Tailpipe

City Without Art

Tailpipe thought that developer Gary Posner's sunny promises to keep the Hollywood Playhouse afloat were too good to be true. Last September, Posner and his partner, Patricia Peretz, bought the theater building on Washington Street where the fiscally-troubled playhouse has been putting on award-winning plays for 50 years. They promised to refurbish it and keep it operating, and not -- as the two developers originally planned -- to turn the site into single-family homes.

"It's more of giving back to the community and giving back to the people," Posner told the Herald in September, 2003, in a Frank Capra-like rush of good will.

But the playhouse -- whose entire 2004-2005 season was abruptly cancelled last week, three days before the curtain was to go up on its opening production -- was just a piece of a much larger puzzle,termed HART (for Hollywood Arts District). As Posner and Peretz were dipping daintily into the world of footlights and grease paint, they were also assembling a mega-deal with the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to transform the southeastern corner of Young Circle. The $71-million project, which the City Commission approved in November, 2003, includes an 18-story condominium building, an arts and science charter school, and a 400-seat theater, which would serve as a home for the Hollywood Playhouse. Can we say that the two developers, in assuming control of the playhouse, had a lean and hungry look?

Including the prestigious 60-year-old theater company as part of the package certainly added luster to Posner and Peretz' pitch. If the plan ever gets past a lawsuit by condo owners on the site (which could stop everything), the Hollywood Playhouse, in some incarnation, should end up at a new Young Circle venue. The big question is whether having theater personnel go though the exercise of planning an entire season and actually cobbling together an ambitious season-opening stage production was anything more than a cruel hoax designed to help sell a development project.

Artists are always the last in line when they start handing out the money. Posner and Peretz got a $2.5 million loan from the CRA to buy the land for HART. And Charter Schools USA, the Fort Lauderdale-based for-profit company that runs the school will receive millions of dollars in city grants over the next 10 years. But the Hollywood Playhouse's little band of actors and stage hands, the ones who conjure up all the stage magic? Out of luck. Sorry, guys.

To cancel a production before it hits the boards is about as traumatic as it gets for theater artists -- maybe even worse than getting panned by critics. When the director broke the news to his cast of eight that, after a month of rehearsals, the planned production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound would die without ever being performed before an audience, there was shocked silence. "I thought one girl was going to start crying," Rodaz says. "But then, like everybody else, her jaw literally dropped. I was not just sending the actors home, I was going with them. Everybody just headed out."

Last week, Posner held out the last hope that the city might pitch in to save the rest of the season. He'd give it the old college try, he told Rodaz. "Mr. Posner said that by Friday he'd find out if the city would step up and put some money into the thing," Rodaz says. Then he called back to say that the city had turned him down. Forget the 2004-2005 season. It's over. However, Alison Wealcatch, a spokeswoman for City Manager Cameron Benson said that Posner had made no such request. Posner did not respond to Tailpipe's messages. Mayor Mara Guilianticalled to say that the theater will "be more successful in downtown Hollywood," but that it was operating with too much debt.

For his role as the tender-hearted would-be philanthropist, Tailpipe is nominating Posner in the next round of theater awards as Best Actor in a Show That Was All Just a Ruse to Scare Up Investments.

Come Back, Khia

Three summers ago, local radio couldn't get enough of "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)," the ribald pro-cunnilingus anthem from Khia. Following the release of her Thug Missesalbum in 2001, the hip-hop star -- who maintained cribs in Tampa as well as here in the 954 -- could have been the Dirty South's baddest bad-mouthed mama. You had to locate weak underground stations to hear the uncensored version of Khia's demand for, uh, oral reciprocity (even Tailpipe blushes at the lyrics to "My Neck, My Back"), which only heightened the tune's notoriety.

But Khia (her last name is Finch) never followed up. When New Times tried to talk to the rapper in 2002, her record company passed along Khia's number, but she didn't return messages. Then Artemis Records, her New York label, said they themselves couldn't find her. There were rumors that she'd been killed by a jealous boyfriend or had contracted HIV -- or merely relocated to Atlanta. But then she popped up on MTV saying she had a new album ready to drop. It never did. In fact, since Khia's gone ghost, the only news about her surrounds the old Hillsborough County mug shots (pictured above) making the rounds on the web. Dodging petty theft, pot possession, aggravated battery, and domestic violence charges back in 1998 and 1999 was evidently Khia's line of work before she penned songs about tongue calisthenics. "She's one of our most prestigious repeat bookees," says Lt. Rod Reeder of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Here are a few of her happy cop-shop photos -- if you see her, tell her to give Tailpipe a call. The tube is worried about her.

Check Out Your Backyard, Bozo

After the disastrous 2000 presidential election, Broward County commissioners, buffeted by a hailstorm of lobbyists and slicked-back salesmen, dropped a cool $20 million on a computer voting system made by Election Systems & Software, an election management firm. Palm Beach County went with similar machines from Sequoia Voting Systems,another election management outfit. OK system, no paper back-up.

A growing number of computer scientists and gadflies complain about the lack of security and transparency in the electronic voting technology used by the two companies. Boca Raton City Council candidate Emil Danciu sued election officials after the 2002 election, claiming voting machines had not tallied votes correctly. Though the suit was eventually thrown out, it raised questions about what sort of back-up electronic voting machines were providing. Like, what are the guarantees? More recently, Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Boca Raton) sued to press for paper back-up ballots (again the case was dismissed).

The solution is right in our own backyard. Boca Raton-based Smartmatic, created by entrepreneurs who specialize in creating secure links between software and hardware, produces touchscreen voting machines that offer everything critics have been pleading for. The system recently went through a baptism of fire in Venezuela's recall referendum of President Hugo Chavez. Chavez's opponents cried foul when the vote didn't go their way, claiming that the software had been tampered with. But the beauty of Smartmatic is it's an entirely transparent system.

"Each time a person votes, a ticket comes out the front, and he can check it to see if it matches his vote, then deposit it in a separate ballot box," says Mitch Stoller, a Smartmatic spokesman. "Each ticket has a digital serial number and other security features that allow you to trace it to the machine, to the vote, to the time."

Before the Venezuelan election, the Organization of American States and the Carter Center, the international election watchdog group created by former President Jimmy Carter, were allowed controlled access to the system's computer source code. Each was satisfied that the machines registered votes correctly. Both ES&S and Sequoia have said they wouldn't allow that kind of access.

It's too late for Smartmatic to jump into this fall's Kerry-Bush contest because the company's machines are not yet certified by federal and state election divisions, but the company has begun that process. The bigger hurdle for Smartmatic, of course, would be getting Broward commissioners to scrap the system they've already sunk millions of dollars into. Tailpipe wonders: Does Smartmatic take trade-ins?

Bishop Stedroy?

When somebody said a pastor is the staff you lean on, Rev. Stedroy Williams must have gotten the wrong idea. A few years ago, a number of female flock members at Lauderhill's Grace Christian World Church accused the 43-year-old preacher of sexual misconduct. In March, 2000, after a visit from a fiery-eyed out-of-town bishop, Williams stepped down from his battered pulpit.

Then he moved on, becoming pastor of Victory Christian World Ministries in Tamarac.

Now here comes Abiola Cameron, a 24-year-old member of Williams's current congregation, who filed a restraining order against the good rev on August 20. Her complaint says Williams began sexually assaulting her in 1999, that the abuse continued for the next three and a half years, and that she had an abortion -- at Williams's insistence -- in August 1999. The following May, Cameron gave birth to a daughter, Jennelle, who she claims is Williams's. "I took a paternity test," she says, which proved Williams is the father. "And now he's denying it." Aggressively, she adds.

According to Cameron's court claim, she received a call from Williams in May in which he told her he "missed having sex" with her. But when Cameron pursued child support payments, the pastor allegedly called on August 9 and left an intimidating message. "He used the word of God to threaten me," the complaint says, "saying that God will get me and my daughter for taking him to court [and] for destroying his church and his family."

Williams told Tailpipe he had no idea that Cameron had filed a petition preventing him from being within 500 feet of her or her home. He denied leaving any threatening messages. "Nobody got no phone calls from nobody," he barked. When asked if he was in fact the proud pop of Cameron's young daughter, he answered, "That's old stuff. That's old, stale meat. That's all stuff from a long time ago, gone into the garbage." To Tailpipe, this sounds somewhat short of a denial.

This rigid cylinder understands the temptations of the flesh, but maybe it's time for Brother Stedroy either to hang up his preaching sneakers or to make a tearful public cry for absolution. Which, come to think of it, might make him eligible for a promotion. Can you picture Bishop Williams?

-- As told to Edmund Newton

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