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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 5, 2002

    Renaissance fight weighs on mayor

    LARGO -- Largo's mayor may sympathize with the Renaissance Festival organizers as they fight the city in court to stay another year. Then again, after the week he's had he may be sympathizing with people stretched on a rack as well.

    Mayor Bob Jackson faced angry memos and not-so-veiled suggestions he resign after Jackson testified in court that Largo could continue to accommodate the festival, despite the commission's saying that it couldn't and a 5-2 vote April 2 to terminate the festival's 23-year relationship with the city.

    Jackson, critics noted, was on the losing end of that vote, but failed to represent the city's interest in court. Commissioners were further incensed when festival owner Jim Peterson sent Jackson a letter, thanking Jackson for his cooperation.

    But Jackson has said he merely answered questions truthfully in court, that in his opinion the festival could be accommodated another year.

    "I was elected based on my record as a commissioner, and for the things I stood for." Jackson said. "You can't stand for things as a commissioner and then say I no longer believe in that as mayor."

    Study: Hernando bear population small, but smart

    WEEKI WACHEE -- The world's smallest population of bears has developed its own ways to keep from getting any smaller.

    "They stay well away from U.S. 19 and they don't get into Dumpsters at McDonald's or Burger King," said David Maehr, a University of Kentucky professor who is heading a study of the bears that live in coastal Hernando County. "They live right next to new developments. They come right up against those things and don't get into trouble."

    Maehr's study, which is funded by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, is now five years old. As research progressed, he said, some findings are becoming clear.

    Researchers always knew it was a small population of about 20 animals. By sifting through all available bear research, they are now convinced it is the world's smallest.

    And because they live so close to developed areas, these bears have developed a form of street smarts. They generally keep a safe distance from U.S. 19. And, unusual for a species known for rooting through garbage piles and invading campsites, they have learned to stay away from man-made temptations.

    "It's pretty amazing the limited space these bears are living in. They are literally in people's back yard," researcher Josh Brown said.

    State backs down on some charges against teacher

    BROOKSVILLE -- The attorney for the Department of Education has suggested dropping seven charges against teacher Joseph Gatti -- who has been under investigation of one form or another for five years for his activities with students -- but stands by eight others.

    A judge will decide, but Tallahassee attorney Wiley Horton claims he still proved eight of the 15 charges against Gatti, including those based on allegations Gatti molested two boys and interfered with parental rights.

    Administrative law judge Diane Cleavinger is expected to rule by the end of May on whether the case will proceed.

    Gatti was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in 1997. He prevailed in a 1998 hearing that dealt with whether the School Board should fire him. This case deals with whether Gatti violated the rules related to the teaching profession.

    Gatti's attorney has said this case was based on the same evidence aired during the criminal process and in the 1998 hearing, where Gatti won convincingly.

    Clearwater hospital makes list of top 50

    CLEARWATER -- Morton Plant Hospital is featured on the pages of AARP's Modern Maturity magazine for standing out from the crowd as the 50th best hospital in the country.

    The recognition comes at a time when everything, from cars to colleges, is ranked. Largo Medical Center, for example, was named among the 100 Top Hospitals in 2000 by Solucient, a health care information company based in Evanston, Ill. Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg also has garnered its share of awards, including one from the Florida Medical Business newspaper, naming it the "Best Run Hospital" in Tampa Bay in 2001.

    Only one other Florida hospital, Baptist Hospital of Miami, was included on the top 50 list in Modern Maturity. It was No. 14.

    Consumers' Checkbook, a nonprofit consumer education program, crunched the numbers that weren't exclusively featured in the magazine. They sorted through facts and figures, including ratings by about 20,000 doctors nationwide, accreditation scores given by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and mortality rates.

    "Our objective was to develop a consumers' guide to hospitals, which would include all acute care hospitals in the country," said Robert Krughoff, president of Consumers' Checkbook.

    Morton Plant "was not just dramatically good on any one of those things," Krughoff said, referring to the study's criteria. "It was consistent on all of those things."

    Hernando performance hall heads toward opening day

    SPRING HILL -- Arts boosters in Hernando County are taking a deep breath and plunging ahead with plans to break ground on a performance hall at the Nimmagadda Cultural Center in November.

    "It's a little bit scary," said Ken Murrin, the Hernando County Fine Arts Council's chairman. "It could cost up to $7-million" just to build -- and that may not include the parking lot and road system.

    "We have $650,000 in cash and pledges and another $107,000 pending from the state," Murrin said. "We're hoping to have a million by the time we break ground."

    The center eventually will include the 1,000-seat hall and a separate building for an art gallery/teaching facility. Both will be on 5 acres donated by the Spring Hill Civic Association 1.5 miles north of the Pasco-Hernando line and half a mile east of U.S. 19.

    In short . . .

    ST. PETERSBURG -- City officials are considering moving the Florida International Museum so that the city can demolish its current building and sell the prime downtown half-block for a huge new commercial, retail or mixed-use project. The idea remains conceptual, and companies would compete for the right to buy and develop the site, but it would be a mighty step in the city's decades-long quest to redevelop downtown.

    The Florida Orchestra named the highly regarded German conductor Stefan Sanderling its next music director. Sanderling, 37, has conducted around Europe and the United States and currently leads a French orchestra.

    Coming up this week

    Watch your fish tank, and maybe your ice cubes if you are picky about the taste of water. Starting Monday, drinking water in Pinellas will be treated with chloramine, a process that can kill fish. The change will affect Pinellas County utilities customers, the city of St. Petersburg and parts of Pasco County. Pinellas sells water directly to unincorporated residents, Largo, Kenneth City, Seminole and beach towns, and sells water wholesale to Clearwater, Tarpon Springs, Pinellas Park, Safety Harbor and Oldsmar.

    On Tuesday, Pinellas School Board members will consider the superintendent's recommendations to make the new Thurgood Marshall Middle a fundamental school, the new Sanderlin Elementary School a "primary International Baccalaureate" program and give Jamerson Elementary School a math and engineering focus. The changes are designed to attract parents under the school system's new school choice plan in 2003.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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