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Leave-taking: DEP chief's dealmaking, judge's denial

Okay, so it was not exactly a shock that David Struhs, the lightning rod environmental chief under Gov. Jeb Bush, is quitting to go to work for International Paper Co.

Here is what would have been a surprise: "Bush Enviro Chief Quits, Joins Greenpeace."

Or this: "Struhs Dedicates Life To Saving Rain Forest."

International Paper!

That's more like it.

Yet it is too simple to label Struhs as a lackluster protector. In his own mind, Struhs spent his tenure in Florida trying to strike a lonely, unpopular balance between hard-line tree huggers on one side and polluters on the other.

That's why his tool of choice was not the lawsuit, the whopping penalty, or the tough regulation.

Struhs' tool of choice was the deal.

He liked to make deals with polluters, and claimed that his deals accomplished more than lawsuits and regulation.

"More protection, less process," he liked to say. Yet some of those deals did not look like more protection to the critics, certainly not the cement plant on the Ichetucknee River, and not the time he undercut the feds and made a more lenient deal with TECO.

The cleanup of the Everglades, therefore, is the perfect summing-up of Struh's legacy. On the one hand, he kept the Legislature from weakening the pollution standard that was necessary to make progress. He should get credit for that.

On the other hand, Struhs did agree to open the door to planning for not making the 2006 deadline, and ways to proceed once that deadline was broken. Once again, he said he was just being practical; his critics said he was only making delay more likely.

Of all the men and women whom Jeb Bush has named to office, David Struhs has the distinction of remaining the most . . . ambiguous.

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Right result, typically wrong method.

It looks like some of Charles W. Cope's colleagues got together and more or less forced him to resign his post as a circuit court judge in Pinellas County. The Pinellas judges certainly had, shall we say, moral support from Tallahassee, if not outright direction.

Given Cope's track record with alcohol, disciplinary proceedings, and his denial, defiance and lack of remorse, it was the right result. In that sense, at least, the judicial branch chose to stop the damage to the profession.

On the other hand, it happened in typically secret, banana-republic fashion. (It's comical, how Pinellas pretends to be somehow "cleaner" than Hillsborough.) The current and previous chief judges protected Cope, defended him, let him take extended leaves on the taxpayers' dime, and covered up to the end.

Why cover up? Why not talk about it in an honest, mature way?

What message does this send to others who are suffering through their own private tortures? That it's something to be ashamed of? That it is dirty and should be hushed up? That judges, especially, are expected to pretend everything is fine no matter what?

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And now, here's a change of pace from the city of Crystal River in Citrus County. The mayor there is proposing that his job be abolished as superfluous and ambiguous, and future mayors be elected as a member-slash-mayor on the five-seat City Council.

"We need to become more streamlined, more efficient in the way we do things," says Ron Kitchen, who was first elected mayor in 2000 and is scheduled to keep the job until 2006. He says the current job's duties are vaguely defined in the City Charter.

Future mayors would still be elected directly by the voters, but would preside over council meetings.

Even if the city chooses to abolish his post before 2006, instead of phasing in the change down the road, "I could live with that," Kitchen said Thursday.

Obviously, the man would never make it in Washington, D.C.