Any disgruntled citizen can hurl insults during a school board meeting or launch a NIMBY crusade. Rita Solnet is the rare activist with powerful allies inside and outside government. Her diligently researched arguments prompt policy changes with far-reaching implications throughout the state. The Boca Raton mom helped found the national, nonpartisan group Parents Across America, which rails against privatization and high-stakes testing in schools. This year, she helped prevent a for-profit company with a dismal track record, Mavericks in Education, from opening three new charter schools in Palm Beach County. Then she took the fight to Tallahassee, successfully protesting a "parent empowerment" bill that would have allowed public schools to be converted to charters. Solnet saw the measure as an attempt to privatize schools and drive a wedge between parents and school administrators. "This bill no more empowers me than it does the gecko on my patio from taking over my home," Solnet wrote in a letter protesting the bill. Try arguing with that.

When Bill Di Scipio heard that officials were trying to land a contract for an immigration detention center in the quiet, low-tax town of Southwest Ranches, he went to a few meetings to investigate. What he thought he saw was a handful of bumbling and conspiratorial city officials bent on sealing a deal behind the backs of residents. The proposal — still in the works — calls for a contract between the town and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with a majority of the proceeds going to Corrections Corporation of America, which wants to build the 1,500-bed jail. Di Scipio launched a torrent of public-records requests for everything from emails to receipts, focusing on the shadowy work of Town Attorney Keith Poliakoff, who told council members, "The less we say, the better off we will be." When his requests went unanswered, Di Scipio started writing new ones, in broken English under the nom de plume of Frank Nurt. His name now elicits an audible groan from the city clerk in charge of public records, and Poliakoff smacked down a lawsuit from Di Scipio and his rookie lawyer over the $1.25 that he was incorrectly charged for copies of records. Di Scipio's tactics may be unorthodox, but his work has resulted in important information seeing the light of day, and his activist group persuaded Pembroke Pines to oppose the facility, opening that city to a big lawsuit from CCA.

When an ambitious state attorney resigns his post as the top prosecutor in Palm Beach County to become a lawyer for a fossil fuel company, eyebrows will inevitably rise. But it was an especially strange move for Michael McAuliffe, because the Democratic litigator left to work for Bill Koch, one of Mitt Romney's top fundraisers and brother of the famed Tea Party backers Charles and David Koch. What could Palm Beach billionaire Koch want from McAuliffe? Koch is known to be litigious, having waged famous court battles against a wine broker and a former mistress. In the '80s, he sued his brothers, alleging corporate mismanagement of the family's oil company, Koch Industries. Last year, Bill Koch's company, Oxbow Corp., sued Warren Buffett's railroad companies, alleging that Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad companies were conspiring to drive up costs for shipping coal. None of this explains why McAuliffe decided to join his legal team. It's the kind of political mystery that will keep tongues wagging for months.

Bob Norman is adept at pissing people off. In February, the Broward Sheriff's Office labeled Norman as "cocky" in an incident report suggesting that the Channel 10 reporter was creeping around and filming illegally at the Pine Hollow Equestrian Center. A month later, Norman found himself in a pushing match with a mustached foreman at the Sun Recycling plant in Pompano Beach. In that instance, BSO actually had to come out to the scene to get Norman's microphone back from the foreman, who ran back onto private property when he seized the stick. This bulldog mentality and a ridiculous level of insider knowledge combine to make Norman tops when it comes to South Florida television reporters. Yes, Norman is a former New Times columnist. And no, we're not above playing favorites, but this award comes courtesy of Norman's old-school, shoe-leather-burning reporting.

Ryan Phillips isn't just some cloud-talking mimbo telling you whether it's going to be hot or hotter. The 34-year-old NBC weatherman has been geeking out on cold fronts and low-pressure systems since he was a kid in rural Ohio. "While I was in high school, I actually went and interviewed for a meteorology program at Ohio University," he says with a healthy hint of self-deprecation. He ended up studying tropical weather — not a bad skill set for this market — then bounced from Nebraska to Naples before landing in Miami in 2005. Soon after his arrival, Hurricane Wilma graced South Florida with her presence. "Hurricane season busts your ass," he says. "I was in the hot seat for a while on that one. It was just an amazing meteorological event, and to see your community get ripped up in a matter of hours."

Police say 29-year-old Patrick Davis attempted to rob a man in a McDonald's in early March. The victim resisted, but for some reason, Davis stuck around — long enough for a Broward Sheriff's Office deputy to arrive and attempt to arrest him. Davis responded with "super strength," according to police, and broke free — until Finch and Ramos, white-haired homeless guys who happened to be in the restaurant, helped the deputy get Davis under control long enough for backup to arrive. Somebody get these guys some free McNuggets.

For years, this stretch of U.S. 1 has sat empty and forlorn: vacant fields on one side, boarded-up retail spaces on the other. But this year, it began to turn around. First came construction of the Fresh Market high-end grocery store, and then cultural outpost Radio-Active Records moved onto the strip, forging a connection through the dereliction of Sears­town to the arts scene of nearby Fat Village. Then, this spring, South Carolina gym chain Pivotal Fitness opened a new facility in a formerly cursed location on the Sunrise curve. Judging from attendance, the area's economy is ready for a renaissance: Pivotal Fitness and Fresh Market are nearly always slammed, and Radio-Active's live shows fill the intimate space. With the opening of a new Whole Enchilada restaurant nearby, the residents of Flagler Village and Victoria Park may actually be able to walk to stuff. What a novel idea.

Regardless of your political leanings, it's tough to deny that Muslims in America are routinely stereotyped and vilified by the rest of society. For young people, being labeled an outcast can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Margate attorney Khurrum Wahid aims to prevent such alienation before it begins. In 2006, he founded Emerge-USA, a nonprofit group that aims to empower Muslim, Indian, Pakistani, and Arab-American people through voter registration, political polling, and a leadership training program for young adults. By getting more of Florida's 120,000 registered Muslim voters involved in politics, Wahid hopes to combat fear and bigotry. Helping young Muslims land internships at City Hall and introducing them to Tallahassee power brokers is a key part of his mission. If politicians grow accustomed to seeing a woman in a head scarf in the mayor's office, they will be less inclined to label her a terrorist. "Public perception drives public policy," Wahid says.

Sure, you could adopt a pet from the sparkling-clean shelter run by the Broward County Humane Society, but if you're intent on extracting a little soul from shabby misery, why not go all the way? Just down the road at the Broward County shelter, on the grounds of Fort Lauderdale Airport, the volunteers and staffers at the shelter certainly try their hardest, but the situation is grim: a large, un-air-conditioned shelter holds abandoned or lost pets for three to five days. If they're not claimed, they could face euthanasia. But a select few are transferred to the adoption section, where they sit two to a cage and listen to each other bark all day and all night. You can adopt from either section — and very well might save a life — but the real reward will come later, thinking about how much better your house is than a crowded, piss-filled cage.

He swam across Lake Ontario, played a mutant killer turkey in a movie called Blood Freak, and made national headlines when authorities raided his Loxahatchee home earlier this year to remove two tigers and a leopard. But the legend of Steve Sipek is rooted in the myth-like relationship he forged with a lion named Samson. Here's the CliffsNotes version based on interviews Sipek has given in past years: While filming one of his Tarzan films in Africa, Sipek saved a lion cub from being strangled by a large snake. He adopted the cub, named it Samson, and went on to star in several films with it. A few years later, while filming another movie, a special-effects mishap left Sipek engulfed in flames. All the humans on set ran away, but Samson somehow managed to drag the actor's severely charred body from the inferno, saving his life. And people wonder why the guy prefers the company of big cats over fellow humans.

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