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    Judge's background is buried in the past

    By Times staff writer

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001


    Given the recent elections controversy in Florida, maybe anybody who majored in political science should expect some good-natured ribbing.

    After Pinellas prosecutor Pat Siracusa told Circuit Judge Dee Anna Farnell that he would make some minor changes to jury instructions in a murder trial on Thursday, the judge asked him, "You think you can handle that, Mr. Siracusa, being a political science major and all?"

    Touche.

    Then someone asked Farnell what her college major had been.

    "Something incredibly useful," the judge deadpanned. "Archaeology."

    Then she looked to a mountain of paperwork strewn around her desk and said, "It's been very useful -- to dig through this."

    AQUI SE HABLA ESPANOL: Largo City commissioners were quite impressed with police Chief Lester Aradi's desire to hire more officers who speak a foreign language.

    One city official liked the idea so much he decided to show off his Spanish skills.

    At a work session Wednesday, Aradi discussed his plan to remove the four-year college degree requirement for Largo officers. Instead, he will accept officers who have two-year degrees as long as they have two years of military service or two years of past law enforcement experience or proficiency in a foreign language.

    Commissioner Pat Gerard told Aradi she loved the proposal.

    "Si, Si," replied Mayor Bob Jackson.

    "What?" Gerard asked.

    "I was just responding in a second language," said Jackson.

    GOOD EYES: Sandee Wisniowski thought she spotted a water pistol lying on the ground in the parking lot of the Belleair Beach Yacht Club last week. So she stopped her car, got out and picked up the "toy."

    "I said, 'Oh my God. It's a real gun. It's heavy,"' Wisniowski said. "I'd never held a real gun before."

    The .32-caliber handgun was loaded. An extra clip lay on the asphalt next to it. Wisniowski called the city's police department, which is investigating how the gun ended up in a yacht club parking lot.

    "The actions of Mrs. Wisniowski may very well have prevented a tragedy," police Chief Ernie Armistead said Monday night while presenting her with a certificate of appreciation.

    "Is there a check with this?" Wisniowski cracked.

    IT'S IN THE MAIL: The biggest fundraisers in this year's Clearwater City Commission races dropped their most recent campaign finance reports into the mail Friday -- rather than put them on file at the city's clerk's office where the public could review them.

    All that's required under state law is that the final reports be in the office -- or be postmarked -- by Friday.

    Candidate Bill Jonson, who had more money than any of his opponents in the Seat 5 race on his last financial report, declined to share his latest bank balance with a reporter. He said he would be taking his report to the post office at Tampa International Airport on Friday evening for the postmark.

    "I'm just trying to follow the election laws," Jonson said after being asked whether he was trying to avoid public scrutiny.

    Seat 5 candidate Frank Hibbard also was mailing his report, but Hibbard was less shy about his fundraising prowess, saying he had stayed up until midnight Thursday calculating his bottom line: About $26,500.

    Reports were also in the mail for Seat 4 candidate Whitney Gray and Seat 3 candidate Hoyt Hamilton, who estimated their take at $24,000 to $25,000.

    The more cash-poor candidates seemed to file their reports with the clerk's office.

    Seat 5 candidate Lucile Casey had raised $8,255 to date, while her opponent Jeralne Burt reported about $620. Seat 4 contestant Lee Regulski reported $11,600. And former Mayor Rita Garvey, who is running for Seat 3, raised about $5,600.

    SUPPORT OF THE GARDEN VARIETY: Residents seemed a bit miffed when they learned a few weeks ago that the county would have to cut or delay $123-million in Penny for Projects after overspending on earlier projects. When the Times pointed out in a story last month that one of those earlier projects was the $22.1-million Pinewood Cultural Park, originally proposed as a $930,000 garden, citizens changed their tune.

    County commissioners have been flooded with letters and e-mail supporting the park, which includes the Florida Botanical Garden, Gulf Coast Museum of Art and Heritage Village.

    "So much of Florida is ... in a word, tacky," wrote Ruth Campagna of Redington Beach. "The gardens are being developed with taste, with style and with a sensitivity to the environment."

    Lois Howard of Minneapolis said, "We have been visiting in this area for over 30 years and are so tired of condos and trailer parks taking over the land."

    Clearwater resident Ted Bass even wrote a song about the project, sung to the tune of The Kingston Trio's Where Have All the Flowers Gone?:

    * * *

    Where has all the money gone?

    Long time standing.

    Where has all the money gone?

    Not long ago.

    Where has all the money gone?

    Gone to flowers every one.

    When will they never learn?

    When will they never learn?

    * * *

    In an accompanying letter, Bass said he hopes commissioners "never learn" to stop funding the park.

    Only one letter spotted by the Insider criticized the county's Penny spending habits. But Palm Harbor resident David Grimm did not single out Pinewood Cultural Park; he was equally annoyed with every Penny project.

    "Penny for Pinellas was a fraud from the get-go," wrote Grimm. "The county's con artists who masterminded the billion dollar scam knew it had to be sold to the taxpayers by promising something for nothing for everybody: air-conditioned prisons, senior citizens' centers, botanical gardens, bike trails and pet projects for many community leaders with no money to staff or support them."

    "Now it's the day of reckoning, pass-the-buck time," he wrote. "We have a right to demand an accounting and get action, including resignations and restitution. How much longer are the inmates going to continue to run the asylum?"

    - Times staff writers William R. Levesque, Eric Stirgus, Christina Headrick and Edie Gross contributed to this report.

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