Extra Extra : February 2005

Courtroom security lax for employees, officers

Laure Quinlivan in WCPO-Cincinnati investigated courthouse security and found lax security in which employees enter through side doors and avoid metal detectors. Thousands of others, including county employees, lawyers and law enforcement officers, get in just by flashing their identification to the deputy on duty. The station estimated up to 10,000 people can bypass the metal detector. In addition, one elevator that was supposed to stop on the first floor so occupants could go through a metal detector did not stop, allowing the elevator's users to go ... Read more ...

Teacher pay rising faster than inflation

Kurt Rogahn of The (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) Gazette found that teacher pay "is increasing at rates better than inflation, despite warnings from the state's leading teacher organization that Iowa's average teacher pay hasn't kept pace with inflation." One researcher says the numbers show pay has gone up quite a bit, though the averages say it hasn't. "A Gazette analysis shows that though average teacher pay rose 16 percent between 1996-97 and this school year in the two Technology Corridor counties, base ... Read more ...

Administrative spending grows while student spending dwindles

Vicki McClure and Tania deLuzuriaga of The Orlando Sentinel used audit records of local charter schools to find that "Imagine Schools Inc., operator of 10 schools in Central Florida, spent as much as 50 percent less per student on instruction last year but about two to six times more on administration than other public schools in Osceola and Lake counties, where most of the students who attend area charters live."

Scam stole land from the dead

Mike Hoyem of The (Fort Myers) News-Press has a new twist on Florida land deals: the use of phony deeds to sell land owned by dead people. "Forged signatures, faked notarizations, phony witnesses and easy access to land records via the Internet are robbing the dead and their relatives of land as property values in Lee County skyrocket. And the fraud could cause big problems for the people who are buying the properties." The paper posted copies of fake deeds on its site, and state and federal authorities are investigating the scam.

Unsafe bridges put public safety at risk

Dani Dodge of the Ventura County Star used Federal Highway Administration data to show that "twenty-eight of Ventura County's 485 bridges are considered 'structurally deficient' ... Bringing just 15 of those bridges up to standard would cost $50 million." A map shows the location of the troubled spans, and a sidebar describes the condition of bridges nationwide.

Consulting work pays big for former employees

Brett J. Blackledge of The Birmingham News used state records to show that Alabama's Department of Human Resources has spent millions on computer consultants, including payments to former agency employees who left DHR only to return for consulting work. "The agency responsible for helping needy children and families now is facing questions from federal officials about how much money it has spent on consultants and how some of those consultants are related to agency officials. DHR has spent more than $20 million since 2003 on computer consultants, with dozens receiving between $50 and $85 an hour. Not all the ... Read more ...

Security firm tipped off prior to airport inspections

Lance Williams of the San Francisco Chronicle used federal and court records to investigate a claim by a former employee of the firm, that the company was tipped off prior to security decoy tests. The tips allegedly helped the firm secure a 90 percent success rate with the tests. "That success rate helped the Chicago firm keep a federal contract that paid out $72 million last year under terms of an experimental airport security program enacted by Congress after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, federal records show."

Net worths rise for some legislators while in office

Lucy Morgan of the St. Petersburg Times reviewed the annual financial disclosure forms filed by Florida state legislators, finding that "while 22 of the 160 legislators report their legislative salary as their principal income, a review of annual financial disclosure forms shows that 37 House members and 16 senators reported net worths of more than $1-million in 2004. Thirty-one of them have become millionaires while in office." And while most lawmakers and Cabinet officers have increased their net worths, Gov. Jeb Bush has seen his decline since 1998, when he first won election. The paper also found that some 40 ... Read more ...

Low tax penalty serves as cheap loan for some businesses

Lee Davidson of The Deseret Morning News used local records to show that "at least 443 land developers, real estate companies and construction companies owed more than a combined $5.17 million in back property taxes and penalties" as of January 2005. Ski resorts, an airline and telecommunications firm MCI are among the other tax delinquents in Salt Lake County, where some businesses elect not to pay taxes because the penalties and interest are low enough that "many businesses view it as a way to obtain relatively cheap and easy loans." State law assesses a 2 percent penalty on late ... Read more ...

Rail safety in question

Scott Dodd, Bruce Henderson and Heather Vogell of The Charlotte Observer examine railroad safety, finding that "in the Charlotte region, nearly 800,000 people live within a mile of a major rail line," an increase of 90,000 in the past 10 years. "Yet emergency planners don't know how much hazardous material passes daily through uptown Charlotte and the region's small towns. Federal, state and local agencies told the Observer they don't keep track, and the railroads won't provide that information for security reasons." Nearly 400 schools are located within a mile of train routes, and ... Read more ...