07/31/15 Human Interest
Okay, so Florida is weird.
The Sunshine State routinely provides improbable news — outrageous politics, bizarre characters, stories involving pythons. We are such rich and fertile soil for prolific tweeters and late-night TV snarksters they should pay us a cut.
This week's front page featured a photo of five people unfurling an 18-foot python found in the Everglades. That's nothing. Two years ago, a 20-foot, 115-pound such snake was brought in as a visitor to the Tampa Bay Rays clubhouse. Why, you ask? Why not, we answer. It's Florida....
07/30/15 Public Safety
A campus cop in Cincinnati shoots and kills a motorist he pulled over. He says he was dragged when the man tried to drive away. A fellow officer backs him up.
But the officer's own body camera tells a different story.
It shows Officer Ray Tensing lied about being dragged by the car, a prosecutor said this week, and he likely lost his temper when driver Samuel DuBose wouldn't get out of the car. Now, Tensing is charged with murder. And that video is critical evidence in the latest racially tinged and explosive encounter between police and the public....
Say that your once-sleepy downtown is on the verge of something that could be epic.
Say that how downtown might one day look — bustling with workers and residents and cool things to do, with a thriving medical school and a big science museum — depends, at least in part, on a certain benevolent citizen from up north.
(Benevolent and rich. That he appears to love living here is just gravy.)...
In a low-ceilinged courtroom crowded with juveniles charged with crimes, an improbable scene played out this week.
A teenage girl stood before a judge as the entire courtroom applauded her — prosecutors, probation officers, public defenders, even other teenagers slouched on benches awaiting their own cases.
And on this first day of Girls Court in Hillsborough County, it happened more than once....
The children are brought into court in detention uniforms, blue shirts and khakis, distinguishing them from grownup inmates in baggy bright orange filling other courtrooms not far away.
Most are teenagers, though they have been as young as 8, as young as 6. Some come transported in chains and then unshackled for court. And some days, this must feel like the most hopeless place in the Hillsborough County Courthouse....
This is not the opening to a snarky lawyer joke, I swear. But does anyone think Florida needs more of them?
Friday, the governing board of the Florida Bar preliminarily takes up the idea of allowing lawyers from other states to practice in ours without taking that all-important Florida Bar exam.
Lawyers from elsewhere who want to work here — balmy beaches, anyone? A little Disney for the kids, perhaps? — would need to have practiced law for five of the past seven years. They cannot have, you know, set up enemy lawyers for DUI arrests or anything like that. Maybe they'll have to show knowledge of certain specialty areas of our law....
07/10/15 Public Safety
There is a small detail you notice about Tampa's new police chief, Eric Ward — beyond the impeccable uniform, no-nonsense eyeglasses and clean-shaven head. (He had hair when he started this job two months ago, he says, a rare quip.) It's a detail beyond his careful, formal way of talking.
It's the holes in his ears.
Two in one lobe, one in the other, they are remnants of being a teenager, of growing up in public housing in east Tampa, raised by a single mother after a divorce. He already stood out because of his deeply religious family — piercing his ears, he figured, made him like the other kids....
Here's something you don't often hear about a government function:
This could be fun.
Wednesday, current and former Tampa City Council members gather for a 100-year celebration of Old City Hall, though the council itself dates to 1849.
Former members' names grace notable city spots — Nick Nuccio Parkway, Curtis Hixon Park, Jan Platt Library. Tampa had a council chairman named Richard (Dick?) Cheney, though the swankiest name had to be L. Beecher McSwain....
Two years ago, a cowboy of a Tampa lawyer, successful and smooth in his crisp suit, condemned opposing counsel in a contentious case playing out for the cameras.
But he wasn't complaining about anything that lawyer had done in court that day in the ongoing defamation trial between two overblown radio DJs — Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and Todd Schnitt.
No, the news had just broken that lawyer C. Philip Campbell was arrested for DUI mid trial. So opposing attorney Stephen Diaco rose up righteous for reporters....
Was that former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman standing barefoot on a chair at the fancy Mise en Place restaurant this week?
It was, indeed. Freedman addressed a packed house of Hillary Clinton supporters at a $25-per-person fundraiser (more, for those inclined). At 5 feet plus a half-inch ("I'm not vertically tall in terms of inches, but I stand tall," she says), Freedman has been known to kick off her shoes and climb atop a chair to make an announcement....
07/02/15 Human Interest
Hillsborough County commissioners are just the latest elected officials to take up whether a divisive Confederate flag belongs at a building where they do The People's business.
But what about Hillsborough's better-known Confederate flag, 30-by-60 feet and flying high atop a pole on private property near busy Interstates 4 and 75 — the one that must make motorists passing through wonder who lives here?...
06/30/15 Public Safety
On this sweltering afternoon, the bright sounds rising from the sprawling city park seem out of synch with the neighborhood around it, a tired urban landscape of tattered duplexes and sagging chain-link fences. It's the sound of kids, dozens and dozens of them, laughing, squealing, calling to each other in the universal language of having fun.
This is Tampa's Copeland Park, just across the railroad tracks from busy Fowler Avenue or, more specifically, the cool chlorine-scented waters of the park's public pool. On a day when the feels-like temperature has hit triple digits, kids out of school for the summer have come to this pool in droves, spreading their bright towels on the concrete, toeing off shoes and taking to the blue waters with abandon. They swim and splash and show off on the diving boards, lifeguards watching over them....
06/26/15 Public Safety
There were a lot of places Nadine Smith could have been Friday morning while awaiting the news of a world about to change. Or, to unharden its heart, depending on your perspective.
As CEO of Equality Florida, she could have been at the office when the U.S. Supreme Court officially made it okay to marry whom you want. Instead, Smith was at the cozy Banyan Cafe in St. Petersburg, she and her wife, Andrea, diving into eggs over medium with Cuban toast and 4-year-old son Logan demolishing his waffle. Her phone sat on the table, ready for that momentous text, but the work part could wait....
Your government has been known to go for some pretty bad ideas in the name of saving money and letting someone else do the work.
Here's one: Hillsborough County is about to make a monumental change in how it handles people on misdemeanor probation and give the job to a for-profit company with the potential to benefit the longer someone stays in the system.
Which doesn't say much for putting people on the right path....
06/23/15 Human Interest
Could members of the South Tampa elite soon have to go without their cocktails by the pool?
Might the Tampa Yacht & Country Club actually go dry outside?
This is one of those classic Tampa stories, playing out at the uber-exclusive club nestled among the moss-draped oaks below the southernmost curve of Bayshore Boulevard. And it is proof that even the upper crust can go bare-knuckled for a good neighborhood fight....