Kick in the Butt

Lawson, though, told two versions of that story — in the second, Thomas' alleged attack became more aggressive and fit more neatly into the state's definition for assault on an officer.

The shaky performance of Lawson and other officers in depositions may have convinced the state attorney to drop the felony charges. The incident resulted only in a single misdemeanor charge — for trespassing, based on Thomas being slow to leave the bar area.

Of course, Thomas still has a mountain of legal bills, but he can't file a civil suit against the Seminole police — they enjoy the same sovereign immunity as the tribe they serve. So last week, Thomas filed suit against Murphy's Law and its overzealous bouncer.

Bush Compassion
President Bush, in an annual pre-Thanksgiving ritual last week, pardoned a couple of turkeys. "May" and "Flower," as the two were dubbed, were "rescued" by the president and sent to live out their days in Florida. "May they live the rest of their lives in blissful gobbling," the president said at the turkey-pardoning photo-op. Tailpipe has tracked down the pair's new Florida digs, shown here.

Bush Compassion

President Bush, in an annual pre-Thanksgiving ritual last week, pardoned a couple of turkeys. "May" and "Flower," as the two were dubbed, were "rescued" by the president and sent to live out their days in Florida. "May they live the rest of their lives in blissful gobbling," the president said at the turkey-pardoning photo-op. Tailpipe has tracked down the pair's new Florida digs, shown here.

Ain't No Sunshine

What does a rusty car part have to do to get some city government documents around here? If the 'Pipe had kidneys, they'd be long gone in payment of those exorbitant fees that city governments charge to look at public files.

The state's Sunshine statute — which guarantees reasonable access — is helpful. Without it, reporters would often get nothing. Charlie Crist's signature on the Open Bill of Rights last week should help reporters dig — quickly and inexpensively — into documents from state agencies. (Added bonus: the bill also says state agencies have to be nice while handing over proof of their misdeeds.)

But there's nothing in the new Bill of Rights about local agencies. City officials can still charge exorbitant fees for opening a file drawer and pulling out a folder. Although the Sunshine statute requires that documents be handed over "promptly and in good faith," there's not much recourse if they aren't. What can a journalist who's working on deadline do? Sue?

For "Wish I Was in Dixie," staff writer Ashley Harrell's November 15 cover story about racism in Dania Beach, the charges for documents were obstructively pricey: $426.44. That was after Harrell downsized the request to a more affordable stature.

The big expense: Dania's Human Resources Director Mary McDonald's charges for "labor." According to the statute, a reasonable charge for the services of city staff is perfectly OK. Of course, it depends on what your definition of "reasonable" is.

Was it reasonable for McDonald to slip in a charge to New Times, without advance notice, of $65.37 an hour for her own file-seeking efforts? How about the charge of $25.35 an hour for the labor of clerical assistant Ina Williams, who sat in the room doing her usual work while Harrell read documents?

McDonald says responding to Harrell's request was time-consuming. "We don't have staff for this," says McDonald, who said she put in overtime hours to satisfy the request for files. "If you want someone to research all files for discrimination, the only person here to do that is me."

Tailpipe wonders whether there might have been other forces at work in exacting those fees. McDonald couldn't have been thrilled that New Times was investigating discrimination claims which McDonald herself investigated and declared unfounded. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigators subsequently dismissed her findings and recommended that the city approve a $17,000 settlement with former Dania Beach employee Taurus Barron, who had charged that there was a pattern of discrimination against employees in the city's water treatment plant.

Without the documents to prove it, the case would never have come to light in New Times.

Barbara Peterson, chairwoman of the recently created State Commission on Open Government, says the effects of the Open Bill of Rights may "trickle down" to local governments by "setting the right tone." Tailpipe knows the definition of trickle. It means: When you're looking for potentially-damning documents, don't expect much cooperation from city officials for a long, long time.

Bush Compassion

President Bush, in an annual pre-Thanksgiving ritual last week, pardoned a couple of turkeys. "May" and "Flower," as the two were dubbed, were "rescued" by the president and sent to live out their days in Florida. "May they live the rest of their lives in blissful gobbling," the president said at the turkey-pardoning photo-op. Tailpipe has tracked down the pair's new Florida digs, shown here.

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