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    The week in review

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 28, 2002

    Toxic site's watchdog resigns post

    TARPON SPRINGS -- Residents who live near the Stauffer Chemical Superfund cleanup site near Tarpon Springs were disheartened last week to learn that one of the few people who listened to them is walking away from his job.

    Environmental Protection Agency ombudsman Robert J. Martin quit his $118,000-a-year job as the agency's internal watchdog. He said the position was being redefined out of existence.

    Martin says the transfer of the ombudsman's job to the Office of the Inspector General will result in a cleanup process that is less open to public questioning. But EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman says the move will make the office more independent.

    Two years ago, Martin played a critical role in persuading the EPA to reconsider its cleanup plan for the 130-acre Stauffer site, where a phosphorus processing plant operated from 1947 until the early 1980s.

    U.S. Rep. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, and other members of Congress plan to send Whitman a letter raising concerns about the "degree of independence" that the ombudsman's office will have, a spokeswoman for the congressman said.

    Renaissance festival keeps up fight to stay in Largo

    LARGO -- Supporters of the Bay Area Renaissance Festival in Largo tried some last-minute cajoling to avoid a legal showdown, but it may have been for naught.

    Festival owner Jim Peterson sued after the City Commission voted 5-2 in March to terminate the final three years on his five-year lease. The popular festival has been in Largo for almost 23 years.

    Peterson is seeking to re-establish his lease, and he wants damages. The first hearing is scheduled for Monday.

    Since the contract was severed, hundreds of festival supporters have signed petitions, sent letters and e-mails, placed phone calls and made speeches at City Hall. Peterson has said he would drop the suit if given one more year.

    But some commissioners cited growing frustration with Peterson as a reason for terminating his contract. Many saw their vote as final and frowned on possible settlement talks between Peterson and administrators.

    Mayor Bob Jackson is among the minority who support keeping the festival one more year. He has repeatedly asked his colleagues to reconsider, but said he senses some are skeptical that Peterson will be satisfied with one more year.

    Cover up in Hernando, commission decrees

    BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando County officially has no tolerance for public nudity.

    That's in streets, sidewalks, parks, beaches, businesses, bottle clubs, hotels, motels, restaurants, nightclubs, country clubs, cabarets and meeting facilities.

    The only exceptions are in places specifically set aside for nudity, such as restrooms, locker rooms, hospitals and homes.

    Commissioners adopted the ordinance 4-1 after a lengthy public hearing before a packed room.

    On one side sat nearly 40 members of Landmark Baptist Church, whose preacher made the issue a priority during the past month. The women and girls wore long skirts and sleeves to the wrist; the men and boys sported dress pants, long-sleeved, collared shirts and ties.

    On the other were the nudists, well-tanned and mainly in shorts and tank tops.

    Commissioner Diane Rowden, the only dissenting vote, attempted to amend the definition of nudity so women would be allowed to wear thong bikinis or to permit nudist camps. The majority rejected those ideas.

    HIV-infected man lured teen on Internet, police say

    PINELLAS PARK -- Federal authorities say a teenage girl in Pinellas Park was exposed to the AIDS virus by a 48-year-old Queens, N.Y., man who met the girl in an Internet chat room, flew to Florida and had sex with her at a hotel.

    Now officials are considering charging the man with attempted murder.

    The criminal charges already filed against Jose "Joe" Blas are serious: A federal indictment accuses him of having sex with a minor.

    But earlier this week, prosecutors disclosed a dire dimension to the case not mentioned in court papers: Blas is HIV-positive and may have knowingly exposed other girls.

    "In the best light, this is statutory rape," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Noah Perlman, arguing in Brooklyn federal court that Blas was a threat to the community who should stay behind bars. "At worst, this is attempted murder."

    Blas remains under house arrest pending his arraignment in Florida, possibly as early as this week.

    School workers feel budget cuts in their wallets

    TAMPA -- School workers may soon be scraping around for lunch money of their own as districts turn to payrolls for cost-cutting measures.

    In Hillsborough, 56 assistant principals are being forced to take a cut in pay next year. Other employees may see their contracts scaled back as well, administrators say.

    In Pinellas County, schools may have to cut up to 90 positions to help balance the district's budget.

    The loss of those positions means services will be cut, and the county's 140 schools will have to find new ways to give one-on-one help to struggling students, keep computers running and work with disruptive students.

    Hillsborough's assistant principals for student affairs will lose 21 days of pay, which will save the district $293,000 this year.

    Many of the assistant principals think they are being unfairly targeted and suggested cutting every employee's pay by one day.

    In short ...

    TAMPA -- An investigator with the American Association of University Professors thinks University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft is having second thoughts about firing controversial professor Sami Al-Arian. Genshaft, however, denies any such change of mind. The investigator, a Duke University law professor, thinks Genshaft's "surprising" four-month delay in making a decision indicates that she has lost faith in the legal advice that green-lighted Al-Arian's proposed firing.

    Dunedin and Clearwater officials said Thursday that they probably won't ask Pinellas County to take over their spring training stadiums. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker has proposed turning over Tropicana Field to the county so the city can avoid paying a $1.35-million tax bill. Officials in the other cities say their tax bills won't be that high.

    TARPON SPRINGS -- A plan to redevelop Louis Pappas Riverside Restaurant with a gambling boat parked in back moved a step closer to reality. State environmental protection officials reversed themselves this week and said they couldn't prevent a cruise ship from docking behind the restaurant.

    Coming up next week

    Lawmakers head to Tallahassee for a two-week special session beginning Monday. Infighting during the regular session left several big issues unfinished. Among them: a budget, updating education laws and defining the chief financial officer's duties.

    Tuesday is the deadline to get your 2 cents in over Florida's commemorative quarter. Design suggestions must be postmarked by April 30. They should be mailed to the Office of Citizen Services, The Capitol, 19th Floor, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001.

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