Friday, January 26, 2007

FLORIDA DIGEST January 26, 2007

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Hollywood students clash on whether Confederate-themed clothing should bebanned

By Douane D. James
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

January 26, 2007, 8:36 AM EST

A petition drive to get Confederate-themed clothing banned from schoolgrounds has exposed a rift at Hollywood Hills High. The episode may lead theBroward School Board to examine whether its student conduct code shouldaddress the Confederate flag.

Sophomore Ilana Hostyk started a petition this week at Hollywood Hills inhopes of pressing officials to ban the symbol, considered a show of Rebelpride by some and a reminder of Southern race-based prejudice by others.

The petition garnered as many as 300 signatures but added to tension atHollywood Hills after students who support wearing the flag on shirts,belt-buckles or other garments started a counter petition.

"My whole goal is to ban the Confederate flag from Broward schools," saidHostyk, 15. "People are really offended by it."


Is the worst over? S. Florida's housing markets show glimmers of hope

South Florida is still a tough place to sell a home these days, but thereare signs that the real estate markets may have bottomed out and started toshow small signs of improvement.

Home price drops ease in Broward, offering glimmer of hope for sellersBroward County's beleaguered housing market showed slight improvement at theend of 2006, giving some hope that the worst of the yearlong slump might beover.

Home sales plunged 37% in Palm Beach County as market stalled in'06Dip in median sale price reinforces buyer's marketPalm Beach County's existing home sales ended 2006 with a thud, but thecondominium market showed new life in December.


Home sales plunged 37% in Palm Beach County as market stalled in'06

Dip in median sale price reinforces buyer's market
By Paul Owers
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

January 26, 2007

Palm Beach County's existing home sales ended 2006 with a thud, but thecondominium market showed new life in December.

Home sales last year plummeted 37 percent -- the second-largest slide in thestate after Naples, the Florida Association of Realtors reported Thursday.There were 8,640 sales, compared with 13,679 in 2005.

The county's median price for homes retreated last year, too, but by a muchsmaller margin. The median in 2006 was $384,700, a slight drop from $390,100the year before.


State trying on Everglades; make the feds try harder
Palm Beach Post Editorial

Friday, January 26, 2007

Audubon of Florida has just released a report that outlines eight ideas forcleaning up Lake Okeechobee. Collectively, the approach amounted to keepingpollution from getting into the lake. It's the right idea, but hardly a newidea.

Apparently, though, coverage of the report prompted the Florida Departmentof Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management Districtto send out a joint statement that began: "No other state in the nation hasachieved more than Florida for environmental restoration. A news storyincorrectly interpreted a recently released environmental report, accusingthe state of not making progress in Everglades restoration." Anyone whobelieves that "is simply ignoring the facts." The statement came just beforethe annual meeting last weekend of the Everglades Coalition.

During the Jeb Bush administration, this was standard operating procedure.Specific criticism about environmental policy brought a generic responseabout the wonderfulness of the governor and the state. As the AssociatedPress story on the Audubon report pointed out, however, the state under JebBush delayed the state's Everglades cleanup plan by 10 years. Also, thegovernor tried unsuccessfully to get the state out from under federal courtsupervision of the plan.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Fri, Jan. 26, 2007


Crist ignores potential scandal
How the self-styled ''people's governor'' handles his first personal crisisin office will say much about him as a politician as well as a person.


Gov. Charlie Crist's honeymoon was going into its 23rd day, and anotherpositive news cycle beckoned as he prepared to sign his first bill into lawoffering insurance relief to Florida homeowners.

Then a bombshell hit: His hometown newspaper quoted a teen wondering if hewas her father. Crist amiably denied the claim when confronted by reportersThursday and repeatedly said, ``I'm not going to dignify it with any furthercomment.''

That was that. Wearing his trademark, worry-free smile, Crist walked into ameeting with business leaders and began glad-handing. He would deal with thepotential crisis by not dealing with it.


Save Our Homes tax break unfair?
By Dara Kam

Palm Beach Post Capital Bureau

Friday, January 26, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Lawmakers are considering a slew of proposals to helpFloridians who feel trapped in their homes, cannot afford to buy a new homeor are leaving the state because their property taxes are too high.

Options discussed by the Senate Finance and Tax Committee on Thursdayincluded capping how much local governments' budgets can increase from oneyear to the next, capping how much property taxes on commercial propertiescan increase, changing the way property is appraised and asking voters tochange the state constitution to double homestead exemptions.

But the bulk of the discussion focused on changing the Save Our Homes taxbreak, which caps annual increases in the taxable value of a homesteadedproperty to 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Fri, Jan. 26, 2007

S. Florida home sales lowest in years, but prices up


Fewer single-family homes in Miami-Dade and Broward sold in 2006 than in anyof the past 12 years, which is as far back as data from the FloridaAssociation of Realtors goes. At the same time, far more houses and condosfor sale came on the market -- and sat there.

But despite the angst of many house sellers, prices still went up 2 percentin Broward County and 7 percent in Miami-Dade County, according to numbersreleased Thursday.

That's a lot less than the price gains of 28 percent or more for houses in2005, emphasizing that the South Florida housing boom is over.

But the 2006 numbers are in line with historical standards -- in the 1990s,for example, annual price gains of 3 and 5 percent were common. Thedifference this time, of course, is that prices are much higher to startwith.


Do stats show Florida's allure dimming?
Three major moving companies are taking more people out of the state thaninto it.
Published January 26, 2007

For the first time in years, three of the nation's largest moving companiessay they're transporting more customers out of Florida than into it.

In 2006, what the industry calls "outbound" moves actually surpassed"inbounds," according to data from United, Atlas and Allied van lines. Theindustry had seen a steady increase in the number of customers heading outof the state in the past five years.

Florida still had an overall increase in residents. But the newly releasedstatistics may corroborate what economists have been predicting for sometime: Higher insurance, utilities and property taxes are conspiring to makeFlorida less attractive for some residents.

"Many people who would have moved here in the past are now opting forGeorgia and the Carolinas," said Mark Vitner, senior economist for WachoviaBank. "Some Floridians are moving to Georgia and the Carolinas as well."


Mutual Benefits president sentenced to 20 years

Friday, January 26, 2007

A federal judge on Jan. 19 sentenced the former president of a FortLauderdale-based investment company, Mutual Benefits Corp., to 20 years inprison for his role in a scheme that prosecutors say defrauded investors outof $956 million.

Peter Lombardi had pleaded guilty in October.

According to prosecutors, Lombardi was actually a front man for others whowere controlling the company. "Peter Lombardi was installed by hisaccomplices as the titular president of MBC to conceal from investors andothers that the true controlling principal of MBC was an individual who hadbeen previously federally convicted of mail and wire fraud," the criminalcomplaint in the case says.

At the sentencing, Lombardi said, "I'm doing everything I can to assist thegovernment in this investigation."


School Board approves list of anti-bullying recommendations
By Jennifer Brannock

Friday, January 26, 2007

Everyone gets picked on at some point in their lives.

Everyone has their own ways to deal with the humiliation. Some turn toparents, teachers or mentors; others turn to violence against others, orthemselves.

Collier County School Board members want to make sure students choose theformer - discuss their problems instead of turning to dangerous means.

Board members approved a list of recommendations Thursday, recognizing eachschools' bullying issues are unique and mandating that schools offerapproved programs to prevent bullying and suicide among students.

"There is no one program that fits all schools as a solution," said DiedraLandrum, coordinator of school counseling for the Collier County SchoolDistrict.


Crist says 'no' to DNA test to settle claim
The biological mother of an adopted girl says he is the father.
STEVE Bousquet
Published January 26, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - While traveling the state Thursday, Gov. Charlie Crist brushedaside questions about whether he's the biological father of an adopted17-year-old girl.

"There's nothing to it," Crist said as he entered a hotel in Tallahassee togive a breakfast speech to directors of Enterprise Florida.

Asked if he would consider taking a DNA test to settle the issue, Cristsaid: "No, no. Obviously, this is a product born out of a political attackin the fall. It's very over."

Crist was in two other cities, where he did ceremonial signings of the newinsurance law he formally signed in Tallahassee. In North Palm Beach, Cristdismissed the matter.

"It's unfortunate when things like that come up," he said. "But, you know,it's a campaign thing that somebody carried forward. There's absolutelynothing to it, and I'm not going to give it anymore dignity and answer anymore about it."


The Miami Herald

Posted on Thu, Jan. 25, 2007

Alvarez, commission keep their distance
Despite pledges of closer cooperation, Miami-Dade's County Commission andits newly powerful mayor still appear to be less than cozy.

If there is to be a new era of cooperation between Miami-Dade's mayor andCounty Commission, it will not begin today.

The commission, holding its first full meeting of 2007, will debate aproposal to kill the police department's public-corruption unit -- a unitMayor Carlos Alvarez created while police director.

Alvarez, who won unprecedented county powers after a referendum voteTuesday, will not attend the meeting. Despite being offered a seat on thecommission's dais, he scheduled a morning meeting with the county managerand will later accept an award during a luncheon at Miami's Parrot Jungle onWatson Island.

The mayor has rarely appeared at commission meetings during the two yearssince his election, but said Wednesday he would start attending ``if needbe.''


The Sun-Sentinel,0,5172138,print.story?coll=sfla-business-front

South Florida home prices continue fall

By Paul Owers Business Writer

January 25, 2007, 3:49 PM EST

South Florida home prices continued to fall in December, the FloridaAssociation of Realtors said Thursday.

The median price of an existing Broward County home last month was $367,600,off $1,400 from $369,000 in December 2005. The year-over-year decline wasn'tas sharp as in previous months.

Palm Beach County's December median was $368,200 -- a $40,000 decline from$408,200 in December 2005.

The median price is the point at which half the homes sold for more, halffor less.

Sales in both counties remained soft. Broward had 618 sales last month, downfrom 666 in December 2005.

Palm Beach County had 607 sales last month, compared to 743 in December2005.


The Sun-Sentinel,0,327060,print.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

Gov. Crist celebrates insurance bill at home of North Palm family

By Kathy Bushouse
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

January 25, 2007, 7:00 PM EST

NORTH PALM BEACH -- Their experience with the state's troubled insurancemarket is one shared by tens of thousands throughout South Florida.

Charlie and Becky Isiminger were dropped by their longtime property insurer,then shuffled into Citizens Property Insurance Corp., then taken up byanother insurer that nearly tripled their annual premium - from around$2,300 to more than $6,000.

The difference between the Isimingers and the rest of South Florida is, onThursday, the North Palm Beach family got to tell their tale to Gov. CharlieCrist - and a gaggle of legislators - who came to their house to celebratesigning into law new insurance legislation passed this week in Tallahassee.

Crist, fresh from a morning signing ceremony on the steps in front of theOld State Capitol, winged his way to Palm Beach County for another afternoonceremony on the Isimingers' front porch. Their story "is a perfect exampleof why the law needed to be changed," said Crist, who had yet anotherbill-signing ceremony later in the afternoon, in Port Charlotte.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Thu, Jan. 25, 2007

National catastrophe fund next on leaders' insurance list

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Now that the Legislature has passed a bill thatlawmakers say will address the state's insurance problems, Gov. CharlieCrist and legislative leaders said Thursday their attention will be onpushing for a national catastrophe fund.

Crist plans to lobby his peers from around the country at the NationalGov.'s Association meeting in Washington next month, while House SpeakerMarco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt are organizing a state/federalsummit which will have the issue at the top of the agenda.

Other coastal states are experiencing similar insurance problems, ifnot to the same degree as Florida, said Pruitt.

"North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Texas - they have the samechallenges we have," he said. "You just take those states around the coastof our country and there's enough congressional members there to makeanything that needs to happen happen."


Parrish attacks Palm Beach County appraiser for 'unreasonably high'

By Josh Hafenbrack
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

January 25, 2007, 3:22 PM EST

Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish waded into a Palm BeachCounty political war on Wednesday, blasting her counterpart Gary Nikolitsfor misapplying state law and sticking taxpayers with "unreasonably high"property values.Parrish was responding to a scathing letter Nikolits wroteto Palm Beach County commissioners Monday, which branded commissioners ascorrupt and challenged Broward County appraisal methods as unconstitutional.

Nikolits' statements, Parrish wrote, are a "way of deflecting attention awayfrom the antagonistic views you have towards Palm Beach County's taxpayers."


Volunteers hear horrific stories as they count the homeless in Broward

By Bill Hirschman
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

January 25, 2007

Marlene Burris speaks easily about dodging mortar attacks during 18 monthsas a contractor in Iraq, but the stories of self-destruction she coaxed outof Broward County's street people unnerved her.

"I really thought I had seen everything," she said during Wednesday's censusof the county's homeless.

Sitting cross-legged under a tree in Lincoln Park, Burris patiently ledShannon Gales through an abbreviated autobiography, even though the24-year-old wrapped in a blanket said she was still foggy from a crack high.

Gales described a spiral of molestation, foster homes, drug use, prison,promiscuity, mental illness. She knew she had children, but she couldn't becertain what ages or where.


A girl wonders: Is Crist my dad?
A 17-year-old girl wants to know if the governor is her biological father.
Crist: No way.
By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Published January 25, 2007

The parents who adopted a girl 17 years ago have reached out to Gov. CharlieCrist about the possibility that he is their daughter's biological father.

Marshall and Cecilia Tucker of St. Petersburg acknowledge that they don'tknow for certain Crist is the father, and the governor says it's impossible.

But since a paternity dispute involving Crist came to light during thegubernatorial primary last fall, the family and their daughter havesuspected Crist might be the father.

The Tuckers said they want nothing from the governor. But driven by a fearof getting snared in a political controversy beyond their control, theTuckers made many discreet overtures to Crist.

Crist and those close to him ignored their calls.


The Miami Herald

Posted on Thu, Jan. 25, 2007

Crist hints at changes in how FCAT is used
New Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday that he wants to make changes to thecontroversial Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test system.
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist will roll out a proposal next week to makechanges to how the state uses and administers the Florida ComprehensiveAssessment Test, but he gave few details when he revealed his plansWednesday.

Crist was asked at a Tiger Bay Club luncheon why schools are graded only onFCAT results when they do much more than teach the subjects on thestandardized tests.

''It may not surprise you that I've heard that message before,'' Crist saidto a smattering of laughter.

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