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Week in Review

By Times staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

EASTERLING SEEKS TO OUT-MAIL NORMAN: For the second time in a year, Hillsborough Commissioner Stacey Easterling has used county money for a mass mailing that reads a lot like a campaign flier. Easterling said Thursday that the more than $1,000 she has spent to send almost 3,000 letters to constituents is intended to keep them up to speed on important issues. She acknowledged the latest missive was sent to homes outside her district in south Tampa and Town 'N Country. She said she reached out because the mailing deals with growth and schools -- issues of countywide importance.

Easterling is considering a run against fellow Republican Commissioner Jim Norman but said the mailing has nothing to do with the possible county-wide bid. She said the school crowding issue is a hot one for all voters. And though she is a district commissioner, she said she votes on many issues affecting the rest of the county.

"I will be doing more mailouts," Easterling said. "I don't understand what the problem is. This is my job. How else are people supposed to know what government is doing?"

Easterling spent about $500 last June to mail more than 1,200 letters updating voters in her district about her efforts to rein in government spending. This time, she has mailed at least 1,500 letters, largely to registered voters, describing her efforts to link development decisions with school capacity. She shipped the letters to homes throughout the county at a cost of around $600.

The letter finishes with a hand-written note from Easterling saying, "I hope to hear from you."

Among its recipients was Norman, her potential opponent. "I didn't call her," he said jokingly.

PROFESSORS GROUP INVESTIGATES USF: The American Association of University Professors will send a team of investigators to the University of South Florida this spring to examine the university's treatment of controversial professor Sami Al-Arian. The case "has raised issues of academic freedom, tenure and due process that are of basic concern to the academic community and are incumbent on us to address," associate general secretary Jordan Kurland wrote in a letter to USF president Judy Genshaft.

At stake is a possible censure that could harm the university's ability to attract top faculty and research money. Genshaft said in a news release that she welcomed the visit and was pleased to give the association the opportunity "to review our facts and data with such a respected body." The team will privately interview USF administrators, the board of trustees, faculty members and others whom the university decides they should meet.

Al-Arian was the focus of a federal investigation in the mid 1990s, when agents suspected that an Islamic think tank he operated at USF was a front for Middle Eastern terrorists. He was never charged with a crime. Genshaft is considering whether to fire Al-Arian, a tenured computer science professor who came under a firestorm of criticism after his alleged ties to terrorists were aired on national television last fall.

Genshaft has said that Al-Arian violated contractual agreements and that his presence on campus jeopardizes the safety of students and faculty. The faculty union strongly opposes dismissing Al-Arian, saying it would violate the tenets of academic freedom and free speech. Al-Arian is on paid leave. If the association were to issue a formal censure, USF would become only the 10th university in the association's 87-year history to have been blacklisted twice.

RAIN HOLDS UP VETERANS REOPENING: Rainy weather put the skids on the reopening of the Veterans Expressway on Thursday, but transportation officials completed the task Friday. The reopening of the southbound bridge over Independence Parkway was to bring an end to more than a month of detours and barricades on the Veterans at Independence.

Plans include a reconfiguration of the State Road 60 exit, shifting lanes back to where they used to be south of the bridge, and opening one lane of the ramp from Memorial Highway. But motorists will have to wait at least another two weeks before the westbound lanes of Independence are back to normal. The southbound bridge over Independence Parkway was closed after a gasoline tanker slammed into the Veterans Expressway on Dec. 28.

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