To most everyone's surprise across this string of tourism-dependent islands, Bush ignored the recommendation of the Monroe County School Board and named retired Key West investor and philanthropist John Padget to the post. Deputy Superintendent Peg Smith -- the school board's top choice -- resigned shortly after Padget's appointment.
While the Harvard-educated Padget had earned kudos for raising funds for Monroe's Take Stock in Children program, he had no experience in school administration. He will serve out the remainder of Lannon's term, which expires in November 2004.
Padget's tenure has been tumultuous. Within weeks of taking office, he riled many veteran school officials by criticizing the pace of the district's construction program and by announcing a reorganization of top management. He also challenged a board proposal to extend a half-penny sales tax for school construction.
But Padget has supporters. Many residents applauded when he criticized the $265,000 annual contract awarded to Ken and Sheila East, who run a company that oversees school construction. (Ken East resigned in September after publicly criticizing Padget during a school board meeting.)
His supporters believe Padget, as a businessman and school district outsider, is bringing more accountability to a bloated bureaucracy. Indeed, Padget has made that his principal goal. "This is a government bureaucracy with its own speed and rhythms," he says. "It seems people here are more concerned about processes than they are about the outcomes of what we do."
Whatever the view on Padget, his appointment has rekindled debate in Monroe over how to select the county's superintendent of schools. School board members believe the authority should lie with them, not voters. Last August, the board approved a resolution to place on the March presidential primary ballot a referendum asking voters to transfer that responsibility from voters countywide to the five-member school board. A similar referendum has been defeated twice over the past 27 years.
Padget says it's too early to say if he'll try to keep his job beyond his current term, but his motives offer a clue: "I'm not here to keep the seat warm. I want to make a difference, however long that takes."
IN THE NEWS
Coral Gables -- The University of Miami has kicked off a four-year, $1-billion fund-raising campaign, the largest in school history. Officials say more than half that amount has already been pledged, including a $33-million gift to the School of Music by Ivax Pharmaceuticals founder Phillip Frost. The medical school will receive the bulk of the proceeds (about $700 million). The rest will fund a variety of construction projects and will endow scholarships and professorships throughout the university.
Hialeah -- More people in Hialeah speak a foreign language at home than in any other large U.S. city. The findings, released by the U.S. Census, reveal that nine out of 10 people ages 5 and older in the city of 230,000 speak a language other than English at home. Hialeah is largely populated by Cuban immigrants and their families.
London-based Cadbury Schweppes has announced it will cease production of Yoo-hoo beverage products at its Hialeah plant, laying off 30 workers. The company will shift operations to a similar facility in Opelousas, La.
Miami -- In a cost-cutting move, drug manufacturer Ivax Pharmaceuticals (AMEX-IVX) will lay off 83 workers in Miami after shifting production of its soft-gel pills to an out-of-state facility.
Radio Unica Communications Corp. (OTCBB-UNCAQ.OB) has agreed to sell its 15 AM stations to New York's MultiCultural Broadcasting Corp. for $150 million. Company executives say they also hope to shed other assets before filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection later this year. The 5-year-old company had dreams of building a nationwide network of Hispanic broadcasting outlets. Radio Unica went public in 1999 but was delisted three years later as weak revenue and heavy debt scared off investors.
The Four Seasons Hotel and Tower has officially opened on Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami, claiming the distinction of Florida's tallest building. At 70 stories and 794 feet, the skyscraper eclipses the nearby Wachovia Tower (formerly the Southeast Bank Tower). Total cost topped $350 million.
Shoe wholesaler MIA Shoes has announced it will relocate its headquarters from Delaware to Miami.
Miami-Dade -- Three Miami-Dade companies are recipients of the inaugural Governor's Business Diversification Award, recognizing community investment and efforts to diversify the economy. Medical supply manufacturer Pharmed Group won in the export category; computer maker Alienware won for business expansion; and NAP of the Americas, an internet access point owned by Terremark Worldwide (AMEX-TWW), won for entrepreneurship. The award was developed by Enterprise Florida.
American Airlines has announced it will boost service from its Miami hub, increasing daily flights to 229 at Miami International Airport. The airline, which has extensive service to Latin America and the Caribbean, will add six destinations and about 20 additional flights to existing cities.
British Petroleum/Castrol will expand the Miami headquarters of its Latin American Lubricants subsidiary. Executives expect to hire about 50 employees.
Global Entertainment Inc., a Curacao-based software development firm, will open a Miami office, employing about 40.
A recent study on traffic congestion by the Texas Transportation Institute found that Miami-Dade drivers were stuck in traffic an average of 33 hours each during 2001, up from just 15 hours in 1996. The findings place Miami-Dade 10th among U.S. cities.
Miami Beach -- Canyon Ranch, the luxury resort and spa based in Tucson, Ariz., has teamed with WSG Development Co. to build and operate a resort and condo project on Collins Avenue. Canyon Ranch Living will include a spa, 457 condos and 151 hotel rooms on a six-acre oceanfront site.