Wednesday, February 28, 2007

FLORIDA DIGEST February 28, 2007

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The Sun-Sentinel,0,6238027,print.story?coll=sfla-home-headlines

Palm Beach County rejects recommendation for no budget increases

By Josh Hafenbrack

February 27, 2007, 7:03 PM EST

Turning back a wave of residents clamoring for slimmed-down county spending,Palm Beach County commissioners on Tuesday rejected a recommendation thatthey hold the line on the budget and slammed their own advisory committeefor making the suggestion.

Residents told commissioners that because county spending has spiraled inrecent years, property taxes are forcing people from their homes andstifling the real estate market.

Commissioners were defensive, quarreling with speakers and blaming statelegislators for passing down unfunded mandates. Commissioners unloaded onthe Budget Advisory Committee chaired by Commissioner Warren Newell,threatening to replace board members they appointed just months ago unlessthe committee changes its focus.

Of the 16 percent increase in county property taxes this year, residentVirginia Brooks noted: "That's nearly triple the combination of populationgrowth and inflation, and almost double the growth in personal income. Ithink the solution might be, just like any good household would do, a belttightening."

Commissioners rejected the budget committee's recommendation to keep 2008spending to this year's $4.3 billion level.


The Sun-Sentinel,0,842164,print.story

Home prices, sales continue fall in Broward, Palm Beach counties
By Paul Owers Business Writer

February 27, 2007, 12:41 PM EST

Existing home sales and prices fell last month in Broward and Palm Beachcounties, the Florida Association of Realtors said Tuesday.

Broward had 458 sales, down 17 percent from 552 last January. The medianprice was $364,500, off 2 percent from $370,500 a year ago.

Prices, though, seem to be leveling in Palm Beach County, with the median of$388,000 down just 1 percent from $393,700 last January. The county ended2006 with three consecutive months of double-digit price declines.

Palm Beach County sales fell 15 percent, to 496 from 586 a year ago.

Existing condominium sales last month were down in both Broward and PalmBeach counties.

Meanwhile, Broward's median condo price was $199,200, off 6 percent from$211,500 a year ago. Palm Beach County's median condo price was $213,100, up2 percent from $209,100 last January.


The Sun-Sentinel,0,4408452,print.story?coll=sfla-business-front

Existing home sales rise in January but prices keep falling
Martin Crutsinger
Associated Press

February 27, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Sales of existing homes rose in January by the largest amountin two years, raising hopes that the worst of the severe slump in housingmay be coming to an end. Median home prices, however, fell for a sixthstraight month.

The National Association of Realtors reported today that sales of previouslyowned homes rose by 3 percent last month, the biggest one-month increasesince a 3.3 percent increase in January 2005, a time when housing wasroaring toward the peak of its five-year boom.

The median price of an existing home sold in January dropped to $210,600, adecline of 3.1 percent from a year ago. It marked the sixth straight monththat the median price has been down compared with a year ago. The Januarydecline was the third-biggest drop in history.


Posted on Tue, Feb. 27, 2007

Largo starts process of firing manager who wants sex change


The City Commission of this small Tampa Bay community voted late Tuesday tobegin the process of firing the city's top official - less than a week afterhe announced plans to pursue a sex-change operation.

The 5-to-2 vote begins a three step process to remove Largo City ManagerSteve Stanton, 48, the city's top official for 14 years. He confirmed rumorslast week that he was a transsexual.

Stanton, who built a solid reputation as a forceful and energetic leader,hoped to keep his $140,000-a-year job as he underwent the genderreassignment process.

"It's just painful to know seven days ago I was a good guy and now ... Ihave no integrity," Stanton told the commission Tuesday. "My challenge herehas always been that someday I was going to leave this organization. So I amgoing to do it with a smile on my face."

Stanton can appeal the decision. He will be placed on paid leave while thecity begins the legal process to end his contract. The council must voteagain to formally fire him.


Posted on Tue, Feb. 27, 2007

Once broken, a life can't be made whole

How do you make amends for wrongfully depriving someone of their freedom?You don't. It is impossible. The state can't give Alan Crotzer any of thethings -- love, liberty, family, education or career -- that he missed inthe 24 years, six months, 13 days and four hours he spent in prison for acrime somebody else committed.But the state can, and should, do the nextbest thing. It can give Mr. Crotzer, and a handful of others like him,financial compensation, job training, psychological and medical assistance,and immediate restoration of their civil rights.

Make amends

This is the least that the state can do -- the absolute minimum -- to beginto make amends for a terrible miscarriage of justice. The Legislature canget the ball rolling by passing a bill sponsored by state Rep. PriscillaTaylor, D-West Palm Beach, that would award $50,000 a year and pay for 120hours of education at a state school to any person wrongfully imprisoned.Several other states, including Alabama, already have similar programs inplace. Gov. Charlie Crist, who has said he favors automatic restoration ofcivil rights to ex-felons after they have served their time, should urgelawmakers to send a compensation bill to him for signing.

Mr. Crotzer was released last year after being exonerated of robbery andrape by DNA evidence. His case is one of a growing number of post-convictionexonerations across the country made possible by the use of highly accurateDNA testing. The problem in Florida is that state laws haven't kept pacewith scientific breakthroughs, such as DNA use in legal cases. Worse forFlorida is that state lawmakers have been reluctant to act on the changingdynamics. For example, the Legislature refused for three years to pass abill that would extend a deadline for using DNA in questionable cases.


Posted on Wed, Feb. 28, 2007

Miami-Dade unveils plan for stadium

The Florida Marlins inched closer to a long-coveted stadium deal Tuesday, asMiami-Dade County leaders unveiled an ambitious plan to build a stylish newpark in the heart of downtown Miami.

If all goes according to the most recent plan, the two-time World Serieschampions will play in a retractable-roof stadium that seats 37,000 andincludes 60 luxury suites with Metrorail tracks close enough to gather uplong homerun balls. Price tag of the proposed park: $490 million.

The stadium would be built adjacent to the towering Government Centerbuilding, giving hundreds of county workers a view of games under thelights. The county would own the stadium.

The plan was announced in a five-page memorandum issued by County ManagerGeorge Burgess on Tuesday, only days before state legislators are expectedto be asked to supply the missing $30 million that has caused previousstadium plans to fail.


Grand jury investigates report of 2nd questionable payment to Browardsheriff
By Paula McMahon
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

February 27, 2007, 11:22 PM EST

A federal grand jury is looking into a second allegation that BrowardSheriff Ken Jenne received a questionable payment from a person who doesbusiness with the Sheriff's Office, sources familiar with the investigationhave told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

For more than two years, Jenne's personal finances and business dealingshave been under scrutiny by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami and theFlorida Department of Law Enforcement.

The sources said the federal and state investigation is now focused on twoallegations: that Jenne or one of his secretaries received about $5,000 froma security executive, Lewis Nadel; and a previously reported accusation thatJenne or one of his secretaries received a $20,000 loan in 2004 from a BocaRaton developer, Philip Procacci.

Procacci and Nadel's firms both have contracts with the Sheriff's Office,and Nadel served on the South Florida Crime Commission, a group thatpromotes crime fighting and raises money for law enforcement. Procaccileases buildings to the agency, and the high-tech surveillance, equipmentand law enforcement training firm Nadel worked for did more than $230,000worth of business with the agency in the past seven years, public recordsshow. Nadel's company also paid Jenne to do private consultancy work.

The investigators are questioning whether a $20,000 loan to one of Jenne'ssecretaries from Procacci, which was then passed on to Jenne, and a paymentof more than $5,000 from Nadel to another secretary, were intended as giftsor loans to Jenne, the sources said.


Arbiter recommends adoption of teacher bonus plan for Palm Beach County
By Marc Freeman
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

February 28, 2007

A state arbitrator recommends that the Palm Beach County School District andteachers union end an impasse today by adopting a teacher bonus plan,thereby guaranteeing $9.9 million in state funds for the rewards.

In a written ruling Monday, Special Magistrate Thomas W. Young III said heopted for the "lesser of the two evils" in urging the parties to approve thecontroversial pay for performance plan by Thursday's state deadline, ratherthan return to negotiations and likely miss out on the money.

If the School Board fails to adopt the plan at a special meeting today, thedistrict would be forced to spend its own money on teacher bonuses.

"The deadlines are arbitrary and unreasonable, and the financial impact onthe district for failing to agree increases the likelihood of educationallyunsound decisions while creating an atmosphere that is likely to damagelabor-management relationships, at least in the short term," wrote Young,appointed Friday by the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission.

Superintendent Art Johnson said he would not comment on the decision, whichsided with the position taken by his administration. Union President TheoHarris said teachers continue to oppose the bonus plan because it pitsmembers of the same faculty against each other instead of working together.


Crist sets a new course on big lake and rivers
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The message was the same: Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie andCaloosahatchee rivers are in deep trouble, and Florida must provide moremoney for cleanup and restoration. But the contrast between Gov. Bush'svisit to the lake toward the end of his second term and Gov. Crist's rivertour in Stuart last week, barely two months after he took office, isstriking.

Folding chairs under a tent canopy pitched beside the lake, fancyrefreshments and dozens of politicians greeted a perfectly dressed Gov.Bush, who finally acknowledged pollution problems with the lake but saidlittle about the rivers that so often must accept the lake's fouled, excesswater. Gov. Crist wore faded jeans on his pontoon boat trip, and it was ano-frills event. Refreshments? Bottled water.

But the governor's message was first-class. He touted his budget proposal tospend more - $40 million on the rivers and $50 million on lake projects,particularly those north of Lake Okeechobee that could keep polluted waterfrom flowing into the lake. Gov. Crist proved himself a good sport and anengaged student, cheerfully accepting a clear plastic bag of muck scoopedoff the river bottom and a lesson from the Florida Oceanographic Society'sMark Perry. He told Gov. Crist that the St. Lucie River contains enough ofthe black goop to bury Stuart 6 feet deep. The governor seemed genuinelysurprised: "You're kidding."

Accompanied by Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, new Departmentof Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole and South Florida WaterManagement District Director Carol Wehle, Gov. Crist admitted that "there'sa long way to go" in cleaning up the lake and the rivers. But new money inthe budget and better restoration efforts north of the lake, he said, are "astart." The governor, whose budget includes $100 million for Evergladesrestoration, also promised to push harder for federal money and involvementin Everglades projects, an approach that all but died under Gov. Bush.


Article published Feb 27, 2007

Sink worries climate change could flush Florida
By Paige St. John
Political Editor

TALLAHASSEE -- Climate change not only is a reality, Florida must contendwith both its causes and its consequences, CFO Alex Sink contends,announcing today a series of state workshops on the subject.

"If this world of ours doesn't pay attention to warming, parts of Floridawill be underwater. We're not going to let that happen," Sink said.Sink and Agriculture Commission Charles Bronson will host a public meetingon global warming's causes and its impacts on Florida after next month'sCabinet meeting, she announced today. Future meetings also are planned,including one in June headlined by former New York Gov. George Pataki.

The CFO is focused in part on the increase in disastrous weather patterns,especially hurricanes, that warmer oceans are predicted to bring -- and theramifications on coastal development and insurance.

Bronson at the same time is advocating a switch to bio-fuels.


Ease touch-screen doubt

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Public mistrust of touch-screen voting helped persuade Gov. Crist to demanda paper trail. Now, a state-driven analysis finds that the touch screens inSarasota County's disputed 13th Congressional District election worked finewithout one.

What voters need to know is that touch-screen voting is not going away, evenwith the governor's proposal to replace most machines withfill-in-the-bubble optical-scan ballots. That's because the governor's planallows touch screens for early voting and for the disabled, as long as themachines produce a voter-verified paper trail.

Problem is, the printers that accompany touch-screen machines are far fromperfect. They can jam and break down. If no one notices, voting cancontinue, creating an imperfect record. So the state must think about how toresolve a conflict between the electronic tally and its supposedly identicalprint offspring. It would stand to reason, since printers represent thegovernor's solution, that the printer be the final standard. But thatwouldn't work if the paper trail were not complete because of printerbreakdowns.

Secretary of State Kurt Browning admits that the standard is not yet clear.Worse, he said, would be to allow touch-screen voting to continue on a grandscale but require that printers be attached to every machine. At least withearly voting, held at a limited number of locations, workers can be assignedto watch the printers and to redirect voters in the case of a breakdown.

The governor is taking this imperfect step, however, because of mistrustover touch-screen voting fueled by the 18,000 blank votes in the 13thDistrict U.S. House race that was decided by 369 votes, with Republican VernBuchanan defeating Democrat Christine Jennings. What happened there was notthe fault of the machines, two state studies show. But under Gov. Bush, thestate handed one of those studies, including scrutiny of the computer'sbrain - the source code - to a Florida State University professor with arecord of involvement with the Republican Party. If there's no problem,there's no reason why the same access couldn't be given to experts selectedby Ms. Jennings.


Article published Feb 27, 2007

Study: More black males poor or in prison
By Stephen D. Price
Political Editor

TALLAHASSEE -- Statistics show a disproportionate number of black men andboys are in prisons, are poverty stricken and suffer poor health.Attorney General Bill McCollum spoke this morning about a council that willmeet for the first time this afternoon to begin addressing those problemsand more during the next four years.

"It's designed to come up with proposals and recommendations and to get abetter understanding on the problems of the status of black men in Florida,"McCollum said. "I think this council can do an enormous service to thepeople of the state and the black men and boys and their families."

Last year the Legislature agreed to create the 19-member council in theoffice of the attorney general. The council will study sociologicalconditions of black men and boys in Florida, including homicide rates,poverty, violence, drug abuse, income and health. The council has a budgetof $250,000.

In regard to the high prison rate for black men and boys, McCollum suggestedprograms to divert them from paths that lead to incarceration and findsolutions for convicted offenders re-entering society.

"We don't do a very good job of that in our state," McCollum said.


Add La Nina to storm worry
Published February 28, 2007

La Nina appears to be on its way, unwelcome news for the 2007 hurricaneseason.

Forecasters with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration'sClimate Prediction Center announced Tuesday that a weak El Nino is over andconditions are favorable for a potentially volatile La Nina.

Officials said the formation of La Nina isn't concrete, but satellite andbuoy observations indicate conditions are in place for it to form.

"Generally speaking, La Nina tends to be more favorable for hurricanedevelopment," said Russell Henes, a forecaster with the National WeatherService.

During La Nina, more storms form in the deep tropics from systems that moveoff Africa, according to the prediction center. The systems are more likelyto become major hurricanes that threaten the United States.


Posted on Wed, Feb. 28, 2007

Home sales remain slow in S. Florida

The South Florida housing market started the new year as it finished theold: moving slowly.

Sales for existing homes were down and prices mixed in January, according tofigures released Tuesday by the Florida Association of Realtors. Theoutsized number of unsold homes also grew even bigger, indicating the marketis not ready to right itself yet.

The median price for a single-family home in Miami-Dade County rose to$395,900 in January, up 5 percent from a year ago and 4 percent fromDecember. But in Broward that price was $364,500, a 2 percent drop from lastyear and flat from December.

For condos, the January median price in Miami-Dade was $256,400, 1 percentdown from last year. Median condo sales prices declined by 22 percent offDecember's results, but month-to-month figures are subject to widerfluctuations, particularly during periods of slow sales.

In Broward, a median-priced condo sold for $199,200, a 6 percent declinefrom January 2006 and virtually the same as in December. Median is the pointat which half are sold above and half below.

But the big obstacle to a recovery remains the lack of sales and risinginventory. Condo sales were down compared to a year earlier: 27 percent inMiami-Dade and 26 percent in Broward. Single-family house sales were alsodown: 17 percent in Broward and 9 percent in Miami-Dade from a year ago.


Cocktail reception with Polynesian entertainment

Chuck Panozzo, guitar player for the legendary rock band Styx, and partnerTim McCarron are hosting a garden cocktail party at their home at 2020 NE3rd Terrace in Wilton Manors, to benefit The Pet Project. Chuck and Tim aresupporters of The Pet Project because they believe in the emotional andhealthful benefits that come with the unconditional love of a companionanimal.

Wilton Manors, FL – Friday, March 2nd 2007 from 6PM on.

The evening will be for friends of The Pet Project and all pet lovers.

Guest should bring their checkbook or wallet and give at the door to enjoyan evening of delightful entertainment, relaxation and enjoyment in theincredible, Asian inspired garden of Chuck and Tim. The garden was recentlywas featured in the February edition of HOME Fort Lauderdale, which can bepicked up for free around town at finer shops and businesses.

Guest will also have a chance to preview a copy of the new book “The GrandIllusion: Love, Lies, and My Life with Styx” by Chuck Panozzo and MicheleSkettino. Guests can pre-order the book from AMAZON.COM.

Please note that parking is available in the Wilton Manor's City parking inthe lots on Wilton Drive between 21st Court and 19th th Street on the westside of Wilton Manors.

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