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Insider's notebook

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 6, 2000

Tarpon mayor, commissioner continue age-old debate

When Tarpon Springs City Commissioner Beverley Billiris turned 52 earlier this year, Tarpon Springs Mayor Frank DiDonato gave her a rusty can of WD-40 to care for her aging joints.

On the theory that no cruel deed should go unpunished, Billiris returned the favor during a City Commission meeting Tuesday night.

"For those who don't know this ... the mayor has continually told people that he is younger than myself," she said. He often tells people he is 39 years old, she said.

In honor of the mayor's 53rd birthday, she gave him Grecian formula for his hair -- "so you can at least look 39 years old," she said -- and something she described as "Greek old men's worry beads."

She also told the amused mayor that he has lived 19,359 days, and, apropos of nothing, that his birth year is the year of the pig.

BUSH LEAGUE: Former first lady Barbara Bush did more than just stump for her son, Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush, at a senior center in Palm Harbor on Tuesday.

In front of a crowd of 300, she revealed one of the secrets to her enduring marriage with former President George Bush.

Was it everlasting love and respect? Or a healthy dose of humor? Flowers on her birthday?


"After 55 years of marriage, the only thing that is saving our marriage is the fact that he has gotten some earphones," she said. "He puts them on and puts the TV on mute and he obsessively listens to every word, every poll and he reads every paper, while I blissfully sleep."

She also took time to trash a poll on the presidential race. Well, sort of.

"CNN did a very important survey a while back, asking the most burning question of the campaign: Who is better looking, George W. or?" she said. "I thought that was the dumbest poll I have ever seen. Until I saw who won."

ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT THE WHOLE TRUTH?: Death row inmate Oba Chandler, convicted of the 1989 murders of an Ohio mother and her two teenage daughters, was in court again last week pleading for a new murder trial in that case.

Chandler is claiming he had ineffective counsel. So, Fred Zinober, his defense attorney in the 1994 trial, took the stand.

During the hearing, Zinober was required to explain his defense strategy. He repeatedly apologized to attorney Baya Harrison, who was questioning him.

Zinober kept telling Harrison that he has a tendency to go on and on. Stop him at any time, Zinober offered.

Finally, Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Susan Schaeffer stepped in.

"Lawyers are the absolute worst witnesses," she said. "Don't apologize. Don't explain it. Testify."

TANGERINE DREAMS: That comment card you have to fill out before speaking at a County Commission meeting might look orange to the untrained eye. But to Commission Chairman Bob Stewart, it's "midsummer dusk." Or "coral shimmer." Or even "appealing apricot." But never, never, EVER just plain, old orange.

Each week, as the meeting begins, Stewart tells the crowd that those who wish to address the commission must turn in one of the (invent a color here) cards. Picking a new color each week for the comment card is a tradition among commission chairs. When Sallie Parks was chairwoman, she created brands of yellow that even the high-paid muckety-mucks at Crayola had never thought of.

Getting ahead of himself a tad, Stewart called the card "jack-o'lantern" during the Oct. 10 meeting. So on Halloween, he was left with only one option.

"Since I used my jack-o'-lantern color two weeks premature, I'll use pumpkin patch today," he said. "Anyone like to address us under our pumpkin patch card procedure?"

EENY MEENY MINEY MO: The St. Petersburg City Council often has deadlocked. Take the decision to select a chairman earlier this year. It took the council 21 votes before giving the post to Larry Williams.

So it's only natural that this council would be concerned about a split vote when it appoints people to fill the unexpired council terms being vacated by Larry Peterman and Robert Kersteen. Peterman has won a seat in the state House of Representatives; Kersteen is running for one Tuesday.

"We embarrassed ourselves when we went through that thing with the chairman," Williams said on Thursday.

But leaving it up to a coin toss if there is a deadlock over two candidates? That was the method recommended by the city attorney's office in the event the council deadlocked after several votes. And it didn't go over well with this council.

In the end, council members decided to eliminate the coin toss and leave it open. -- Times staff writers Kati Gazella, Ed Quioco, Jounice Nealy, Edie Gross and Leonora LaPeter contributed to this report.

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