Speakgeek's Blog

Packed with hardly a seat in the house Justice Cole led the circus for individuals with who disobeyed the law… in their automobile.
Pasco County traffic court was a familiar place to me, but I was glad to be back without an infraction.
Back in high school I consulted my brother, who is also familiar with traffic court, what to do when I got a speeding ticket. With fear that I would no longer have a car because of increased insurance rates, my brother assured me that it would be easy; “they only want your money,” he said. “Plead no contest, and tell them you’ll pay the ticket!” He also explained in detail other ways you could get out of the ticket, some that were displayed in court.
The first thing that Cole got out of the way was the people who wanted to plead “No Contest.” Most individuals stood up, he looked through all their cases, and withheld their points, but made them pay the ticket within a reasonable amount of time. The (majority of) others missed the boat, as they stood up and pleaded their case of non-guilty.
Out of many attempts to fool the judge, the defendants failed to remember that this is not the judge’s first rodeo.
One of the memorable stories was a man fighting with the judge and police officer saying that there is no possible way he was traveling as fast as the officer said, and if he was, he’d run into the car that was in front of him and he demanded to see the radar guns calibration. There was a dull roar among the remaining crowd. Needless to tell any more details, the man was sentenced to pay his full fine, court fees, and receive the points.
The other interesting thing is that a few people were let off because the cop that pulled them over was not attending the court session. While it was very few people, you have the very small chance of getting off entirely, and even if you don’t a no contest plea saves you the points, so the option of going to court is very good, but also disgusting (in my opinion).
The reason I state this, is that when you hear the Florida Highway Patrol speak about traffic infractions, they always state that they issue tickets in order to keep everyone safe. The message I got out of sitting in court is that they just want our money. If we wanted to be taught a lesson, the points, which supposedly increase insurance fees, would be issued. When we get our insurance bill in the mail, we would be kicking ourselves for not abiding the law. Instead, we pay them a couple hundred dollars, and then speed home, not thinking about it.
While this was and is troubling to me, I guess I am willing to live with it now. I’m more of the upfront payment guy vs. the long term a** kicking.
The court experience was fine, and a great opportunity to people watch, but I feel that the traffic court system is still a disappointment.


While the first meeting I attended was also a Board of County Commissioners meeting, this one was quite different.

There were many different items voted on during this meeting, but one certain topic that stuck out particularly dealt with what we have been studying. There were also a few other items, and people present that made this meeting tie in with our class.

Pat Bean and Renee Lee were under fire at the Hillsborough County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, March 17; and it all seemed like a mess. After doing research, it seems that Bean and Lee are being accused of going through Jim Barnes email (another county official). Due to their actions, all 3 individuals contracts with the county are being reviewed and could be terminated. The county approved (in a vote) to hire attorney Richard McCray to represent the county in this matter.

Although I am unfamiliar with the back-story of this issue, it seems to me that county officials email could be public records. The fact that Bean, and Lee are under such high scrutiny and have their jobs at stake suggests to me that what they where looking at was off limits, and what Barnes had been sending had been something that is unacceptable as a county official. One county commissioner, who was initially for terminating Bean, Lee, and Barnes contracts, has changed her mind because of the severance pay that could be involved with paying these officials. This email debate/scandal went on for the majority of the meeting.

Among other issues being brought up at the county commissioners meeting, Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance was brought up. This is the non-profit organization that was using public tax dollars to eat lavish meals, and also was involved with other misuse of public tax money. It seems that they continue to be brought up wherever I go.  Also, one of our new friends, Pat Frank, clerk of circuit court attended the meeting.

The one thing I have in question, both Board of County Commissioner meetings alike, everything gets voted in. Most everything (as I recall) was voted in with 100% votes for the issue. This didn’t just occur at this meeting, but also at the Pasco meeting as well. Obviously at a higher level, certain issues (generally) fall under heavy scrutiny and revision before being passed.

This meeting was a great experience and really had some information that pertained to what we have been learning about in class. Throw in Pat Frank, and the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, it felt a little bit more like a party, than a meeting.

Could it be that we are the best class ever? Maybe its that Professor Thelen is a Rockstar among Hillsborough County officials. Either way Preston Trigg made a stop by our class for his second time!

Unlike last time, where Trigg spoke about retrieving public tax documents and their rules, he spoke about Government budgets, how they are spent, and the dreaded M word!

One of the examples given to us by Trigg was a spreadsheet that displayed last years costs vs this years cost. He explained that we would want to look thoroughly and question anything that sounded unreasonable. In this case, there were a couple of misleading things, like a 120,000% increase in vehicle purchases. While this number looks huge, last years spending on vehicles was 0%. The one area of spending Trigg pointed out as one that would be questioned would be the 18% increase in employee salaries. When you think about it, everyone working under the office would obviously have some sort of income, and an 18% increase overall is a pretty large increase for 1 year.

Then came the M word! Millage!!! While Trigg spoke about this, Professor Thelen cringed…

Basically millage is a unit of taxing measurement. Based on certain aspects of your house/surrounding property, you are assigned as certain millage tax. The example given to us by Trigg was if we live in a house appraised at $100,000, and we were taxed 5 mils, then we would be paying $5,000 in taxes.

Although you may think about million when you hear the word mil, it is derived from Latin, meaning 1,000.

Trigg gave me another worth while trip that I definitely took some great information out of. Even though he isn’t scheduled to be back at our class before the end, he might not resist coming back to the most awesome class with the most handsome professor at USF!

At a Pasco County Board of County Commissioners meeting, a 12 million dollar sports complex took one step closer to construction.
While many propositions were voted on in a positive favor, the vote on a proposed finance plan to build a 5 field sports complex in New Port Richey was quite different at the Pasco County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, March 16th. Although the proposal passed with a vote of 4 to 1, Commissioner Jack Mariano, the only no vote, expressed his strong opinion against the funding of this complex. Mariano doesn’t believe that this massive “Sportsplex” will bring in the crowd that is expected, nor needed to fund this beast.

The other county commissioners disagreed, stating that the Sportsplex would bring in additional tax revenue through many different actions. Commissioner Ted Schrader stated that he thinks the Sportsplex would be a great use of tax funds. Not only would the Sportsplex bring in people, the surrounding area would have larger attendance at hotels and other businesses, and Pasco’s tax revenue would increase.

The budget displayed at the meeting totaled 12 million dollars for the construction of the Sportsplex. Pasco County already owns a 24 acre parcel they would plan to put the Sportsplex on, but has reserved 1 million dollars in funds for expansion if the project gets off the ground.

Sportsplex USA is a recreational facility company based out of California. Although they would be in charge of running the facility, they would take no responsibility in building it.
Attending the meeting were (of course) the Pasco County Commissioners, business looking individuals, and their attorneys. There were also some reporters from the Tampa Tribune present. Other things that were voted on during the commissioners meeting ranged from county finances, to land usage changes. Most everything passed!

While there were other propositions voted on related to different projects, they didn’t seem to stand out compared to the Sportsplex. Rightfully so, the Sportsplex is a fund hungry proposition, and with a rushed plan, it could potentially fail and be another huge waste of tax dollars.

It seems like the sources for public records is never ending, except when you come here…

Visiting the Hillsborough County Medical Examiners office was a great trip that left us with another source for public records. The tour of the facilities was fun and educational.

Dr. Adams introduced us to the field of “medical examiners.” It is the medical examiners duty to perform autopsies and find out the cause of death on a deceased human being. Adams talked about other duties of the medical examiner, and discussed the public records aspect of the job. One thing that really stood out to me was Dr. Adams explanation and position on the “Earnhardt Law.” Pictures and video of autopsies used to be public records. After the death of Dale Earnhardt, a law was passed (quite quickly) stating that photo and video of autopsies are no longer public records and can only be released to the immediate families. Dr. Adams made a very interesting comment that made me think; he said that “any good legislation” is something that doesn’t initially get voted on, but gets beat up, and refined, and 3-4 years later evolves in something that is a polished law. This comment was very relevant to the topic, and it also pertained to the current health care reform bill that just passed.

The rest of the tour was memorable. We were brought into offices that house public records, and other vital documents. The fun part was all the laboratories that they performed all types of tests on to determine the cause of death. One of the lab assistants was performing a test to determine whether or not an individual was poisoned. If poisoned, the copper coil turned black, if not, it remained copper. The test turned out negative for poison!

This was a great experience and I was bummed that we weren’t able to visit the labs where they perform the autopsies. I hope when I visit the medical examiners office next it is because of my career, and not for other reasons!

Visiting the Hillsborough County Courthouse was a great experience, and one that I will remember because I know I will be back there soon.

Pat Frank started the tour by introducing herself and going over some basic rules and regulations pertaining to the court. Frank is a seasoned veteran when it comes to her knowledge about the court system. One point that Frank mentioned, that amazed me, was the amount of paper public records that exist. I don’t think anyone would argue that the building (the courthouse) we were all in was huge; and most of the records aren’t even in there! According to Frank, there is a warehouse that has multiple boxes filing thousands of public records. While they could digitize them all, it would take a lot of work, and that labor costs a lot of money, and that’s money that isn’t available to them right now. Some of the records are of people who are and have been deceased. With a lot of the old public records being boxed up and kept it the warehouse, it almost seems discouraging to people who would like access to them. As we have discussed, we must pay the labor and copy costs to get these public records. In order to track down some of these really antiquated records, it seems like it could take a lot of searching!

Following Frank, Dana Caranante took us on a tour of the Courthouse. She showed us where, and how to get different public records we may be looking for. Some of the public records we might want access to, again, aren’t available inside the courthouse. The most interesting place to me, and somewhere I know I will be spending some time, are the court rooms.

I really appreciate the trip to the courthouse. It was a great experience and I feel prepared for the next time I go. As long as I bring some quarters, I should be fine!

The trip to News Channel 8 to meet with Steve Andrews has been my favorite so far and has given me insight to what I might want to do with my career.

Steve Andrews makes his living by digging deep; getting leads and finding public records that help him expose and report sensational stories to the Tampa Bay community.

One of Steve’s top stories was about a non profit organization who was using tax payer money to eat lavish meals. The methods he used to report this story; like purchasing all the meals that were purchased by the executives of these companies, made not only for great television, but an awesome story. By having such visuals (the full menu of food ordered by the executives), and combining them with the amount of money spent by this company, he was able to create (at least for me) a valuable news story that is very important to anyone who cares where their tax money is spent.

By uncovering the organizations luxurious eating habits, Steve was also able to discover other unscrupulous behavior performed within the organization. There was a list of terminated associates who were paid to sign hush agreements; agreeing to not speak about any sort of actions preformed inside the company. Steve “interviewed” one of the associates on camera; where she didn’t answer a single one of his questions. This was followed up by an attempted interview with the company’s president, where she walked away stating “I have some things I have to do.” People in the public eye, who refuse to comment on accusations that they did something wrong, can pretty much confirm that they are admitting to guilt.

Exposing an organization funded by tax money helps everyone in the Tampa community know that there are people helping to unveil wrong doings. Steve’s work is nothing less than inspirational. Without investigative reporting, the amount of negative activity, especially being done on a political level, would go unknown, and would grow even larger than it already is.

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