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2012: The Year In Review

This year, we held our breath.

In 2012, Tampa crossed its fingers and hoped for the best as Republicans and their convention descended.

Mercifully, a hurricane and an expected invasion of protesters did not.

Instead, we were the place where Jon Stewart complained about humidity and Clint Eastwood berated a chair.

This year, we kept up our tradition of never-dull politics, sending one public official packing in a mess that began with holy oil and dispatching another with a penchant for porn. We schooled Miami on the proper makings of a Cuban sandwich and kept batting our eyelashes at the Tampa Bay Rays.

This year we officially recognized a couple has rights even without a wedding ring.

We played catch me if you can with a man on the lam in a charity scam. And in a courtroom, we counted up lives ruined over a gun in a park on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

What's to come in 2013?

We can only hold our breath.

Luanne Panacek was forced out of her job as chief executive officer of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County after a series of reports about the agency's finances, contracts and what a consultant called its "dysfunctional" workplace. Panacek had led the taxpayer-funded agency for nearly 15 years, attracting little notice until her decision in January to let a religious friend spread holy oil in the building on a Sunday. That led confused staffers to call the police the next day. The Children's Board continues to look for a permanent chief executive officer but persuaded a familiar face to oversee the agency in the meantime: former Tampa mayor Pam Iorio.

The worst that can happen to Hillsborough County students happened twice, and both times to disabled children. Jennifer Caballero, 11, drowned in a pond behind Rodgers Middle School on Oct. 22. A week later the public learned, through a lawsuit, that 7-year-old Isabella Herrera died in January after she stopped breathing on a bus returning from Sessums Elementary School. The incidents became public as a new School Board was sworn in with a greater propensity to question the administration. The pressure is on, as 2013 begins, to improve special education safety and satisfy critics on the board and in the community.

Mr. Sweet Nothings, County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, invites the Tampa Bay Rays to talk baseball, saying he's willing to be the "boyfriend'' who causes the divorce between St. Petersburg and the team. A chamber of commerce group says various taxes could fund a stadium deal without creating new burdens on residents. A development group associated with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik ties up enough land near Channelside to squeeze in a stadium. But with St. Petersburg refusing to let the team negotiate with Hillsborough interests, major league baseball in Hills­borough remains limited to spring training.

In April, U.S. marshals in Oregon captured the man known as Bobby Thompson after a two-year, cross-country manhunt. Solving the mystery of his true identity would take a little longer. The man who created the U.S. Navy Veterans Association charity scam from a rundown Ybor City duplex is currently jailed in Ohio awaiting trial on fraud, money laundering and identity theft charges. In October came news that "Thompson" is actually John Donald Cody, a Harvard-educated lawyer and former military intelligence officer. Cody had been on an FBI wanted list, charged with fraud and espionage, since 1987.

Tampa went first, but communities in Pinellas soon followed. In March, the Tampa City Council approved the bay area's first domestic partnership registry for unmarried couples, gay or straight. The registry was aimed at protecting couples' rights to visit each other in the hospital, make medical decisions or funeral plans for each other and be notified as a family member in the event of an emergency. In the months that followed, Gulfport, Clearwater and St. Petersburg created their own registries. And there may be more to come: This month, the Pinellas County Commission voted to schedule a Jan. 15 public hearing and vote on the idea.

Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner appeared headed to an easy fifth term. Then came his admission he sent pornographic emails to his human resources director, a woman he once dated and then fired as the news was breaking. Turner drew new election opposition and lost in the Republican primary. As the year drew to a close, Turner agreed to pay the woman $135,000 in tax money to settle her wrongful termination lawsuit against him.

For one week in August, the eyes of the world turned to Tampa for the Republican National Convention. Politically, the convention was a mixed bag for the GOP, and it had a way of confounding expectations. Hurricane Isaac threatened but didn't actually hit. The city braced itself for mobs of protesters, most of whom stayed home. Fenced off and isolated, some restaurants set the table for conventioneers who never materialized. Police suited up as if to go to war, but ended up delivering boxed lunches to demonstrators. Then Clint Eastwood did that thing with the chair. The economic impact — estimated at about $154 million before the Aug. 27-30 event — is still being calculated. But regional boosters say Tampa Bay's image got a big lift from the publicity.

Hillsborough County prosecutors, who see a lot of senseless crimes, called this one a fatal shooting over nothing. In November, 71-year-old Trevor Dooley was convicted of manslaughter for killing a neighbor after an argument over a skateboarder on the community basketball court. The case drew national attention when Dooley claimed immunity under Florida's "stand your ground" law. But after a week of trial, it was still difficult to understand why David James, a 41-year-old father in Valrico, had to die in front of his 8-year-old daughter over something as trivial as a skateboarder on the basketball court. Dooley faces up to 30 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 17.

Key players in the tale of Florida's 12th state university included a power broker senator and a chancellor who became known for his statue of Darth Vader. In the end, Florida Polytechnic University won the right to break away from the University of South Florida, and will stand on its own as an independent school based in Lakeland. Critics say the college became independent mostly because of the ambitions of then-Sen. JD Alexander. But its backers say the university will fill a critical Florida need — producing more graduates in science, technology, engineering and math.

He was a World War II hero, a voice in Washington for decades and a beloved city father who left his mark on everything from the University of South Florida to Interstate 4 to the downtown federal courthouse. When former Congressman Sam Gibbons died in October at the age of 92, we learned he had told his family to hold his memorial service on a weekend so no one would miss work just to talk about him. That was Tampa's Sam Gibbons.

See Sports, Latitudes, Perspective and Business pages for more of the year's big stories and the top year-end stories on tampabay.com.

2012: The Year In Review 12/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 11:55pm]
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