Dupre Lands HR Job In Davie

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BROOKSVILLE – Three months after her forced resignation and a lucrative financial separation package, former human resources director Barbara Dupre has landed a new job.

She’s the new HR director in Davie, a suburb of Miami, where she is in charge of six department staffers.

On April 24, Dupre was forced to resign her position as human resources director after a scathing audit and outside legal review uncovered several questionable management methods in her department.

The review said there was a lack of trust and confidence in Dupre at every level of the agency and cited documentation and corroboration of grounds for employee discontent with her performance.

Nevertheless, mainly because previous county administrators never documented those deficiencies on her performance evaluations and government officials were skittish that Dupre might sue, the county gave her a three-month severance package worth $24,900. Add in accrued sick leave, vacation leave and paid time off days, and Dupre left the county with another $15,971 for a grand total of $40,871.

Dupre’s departure was followed 15 days later by the firing of Emergency Management Director Tom Leto, who received a cash-out from the county totaling $9,858 for accrued sick, vacation and PTO hours.

Dupre did not return repeated phone calls to Hernando Today.

Davie Town Administrator Gary Shimun also did not return phone calls inquiring whether he knew about Dupre’s stormy tenure in Hernando County when he hired her.

When she left, Dupre was making $92,487, more than double what she was making after Hernando County hired her in 1998 for $45,182. Part of her boost in pay was because she got a master’s degree, courtesy of the county’s tuition reimbursement program.

At Davie, the salary range for the HR position is between $78,437 and $105,113. HR officials there Thursday did not say where Dupre fell in that range.

Davie’s population is about 90,000, compared to more than 166,000 for Hernando County. It is located in central Broward County, is mostly rural and home to a sizable equestrian community.

The Miami Dolphins train at Nova Southeastern University in Davie.

With a median household income of $55,125 (in 2005), Davie is more affluent than Hernando County, with a median of $40,347 (2006 data).

Meanwhile, Hernando County commissioners, hoping to avoid many of the same kinds of problems it got into with Dupre, is treading very carefully as it seeks a new human resources director.

This week, commissioners voted unanimously to revise the job description. Among the requirements, County Administrator David Hamilton said he is looking for someone who can work “as a leadership team member.”

In the revised job description, the job will pay $69,000 to $109,000 – a range that commissioners believe is appropriate for such a high-ranking position.

The county hopes to have someone on board by September.

Just days after Dupre resigned here, Hamilton formed two committees: one charged with finding a permanent replacement for Dupre and revising the job description of the position.

The second committee has a broader focus – to look into the deeper problems that have been allowed to fester over the years in the HR department. That committee is looking into the management deficiencies identified by an outside legal firm and allow the county to “start rebuilding policies and practices” of HR.

Jerry Haines, the department’s HR workers’ compensation and safety coordinator, has been working as interim director while the county searches for a replacement.

Haines told Hernando Today recently that morale remains high in his department during this period of uncertainty.

Reporter Michael D. Bates can be reached at 352-544-5290 or mbates@hernandotoday.com.

Germany Trip Leads To Mix-Up

BROOKSVILLE –
BROOKSVILLE – What’s the difference between a school board-sanctioned field trip and students taking a vacation?

One means the school district could be held responsible if something goes wrong – but sometimes, things aren’t what they seem.

Friday, July 4, a group of Hernando County high school students will depart for a trip to Sandhausen, Germany, where they will spend 17 days living with German families and several days going to school alongside German students.

They will be reunited with the 22 students who stayed with their families in January of this year and shadowed them at Hernando County schools.

While the cultural exchange has become an annual tradition for local students, there’s one difference this year: For the first time, students signed paperwork acknowledging that the trip is not a school board-sanctioned trip.

“It doesn’t faze me one way or another, but I would like to see it endorsed by the district,” said Brooksville resident Cindy Wolaver, whose 16-year-old son is going on the trip.

“I’m just concerned that the German students may not feel as comfortable coming (here),” she added. “They’re sending their children halfway around the world to attend our schools and learn about our community. If it’s not endorsed by our schools, they might seek a district that does.”

Wolaver’s daughter, 20, is also going on the trip as a junior chaperone.

But while the students’ trip to Germany passed through the board in 2003, it has since only been assumed to be sanctioned due to a misunderstanding in the proposal’s language.

It has not been officially endorsed by the school board since then.

“I guess it was my fault,” said Central High German teacher Ron Schildbach, who has coordinated the program since 2000. “Since we created it as a (reoccurring) trip, we didn’t realize it had to be approved every year.”

The trip was initially placed on the agenda for the June school board meeting, but was removed because the students will not be missing any school, said director of student services Jim Knight.

The students were then required to sign release forms stating that they are essentially a group of people traveling together, and not involved with the district in any way.

“They’re basically going as private citizens over there,” Wolaver said.

However, Schildbach said he is preparing an agenda item for an upcoming meeting to gain approval for the exchange program to become a reoccurring trip.

Just as the district has put up $2,500 for cultural activities during the German students’ exchange, the German school district has put up an equal amount of funding – if not more – for activities for Hernando County’s students when they visit Germany, Schildbach said.

“They’ve taken us to Austria and the Swiss Alps,” he said, noting that the only expense to local students is their plane ticket.

The students have either raised the money themselves or their parents have paid it.

Finance director Deborah Bruggink confirmed that there was a $2,500 allotment in the 2007-08 budget for cultural activities during the German students’ visit, but is not in the budget for 2008-09.

Reporter Linnea Brown can be reached at 352-544-5289 or lbrown@hernandotoday.com.

Spring Hill: Last Unbeaten

WESLEY CHAPEL –
WESLEY CHAPEL – Spring Hill continued to impress Friday night, maintaining its unblemished record in the Seniors Boys (age 14) All-Stars District 6 Tournament Friday night at Wesley Chapel District Park.

Spring Hill downed Hernando, 13-3 in six innings, in a meeting of two county teams who were the last undefeated clubs in the seven-team double-elimination tournament.

Spring Hill (3-0) had defeated Wildwood the night before, 12-1 in five innings, after topping Sumter on Wednesday, 8-6. On Thursday Hernando (1-1) downed Oak Griner, 9-3, in its tournament opener.

“If we get going, we’re going to be dangerous,” Spring Hill Head Coach Mike Sollazzo said. “If we get it going we’re going to be tough to beat.

“I really don’t think we’re going full steam. I think the kids are still thinking they’re great. And they are good. But every game we’ve started slow. We’ve got to pick it up a little.”

Two-out rally

After Hernando recorded two quick outs in the top of the first, Spring Hill pieced together a rally to go ahead 2-0.

Julian Perez’s infield single to third preceded a solid double to left-center off the bat of Louis Colaiacomo. Ian Townsend followed by lining a RBI single to right.

Colaiacomo came across on a wild pitch, though Townsend was tagged out trying to sneak home on the same play.

Hernando got one back in the bottom half when Brandon Gemmiti scored on a two-out wild pitch. However, Perez scored on Townsend’s sacrifice fly in the third to restore the two-run advantage.

Kyle Jensen, pinch running for Cody Singer, came in on a wild pitch in the bottom of the third to cut it back to one.

In Spring Hill’s half of the fourth, Jon Gaffney doubled to left leading off and scored on Joey Asquith’s single that fell in front of the diving centerfielder.

J.T. Simpson’s infield single deep in the hole to shortstop drove in Anthony Fiocca, who walked, to make it 5-2.

With the bases still loaded, none out and the middle of the order coming up, Hernando pitcher Tyler Bammert wiggled out of further trouble with a strikeout, a force at home and a groundout.

Thomas Tambasco added a solo leadoff home run to left field in the top of the sixth.

Perez plated another on a single up the middle, Townsend notched his third RBI on a double to right, Gaffney had a RBI groundout and Townsend scored on a wild pitch.

Spring Hill would eventually send 12 batters to the plate, going in front by double figures on Simpson’s three-run double to left-center.

Hernando scratched across a run in the bottom of the inning as Matt Singer singled and scored on an error, but couldn’t get a runner home from third with two outs to avoid the mercy rule.

“Bammert pitched a heck of a game for Hernando,” Sollazzo said. “He’s definitely maturing. I’d love to have him on my team.

“The kids did peck away. We gave them their two runs (in the first). They have a good team. I’m a little deeper and basically that’s what won it.”

The win advanced Spring Hill to a game Saturday against Sumter, while Hernando had an elimination game with Oak Griner.

“It was a good ballgame, a tough ballgame,” Hernando Head Coach Bubba Patterson said. “It’s just a matter of a hit there, I don’t think we made any errors, they were just dropping. Give Spring Hill credit. That’s a good team. A lot of good talent on that team.

“I think Tyler Bammert did well. It was a close ballgame. I told the boys some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you. Today the bear got us.”

Sports writer Chris Bernhardt Jr. can be reached at (352) 544-5288 or cbernhardt@hernandotoday.com.

Taking A Shot At 44

BROOKSVILLE – Joe Puglia says he sees some fundamental similarities between serving in the state legislature and flying a jumbo jet.

Both jobs require thinking ahead, said Puglia, a 41-year-old Brooksville resident who flew commercial airliners for 10 years.

“You don’t want to be in the back of the plane with bad weather ahead in Tampa and me in the cockpit without a plan,” Puglia said.

State lawmakers, he contends, have failed to plan for what Puglia calls “the perfect storm” of high insurance rates, high gas prices and a tumultuous economy.

Now Puglia wants to see what he can do to, as he puts it, “get the plane out of the dive.”

He’s challenging state Rep. Rob Schenck for the District 44 seat. The district includes all of Hernando and parts of Pasco and Sumter counties.

Puglia is a former New York City Police officer and is now the owner of Big Red Carting, a solid waste company in Brooksville. He says his diverse background and acute awareness of the plight of everyday Floridians help qualify him as a candidate.

He was motivated to run by state and local headlines and by the stories of his customers who can’t pay their bills, and by what he said has been an inadequate response by the state Legislature.

Puglia called Amendment 1 a “knee-jerk reaction” that will hurt the state more than it helped taxpayers. Locally, Sheriff Richard Nugent is dealing with a million dollar shortfall and school Superintendent Wayne Alexander with a $3.3 million deficit, said Puglia, who is married and has three children ages 10, 12 and 17. All three attend public schools in the county.

“Would I have rather paid another $100 in my property taxes and not have these gentlemen face these issues? Absolutely,” he said.

Puglia said he would work hard to attract industry to Hernando and would use the Hernando County airport and the nearby rail line, which he called “a tremendous asset,” as an attractor. He said he’s already approached UPS about expanding operations here.

He opposes expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, contending that oil companies should be exploring some 8 million acres already open to them.

And he vows to take a tough stance against insurance companies who have set up separate corporations in Florida so their national operations can’t be tapped to pay claims.

“If you’re going to do business in this state, it needs to be under one umbrella,” he said.

He expressed frustration that the Legislature broke its promise to hold education funding harmless. He said the state’s A-Plus plan and the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test need to be overhauled, and that politicians should seek input from teachers, principals and superintendents to help craft a new way to gauge student progress.

A native of Queens, N.Y., Puglia’s parents owned a photography studio. He attended some college classes in Long Island before deciding on a police career. He worked as a patrol officer and then as helicopter pilot in the department before joining United Airlines in 1995.

He flew domestic and international routes, and spent two years as a flight manager overseeing the hiring of new pilots. He moved to Hernando County in 1999, and left United in 2005.

In 2003, he founded Big Red Carting. The company provides waste hauling for commercial and residential customers.

He said he has the diplomatic dexterity to cross party lines when it’s best for constituents. “You couldn’t be a captain at a major airline and survive without good people skills,” he said.

Schenck served as a Hernando County commissioner before his election to the House in 2006. Puglia didn’t have harsh criticism for the incumbent.

“He’s a person who I’m sure who has put his best foot forward,” he said, “but sometimes you have to put a different driver in the seat.”

For his part, Schenck said he worked with his fellow lawmakers to cut the budget and provide tax relief to Florida residents.

“I think it’s important to keep people in office that are going to protect the wallets of taxpayers, especially in these sorts of economic times,” Schenck said.

He pointed to several local projects included in this year’s budget despite lean times, such as $14 million for expansion and renovations to the Hernando County Health Department.

“As my tenure in the Legislature continues, there will be more of those successes,” he said.

There is no other Democrat or Republican in the race, so Puglia and Schenck are headed straight to the general election.

Schenck won by just 2 percent in 2006. But Puglia will face an extra challenge with the presence of a third party candidate.

Sarah Roman, 21, of New Port Richey is running on the Green Party ticket. The party bases its platform on environmentally-friendly policy and traditionally pulls some Democratic voters.

Roman did not return calls seeking comment.

County Housing Authority Runs Afoul Of HUD

BROOKSVILLE – Hernando County Housing Authority board members learned this week that the authority has been considered “troubled” by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the last two years.

The designation came for failing to keep the department abreast of how the authority is responding to deficiencies found three years ago in its Section 8 housing voucher program, housing board member Anna Liisa Covell was told by a HUD official Monday.

“I wasn’t very happy when I found out,” Covell said Wednesday.

Covell said the issue came up during a lengthy conversation with John Niesz, director of public housing in HUD’s Jacksonville office. She’d actually called Niesz to get direction on how to proceed with folding the Brooksville Housing Authority, itself deemed troubled by HUD, into the county authority.

Covell said Niesz told her that such a merger would be a drawn-out process – and one further complicated by the county authority’s troubled status.

Covell brought up the issue at the Brooksville Housing Authority board meeting Tuesday night. Members of the county board, including Paul Sullivan, Beth Garman and Rose Atkins, attended to discuss the possibilities of a merger. All three said they were unaware of the troubled designation, Covell said.

Don Singer, the county authority’s executive director who also attended the meeting, told his board members that his office turned in its responses to HUD using the wrong paperwork, Sullivan said. Singer said HUD sent the information back and apparently marked it as never arriving.

Singer did not return a call seeking comment.

The Hernando authority was given a “corrective action plan” to address the deficiencies, Karen Jackson Sims, field office director in HUD’s Tampa office, said in an e-mail response Wednesday to Hernando Today.

HUD staffers are in Brooksville this week to “determine whether sufficient improvements have been implemented under the (plan) to warrant removal of the ‘troubled’ designation,” Jackson Sims said.

Sullivan said the county board will discuss the issue at its own board meeting next Wednesday.

“Don has some more explaining to do,” Sullivan said.

Each year, HUD gauges how well the county authority is administering its Section 8 housing program. As part of the Section 8 Management Assessment Program Certification, or SEMAP, HUD grades the authority in 14 categories.

Authorities that earn a score of 60 percent or less are deemed troubled. The county authority earned an overall score of 82 percent for its 2005 assessment, according to a letter from Niesz to Singer dated Jan. 31, 2006.

But in three categories, the county authority received no points. The categories dealt with how well the authority expands housing opportunities and does annual inspections on the quality of its housing. The authority was to send HUD “a written report describing the corrective actions taken within 45 calendar days” of receipt of the letter, Niesz wrote. The authority was given a troubled designation for not responding in a timely manner, Covell said Niesz told her Monday.

On Wednesday, both Covell and Sullivan said the problem does not appear to be a major one if the information was in fact submitted. Sullivan said he was bothered by the way HUD labels an agency as “troubled” for minor infractions.

But both Covell and Sullivan said they were concerned that Singer hadn’t kept them abreast of the situation. Covell recalls the deficiencies coming up in early 2006, but not after that, and at least three board members said they weren’t aware of the troubled designation.

“We were told these were being taken care of,” Covell said. She said Niesz told her Monday that Singer should have given the board status reports on how he was correcting the deficiencies.

Covell said she still felt “just as responsible” as a board member for not following up with Singer about the deficiencies.

Meanwhile, Covell and Sullivan said they remain firm in their stance that there should be one housing authority in the county – but that the Brooksville Housing Authority must take care of its problems before the county authority will consider some form of merger. Covell said her conversation with Niesz reaffirmed that the Brooksville authority has to fix its financial woes and resolve a lawsuit by Brooksville electrical contractor Jim Lane, who is seeking payment for work he did at the authority’s Summit Villas apartment complex. Both said they were frustrated by an apparent lack of progress on those fronts.

Brooksville housing board Vice-chairman Jim Brooks said the authority is “in good working order and has more than enough money to pay the bills,” and will be submitting information this week to the county authority to show that.

It will be up to the courts to decide the Lane lawsuit, Brooks said. Brenda Williams, a consultant hired by HUD and working as interim executive director at the Brooksville authority, has another 60 days on her contract.

Brooks said he hopes the two boards can come to a solution before then so the authority does not have to hire an executive director, which he said would be a waste of taxpayers’ money.

Reporter Tony Marrero can be reached at 352-544-5286 or lmarrero@hernandotoday.com.

Losing Jobs Tough For Local Teachers

BROOKSVILLE – Spring Hill resident Tiffany Jansen knows what it’s like to worry.

A fifth-grade teacher at Eastside Elementary School in Brooksville, Jansen, 27, is about to get married in four weeks. But instead of focusing on her wedding, she’s job searching.

Jansen is one of 93 teachers on an annual contract – or those who have been with the district three years or less – in the Hernando County School District who has been “nonreappointed,” or told she does not have a job next year.

The only problem is, school officials couldn’t tell them why.

By Florida law, neither district officials nor administrators can comment or give rationale for their nonreappointment decisions, a move meant to deter lawsuits.

And it’s frustrating, Jansen said.

She said she has had positive evaluations for the past two years that she has been at Eastside and has no idea why she was issued a pink slip.

“It’s tough,” she said. “You go to work every day, you’re on time, you do your job, you’ve never gotten reprimanded or written up – and then you lose your job.”

Jansen initially obtained a letter on April 4 stating that she was being reappointed, but obtained another letter three weeks later stating the opposite.

Like many other teachers in similar situations, Jansen said she has been checking local employment Web sites daily for job openings. Nonreappointed teachers are free to apply for other jobs within the district, and many obtain jobs at other district schools.

Problem is, there aren’t any current elementary teaching positions open in Hernando County, and Jansen isn’t certified to teach Exceptional Student Education or middle and high school, she said.

Released to the public last Friday, the list of nonreappointed district employees totals 250. However, that number includes paraprofessionals, cafeteria aids and bus drivers, some of whose positions are being eliminated as part of the district’s three-year reduction plan.

Others are retiring, resigning or switching schools. Of the teachers, 18 are retiring and 24 are resigning, often meaning that they have plans to move elsewhere with their families.

Hernando Classroom Teachers Association president Joe Vitalo said that many of the teachers being non-reappointed have had excellent evaluations and test scores, and said there could be any number of reasons for the administrative decision.

“It could be for a variety of things,” he said. “It often comes down to a simple human decision of ‘Do I or do I not want this person?’ It leaves some hard questions to be answered about ‘why.’ And they’re not going to be answered (because of the) law.”

Due to the opening of Explorer K-8 in the fall, the new, 2,100-student school off Northcliffe Boulevard in Spring Hill, teachers at schools particularly affected by downsizing and rezoning – such as J.D. Floyd K-8 and Spring Hill Elementary School, both in Spring Hill – were encouraged to apply at Explorer K-8.

But not all were hired there. Some were left without jobs, and several have expressed outrage at the way the “pressured encouragement” to apply at Explorer was presented to them.

This year, union and district officials found new positions at other schools for 42 teachers who had been reappointed, but whose positions were being eliminated.

Vitalo said it was up to individual principals to grant teachers district reappointment status, even if they didn’t have enough openings at their school – a fact that may not have been understood by all principals.

“As far as we know, there was no directive from the district office to (release anyone),” he said. “There was a shifting in positions because there’s been a shifting of the student population.”

It also happens every year. In 2006, 132 annual teachers were released, and 82 in 2007.

Vitalo said many of the teachers not reappointed this year are currently applying for other jobs within the district or in Pasco County.

By fall, the district is expecting to fill about 100 teaching openings due to attrition and reallocation to different areas, such as added art and music teacher positions.

“Most of them have been going through the system, and some have already been offered jobs,” Vitalo said. “They’re being picked up really quick. A lot of schools want to fill their positions before school gets out for the summer.”

But he said he empathizes with the toughest question on job applications: The one asking if the applicant has ever been released from a job.

“It’s kind of tough to answer that question when you don’t know why,” Vitalo said.

Non-reappointed teachers:

Hernando High School:

Patricia Colbert

Brian Flanigan

Maira Garcia

Maritza James

Marion Jones

Abigail Smith

Amanda Taylor

Sherylene Barnes

Brooksville Elementary School:

Kimberly Henry

Sherri Stevens

Westside Elementary School:

Jeanette Atwell

Jennifer Gallagher

Steven Jones

Eastside Elementary School:

Tiffani Holland

Tiffany Jansen

Michelle Peavy

Richard Robertson

Arlene Tannascoli

Julie Urban

Springstead High School:

Randall Kloko

Carol Long

Dennis Lewis

Melissa Roman

Maguerita Tolbert

Spring Hill Elementary School:

Cindy Armstrong

Laura Barry

Denise Ciccio

Mary Curtis

Caroline Hamilton

Geraldine Lapniewski

Angela Thompson

Powell Middle School:

Bridget Giglio

J.D. Floyd K-8:

Mandy Beck

Annmarie Cagnina

Cathy Farrell

Jennifer Kramer

Matthew Littmann

Kelli Mapes

Dayna Million

Donna Nugent

Melanie Polk

Tamara Sargent

Melanie Polk

Tamara Sargent

Clifford Teachout

Kare Whitney-O’beid

Cynthia Williams

Patricia Williams

Jennifer Stewart

Parrott Middle School:

Teresa Hatley

Jonathan Jacobellis

George Kenney

Josandra Maner

Kenneth Pascascio

Rita Southern

Donna Thompson

Central High School:

Kevin Ballard

John Larry

Andrew Smith

Nicole Wittman

Pine Grove Elementary School:

Debra Buckley

Meghan Chapin

Marisa Duval

Ernest Froman

Barbara LeBlanc

Marybeth Longcoy

Kara Sizemore

Michael Storey

West Hernando Middle School:

Kristen Tomczak

Julio Torres

Elizabeth Whitaker

Moton Elementary School:

Laura Olds

Suncoast Elementary School:

Jacquelyn Alessio

Jessica Buckmaster

Michelle Dea

Kimberly Kolb

Nature Coast Technical

High School:

Jo Caraballo-Rivera

Tina Cavallino

Christopher Clifford

Kevin Cullen

David Feinberg

Charles Giarratana

Alfred Holmes

Stephen Iavarone

Jillian McGuiness

Carol Parzik

Danielle Pugh

Challenger K-8 School of Science and Mathematics:

Monica Bennett

Typson Ellis

Kallie Hilyard

Kyra Leonard

Gregory Odachowski

Angelina Somaroo

Andrew Zipperer

Reporter Linnea Brown can be reached at 352-544-5289 or lbrown@hernandotoday.com.

Tactical Supply Is Brooksville’s New Army-Navy Store

BROOKSVILLE – It wasn’t until PJ’s Army-Navy went out of business that the MacKenzie’s pulled the trigger on their dream.

Spence MacKenzie shopped at P.J.’s since he was a boy. He was uncomfortable competing against someone he had known and respected his whole life.

He and his wife, Sheri, had been selling old U.S. Army jeeps for years, so they were already making a living in the military supply business.

Once the area’s lone Army-Navy supply store closed down 18 months ago, the couple jumped at the chance and opened Tactical Supply.

“We’re trying to make it the best surplus store we can,” he said. “We want it to be the best in Florida.”

The store opened at the corner of State Road 50 and Smith Street two weeks ago and already has been visited by hundreds of curious customers.

It will take another two months before the entire building is stocked, Sheri MacKenzie said.

There are knives, patches, rain gear, camping equipment, pouches, battle-dress uniforms and coolers.

There are plenty of supplies for collectors, military personnel, police officers, firefighters, campers and those looking to stock up in preparation for hurricane season.

Spence MacKenzie guessed 80 percent of his customers either served in the military or law enforcement. Most of the rest have some sort of ties to either.

His fascination with military equipment comes from his involvement in the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, of which he has been a member since he was a kid.

That was what planted the idea in his head that he wanted to be in the business of restoring and selling old military equipment. It fascinates him today as much as it did then.

The lawn of his store is stocked with several old Army vehicles and field artillery weapons.

The owners get their supplies from shows, swap meets, flea markets and various vendors. A trailer comes to the business once per week to drop off items. They spend Sundays and Mondays taking inventory and stocking the store.

Sometimes, local residents come in and donate their own items.

An old sniper suit hangs in his store. It was given to MacKenzie from a local Army recruiter. There are blood spots still visible on the sleeves.

Next to the sniper suit hangs a pair of black, silk pajamas.

Goose bumps were visible on MacKenzie’s skin when he talked about the story of those pajamas.

A former soldier who served in Vietnam was alone and stranded along the Cambodian border. A sympathetic native loaned him the pajamas and a conical hat, which helped him blend with the villagers and hide him from the Viet Cong, MacKenzie said.

The disguise worked. He was rescued weeks later.

The man loaned MacKenzie the pajamas, which are not for sale, he said. It makes for good storytelling whenever a customer comes in and asks about them.

MacKenzie is a native of Hernando County. He and his wife, who grew up in Orlando, have been married for nearly 14 years and have two sons. They live in the historical district of Brooksville.

“We wanted to be nowhere else other than Brooksville,” said Sheri MacKenzie.

Biz at a glance:

Name of biz – Tactical Supply

Owners – Spence and Sheri MacKenzie

What it is – Army-Navy supply store

Where it is – 490 Smith Street in Brooksville

Hours of operation – 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday

Get in touch – 352-799-0300

On the Web – www.fltacticalsupply.com

Reporter Tony Holt can be reached at 352-544-5283 or wholt@hernandotoday.com.

Shooting Rampage Leaves Decade Of Pain

TAMPA – There’s a place in Tampa where George McNamara won’t go.

A career law enforcement officer who has risen to the rank of major with the Tampa Police Department, McNamara never pulls off Interstate 275 at the Floribraska Avenue ramp.
“I won’t. I just can’t do it,” he said.

It’s been this way since 10 years ago Monday.

That’s when McNamara walked along the ramp toward an unmarked police car, a green Ford sedan with a Miami Dolphins license plate, and saw two detectives shot to death inside. Ricky Childers and Randy Bell had worked for him.

The men were victims of a shooting rampage that spanned the Bay area and only ended when the gunman, Hank Earl Carr, killed himself after holding a woman hostage for hours. Carr also killed two others — his girlfriend’s 4-year-old son, Joey Bennett, and Florida Highway Patrol Trooper James B. Crooks.

Five were dead by the time darkness fell. But the people who would suffer the pain of that day — May 19, 1998 — numbered in the hundreds, even thousands, counting those who lined the funeral routes clutching American flags.

Greg Stout felt it more than others. He sat that morning at police headquarters with Carr and remembers him as affable and calm. Stout, a detective, came close to riding with Childers in the green sedan on a trip with Carr to where the boy was shot. Bell went instead. On the way back, Carr killed the detectives with Childers’ gun.

“Everyone lost some innocence that day,” Stout says today. “You honestly treat everybody differently now.”

Carr’s legacy includes changes in law and policy so officers can do a better job protecting themselves and others. Anyone carrying a concealed handcuff key, as Carr did, can be charged with a third-degree felony. The Tampa Police Department changed the way it transports prisoners.

But Ricky Joe Childers II, now 33, one of the detective’s sons, still feels the pain.
“My children were cheated out of not seeing their grandfather,” said Childers, of Lake Panasoffkee. “I have an hour’s drive to work every day. I’ll spend time thinking about what went wrong for that to happen.”

Lives Converge Over Boy’s Shooting
A convicted felon, Carr, 30, shared an apartment at 709 1/2 E. Crenshaw St. with his girlfriend, Bernice Bowen, and her two children, Joey and his sister, then 5. He kept several weapons including two SKS assault rifles.

That day, about 9:50 a.m., Carr and Bowen drove Joey to a Tampa fire station at Nebraska Avenue and Hanna Street. The boy had been shot in the head. Paramedics pronounced him dead and called police. A sergeant sent Childers and another detective to the scene.

Carr was wanted on a marijuana trafficking charge from Ohio, but at that moment, Tampa police didn’t know who he was. He called himself Joseph Bennett, the name of the children’s biological father, and he called Bowen his wife.

Bowen perpetuated that fa├žade. “He told me to tell everybody his name was Joseph Bennett,” she later said in a transcript related to the case.

May 19 was supposed to have been the last day Childers and Bell worked together for a while. Bell, 44, had been transferred to Internal Affairs. Childers, 46, and his wife had a vacation in Key West planned.

“I can still close my eyes and picture it,” said Vickie Metzler, who was Childers’ wife. “I was cleaning up some breakfast things, and he kissed me on the cheek. We said, ‘I love you.'”

Bell was excited about his new assignment – and about finding “a treasure trove of Beanie Babies” at a card store near police headquarters, Stout said. One of Bell’s daughters collected the toys, and he bought a bunch that morning.

Missing A Date With Death
At the fire station, Carr ran once he heard the toddler was dead. He darted across the street right in front of the green sedan as Childers pulled up. Childers brought him to headquarters in handcuffs. He seated Carr next to Stout’s desk and went to the men’s room.

Carr was “very friendly, very talkative,” Stout said. He spoke about running to check on his “daughter” and said the shooting of his “son” was an accident.

“I don’t think anybody anticipated what he was capable of doing,” Stout said.
McNamara said Carr’s duplicity fooled them. “Here’s a guy who says, ‘I didn’t shoot my son.’ We’re thinking we’re dealing with a grieving father, and we’re dealing with the Devil.”

Stout said Childers asked him to join the interview with Carr, but he declined because he had another one scheduled. So Bell took part instead.

On tape, Carr told the detectives Joey had been dragging an assault rifle by the barrel and the gun fired when Carr grabbed it to take it away. The detectives decided to drive Carr back to the apartment where the family lived and have him walk them through the chain of events.

“That was the last time I saw them alive,” Stout said.

Carnage In A Green Sedan
Documents from the case state that the blood spatter in the apartment wasn’t consistent with Carr’s story. “They started calling me a liar,” Carr would say later in a live radio interview aired while he held his hostage.

Childers and Bell confiscated one of the SKS rifles and placed Carr, his hands cuffed in front of him, into the back of the green sedan for the ride back to headquarters. They didn’t know he wore a handcuff key on a chain around his neck, or that he often said he would rather die than return to prison.

Childers was driving. Using the key, Carr slipped out of the handcuffs, reached up front and shot the detective with his own 9mm handgun. Then he shot Bell. “I shot them both in the face,” Carr said in the radio interview. “I had to shoot one twice because I shot him and he was still trying to get the gun so I shot him again.”

The sedan stopped on the Floribraska exit ramp. There, the gunman carjacked an auto-parts truck and, with the rifle, headed north.

Stout, out of the office, heard on police radio that two people had been shot in a carjacking. He was the first Tampa police detective to arrive at the scene. When he saw the sedan, he recalled, “I thought, ‘Rick Childers beat me to this.'”

Metzler, Childers’ wife, was working as information systems manager at the Tampa Police Department and remembered supervisors calling her upstairs about 2 p.m.

“Something didn’t feel right,” she said. “They said Ricky was out on an investigation and he’s been shot and he didn’t make it. Suddenly, the bottom dropped out.”

Scrambling To Stop The Killing
With emotions swirling, detectives swung into high gear. Stout interviewed the carjacked man and put out an alert about the truck.

Others focused on Bowen, the girlfriend.

Unable to find booking photos of Bennett, police wanted any names the gunman might use. Police and court records related to the case say Bowen continued to say her boyfriend’s name was Joseph Bennett.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m., a Florida Highway Patrol trooper stopped at Floribraska Avenue to report other troopers had spotted the truck on Interstate 75 in Pasco County.
Crooks, 23, a trooper on the job just eight months, pulled up in traffic behind Carr on the exit ramp for State Road 54.

Timothy Bain, now 30 and living in Sarasota, was a University of South Florida student driving to a job at the Saddlebrook Resort that afternoon. Bain said he saw Carr pop out of the truck and raise a gun.
“I ducked down,” Bain recalled. “I was just praying I wasn’t going to get shot.”

Bain said he heard gunfire, then glass shattering. He peeked over the dashboard to see another motorist try to run over Carr. Carr climbed back into the truck and drove away.

The trooper’s car began rolling down the exit ramp. Bain said he ran after it, reaching inside to apply the brake. The trooper had been shot in the head.
“It was obvious he was beyond saving,” Bain said.

An Audience Before Dying
Speeding through Pasco County, Carr exchanged gunfire with Pasco deputies and shot a truck driver in the shoulder. He barreled into Hernando County and fired through a floorboard of a sheriff’s helicopter before being wounded in the buttocks.

About 3 p.m., Carr pulled into a gas station just off Interstate 75 on State Road 50 and scrambled inside for refuge. He took 27-year-old clerk Stephanie Kramer hostage.

“You know what he’s done already,” said Hernando County Sheriff Richard Nugent, who at the time supervised the negotiators at the scene. “We’re not going to let him leave.”

Tactical officers and snipers surrounded the station. So did officers from Tampa, Pasco and the highway patrol, along with news crews from the Bay Area and Orlando.

“We had the news helicopters overhead with our helicopter,” Nugent recalled. “We had to call down to the TV stations to quit showing our SWAT team live.”

The negotiators had no mobile command post and set up at a nearby hotel, Nugent said. As they worked with the phone company to limit Carr’s phone access, WFLA, 970 AM, dialed into the gas station for an on-air interview.

The station’s news director asked Carr to describe what had happened and urged him to release Kramer. “Not until I hear from my wife,” Carr said in a transcript.

Police flew Bowen in a helicopter to speak to Carr – a gamble Nugent said they had to take. “You don’t know what they’re going to say, but our options were limited.”

Carr released Kramer unharmed at 7:20 p.m. Before sending her out, he gave her the handcuff key to give to Bowen, along with letters for his mother and the children.
Then he shot himself in the head.

Dealing With A Decade Of Pain
Detectives Childers and Bell are buried in Myrtle Hill Cemetery. The year after they died, Tampa police issued a policy requiring all prisoners to be handcuffed behind their backs and to be transported in a patrol car with a screen separating the front and back seats or with an officer beside them.

“Hopefully, that will prevent this from happening again,” said Metzler, who in 2006 married a retired Tampa police officer.

Bell’s widow also remarried and moved out of state. The detectives’ children are rearing children of their own.

“I don’t cry often because I think he’s in a better place,” said Demetra Jones, 33, of Fort Myers, one of Bell’s daughters. “He was doing what he loved to do, and he died a hero.”

Bowen is housed in the Homestead Correctional Facility in Florida City, serving a 21-year sentence for being an accessory. She is scheduled for release in 2017.

Stout is president of the union representing Tampa police. Bain, who stopped the slain trooper’s car, has become a Sarasota police K9 officer.

“It was so horrible, so inhuman, the events that took place,” Bain said. “I felt so helpless at the time, and I never wanted to feel that way again.”

Some of those who lived through that day will cope today by remembering the lives lost.
McNamara planned to take the day off to visit the cemetery. Metzler said she and her husband will, too. They will bring fresh flowers.

“My advice to people is, live today like it’s your last, and treasure moments. It’s not the material things that matter,” she said. “In my heart, I treasure moments.”

Information from the Tribune archives was used in this report.

Reporter Valerie Kalfrin can be reached at (813) 259-7800 or vkalfrin@tampatrib.com.

recoleta-ar-289333

“Recoleta, please,” we instructed the taxi driver. “Oh,” he replied, you must mean the ‘village’.”

Some “village.” Recoleta is the upscale neighborhood of northern Buenos Aires, a few blocks of shops emblazoned with logos like Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy and Versace, rows of Parisian town house architecture, and of a string of more than a dozen sidewalk cafes lined up on the main street facing a park and cemetery.

My wife and I recently had a few opportunities to relax, eat long lunches and observe the great class divide separating rich and poor among the 17 million population of Buenos Aires. There isn’t much of a middle class in Argentina; taxes, inflation and currency problems never really gave it a chance.

Midsummer (theirs, not ours) in the polluted fumes of Argentina’s capital can be pretty insufferable without the breezy hills of Recoleta and the 150-year-old banyan tree that shades many of its cafes.

Summer (seasons are reversed “down south”) temperatures were pushing 100 degrees and humidity was hovering around 85 percent — maybe worse than in a real Florida heat wave.

Buenos Aires is one place where the almighty American dollar is still “almighty.” A Recoleta cafe lunch with legendary Argentine beef, local beer, mineral water and a homemade peach brandy, even though it’s in the high-rent district, will seldom reach $10 a head. With the weak dollar, the same meal in today’s Europe would cost more like $50 each.

The sights wouldn’t necessarily be the same, either. Argentine women may be, arguably, the most beautiful in the world. Must be an exotic mixture of southern European and Latin American Indian blood. The most fashionable are drawn to Recoleta; many in short Baby Doll dresses, spike heels and oversized sunglasses. Some, regardless of age, prefer skin-tight jeans with their spikes.

Gratefully for us cafe-sitting voyeurs, the styles in Recoleta are anywhere between ten and 30 years behind what we’d whistle at on Fifth Avenue, if the wolf whistle was still P.C. in New York City.

What really grabs me, though, is Recoleta’s banyan tree. I’ve been watching it grow for half a century. Now, it needs an ample number of two-by-fours to support its huge boughs, thicker than an adult torso. It’s a relief that most of the cafes are shrouded by beach umbrellas to prevent banyan seeds from splashing into our food and drink.

There’s enough competition for our leftovers, anyway. Bold pigeons patrol between tables, hoping to pick up a few scraps. Waiters scare off the most aggressive birds by clapping their hands or slamming their trays against the tables. Never seen a waitress in a Recoleta cafe, by the way; wait staff seems to be entirely male-dominated all over Buenos Aires.

Also wandering between Recoleta tables are armies of child beggars and ragged flower girls hoping to pick up a peso or two from the drinking class. Usually, the waiters chase them away, just like the pigeons. One exception: a shoeshine boy/beggar offers his services for a dollar while you eat.

One beggar, somewhat of a Recoleta fixture, roams outside the cafes, dressed as a clown and making wistful melodies with an accordion. The strains of his mournful music lends an unreal atmosphere to Recoleta’s cafe life, especially when he’s joined in a chorus of “La Vie En Rose” by an Edith Piaf wannabe or even a couple of passionate tango dancers.

I’ve often wondered what the neighbors across the street will say about Recoleta’s boisterous cafe life? Nothing; they’re all dead, safely entombed in fancy mausoleums.

About 200 feet from cafe row is the 12-acre Recoleta Cemetery, a.k.a. “The City of the Dead,” final resting place for some 6,000 of Argentina’s rich and famous. One who went down in infamy 55 years ago is former “B”-actress and presidential spouse, “Evita” Peron, patron saint of Argentina’s poor.

What remains of her cancer-riddled cadaver is three stories down in a nuclear bomb-proof family mausoleum. A map at the cemetery entrance shows you how to find your favorite sculptured mausoleum.

My personal “honey” is a teenage girl who died twice just over a century ago. An illness supposedly got her the initial interment in Recoleta. She woke up, clawed her way out of her coffin, only to “re-die” of a heart attack. But that was all across the street. Reminds me of the Key West bar room slogan: “Hog’s breath is better than no breath at all.”

Politicians: They Say One Thing, Do Another

I’ve wondered a lot about the fact that the political class in this country is so obtuse. Here’s more evidence:

The continual bickering about gas and oil taxes accents the policy confusion or maybe cynicism and greed of our politicians.

They say they want lower gas prices but don’t want more production to increase supply. The last oil refinery was built 40 years ago.

They say they want oil self-sufficiency, but they’ve declared the big domestic sources of oil that would take the place of foreign imports off limits. Cuba and China can drill within 50 miles of our shores but ‘we’ can’t!

They want substitutes for oil and gas. So what’s their solution? They subsidize the hell out of corn, a vital food crop so it can be used for ethanol production. What happens? Corn prices rise through the roof, making food and other commercial corn by-products unavailable, therefore raising prices. Farmers, the only source of corn we have quickly figure out they can make more money and plant more corn causing shortages in our other food stuffs.

With a non-food plant available in Brazil available to make ethanol, we (our

Congress) refuses to reduce tariffs on them. Where’s Alice?

With prices going up and inflation rapidly rising, what have our major political parties foisted on us now? Three candidates hell bent on raising our taxes.

They want Americans to reduce oil usage to cut greenhouse gases, but they protest higher oil prices that reduce the demand. Which begs the question, why are a small group of self proclaimed environmentalists making policy for the whole nation? I thought that the Congress made the country’s policies for the citizens? I thought the usual way to gain political ends was to buy a bunch of congressmen/women? Do the environmentalists have that much money or is the Congress cheaper now?

They want oil companies to invest, but they are ready to take away those profits from that investment.

Maybe it’s time to apply mental, ethical and criminal standard tests for congressional candidates. Perhaps we ought to start with county government!

Maybe Mark Twain was right when he called them “Our only native criminal class.”

D. W. Plezia

Spring Hill