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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writers
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 17, 2002

    Manatee Mo makes some new friends

    CRYSTAL RIVER -- A manatee named Mo was the toast of the town last week with a visit by a renowned documentary filmmaker and a long-awaited release into the wild.

    With all the hoopla, no wonder Mo didn't go far.

    Mo is no ordinary manatee. Found orphaned in the Withlacoochee River in 1994, he was taken into captivity for several years before being released in Kings Bay in April 1998. A month later, he vanished, later to be found near the Dry Tortugas, where he would have died without another rescue.

    Upon his release Wednesday, satellite tracking data indicated Mo had strayed only a few hundred feet. The spring this week was full of manatees and researchers say that should keep Mo from straying very far.

    Before his release, he brushed fins with a celebrity.

    Sir David Attenborough visited the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park to film a sequence on manatees for a segment of the BBC's The Life of Mammals series.

    Attenborough is renowned for his wildlife documentaries, including The Life of Birds. The script called for him to talk about how the gentle herbivores evolved and the physical features of the creatures that make them unique.

    Husband spared prison in ailing wife's mercy killing

    INVERNESS -- In tearful testimony, Patricia Micklos told a judge that her father could not bear to see his wife endure relentless suffering.

    So one evening in March, Clifford Micklos shot his wife in the head at their Beverly Hills home and called 911.

    In a plea agreement, the frail Micklos, 86, was sentenced to house arrest, probation and a $500 fine and is prohibited from owning a weapon.

    Ruth Micklos, 80, had been gravely ill for years, suffering two strokes, an inoperable brain tumor, kidney problems and congestive heart failure.

    The family asked about hospice care but doctors said it wasn't yet time.

    "What was I going to do?" Clifford Micklos asked angrily. "He didn't even know. . . . I can't see letting a person die in agony. You wouldn't even let an animal die like that."

    Investigation of contracts clears county administrator

    BROOKSVILLE -- Prosecutors determined that Hernando County Administrator Paul McIntosh did nothing illegal in his dealings with utility consultant Hartman & Associates, but some county commissioners still expressed skepticism.

    After McIntosh issued five contracts to Hartman last year, questions arose over whether he split the agreements to avoid competitive bidding requirements. Prosecutors were also asked to look at possible Sunshine Law violations and whether Hartman had undue influence in writing the contracts.

    No criminal violations were found, the report said.

    McIntosh said he was relieved an independent party had looked at the allegations and cleared him and his staff of any wrongdoing. He looked forward to tackling the water issues that got him snagged in the inquiry.

    But some commissioners are still unhappy with McIntosh.

    "I still think that basically there were some procedural errors that occurred that shouldn't have occurred," Commissioner Chris Kingsley said. "We never should have been in a position to have needed a review like this. He needs to be aware of that."

    Citrus commissioners give Halls River condos a nod

    INVERNESS -- Citrus County commissioners narrowly approved the proposed Halls River Retreat condominium project, but regulatory obstacles remain.

    Neighbors opposed the condo plans, saying the four-story time shares would be incompatible with the neighborhood and detrimental to the environment in Homosassa.

    Commissioners Roger Batchelor and Jim Fowler were squarely in the developer's corner, saying F. Blake Longacre had "bent over backwards" to bring his 54-unit complex into compliance with the county's Comprehensive Plan, and therefore was entitled to develop his 11-acre property on the banks of the Halls River.

    The swing vote belonged to Commissioner Josh Wooten, who wanted more information on the environmental impacts but eventually decided the project, which still faces myriad legal challenges from opponents, can move one difficult step forward.

    "I have agonized over this more than anything since I have been on the board," said Wooten, who was elected in 2000, as the hearing passed the five-hour mark Tuesday. "This issue has divided our community, divided our staff, divided commissioners against staff. It has been hard to sit back and watch this."

    Treasure Island officials give up free ride on bridge

    TREASURE ISLAND -- After the city stopped offering free bridge passes to volunteers, some commissioners said it was time to end their own free ride as well.

    "That leaves no bone of contention anywhere," said Commissioner Butch Ellsworth, who proposed eliminating free passes for current and future commissioners. The exception would be for former commissioners who retired with at least 10 years of service to the city and who still live in Treasure Island.

    Mayor Leon Atkinson had said he thought commissioners should continue to receive the passes because they are city employees. Eliminating passes for commissioners is going "a little bit further than necessary," he said.

    The $30 passes still will be given to city employees and retired employees who meet certain criteria for service and residency.

    In short . . .

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Pasco County commissioners agreed to pursue a 1-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax, which is now 45.5 cents. But three of the commissioners voiced support for raising it even higher, by a total of 3 cents, to pay for road projects as well as property for needed roads before those land prices skyrocket.

    In a reversal, Florida asked the federal government for radiation-blocking pills to protect residents near three nuclear power plants. That means 784,000 pills -- 2 for each of the 392,000 people who live within 10 miles of the Crystal River, St. Lucie and Turkey Point power plants -- will be accepted that reduce the threat of thyroid cancer. In the past, state and local officials had resisted the government's offer, saying the tablets would provide a false sense of security.

    CLEARWATER -- Pinellas County billboards will start coming down this year. Under settlements with Viacom Outdoor and Lamar Advertising, a few billboards would come down this year and a handful more would come down each year until 2025, when each company would have three billboards remaining on Ulmerton Road. Pinellas still is negotiating with the third and largest company, Eller Media, to enforce the county's 1992 ordinance that called for the billboards to come down in 1999.

    Coming up this week

    St. Petersburg administrators will be weighing whether to continue to negotiate with city police officers or declare an impasse and ask the City Council to impose a one-year employment contract, which could include a smaller raise. The officers, who voted by a narrow margin Wednesday to reject a contract offer that would have raised their salaries 15 percent by late next year, have been working without a contract since October.

    Human rights advocate and Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel will speak at Eckerd College on Thursday about his reflections on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The event begins at 8 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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