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Noteworthy news, oddball occasions

From out-of-control emus to the antics of an eccentric ex-judge, from Y2K bugs that didn't appear to a business-recruiting group that did show up and probably wishes it hadn't, the Year 2000 had it all. Here is a look at the oddball events that made headlines this year. And they say nothing ever happens in Citrus County!

January

Just kidding about that whole end-of-the-world thing: The new millennium arrives and the Y2K scares prove to be unfounded. Bulk feed stores and military supply outlets run sales on 100-pound bags of rice and military MREs.

Do that again and Mom gets time out for life: A 12-year-old Citrus Springs Middle School student skips classes 30 out of 88 days. Alarmed by this chronic truancy, the district has the Sheriff's Office arrest the girl's mother.

His business is picking up: Homosassa's Gene Skiles launches an innovative business: The Pooch Poop Patrol. For a fee, he'll clean up your lawn after your dogs have used it. "What the heck, I like being out in the sun. There ought to be a way to get some money doing this."

Rule No. 1 _ You must first say Simon Says: The embattled Economic Development Council releases a set of conditions under which it will provide information to the public. The action is in response to what the EDC calls "nit-picky" questions and "harassment" from the public, which finances the group.

One step closer to getting the senior discount at Denny's: Lucifer the Hippo celebrates his 40th birthday at the Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park.

February

Crystal clear priorities, as always: Facing issues such as a crisis in City Hall cohesion, massive computer problems and a police officer facing child pornography charges, Crystal River City Council unveils its first major plan of the year: creation of a police horse patrol.

John Paul II declined the offer, saying he was fresh out of miracles: The EDC, bristling at criticism over its new policy on releasing information, suspends the policy. "There's a lot of people who don't know what we're doing," says EDC member Mike Gudis. County Commissioner Jim Fowler is more philosophical: "Even if we were to recruit the pope as our next president, we'd still have detractors."

Et tu, David?: In what Superintendent Pete Kelly called "the worst-kept secret in Citrus County," top administrators David Hickey and Roberta Long leave the administration to return to being principals. "They were trusted individuals," Kelly said. Within weeks, Hickey announces he'll try to unseat Kelly, with Long as his campaign manager.

Visit his new Web site _ FCATsux.com: A 14-year-old student is accused of hacking into the teachers' computerized grading files at Crystal River High School from a computer in the school's library. Officials were confident that he did not change any grades. "He was on his way, but he didn't quite get into it," one official said.

First Saturn; next, Uranus?: Four members of the school district teachers' union and two administrators, including Superintendent Kelly, travel to Tennessee to visit the Saturn plant and learn how the innovative automaker has improved relations with workers.

The deed restrictions are clear _ only plastic, pink emus can be on lawns: Animal control officers and sheriff's deputies swarm Sugarmill Woods looking for a pair of emus that have escaped from a nearby farm.

. . . And a Partridge in a school bus: School system employee Ron Partridge is the high bidder at $1,700 for a surplus school bus that he didn't want. Partridge claims he was told by district officials acting as auctioneers to bid the price up, but no one matched his offer.

Let that be a warning to you kids _ stay off my lawn: Vince Morriset is angry that a neighbor shot and ate his pet pot-bellied pig, Mu Shu, saying it was menacing his daughter.

March

School district then accepted the stuff for its Friday Mystery Meatloaf menu: The County Commission rejects a proposal to take in 21 tons of elephant excrement each week at the county landfill. The waste would come from a home for retired circus animals near Williston.

Coming next from the EDC: Strip mining in the Inverness Highlands: With much fanfare, the EDC announces it has recruited the Brown Schools to a former hospital in Lecanto. The controversial company arrives without warning for neighbors, the sheriff, or school district officials, all of whom will be affected by the center's resident teens, who have been found incompetent to stand to trial on criminal charges. "That's the kind of business that we want here," gushes EDC vice president Kevin Cunningham, who also happens to be the Realtor who orchestrated the sale. Commissioner Fowler proclaims: "The future of the EDC has never been brighter."

Moronic criminals, Exhibit A: An Inglis woman is arrested trying to make off with $500 worth of computer supplies and sporting goods from the Inverness Kmart by switching bar codes with cheaper items. A clerk becomes suspicious when every item rings up as costing 39 cents.

April

Moronic criminals, Exhibit B: Four Crystal River Kmart employees are charged with using a customer's credit card to ring up hundreds of dollars of charges for cordless phones, a VCR, children's clothing and cigarettes.

Ooops _ our bad: Norm and Helene Hopkins are ordered by county officials to tear down their Crystal River home and rebuild it 6 feet higher to comply with flood regulations. After the $267,000 renovation is complete, the county tells the couple it was mistaken.

They found the money for raises under the seat cushions in Kelly's office: The union team representing teachers aides and other support erupts in laughter when the school district makes its first contract offer: a 7-cent hourly raise. Days later, the district offers administrators raises of $1,000.

Why don't you just grab your balls and get outta here?: A group of bocce ball players angers neighbors when the retirees begin using a small park in Beverly Hills for their games.

The world's not safe for adults dressed as children's fantasies: The Easter bunny is mugged at Crystal River mall by an 18-year-old man, who stole the bunny's big fluffy head on a dare.

Don't blame me _ Home Depot wasn't open yet: Harry Hilkert, 79, is accused of starting a 550-acre brush fire outside of Crystal River by using an old, frayed extension cord.

Good 'ol boys have rights, too: While Florida wrestles with a months-long drought, Swiftmud approves plans for a Sumter County rancher to flood a canal on his property with 2-million gallons of water for airboat races.

May

It's not a flagpole, just an antenna to contact his home planet: Gary Graham seeks permission to erect a 21-foot flagpole atop his 19-foot-tall sign on Courthouse Square. A city committee that oversees the aesthetics of downtown points out that the massive pole would clash with other downtown buildings.

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth: The EDC proudly unveils to the County Commissioners a new CD-ROM that purports to promote Citrus County. Several commissioners point out that the courthouse shown is that of Hernando County, not Citrus; that Citrus does not have an airport capable of handling jetliners as the CD shows, and that the Suncoast Parkway is not complete in Citrus. "That's news to me," says Rick Jensen, the EDC executive director.

June

To boldly go where no man has gone before: A Beverly Hills man is stranded for three hours in one of Black Diamond golf course's famous quarry holes after he climbed into the pit to look for lost golf balls and got stuck behind a boulder.

Oh, you mean that $2.4-million: Cecil Ray Smith of Floral City wins $2.4-million in the Florida Lottery, but his winnings are in doubt as he neglects to tell his estranged wife about the good news. She finds out from a Times reporter and her lawyer starts looking for a piece of the pie.

Can we offer a suggestion where to stick your flagpole? Graham returns to Inverness City Council with another request for locating a flagpole on his Courthouse Square property: He wants to erect a 39-foot pole near his office sign, but city officials say that would not allow vehicles to back out of the tiny lot.

July

The Gates of Hell swing open for the City Council: Two sinkholes open near Crystal River City Hall, partly swallowing a front-end loader.

He went to a council meeting and a hockey game broke out: Crystal River City Council member Alex Ilnyckyj is censured by the council for disorderly conduct at recent meetings. He called a fellow council member's proposal stupid and when told to shut up, he got in the council member's face and challenged him to a fight.

Looking for two strong-arm robbers: Two armed robbers make off with an ATM machine from the SunCruz gambling ship after stealing a security guard's 1989 Cadillac.

When cones are outlawed, only outlaws will have cones: Four Crystal River boys, ages 9 through 13, are arrested on multiple burglary counts after being accused of stealing ice cream cones, syrup, a dart board and a small TV.

A grateful community thanks the EDC for its gift to Citrus: Reports show that police have been called to the Brown Schools at least a dozen times in the two weeks since the center opened in Lecanto.

He meant to assign the sequel: Who Cut the Cheese?: Sheriff Jeff Dawsy has a mission for his entire command staff: Each one is expected to read a motivational book called Who Moved My Cheese?

Robbery by a poorly dressed gum-man: An armed man holds up a beauty salon in Homosassa, making off with an unknown amount of cash. The man is described as in his 60s, with a maroon cap, a golf shirt and no teeth.

They'll be replaced by huge tubs for mud wrestling bouts: Efforts to revitalize downtown Inverness include a proposal to do away with the shuffleboard courts that have been a fixture in downtown since 1967.

August

McGruff the Crime Dog beams with pride: The Crystal River High School "Victory Bell" disappears from the campus' courtyard and city police, after finding sticks spelling out "Canes," the Citrus High team name, and "CHS rules" written in the dirt, venture a guess that the 100-pound-plus bell may have been stolen by students from rival Citrus High.

Let 'em park in Cooter Pond: Graham offers to pay $235 so Inverness can put electrical outlets at a downtown parking lot and move festivals from Courthouse Square, where he lives, to the lot. City officials point out that they need the parking spaces for vehicles drawn by festivals.

Everyone's an art critic: Joseph P. Smith is outraged that a Spanish teacher at Citrus High School has a mural of a bullfighter and a bull on her classroom wall and wants the mural, which students painted more than a dozen years ago, painted over.

The new name: Women of Easy Virtue Way: David and Caroline Miller want the name of their street in Pine Ridge changed after they learn that "squaw" is a derogatory word for Native American women. "I'm realizing that I live on West Whore Lane and I don't like it," Miller says.

An illiterate between two knuckleheads: County Commission candidate Millie King promotes herself in the GOP primary as the "Rose Between Two Thornes," in a negative reference to her two opponents, Scott Adams and Jim McIntosh, who gleefully points out that she misspelled thorn in her advertisement.

September

Moronic criminals: Exhibit C: Three men are charged with +burglary after a man who had his golf bag and clubs stolen from his pickup truck notices the trio using the clubs at the Plantation Inn and Golf Resort.

Jensen immediately is hired by Amtrak: EDC executive director Jensen is fired after making a presentation to the County Commission that includes contradictory information about a grant application. "What I witnessed was a train wreck," says Commissioner Fowler.

A surprise in every bite: Fransisca Marquez of Hernando bites into a candy bar sold as a school fundraiser and finds a sewing needle inside.

Looking for thieves with arrested taste: Residents in Pine Ridge complain to the Sheriff's Office that someone is stealing plastic pink flamingos, yard egrets and yard gnomes from their lawns.

October

So that's what that red button is for: EDC officials discover that executive director Jensen wiped out half of the group's computer files as he was clearing out his desk after being fired.

Kids, wave to Mr. Jensen: Motorists along U.S. 19 pass a man wearing a dark suit and holding a sign saying: Will do financial planning for food.

He forgot to use the double-secret decoder ring: Musician "Hobo Bill" Krum has to tear down the pole barn that he built in Chassahowitzka because he doesn't have a county building permit. Krum says he checked with the county before starting work and was told he didn't need a permit.

Isn't this how eBay got started?: Months after being ordered by a judge to clean up the mountain of clutter in his Inverness yard, Paul Gibson hits on a plan: Call the junk a yard sale and have people pay him to haul away the trash.

We're moving in a new direction, down the toilet: Pro-Line Boats, pushed by the EDC as the first recipient of a county grant to help successful businesses expand, announces the layoff of 50 employees.

Campaign promises we can do without: According to a police report filed by a Crystal River employee, council member Ilnyckyj was so incensed that his campaign signs had been pulled from city rights-of-way that he confronted a public works official and vowed: "If I catch the motherf---er who's f---ing with my f---ing signs, I'll break his f---ing neck!"

November

And this year's winner of Citizen of the Year: After finally getting permission from Inverness to erect a flagpole on his property, Graham waits until the day before the annual arts festival on Courthouse Square to have trucks arrive to pour concrete for the pole's base, blocking volunteers who are setting up for the festival.

The circus is leaving town: After two turbulent years, the EDC announces it will shut down. "It's time to fold up the tent," says Commissioner Fowler.

It took $5 to get his family there: At a luncheon for outgoing Commissioner Brad Thorpe, interim County Administrator Richard Wesch explains the $14 cost as $8 for the meal, $2 for a gift for Thorpe and "$4 to hire people off the street to be in the audience."

The Titanic gets a new crew: The EDC, which is being dismantled, announces a new slate of top officers. Their first task will be to go to the County Commission and ask for more money.

Welcome to Inverness _ bring paint and boards: The Inverness City Council votes to tear down dilapidated wooden welcome signs at the State Road 44 and U.S. 41 entrances to the city.

Deja vu all over again: The new EDC executives want to see the revised CD-ROM promoting Citrus County before they show it to county commissioners. At the meeting, however, a mix-up has them viewing the faulty CD instead of the new one.

The Republican dog then tore the legs off a welfare recipient: Gov. Jeb Bush visits Citrus County to meet with residents in five-minute sessions. Among those spending time with Bush are a man seeking to have a traffic ticket fixed and Ron and Judi Rollin of Lecanto and their German shepherd Meechi, who the owners claim is a Republican. "If I try to give her a dog biscuit and tell her it's from Clinton or Gore, she won't take it. But if I tell her it's from Gov. Bush, she'll scarf it right up," Rollins says.

It's 11 o'clock _ do you know where your inmates are?: Deputies investigating a stolen car at a health center in Lecanto discover that two juveniles from the Brown Schools have broken out of the center, stolen the car and fled. The deputies inform Brown Schools officials of the breakout.

Sallee then fell to the ground crying, "Thank you, God, thank you": The Crystal River City Council decides not to renew the contract for City Manager David Sallee, the city's seventh city manager in the past 10 years.

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