By SHARON KENNEDY WYNNE
© St. Petersburg Times,
Some highlights of the news from around the region for the week just ended.
Playground parity falters for schools
TAMPA -- A disparity in school playgrounds throughout Hillsborough County echoes the complaints lodged by the NAACP that schools in poor, black neighborhoods are not treated equally, despite a 30-year-old desegregation order.
The Hillsborough County School Board, which runs the nation's 11th largest school district, pays for playground equipment only at new schools, most of which are opening in growing, suburban neighborhoods such as New Tampa and Brandon.
The school system mostly leaves it up to parents to replace antiquated monkey bars and wobbly balance beams at older schools.
The result: Most schools in affluent neighborhoods have top-of-the-line playgrounds thanks to PTAs, compared with only a few in poor neighborhoods, according to an analysis by the St. Petersburg Times.
Of the 46 schools needing equipment, 35 are schools where more than 60 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches based on low family income.
Tampa council splits over use of Ybor City cameras
TAMPA -- No matter what the Tampa City Council decides about the controversial cameras and face-scanning software being used in Ybor City, the final call is the mayor's.
Thursday the City Council split 3-3 in a vote on whether to favor continued use of the software.
In May, the council quickly and quietly approved the contract between the city and Visionics Corp., but half the members said later they didn't realize what they were voting for. A few weeks later, when the Tampa Police Department invited the media to check out its latest crime-fighting tool, there was a ripple across the nation. Civil liberties groups and some politicians decried the technology as an intolerable government intrusion into people's lives.
Now that the council already has approved the use of the software, any termination of the city's agreement is an administrative move -- something only the mayor can do. Mayor Dick Greco is on vacation, but an ally and city official said Thursday he's confident that Greco will support keeping the face-scanning software.
Sheriff avoids face-off over scanning technology
LARGO -- Pinellas County commissioners took a cautious approach to allowing Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice to scan Florida driver's licenses for suspected criminals.
Commissioners cleared the way for Rice to accept federal money for a digital face-scan system that can match suspects with those who have been booked into the county jail.
But expanding the system to include millions of state driver's license pictures is another matter. Commissioners said they want a say in that decision.
The Sheriff's Office won a $3.5-million federal grant in December to match photos of crime suspects with databases of other photos, including Florida driver's licenses. But the announcement was met with some criticism, as privacy rights advocates said using the pictures of everyday citizens goes too far.
Commissioners were relieved to learn the program in Pinellas will not film the general public like face-scan technology currently in use in Ybor City or similar technology that was used during the Super Bowl.
Mayor shuns city parade: 'My wife and the Bucs come first'
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- When planning a holiday parade, Indian Rocks Beach officials learned that its best to check the Buccaneers game schedule before expecting the mayor to show up.
The mayor's refusal to miss the Buccaneers game against the Detroit Lions Dec. 9 at Raymond James Stadium led the City Commission to bump its holiday parade to Dec. 2, despite reservations from the volunteers who organize it.
"My wife and the Bucs come first," Mayor Bob DiNicola said. "They're the only things that come before the city."
DiNicola, 68, who likes to greet people with a hug or at least a pat on the back, sees himself as the consensus builder of his City Commission. But consensus building was not on the Bucs season ticket-holder's agenda Tuesday night.
"I will not give up a football game for a parade," he said.
Oldsmar joins chorus of critics against monotubes
OLDSMAR -- Add Oldsmar Mayor Jerry Beverland to the list of people unhappy with the big tubes state road officials are putting up at busy intersections.
Since being installed this spring, the large brown pipe on 66th Street and Park Boulevard in Pinellas Park has been a bull's-eye for punch lines and public scorn, with motorists and morning show disc jockeys taking turns disparaging the thing.
Beverland recently asked the city attorney to find a way to stop a similar big tube, which is used to hang signal lights on state roads, from coming to the city. The state Department of Transportation has no plans to erect one in Oldsmar, but Beverland isn't taking chances.
"They are horrible-looking," Beverland said.
St. Petersburg City Council expressed similar misgivings recently, hoping to head off the DOT before it even considers putting a monotube in their town.
DOT spokeswoman Marian Pscion said if a city has a problem with the monotube, all officials have to do is let their feelings be known.
"We are trying to be more sensitive, and we will work with the city," she said.
Residents worry as sinkholes dot Hernando
SPRING HILL -- Every creak and crack was suspect in Spring Hill last week as worried residents were finding "sinkholes" even where they're not.
The proliferation of holes has not let up, expanding beyond the initial cluster along Mariner Boulevard as far north as State Road 50 and as far west as Commercial Way. So far, the sinkhole count stands at more than 40, with at least 20 more complaints for technicians to check out. Three houses have been evacuated.
The office of Hernando County Emergency Management is being deluged by calls -- many of them from people reporting even the smallest dip in their lawn. Although most end up being false alarms, emergency director Bill Appleby said he would rather have his staff check them out than risk the public's safety.
Hernando County has always been prone to sinkholes because of a thin layer of clay in the ground, worn down millions of years ago by the ebb and flow of seas. Officials say this year has been particularly bad because of the drought. When rains come, the ground acts like a sponge, swelling, shifting and, in some cases, caving in.
Coming up this week
A list of final candidates for St. Petersburg's police chief is expected to be announced this week. Mayor Rick Baker and his staff, including Chief Goliath Davis III, have been sorting through 116 resumes, including several candidates from the St. Petersburg Police Department.
Back to school shopping starts in earnest Saturday, when the state's sales tax holiday begins. The sales tax holiday -- Florida's fourth -- runs from 12:01 a.m. July 28 to midnight Aug. 5. During those nine days, shoppers won't have to pay sales tax on many items of clothing, as long as each item costs $50 or less. Sales tax also won't be charged on school supplies that sell for $10 or less.
An important decision approaches in the case of Terri Schiavo, a woman on life support who is at the center of a struggle between her parents and her husband over whether she would want to die. The 2nd District Court of Appeal returned the controversial case to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer but ruled that Mrs. Schiavo cannot be taken off life support until after Monday. Greer can consider new evidence before he reconsiders his initial ruling, which was that her feeding tube should be withdrawn.
-- Compiled by Times staff writer Sharon Kennedy Wynne
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