HAPPYTOWN 


Sept. 23-30 is the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, the time of year when classics like Leaves of Grass and Catcher in the Rye get props, despite being full of nasty language and bad thoughts you shouldn't be allowed to read.

This year, the Orlando chapter of Amnesty International wants to take it a step further and hip local citizens to the plight of writers, journalists and activists around the world persecuted for their beliefs. According to Orlando-based attorney Ray Barber, who works with Amnesty International, those who have the audacity to speak out against their governments are often imprisoned, beaten and tortured for challenging authority.

There will be an information session 6 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Winter Park Library, 460 N. New England Ave. If you miss that one, there'll be another session 1 p.m. Oct. 5 in the atrium Building No. 3 at Valencia Community College's East Campus, 701 N. Econlockhatchee Trail. Come and sign a petition. It might not change the policies of the Burmese government, but it might make you feel better.

Speaking of free speech, when it came across our wires that the Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Central Florida were engaging in civil disobedience regarding the university's free-speech zones, we almost marched down to the campus in person. No one silences speech on our watch, Bubba!

Then we heard the ACLU was involved, so we speed-dialed crazy-cool ACLU Central Florida chapter honcho George Crossley instead.

Turns out that members of the SDS had reportedly been threatened with arrest April 19 by campus cops for trespassing while holding signs inviting inquiry on this very issue outside zone boundaries.

"Three of the kids told me that they were sitting adjacent to a Coca-Cola sign and they were warned that they had to move immediately because of the fact that they were blocking the Coca-Cola sign, and that Coke paid good money," says Crossley. "They had a contract with UCF to advertise their wares, and those kids had no business sitting anywhere near that Coca-Cola sign. … So, obviously commercial speech at UCF takes precedent over free speech, which is really funny when you think about it."

On Sept. 7, Crossley joined the SDS for a second talk-in at the John T. Washington Center, one that attracted about 20 students and no incidents. UCF spokesman Tom Evelyn was there. "The university has free speech everywhere," Evelyn tells us. "There are no restrictions on free speech at the university."

The zones are to prevent amplifiers and other equipment from disrupting classes, he says. As for signs, any student can carry one anywhere they like, or pass out literature.

The ACLU is not appeased.

"Our position is that the university campus as a whole is a free-speech zone," Crossley says.

"We would be open to talking with him or anyone about the free assembly zones," says Evelyn. Phew. Crisis averted for now.

So this is how the Dyer administration works: Orlando Fire Chief Bob Bowman, who came out of retirement after Buddy Dyer took office in 2003, wants to retire again. But not really retire. Rather, he's going to join the ever-expanding list of overpaid suits on City Hall's third floor called "special assistants to the mayor."

Basically, he's going to be a consultant. And a well-paid one at that. For working 24 hours a week, Bowman will rake in $75,479 a year, with benefits. Nice deal, huh?

The newshounds among you will recall Bowman's name popping up a few times during his tenure: In June, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the fire department gave city commissioner Betty Wyman's son a promotion and $10,000 raise — Wyman and Bowman are often seen together socially, don't ya know — despite restricting other firefighters' raises to 2 percent. And then there was that whole destruction of public records thing. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded during its 2004 investigation into charges that firefighters illegally campaigned for Dyer on the city's dime that Bowman had deleted an e-mail and thus violated public-records law. Bowman kept his job anyway.

Now that he's semi-retired, taxpayers still get to contribute to his bank account.

On an unrelated city-business note, commissioners voted themselves a nice fat pay increase Sept. 18, from $40,000 a year to $46,500. What the hell, it's only your money.

Brace yourselves, this may come as a surprise: Some of our elected officials here in Florida are corrupt.

The Washington-based ethics group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics released its second annual report Sept. 20, and guess who was on the short list of the most sinister members of Congress? U.S. Reps. Tom Feeney and Katherine Harris! Called Beyond DeLay: The 20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress (and five to watch), the report is a self-proclaimed "exhaustive go-to guide on corruption." You can download full reports on these two, which is cool.

Harris, for example, is accused of accepting $32,000 in illegally laundered campaign donations from convicted defense contractor Mitchell Wade. According to the report, in 2005 Wade — who has already pled guilty to tax evasion, conspiracy, corrupting defense officials and fraud — took Harris out for a $3,300 dinner and offered to host a fund-raising event in her honor in exchange for Harris earmarking defense appropriations.

As for Feeney, who also made the list last year, indiscretions involve illegal trips abroad, one of which was paid for by lobbyist Jack Abramoff to the tune of $5,643. Feeney has also traveled to South Korea and West Palm Beach in violation of the House gift and travel rules. Makes for some gripping reading.

Are you a Democrat? Then you'll be happy to know that you may be seeing people JUST LIKE YOU on TV! Happytown™ made the premiere of the "I Am a Democrat" ad campaign at the Orlando Improv on Church Street Sept. 21. The launch of the public awareness campaign drew Dems from Seminole and Orange counties. Carol Cox, chair of the Sem Dems, told us, "This is a new, integrated campaign. We need to define ourselves and craft our image through professional TV commercials." Indeed you do.

The commercials will air on Comedy Central's The Daily Show and on CNN.

This week's report by Jeffrey C. Billman, Jonathan Cunningham, Billy Manes, Elizabeth Randall and Bob Whitby

RATE THE PROTEST

Who: Seminole County for Impeachment Awareness

When: 11 a.m. Sept. 21 in front of Orlando City Hall

Scene: Seven people getting together to demand the impeachment of President Bush isn't going to get the job done. The rally was timed to coincide with Bush's Orlando appearance, but passersby by seemed indifferent, if not hostile, to the idea of ousting a sitting president. "I have never seen such a cold reception," said protester Becky Murphy.

happytown@orlandoweekly.com

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