Hillsborough Commissioners vote down transportation tax on 4-3 vote

The nearly three year long campaign to put a half-cent transportation tax on this November’s ballot in Hillsborough County died on Wednesday night.

After hearing from more than 60 people over four hours, the Board of County Commissioners rejected the Go Hillsborough plan on a 4-3 vote.

Saying that he was going with his “gut feeling,” Commissioner Victor Crist announced that he would oppose the measure, killing the hopes and dreams of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and many people in Tampa who say the region’s transportation problems required the funding that the 30-year plan would bring into the county and city’s coffers.

The 30-year tax would have brought in $117.5 million dollars to the county, the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace and HART, the region’s bus system. But the 400 road, bridge and mass transit projects that would be financed by the tax increase if approved by the voters were only set for the first 10 years, a problem mentioned by numerous speakers.

According to the account of Crist, the 62 members of the public who spoke were dead split in their allegiance to the plan, with 31 supporting and 31 in opposition.

The tensions between the dueling camps erupted early on, when Tea Party activist Tim Curtis  shouted at Buckhorn after he told commissioners and the public that it would be a lie if anybody during the course of the evening said the plan was about Hillsborough County paying for a rail plan. Curtis was admonished by County Chairman Les Miller.

“He called me a liar!” Curtis responded.

When Buckhorn resumed, he told the seven board members that they’d better not support a hybrid proposal for only five or ten years duration, and not the full 30 years. “I can’t issue debt on anything less than 30 years,” he said. “I can’t go to the federal government without a revenue stream that is consistent, that is long term.”

Rumors had circulated in recent weeks that Commissioner Kevin Beckner would offer a shorter proposal of perhaps just 10 years, in order to get more buy-in.  And in fact after the three hours of public discussion had ended, Beckner proposed an amendment to support a 20-year tax plan. It didn’t receive a second vote.

Earlier he did have an amended approved that would increase the transparency and accountability measures of the proposal, offering up an 11-member board of appointees who would oversee the projects and spending. But while that amendment won support, the overall measure failed.

Beckner, Commission Chairman Les Miller, and Commissioner Ken Hagan supported the measure. Crist, Stacy White, Al Higginbotham and Sandy Murman opposed it.

“When I saw this was going to be thirty years – all or nothing – I cannot support it,” Murman said, alluding to how the public still doesn’t feel the effects from the economic recovery. “We have not had a successful transportation referendum in 14 years in Florida. It better be good. It better be worth it.”

In the end, she said it wasn’t.

During the public discussion, opponents continued to tout the idea that the county government has the funds in their budget to pay for transportation, and simply didn’t want to do so, instead preferring to hit up taxpayers.

“I come to find out that…you’re only spending 3 percent of your budget on transportation,” Len Mead said, a figure he said was only a third of what other counties in the state spend on transportation. “Please don’t put this tax hike anywhere. Just reallocate the growing taxes you’ve already got and spend maybe more five to ten percent more on transportation.”

Connect Tampa Bay’s Kevin  Thurman said that wasn’t remotely accurate, a point that County Administrator Mike Merrill had also rebutted in recent weeks, saying that taking more money out of the budget would put a strain on other essential services that the county provides.

Tampa attorney David Mechanik was effusive in praising the planners of Go Hillsborough for going throughout the community to hear what the citizenry wants, calling it “extraordinary.”

“You will hear people say there’s too much transit in this plan, you will hear people say there’s not enough transit. This is a very well balanced plan,” he said.

Ray Chiaramonte, TBARTA’s economic director, called the vote a “crucial moment” in the community’s history, similar to when the decision was made to build Tampa International Airport and USF. He said that after reviewing 14 different focus groups after the 2010 Moving Hillsborough transit tax was defeated, he said the people said afterwards that they didn’t want big projects, but for the county to go move incrementally, which is what he said Go Hillsborough does.

“You have to let the community weigh in on this,” he insisted.

And then there were those with ambivalent feelings. Tampa resident Chris Kenney said he supported the objectives of the plan “100 percent,” but said he was vehemently opposed to using a sales tax to do it, saying it disproportionately effects people of modest means.

While Go Hillsborough supporters said in a democracy the people should get the opportunity vote on whether they wanted a tax, opponents said that America wasn’t a democracy, but a republic. “We do not put every difficult question out to the public so that you can con them,” said Valrico resident Kathy Brown. “Three years ago you hired Go Hillsborough without putting out bids and spent $1.3 million of our tax money and wasted three years of our time!” she complained, a reference to the money that went to transportation engineering company Parsons Brinckerhoff, who put together the Go Hillsborough plan.

The contracting out of that plan ultimately led to a lengthy investigation by the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department, though they ultimately didn’t find any wrongdoing.

Nevertheless, the investigation took up valuable time that Go Hillsborough supporters lost in making their case.



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MeFi: A Century of Beverly Cleary

“I owe my literacy learning and appreciation to a mother who loved reading, read aloud, and believed in the use of the public library, and to my teachers who were strict in teaching the tools of writing.”

Beverly Cleary celebrates her hundredth birthday next week. She recently spoke to the Oregonian about her long career.

Born on a farm in Oregon, Cleary’s mother was a school teacher and her father was a farmer. Early in her education she was classified as a struggling reader. A librarian at her school introduced her to books that she enjoyed, and not only did she catch up in her reading, but she developed a lifelong love of books and libraries. The interaction had a profound effect on her and shaped what she strove to inspire in her young readers:

The feeling that reading is pleasure that can be enjoyed alone, that the written word has something to say that is worth discovering, and most of all, the feeling that now the reader is free to go on as far as he wants to go. This is the feeling given me by the first book I was able to read for pleasure. That discovery was one of the most exciting moments of my life and one that I hope to pass on to children.

Eventually Cleary graduated with a degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington, where there is now an endowed seat in children’s librarianship named for her. She fell in love with Clarence Cleary but as he was Catholic, her parents did not approve of the match and so they eloped. She worked as a children’s librarian, and ended up with her husband in the Bay Area during WWII, where she worked in a bookstore and as an army librarian.

As she told the New York Times, it was dissatisfaction with the style of children’s books that prompted a change in career:

What ultimately drove her to write for children, she recalled, was a book she noticed when she had a job in a children’s bookstore in the 1940s. In it, a puppy said: “Bow-wow. I like the green grass.”

“No dog I had ever known could talk like that,” Cleary said. She wondered once again, as she frequently had while working as a children’s librarian, “What was the matter with authors?”

Her conclusion: “I knew I could write a better book.”

She ended up writing dozens of books and winning many awards for her work, including the National Medal of Arts, the William Allen White Children’s Book award, the Catholic Library Association’s Regina Medal, and the Children’s Book Council’s Every Child Award. The American Library Association gave her the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for “substantial and lasting contributions to children’s literature” as well as the Newberry Award which is given to “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.”

After returning to Oregon, Cleary created a world of interconnected children who live in the same neighborhood and appear in multiple books. She chose Klickitat Street, a few blocks from where she grew up on 37th street, as the heart of her fictional world because she liked the sound of the name. Among her many characters:

  • Ramona Quimby Originally introduced as a younger sibling to Beezus, as Cleary was concerned that she had written too many only children, Ramona went on to appear in many more books. Cleary speculated that children like Ramona because

    “she does not learn to be a better girl. I was so annoyed with the books in my childhood, because children always learned to be better children, and in my experience, they didn’t. They just grew, and so I started Ramona, and – and she has never reformed. And she – she’s really not a naughty child, in spite of the title of Ramona the Pest. Her intentions are good, but she has a lot of imagination, and things sometimes don’t turn out the way she had expected.”

    (In the late 80s, Ramona’s story was adapted as a short-lived tv series starring a young Sarah Polley; full episodes are available online: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – warning: extreme 80s-ness in the opening credits)

  • Henry Huggins Along with his faithful companion, Ribsy the dog, Henry represents the kind of ordinary child that Cleary knew from her time as a school librarian. Henry Huggins was Cleary’s first book, and she wanted to present a realistic portrayal of the everyday lives of children from their perspective. This book was in response to a child who asked her “Where are the books about kids like us?”
  • Ralph S. Mouse When Ralph, a mouse living in a hotel in California, comes across a toy motorcycle, he befriends the toy’s owner, a boy called Keith. Ralph is a mouse who can speak, but only with certain people who “tend to be loners“.
  • Otis Spofford Published in 1953, it was unusual at the time for depicting a child of divorced parents. Otis Spofford is a fourth grader with glow in the dark shoelaces who is often left at home alone. He likes nothing better than “stirring up a little excitement“.

She also wrote picture books for younger readers, and a four-part series called “First Love” to keep up with her readers as they grew into high school.

On her 90th birthday, Cleary was interviewed at her home in Carmel, California (transcript). And more recently, Jenna Bush Hager (herself the daughter of a children’s librarian) spoke with Cleary, asking her whether she was excited about turning one hundred. Cleary replied, “well, I didn’t do it on purpose!”

Why not take some advice from Ramona Quimby, age 8, and drop everything and read to celebrate? Or if you prefer, you can call it Sustained Silent Reading. Every year, Cleary’s birthday is celebrated as “Drop Everything and Read Day“, an event which encourages families to clear some time and read together. There’s a color flyer you can print (pdf), or some bookmarks (pdf) or stickers (pdf). Many more resources are available on the D.E.A.R. website.

If you’re in the Portland, OR area, you can take a self-guided walking tour of where the events in the books took place (pdf map available) or visit the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden in Grant Park. On Saturday there will be a celebration at the Beverly Cleary Children’s Library where you can enjoy interactive live readings, crafts, games and activities, as well as multiple screenings of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Art Beat Special “featuring an exclusive interview with Mrs. Cleary, which takes a look at both her life and award-winning work. It explores her strong connection to Oregon, from her time growing up in Yamhill and Northeast Portland, her legacy and the impact of her writing on both the field of children’s literature and on young readers worldwide”. If you can’t make it to a screening, you can watch it online at the Oregon Public Broadcasting website where there’s much more Clearyania, including a quiz, photos, and information about her life in Oregon.

More on her centenary here (“people tell me I don’t look a day over 80”), and here (“I’m surprised that I’m almost 100. I sometimes write the figures down on paper to make sure”), and here (“No, I haven’t [read Harry Potter]. I rarely read children’s books.”) and a timeline of her life here.

Rowdies earn late draw with Miami on Georgi Hristov goal

The Tampa Bay Rowdies waited long enough for their first goal of 2016.

The Rowdies went scoreless for the season’s first 175 minutes, but earned their second draw of the season against Miami FC Saturday night.

Georgi Hristov scored in the 85th minute to tie the game at 1-1 after Dario Cvitanich opened the scoring in the 17th minute. Tampa Bay had trouble solving Miami, which was playing its first home game, but got the equalizer just ahead of the buzzer.

“It was an exciting game,” Tampa Bay Head Coach Stuart Campbell said. “It was end-to-end and both teams tried to attack. We’re very disappointed to concede the goal we did because it was from a set piece. Before the game, we went through Miami’s strength on set pieces, so that’s disappointing to concede.

“I was happy with the reaction from the players after that,” Campbell said. “I thought we went on to create a couple of chances and at halftime we had a good chat. I was extremely pleased with the second half performance.”

On the Rowdies’ tying goal, Eric Avila was fouled inside of Miami’s 18-yard penalty box. Hristov scored from there.

“It wasn’t only me,” Hristov said. “We started playing a little bit better in the second half because we had to go all in for a goal. We tried our best and it was a very good play by Eric Avila before the penalty. The penalty was not easy, because there was a lot of pressure, but I’m happy that I managed to score.”

Between Hristov’s goal and the final whistle, the Rowdies looked likely to score a winner.

In the 90th minute, Hristov nearly scored the winner, striking a hard shot from the right side of the box and forcing Miami FC goalkeeper Daniel Vega to palm it over the crossbar and out for a corner kick. The ensuing corner kick created a chance for Tommy Heinemann, but Vega again made the save and the Rowdies were unable to get onto the rebound.

“A point on the road is good, provided you win your home matches,” Campbell said. “We’ve got two home matches coming up next that we’re looking forward to.”

Tampa Bay will be home Saturday night against FC Edmonton.

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flushable computing

In electrical engineering class, I was told to think of electric circuits with a kind of hydraulic analogy. But could you extend this to entire computers? The Rube Goldberg Machine That Mastered Keynesian Economics, built by John Horton Conway[PDF] from a urinal flush mechanism.

He wasn’t the only one: Kiwi engineer-turned-economist Bill Phillips built Phillips machine, or MONIAC at Cambridge to model the complex, interconnected British economy.

It had to be put back together by Allen McRobie from the engineering department – “no economist could work out quite how Phillips had pieced the original machine together.”

The Crypto-Water Computer. Gloop.

In 1936, Vladimir Lukyanov built a water computer to solve partial differential equations, the “water integrator.”

Everything old is new again: Moore’s Law Is About To Get Weird

MeFi: The Mastermind

“My immediate reaction upon discovering this connection was a sudden and irrational fear: Le Roux was something new, a self-made cartel boss whose origins were not in family connections but in code. Not just any code, but encryption software that would play a role in world events a dozen years after he created it.

I stared at the address on the screen, a post-office box in Manila, left now with a still larger mystery: What had turned the earnest, brilliant programmer into an international criminal, with a trail of bodies in his wake?

Le Roux is now thought to have been a major contributor to TrueCrypt a mysterious and effective encryption tool. TrueCrypt shut down with a warning of an unknown security issue around the time Le Roux was picked up by the US government. (via Hacker News.)