elginjones3web.gifA LIFE SAVED
Alyssa Smith is a 2-year-old girl who lives in Tampa. She needs medical equipment just to stay alive. That equipment uses electricity. It plugs into a wall outlet, with six hours of battery storage as a backup in the event of a power outage. Her family members say they provided a utility and critical service notification form to the power company, Tampa Electric, several months ago. The notice, they say, informed the company of Alyssa's condition. But on Aug. 26, the company, which is the main subsidiary of TECO Energy, Inc., turned off the electricity at Alyssa's home because of past-due bills. The company told the Smiths that there was no record of anyone living in the home, and that there was no record of their making a deposit. A social worker from Tampa General Hospital informed the power company of the child's medical condition, also, and made a $460 payment toward the deposit, hoping to get the power restored. The company, however, demanded another $1,000, which the family did not have. Time was running out for Alyssa, whose life-sustaining equipment had only two hours of power left. The family contacted the South Florida Times after hearing a radio ad. Our Investigative Help Team went into action. A company spokesperson told us that Tampa Electric was unaware of the child's situation, and had no record of any utility and critical service notification form. The form is supposed to protect people who need electricity for lifesaving equipment from having their power switched off for nonpayment of the bills. The spokesperson told us the company only knew that the family was not paying its electric bills. The spokesperson also said the company believed that the home was unoccupied.  After the South Florida Times spoke to the family and several people in the company, Tampa Electric agreed to restore power to the family's home.  I am happy to report that Alyssa is doing fine, and we will continue to monitor the situation.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum has announced that the state will receive $58.2 million as part of a $2.3 billion settlement with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Incorporated over improper marketing practices. The company advertised its pain-relieving drug Bextra and three other drugs: anti-psychotic medication Geodon, the antibiotic Zyvox and the anti-epileptic drug Lyrica, for uses that were not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The South Florida Times can be found in CVS, Publix Supermarkets, Winn Dixie Supermarkets, Cumberland Farms and hundreds of other locations throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Impressive, yes, but our website is just as significant, receiving more than 1 million hits a month. We now have several interactive features, allowing visitors to sign up for breaking news alerts, leave comments about articles, and watch our online TV station. Log on and get involved in the growing SFLTimes.com experience.

During a hearing at Don Shula's Hotel & Golf Club in Miami Lakes on Saturday, Aug. 29, the judicial council of the Florida Democratic Party voted to remove Elizabeth "Lizzie" Jenkins as president of the party's Democratic Black Caucus. Jenkins, of Alachua County, was removed amid allegations of financial improprieties and other concerns. Party Chairwoman Karen Thurman did not respond to questions about Jenkins' ouster, or allegations that the move was politically motivated. The Black Caucus is the Florida Democratic Party's oldest and longest running affiliate organization. It has been mired in controversy. One of the issues is the recent debacle in the Broward County chapter. There, a rogue group held its own, private election of officers, and raised money in the name of the local chapter. Initially, Thurman and others at party headquarters ignored the situation in Broward. But then, other chapters began reporting problems, leaving party headquarters no choice but to take action. Eventually, the party confirmed that Alan Brown of Lauderhill was the legitimate president of the Broward chapter, not the Rev. Josh Brown of Hallandale Beach, [no relation]. Several others were issued orders from the party to cease and desist representing themselves as officers of the Caucus.

American Airlines Inc. announced on Tuesday, Sept. 1 that it is cutting 921 flight attendant positions by Oct. 1, as part of its goal to eliminate 1,200 fight attendant jobs by the end of the year.

The U.S. Postal Service has narrowed the list of post offices under consideration for consolidation or closure from 677 nationwide to 413. More could be cut when a final determination list is released on Oct. 2. But as it currently stands, South Florida will have 12 fewer post offices. Three of them are in Palm Beach County, three in Broward, and six in Miami-Dade County.

Palm Beach County

Sunday, Aug. 30 marked the last printed edition of the Boca Raton News. The newspaper had been reduced from a daily to a three-day-a-week publication. Now it is only available online. It was first published more than 55 years ago.

Congratulations to Dr. Lester Rosen, M.D., of Boca Raton, who has been selected as the Health Care Professional of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches. Dr. Rosen works with the Cleveland Clinic in West Palm Beach in his tireless efforts to raise awareness of colorectal cancer and how to prevent the disease.

As more people are finding themselves in dire economic straits, Palm Beach County Commission Chairman Jeff Koons wants a law banning panhandling and begging. Any ban would likely also apply to youth sports teams, churches and charities that solicit donations at traffic intersections. County commissioners demonstrated compassion and shot down the idea, at least for now. But expect it to come up again. Panhandlers of any kind can be annoying, but Koons should take care that he does not find himself in such a situation some day.

No charges have been filed against former Boynton Beach City Commissioner David Katz just yet, but the buzz is that they are on the way. Katz has been under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI over his alleged voting on contracts for several towing companies when he was also a paid lobbyist for them. The Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office has already issued the complaint, and his arrest could be imminent.

Broward County

Broward County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion just filed his state-required financial disclosure form. He filed on the Sept. 1 deadline. Had he missed the deadline, he would have been eligible for fines. The documents were due on July 1, but fines would not have been assessed until Sept. 2.  The form shows Eggelletion has a net worth of $535,000, and that his income came from his $92,000 county commission salary, plus $15,000 from a Hollywood man.

Broward School District Superintendent Jim Notter could soon be dealing with allegations of widespread racial discrimination, fraud, cronyism and nepotism in an apprentice program in the school district's Maintenance Division. The district has yet to respond to allegations that most of the coveted jobs in the program go to the family members of school board members and department heads, while denying opportunities to black people.

Deerfield Beach City Manager Mike Mahaney has stopped returning calls to the media, and it's anyone's guess why that is.  It could be because commissioners have repeatedly called him on the carpet over budget issues. At Tuesday night's meeting, Commissioner Bill Ganz led the charge in criticizing Mahaney's budget proposal. Only Commissioner Sylvia Poitier appeared to be supportive of it, but it doesn't look good, and there will be chaos at the upcoming budget meetings.

Miami-Dade County

Florida regulators have approved the emergency merger of the near-failed Mount Sinai Federal Credit Union with Peoples Credit Union, which is based in North Miami. This comes as the Florida Office of Financial Regulation announced that the number of financial institutions facing trouble on its watch list has more than tripled over this time last year. Welcome to hard times.

The Public Service Commission has reached a settlement with TCG Public Communications, requiring the company to pay $1.25 million in fees to state regulators for overcharging consumers. The overcharges stem from prisoners making collect calls from Miami-Dade County jails. The PSC estimates that TCG collected $6.3 million in the overcharges between 2001 and 2007. This is a start, but all of the money should have been taken from this company. Now, consumers should sue to get back every penny of what was taken from them.