If you were disgusted by President Clinton's farewell pardon for financier Marc Rich, you'll be appalled by former Florida agriculture commissioner Bob Crawford's good-bye kiss to his buddy and campaign supporter Ed Gregory. In December Crawford, who has overseen the pillage of South Florida's orange and grapefruit trees, outraged homeowners by resigning to take a $200,000-per-year job as executive director of the Lakeland-based Department of Citrus. The department, which markets the state's fruit, is a tool of the Central Florida growers, who gained the most from Crawford's order to cut about one million backyard trees in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Some scientists fear the canker will spread. Others call the effort a hatchet job.
Then on February 11 the Tampa Tribune reported that Crawford, during his last week in office, awarded Gregory a three-year, no-bid contract worth about $1 million per year to run the midway at the Florida State Fair, which is held in the Tampa Bay area each year. That report was virtually ignored by South Florida media.
Indeed neither the Tribune nor anyone else sussed out the real cost of this gift to you and me. For that information Undercurrents tracked down Charlie Dunn, chief operating officer of the South Florida State Fair, which concluded last month in West Palm Beach. The state's third largest after the Miami and Tampa events, Dunn's fair employed Gregory's company for 20 years. Then in 1999 Dunn and company dumped Gregory and hired a local outfit called Conklin. Not only did attendance jump by 15 percent, but revenue increased by more than 40 percent to $1.4 million. "A lot of it happened because Conklin had better rides," says Dunn, citing the 17-story Drop of Fear and the double-loop roller coaster, which fills 27 semitrailers.
Crawford mounted a limp-wristed defense of the Florida State Fair deal recently, saying the bid was "exempt from public bidding." Gregory has declined comment. Those two architects of the Tampa midway, it seems, have taken taxpayers for a ride.
It was not only a misprint, but a disservice to readers when the Sun-Sentinel last week announced that the "Graves Museum for of Archaeology and Natural History has changed its name to the South Florida Museum of Natural History."
What the newspaper didn't tell readers is this: The museum got its former appellation, which by the way uses an ampersand and no for, from Gypsy Graves, a deep-voiced, Kentucky-born archaeologist who invested $250,000 in the place in 1992. Graves later became involved in a dispute with the museum board, sued, and departed with only a fraction of her money and artifacts. Undercurrents believes the new board is turning a local treasure into a joke and insulting another local treasure, Graves, in the process. She broke ground for women in her field and deserves respect.
"I'm not shedding any tears, but I am a little disappointed," Graves says of the rechristening. "If they want to play games that's fine. All I'm interested in is seeing the museum prosper."
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After Broward County Transit messed with both its riders and local readers recently, Undercurrents struck a blow for right. The issue arose about a month ago, when the bureaucrats got anal. While planning a $175,000 upgrade of the main bus terminal near Andrews Avenue and Broward Boulevard, they became annoyed by litter and homeless people, who sometimes sleep in and near the concrete structure. They were also bothered by the unfortunates' beds, which were sometimes constructed from free newspapers. Their solution: confiscate two dispensers belonging to City Link, one to New Times, and those of several shopping papers like Car & Truck. Undercurrents began talking to low-level transit employees about the problem and worked our way up to Lorraine Smith, the department's assistant director. "We were trying to spruce it up," Smith says. "We didn't do anything maliciously."
Unfortunately BCT left dispensers belonging to The Herald and Sun-Sentinel. Moreover the terminal is a public area. When we pointed this out to Smith, she at first apologized and said she would look into the confiscation. Then she called back a few hours later. "I have no problem with you putting your box back," she says. "It may still be a problem, but we want to be fair to everyone."