Houston Astros owner Jim Crane wonders if West Palm Beach will be spring home to World Series teams in 2017

It’s the Major League Baseball All Star break, and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane has a request for Palm Beach County residents: “I hope they start following the team.’’

Crane is refering to his Astros, who represent the biggest surprise so far of the 2015 baseball season.

Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel -- shown here on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach in February -- will start tonight's All Star game in Cincinnati for the American League.
Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel — shown here on Clematis Street in West Palm Beach in February — will start tonight’s All Star game in Cincinnati for the American League.

By the time the Astros and Washington Nationals open their new shared spring training stadium in West Palm Beach in 2017, Crane is hoping local fans will embrace both teams.

When the Astros first started looking around the county for a new spring training home back in 2013, they were struggling at the bottom of the standings. The Nationals were contending.

Now, both teams are in first place in their respective divisions, and it’s already halfway through the season.

That should provide plenty of excitement for fans not just in Houston and Washington but in West Palm Beach, too, where the teams will share a $135 million stadium, Crane said.

“You’ve got two quality-run teams in first place,’’ Crane said last week during an appearance in West Palm Beach.

Astros owner Jim Crane talks to reporters as Florida Gov. Rick Scott (far left) watches
Astros owner Jim Crane talks to reporters as Florida Gov. Rick Scott (far left) watches

“Washington was expected to win the most games in baseball. We weren’t quite there yet but we are kind of over-performing right now. We hope to keep that going.’’

During presentations to the Palm Beach County Commission last year, the Astros displayed on a large screen a 2014 Sports Illustrated cover declaring the Astros the 2017 World Series champions.

Crane wonders if the Astros might be ahead of that prediction.

“We’ve had a pretty exciting year so far. We are in first place. The team has been playing well,’’ Crane said.

“We rebuilt the team about four years ago. The minor league system is playing well, so we are very deep. We think we will be in contention all year and hopefully we can get in the playoffs and maybe even play Washington. Who knows?’’

Meanwhile, tune in to the All Star game tonight. The starting pitcher for the American League will be Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, who visited Clematis Street in February as part of the spring training baseball celebration hosted by Gov. Rick Scott.


Congress in 1950: $1 a day fine for immigrant labor

It's not GEO's first brush with criticism. In 2013, FAU students protested the proposed naming of the football stadium after GEO. The proposal flopped.
It’s not GEO’s first brush with criticism. In 2013, FAU students protested the proposed naming of the football stadium after GEO. The proposal flopped.

GEO Group, the Boca-based private prison and immigrant detention facility is being accused of paying immigrants at their Denver facility a dollar-a-day to, among other things, cook and serve meals, mop floors, and yes, scrub out the toilets.

A group of immigrants filed suit in federal court, and now a judge has ruled that their suit can continue, according to the Associated Press.

Although GEO is best known for its original line of business- managing prisons- the cash cow for both it and Corrections Corporation of America, another prison management firm, is federal contracts, some with the Bureau of Prisons, and some with immigrant detention.

Not all immigrants are there because they broke the law. Some are waiting a decision on their status. But just as both companies have established a string of abuses at prisons, they have also been linked to serious problems with treatment of immigrants, most notably CCA’s operation of a family center for immigrants.

As for the labor lawsuit, GEO has argued that its dollar-a-day paycheck is in line with federal rules, and that the work was voluntary.

They may have a point on the wages. American University professor Anita Sinha told AP Congress established the daily wage –  in 1950.

Cop-talk radio show revived, starts airing today

In news that’s sure to get under the skin of local police chiefs, a former cop’s weekly radio program has been resurrected.

Former Riviera Beach police Lt. Rick Sessa’s “The Beat: Real Cop Talk Radio” will begin airing today after a nearly 2-year hiatus, and Sessa says it will keep the same free-wheeling style that drew the attention of police across the county.

The program is airing between 4 and 5 p.m. on Fridays on 900 AM, The Talk of the Palm Beaches.

Under its previous run, “The Beat” featured citizens and officers speaking on and off the record about their personal stories, trends in policing and gossip within local police departments. Sessa was quick to praise police but quick to criticize, too.

“I’m pro-police, pro-those who serve,” Sessa said this week. “(But) one thing I can’t stand is either cops who have no business in the industry because of their values, or lack thereof.”

Sessa’s program was first to highlight the long and troubled career of Palm Beach Shores officer Charles Hoeffer, three years before Hoeffer was accused of raping a blind woman in her home. Hoeffer has been on paid leave for more than a year and could be criminally charged.

Sessa said he plans to talk about the Hoeffer case on today’s program.

The show is returning at the perfect time, when scrutiny over police actions are in the spotlight, he said.

It stopped airing about a year and a half ago after he claims the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office pressured local companies to stop sponsoring the program.

Sessa said he’s been told by JVC Broadcasting, the new station that’s broadcasting the show, not to worry about sponsors.

“I have not been told that I have to hold back on anything,” Sessa said.

Chainlink fence blocks homeless from camping at old City Hall

The unofficial Tent City at old City Hall is no more.

FENCE ONEA chainlink fence now surrounds the property of the old City Hall at the northwest corner of Olive Avenue and Banyan Boulevard, effectively displacing about a dozen homeless people who had been living under the building’s overhang.

City crews erected the fence, which is covered in green, last week as part of the city’s plans to prepare the site for demolition.

There is no demolition date and the city doesn’t even have a contract yet with a developer. But city officials wanted to get a head start on preparing the site for its new owner, so they erected the fence, said spokesman Elliot Cohen.

Cohen said the city is close to an agreement with a developer. Navarro Lowrey has been negotiating with the city for the rights to the property.

Once an agreement is reached, the five-story building will be torn down and a new hotel will be built in its place.

Old City Hall has been vacant since 2009 when the city government headquarters moved around the corner to the 400 block of Clematis Street. In March, homeless people started erectinFENCE 2g tents around the building.

Most tents disappeared after complaints from residents and from St. Ann’s church, but a few holdouts remained as of last month. No one is on the site now.

The building’s design offered a unique perk: The top floor juts out 15 feet from the lower floors in all directions — a design statement by architect John Marion, who drew up plans for the building before it opened in 1980.

But the overhang also offers protection from the sun and rain, something enjoyed by city officials and residents who used the building for nearly 30 years and by homeless people in the past year.

Astros owner Jim Crane talks (not much) about computer hacking scandal

Astros owner Jim Crane talks to reporters as Florida Gov. Rick Scott (far left) watches
Astros owner Jim Crane talks to reporters as Florida Gov. Rick Scott (far left) watches

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane spoke Monday about the computer hacking scandal involving his team and the St. Louis Cardinals. But Crane had little to say.

“It’s under investigation. We are not going to talk about it,’’ he said at the Palm Beach County Governmental Center where Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a land-use bill for the spring training complex that will be shared by the Astros and Washington Nationals.

The FBI is looking into allegations that members of the St. Louis Cardinals hacked into the Astros’ data base. The alleged hacking reportedly took place from a house in Jupiter where the Cardinals and Miami Marlins share a spring training complex.

“We don’t have all the details,’’ Crane said when asked about the hacking.

JIM CRANEWhat has been reported is there has been one house but I can’t confirm that. They have kept everything pretty close to the vest. Until the investigation is done, we want have all the information, either.’’

The Cardinals last week fired Chris Correa, the team’s director of scouting, in relation to the investigation.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, quoting an anonymous source, reported that Correa acknowledged breaking into the database to determine whether the Astros had stolen proprietary data from the Cardinals.

That report suggests the Astros may have used information that Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow gained while working for the Cardinals. Luhnow headed the Cardinals scouting and player development department before being hired as Astros general manager in December 2011.

Crane wouldn’t discuss the controversy when it was broached by a reporter today after Scott’s press conference.

“As the investigation unwinds, once the (federal authorities) make a decision on what they’re going to do, then I think certainly we’ll have comments on that,’’ he said.

“The baseball commissioner eventually will have to determine on how is he is going to handle that.’’

Coming to a theater near you: Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization

Rogue dinosaurs, the Terminator and Ted the talking bear will have an unusual co-star of sorts on three local big screens starting today.

If you arrive early enough at the movies, chances are you will see a new video promoting a local government agency that’s trying to raise its public profile — the Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The 45-second video has none of the suspense, bells and whistles of Terminator Genisys, Jurassic World or Ted 2, but the informational clip will be shown through July 16 during the commercials that precede the coming attractions before the movie starts.

The video will be shown Muvico Parisian at CityPlace in West Palm Beach, Cobb 16 at Downtown at the Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens and Cinemark Palace 20.

The video cost about $25,000 but it was not paid for directly by the Palm Beach MPO. It was paid for by the Florida Department of Transportation as part of a program to promote the local transportation planning process, said Malissa Booth, public information office of the Palm Beach MPO.

The Broward MPO also is releasing a video today.


New trash-fueled power plant already has burned 198,000 tons of garbage

20150224_met_swa_139More than 198,000 tons and counting.

That’s how much trash has been burned already in the Solid Waste Authority’s new waste-to-energy plant, which celebrated its grand opening Saturday at a ceremony attended by more than 600 people.

The $672 million incinerator is now processing 3,100 tons of trash per day. Although Saturday was the official launch date, the plant has been fully operational since June 10.

And it has been burning trash since Feb. 24 when the first of three boilers was fired up for the first time.


Outside police group to spend more than 4 months reviewing PBSO

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office will pay $100,000 for a police think tank to review its internal affairs department and its investigations into shootings.

As part of the deal, six experts with the Police Executive Research Forum will spend months interviewing PBSO staff, comparing the department’s policies to “best practices” and hosting six focus groups to get the public’s input.

At the end of their study, estimated to take about 4 1/2 months, the group will release its findings and recommendations for improvement, according to the contract, signed in May. The PERF team is expected to start late this month, according to a PBSO spokeswoman.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw asked PERF for help after a joint investigation by The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 revealed in April that the agency’s investigations into shootings were often inadequate.

The investigation found that PBSO’s internal investigators skew or ignore evidence that could be critical of the shooting deputy and often don’t question a deputy’s statement, even when facts show the deputy didn’t tell the truth. Their reports were also found to leave out basic information, such as how many shots the deputy fired and whether the suspect lived.

Over the agency’s 123 shootings by deputies since 2000, it found only 12 went against department policy.

Bradshaw didn’t dispute the investigation’s findings but said that even if internal investigators’ reports were more thorough, the shootings still would have been found justified.

PERF is a respected think-tank in the world of policing, and the U.S. Department of Justice often contracts with them to help reform police departments.

The group will be looking into many aspects of the county’s largest police department, according to the contract, including:

  • How the agency handles complaints by civilians.
  • How it reviews uses of force by deputies.
  • The department’s policies.
  • How its internal investigators are trained.

PERF will hold six community focus groups “to determine community expectations about PBSO internal administrative investigations,” the contract states.

The dates for those groups have not been announced. The Post will publish them as soon as they’re released.



Confederate flag marker in local cemetery will probably stay

062515+met+confederate+flag+01Is the image of the Confederate flag in a local public cemetery offensive? Or is it simply a monument recognizing a part of our nation’s history?

That’s the small piece of a national debate playing out at Woodlawn Cemetery, just across the street from the Norton Museum of Art on Dixie Highway.

About a year or so ago, I wandered into Woodlawn for the first time during a break on a bike ride. I snapped a few photos with my smartphone and eventually posted a couple on Instagram and Facebook.

062515+met+confederate+flag+03One photo I shared was a close-up of the 10-ft. tall monument with the Confederate flag, a monument that has stood since 1941 when it was posted to recognize Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War.

I posted the photo because I thought it was interesting that you could find an image of the Confederate flag — a symbol from a war fought 150 years ago — in our local cemetery.

But not everyone who looked at my Facebook page was happy to see it. There was no big debate on my page but at least one friend commented on being offended to see the image of the Confederate flag.

Last week, I visited the cemetery again, this time for reporting on a story that was published today. It’s the only public Confederate flag image in Palm Beach County, a topic worth exploring because of the current national debate about the image of the flag.

Not many folks, especially from the younger generations, know it’s there.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said she never knew it was there. But Taylor, who is black, said she finds the image of the Confederate flag offensive.

Others say it has been there more than 70 years without anyone raising any questions, so leave it be.

Chances are, it will.

Greenlighting more NSA snooping, surveillance court judge gets…snippy

"Can you hear me now?" Photo courtesy of futurestreet
“Can you hear me now?” You bet they can. 
Photo courtesy of futurestreet/flickr

In the words of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Michael Mosman: “Plus ya change, plus c’est la meme chose” –  for, as he cheerfully points out,  the next 180 days.

NSA’s very big ears are up and at it again, courtesy of Judge Mosman. Mosman has granted permission for the spy agency to collect phone call records of pretty much everyone, everywhere in the U.S. for the next six months.

This comes only weeks after Congress killed off this key part of the phone spying program and a federal appeals court ruled it unlawful.

Mosman concluded the 180-day grace period Congress gave NSA to wind things down specifically allows for continued phone spying.

That may or may not have been unexpected. (And what the NSA is apparently allowed to keep and use is much broader and more personal than even the billions of phone calls it has collected to date.)

But what was a surprise – certainly to the federal appeals court which last month took exception to the program’s legality- was Mosman’s emphasis on how his fellow jurists were dead wrong, just plain wrong, utterly wrong  and really, very totally wrong.

Of course, he didn’t put it quite that way.

“This Court respectfully disagrees with that Court’s analysis,” Mosman wrote.

In fact, Mosman’s respectful disagreement goes on for quite a few paragraphs, though was perhaps best summed up in a single sentence: “To a considerable extent, the Second Circuit’s analysis rests on mischaracterizations of how this program works.”

Translation: They just don’t get it.

Mosman countered virtually every argument made against the program: The NSA only has access to limited information, he said; it is necessary to gather up phone records of all innocent people in order to find the records of the guilty few;  the NSA is careful about privacy rules; people have no reasonable expectation of privacy when it comes to phone call data.

As it happens, much criticism about the spying program also has involved whether FISC judges bent over backward to accommodate the NSA’s staggeringly broad requests.

It’s FISC that has to approve hoovering up phone records. Which Mosman has now done, again, for 180 days.

“Plus ya change, plus c’est la meme chose” he noted: The more things change, the more they stay the same.