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    Week in review


    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 29, 2001

    Work halted by city's own inspector

    CRYSTAL RIVER -- Here's a quick ethics test: Imagine you just started a new job as the city's building inspector. You're still getting to know people and plodding through stacks of paperwork.

    You stroll outside and notice two gray concrete block columns in front of City Hall, but no work permit. And one of the columns is too close to the right of way, a violation of the sign ordinance.

    What would you do?

    Lew Chandler, who faced this exact situation, went back into his office and filled out a stop-work order.

    The city quickly got a permit, but the sign is too close to the sidewalk, and the city must apply for a variance from the zoning board, which meets Wednesday.

    John Lettow, the city's assistant public works director and the man responsible for the faux pas, said it was "just an overlook on my part," adding, "I can understand his point. We need to set an example."

    Council race draws to a close with winning paper slip

    PORT RICHEY -- Bill Bennett won the last seat on the Port Richey City Council on Tuesday by reaching into a basket and withdrawing a film canister containing a piece of paper. It read "Alpha 1st Elected."

    In a rarity in elected government, that piece of paper broke the tie between Bennett and Dale Massad, two weeks after voters cast 369 ballots for each of them.

    Friends laud Hernando man whose life is for the birds
    [Times photo: Maurice Rivenbark]
    Steve Fickett Jr. earns praise for safeguarding the environment and sharing his love of wildlife.
    Bennett said he was nervous but didn't have any lucky charms with him for help.

    "It's a little different," Bennett said of his win. "Bizarre may be a good word for it."

    It was a strange election for Port Richey. Even the mayor's race looked for a time like it was going to go on longer.

    On Monday, the deadline for Bob Leggiere to contest his nine-vote loss to Mayor Eloise Taylor came and went with no challenge.

    In study at least, ride to Clearwater Beach zips along

    CLEARWATER -- Imagine another way of getting to Clearwater Beach during spring break season, one that would not involve inching through gridlock.

    Imagine driving to a downtown parking garage. You grab your beach bag and ride a monorail that zips you along an elevated track attached to the Clearwater Memorial Causeway. You arrive at the city's marina on the beach in three minutes. No hassle, no wait.

    The city is imagining just that possibility, using a $150,000 state grant.

    A recently released study found that it is feasible to build an elevated guideway with a people-mover down the middle of the new Clearwater Memorial bridge, which is to be built by the end of 2003. But building any kind of system could still be expensive, costing as much as $30-million or more.

    The city has zero dollars budgeted for a guideway, having already shouldered part of the $65-million cost to replace the Memorial Causeway bridge for the state. So if the idea proves popular, they will be knocking on federal and state doors, city officials said.

    Parkway will keep its speed, add to its tolls

    NEW PORT RICHEY -- The new Suncoast Parkway is not only noisy, it's about to get more expensive.

    The Florida Turnpike District decided last week it will not lower the speed limit on the Suncoast Parkway as part of its effort to muffle the highway's noise in the Silverthorn development in Hernando County.

    But it will be planting a thick berm of trees to muffle what the residents complain has been window-rattling noise since the road opened in February. The County Commission had asked the district to drop the speed limit from 65 mph to 55 mph.

    But the neighbors may see a drop in traffic soon anyway, thanks to the Turnpike District's plan to start charging additional tolls on the road beginning May 6. The increased cost may send many trucks and cars back to the roads they took before the $507-million parkway opened. There are still some more toll booths to come this summer. When completed, the cost of driving the length of the parkway will be $3.

    Plan for downtown Tampa wins council's approval

    TAMPA -- The Tampa City Council found itself in an unusual place Thursday. The council, frequently seen as a rubber-stamp committee for policies favored by Mayor Dick Greco, was in the position to make or break Greco's costly, controversial plan to remake downtown as an arts hub.

    Even though a majority of council members had expressed opposition or ambivalence toward the plan, Greco pulled it out in a 6-1 vote.

    In part, the victory came because Greco modified the plan for using money from a half-cent sales tax to channel $10-million more to road improvement funds. That made it more palatable to critics who said the money should be spent on improving the city's neighborhoods and on drainage ditches, crumbling roads and blighted lots.

    Now, the so-called Community Investment Tax will be used this way: $27-million will boost the art museum as the crown jewel of a massive new arts district and another $12-million will double the size of the Lowry Park Zoo. Tampa would be bumped into the "world-class" league of culturally enriched cities, Greco has said.

    Hernando business boosters to part ways with commission

    BROOKSVILLE -- Hernando County's attempt to part ways with the Economic Development Commission was starting to become a messy divorce.

    Three of the EDC's board members, including a state senator, had quit in protest recently after the EDC refused to surrender its business leads to the County Commission, which is taking control of economic development efforts after firing the EDC.

    On Tuesday, EDC's transition committee professed the need to end the bad blood and hand its business leads to county officials once they have an economic development plan in place.

    Questions about how the county would take over economic development functions from the EDC have swirled since the commission decided to end its relationship with the public-private partnership three months ago.

    Commissioners ended their contract amid accusations that the EDC was ineffective and a poor steward of taxpayers' money.

    Coming up this week

    There is a midnight deadline Monday for immigrants with proven job skills to get permanent residency status. The law, a holdover from the final days of the Clinton administration, has caused the biggest immigration rush in years. Florida has about 350,000 illegal immigrants, the fourth-highest number in the country, according to INS figures. But lawyers say the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act, as the law is known, applies only to a small number -- barely 10 percent -- of the estimated 5-million to 10-million foreigners living illegally in the country.

    The state Legislature, scheduled to end its session Friday, may be headed for overtime. Though the cost is $40,000 a day to keep the lawmakers working, some senators say they won't let deadline pressure overpower their decisionmaking.

    * * *

    -- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne

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