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Rodents are constantly nibbling at government

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 30, 2002


Let the record show that we had a story that quoted Pasco County facilities manager Dennis Lemons as saying of the Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City that he "is aware of a few rodents in the building," and that I let it pass without making a single joke about lawyers or county commissioners.

That's because there have been mice -- some say rats -- in county government buildings for a long time and because they serve an important purpose in providing some diversion during long, hot summers when a penny gas tax and advertising on bus benches are major issues.

I've never been able to understand the abhorence some people have for mice. My personal hangup has always been for creatures with more legs than they need, and I have always firmly believed that four -- a number that would include mice -- is the optimum number.

To be true, having anything skitter unexpectedly across your feet while at work or home is disconcerting, but in a state that has cockroaches as big as hubcaps -- roaches that we call palmetto bugs because it has a nice tropical ring to it for the tourists -- mice just aren't that big a deal.

I have a couple in my house (although there seem to be fewer since I married and we actually wash the dishes instead of just buying new ones every couple of months), and while I don't exactly feel chummy toward them, they don't scare me.

Neither do they interest my cats, who watch with casual, but not predatory interest as the mice walk -- saunter, actually -- by.

Back when the old courthouse, now referred to as the Historic Pasco County Courthouse, was being used to store evidence, mice were a problem there.

The director of a local community program responsible for the distribution of surplus food was arrested and charged with stealing tons of food that should have been delivered to the county's poor. That translated to tons of evidence that had to be stored until he finally pleaded no-contest to the charges.

There was so much food stored in the ancient building that the floors were said to be in danger of collapsing. But, I'm told, the mice had never eaten better.

I always wondered if there wasn't some connection to the fact that bale after bale of marijuana was stored in the same facility and mice with munchies were just grazing on the surplus cheese rather than calling out for pizza like the rest of ... er .., some people do.

My all-time favorite courthouse mouse story, though, goes back to a time before my arrival here, although I have spoken to people who were actually in the room when it happened.

Circuit Judge Richard Kelly, who later went to Congress and then, after the ABSCAM investigation, to prison, was being impeached on a list of charges that included allegations that he embarrassed and intimidated lawyers.

They said he was crazy, and Kelly, after being acquitted, ran for Congress stating that he was the only candidate in the race who had been certified as sane.

As the story goes, Kelly's court was interrupted one day by a court reporter jumping to her feet in midtrial and exclaiming that a mouse had just run over her foot.

"Did you see that mouse?" Kelly is said to have asked.

She said yes.

"I've been seeing that mouse for weeks," Kelly said, "but with my sanity being questioned by the Florida Senate, I wasn't going to be the first one to bring it up."

He directed that an exterminator be called.

So our new mice may not be the mice that roared, or the mice with the ganja giggles or go down in courthouse history, but they're ours and we're going to enjoy them while we can.

A senior deputy in the clerk's office, where the current problem has been noted, told our reporter, "It's just like any pest ... when they surface, you deal with them."

I can remember when there was more than one office in the building where that was the official procedure for dealing with my telephone calls.

But things are better now.

I no longer accept cheese if it is served on a metal tray attached to a spring-loaded trap ... and they usually return my calls.

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