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    Metro week in review

    By Times staff writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published July 14, 2002


    Coaches will sweat over heat rules

    INVERNESS -- Just as the sun starts blazing the hottest, high school athletes and band members hit the fields to practice for the coming fall football season.

    That had parents last week prodding the Citrus County School Board to spend $700 on wet-bulb thermometers, devices that could possibly alert the coach to call a water break and save the life of a dehydrated student. The School Board is a little jumpy about school coaches these days, but put off the decision for a few weeks.

    A group of parents approached the School Board last month to establish a code of conduct for coaches. They complained that a Citrus High School coach had run some of his players so hard that they threw up and passed out.

    But the school district's insurance carrier wants more information about the wet-bulb thermometers first.

    Superintendent David Hickey raised the insurance concerns and said that since the parents pressed the issue, he has ordered that all coaches attend sessions on heat-related illnesses.

    Holocaust museum seeks funds for extra security

    ST. PETERSBURG -- At the Florida Holocaust Museum, the mission is to teach tolerance, using lessons learned from the Holocaust and other horrors.

    But after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the museum directors decided it was prudent to be wary as well and to step up security.

    Last week, museum officials mailed letters to supporters, big-money donors and regular members, begging for money to pay for extra protection. The museum needs $204,000 to make the necessary security improvements, the letter said.

    The museum has received no direct threats, but museum director Stephen Goldman said there have been some "questionable visitors."

    "If somebody comes in and looks at the building structure and not at the exhibits, we are concerned."

    Sponge industry clears one hurdle for Greek divers

    TARPON SPRINGS -- The city's sponge industry is hoping to boost its profile by increasing production with the help of some special imports: nine sponge divers from the Greek island of Kalymnos.

    The U.S. Department of Labor approved the plan last week, and now the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has to approve the plan before the divers can come to Tarpon Springs.

    A group called the Sponge Associates of Florida hopes to bring the divers with the help of a $15,000 state grant.

    In addition to helping out the local sponge boats, the Kalymnians also would train local certified divers to be spongers.

    The Labor Department said the divers could stay through the end of the year if the INS approved the immigration requests, said sponge merchant George Billiris. He wants the divers to be allowed to stay longer, but for now, Billiris said he is happy that the divers at least have cleared a major hurdle.

    Most of the nine divers are in their 50s and have long histories in the Greek sponge industry, Billiris said. They want to come to Tarpon Springs through this program because of a shortfall of sponges in the Mediterranean Sea, Billiris said.

    Plant City officer pleads guilty to corruption charges

    TAMPA -- In an abrupt end to his corruption trial, Armand Cotnoir tearfully admitted to a judge that he broke the law as a Plant City police officer.

    He becomes the third Plant City officer to plead guilty in a federal inquiry of widespread corruption, and yet another tool for the prosecutor to use to go after any other potential targets.

    With his plea, which ended his five-year police career and likely means a lengthy prison sentence, he also agreed to cooperate with the ongoing federal investigation, which could mean testifying against fellow officers.

    Ron Cacciatore, attorney for police Chief Bill McDaniel, said his client and Mayor Michael Sparkman were shocked that Cotnoir pleaded guilty. Cotnoir insisted all along that he had done nothing wrong, and the city supported him both emotionally and by paying his legal fees, Cacciatore said.

    The inquiry began in 1999, when Plant City Officer Gregory Laughlin told a state agent that officers in the department's Special Investigations Unit were stealing pornographic videotapes from suspects' homes, faking search warrants and lying to judges. Many of the supervisors in the office condoned or participated in the activity, he said.

    Mosquito fighters send in the fish to gobble bugs

    HOMOSASSA -- Mosquitoes swarmed around Bill Kellner's head as he squatted among the ferns. They moved to his sleeveless arms, but Kellner continued to work without the slightest wince.

    With a gentle tip of a bucket, he poured revenge into the swampy area off Halls River Road. An army of fish, each no bigger than a pen cap, slipped into the brown water.

    Recent rains have mosquito control officers racing to distribute the larvae-loving fish, called gambusia, in prime mosquito habitats in Citrus County, as well as other parts of the state.

    If the larvae can be attacked in time, with fish or a granular bacteria, the mosquito populations may be kept in check.

    Most mosquito species lay their eggs on the fringes of standing water, among damp soil and leaves. Eggs can remain dormant for years until water covers them.

    While recent rain spawned whole new colonies of mosquitoes, steady water flow can serve as a natural control.

    "We are praying for rain," said Flo Jones, director of Citrus County's Mosquito Control District. If water saturates an area, it denies mosquitoes sufficient breeding habitats, and also allows for more fish to be released.

    In short . . .

    CLEARWATER -- The only paid employee of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday Foundation was asked to resign because of finances. With sponsorships dropping off, the board on Monday cut executive director Karen Vann's position, which paid more than $35,000 annually. The Jazz Holiday will spend about $300,000 to produce this year's event, Oct. 17-20 at Coachman Park.

    In the summer of 2000, Robert Foster made a promise: He would leave Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, the all-male, mostly white club that hosts the annual Gasparilla parade, if he were made a judge. Foster is keeping his promise, two years later. Foster said his lateness in keeping his promise hinges on one letter. He said he promised to leave the Krewe if he were selected to be judge -- meaning appointed -- rather than elected.

    Coming up this week

    A judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to explain by Monday how quickly it can now set up manatee sanctuaries and refuges to curtail boating in 14 areas around the state -- including three spots in Tampa Bay -- to comply with a settlement the agency made with manatee advocates last year. The federal agency was supposed to set up its network of sanctuaries by last fall. Instead, the judge found, the federal agency held back at the personal request of Gov. Jeb Bush, who wanted more time for the state to boost enforcement of current speed zones and set up some new speed zones.

    A $520-million deal to bring Florida Water Services under government control is up for discussion at a meeting in Bartow on Thursday. It is the largest utility deal in state history. Citrus, Polk, Nassau and Sarasota counties would be the overseers of a system that affects 250,000 people in 26 cities and counties, including water and sewer systems in Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and Hillsborough counties. Though originally scheduled to vote on the buyout next week, managers have recommended the group revisit the purchase price at an August meeting and vote on the buyout in September, both at dates to be determined.

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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