Monday, February 28, 2005


While some people may say it's totally OK that the City of Daytona Beach doesn't have to pay for Mayor Yvonne Scarlet-Golden to have what seems to be a personal assistant/aide. But according to Daytona Beach News-Journal political columnist Pamela Hasterok, it brings a certain aura of improprierty since Donna Sue Sanders actually is the Community Service Director for International Speedway Corporation, owner of Daytona International Speedway and parent corporation of the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (a/k/a NASCAR).

Ms. Sanders worked as Scarlet-Golden's campaign manager in 2003, and ISC was a major supporter of the mayor-to-be to the tune of nearly $200,000 in fundraising assistance.

The Orlando Sentinel has also looked into the speedway's influence with the city, which promises to be a big issue in this year's mayoral race. In their story last Sunday, one of Scarlet-Golden's opponents two years ago claims that Speedway officials tried to persuade he and the other candidate running to withdraw in exchange for ISC's support this year. Neither Mike Shallow or Tom McClelland dropped out...Shallow is running again this year.


The Polk County Opportunity Council continues to amaze me. They applied for, and received, $150,000 from Uncle Sam for emergency hurricane repairs on the small parking lot of one of their Head Start centres in Bartow...a repair that at least a couple of engineers say shouldn't cost more than $20,000 to 25,000.

One of the agency's attorneys claims the six-figure amount was based on a written quote from an engineering firm...but PCOC could not provide the quote in question.

And the truly telling quote comes from former PCOC Finance Director Ed Leon, who left the community action agency for a similar position in North Florida:

"How does a hurricane cause $150,000 in damage to a little parking lot?" Leon asked. "It defies logic. But with PCOC there doesn't have to be any logic."

In September, PCOC applied for federal emergency funds to repair hurricane damage to it's facilities totalling $723,000, and Uncle Sam forwarded PCOC $318,000 a week later.

Leon said Executive Director Carolyn Speed had to sign the application after neither he or his assistant would do so, claiming the claims of damage were severely undocumented.

Speed also signed a similar application for funds the following month, and received all of the $304,000 requested. The $150,000 for the parking lot repair was in this application.


Gotta give due props to Lakeland Ledger political columnist Bill Rufty today, who reminds us that before signing that next petition to put on the ballot cutting the salaries of our local constitutional officers in half that we get what we pay for.

The piece was in reaction to the Polk County Grand Jury's finding last week that found Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards procedures somewhat lax in dealing with the petitions gathered by a local group to put three items on next year's ballot that not only would slash constitutional officers' salaries, but also provide term limits for them and make them, in effect, department heads under the supervision of the County Commission.

Rufty writes:

Now that the grand jury has said to throw that junk of a petition pile out, Polk County voters need to think seriously about the issue before the next salary-cutting binge begins.It is a great buzz word.

Wow, does it sell: "Those folks are making more money than me, I'll just cut 'em down to size.

"Yeah? Well maybe they have more responsibility and stress than you, too. One of the biggest reactions after Smith (activist Dewey, who was indicted for submitting petitions he knew were bogus and violating campaign finance laws) successfully pushed a ballot measure that cut county commissioners' salaries were complaints by callers to The Ledger that they couldn't find a county commissioner.

"Hey, what's going on? You used to always find a commissioner in the office, now they are always out," one asked.

Well, that's because the voters cut the salary from a full-time commissioner to that of a part-time one, and these guys had to earn a living.

And to give you specifics to think about:

Take Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who is paid $136,000 a year. The salary cutting proposal would have cut him to $68,000 a year.

There are 1,483 full-time employees in the Sheriff's Office.

Nowhere in this nation will you find a private security company of nearly 1,500 employees, the majority of whom are trained to use firearms in the most critical jobs, where the CEO works for $68,000.

You want your property protected by an $18,000-a-year deputy? Lots 'o luck, pal.

Or what about the CEO of a private appraisal firm of several dozen highly skilled appraisers? The Polk County property appraiser's salary was among those that would have been cut had the measure gotten on the ballot and passed.

And is there anyone out there who would want a cut-rate elections supervisor after all the problems in other counties where the supervisors are paid even more than here?

Sure, we may occasionally bitch about our local office holders, but there's no way that you could even begin to find truly qualified individuals who would want to take on the responsibility and public arrowheads for half the costs. Polk is one of the largest counties area-wise in Florida, larger than the state of Rhode Island, not to mention one of the fastest growing in population and development. And the pressures will only increase as Polk continues to grow. These people should truly think hard before deciding to begin another "slash and burn" petition drive, and especially before following a bitter old crumudugeon (sp) like Dewey Smith, who will possibly have plenty of time on his hands now in the Florida penal system.

Sunday, February 27, 2005


I am a native of what is generally known as Southeast Mississippi's "Pine Belt" region, which is centered in the Hattiesburg/Laurel area. While I have made my home in Polk County now for 15 years, and have grown to love the area, I've never lost track of where I am from. Besides my beloved University of Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, it's always good to notice when a fellow Pine Belter has or is doing well.

Among those from the Pine Belt who have done well are actor Gerald McRainey (Collins), opera superstar Leontyne Price, former NSYNC singer Lance Bass, and actor Tom Lester of "Green Acres" fame (all from Laurel).

While St. Petersburg Times Capitol Bureau Chief Lucy Morgan doesn't quite rate at the level of those celebrities, the Hattiesburg native has done very well over the four decades she has worked in the field of journalism, beginning as a writer with the Ocala Star-Banner. Ms. Morgan has won the Pulitizer Prize once, been a runner up for the award once more, and has earned the respect of collegues and many readers. Tallahassee Democrat Editorial Page Editor Mary Ann Lindley does a great rememberance of Ms. Morgan in today's edition, as she will be retiring from the Times in November.

An interesting piece from Ms. Lindley's piece:

"I see where the pieces lead me and I try to resist the urge to make a judgment or decide about the morality of a situation."

There are some exceptions to her rule: "Johnnie Byrd may have been the worst speaker I have ever seen dating back to the '60s," she said with trademark bluntness. "His worst sin was that he didn't care about the institution he served in."

The kind of public official she admires doesn't have to exude perfection. "I've learned not to expect that. I like a public official who is intelligent, who appears to be honest and who appears to not have anyone leading him around by the nose," she said. "I do think politicians who develop a tough skin are much better for it. They don't sweat the small stuff."

Hmmmmm...."I like a public official who is intelligent...and who appears to not have anyone leading him around by the nose," Then she wouldn't like our 12th District congressional representative, Adam Putman.

Seriously, congrats on a wonderful career, Lucy...and keep up the good work, 'cause it ain't over YET!


In the months since our huge hurricane trifecta, the media has occasionally warned people about not checking out the individuals and their businesses prior to signing an agreement to provide repairs to their damaged homes.

Unfortunately, not everyone gets the message, or after soooooo long without getting their home fixed they are ready to sign on with whoever is willing to do it right away at a low price.

The Winter Haven News Chief is letting people know again that there are plenty of unlicensed contractors in Polk County and elsewhere that are operating illegally...and local people are being screwed because of it:

WINTER HAVEN --- Jennifer Jones admits she doesn't know much about repairing roofs.

But even she knows that when repairing a roof that suffered severe hurricane damage, you take the tarp off before laying down new shingles.

But workers found just that after they started pulling the new shingles off her roof, Jones said. There was the the tarp that Operation Blue Roof had placed on her home after the hurricanes.

Now she's broke, desperate for help and hoping that the police arrest the unlicensed contractor she says deliberately ripped her off.

But while her situation may be extreme, it's not uncommon.

The number of unlicensed contractors the county fined for illegally doing work in 2004 and the first two months of this year has skyrocketed over past years, leaving many homeowners with shoddy or unfinished repairs.

The number of citations issued to unlicensed contractors in Polk County has steaily gone up:
2003 - 68
2004 - 104 (48 prior to August, when Charley struck; 56 afterward)
2005 - 31 (and that's just to this point!)

In Ms. Jones' case, she was left high and dry after her insurance company filed for bankruptcy only days after Charley. The backup for work was --- and continues to be in many areas --- extremely long, so she jumped at the chance when someone came by and left her a card.

You've GOT to do some basic detective work in order to try to get the best work done:

1) Check out the company with the county and state to insure that it is licensed to do the type of work you need done.

2) Don't be afraid to ask for names of previous customers...and call them to get their opinion as to the business' quality of work.

3) Check with several companies, and get more than one estimate.

There's a sucker born every minute...don't be the next one!


The lead story in today's Lakeland Ledger is that Fitch Ratings --- one of the "big three" bond rating services with Moody's and Standard & Poor's --- has reduced the rating for over a half billion dollars in utility bonds for Lakeland Electric from "AA-" to "A+", and downgraded the city-owned utility service's financial outlook from "stable" to "negative".

The actions were the result of what Fitch called "questionable past management decisions". Namely, Lakeland Electric's Unit 5 natrual gas generator with a capacity of 365 megawatts exceeds the city's needs, and the utility has been roundly screwed thanks to a contract it signed with the Florida Municipal Power Agency which has cost millions to customers.

Lakeland Electric is well known as being one of the most expensive public utilities statewide, and the FMPA fuel contract has been a huge pinch in the backside for customers. The willingness for Lakeland Electric to pass along the higher fuel costs to customer was one of the positive things that Fitch noted, along with lower dividends it would pay to the city over the next three years.

S&P and Moody's will be visiting Lakeland soon, and in most cases they will follow suit when one of their other "big three" rating brethern lowers a grade. While the electric utility is not expected to float bonds soon, the downgrade could have an effect on city projects as it is a city-owned/operated service.

There has been some noise made over the past months by utility customers who are tired of being screwed with excessively high bills, but the City Commission seems to be satisfied with the status quo. At some point it may be better to sell off Lakeland Electric to a private utility such as TECO Energy, but at this point that does not seem to be an option for serious discussion.

Saturday, February 26, 2005


(Originally written Friday, 25 Feb, thus the Gayle Guyardo mention)

Had just awakened to NewsChannel 8 this morning and here's anchor Gayle Guyardo (a wonderful way to wake up in the morning, BTW) mentioning that Polk County political activist Dewey Smith has been indicted by a grand jury for knowingly submitting petitions with forged signatures...including that of Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards.

Smith, who had led the successful drive a couple of years ago to slash county commissioner's salaries in half, was working on a threefold campaign:

1) To slash the salaries of constitutional officers.
2) Place term limits on their holding office (eight years), and
3), Make them, in effect, department heads under the direct supervision of the County Commission.

In addition, he was indicted for breaking state campaign finance law as he accepted a $5,000 contribution from a supporter to help pay the people needed to collect the signatures...the limit for such contributions is $100.

Smith, who is 76, has admitted to people that he knowingly turned in petitions with bogus signatures as a means of "testing" elections officials to see if they could catch the fraud. As a result, Smith now faces a total of 20 years in prision --- a life sentence, in effect, considering his advanced age and health--- for his "test".

IMHO: If you really want to get caught, just have three or four forged signatures of the Supervisor of Elections ready to turn in among the piles. Someone in her office will catch it. My guess is that Dewey will now attempt a defense in which he claims that the "establishment" in Bartow is "out to get him". Sorry, Dew...that's what happens when ya do something STUPID!

UPDATE / Saturday, 26 February: The Lakeland Ledger published the Grand Jury's presentation which announced the indictment of Dewey Smith, but which also criticized SOE Lori Edwards for not following the Charter "to the letter" in handling his group's petition drive. Click here to check out the presentation in it's entirity.


The headline in today's St. Petersburg Times online edition caught my attention. Or maybe it was the fact that it mentioned the name of former professional wrestling superstar Hulk Hogan (real name: Terry Bollea).

Seems as though the celebrity is in hot water with officials in Belleair, as he has more animals than permitted on his property per local ordinance. According to Bollea's wife Linda, they owned 25 creatures; the local law only permits five. They include:

6 dogs
3 French hens
2 cats
11 other birds
5 tortoises
2 chinchillas
2 ferrets
2 iguanas
2 rabbits
and two toxic frogs

Linda Bollea became so upset during a code enforcement hearing this week that she described officials with a "choice expletive".

Another hearing is scheduled for Wednesday to determine if they are still in violation of the ordinance.


As many of you probably have heard, Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores filed for bankruptcy protection this week. W-D until recent years had been one of the dominant grocery chains through the Southeast, especially among customer in the lower and middle income catagories and in a number of smaller towns across the region. I remember growing up in southeast Mississippi, most towns had a Winn-Dixie, Sunflower, or Jitney Jungle...or a couple of those.

It looks as though that when W-D eventually comes out of their current situation, it will attempt to project itself as a more "upscale" chain, in the same genre as Lakeland-based Publix. The idea is that Winn-Dixie's traditional customer base has turned away as Wal-Mart Supercentres have been springing up featuring lower prices because of their high volume purchasing power.

It is going to be extremely difficult, and will take a significant amount of time. We'll see if W-D can "out Publix-Publix"...I personally doubt it, but it'll be interesting to see how they try.


We all knew that Florida would be one of the major battlegrounds for the hearts and minds of the citizenry in the debate over President Bush's plan to privation of at least of the Social Security program. The POTUS was in the Tampa Bay area three weeks ago, and Thursday his Treasury Secretary John Snow spoke to a group of business leaders and senior citizens (approximately 50 people, to be example) at the Tampa Area Chamber of Chamber. The stop was part of a two day tour of the Sunshine State, having a stop in Jacksonville Friday

The Florida Times-Union noted that the crowd at the SecTres' visit to Jacksonville was "...a reliably Republican crowd except for a staffer from the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla."


They've FINALLY arrived! The Heart of Florida Girl Scout Council has begun it's annual Girl Scout Cookie fundraising sale, and that means that troops throughout Central Florida will be setting up in front of stores temptin' you with Tagalongs, Thin Mints, and all the other delicious libations to cause you a slight weight gain...but think of it this way: It's helping a really good and fun cause!

I know that other councils across the region may have been holding their sales now for awhile, but it seems that it just begun here in Imperial Polk County this week. Just happening to have stopped at a local Publix for a few items, I came across a small group of Girl Scouts and their moms just setting up. Needless to say, FOUR boxes of cookies were MINE in no time! I knew that the family would be devouring of 'em immediately, and of course almost every one is now GONE!

Looks like I'll have to get a couple of more boxes of Tagalongs, and put 'em under lock and key as a "private stock".

Friday, February 25, 2005


For the past six months I have noted here the continuing battle between the local community action agency, the Polk County Opportunity Council, and the City of Bartow over PCOC's refusal to seat the city's designated representative to the organization's board of directors. David Hallock, a retired businessman who has served on several nonprofit boards in the past, had his qualifications called into question by the PCOC leadership in their refusal to seat him.

The entire episode eventually resulted in the City's complaining to Congressman Adam Putnam (PCOC handles the county Head Start program and other federally funded projects to assist the poor), which has since blossomed into an investigation into the organization's operations by the federal agency which funds it.

Well, Mr. Hallock has given up, deciding to instead accept an appointment to the City of Bartow's Community Redevelopment Agency. But he didn't go away quietly. In his letter to Mayor Leo Longworth, Hallock blasted PCOC's handling of his appointment.

"This board, in my opinion, is incapable of governing," he wrote. "I have been amazed at the level of incompetence of the (PCOC) board in their denial of reality and inability to acknowledge, recognize and deal with their problems.

"Bill Grob, a Tampa lawyer, speaking on behalf of the PCOC board, said he was disappointed with Hallock's perception of the agency.

"Any animosity he may have as a result of the board's actions is based on a misunderstanding," he said.

No misunderstanding, friend. PCOC made a serious mistake, and one which may prove fatal for the agency. PCOC does good work, but it has a terrible history of mismanagement and officials misusing funds/equipment/resources for their own purposes. There are some within PCOC who continue to work in a defensive mode and are simply not interested in reform. And that's sad.


It was a woman, angry at her ex-boyfriend, that apparantly caused a destructive fire that destroyed seven businesses in Plant City Monday night, causing an estimated $3 million in damage.

Angelica Ruth Lockett, 58, admitted to investigators that she wanted to cause some damage, so she flicked a lit cigarette into the back of his store onto some bedding, then walked away. It did a lot more damage than she thought. Her ex-boyfriend's business, Mark's Electronics, was among those destroyed. She now faces seven counts of arson, since seven businesses went up in smoke as a result of her action.

The fire roared out of control for some time, and Plant City firefighters had to seek assistance from Tampa, Hillsborough County, and Lakeland departments to battle the inferno.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that a parent at Lake Wales' Spook Hill Elementary School request to ban the Anastasia series of books by Lois Lowry because of items she considered objectionable.

Specifically, she had issues with items in the second book of the series, Anastasia Again, which made references to beer, Playboy magazine, and the lead character's making light of wanting to commit suicide.

The school's 11-member committee voted to ban Anastasia Again by a 7-4 vote, but voted to keep the other books in the series.

The parent has wanted to have the books banned throughout the Polk County School District, but the district has no policy on such a move; such items are done on an individual school basis.


Former Florida Speaker of the House Johnnie Byrd fired back that he had nothing to do with an attempt to move the Second District Court of Appeals headquarters from Lakeland to Tampa.

Byrd was responding to a Lakeland Ledger article earlier in the week which dealt with an attempt to move the Department of Transportation's District One HQ from Bartow. The article said: Last year, then-House Speaker Johnnie Byrd tried to move the headquarters of the 2nd District Court of Appeal from Lakeland to Tampa. Polk legislators and their allies were able to block the move.

Byrd, from Plant City, said the person behind the change was then-Appropriations Committee chairman Bruce Kyle (R - Fort Myers), and would have split the district leaving the courthouse in Lakeland as the base for a new district streaching from Collier to Polk counties. He directed his anger at Rep. Dennis Ross (R - Lakeland), who warned that such a change would be ripe for the district HQ to be eventually moved possibly Fort Myers.

Byrd said Ross and other Polk delegation members unfairly blamed him for trying to move the 2nd DCA.

"This was totally false," he said. "I never would have allowed the courthouse to be moved from there. He (Ross) is one of those disgruntled members who blames everyone else," Byrd said

Ross has filed papers to run next year for Chief Financial Officer.


I see in this morning's Orlando Sentinel that the high powered personal injury law firm Morgan, Colling, & Gilbert is bustin' up in what is called an "amicable" parting of the ways.

John Morgan, who is best known as the frontman on the firm's advertising, says that his soon-to-be former partners wanted to "go slower, simpler, and safer" in terms of growth, while "my pace is like a MiG fighter jet."

Morgan will keep the "For the People" slogan, and says the firm will likely go under his name alone, although he has another partner in Scott Bates.

Colling and Gilbert's new firm will be known as Colling, Gilbert, & Wright (partner Melvin Wright) and be based in Maitland.


And county elections supervisors end up scrambling to foot the bill --- in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars --- to insure that polling places will be compliant with federal law regarding special voting machines for the disabled.

The law required one of the special handicapped-accessable machines in each precinct, but the legislature's funding was based on the number of polling places. The problem is: In many areas polling places serve two or more precincts, so the election supervisors have to make up the difference.

The state grants paid counties $4,515.38 for each polling location. While that is more than enough to pay for one of Diebold's $4,000 machines, it won't cover the cost of multiple machines that might be required at a single polling location.

For example, Polk County has one polling location in a sparsely populated area that combines four precincts, said Lori Edwards, elections supervisor. That means Edwards' office has to come up with $12,000 of its own money, just for the one polling location.

The problem is bigger than just the difference between polling locations and precincts. The state funding also didn't account for the need for additional machines.

Most elections supervisors have extra machines to handle early voting, public demonstrations and anticipated growth. Then there is always the need for back-up machines in case one or more break down on Election Day.

Maybe our legislators need to take the math portion of the FCAT...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


An interesting question. I enjoy on occasion watching the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's nightly news program The National; anchor Peter Mansbridge is one of the best in the business anywhere, and while scanning through last evening's programme they did a story where Canada's Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson is saying that since the NHL season is now down the toilet that the American and Canadian women's hockey teams should compete for the Stanley Cup.

Of course, the chance of that happening is virtually nil since care of the trophy was transferred to the NHL back in 1947. But an Edmonton attorney challenged the league's monopoly on Lord Stanley's Cup, claiming that control lay with a independent trustees.

Boy, those Canadians love their hockey...


If you have to go to an emergency room across much of Florida, you know that you are usually in for a wait. Tuesday, it got to the point that Lakeland Regional Medical Center had to divert ambulances to hospitals in Bartow, Winter Haven, and as far as Osceola County because it's ER and Intensive Care Unit were overcrowded.

LRMC has the second busiest ER in Florida, lagging only Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital. Recently emergency departments across Florida have been feeling the pinch, noting that hospitals in Plant City, as well as some in Osceola and Marion counties, diverted ambulances to other facilities because they could not handle the crowd.

For a time Tuesday the situation at LRMC was such that ER patients were being put in temporary hallway beds on regular patient floors until they could be seen. The situation has been building for some time.


I've watched the ongoing battle over Terri Schiavo and the question of wheather her feeding tube should be removed for awhile now, as many of us have. It's really a sad story, where a woman's life has, for all intents and purposes, ended at it's pinnacle.

I can understand both sides of the issue, with her husband wanting to move on and not allow her to simply survive in a vegatative state for what could be decades longer until she dies natrually. Her parents, hoping against hope that somehow, someway, a miracle will happen that will allow her to come out of her condition on her own or through a medical procedure.

But what does Terri Schiavo really have to live for? Even if she came out of her state today, she would learn that her beloved husband has moved on and has been bangin' another woman for some time...even asking to tie the knot as soon as it is legally permissable (when Terri's in the ground). And if the medical experts haven't found a way to bring her back after 15 years, chances are it will not happen anytime soon. Sometimes it's simply time to let go.

I've updated my "Living Will", and this case should remind everyone to do the same. BTW: I like it when Faux News screws their coverage of the appeals Tuesday they identified Ms. Schiavo in the screen captions as "Mary Schiavo", instead of Terri.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Owner Kent Buescher is definately serious when it comes to making Cypress Gardens Adventure Park a viable destination for families, as he announced Monday that he will break ground today on a 10 million dollar water park to be known as "Splash Island" and contain several speed slides as well as a lazy river and children's water play area.

The water attraction is expected to open this summer.

Buescher and his management team is extremely happy at the response from visitors at what they have done to CGAP since it reopened in December. Over 80,000 annual passes have been sold, as well as over a 250,000 single day tickets. It's just what the area needs; a less expensive, fun alternative to the Disney/Universal/Sea World attractions that can attract young people and families.

Of course, he's not forgetting the senior citizens that was a big part of the park's traditional clientele. The botanical gardens, big-band/adult concerts, and Jubilee Junction provide a balance that young and young at heart can enjoy. As a matter of fact, I believe I read that when former Lakeland resident and country superstar George Jones appeared there recently, the crowd was one of the largest ever to see a performance there.

Unfortunately, I haven't had the opportunity to see for myself yet, but it's definately on my to-do list very soon.

Monday, February 21, 2005


Jeb! wants to get into the number game by changing the rules that we --- the voters --- mandated in 2002 regarding the cap on the number of students in each core class. The Gov wants to make a "district average" mandate, which means that the possibilities for loopholes would be endless.

Thanks to editorial writer Jac Wilder VerSteeg at the Palm Beach Post for bringing it home.


Sad to read that Hunter S. Thompson, who pioneered "gonzo journalism" in which the writer made himself a primary component of the story, fatally shot himself last evening at his home near Aspen, Colorado. He was 67.

Thompson was the author of a number of books such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hells Angels, and Hey Rube: Blood Sport. He most recently had been a regular contributor to ESPN's Page 2 group of columnists

He began his career as editor of the base newspaper at Eglin Air Force Base near Pensacola while also moonlighting for a local civilian newspaper. He worked for several publications, and eventually his work was noticed by Rolling Stone publisher Jann Werner, who signed him on. His work there made him into a national celebrity, and his fierce love of guns and privacy made Thompson the basis for the character Duke in Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury.

"Hunter was not only a national treasure, but the conscience of this little village," said Gerry Goldstein, a prominent Aspen attorney who is a dear friend of the Thompson family. "He kept us all honest. It didn't matter who you were, whether you were his friend or someone he didn't even know. He didn't mind grading your paper. He was righteous. He was part of a literary nobility."

Enough said.


Also from Bill Rufty's column this morning:

State Representative John Stargel (R - Lakeland) has decided not to move, saying he will stay in District 64 and run for reelection next year. There had been speculation that he would move his family across town into neighbouring District 63, whose seat is being vacated by Rep. Dennis Ross (R - Lakeland) who is running for Chief Financial Officer.

Instead, Stargel is endorsing his close friend and Lakeland City Commissioner Seth McKeel in his bid for the District 63 post.

If Stargel had decided to move into Ross' district and run, he would not be subject to term limits and could serve another eight years there.


The Lakeland Ledger's political columnist Bill Rufty notes today that Polk County hit a milestone last month during Supervisor of Elections Lori Edwards' annual Government Week voter registration drive in the county's high schools. Thanks to the 412 new voters signed up, Polk County surpassed the 300,000 mark. As of Friday, the number of eligible voters was up to 300,546. Polk County is now the tenth largest of Florida's 67 counties in terms of registered voters.

It's one thing to get them if we can just get 'em interested and to the polls...

Sunday, February 20, 2005


The Miami Herald reports that State Representative Randy Johnson (R - Celebration, a staunch anti-gambling advocate, will be the featured speaker against the ballot inititative on slot machines at jai-alai frontons and racetracks in Dade and Broward counties on March 8.

The event: The Casino Night fundraiser for the Broward County Women's Republican Club Federated to be held in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.

Gambling is not a partisan issue. There are Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the issue for a variety of reasons. I just thought it interesting that he would be speaking against additional gambling in this scenario.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


Was great to read this week that my native state honoured one of it's most famous sons. The Mississippi Legislature celebrated the life of blues legend B.B. King during a ceremony Tuesday in Jackson. It was the first time that the 79 year old musical icon, who was born in the Delta region near Itta Bena, had been inside the state capitol.

King enjoyed a luncheon with Governor Haley Barbour and legislators in addition to the ceremony in the House chamber. He also accepted the Governor's Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts, which he had actually received several years ago but was unable to accept in person at the time due to his hectic touring schedule.

It's amazing that at his advanced age, and battle with diabetes, that King is able to maintain a schedule that would make a rock star pant in exhaustion.

Mr. King is also planning a restaurant/blues club which he says he wants to open on Jackson's Farish Street.

I had the honour of meeting B.B. King a number of years ago, when I was a radio personality in Mississippi. He was making an appearance at a local club, and was waiting to do an interview on our sister station. I stepped out of the studio briefly and spoke with the "King of the Blues" before he did his interview, and he came across as a humble, down-home gentleman. I tore a page out of my checkbook register to get an autograph, and it remains one of my most treasured possessions to this day.


The Palm Beach Post is reporting that Bev Harris, the founder of Black Box Voting, has plunked down a $4,500 advance check for internal logs from voting and tabulating machines used in Palm Beach County last November in what she calls the organization's "national fraud audit" of the 2004 general election.

Black Box Voting filed a lawsuit against the Supervisor of Elections office there claiming that former SOE Theresa LePore (creator of the infamous "butterfly" ballot) stonewalled it's attempts to get public records. LePore was replaced last month by Dr. Arthur Anderson, who Harris says "seems very cooperative". LePore was served with the lawsuit last October during a tribute to her by SOE collegues from across the state in Orlando...while a camera crew recorded the moment.


The Lakeland Ledger has a story this morning of a substitute school bus driver who was fired this week after it was learned she made a stop during one of her a Hungry Howies' in a Davenport convenience store. Two of the middle school students walked in and purchased two pizzas; the manager said he was not aware they had gotten off a school bus.

One of the students on the bus called her mom on her cellular phone, saying she became scared when the driver told the students to duck down while the boys went in to get the pizzas. Mom arrived and followed the bus after it left, saying everyone who got off the bus had a slice of pizza in hand.

The bus driver was hired less than a month ago.


Although he's not officially announced his candidacy for governor, Attorney General Charlie Crist is puttin' on the miles across Florida, making stops in Lakeland twice during this week.

The AG was in town Wednesday to address the American Medical Association's local chapter, and made a return visit Friday to speak at a community leaders' forum sponsored by the GrayRobinson law firm and to meet with the Florida Police Chiefs' Association legislative committee.

IMHO: If he looks like a candidate, sounds likes a candidate, and travels like a candidate...then he likely is a candidate!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


The Avon Park Air Force Range which straddles across Polk and Highlands counties is getting ready for a lot more business, including a real "boom" of bombs!

Seems that the Navy wants to triple it's bombing missions at the range, making Avon Park AFR among the primary ranges for training pilots. This is as a result of the end to training runs on Visques Island in Puerto Rico after protests in 2003. The bombs would range from 500 to 2000 pounds each, in addition to dummy bombs.

A couple of problems, though: Avon Park Correctional Institution would be within the range that officials say inmates would experience 115 decibel noise, but the State Department of Corrections is saying "No Problem!" 115 decibel noise can adversely affect hearing after only about 1 1/2 minutes. A rock concert averages about 110 decibels.

There are also two endangered plants and two endangered animals that are located on the range: The scrub jay and the Eastern indigo snake. The reaction of Congressman Adam Putnam (R - Bartow):

"The scrub jays know how to duck and cover."

Final decisions are expected by the end of the year.


The local legislative races are slowly but surely coming to life. Republican Lakeland City Commissioner Seth McKeel, a real estate manager/developer, had decided to run for the State House District 63 seat currently held by Dennis Ross (R - Lakeland). Ross announced recently that he would be a candidate for State Chief Financial Officer.

There had been some thought that District 64 representative John Stargel (R - Lakeland) would move into District 63 and run for the seat after his home received damage during last year's hurricanes, but apparantly McKeel grew tired of waiting to see what Stargel would do and is now saying he will run regardless.

The McKeel name is rather prominent in Lakeland. Besides his own position in local government and business, Seth is the grandson of the late Polk County School Board member Seth G. McKeel, for whom McKeel Academy of Technology is named.

Polk County only has two legislative seats up for grabs this year, Districts 63 and 64 in Western Polk; 65 and 66 in the eastern county were decided last year.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Polk County recently consolidated it's 12 emergency dispatch call centers into one location, and is also upgrading it's computer assisted dispatch system. That didn't help one family near Haines City, whose home was destroyed late Sunday by a fire apparantly accidental.

Although officials are saying it didn't contribute to the home's loss, the system dispatched two units from Winter Haven and one Polk County Fire Services truck to the scene, located east of U.S. 27 and well outside the city. PCFS authorized the Winter Haven trucks to return to their station, and a brush truck from Haines City was requested to assist at the rural location; it arrived in seven minutes.

The 911 call came from a cellular phone. The $70K home and around $30K in contents were deemed a total loss.


As National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman is preparing to announce that the 2004-05 season is down the toilet (making it official Wednesday), it's always refreshing to know that baseball is on the way! Spring Training facilities are hastily being prepared as pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report Thursday, and the position players a couple of days later.

Enjoy it in Polk County...while you still can! The Kansas City Royals had to relocate to Fort Myers a couple of years ago, as their Baseball City complex is being turned into a major residential and business development. And the Cleveland Indians will likely be leaving after this year. Only the Detroit Tigers, who have had a relationship with Lakeland for over half a century, will remain locally.

Spring Training is always enjoyable, when the fans can usually enjoy the workouts and games up close and least a lot more so than you could during the regular season. And many of the players are a lot more accessable to sign autographs and "chew the fat". In Winter Haven, for instance, Hall of Fame pitcher Bill Feller is a regular site and always makes time for the fans. And it's great to watch the younguns' who may be relegated to the minors once training is done, but a few of them may become the future stars of Major League Baseball.

Bring It On!!!


Congratulations to Lakeland native David Macias, who won the Grammy award Sunday in the catagory of Best Traditional Folk Album as co-producer of the compilation album Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster.

Mr. Macias is a graduate of Lakeland High School (Dreadnaughts keep on winning!), and founded his company, Emergent Music Marketing, four years ago in Nashville to distribute, promote, and handle other tasks for independent labels and musicians.

Regardless of the fact that his catagory was relegated to the afternoon pre-broadcast session, it's always a huge accomplishment when your work is honoured in such a way by your peers.

His next project, scheduled for release next year, is a 50 song history of America in music and is called --- what else --- Song of America. The project is the idea of former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who is from Miami.

Monday, February 14, 2005


This is an interesting story from Sunday's St. Petersburg Times, the rememberance of Coquing Key resident Thomas Hilliard, who on this day in 1945 was a bosun's mate on the USS Murphy when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, fresh from the Yalta Conference and only two months before his death, met with Saudi Arabian King Abdel Aziz to begin forging a relationship based on the geopolitics of the day...but mostly about oil.

What is interesting here is the king's quirks. Having never been outside his native land, he refused to sleep in a cabin onborad, or even walk on the iron deck. Talk about issues!

The remaining sailors who served on that ship will be noted at a luncheon today to be attended also by the king's gransdon, Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who is the son of the crown prince.

BTW: An interesting quote from King Abdel Aziz at the time regarding the issue of Jews relocating to Palestine to form what is now Israel:

"Give the Jews and their descendants the choicest lands and homes of the Germans who had oppressed them."

The Saudi monarch was not keen on the issue, and refused to help Roosevelt on Jewish settlements in the region.

Sunday, February 13, 2005


I was checking out some of the newsie sites, and Jeremy Wallace in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's Political Insider blog made mention that Congresswoman Katherine Harris (R - Sarasota) was the featured speaker for the Christian Coalition of Florida's Faith and Family Breakfast Saturday. He also found that Harris was one of several Florida congressional Republicans who earned a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition's national office (pdf file: Adobe Acrobat required to view). Among the others from Central Florida: Michael Bilirakis (R - Tarpon Springs), Ginny Brown-Waite (R - Crystal River), John L. Mica (R - Maitland), Harris' own relative Adam Putnam (R - Bartow), and Dave Weldon (R - Indialantic).

Needless to say, no Democrat received higher than a 50% ranking. That, of course, is not to say that Democrats are somehow not Christian or heatherns. We simply disagree with the right wing on some issues.


That's the position taken by Daytona Beach News-Journal political columnist Pamela Hasterok.

Lawmakers like the idea of limiting the state's power over development, but are decidedly chilly to requiring local governments to shoulder it instead.
Who would have guessed? But if ever there was a bad bet, it's relying on local officials to rein in growth. (Volusia and Flagler County residents know that firsthand.)

On the legislative playing floor, senators may call the bluff on the governor's bill by insisting that new freedoms come with new restraints. And House fiscal conservatives could balk at allowing local governments to raise extra taxes, even to build roads, schools and utilities.

When it comes to managing growth, don't be surprised if lawmakers fold.


Carl Hiaasen makes a great point in today's Miami Herald, slamming Florida Power & Light for underestimating by $180 million costs related to the hurricanes last year, and now asking the state Public Service Commission to have consumers make up the difference on top of the average $2.09 monthly hurricane surcharge AND the average $3.49 monthly surcharge for higher fuel costs which have already been approved.

This request is regardless of the fact that in the fourth quarter of 2004, in spite of the four hurricanes that affected our state, FP&L earnings increased 34 percent, and that shareholders are already earning a comfortable 12.5% return on their investments.

And speaking of consumers getting short shrift, Florida Today of Melbourne asks legislators to resist the insurance industry lobby on the issue of hurricane reforms in today's editorial after it was decided to take some extra time to consider how to improve hurricane insurance laws.

But among those seemingly favouring insurance companies over the working Floridian: Chief Financial Office and probable gubernatorial candidate Tom Gallagher and Joint Select Committee on Hurricane Insurance members State Senator Mike Haridopolos (R - Melbourne) and State Representative Leslie Waters (R - St. Petersburg).

Adding to the whole hurricane insurance drama: Check out this post from last Monday at Pensacola Beach Blog, which has focused primarily on the Northwest Florida area in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan. It has to do with the fact that the state-owned Citizens Property Insurance has taken back approximately 7,000 hurricane claims files that were handled improperly by subcontractor adjusting firms. The Pensacola News Journal ran this story about a week after it was written by Gannett News Service Tallhassee reporter Paige St. John. Thanks to Florida News for the heads up.


Those individuals noted with an asterisk * have already announced that they are candidates.

Former Education Commissioner Betty Castor - Tampa
Lawton "Bud" Chiles - Tallahassee*
Congressman Jim Davis - Tampa*
FL Democratic Party Chairman Scott Maddox - Tallahassee
State Senator Rod Smith - Gainesville*

Attorney General Charlie Crist - St. Petersburg
Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher - Miami
Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings - Orlando

Noone actively mentioned presently

State Representative Everett Rice - Treasure Island
State Representative Joe Negron - Stuart*

State Representative Dennis Ross - Lakeland*

UPDATE: The Florida Times-Union has a good glance at the Republican and Democratic (at those who have announced) candidates for governor. It mentions that Maddox and Castor will reportedly remain uncommitted regarding their candidacies until after the legislative session ends in May. Castor may be able to get away with it; some are saying that Maddox is waiting to see if the former Education Commissioner and University of South Florida president will jump in. If he's serious about running, he needs to begin soon in order to earn name recognition statewide.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Remember former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and his George Wallace-esque attempt to keep the Ten Commandments monument in the rotunda of the court's building in Montgomery? He was, of course, eventually removed from the bench for defying a federal court order to remove it, and now Moore has given a group known as American Veterans in Domestic Defense permission to take the monument on a national tour.

The tour comes to Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, where it will display the 2 1/4-ton stone at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church...home base for televangelist Dr. D. James Kennedy. The visit is part of a two-day conference by one of Kennedy's various organizations, the Center for Reclaiming America, which is expected to attract approximately 800 evangelical Christians from across the country to decry the ideas of civil rights for gays, embroynic stem cell research, the study of evolution, and other issues on which their ilk wishes to force their beliefs upon all America.

BTW: One of the conference's featured speakers for it's Friday dinner is none other than Congresswoman Katherine Harris (R - Sarasota)...rather fitting, eh?


Today Dr. Howard Dean will officially be elected as Chairman of the Democratic Party with the organization's National Committee cast their ballots in Washington.

While I did not support his candidacy for President (I supported retired General Wesley Clark in the primary), IMHO Dr. Dean is the catalyst that our party needs at this time and place. Instead of the tired "Old Guard" DC insiders who like things as they always were, the Democrats need new leadership from someone who isn't afraid to "think out of the box" or say exactly what they believe. Dr. Howard Dean is just that person.

The Party also needs to give it's state organizations more attention and resources to fufill their missions, and Dean has promised just that. His job will certainly be tough, as the Democratic Party is so diverse and needs to put aside the various differences to come together in a unified effort. It also needs to work hard in recruit candidates at all levels...from City Hall to the White House.

One area that I believe we have failed recently is that Democrats have focused so much on national elections that we seemed to have forgotten, in the words of former House Speaker Tip O'Neill, that all politics are local! With only passing attention given to candidates on the county and state level, they are handicapped by lack of support in the face of usually overwhelming funding and effort by the opposition. This is something that money alone cannot correct; it takes basic campaign efforts such as walking precincts, telephoning, and old fashioned one-on-one contact by people in the community.

The sooner we learn from the error of our ways, the better. And good luck to Dr. Dean!

Friday, February 11, 2005


Hating to read that one of the most recognizable supermarket names in the Southeast, Jacksonville-based grocer Winn-Dixie, is looking possible bankruptcy head-on after announcing Thursday that it lost $400 million dollars and could run out of money to operate.

Growing up in south Mississippi, Winn-Dixie Stores was considered one of the best places to buy groceries, along with Jitney Jungle. Usually small-mid sized in many locations, they still had some of the lowest prices around. My family were regulars at the store in nearby Petal, and I was disappointed that by the time I moved to Lakeland, the Winn-Dixie that had been only a few blocks away had closed...there's a Guitar Center now on the spot.


I have often slammed my area Congressman, Adam Putnam (R - Bartow), for often being a lapdog for the Bush Administration, and am not about to apoligize for it. But "Red", as he is known fondly by the POTUS, has actually decided to do some good by filing a bill which would make organizations which operate Head Start programs more accountable. This was done as a result of the almost constant drama occuring at the Polk County Opportunity Council, the local community action agency which runs Head Start here, and looking at other situations across the country.

While there are 1,680 agencies which operate Head Start programs nationwide, 20 are currently under investigation or under government supervision. PCOC is one of them, for reasons I have noted here before.

The idea is good. From today's Lakeland Ledger:

Putnam's bill would:

Give priority in grant competition to high-performing agencies as determined by the Administration of Children and Families. Now there is no priority based on merit.

Require specialists in early education, finance and other specialty areas on the oversight boards to ensure that all interests are properly addressed.

Require those board members to function separately from the agency staff and to be knowledgable of general concepts of accounting, law and business management.

Subject any agency found to be deficient in a program area (such as financial management) to a review, on-site evaluations and possible termination of grant designation by Head Start.

Require agencies to perform an audit by a certified public accountant no later than 60 days following the end of the fiscal year. The accountant must be chosen by the oversight board through a competitive process. No accountant may perform audits of an agency for more than two consecutive years.

"This is the first step in restoring accountability in the delivery of social services to some of our most vulnerable citizens," Putnam said.

Now if Putnam can keep focused on these goals and not be steered by idealogical crap...I'm not holding my breath yet, but he may actually have some promise here...


Congressman Jim Davis (D - Tampa) did what was widely expected and filed as a candidate for Governor.

And State Representitive Dennis Ross (R - Lakeland) filed as a candidate for Chief Financial Officer.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Law enforcement officers have responded to complaints in creative ways, but this item in Brevard County is really interesting.

The sheriff's office there had been receiving complaints about red-light runners at one corner in Viera, so they decided to run a "sting" operation using a deputy disguised as a construction worker as the real workers made improvements to the signal. The result: 118 traffic tickets being written, with $80 fines likely in each case. Most were for running a red light, but other violations involved speeding and seat belt/child restraint issues.

It's not the only area where cops are disguised to catch violaters. Kissimmee Police on occasion pose as vagrants to conduct traffic stings.

So be careful when you're in a rush to get where you're going: The stranger you see on the side of the road may be ready to radio his collegue nearby to pull you over...and write you up!


Wal-Mart Stores has a reputation for being extremely aggressive when it comes to fighting unionization. I've heard stories about teams of corporate types from the Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters spending several days at stores where there have been mentions of possible organizing to head off any such efforts, meeting with employees in groups to promote the advantages of keeping unions out of their stores.

In Canada, the United Food and Commercial Workers have been somewhat more successful. But Wal-Mart has decided to close one of it's first two unionized stores in North America, in Jonquiere, Quebec, northwest of Montreal. The decision came after UFCW applied to the Quebec Labor Relations Commission for it's first contract arbitration, acknowledging that the two sides were far apart and unlikely to reach agreement. The company says the decision was made because the union's demands would make the store too unprofitable to keep open.

The other unionized Wal-Mart, also in Quebec, won union certification last month. However, Wal-Mart is challenging the certification claiming the vote was undemocratic and that employees were not offered a chance to vote by secret ballot.

In reality, I believe that workers on this side of the border were looking closely at what was happening in Canada, in hopes that the union efforts would be successful enough to lead similar attempts at unionization here. Wal-Mart knew that, and decided to put it's line in the sand once and for all: that it would close stores before allowing any union to gain a foothold in it's organization.


One Lake Wales parent is asking Polk County school officials to ban six books by the children's author Lois Lowry, including five of the six books in her Anastasia series, as inappropriate for elementary school-age students.

Kristi Hardee, a part-time church secretary and mother of a fourth grader at Spook Hill Elementary School, said her daughter was reading the book Anastasia Krupnik, and told her teacher about what she considered "bad words" in the story. The teacher then alerted Mrs. Hardee.

How bad, you ask? From the story in the Lakeland Ledger Wednesday:

In some of the passages the main character, Anastasia, an adolescent, stuffs a bra to appear older, has a conversation with her mother about bra-snapping boys and asks a friend if she would pose nude if she were a fashion model. In another book, "Your Move J.P.," the main character had never kissed a girl but was sure the right position would come to him when it was time for a smooch.

In Polk County, complaints regarding objectionable material in books are handled by the individual school's Literature Review Committee. If the parent still objects, he/she can appeal to the School Board. In the past 24 years, there have been 40 book challenges in the district, and only three books have been removed from individual schools.

There is no policy in place to ban books from the school district at-large...and that's a good thing! One group of people should not place it's ideas or beliefs on schools.


The Polk County School District is planning it's calendar for the next school year, and it's taking no chances as four storm make up days will likely be built into the mix. Last year's hurricanes took a toll on the local district, as students missed a total of 14 school days thanks to Charley, Francis, Ivan, and Jeanne. Only seven make up days were added, with the winter break being shortened and teacher work days eliminated.

They may be glad the days are being built in. Dr. William Gray, Professor of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, is predicting a slightly above average hurricane season for 2005 with an above average probability of U.S. major hurricane landfall.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


Amway founder Jay Van Andel, who died in Ada, Michigan December 7 at the age of 80, made ten $100,000 donations to the Florida Republican Party in the months before his death, starting on July 27.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that the money was used in a massive get-out-the-vote effort in a state which at the time was considered cruicial to President Bush's victory in November. It is considered the largest contribution to a state party in Florida by an individual.


The Polk County Opportunity Council is a community action agency which is mandated with helping the poor and disadvantaged in Polk County; it also operates the local Head Start program. PCOC has a rather shady history, with several employees --- including a former Executive Director --- going to jail for theft.

Lately they've been mired in more controveresy, thanks to the current Executive Director accepting a free trip to Las Vegas under the guise of training for a new copier after signing a no-bid contract with Canon, the PCOC Board of Directors refusing to seat an individual to serve as the City of Bartow's representative, as well as a discrimination lawsuit (which was dismissed) by a former finance director. Now they've got a federal investigation to deal with --- the second inquiry in six years.

The eye this time is on the relationship between PCOC and the Heartland Economic Development Authority, which rents the buildings that house PCOC's Head Start program. Their addresses are the same, and their boards of directors consist of the same people. HEDA was formed due to federal restrictions on PCOC's owning of property.

Seems as though a federal audit five years ago showed that HEDA overcharged Uncle Sam $16,000 for rental on buildings used to house PCOC's Head Start programs. Not only that, HEDA "improperly charged $5,000 to Head Start parents, and failed to spend $62,000 of agency funds in a timely matter".

The federal Administration for Children and Families is conducting the investigation after a request by Congressman Adam Putnam (R - Bartow). Now I've slammed Putnam in the past for being no more than a lap dog for the Bush Administration, but this time he's on the mark. While the programs PCOC offers are worthy and certainly needed (my daughter went through PCOC's Head Start program, and her mother was a very active volunteer at the centre), we have to be diligiant that it's administration isn't rotten to the core. This agency has been through a lot, thanks to people who were looking out for themselves instead of their clients, and it would be a shame to see more of the same going on again.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


I take back all the nasty things I said about Tampa Electric Company being expensive when I lived in Winter Haven. I thought that I was getting robbed every month when receiving my electric bill then, but that's nothing compared to the screwing that comes from Lakeland Electric, our city-owned utility service.

Lakeland Electric is one of the most expensive utilities in Florida, and it's fiscal management practices leave much to be desired.

There are two stories in today's Lakeland Ledger dealing with Lakeland Electric: A scenario of "good news/bad news" in regard to rates for customers, and the Utility Committee which is appointed by the City Commission is being expanded to include one minority and one female representative...but the Commission squawked about it and ended up approving the idea in a 4-3 vote. They had recently added four men to what had previously been a committee made up of the seven City Commissioners.

Maybe two or three regular folks could provide some well needed representation to this Chamber of Commerce offshoot...

Monday, February 07, 2005


The Brevard County chapter of the ACLU is investigating survelliance activities done on January 20 as a group known as Patroits for Peace gathered in Melbourne to protest President Bush's inauguration.

Florida Today reported that Melbourne Police officers videotaped the group of 35 to 40 people which marched from a park to City Hall and held anti-Bush signs. The police chief said his officers' actions were for the protection of the protesters to discourage any potentially violent actions during the gathering.

The Brevard ACLU has made a public records request to city officials seeking all related information, including e-mails, documents, and memos related to the incident, plus a copy of the videotape and information on it's intended purpose.

I'm not doubting the police chief's explanation, but in these days where the present administration would love to circumvent individual liberties under the excuse of "National/Homeland Security", you just can't take anything for granted. Do local officials want to make their own "blacklist" of people who they believe are "radicals"? We just can't take that chance.


The Tallahassee Democrat is is teasing a story for tomorrow's edition that three former statewide leaders --- Past Senate President John McKay, past State Comptroller Bob Milligan, and past Attorney General Bob Butterworth --- have begun an effort to put three constitutional amendments on next November's ballot. The effort seeks to force legislators to review the state's archaric tax code and it's numerous sales tax exemptions, which hasn't been done in 56 years.

UPDATE: Here's the story from today's Lakeland Ledger.

It's been done before, as this story from Gannett's Fl0rida Capital News shows from two years ago. The differences is that this time, the voters would try to force the Legislature to act, which is what the ballot inititative is supposed to do. (Emphasis mine) That's not to say that they will, because some of the business interests that would be directly affected are quite powerful. Of course, a review is no guarantee that anything will happen.


The popular Tampa blog Sticks of Fire is celebrating it's first anniversary, so I4J sends congratulations and best wishes to Tommy on the event.

SoF has always been one of my favourite blogs to visit, and I consider Tommy a mentor of sorts since I've started this effort.

Thanks a lot, and keep up the good work!


In this morning's political column by the Lakeland Ledger's Bill Rufty, we learn that State Representative John Stargel (R - Lakeland), who currently holds the District 64 seat, could be eyeing the seat in neighbouring District 63 when his term comes to an end next year.

The District 63 seat is currently held by Rep. Dennis Ross (R- Lakeland), who is expected to run for Chief Financial Officer.

Of course, he would have to move into the district if elected. But this is an overly obvious attempt to circumvent term limits, as the law only applies to the seat currently held. Such a move would also give Ross the longevity needed to make a run for House Speaker.

UPDATE: Stargel now says that even if he does move, he will not violate the spirit of the term limits law and serve no more than eight consecutive years in the State House. He's in no hurry to make his decision, but Lakeland City Commissioner Seth McKeel is...he apparantly wants to run for the seat, but would not like to do it against Stargel, who is a close friend. The representative's decision would likely put a crimp into any thoughts he may have had into running for House Speaker. Right now, the spot is likely booked up for the next several years.


Now that Super Bowl XXIX is history, the big question for some at least is not "What happened to the Eagles?", but rather, "What did you think about the commercial...?"

The Lakeland Ledger had a panel of marketing/PR professionals from Polk County firms and a couple of average consumers giving their thoughts on the ads, which cost $2.4 million for a 30 second spot. They all seemed to dislike the bit, which featured a rather buxom young woman in a congressional committee setting suffering a "wardrobe malfunction". Nothing really indecent, but suggestive enough that --- according to the firm's blog Hot Points by Bob Parsons --- the NFL asked that FOX not run it's scheduled second airing which would have been in the second position at the two minute warning near the game's end (a "Simpsons" promo aired instead).

If you want to view the ad for yourself (in case you failed to watch last night), here is the link. It features the full Web-only ad as well as the broadcast approved commercial which ran.

Most seemed to like the FedEx piece with Burt Reynolds, and Ford's frozen driver ad promoting their new Mustang line (could that have been Mustang Bobby???). They also liked the "Working With Monkeys" ad. But overall, the panel felt "ho-hum" toward many of the other bits.


According to Buddy Nevins in Saturday's South Florida Sun Sentinel, the endorsement of likely Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean by Florida Democratic chair Scott Maddox has earned the possible gubernatorial candidate some big-time political capital. After all, Mattox was the first state chairperson to endorse Dr. Dean, and he moved the state's DNC representatives to endorse the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate.

Nevins considers what the possible payback could be in terms of Dean being elected, most likely needed extra ummph to Maddox's possible run for the governor's office next year. Maddox needs to start getting out and about, as he did'nt even rank in the recent Mason-Dixon poll (see post below).


Over a year and a half away from the governor's race, and already the polls are starting to ask potential voters who the favourite is.

According to Betty Parker in the Fort Myers News-Press, a private client hired the polling firm Mason-Dixon to survey several issues and added the governor's race "almost as an afterthought." However, there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind in reading this: As the poll was not regarding the race, the margin of error was a higher-than-normal seven percent. And the survey was of only about 215 from each party.

It shows that among Democrats, Betty Castor is the leader with 35%, followed by "Bud" Chiles with 19%, Congressman Jim Davis with 9%, and State Senator Rod Smith with 4%. One third were undecided at this point.

On the Republican side, Attorney General Charlie Crist leads with 34%, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher follows with 19%, Lieutenant Governor Toni Jennings has 9%, with 38% unsure.

To quote the great country music legend (and former Lakeland resident) George Jones, "And the race is on..." (BTW: He appeared a couple of weeks ago at Cypress Gardens Adventure Park, and drew one of the largest crowds ever to see a concert there).

Sunday, February 06, 2005


I got my gift from Uncle Sam this week (yeah, my tax refund), so my son and I took my granddaughter and splurged Saturday. A new computer (a new Gateway), digital camera, and other goodies, but that was nothing compared to what I saw at the local electronics stores.

Thanks to the Super Bowl, people were eating up the big screen, high definition TVs and loadin' 'em up in time to enjoy the Eagles' victory over New England (did I say that?). Best Buy was like a jungle, with a number of folks looking at new ' me, likely splurging their tax refunds.

I made sure there was still more than plenty to pay bills, and enjoy a good meal or two. The order has been placed for pizza and breadsticks this evening, and all we need is T.O. to do his thang.


Saturday, February 05, 2005


"Bud" Chiles, the son of the late governor "Walkin' Lawton", came home to Lakeland Friday in preperation to begin his own campaign for the state's highest office. He will make his official announcement Thursday in Orlando.

A better-than-expected 70 people attended the meet-and-greet luncheon at the Lakeland Yacht Club. The young Mr. Lawton said that later this month he would begin a statewide walk a la his father's campaign tours across and down the state, beginning in Century and ending in Key Largo. Since the walk will take nearly two years, Chiles will seek service projects in communities where he will take part and ask residents to help in an effort to improve their own areas.

His primary issue at this point seems to be the pre-K program.

Bud attended elementary and middle school in Lakeland before being shipped off to prep school for his high school years.


The Lakeland Ledger reported Friday that five of the nine directors of the publicly traded land company Alico, Inc., based in LaBelle, resigned this week citing concerns regarding a proposal merging Alico with the citrus and cattle company Atlantic Blue Trust. And a sixth director will leave later this month upon his retirement.

Just another business story? Not quite, because of the individuals involved.

The departure of the six board members will leave only board chairman John R. Alexander, his son, State Senator/Majority Whip J.D. Alexander (R - Lake Wales), and his nephew, State Representative Baxter Troutman (R - Frostproof), to run Alico. The three are also on the board of Atlantic Blue Trust, with John R. Alexander also chairing the ABT board.

Alico was previously managed by Ben Hill Griffin III before turning it over to his sisters in March of last year. John R. Alexander is married to one of Griffin's sisters, Sarah Jane.

Griffin was quoted as being saddened by what has happened:

"My father and I were CEOs and directors of that company for more than 30 years and never had an issue involving ethics whatsoever," he said. "We never had one independent director resign from Alico in this way. This is most regrettable. This is my father's reputation and my reputation -- all of that built Alico. To see this happen saddens me".

Hey, friends...we could see a real FAAAAMMMMMILY FEUUUUUUUUD!


Dubya made his pitch for privitazing Social Security to Tampa Friday. It was no different than his four previous stops, seemingly scripted down to the same jokes with only a small amount of local flavor thrown in. And in Tampa there was no repeat of the incident in Omaha, where a heckler called Bush a liar before being surrounded by white shirted volunteers and taken out of the venue.

But there were approximately 200 protesters --- a large number for Tampa --- who gathered at a nearby park and marched toward the Tampa Convention Center before being stopped short by police. Surprisingly, the demonstration received good play in the local media instead of just a passing sentence or a few seconds of video. The Florida Consumer Action Network and it's FCAN Foundation were the primary organizers of the protest.

The St. Petersburg Times noticed a number of truly close similarities in the five events during Bush's tour:

At each of the five stops on his tour, the White House staged a carefully orchestrated event. There were charts with red ink showing Social Security's eventual shortcomings. A group of hand-selected people invited on stage to bolster Bush's argument, the faces changing at each stop, but always fitting a prescribed demographic. And carefully-picked audiences, absolutely enthralled with their president.
It was a carbon copy of shows in Fargo, N.D., Great Falls, Mont., Omaha, Neb., and Little Rock, Ark. At each stop he told the same jokes, making fun of his advancing age or graying hair. At each stop he thanked his lucky stars that Laura deigned to marry him. And at each stop he wanted to have some "plain" conversation with the audience about Social Security.
The events were billed as "conversations with the president" and "town hall meetings," but Bush didn't speak much to the public. In some cases, including Tampa, you couldn't get tickets unless you knew the right person. In other cases, including Fargo, a limited number of tickets were distributed to the public, but the demand far outweighed the number.

Those in the audience got tickets from Republican members of Congress or volunteers to the Republican Party. One man got his from a friend whose daughter babysits for a Secret Service agent. A college student in Fargo went to a College Republicans meeting for the first time, just for a ticket.
"It is always this staged," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. "It's a convenient way to build support. It's not some kind of town hall meeting. This is an event to try to gain momentum. So they are going to look for people who basically have this agenda."
At each stop, the president was joined by four to five people representing different phases of life. There was the senior who doesn't want his benefits to change. The young couple who don't think Social Security will be available to them when they retire. The financially savvy person who understands investment accounts.

Here's a story about the protesters in Great Falls, Montana from the Great Falls Tribune.

The Omaha World reported on about 350 who gathered to disagree with Bush's proposal before, during, and after the event there.

And the Fargo Forum noted that there was actually a list of people who were to be denied access to Bush's event in North Dakota, mainly people from the area's Democracy For America meetup but also people who had written letters to the editor slamming the POTUS' policies on Social Security and our military operation in Iraq.

No word on wheather there was a similar list for Dubya's visit to Florida...but I wouldn't doubt it if there were.