More visitors than ever are kicking off their shoes and spending lots of money, thanks to a resurging economy.
From April through October, a record 4.2-million tourists came to Pinellas County on vacation and business and spent more money than ever, breaking records set before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Between January and October, tourists spent a record $2.35-billion in the county.
"We're doing extremely well, and we believe we'll end up with an all-time record year," said Carole Ketterhagen, convention and visitors bureau director.
Ketterhagen credited the growing economy, consumer confidence and more airlines servicing the area.
In need of money, schools block antitax literature
NEW PORT RICHEY - Pasco County Schools superintendent John Long won't be opening the door to antitax advocates who want to distribute literature in the schools.
"We want to pass this thing," Long said of the upcoming Penny for Pasco sales tax initiative. "Why would we want to present their side?"
Sales tax opponent Ann Bunting has demanded the district allow her group, Citizens Against the Penny for Pasco, equal access to any school-owned counter, wall or newsletter space used by the district to distribute information about the March 9 election.
Armed with case law provided by its attorneys, the School Board in fact has been operating somewhat conservatively compared with the legal advice it has received.
If it wanted to, it could not only provide the literature but also openly advocate a yes vote, the state Supreme Court has said.
Instead, Long has told employees to present facts about what the 1-cent-on-the-dollar tax could mean for the district.
But that's not exactly telling the whole story, antitax advocates say.
"Philosophically, it's absolutely wrong for a governmental body to be using its resources to tell one side and not even provide access to the other side," Bunting said.
Antidiscrimination law for gays proposed countywide
ST. PETERSBURG - The coalition of gay rights groups that backed the failed attempt to get Largo to adopt a human rights ordinance in August intends to push for a countywide measure.
Activists are planning to ask the Pinellas County Commission to add protections for gay, lesbian and transgender people to the county's 20-year-old human rights ordinance.
The changes would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and lending.
St. Petersburg, where the coalition and its allies organized their first push for a human rights ordinance about two years ago, is the only Pinellas city that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Federal and state laws do not protect gay, lesbian or transgender people from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and lending. But the School Board has specific policies that protect gay students and employees.
Commissioner Calvin Harris said he would listen to the group's message but most likely vote against it.
"I'm not opposed to equal rights (for gays); I'm opposed to an equal rights ordinance" for gays, Harris said. "It creates the impression that people's sexual orientation is going to be sanctioned by the government. I think that's going too far."
Many parents called, but few have chosen schools
TAMPA - The numbers weren't all tallied, but it appears very few students took the opportunity to pick schools outside their neighborhoods under Hillsborough County's school choice plan.
Of the 50,000 students eligible to participate in the new student assignment plan known as controlled choice, about 5 percent had turned in applications as of last week.
School officials have spent $490,000 marketing the plan using television commercials and other advertising, holding seven school showcases and mailing thousands of explanation booklets. Workers also have gone door-to-door talking to parents, set up booths in shopping malls, coordinated with churches and established seven parent resource centers throughout the county.
Despite the paltry numbers, school officials went for the positive spin, saying parents must be happy with their children's schools or they would have applied elsewhere.
Reprimanded judge files suit against his accusers
A judge who was publicly reprimanded last year by the Florida Supreme Court for his behavior with two women in California is suing them.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Charles W. Cope has filed a malicious prosecution lawsuit in Monterey County, Calif., against the mother and daughter who in 2001 accused him of trying to break into their hotel room after he stole their key.
The daughter, Lisa Jeanes, said Cope had made an unwanted sexual advance toward her earlier. Cope denied the accusations.
Although the most serious charges, including the alleged attempt to get into the room, were eventually dismissed, Cope pleaded no contest to a charge of public intoxication.
The lawsuit claims the women made false reports to police and committed acts that "were malicious, oppressive and done with conscious disregard to the rights and welfare of others."
Jeanes, a Beallsville, Md., veterinarian, said she burst into tears when she learned of the lawsuit Tuesday.
"Both my mother and I are horrified," Jeanes said Thursday. "It makes me sick to my stomach. I really thought the whole thing was over and I had moved on with my life. I'm angry. I'm horrified. Plus I'm really scared of the man."
John Mills, who prosecuted Cope in Florida for the Judicial Qualifications Commission, a watchdog of judicial behavior, doubts the lawsuit will survive.
"What I've said all along is that the way Judge Cope has handled the allegations against him has done much more harm to the judiciary than any of the conduct he was charged with," Mills said.
Tampa taxpayers will have to bail out Centro Ybor
TAMPA - Centro Ybor, the shopping complex that was supposed to drive the revitalization of Ybor City, will wind up costing taxpayers $16.3-million.
On Wednesday, Mayor Pam Iorio announced that taxpayers would spread payments over 14 years to bail out Centro Ybor's private business partners.
The episode shows how taxpayers can get left holding the tab when the city backs for-profit projects that carry big risks.
The experience is likely to influence Iorio as she evaluates her first big development project, which is being proposed by former Olympics promoter Ed Turanchik.
But Turanchik says his proposal doesn't hold the same risks because no loans would be backed by tax dollars. But the city would help developers finance the project by backing bonds.
Coming up this week
On Tuesday, the Brooksville City Council will consider a proposal to merge its fire department with Hernando County Fire Rescue. The issue has been a contentious one.
Hillsborough County commissioners will get their first look at former Olympics promoter Ed Turanchik's housing project at 3 p.m. Tuesday. A private, for-profit group led by Turanchik proposes to transform Central Park, one of the city's poorest and most crime-ridden public housing complexes, into an upscale urban neighborhood, mixed with some low-cost, subsidized housing. It wants the county's blessing to create a special taxing district.
- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne.