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It's a long way from "may' to board member

SOMETIMES COMMON SENSE JUST DOESN'T CUT IT: St. Petersburg City Council member David Welch last week resigned from his assigned post as a member of the board that operates the county's bus system. Welch was one of the city's two appointments to that board, the other being council member Ernest Fillyau.

If you remember, the city decided it could appoint those two, despite the law that specified one of the city's representatives "may not be an elected official."

City lawyers decided "may not" gave the city enough room to appoint two elected officials. That despite an opinion to the contrary from the sponsor of the law, state Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Seminole.

So anyway, Welch's resignation leaves the door open for the city to try this again.

This time, the legal advice is a tad different. But not much.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Mark Winn says he spent up to 12 hours talking to a slew of people and reviewing records, including the Florida Senate's Manual for Drafting General Bills. After this exhaustive search, he concluded that, in fact, the Senate did probably intend that the position be given to a regular person, rather than an elected official.

But he left open the option for the council to do whatever it wanted. An appointment could come this week.

AND THROW IN A JACUZZI WHILE YOU'RE AT IT: Howard C. Batt, a Clearwater resident, was clearly taken by the concept of the city's building (at taxpayers' expense) a training facility for the Philadelphia Phillies.

He came up with a small suggestion of his own.

In a letter to Mayor Rita Garvey, Batt wrote, "I propose that since I am not as well-known as the Phillies, nor do I spend nearly as much money, that you provide me with only one Soloflex. I could use it in my office and have several friends who would also use it, after which, of course, we would visit O'Keefes or some similar establishment for lunch."

TALK ABOUT NAME RECOGNITION: Telling the phone surveyor whether Lawton Chiles or Jeb Bush would get our vote was one thing.

Then he asked whether our District 20 state Senate vote would go for Christ or Maley. That's just how he said it _ Christ, as in Jesus.

No offense to Dana Maley, but that's no contest.

Alas, it turns out that there is not a new candidate.

The surveyor simply didn't know how to pronounce incumbent Charlie Crist's last name. Wonder how much that tilted the results?

IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE RIGHT:Two years ago, Ronald T. "Ronnie" Chapman of Largo was convicted of four counts of capital sexual battery and one count of handling and fondling a child. For the sexual battery, he got life in prison, with no parole for 25 years; he got 30 years in prison for the handling charge.

Chapman was defended by a private attorney. But when an appeals court overturned the sexual battery convictions and ordered him tried again, Chapman decided he didn't need a lawyer. After all, he couldn't do much worse on his own.

When Chapman was retried last week, he represented himself _ a fairly rare occurrence in Pinellas courts. Circuit Judge Douglas Baird appointed a private attorney _ Thomas Frost _ to advise Chapman, but Chapman did all the talking.

"He did a real good job," Frost said.

Assistant State Attorney William Loughery disagreed, saying Chapman seemed nervous.

"I think he found out it's not as easy as he thought it would be," Loughery said.

There were some awkward moments. At one point, when Chapman was questioning a witness and mentioned "the defendant," the witness said, "You mean you?"

When Chapman took the witness stand, he chose not to question himself. He simply talked.

During Loughery's cross-examination, Chapman decided he didn't like one question.

"Judge," he asked, "is it all right if I make an objection and we approach the bench for one second?"

Chapman then hopped down from the witness stand and marched around to the front of the bench, his shirt-tail flapping loose from his drooping jeans.

In the end, Chapman's do-it-yourself strategy may have backfired. The jury convicted him of four counts of attempted sexual battery. Because Chapman has previously been classified as a habitual violent offender, he might wind up facing a longer sentence than the one he had before: life, with no parole.

GRAND PHILOSOPHICAL PRINCIPLES AT WORK IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT:Clearwater Commissioners Fred Thomas and Dick Fitzgerald helped push last Thursday night's meeting into Friday morning with the following highbrow discussion:

Thomas wanted the city to pass a resolution saying the commission "supports" bringing a high-speed rail into Clearwater. He called his word "aggressive."

Fitzgerald lobbied for saying commissioners "promote" getting the high-speed rail, because it sounded so much "stronger" than Thomas' word.

Chalk this one up to Fitzgerald. "Promote" finally won out.

TILL THE CRACK O' DAWN: Given the Clearwater Commission's knack for pontificating until the wee hours of the morning, Commissioner Art Deegan warned Mayor Rita Garvey not to postpone too many agenda items until the Nov. 17 commission meeting.

"I don't want to be here until 6 a.m.," he said.

"I've never been at a meeting to last until 6 a.m.," Garvey quipped, although the Insider can recall at least one going to 4 a.m.

Deegan's ominous reply: "Well, there's always a first time. . . ."

BEING THERE: Next to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg is the Old Key West Deli Co. A couple of weeks ago, deli owner Connie Rice had an experience surreal enough to hang in the museum.

A tourist who said she was from Minnesota stopped in and placed an order. Then she leaned forward and whispered to Rice, "Are we there yet?"

"Are you where yet?" Rice whispered back.

"You know," the tourist said, "the Florida Straits."

Rice must have looked confused at that point, because the tourist blurted out, "Well, this is Key West, isn't it?"

Rice had to tell the woman she faced another 8{ hours on the road.

THE LATEST EFFORT TO CUT GOVERNMENT REGULATION: Most Clearwater commissioners were gung-ho about the idea of new rental car businesses on Clearwater Beach.

But not Commissioner Fred Thomas.

Thomas says he will support a measure to allow them only if the cars are "new or like new."

"No junk cars, heaps or demolition derby-type vehicles."

He'll support allowing rental car shops only if the city staff figures out a way to legally restrict them to what Thomas likes.

Staff writers Ned Seaton, David K. Rogers, Roy LeBlanc, Sabrina Miller Craig Pittman and Erika N. Duckworth contributed to this report.

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