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Students lead mutiny over mascot

Times Staff Writer
Published June 22, 2003

BROOKSVILLE - Conquistadors are fine for velvet paintings and parade floats, but some Hernando County students think the Spanish conquerors just aren't tough enough for a school mascot.

Students at Powell Middle School, home of the mighty Explorers, are clamoring to make the bearded old guy with the red feather poking from his helmet walk the plank.

In his place, they want some sort of varmint that might do more to strike fear in the hearts of Powell's opponents on the athletic field. The leading candidates are the panther and the puma.

Powell's School Advisory Council - a group of parents, teachers, students and others with a stake in the school - is sending out a student survey to settle the matter.

None of this pleases Ken Bonfield, who was Powell's first principal back in 1984 and was personally responsible for choosing the Explorer mascot.

"Explorers" has ties to local history - the exploration of the area by Hernando de Soto.

"With me being an old history teacher, I knew that Hernando County had been named for an explorer," Bonfield said.

Rowdiness may close Courtney Campbell beach

CLEARWATER - Nearly four years after Clearwater began regulating beach access on the Courtney Campbell Parkway, city officials may consider another drastic step: closing the beach.

Notorious for drinking, brawling and other misdeeds, the strip of grayish sand and murky waters of less than half a mile has once again become a focus for city leaders after a nasty dispute on Memorial Day.

Earlier this month, City Manager Bill Horne sent an e-mail to city commissioners to make them aware of the incident, which included illegal use of alcohol, three felony hit-and-run accidents, a bottle-throwing incident and reckless driving. The e-mail prompted some commissioners to suggest closing the beach.

Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor Shelor said the problems have lessened since the city imposed some regulations, including the drinking ban and an 11 p.m. closing time, in 1999. "The problems that are there are less than they were, but we still have to address" them, he said.

With no one complaining, strippers can't be charged

NEW PORT RICHEY - The actions of exotic dancers can't be considered lewd if no one is offended, Pasco Judge Marc Salton ruled last week in dismissing charges against 10 strippers.

The ruling, which could have broad implications for the future regulation of Pasco adult businesses, centered on the key element necessary to prove the crime of lewdness: namely, that someone must be offended.

Salton ruled that law enforcement officers do not qualify as offended victims. There must be someone else, the judge ruled, an unsuspecting member of the public who does not want to be exposed to the acts in question.

Prosecutors said an appeal is likely.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said the ruling defies common sense. No exotic dancers would be charged with lewd conduct if prosecutors cannot use undercover officers as witnesses. After all, Halkitis said, prosecutors would be hard pressed to find strip club patrons who are offended by the dancers' conduct.

Tampa attorney Luke Lirot, the lawyer for the dancers, called Salton's ruling "courageous."

"I think (Salton's) ruling shows a trend toward less harassment of adult businesses in general," Lirot said.

City residents can hoist a drink earlier on Sunday

ST. PETERSBURG - After debating moral decay versus the city's go-go image boost, most St. Petersburg City Council members said it made sense to follow the wishes of the business community and relax the city's longstanding blue laws.

Council members voted 5-2 that starting this week, all city vendors will be allowed to sell alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays. They also ended the ban on selling packaged liquor on Sunday.

Voting against the change were council members Bill Foster and Rene Flowers, who both expressed concern about showing proper respect for the Sabbath.

The old city ordinance, passed in 1976, made it illegal to sell packaged beer and wine from 12:01 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.

City Council member John Bryan's proposal sprang from an emergency proposal passed in February that allowed vendors to sell alcohol early on Sunday during the Grand Prix race. If it's good for the Grand Prix, Bryan had said, it's good for everybody.

Largo will hear from public on protecting gays from bias

LARGO - The Largo City Commission has wavered and debated about whether to provide protections for gay and transgender people that other levels of government do not.

Commissioners remain far from a consensus, but they agreed Tuesday to hear from the public for the first time and to cast formal votes at meetings this summer.

The commission is considering two proposed policies: A citywide human rights ordinance would apply to employment, housing and accommodations. An internal harassment and discrimination policy would affect only city employees and job applicants.

The proposals could give Largo some of the most inclusive discrimination policies in the country. The city could even provide benefits to domestic partners of city employees.

Commissioners Pat Burke and Pat Gerard support the ordinance even if it is difficult to pass and implement, and even if the community resists it.

"Discrimination is discrimination," Gerard said. "You can't say it's okay to discriminate against this group but it's not okay to discriminate against that group over there."

In short ...

ST. PETERSBURG - Restaurants seeking to give their smoking customers a place to light up while dining got a little more breathing room from city leaders. The council unanimously agreed to allow restaurants to set up limited outdoor seating without applying for special permission and paying a $900 fee. While the proposal is primarily aimed at encouraging outdoor dining, it also gives restaurateurs a place to serve smokers when the state's constitutional amendment banning smoking from most indoor businesses takes effect July 1.

TARPON SPRINGS - State environmental officials have agreed to step up their monitoring of the disposal of millions of gallons of wastewater into the Gulf of Mexico following weeks of aggressive lobbying by the fishing industry and environmentalists. The state will put someone on the disposal barges to watch for changes in gulf water quality. Disposal of 534-million gallons of treated wastewater from the defunct Piney Point phosphate plant is set to begin within two weeks and end in November.

Coming up this week

Just in time for Independence Day, the Pinellas County Commission on Tuesday will take a hard look at fireworks. The state law should be enforced, says Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. He has backed a crackdown, which would take effect Aug. 1, because of what he sees as the widespread and reckless use of illegal fireworks.

On Tuesday a legislative committee on medical malpractice insurance reform meets to help jumpstart negotiations between the House and Senate on a bill to lower physicians' liability insurance premiums. The House and Senate have each passed bills intended to lower doctors' insurance rates, which have skyrocketed in recent years and have forced some doctors to close their doors. The House and Senate remain far apart on how much to cap noneconomic damages such as pain and suffering.

- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne.

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