Martinez takes stand on sting operation

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"Together we can. Together we will." That's the slogan Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez has adopted for his administration, the words of which flew on a banner from a plane high above downtown Orlando last week as Linda Chapin's successor was sworn in.

Naturally he was eager to get started. And a faxed news release to the media quickly affirmed it.

"Chairman Martinez Active in First Days," read the headline above the announcement sent out at 10:43 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 20. "Three days after taking the Oath of Office, Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez has been busy discussing issues, developing plans and meeting with Orange County employees. ...

"The Chairman also has been dealing with important issues that confront the county. ‘This is a "governing transition" period. We don't have the luxury of several months to figure out our game plan ...,' said Chairman Martinez."

The import was made quickly apparent with a followup fax (sent at 11:27 a.m.). Written by the county's Office of Communications in the authoritative tone normally reserved for declarations of war, it was the first on a topic that so far constitutes the entirety of the new administration's messages to the media.

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"Chairman Martinez Orders Prompt Resolution to South Apopka Hornets Nest," came the announcement.

The text:

"A large hornets nest in an abandoned house south of Apopka will be destroyed soon.

"Discovered late Wednesday by neighbors, Orange County Chairman Mel Martinez ordered staff to take ‘all necessary steps' to have the nest removed.

"Orange County Building Director John Warbington said that the county is exploring options for a long term solution to the problem. ‘We will do everything we can to solve the problem, both short term and long term. We're investigating concerns that the house is unsafe and a nuisance. If it is, we will get the legal authority to knock it down.

"Orange County is taking the unusual step of dealing with a hornet's nest on private property because of the special risk it creates for neighbors. ‘This is a complicated legal issue but we've found a way to cut through the red tape,' said Warbington."

Now, red tape certainly was one of the things that Martinez pledged to cut through, but who could have known he would proceed with such immediacy?

Then, at 3:16 p.m., another insistent fax: "Hornets nest in South Apopka to be eradicated," it said.

"Orange County government has arranged to have a large hornets nest in an abandoned house south of Apopka destroyed this evening by a private pest control company.

"The company will perform the task this evening some time between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. A more precise time is not possible."

At 4:09 p.m. there arrived still another fax, should the 6 o'clock news want to record the county in action: "NEW TIME," said the bold letters. "Now scheduled for between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m."

The enormity of the task was triumphantly announced the following Monday, Nov. 23, with -- you guessed it -- a fax (sent at 1:04 p.m., and sent again at 5:14 p.m.). By this time the subject property was being described much more grippingly. "South Apopka ‘Wasp House' to be demolished," it said.

"The Orange County Building Department has made arrangements with a private demolition company to tear down a house south of Apopka that had been the home to as many as 200,000 yellow jackets."

And then, the clincher:

"The yellow jackets were eradicated Friday evening. Based on evidence that the house had been used as a drug house, it was deemed that it posed a public safety risk and was a nuisance to the surrounding neighborhood."

Sorta adds a whole new dimension to the phrase "sting operation."

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