -- Faced with donor dismay after the area's best-known charity denied a Jewish woman a seat on its governing board, Metropolitan Ministries promised Thursday to change its policy and include people of different faiths.

    The decision ended months of anguished internal debate, but the board made certain Christians will keep control. It adopted rules that limit the number of non-Christians.

    Last fall, Ministries president Morris Hintzman asked executives at TECO Energy, which had donated $1-million to the charity, to suggest people for the board. TECO offered Linda Karson, a Jewish woman and the wife of a TECO senior vice president, as a candidate. But the group's bylaws said only "professed Christians" could serve.

    Stunned, TECO told the nonprofit it couldn't continue donating to a group that discriminates. Other donors said last week they were re-evaluating whether to continue giving.

    Despite being rejected, Karson said she supports the organization's work, but said it was sad the board set limits.

    "There are a lot of other wonderful charities who do great work and feed the homeless and are not exclusive," she said. "Exclusionary practices are not what charity means."

    In short . . .

    Clearwater Mall locked its doors for the last time on Thursday. Opened in 1973, it became one of the first major enclosed malls in the Tampa Bay area. Now it will be torn down and developed into a retail complex, most likely an open-air shopping center.

    Pasco County home builders now have to pay a parks impact fee of $892 for a single-family home and $627 per new unit in a multifamily complex. The impact fees are expected to raise $20-million over 10 years. But according to consultants, the county must double that amount to fund what it needs.

    Oak Hill Hospital's on-again, off-again approval for an open-heart surgery center in Spring Hill is on again. By showing that in 1999, for instance, more than 600 cardiac patients had to travel by ambulance to Hudson to get care, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration made the unusual move of overturning an administrative law judge's October ruling that Oak Hill did not justify its need for the program. Unless there is an appeal, the hospital can break ground in 90 days, and be complete in about 18 months.

    Coming up this week

    University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft faces one of the biggest decisions of her career in weighing whether to fire controversial professor Sami Al-Arian. Allegations that Al-Arian, a computer engineering professor, has ties to terrorism brought the university hundreds of angry e-mails, phone calls and letters and at least a dozen death threats. Genshaft had said she would fire him, citing safety concerns and that student recruitment and faculty grants were hurt by the controversy. But tenure is nearly sacred to college professors, who rely on it to speak freely, and groups that support First Amendment and academic freedom rights are firmly in Al-Arian's camp.

    Weather permitting, up to 400 acres in the Brooker Creek Preserve could be cleared of tinder-dry brush during several controlled burns this week. Fire officials promise to try to avoid the problems that happened during a Jan. 9 burn in the preserve, in which thick smoke drifted west into two Ridgemoor neighborhoods. The smoke irritated eyes and throats and so permeated some homes that they had to be professionally cleaned.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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