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    Metro week in review

    By SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 24, 2002


    Notes sent home about kids' weight

    INVERNESS -- The Citrus County School Board and parents are again questioning the wording of notices being sent home that point out children's weight problems.

    The School Board in November spoke out against handing notices to children in front of their peers.

    So when another round of the letters, organized through the Citrus County Health Department, was mailed to homes in recent weeks, School Board members and the district office began getting phone calls again.

    Some who got the letter, which tells parents their child is underweight, overweight or at risk of becoming overweight, saw the format as accusing them of being bad parents.

    "We don't need to lecture parents," said board member Carol Snyder. "We just need to send them the information and leave it at that."

    Doubts arise over firm's minority ownership

    TAMPA -- Hillsborough school administrators were thrilled with a report that shows the school system's use of minority subcontractors is at an all-time high.

    But one of the largest subcontractors listed in the report, GPM Inc., may not be a minority business at all.

    That's what the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority decided last year after the company's president, Jonathan Graham, who is black, applied for minority certification to qualify for agency work.

    The authority concluded that Thomas B. Bradley, who is white, was the real owner of the masonry company. Bradley, who operates a large masonry firm known as Masonry Builders, has only a 49 percent interest in GPM but the building, insurance and bonding ability are in his name, airport managers concluded.

    Graham says the aviation authority made a mistake and has appealed the decision.

    "Mr. Bradley is a person who owns a percentage of my business," Graham said. "I do all the contract work. I do all the bids. I'm the person who is responsible for everything."

    In contrast to the school system's policy against verifying minority firms, both the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County are reviewing GPM's minority certification status.

    Pasco officials bounce homemade speed bump

    PORT RICHEY -- Tim Dodge and his neighbors were fed up with people speeding down Westcott Drive, using the straight residential street as a shortcut around a stoplight.

    Dodge, an engineer who owns Digital Camera Batteries in Port Richey, built a speed bump.

    But it's illegal to put up speed bumps willy nilly, so Pasco County crews removed the plastic polymer bump on Tuesday and repaired the street.

    Dodge said he will now wait for the county to consider an ordinance next month that will allow county road crews to install speed bumps and other traffic control measures and bill homeowners.

    Even with all the trouble, Dodge joked that he might have stumbled onto a side business.

    "I got quite a few calls from people who wanted to buy speed bump kits," Dodge said.

    But he said he'll wait for the county. And he'll pay for the first one on his block.

    "What else can you do?" he said. "It's the county."

    Rise in number of turtles at power plant raises red flag

    CRYSTAL RIVER -- More than 60 sea turtles swam into an intake canal at Florida Power's nuclear plant last year, a new high that far exceeds a federal "take" limit and renews a debate about how best to respond to the issue.

    All but a few of the 66 that entered the canal were Kemp's ridleys, an endangered species. Most were captured alive and relocated.

    The turtles presumably were looking for food. Crabs find the rocky area around the canal opening a suitable habitat, and that draws predators, said Florida Power biologist Dave Bruzek.

    As they swim up the canal, a steady current traps some of the turtles against a grate that allows water to pass but stops large debris from entering the plant's cooling system.

    Pointing to the low number of deaths, Florida Power is petitioning the National Marine Fisheries Service for an unlimited number of live takes.

    A biologist with the service, Bob Hoffman, said there is precedent for such an arrangement "as long as they continue to do what they're doing."

    "They do a good job of keeping the turtles alive," he said.

    After four weeks, mail scooters returned to sender

    TAMPA -- Tampa letter carriers are back on their feet these days, feeling a trifle bereft after a four-week trial using a high-tech scooter to deliver mail.

    "I miss the ride. I miss the machine," carrier J.J. Collazo said one warm afternoon as he held a large pile of mail, a heavy mailbag slung over his shoulder.

    The battery-operated scooters, billed as human transporters, made worldwide headlines in January when five letter carriers in Tampa were the first to test them. The Segway Co. donated the scooters both to promote and to test the $3,000 devices. During the trial, engineers gathered data about the machines' performance.

    Collazo said the machine made it easier for him to carry large bundles of mail and cover long distances.

    "I got the hang of the machine so fast," he said. "You have to practice balancing and delivering the mail. Then, it was so easy."

    In short ...

    BROOKSVILLE -- Regional water managers filed suit against the Sherman Hills Golf Club in Brooksville, which used more water during the recent drought than any other golf course in Hernando County. The Southwest Florida Water Management District acted after Sherman Hills refused to pay an $18,500 fine for overpumping during the drought. The club says the fine is unfair and that it is being singled out.

    Tampa's former housing chief, now a private real estate broker, showed up at his old City Hall offices Tuesday to introduce city officials to executives who may want to develop an old Ybor City school site. The visit raised eyebrows because Steve LaBrake is out of office in part because a federal grand jury is investigating his dealings with a nonprofit housing group. Mayor Dick Greco said there was nothing the city could do to stop LaBrake from earning a living as a private real estate broker.

    A Hernando County personnel board, aghast at the bickering, venom and overall nastiness displayed by both sides in the county's Emergency Management office, recommended that County Administrator Paul McIntosh hire outside help to give "management training" and to help the entire staff through conflict resolution. Troubles in the Emergency Management Department first came to light in October when underlings challenged director Bill Appleby's handling of an anthrax scare that cleared the government center. They were suspended, a penalty later reduced to a written reprimand. But the hostility continues, they say.

    Coming up this week

    On Monday, radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem goes to trial on a charge of animal cruelty for the on-air castration and slaughter of a wild pig last February, which could bring him five years in prison. Court observers say jury selection, expected to be the longest part of the trial, is likely to make or break the case. The defense will try to weed out too-ardent animal lovers; prosecutors will do the same with Bubba fans.

    Spring training begins around Florida this week. The Devil Rays' first exhibition game is Friday against the University of Tampa and their first professional exhibition is Saturday against the Braves.

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