In an effort to continue the legacy of being the meanest city in America, apparently, Orlando has now taken to the woods to chase the homeless out of the City Beautiful.

Regular readers might recall the saga of Robert “Scooter” Searles and his brethren (and a few sistren), who are living in a patch of woods near the intersection of John Young Parkway and Princeton Street `“No man’s land,” Jan. 10`. The area has been a homeless camp for years, and the residents have assembled the equivalent of a small city in the bush. Many of the camps there have electricity (supplied by generators) and one even has a mailbox.

The city is well aware of the camp; police and the code enforcement officers have been there many times. And until recently, the policy has been “out of sight, out of mind.”

But suddenly the city wants the squatters gone by April 28. If they refuse, they’ll be arrested. The land, which is for sale, is owned by a bank in Ohio. City officials say they have a signed trespass notice from the bank, though as of press time they could not produce it, either for us or for members of Orlando Direct Action, an activist group trying to fight the eviction.

Jackie Dowd, a local lawyer who has researched the situation, says people living near the woods were upset by a recent fire set by camp residents and by the fact that some are registered sex offenders. While talking to the campers, Dowd says she learned that most, if not all, of the men living in the woods are veterans.

Dowd says that if the city has paperwork from the bank authorizing them to kick everyone out, there isn’t much she can do. If not, she intends to fight, because there is nowhere else for the homeless living there to go. Stay tuned.

Speaking of stories you read first in the Weekly, remember forever ago when we blew the whistle on Orkin `“The Orkin scam,” Sept. 25, 2003`? Long story short: The pest-control giant had to pay a Ponte Vedra Beach resident named Collier Black $3 million after arbitrators ruled that Orkin “recklessly exposed `the Blacks` to the endangerment of life and safety, including subjecting `Black` and his family to living in a portion of the home that was demonstrably structurally unsound, which could have caused serious and permanent damage or death.”

As our investigation revealed, Orkin certified homes as termite-free when they weren’t, faked contractual termite reinspections and gave the contractors they sent to fix damaged homes incentives to cut corners, which often included not pulling the requisite permits.

After Black exacted his pound of flesh, the attorney general’s office – led by now-Gov. Charlie Crist – launched a racketeering investigation `see “Florida vs. Orkin,” July 1, 2004`.

On March 7, the state AG’s office – now led by Bill McCollum – settled with Orkin, according to a settlement agreement obtained by Orlando Weekly, for what amounts to an effete slap on the wrist. Orkin had to pay the state $80,000 for costs and agree not to screw up again (though Orkin didn’t concede that it misbehaved). Orkin does have to contact all of its Florida customers for whom the company did repair work after Jan. 1, 2002, without pulling permits, if the company did more than $7,500 worth of work.

For the next four years, the state reserves the right to periodically police Orkin’s re-inspection program, though the state has to give the company a three-day heads-up. If the company gets caught acting naughty, the state could charge Orkin under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Act.

Were we cynics, we might think the AG’s rollover has to do with the fact that McCollum once worked at the Orlando law firm – Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell – that represented Orkin in their fight against Black and in negotiations with the state. But we are not cynical.

Do you love the Lord? Even more than you love quick children? Or manatees? Or the Everglades? Or dead astronauts? Or soccer? Or NASCAR? Or one of the 80,000 things the state of Florida has deemed worthy to be on a license plate?

Well, sir, do we have a tag for you. Thanks to Rep. Ed Bullard, a Miami Democrat, you may soon have the chance to own your very own Jesus tag! (Not to be outdone, New Port Richey Republican State Sen. Mike Fasano is pushing his own “In God We Trust” plate.)

As with all the other specialty tags, you’ll pay $25 extra to proclaim your Jesus love – it says “I Believe” and has a picture of a cross and a stained-glass window – to the sonofabitch tailgating you on I-4. And like the other tags, that extra money goes to some group to do with as they please. In this case, according to the Miami Herald, that group is an Orlando-based nonprofit called Faith in Teaching, which says on its website that money from the plates would be used for grants to “continu`e` faith based education for the youth of Florida.”

Of course it’s Orlando.

For a second there, we got all caught up in that pesky Florida Constitution, which rather explicitly tells us, “No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.” Silly us.

We’ll soon be petitioning for our own specialty plate proclaiming our faith in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the proceeds of which will go to a home for aging pirates. Ramen.

Ever wonder what it is you’re supposed to do during one of life’s many “moments of silence”? Sure, they’re typically in honor of dead people, so maybe going all Tourette-y would result in a big blowback. But what if it’s for gays in general and you’re a sanctimonious homophobe?

On April 25, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network will celebrate its annual Day of Silence in many public schools, and the always-pleasant curmudgeons at the Liberty Counsel are pissed! “GLSEN claims the event counteracts bullying,” they write in an inflammatory e-mail, “but it is merely promoting an anti-heterosexual viewpoint.” The Liberty Counsel is suggesting that its stock of veiled-eyed Christian parents keep their kids at home in a “counter-observance of sexual purity.”

“Student conduct causing a substantial disruption or material interference with school activities is not protected under the First Amendment,” they write while simultaneously stomping their feet. Careful. Silence will make you gay!

This week’s report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Billy Manes and Bob Whitby.


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