In today's Friday Files, we're looking at everything from big public paychecks to allegations of Soviet conspiracies.
But first, I want to spotlight a worthy holiday act — one that will treat some deserving kids like royalty on Christmas Day.
It started last week when Mears Transportation Group executive Roger Chapin called, saying his company wanted to do something special for one of the nonprofit groups spotlighted in this year's Sentinel Family Fund Holiday Campaign.
There are so many noble ones. But I can't think of kids more in need of some holiday cheer than the ones staying at the Harbor House's emergency shelter for abused women and children. Many of them, after all, are victims of the ultimate betrayal — a parent who has turned violent against them or their mothers.
So Mears decided to dispatch two stretch limousines to the shelter on Christmas Day to whisk away the kids and their mothers to the Amway Center. There, they will watch the Magic take on the Boston Celtics from the comfort of the company's luxury box, where they will also enjoy food, drink — and maybe even a few surprises.
Harbor House CEO Carol Wick was thrilled with the gesture. "It is wonderful that they will be able to forget for a short time about why they have to be at Harbor House on Christmas Day," she said, "instead of at home with their own room, bed and tree."
Good for you, Mears. And even better for the kids.
•Want to make a difference? In case that last item inspired you, the Taking Names blog has a list of more ways to help. Simple things, like each family member giving up just one gift to instead provide one to a family in need. Or donating the free grocery items from Buy-One-Get-One sales to a local food pantry. Even cost-free things, like volunteering four hours of your time at a local charity. (One recent study said the average person spends more than 40 hours on Christmas tasks, such as shopping and travel. So one way to look at four hours is simply tithing your time.) You can find the full list — "Five Easy Ways to Make a Big Difference"— at orlandosentinel.com/takingnames.
•It pays to work for leadership. In their fight against bloated government, Florida's new legislative leaders have some well-paid warriors. We're talking more than 60 staffers who make more than $100,000 working for House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, according to a recent report from the St. Petersburg Times. In fact, the Times found that, secretaries aside, the average salary in Cannon's office was $102,400. That's up 2 percent from the previous speaker, though Cannon's office noted that his budget was down, compared with 2007. Haridopolos said his budget was down year-to-year. Also helping in his crusade against government largesse: Former Sen. Carey Baker, the term-limited legislator to whom Haridopolos recently awarded a $90,000 consulting gig.
•DCA … or KGB? It's looking more as if developers may get their way in dismantling the Department of Community Affairs — the state's primary growth regulator. Not only are lawmakers talking about doing away with this set of checks and balances, but Big Business' mouthpieces are also amping up the hyperbole — to laughable levels. The most recent example appeared in this week's Sentinel when one of the developer-backed political committees actually described DCA as an example of "Soviet-style regulation." Amen! Because, as everyone knows, DCA has been overseen by all sorts of czar-loving commies … like Jeb Bush.
•Please don't call. And finally, a bit of bipartisan praise. Sponsors ranging from Texas Republican Joe Barton to Florida Democrat Bill Nelson came together to pass a bill that cracks down on scam artists who rig caller-ID systems to make it look as if they are calling from government offices or other trustworthy sources. The scam was sometimes used to trick elderly residents into giving up their credit-card and Social Security info. I figure there's already a special place in hell for folks who do things like this … but it's reassuring to know they can also be fined up to $1 million while they're still here on earth.
Scott Maxwell can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-6141.