What's the role of public education?
That's the first question my fellow judges and I asked every one of the most recent candidates for Hernando County Teacher of the Year. And, as open-ended as it might seem, it's a great question, because there's a right answer, or at least a best one:
Public education advances the cause of democracy. It grants all kids a chance to learn and succeed. It lets them be judged by the same standards as their peers. It gives them a fair shake....
03/04/14 Economic Development
Here's the dream or, because it's more than that now, the plan:
A cyclist could climb on a bike in St. Petersburg and, given the energy and the time, ride all the way to Titusville. Other than at intersections, the rider wouldn't have to worry for a single moment about being mowed down by a car or truck.
In other words, pedaling 275 miles across the country's most lethal state for cyclists could be done in perfect safety....
The admitting nurse at a Brooksville hospital last month heard that a patient's name was Michael Wollam and recalled that he'd once taken a biology course with a teacher by that name.
"Did you pass?" Wollam's wife, Sheila, asked him.
"I got an A," he said.
"Okay," she responded. "You can work on him."
There was no grading on a curve, no easy A's, in Wollam's science classes at what is now Pasco-Hernando State College....
02/28/14 Local Government
Bob Sierra put up $100,000, and he's not even from Brooksville.
What about you natives, I want to ask. When are you going to come through?
But that's not the way to go about it, I'm told, even though it's always struck me that one of Brooksville's problems is that its generous people aren't that rich and some of its rich people aren't that generous.
"If you try to guilt people into it, that doesn't work," said Marlene Spalten, president and chief executive officer of the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay....
Let's give Hernando County School Board member Matt Foreman the benefit of the doubt.
Let's assume that he wasn't just trying to sound like he cared about school impact fees. Let us, for the moment, believe that he really wants to lead on this issue and fell a little short.
I'm talking about the board's workshop last week when Foreman unexpectedly blasted the four-member majority of the County Commission for its dismissive stance on this much-needed source of funding for schools....
02/24/14 Economic Development
Let's start with the centerpiece of any county fair, the livestock arena.
Coming from Hernando County, the first thing I noticed was that one entire wall was covered with miniature billboards from feed stores, tractor supply outfits, a real estate office and a stucco contractor.
This helps raise the roughly $50,000 in sponsorship money the Pasco County Fair receives for its livestock exhibits every year, said Dicky Brown, the fair association's vice president and my guide on a tour of the fairgrounds in Dade City last week....
02/21/14 Human Interest
A few years ago, after watching a documentary about the career and life of British soccer great Sir Tom Finney, my father-in-law shook his head sadly and said, "It's a shame a man like that should ever grow old."
He did, of course, and on Valentine's Day, Finney died at age 91.
There is no local angle to this news, other than that Finney was by far the top sports hero of my father-in-law, Bernard Booth, 85, who has lived in High Point for 30 years. Also, Finney was such a worthy hero that I figured everyone could benefit — could be uplifted — by knowing his story....
Fortunately, at least some Hernando County Fair Association board members realize they have a problem.
During a meeting last week, they talked a lot about the need for transparency and "clearing the air."
They seemed to accept the findings of a report from their own investigative committee that blasted some board members for shoddy record keeping and an inability to produce financial reports....
State Sen. Wilton Simpson and sinkholes.
These subjects might not immediately grab you, but if you live in this part of Florida, they probably should.
Sinkholes are our special scourge, a black mark on the real estate of Hernando and Pasco counties and on the character of homeowners who cashed in on questionable insurance claims.
Simpson represents most of these two counties, and because the circumstances of his election last year give him the option of serving 10 years rather than the usual eight, and because he's shaping up as someone who could go on to a higher office and because he comes off as a super-straight arrow unlikely to be derailed by scandal, it's a good bet he'll be representing us somehow, some way, for a long while....
In a few years, maybe, when the market's picked up — then we can make new home construction pay for itself. Then we can charge school impact fees.
Last week, when a four-member majority of the Hernando County Commission arrogantly dismissed the pleas of school officials and the calculations of a consultant they had helped pay for — when they chose a politically powerful industry over quality education — this seemed to be the consensus:...
You can see why the Hernando County Fair Association doesn't want the world — or even several of its own board members — to see how it handles money.
A bag stuffed with cash left untended in a closet; a stinky deal that pays the husband of the association's treasurer $65,000 a year to maintain the buildings and grounds; record keeping so sloppy that former association president Sandra Nicholson says she still doesn't know whether last year's fair turned a profit....
We need an army of volunteers.
That's what I thought recently as I helped judge for the 2014 Hernando County Teacher of the Year.
One candidate after another talked about students who have nobody to check homework or read notes from teachers, nobody to cook for them or make sure they get a decent night's sleep.
They tend to come from struggling families, of course, which made me think of that old euphemism for poor — disadvantaged — and how apt it really is....
02/07/14 Local Government
Here's what Patricia Burnett, 58, has to say about a sensible, expensive and long-overdue effort to right a major historical wrong in south Brooksville:
"Why do they want to put a retention pond down on MLK?" she asks, referring to Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard, her home street and the community's main thoroughfare.
"We already have enough standing water down here. We don't need any more water."...
It's several weeks old, and now just one of many charges of misconduct against Hernando County sheriff's deputies, so here's a refresher on the case of Sgt. Joseph Reid and Capt. Tom Garcia.
Reid, who, like Garcia, worked in the office's vice and narcotics unit, got into a habit of covering personal debts with a pool of cash meant for undercover drug buys.
For a while, Reid returned the money. But in 2011, he told Garcia about a $1,500 shortfall he couldn't repay....
You want to see happy kids? Park yourself on the stretch of sidewalk at the Buccaneer Bay water park where little ones get their first glimpse of Weeki Wachee Spring.
Usually, there are shouts of delight, walks that turn into skips or sprints, and eyes shining like it's Christmas morning. Most of the chaperoning adults look pretty thrilled, too.
The point is, people love Florida's big, boiling first-magnitude springs, even people who might not normally know or care that much about the environment....