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    Week in review

    By SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001


    Felons who voted might face charges

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Among the many problems with Florida's election crisis was the hundreds of felons who voted illegally.

    Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning said in a Chamber of Commerce speech last week that he plans to press charges and will forward the names to the sheriff early next week.

    "I'm very serious," he said after the meeting.

    "We went through the ringer on this."

    Pasco's count of ineligible votes came to 65, and of those, nine voters were felons.

    Pam Iorio, Hillsborough County supervisor of elections and also the president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, said it's often standard practice to turn over a felon list in hopes of prosecution.

    "The first priority is to have a system in place so that an ineligible person can't vote," Iorio said.

    "But we do have to pay attention to the post-election errors and follow up on them. Otherwise, a person might believe there is no penalty for doing something wrong."

    Hospitals sign up to pay for nurses' school

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- A program to provide free tuition for nursing students in exchange for two years of work has earned the support of eight hospitals serving Pasco-Hernando Community College students.

    The program was hailed as a needed booster shot for the nursing field, which has seen greater shortages in the Tampa Bay area than in the state in general.

    A study by the Florida Hospital Association found that 14.7 percent of nursing positions in western Florida are open. Statewide, 11.3 percent of RN positions are open.

    Recruiting and training a new nurse costs $35,000 to $40,000, hospital administrators said.

    "It's going to add total nurses to the market, and that's what needs to happen right now," said Paul Norman, the president and chief executive officer of East Pasco Medical Center, which on Wednesday became the latest hospital to join the program.

    The hospitals will foot students' $3,500 annual bills and, in return, the students must agree to work at their sponsoring hospital for two years after they graduate.

    Cash crunch puts First Night in peril

    ST. PETERSBURG -- That cold New Year's Eve put a chill on St. Petersburg's First Night event, leaving organizers with a loss of more than $10,000 and jeopardizing the future of the event. First Night St. Petersburg is an alcohol-free event that offers performing arts and interactive visual arts at venues on or near the downtown waterfront. Since 1995, it has drawn thousands of participants.

    The event was hurt not only by fewer sales of admission buttons -- which the result organizers blame on the cold front that swept 40-degree temperatures through the area -- but also by fewer sponsorship dollars.

    The governing board will take up the issue in a few weeks, but First Night St. Petersburg executive director Pat Mason said she will try to trim costs for the next First Night rather than ending a usually popular event.

    "I think we'll have a First Night next year," Mason said. "But it will be an indicator of whether we can have one after that."

    Pasco hangs up cell tower permits for three months

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- Cellular phone towers have been put on hold in Pasco County.

    County commissioners voted 5-0 Wednesday to stop issuing permits for towers for the next 90 days. The move is intended to give the commission time to review the phone tower ordinance and their consulting engineer time to thoroughly review the tower applications submitted to the county.

    But commissioners also have their eyes on possible pot of money: They want County Administrator John Gallagher to explore options for earning money by allowing towers on county property.

    The county could allow the towers on county property near parks and libraries, which then could use the rent money for their programs.

    Politicians are talking tough about water hogs

    TAMPA -- Hillsborough County commissioners tightened the spigot a little Wednesday and warned that they might pass even harsher water restrictions before spring.

    And in Citrus County, commissioners debated whether to make "the fine stiff enough so it makes an impression on the person," as Commissioner Vicki Phillips suggested.

    The 16-county district governed by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, or Swiftmud, is coming off its driest year on record, having received just 35.58 inches of rain last year, compared with the average rainfall of 53.15 inches.

    The Hillsborough commission on Wednesday made it illegal for charity groups to sponsor car washes unless they hold them at businesses that recycle water, and limited the days when people can spray their lawns with chemicals.

    Citrus, which held a workshop on the issue Tuesday, isn't ready to increase penalties yet.

    But it is drawing up a new building code to require builders to install pipes for treated wastewater in new projects. And the county expects to save about 100-million gallons of water this year by slightly decreasing the pressure in its water lines.

    Children's book pulled off schools' shelves

    BROOKSVILLE -- Freaky Friday, a rarely challenged children's book published nearly 30 years ago, has been pulled from the library shelves of Hernando County's schools based on a parent's complaint about its content.

    Freaky Friday, by Mary Rodgers and first published in 1972, is about 13-year-old Annabel Andrews, who wakes up one day in her mother's body. Her experiences help her see her mother in a different light. It was made into a 1977 Disney movie starring Jodie Foster as Annabel and a 1995 movie starring Shelley Long as Annabel's mother.

    A parent raised concern about references to drinking and smoking, and characters who take God's name in vain.

    But the biggest concern was with how Annabel, in her mother's body, describes her principal during a parent conference.

    It read, "The hands were clasped together with index fingers tapping (this is the church, and this is the steeple, open the doors and kill all the people.)"

    School Board members decided Tuesday to pull the book until they can read it. They are scheduled to make a decision at a Feb. 6 meeting.

    Coming up this week

    As if you haven't heard, Super Bowl week takes off in earnest this week as the Tampa Bay area hosts a number of parties and events -- including the annual Gasparilla invasion on Saturday -- in anticipation of the Jan. 28 Super Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

    On Tuesday, former state Rep. Randy Mackey is to report to prison after being sentenced to 18 months for filing a false income tax return. The six-term Democratic legislator from Lake City failed to report $36,000 he received from a paving company.

    On Tuesday, the Hillsborough School Board is expected to vote on adding Yom Kippur to its holiday calendar. Hillsborough would be the first Tampa Bay school district to give students that day off.

    The Pinellas School Board on Tuesday will talk about the effort to create single-member districts, an idea that gained momentum Thursday when local lawmakers said they would support a bill in Tallahassee to ask voters to decide the issue. Supporters say the measure would bring more diversity, both racially and geographically, to the School Board.

    - Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne.

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