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TORNADO RIPPED ROOFS, DESTROYED DWELLINGS, TOPPLED TRUCKS

Cellphone alerts late on a recent Friday night carried an alarming message: A tornado spawned from Tropical Storm Nestor was threatening west Lakeland. Between 10:59 p.m. and 11:20 p.m. on Oct. 18, a tornado with peak winds estimated at 120 mph tore through nine miles from Carillon Lakes to Kathleen. With a maximum width of 525 feet wide, it destroyed houses and a 107-year-old church on New Tampa Highway. It toppled an 18-wheeler on I-4 and punched huge holes in roofs at Kathleen Middle School and Southern Wine and Spirits. One miracle: No deaths were reported, and injuries were minimal.

 

LAKE MORTON PRESCHOOL PLAN FACES OBSTACLES

A plan to turn the historic Deen House in the Lake Morton area into a preschool brought a packed house and heated debate to a recent city zoning meeting. On one side: young parents frustrated by long waiting lists for preschools in central Lakeland; on the other: longtime neighbors who fear traffic tie-ups and damage to a landmark home. The promoters of Alta Schoolhouse face a few obstacles at City Hall: planners who want to see a plan for traffic circulation that doesn’t involve a narrow alley and historic preservationists who don’t support adding a fire escape or paved parking.

 

HERE’S A LOOK AT WHAT VOTERS FACE NOV. 5

In addition to the two City Commission races we wrote about last month, the Nov. 5 Lakeland election ballot includes three proposals to change the City Charter. Item 1 mostly updates language to make it gender-neutral and eliminate outdated references. Item 2 tightens term limits for city commissioners and the mayor to a maximum of three terms. Item 3, the most controversial, lessens the barrier for selling Lakeland Electric from impossible to really difficult. Proponents say it’s needed to see what the utility is worth; opponents say the barrier should remain impossible.

 

GREENWISE WILL LET YOU KNOW YOU’RE IN LAKELAND

The GreenWise Market opening on South Florida Avenue in mid-December will showcase its Lakeland locale through a handful of home-grown vendors and a mural by two local artists depicting Lkld landmarks. The store, across the street from the Lake Miriam Publix, will be the fourth in Publix Super Markets’ updated foray into the stand-alone organic/natural/foodie space and will feature beer from two Lakeland brewers and outdoor tables and benches from a local furniture maker. In addition, three local charities will be selected to benefit from proceeds through a rewards program.

 

TWO TEENS HONORED FOR SAVING A LIFE

Two Lakeland teens, including one who used the CPR he learned at Kathleen Middle School, rescued another teen from the bottom of a pool and revived him. For that, they were honored for heroism by the Lakeland Fire Department. Justin Taylor-Perez, 15, and Jacob Sarrano-Solis, 16, stood tall when they were honored last month as unsung heroes by Fire Chief Douglas Riley and Mayor Bill Mutz at a City Commission meeting. Sarrano-Solis pulled a distressed male from the bottom of the pool at Carlton Arms North Apartments, and Taylor-Perez applied CPR until first responders arrived.

 

PALMER DAVIS HIRED AS CITY ATTORNEY AFTER BOSS’ ABRUPT EXIT

Palmer Davis, a lawyer who has worked for the city of Lakeland for 18 years, took over as interim city attorney after his former boss, Tim McCausland, resigned as city attorney last month. McCausland had been arrested two days earlier as part of a weekday-morning sex sting by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in a Brandon motel. McCausland pleaded not guilty to “precursor acts facilitating prostitution.” McCausland will be getting retirement payments, but a $8,000 payout of accrued leave and sick time is being withheld until his guilt or innocence is established in court.

 

EJECTION FROM DANCE OVER A JUMPSUIT GETS NATIONAL ATTENTIONS

National and international publications picked up on the story of Lakeland teen Darcy Kruger being denied entrance to the Tampa Bay Homeschool Homecoming dance because she was wearing a dressy jumpsuit instead of a dress. Rules for the dance called for “semi-formal dresses for young ladies … within a conservative manner.” Said Darcy’s mom: “We didn’t think that we were violating anything because at the heart of the dress code was modesty.” The event planner in charge of the dance says the wording may change, but pants and jumpsuits still won’t be allowed.

 

COMMISSIONERS PIN BROADBAND HOPES ON A PARTNERSHIP

When the city sought public feedback on a proposal to form a municipal broadband utility, more speakers favored the idea than opposed it. But when it was time for commissioners to talk at the end of a public forum last month, most of them expressed hopes for some kind of public-private partnership. It wasn’t clear who the private partner would be. It’s not likely to be Charter Communication, whose Spectrum Internet is the sole provider for many Lakeland households; that company’s representative said after the meeting that they have plans for improvements in Lakeland that don’t include a city partnership.

 

BUS SYSTEM’S ‘RE-ROUTE 2020’ EXTENDS SERVICE

Huge changes to Lakeland’s bus system rolled out in October. Under “Re-Route 2020,” there are now five routes named by color, not number, and they start earlier in the morning and end later in the evening. (The downside is some down time at midday.) In addition, there are more overlapping stops so transferring riders won’t always have to pass through the downtown terminal. And most of the routes run every 45 minutes, down from the previous schedule. The Florida Avenue and health corridor routes remain at 30-minute intervals. Technology upgrades include new smartphone apps that let riders track buses.

 

RAPPER IS STILL DUCKING GRADY BUT GRADY IS HELPING

Cedric Wilson spent years on the wrong side of the law, but now owns a promotional business in North Lakeland and directs music videos, including a new version of local rapper Stephon’s “Ducking Grady” that features appearances by Polk County’s not-at-all-camera-shy sheriff. Grady Judd told Bay News 9 he agreed to appear in the video because “it’s the right thing to do” and will strengthen ties between law enforcement and the community. The video has been viewed nearly 100,000 times on YouTube. At the end of it, two deputized rappers get their man and the sheriff tells him, “You’re duckless Grady now.”

 

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