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    Metro review

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


    Ex-coach calls foul in age issue

    CRYSTAL RIVER -- In his letter withdrawing himself from consideration for the job of assistant principal at Crystal River High School, Earl Bramlett let fly a few choice words for School Board members who questioned whether he was up to the job.

    Principal Stephen Myers had proposed that the former head football coach keep his activities director job, and the extra pay that comes with it, even as he became assistant principal at the high school.

    That prompted four of the five board members to wonder whether the move would discourage younger educators from seeking to move up in the system and whether at age 63 Bramlett could perform two time-consuming jobs.

    Bramlett chose to drop the matter, but not before calling the board on it.

    "Am I to believe that our School Board perceives all employees who have reached a certain chronological age in this manner?" he wrote in a letter to the School Board. "I take great umbrage with this inference and wonder if our elected officials have lost sight of ethical behavior. Please understand that when my age becomes an impediment to my ability to perform my responsibilities, I will notify you immediately."

    Although board member Carol Snyder said Bramlett might have been able to handle both jobs, "it set a precedent." She said it is too easy to let zeal for one position overshadow attention to the other.

    Five years later, teacher still fighting to clear name

    BROOKSVILLE -- After complaints from a troubled student, Joseph Gatti, a Powell Middle School teacher, stood accused of being a child molester. That was Dec. 5, 1996.

    More than five years later, Gatti still stands accused.

    Every criminal charge lodged against him was tossed out within a year. He won a resounding victory in a 1998 hearing that allowed him to teach again.

    But on Monday, Gatti faced the charges again.

    This time the adversary is the Florida Department of Education. His freedom is no longer at stake, just his license to teach. The allegations are being measured against the teachers code of ethics.

    After two days, the central focus of the case against Gatti is whether he undermined the rights of a student's parents by not telling them where the student was when he ran away.

    Administrative law Judge Diane Cleavinger said she doesn't put much stock in complaints that Gatti gave his students gifts. And just because a teacher interferes with a parent's directive doesn't mean he violated the teacher code of ethics, she said.

    She is expected to make a ruling in the next few months.

    Night parade turns away all-gay krewe

    TAMPA -- Risque antics at the Krewe of Sant'Yago Knight Parade are longstanding and well-known, but parade organizers still decided to kick out an all-gay krewe that was the subject of complaints last year.

    The decision to eject the Krewe of Cavaliers appears to have sparked a backlash.

    Parade chairman Randy Conte said he has received hate calls since the news broke and that he may need security.

    The decision to bar the Cavaliers was the first time organizers had punished a krewe, or social club, for allegations of impropriety. Conte said the decision had nothing to do with the Cavaliers' sexual orientation or the nature of the complaints.

    The Cavaliers countered that theirs wasn't the only krewe criticized by some parade watchers.

    The ban isn't permanent. The Cavaliers will be allowed to march in the Knight Parade next year, a krewe spokesman said.

    Bridge trail has many fans, but few donors

    TAMPA -- All of the people who use the Friendship Trail Bridge -- those folks who already bought pricey bikes, skates and fishing rods -- have apparently been cruising past the "donation stations" meant to pay for the trail's upkeep.

    The grand total of donations last year: $93.04. The trail's operating budget is $300,000.

    "Kind of pathetic, wasn't it?" said Frank Miller, executive director of the nonprofit Friendship Trail Corp., the nonprofit group charged with raising money for the bridge.

    It's not that the trail is unpopular. Every weekend the 2.6-mile bridge, touted as the world's longest recreation trail over water, is dotted with runners, cyclists and skaters. Officials estimate that 250,000 people used it last year.

    "We would like to urge people to bring a buck to the bridge each time they visit," Miller said. "One hundred percent compliance would mean we're almost there, right?"

    The trail, an old highway bridge rescued from demolition, links Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The counties share operating costs, but donations originally were expected to pay for upkeep.

    Meanwhile, most of the $7-million the state set aside for the bridge is gone -- used to build railings and fishing piers and to make repairs. Government officials say that fund will go dry next year.

    Animal lovers come to the rescue of Pasco shelter

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Some dogs and cats destined to die by the needle could be spared, thanks to an arrangement between the Humane Society of North Pinellas and Pasco County Animal Control.

    Rick Chaboudy, executive director of the Humane Society office, said he was prodded into action after a story about the Animal Control shelter appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

    The article told the story of dozens of unwanted pets euthanized each week at the Pasco facility. It was accompanied by a photo of dogs that had just been euthanized, prompting letters from angry readers.

    "People were asking, "Is there any way we can help them up there?' " Chaboudy said.

    Chaboudy's shelter holds about 350 animals a day and won't put a time limit on how long they stay. The shelter's annual adoption rate is 74 percent.

    With an annual adoption rate of 19 percent, the often-crowded Pasco shelter can call on Chaboudy to take some of its animals.

    In short . . .

    LAND O'LAKES -- Pasco County schoolteachers can continue to use the popular Harry Potter books in class, a curriculum committee decided Monday. A parent had challenged the use of the books in his son's 10th-grade English class, saying they feature the adventures of a young wizard, promote the Wiccan religion and therefore violate the separation of church and state. Parent Bill Niland said he will consider going to court.

    TAMPA -- The Veterans Expressway reopened, bringing an end to more than a month of detours and barricades on the toll road at Independence Parkway. The southbound bridge over Independence Parkway reopened Friday, but motorists will have to wait at least another two weeks before the westbound lanes of Independence are back to normal.

    TAMPA -- The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center on Monday announced a $30-million campaign to build a new arts school downtown, expand existing center programs and offer new ones. The facility is meant for enhancement learning and will not offer degrees. The age of students will range from toddlers to seniors.

    Coming up this week

    The controversial Halls River Retreat comes before Citrus County commissioners Tuesday, and opposition is growing, including from some wealthy river residents who like to fish. Opponents have filed several challenges to the proposed four-story, 54-unit time share on the Halls River, which prompted one county commissioner to suggest the board delay its vote for several months until those environmental issues are sorted out.

    Clifford Micklos shot his wife in the head. But the 86-year-old is only going to receive house arrest and probation in a plea deal for what he calls the mercy killing of his gravely ill wife. Micklos, who is frail and sickly himself, is scheduled to be in court Wednesday to present the plea agreement.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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