Metro Week in Review
By Times staff writer
Cranes train for a flight to Florida
A boot camp of sorts is under way for some winter residents who are heading to Citrus County this winter.
On the agenda: takeoffs, landings and avoiding predators. The goal: successful migration.
Seven whooping crane chicks at Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin over the next few months will train intensively for a 1,230-mile flight to Florida. Scientists hope to replicate last fall's historic migration in which cranes followed ultralight aircraft to Chassahowitzka.
"Now that we've proven it works, it gives us the credibility to get into the serious business of reintroducing a species, not just experimenting," said Joe Duff of Operation Migration, the Canadian team that orchestrated the migration.
Duff hopes to depart for Florida with at least 15 cranes. Eight were used last year, but one died after flying into a power line during a nighttime storm, and two others were killed by bobcats in Chassahowitzka.
Former Stauffer employees seek class-action status
CLEARWATER -- Every working day of Daniel Giddens' 29-year employment at Stauffer Chemical Co. ended with the same ritual: a shower. Each day, he would scrub the dust that collected daily in his nose and ears and in the corners of his eyes.
Workers never knew that the dust and gases they were exposed to daily could cause long-term health problems, he told Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Bruce Boyer on Tuesday.
Giddens' testimony came during a hearing last week to determine whether as many as 1,700 former Stauffer employees should be granted class-action status in a lawsuit against the former phosphorus processing company. Their goal is to force the company to pay for medical monitoring.
The lawsuit is brought by three former Stauffer workers asking to be appointed representatives of the former employees. The case will die before reaching a jury if class-action status is not granted, said one of their attorneys, Wil Florin.
But Chris S. Coutroulis, one of a team of attorneys representing Stauffer, noted that a health assessment performed by the state did not conclude that former workers were at risk of contracting serious disease and did not call for medical monitoring.
Board backs conduct rules for coaches
INVERNESS -- Faced with parents' complaints about workouts that injure students, the Citrus County School Board voiced strong support for a code of conduct that would bench coaches who aren't good role models.
Rodney Wilburn complained that his son Michael's varsity baseball coach, Brady Bogart, two months ago required some of his players to run sprints for nearly two hours. Michael passed out after running, and other student athletes passed out or vomited.
"Some people say that the best policy is just four words -- just use common sense. But that never seems to work," Wilburn said. "We need something in writing."
Although the focus has been on regulating how coaches do their job, Wilburn and board members agreed they wanted to be sure all participants were bound by the rules.
"I think there are times when everybody gets out of hand," said board member Sandra "Sam" Himmel.
State land purchase may clear path for Tampa Bay greenway
The state will spend $1.1-million to buy 14 acres in South Tampa, land that officials say eventually will connect a series of green spaces, sidewalks and bike paths that link Hillsborough and Pinellas trail systems.
David Struhs, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said the land is important to provide green space in such an urbanized area. He said the Friendship Trail Bridge draws 20,000 people a month.
The land, a state report noted, could be rezoned to allow a 225- to 250-unit apartment complex.
Tampa planners have been trying to cobble together road rights of way and public lands to create the greenway. Recently, the city got a chunk of donated railroad right of way that connects to the land that the governor and Cabinet voted to buy Wednesday.
Sheriff wants inmates to pay $10 at the door
LARGO -- Pinellas County may soon have a jail with a cover charge.
Sheriff Everett Rice wants to charge county prisoners a $10 booking fee to offset jail expenses.
It wouldn't be a big contributor. The jail costs about $76-million to run each year, and Rice said the fee could bring in at least $200,000 a year. But now, with the sheriff's budget under scrutiny, every little bit counts.
"While it's a small amount, when you book 40,000 to 50,000 people a year, it adds up," Rice said.
Rice's staff is working out the details, but Rice promised county commissioners one thing: Those who are acquitted of a crime will get their money back, and there would be waivers for the indigent.
Some commissioners said they like the idea. Only Commissioner Calvin Harris raised doubts, but he said he liked Rice's safeguards.
"You wind up with mostly poor people going to jail, and all this would be another expense," Harris said. "I was glad to have you say that if they're not guilty, they get their money back."
In short . . .
INVERNESS -- Citrus County officials have begun negotiations with Jack Hanna, host of a popular wildlife television show and darling of the talk show circuit, who is considering relocating his Busch Gardens operation to Citrus County. Under a preliminary deal, Hanna would be offered use of Fort Island Trail Park, off U.S. 19 in Crystal River, for his syndicated television show. While he considers Citrus a leading candidate, Hanna said he is looking elsewhere, too, while also negotiating with Busch Gardens.
ZEPHYRHILLS -- Hialeah police Capt. Jerry Freeman was hired as Zephyrhills' next police chief. Freeman, 52, currently serves as the No. 3 employee at the Hialeah Police Department. He replaces Chief Robert Howell, who has served 40 years with the Zephyrhills department and will retire at the end of September.
TAMPA -- The University of South Florida board of trustees' executive committee is recommending that all students pay more for college next year, with graduate and out-of-state students expected to be hardest hit. Undergraduate students would pay 5 percent more under USF's proposed tuition increase, while graduate students would pay 10 percent more and out-of-state students 20 percent more. The entire board still must sign off on the increases.
Coming up this week
The Florida Governmental Utility Authority, a four-county coalition considering the largest utility deal in state history, meets Thursday to decide whether it should spend $520-million for the state's largest privately held utility network, Florida Water Services. The buyout would pave the way for bringing Florida Water's 150 systems, including Citrus and Hernando customers, under local governments' control.
The U.S. Civil Rights Commission returns to Miami on Thursday to evaluate the reforms the state has taken to correct problems in the 2000 presidential election. The commission will hear from a panel of dignitaries at the Hyatt Regency in Miami from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
-- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne
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