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Campaign-season antics get started

SEND IN THE CLOWNS: There weren't too many unexpected candidates filing for political office last week, but the candidates who did file had a few surprises for the folks at the Pinellas County Courthouse.

On Tuesday, Clerk of Circuit Court candidate Jane Olds led a parade of about 20 cars in a 1927 Model T in a parade around the courthouse on Court Street in Clearwater before going in to pay her $7,500 filing fee.

"It was a little bit of psychological warfare," said Olds, who used to work for incumbent Karleen DeBlaker, whose office is in the courthouse.

She borrowed the Model T for use in her campaign from supporter Whitey Westcott.

"What is an Olds doing driving a Model T?" joked Tax Collector Fred Petty, who staged his own filing-week antics on Friday. He treated more than 30 supporters to a meal at the Sand Key Sheraton after they waved and hollered as they circled the courthouse in the Jolley Trolley, an open-air bus, to kick off his campaign.

When Republican Stephen Watts filed Wednesday to run for the open District 2 County Commission seat, he brought along four friends who stood with him at the corner of Court Street and Fort Harrison Avenue to wave to passers-by. They held balloons, signs and an Uncle Sam doll.

QUOTABLE: "Remember, it ain't over till I sing."

_ Circuit Judge Claire Luten, cautioning jurors in a murder trial last week not to begin discussing the case until she instructed them on the law.

THE SHADOW CANDIDATE: Who is Lee Thoss? We'll never know much about the former write-in candidate for theCounty Commission seat held by Sallie Parks if he has anything to do with it. He filed preliminary forms declaring his candidacy but refused to complete required financial disclosure and campaign contribution reports.

"It's none of their business," said Thoss, who echoed that same sentiment, in terms unfit to print in a family newspaper, on forms returned to the supervisor of elections office.

Thoss said the disclosure requirements made him decide not to run for office.

BEAVIS, BUTT-HEAD, BEER, PICKLES: While the Belleair City Commission considered a measure to limit access to MTV and other cable networks, some people couldn't tell whether the commission was talking about television or eating.

Commissioner Don Sprague wanted channels like MTV removed from the standard line-up, which he says forces customers to pay for networks they consider "immoral."

"It's like somebody going to the grocery store, and every time they bought bread, they would have to buy a six-pack of beer," he said.

A resident told the commission Tuesday that Time Warner's cable package was actually like ordering a hamburger. With a straight face he told the commission to "order the hamburger, but hold the pickles."

The commission decided not to buy any food or eat it either, and killed Sprague's proposal 4-1.

MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO: Before voting against a staff-recommended project, Largo Commissioner Jim Miles offered this explanation for his stand on the issue: "If we sit up here and rubber stamp everything they recommend, you could get monkeys to do our job."

ONCE IS ENOUGH: Belleair Shore town meetings moved Wednesday to Mayor George Jirotka's family room from former Mayor Bob Clayton's dining room. Since Belleair Shore has no town hall, the mayor's house is the traditional meeting place. For the duration of the two-hour session, Jirotka's miniature schnauzer, named Rex, was kept in a bathroom. The little guy whined, he cried, he barked, but Jirotka ignored him as did everyone else. For Rex's sake, it's nice that the politicians come to call only once a month.

DING DONG, THE BELL IS DEAD: As criminal courts employees packed boxes last week to prepare for the long-awaited move into the new Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center, employees of the old Division of Blind Services cafeteria held a little ceremony to mark the occasion.

The state agency for the blind has run the courts cafeteria for years. But its employees won't be making the move to the new building because county commissioners handed the contract for the new 200-seat cafe to the largest for-profit food service company in the world, Compass.

So throughout the final week, as the inventory in the old cafeteria ran out, it was not replaced. Even the Coke machine ran dry. And onetime manager Tom Saunders turned over the bell to Jo Ann Gammon.

For years Saunders worked the cash register, while Gammon was often behind the counter. The ringing of the bell, used by customers to summon help to the counter, used to drive Saunders up the wall. So he printed out a "certificate of title" and on Thursday afternoon handed it to Gammon: "This document grants unconditional title and ownership of one profoundly annoying bell to Jo Ann Gammon."

And with his encouragement, she then took a hammer and smashed it.

_ Times staff writers Jen Pilla, Craig Pittman, Thanassis Cambanis and Amelia Davis contributed to this report.