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Archives for November 1, 2015

Frederiksted food truck fest kicks off Dine VI

ST. CROIX – When people come together with the same dream of bringing their community together, the result can be Dine VI, a weeklong foodie celebration aimed at promoting St. Croix’s culinary heritage and restaurant scene to visitors and locals.

And like most collaborative efforts, it didn’t happen overnight. It took meetings of like minds to turn over ideas of creating and developing the first Dine VI, which runs through Nov. 7.

Friday night’s launch of Dine VI began with a food truck festival in Frederiksted. After the inevitable search for a parking space, residents enjoyed the aroma of salt fish and Johnny cakes and fried chicken wafting over the pulsating sounds of drums and soca music.

The Frederiksted waterfront was abuzz with Dine VI fans from all across the island.

Prior to the event, the governor’s office pruned trees, landscaping an environment and providing electricity to accommodate the food trucks. Carlotta Luis from the V.I. Tourism Department said the list of individuals, organizations and businesses that teamed up to create Dine VI includes the Frederiksted Economic Development Association; Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism; the Christiansted Retail and Restaurant Association; the Christiansted Community Alliance; the Sandcastle Hotel; the Buccaneer Hotel; the St. Croix Foundation; IHop; Sweeney Toussaint; Kermit Lewis; Shelli Brin; Colin Hodge; Kathryn Pugliesi; Joyia Jones; and Digby Stridiron.

The result is a festival of events that runs from Oct. 28 through Nov. 8 and is a celebration of food, Crucian culture, local restaurants and, of course, music.

Providing the community and its visitors with the opportunity for an array of dining at some of the finest restaurants at a prix fixe cost, was an important factor, Luis said.

The organizers were looking for a sustainable tourism program that would showcase St. Croix’s culinary tourism options.

“The V.I. is ready for it. We are happy to be able to launch it on St. Croix,” Luis said.

Next year, Tourism plans to expand Dine VI into a month-long event, including restaurant weeks on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John.

This year, Dine VI also is having a raffle – with a prize that includes $1,000 worth of restaurant gift certificates – that will last for the duration of the restaurant week. All proceeds from the raffle will go the culinary programs at St. Croix Central High School and the St. Croix Educational Complex.

Raffle tickets are available at

Hotel and restaurant owner Simone Palmer of the Beachside Café at Sandcastle on the Beach attended the first Dine VI organizational meeting in July. She said she sees it as an event for people to travel to the USVI at this time of the year, with the spotlight trained on the island’s restaurants.

Well-known chef Tony Doos, the culinary educator at Educational Complex, said he is pleased with how the initial Dine VI event is turning out.

The only certified executive chef on the island, Doos said he is looking forward to more opportunities for his students in the culinary arts. For more information about Dine VI events this week, go to – Gospel brunch at The Palms at Pelican Cove, featuring music by Speak The Word Ministries; Sand Castle’s Beach Side Café, featuring music by Victoria’s Believers; and Renaissance Carambola Resort, featuring music by Refuge Tabernacle.

Monday – Living museum at Whim Plantation, with interactive cultural demonstrations.

Tuesday – Crucian Fusion cocktails in Frederiksted Town, featuring an afternoon of Crucian-inspired appetizers by Chef Digby Stridiron from 5 to 6:30 p.m. in the Courtyard, behind Polly’s at the Pier.

Tuesday – Wined Up in Christiansted Town, featuring happy hour in Christiansted as Sommelier Patrick Kralik provides a journey of the palate. Kralik will teach participants how to properly pair food with wine and taste wine with a new perspective from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Martinis in the Courtyard.

Wednesday – Locally Grown Farmers Market at Lawaetz Museum in Little La Grange from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and featuring fresh, local and certified organic fruits, vegetables, honey and eggs.

Thursday – Reef Responsible Workshop, which will certify attendees to be “reef responsible” by teaching them what fish is in season, what fish are pelagic, what fish to stay away from and how to ensure that they are eating healthy and keeping the reefs healthy.

The workshop will take place at The Nature Conservancy Office in Estate Little Princess, from 11 a.m. to noon and again from 3 to 4 p.m.

Friday – Food Cruise, a mid-island food tour that starts with a tour of one of the local rum distilleries and a three-stop bus tour for a three-course dining experience. The cruise runs from 3 to 7 p.m.

Saturday – Limpricht Park Antiques and Collectibles Fair.

Saturday – Feast Christiansted, a night of entertainment and fine dining experiences.

Sunday – St. Croix Coral Reef Swim, a three-race event: a 5-mile swim from Buck Island to The Buccaneer; a 2-mile swim from Pull Point to The Buccaneer; and a 1-mile swim from Shoys Beach to The Buccaneer.

Sunday – Reef Responsible Fish Fry, a sustainable seafood culinary event.

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Mayoral race: Seeking a better Hazleton

Crime, finances and blight top the agendas of three mayoral candidates in Hazleton.

Voters in Hazleton will decide Tuesday whether political newcomer and independent candidate Scott Cahalane, Republican Jeff Cusat or Jack Mundie, a Democrat, will serve as mayor for the next four years.

The winner succeeds outgoing Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi, a Republican who was appointed mayor in December 2010 when Lou Barletta won a congressional seat. Yannuzzi was elected to a full term the following year and sought re-election in 2015 but lost to Cusat in the May primary.

While the candidates identified a similar set of problems facing a city that’s struggling to generate enough revenue to provide basic services and preserve infrastructure, they put forth different solutions for resolving those issues.

Scott Cahalane

A native of Lawrence, Mass., Cahalane said he was drawn to politics following the government shutdown of 2013, which cost him a re-enlistment bonus he was eligible to receive for serving in the Marines.

He lived in Hazleton for 10 years and works as a phlebotomist at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Hazleton.

“Right then and there, I lost faith in Republicans and Democrats who can’t come to simple solutions that not only affect me, but many people,” Cahalane said.

At the time, Cahalane said he had a friend who was running for office in Selinsgrove who encouraged him to run for office in Hazleton.

He shrugged off the idea at first and joked with his fellow co-workers about making a run for office.

At the encouragement of his co-workers, who called for “fresh blood and new ideas,” Cahalane decided to delve into the political scene by researching local ordinances, Third Class City Code and how campaigns are run.

“To me, the big question is why is there so much fighting locally when it’s really not that hard,” he said.

The government shutdown prompted him to switch political affiliations, from Democrat to an independent.

The 32-year-old Hayes Street resident got a swift introduction to city politics when his nomination papers were challenged in Luzerne County court because the political designation was changed from “independent” to “non-partisan/no affiliation.”

A pair of judges dismissed a petition to have him removed from the ballot.

Cahalane, a married father of two, said he relied on social media when running a grassroots campaign.

While campaigning, voters delivered a simple message, Cahalane said

“It was the same recycled politicians,” he said. “People are just tied of seeing the same faces and hearing the same rhetoric.”

Cahalane believes drug abuse is the biggest problem in the city — and fuels shootings, gang fights, crime and robberies.

“It all centralizes around drugs,” he said.

He favors a crackdown on drugs and gangs and working to develop programs to keep children off the streets.

“We as elected officials — as adults — need to be teaching kids more,” he said. “We need to promote positively for them.”

Maximizing the use of Hazleton’s parks and playgrounds would be a way for adults and children to take pride in the city and stay out of trouble, he said.

“If the mayor and council are out there with the kids … we need to show them we do value them, we want them to respect what they have and we need to support them,” he said.

The DARE program could be another tool for educating children about drugs while building relationships between young residents and the police department, he said.

If staffing shortages prevent police from administering the program, Cahalane said he’d be more than willing to oversee it as mayor.

Gangs and violence are also a concern, both of which Cahalane said he’s familiar with from his time in Lawrence.

“In a small city that’s six square miles, there’s way too much crime going on,” he said.

Cahalane said he’s willing to hire part-time, full-time or create an auxiliary patrol, he emphasized that more officers won’t necessarily translate to a decrease in crime.

“We’re still going to have sexual assaults behind closed doors, we’re still going to have rapes, domestic (disputes),” he said. “You can’t solve everything all the time with more cops on the streets.”

The $1.4 million in legal fees the city was ordered to pay in its immigration court battle will hamstring the city’s efforts to come up with additional funds for bolstering the police department, but a volunteer auxiliary police force could provide money-saving solution by providing traffic patrol while acting as the eyes and ears for the city.

The city would have to come up with start-up funds for providing uniforms and radios for the auxiliary patrol, but Cahalane said the group could assist in providing security during community events, such as FunFest.

Crimewatch members, retired police officers or members of the military might be interested in serving on an auxiliary force, he said.

The city can tackle blight by using provisions afforded under state Act 90, which allows the city to establish a blight court and take other measures for attacking dilapidated properties, he said.

Cahalane said he wants to aggressively enforce city ordinances, which could provide a consistent source of revenue.

Promoting transparency in city government is another of his priorities, with the candidate saying he wants to tweak certain ordinances to benefit the city and have those laws available to residents in both English and Spanish.

“I know there’s a lot of people who don’t like that,” he said. “But let’s be realistic. We need to hold people accountable. If it’s in English and Spanish, there’s no excuse. You know the rules. Here’s your ticket.”

The city must also develop its laws and procedures so that citations and violation tickets aren’t as easily dismissed by the courts, he said.

If a code officer, for example, issues a ticket, the city must keep a record of who issued the ticket, why it was issued and other information so that the city can defend it in court.

Cahalane wants to work with the media to keep residents informed of all aspects of the city so that the public has a clear understanding of the laws that are proposed to how police responded to an incident.

Cahalane said he’d lobby to support small business in the city and work with CAN DO and Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce to attract manufacturers to the area.

The city can use its state liquid fuels allocation for repairing streets while taking a concept he learned with the Marines for addressing crime and blight in different sections of the city.

“What we did with the Marines is we had 30-, 60-, and 90-day plans,” he said. “For 30 days we’d attack, and in 60 days we’d follow up and we’d be meeting for the next 30 to 90 days. Now, (police) are running from problem to problem. They are wearing themselves out without an actual plan. They’re just going to calls.”

Money-saving initiatives would include scrutinizing spending at the airport and having city employees justify the salaries they earn, he said.

Cahalane contends the city can benefit from the services a professional negotiator when working with unions, but said the city is not in the position to give unionized workers all of the concessions they seek.

Cahalane is a proponent of having an accessible police department and city hall and wants police to switch to an online reporting system. He agrees with Cusat’s proposal for developing a texting hotline for police.

He opposes a sale of Hazleton City Authority’s water system, but said he’d be open to hearing lease proposals as an alternative to raising property taxes.

Unlike property taxes, water use can be controlled, he said.

Cahalane said he doesn’t foresee a property tax hike, but stopped short of making any promises. He said citizens might be more willing to accept an increase if they know specifically how that money would be spent.

“You can never say you’re not going to raise taxes,” he said.

He supports term limits, saying he would serve beyond one term only if he was written in.

Cahalane also wants to create a citizens council that would represent every ward in the city and share concerns or issues during monthly meetings with the administration.

Jeff Cusat

Cusat, of Alter Street, entered the mayoral race two years into his first term on council.

If elected, Cusat said he wants to avoid the finger-pointing and politics that he says have hampered progress and aggressively work to help small business and generate new sources of revenue.

“I’m trying to move the city forward, not wait and see what is going on,” he said. “Two years ago, I won my council seat. I was happy being there … but still don’t like the leadership and the target that the current administration and council are going for.”

Cusat said he became involved in politics because his family has a “vested interest” in the city through businesses it ran since settling on Alter Street in 1917.

His great grandfather established Cusat’s Cafe and the business has been run by his family for four generations. Cusat runs several small businesses, including Cusat’s Grill in Stroudsburg; Bellhops, LLC. And a property company/ticket business and travel agency.

Cusat believes his business experience will help him to run city government more efficiently.

In the past 1½ years he served on council, he introduced at least 32 items for adoption but said he has gotten little accomplished because his ideas are often tabled by other members of the governing body.

Realizing location and parking are vital for small businesses, Cusat said he introduced legislation that would’ve given business owners the opportunity to pay for their own parking spaces.

Council, however, refused to move forward on the proposal, he said.

“I really don’t agree with a lot of their stances on issues,” Cusat said. “We just aren’t getting out there in front of the issues.”

He wants to take a more proactive approach to running the city and end the practice of blaming past administrations for the city’s struggles.

“The past is the past,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how we got to the situation we’re in. We need to come up with solutions to get ourselves out of it.”

He wants to follow through with revenue-generating proposals that have died before council, including working with independent grant writers, bringing collection companies aboard that would work to add residents to the tax rolls and ensure business licenses have been obtained.

Recent efforts to bring a more aggressive collection company to pursue outstanding taxes have also fallen by the wayside, he said.

Over the past two months on council, Cusat said he’s worked to update the fine structure and authorize towing – which hasn’t been available in the past. Fire and Streets department employees have been authorized to file citations and Cusat said that wants to establish a city impound yard that would generate revenue through fines and storage fees. The city will be able to sell vehicles that haven’t been claimed within a certain time frame, he said.

“The big cities do it and they bring in a lot of revenue,” Cusat said. “It should help to clean up the city.”

He wants the city to give code enforcement employees authorization to issue violation tickets and said he’d work to have that department functioning seven days a week.

“I would eventually like to have that open seven days a week, from 7 to 7,” he said. “People work on the weekends. Why aren’t we out there?”

His ultimate goal is to have code enforcement operating as a self-sustaining department.

Code enforcement could address an “endless amount of code violations,” which would generate revenue while improving neighborhood conditions. Revenue wouldn’t dry up until conditions improve, which wouldn’t necessarily be a negative, Cusat said.

While he’s open to hiring more full-time police, Cusat said he doesn’t see the downside to using part-time officers for carrying out certain tasks. He wants to create a police “transportation unit” that could be run by part-time officers.

Part-time staff, he said, ideally would consist of retired police or members of the military who have taken the Civil Service exam and are looking for work.

“I don’t agree with all that’s being said about part-time police being bad,” he said.

One of the more attractive features of part-time police is the cost when compared with a full-time officer, he said. A full-time officer costs the city over $120,000 annually in salary and benefits. Medical insurance costs nearly $20,000 per year for each employee. Insurance costs are expected to increase by as much as 15 percent next year, he said.

Part-time police would be key to ensuring City Hall is accessible 24/7, he said.

“One of the biggest crimes in the city is that the (police station) window is boarded up,” he said. “If you go there in an emergency situation, you see you’re locked out. You have to pick up a red phone and eventually someone comes out to see you. That’s unacceptable.”

In addition to manning the station, a part-time employee can file paperwork and answer phones, he said.

He also wants to re-codify city laws and make them accessible to the public. Establishing a direct line with officials — and primarily police — is another goal he cited.

“If you move to this area, you don’t know what our laws are,” Cusat said. “There should be a texting tip line.”

A switch to an online system for filing incident reports could create more efficiencies while part-timers can handle the tasks of serving warrants, transporting prisoners, supervising prisoners in holding cells and securing crime scenes.

Fines and citations should be tweaked to ensure the people committing crimes are offsetting policing costs, he contends.

Building the tax base, retaining residents, street restoration, playground and street maintenance and an evaluation of a rental registration program are also among Cusat’s priorities.

Cusat believes the mayor must work to attract people and businesses to the city, particularly since Hazleton’s taxable value has fallen to $998 million.

“We need to address bringing people in and keeping people here,” Cusat said. “We are very business-unfriendly. There are no incentives to come and when they do some, we give them such a hard time and make such a process to open no one wants to come here.”

He said he’s had talks with a “couple of developers” who have expressed an interest in the city but did not disclose specific details.

As mayor, Cusat said he’d attend conferences that would give him the opportunity to market the city to prospective developers.

Working with small business is also important, he said.

“The city is not very helpful in helping them get going or staying open,” he said. “City Hall should have a liaison who could work to inform businesses and residents of zoning and health regulations.”

Playground upgrades are another priority, he said. In 2011, Cusat helped launch a project that revitalized James Street Playground. He hopes to replicate that initiative and spruce up 10 other playgrounds in Hazleton.

Cusat denied claims that he favors outsourcing the entire Streets Department and said he merely wants to reshuffle responsibilities to give the thinly-staffed department more time to focus on streets and infrastructure.

As mayor, Cusat said he’d achieve that goal — and help to save money — by contracting lawn maintenance to local landscaping companies.

The money saved through the arrangement can be put into summer youth programs, he said.

He also wants to revisit the rental registration initiative and focus more on street conditions. He said he would consider the sale or lease of Hazleton City Authority assets only as a “last resort.”

If elected, Cusat said he’d work to implement a land bank program and promote economic development and job creation aspects of the states’s City Revitalization and Improvement Zone (CRIZ) program.

He believes city hall can benefit from an administration and council that’s willing to communicate and compromise.

With council unable to agree upon a candidate for filling a vacant seat that was last held by Keith Bast, Cusat said the mayoral election could result in a similar scenario occurring next year.

Down one member this year, council will be without a fifth vote as it works to ratify the 2016 budget. The scenario could present problems if an override vote is required, he said.

Cusat said he’s been supportive of initiatives for revitalizing the downtown but wants to see similar initiatives undertaken for business districts along Diamond Avenue and Alter and Poplar streets.

The city, he said, must keep Hazleton Regional Airport and could benefit from the renovated facility.

“I have a few questions as in the last two years of the accounting system up there,” he said. “But, we’re pretty invested.”

A runway expansion is in the works and a firm that upgrades planes will run its business out of the airport, he said.

“Action up there could trickle down into the city,” Cusat said.

He supports a restructuring of city debt and paying the $1.4 million Hazleton owes attorneys for plaintiffs in its immigration court case over a period of 10 years. Cusat believes the city should’ve withdrawn from the case when it had been notified by its insurance carrier that Hazelton’s errors and omissions insurance wouldn’t cover legal fees, he said.

Jack Mundie

The four-term councilman and businessman believes his experience he gained from serving on council will help run the city more efficiently in the capacity of mayor.

“I think the mayor can really get things done,” Mundie said. “I see things I think I can fix.”

Contrary to the practices of outgoing Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi, Mundie pledged to rely on the services of a professional negotiator during contract talks with unionized employees.

Mundie, 58, believes the mayor’s efforts in negotiating contracts with the police and fire unions have resulted in long-term deals and missed opportunities to control expenses.

He took issue with provisions of a seven-year contract that the mayor negotiated with unionized firefighters, insisting that council took the position of having firefighters contributing more toward health care and pensions.

“He didn’t even negotiate, he just gave them whatever they want,” Mundie said of the firefighters pact.

A tentative agreement negotiated between the mayor and union representatives went to arbitration and council wasn’t informed of the development until the time frame for filing an appeal lapsed, Mundie said.

“We didn’t have notice,” he said. “Nothing was sent to us: not one word.”

If elected, the West Fourth Street resident said he’d promote transparency and would be willing to attend public meetings.

“I will attend every meeting,” he said. “I don’t care if people come with pitchforks and want to scream and yell with you. Yeah, you’re going to take criticism. But the mayor not coming (to meetings) was the worst decision. It was one of the biggest complaints when I talk to people.”

Not having a city administrator attend meetings also proved problematic for council members, Mundie said.

He opposes the idea of selling water authority assets, saying the city would have nothing to show once it spends the money it would receive from a sale.

A sale would likely lead to higher water rates that would no longer be under the control of a local authority, he said.

“Private sector vs. government-run ones owned by a company are much higher,” Mundie said of water rates. “They are regulated by the PUC, too, but they usually get what they ask for. In 10 or 20 years down the road, when water is $100 per month, they’d say, ‘What idiots decided to sell the water authority?’”

Mundie said he’d continue generating revenue for the city through a services agreement with the HCA.

He pitched two tracts of non-watershed land that could be sold under the agreement, which include approximately 22 acres near a reservoir the authority no longer uses off 19th Street. The land could be suitable for residential development, he said.

The city could also realize revenue from selling land in Humboldt East that’s also owned by the authority, he said.

Mundie believes the city have to come up with “out-of-the-box” solutions for raising revenue, such as asking the city’s tax collector to include a box on its forms for residents who want to contribute smaller returns toward police, recreation or fire programs.

He said the HCA can also include a similar section in a memo on its bills for customers who want to contribute to the city.

“It would be a way to put something on the bills to … try and raise money for police — whether they use it for the K-9 unit or whatever,” Mundie said of the proposal. “We have to start thinking about different ways to raise money for the city.”

Mundie wants to raise awareness about programs offered through Hazleton’s Community Development office. Residents who meet income requirements can secure federal Community Development funds for energy-efficient upgrades at homes. The work, he said, has covered projects such as window replacement, insulation and “help with heating sources.”

Mundie spoke favorably of renovations conducted at Hazleton Regional Airport and said work to expand the runway, enter hangar-lease agreements, renovate the pilot’s lounge and bring an airplane upgrading firm to the facility will be beneficial.

An engineer, meanwhile, is working to iron out an agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration that would allow the city to recoup money that it invested in the airport in the past.

Improvements have helped turn a facility that was once a drain on the city budget into a self-sustaining operation, he said.

“As long as the airport is not costing the city money, I’m in favor of it,” he said. “Once it begins to be a cash drain I think we can say, ‘Hey, let’s look to get out of this.’”

While the city must continue searching for sustainable revenue sources, Mundie said city leaders should consider a property tax increase as an “absolute last resort.”

“Not only are people fed up with crime, they are fed up with high taxes,” he said.

Tax increases impact property owners in Hazleton and neighboring communities far greater than in municipalities to the north because homes are selling for far below assessed value, he said.

Luzerne County reassessed properties at a time when home values were at a “high point.”

“That’s been happening constantly,” Mundie said. “People are selling their houses and getting half or less than what they’re assessed at. How fair is that to Hazleton?”

Mundie said he lobbied county officials for reassessing properties in Hazleton, but said they lost interest in his proposal when they learned the process would cost about $2 million.

“Keeping these reassessments, we’re paying more than our fair share of taxes,” he said. “We have a problem in our city if they lower that and we’d have to adjust our (tax) base. But, people are trying to sell their homes and their taxes are $1,000 and $2,000 and they should be half that.”

Mundie said he’d be interested in getting information from the county about the reassessment issues.

While he’d be open to hiring more full-time police officers, Mundie said the city must consider health care and pension costs that would increase over time.

He believes state government must lead the charge in pension reform or local municipalities will experience problems plaguing larger cities in America.

Mundie believes the city could benefit from hiring part-time police, an idea he supported while serving on council. Council voted to allocate $100,000 for hiring part-time cops this year, but the administration did not follow through with the initiative.

He disagrees with arguments made by the mayor and police chief against hiring part-timers, saying they could transport prisoners or be used for offsetting more than $260,000 in police overtime that accrued last year.

“They can free up more police to do patrols or do work that’s more pressing in the city that would help deter crime,” he said. “Most of the people I talk to think that part-time police can help. Who knows, it might not work. It might be stupid.”

Part-time police could also patrol neighborhoods in foot, he said.

Mundie said the $1.4 million in legal fees that the city must pay plaintiff attorneys in the immigration case is less costly than the $1.85 million to $2 million settlement the mayor considered at one point but questioned the validity of some of those fees.

Although an attorney for the city advised against appealing, Mundie believes it’s an option worth investigating.

The fees could impact the people that civil rights organizations intended to protect, he said.

He also said he regrets paying $75,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by Thomas Vercusky after a Grant Street apartment building was declared unsafe for occupancy in 2011.

Mundie said he’s supportive of efforts for revitalizing the downtown and said he worked with several developers as a member of the HCA board to preserve the building.

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Gubernatorial candidates spar about Louisiana’s high incarceration rate

Republican David Vitter’s first television ad against his Nov. 21 runoff opponent Democrat John Bel Edwards takes aim at Edwards’ position on criminal justice — specifically, Edwards’ talking points about Louisiana’s high incarceration rate.

The ad claims Edwards, who is being backed by the Louisiana Sheriffs Association, wants to release “5,500 violent thugs” from prison — a position that Edwards says has been misconstrued and taken out of context.

In reality, both candidates support some form of prison reform, including the expansion of early release programs for nonviolent offenders.

Edwards and Vitter won the top two spots in Louisiana’s Oct. 24 primary, sending them to a head-to-head runoff to succeed Gov. Bobby Jindal, who can’t seek re-election due to term limits and has set off on a presidential campaign.

Lafayette Parish Sheriff Michael Neustrom, one of the sheriffs backing Edwards in the governor’s race, said he thinks progressive programs that aim to reduce the prison population responsibly are needed in Louisiana.

“We have to do things differently,” he said.

He said Louisiana prisons are overcrowded with minor, nonviolent offenders and that reform would be both economical and smart for the state. He noted that Texas could be a model for the types of reform that should be implemented here.

Louisiana has earned the dubious distinction of having — not just the nation’s — the world’s highest incarceration rate. There are nearly twice as many people jailed in Louisiana per capita as the national average. As of 2014, there were nearly 40,000 people behind bars in the state.

The prison system costs Louisiana nearly $350 million a year.

It’s an issue that the Louisiana Legislature has grappled with for several years, slowly winnowing away some of the mandatory minimum sentencing requirements implemented decades ago.

“We have to look at proven strategies that have been implemented elsewhere,” Edwards said in an interview Friday.

He said he thinks Louisiana should take a serious look at pretrial diversion programs, including sobriety and drug courts, as well as special programs for the mentally ill and veterans. Edwards is a military veteran.

“That’s the type of approach we should take,” he said, adding that the reduced costs on incarceration could be reinvested to reduce crime.

He said Vitter’s characterization of his views is misleading.

The 5,500 figure, which Edwards has noted in several speeches — not just the Southern University speech the Vitter ad cites — is the number of prisoners that puts Louisiana above the state with the No. 2 incarceration rate. He’s used it as a hypothetical number that Louisiana would need to reduce by just to get out of the No. 1 spot.

“I have never said I have a plan to release anybody,” he said, noting that the state has to set goals that it would like to achieve.

Asked about his views on sentencing reform and Louisiana’s high incarceration rate, Vitter referred reporters to his policy plan, “Together, Louisiana Strong.” The plan includes a chapter on “fighting violent crime and reforming criminal justice,” but it doesn’t specifically outline efforts to reduce Louisiana’s prison population.

It mentions that Vitter wants to implement “cost-effective work release and monitoring programs,” but doesn’t provide details on those ideas.

“I support common sense,” Vitter said Friday. “It is fundamentally different from John Bel Edwards.”

Vitter said he had not read recent legislative proposals that have aimed to reduce penalties for nonviolent offenses as a way to rein in the prison population.

He repeatedly characterized Edwards’ comments as a “proposal” that his opponent has made and said his main objection is to the figure named.

“We don’t need to pick an arbitrary number,” he said. “That’s a completely irresponsible proposal.”

He added that Mississippi’s rate shouldn’t even enter the discussion.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at

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Gardeners can ease butterflies’ plight – Tribune

Unless you’ve been living under a rock with the slugs and earthworms, you’re most likely aware of the struggle of the monarch butterfly.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, the monarch butterfly population has plummeted by more than 90 percent in the past 20 years.

These beautiful insects have been dealing with the perils of habitat loss and pesticide exposure here and in their wintering grounds in Mexico. Each autumn, the monarchs fly to warmer climes via one of the insect world’s most incredible mass migrations, with millions of insects making the journey of up to 3,000 miles.

The next summer they return to our backyards to breed. Several generations are born in the East before cold weather arrives and the monarchs again start their epic migration.

Home gardeners might wonder what they can do to help the monarch butterflies, whose survival clearly is threatened. The answer is simple: Plant lots of monarch-friendly flowering plants.

Next summer, when the migrating monarchs return to Pennsylvania, they’ll be searching for flowers. The adult butterflies need the carbohydrates in nectar before breeding can begin. Many plants — such as liatris, coneflower, asters, buttonbush, lantana, tithonia and purpletop vervain — are excellent nectar sources for the adults. Be sure to include a variety of flowering plants in your garden with a range of bloom times, and flower colors and shapes.

To lay eggs, female monarchs need a special plant — milkweed. Plants in the genus Asclepias are the sole food source for monarch caterpillars. Female butterflies will only lay eggs on the leaves of members of the milkweed family, and unfortunately, much of North America’s once-plentiful milkweed has been replaced with lawns, buildings, roads and farmland.

By introducing milkweed into our gardens, we’re providing the butterflies with a nectar source and a larval food source. The caterpillars are completely dependent on milkweed for their maturation and remain on the plants until they are ready to pupate several weeks after hatching.

The distinctive white, yellow and black striping on the monarch caterpillar make it hard to miss, and if you’re lucky, you’ll discover several caterpillars on your milkweed plants each season. It’s fun to watch them grow, knowing your garden is playing an important role in the survival of this incredible insect.

There are several milkweed species that are good choices for the garden and the monarch.

Common milkweed ( Asclepias syriaca) is probably the easiest to grow, but it’s also one of the most aggressive. Plant this milkweed only if you have plenty of room for it to spread. It reaches up to 5 feet in height, has large balls of pinkish purple flowers in summer, and does quite well in poorly drained soil and regular garden soil. As with most milkweeds, the flowers are followed by tapered seed pods.

Butterflyweed ( Asclepias tuberosa) is a great choice for gardeners with limited space. The orange flowers are born on 2-foot-tall, clump-forming plants. Enjoying full sun, this species is great for dry and moist sites.

Swamp milkweed ( Asclepias incarnata) also is called pink milkweed. This easy-to-grow perennial has large clusters of bright pink blossoms. Though it’s said to need lots of water, mine is growing in a well-drained garden area and seems to do just fine. It reaches 3 to 4 feet in height.

One of my favorite milkweeds is purple milkweed ( Asclepias purpurascens). The bloom clusters are a deep magenta and appear earlier than other milkweeds. The plant reaches 4 feet in height and is not as aggressive as common milkweed.

Most perennial milkweed species are easily started by collecting the seeds from a friend’s plant, or by purchasing them from a seed source such as Ernst Conservation Seeds ( or Botanical Interests ( The seeds are ready to harvest from a mature plant as soon as the pods dry and split, but they will not germinate unless they’ve been exposed to cold temperatures for several months. This process, called cold stratification, naturally occurs when you tuck the seeds under a very light layer of soil out in the garden anytime between September and Christmas. The seeds will sit dormant through the winter, and come spring, they’ll germinate on their own.

It’s possible to divide established milkweed plants or purchase starter transplants from a nursery. But most milkweed species resent being transplanted, and trying to dig up a wild plant and move it into your garden is a recipe for disaster (and illegal, if you don’t have permission from the landowner).

Milkweed is almost always best started from seed.

Plant milkweed — not only is it good for your garden, it’s essential for the monarchs.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners� with Trib Home and Garden Editor Doug Oster at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden: A Natural Approach to Pest Control� and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.� Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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Tropical Gardening: Arbor Day is time to think trees – Hawaii Tribune

Next weekend, Hawaii’s focus is on Arbor Day and that means planting more trees!

According to Peter Van Dyke at Amy Greenwell Ethno Botanical Garden in mauka South Kona, native trees such as kamani, manele, halapepe, kou and hibiscus will be available. They will be giving away trees from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Friday through Sunday (Nov. 6-8). Most trees will be Hawaiian natives and plants introduced by the early Polynesians referred to as “canoe” plants such as kukui.

For details, call the garden at 323-3318.

Also, the Hawaii Department of Forestry Waimea nursery will be distributing native plants from 8-noon Friday.

For more information, call nursery manager Jacob Witcraft at 887-6063.

Normally, the state Forestry Service in Hilo supplies trees on this special day as well, but fears of spreading little fire ants from Hilo to other sites has meant no plants will be available from there.

Speaking of ants, it is a good idea to check any plants purchased or given to you to make sure you do not bring an infestation to your garden.

We are fortunate county and state planners encourage landscaping as much as possible when developers apply for permits to build subdivisions and shopping centers. Unfortunately, our requirements are somewhat minimal when compared to many communities in Florida and California that also depend on a strong tourist industry.

Developers from Kohanaiki, Kukio, Hualalai, Waikoloa and north to Kohala go that extra mile to really beautify their projects with lush landscaping. Smaller projects in Hilo and Kona often do not make that effort. When it comes to maintaining the landscape, they sometimes try to save a few bucks and the landscape deteriorates.

In the long run, millions of dollars might be lost, as well as not keeping the communities attractive to local residents and visitors alike. To make matters worse, even though permits are given based on a commitment to landscaping, there sometimes is no follow through or trees are planted and then cut down at a later date.

It is vital we continue to encourage good landscaping on big projects such as new roads and highways while at the same time landscape and maintain the little pieces of paradise we call our homes.

Our island is special in that we can grow almost any plant in the many microclimates that exist here. We have some of the most beautiful scenery found anywhere in the world. However, it does take conscious planning, planting and maintenance to bring out the best.

By planting trees, we actually can change the “microclimate” and make our gardens and community several degrees cooler in the summer.

If trees are placed just right, we even can create a garden climate that is warmer and less windy during the cooler season. It’s really interesting when we expand these basic principles.

USDA foresters have research data that supports the theory reforestation might increase local rainfall in dry areas and modify temperature extremes. You might say trees are natural air conditioners.

When enough are planted in an area, temperatures remain cooler in the summer. The sun’s rays don’t have a chance to penetrate and heat up the ground.

In the winter, those strong trade winds are blocked. The trees keep things cool in July and give protection from wind in January.

The best place to start improving the beauty of the island is right at home.

In selecting trees for shade, consider the hundreds of species of tropical plants that produce food as well as shade. Depending on your taste, available space for planting and location, we can grow almost anything.

The more popular types of fruit trees include mango, coconut, citrus, guava, avocado, papaya, lychee, breadfruit and banana.

Of course, our No. 1 nut, the macadamia, also is an attractive choice.

Besides the more common edibles, the cashew, carambola, sapodilla, sugar apple, sour sop, loquat, longan and tamarind are other ornamental trees.

We don’t have to stop with those.

Shrubs such as the natal plum, ceylon gooseberry, surinam cherry or pineapple guava also can be used.

Vines often add the right touch on a fence. Passion fruit, ceylon spinach, winged bean and others will produce goodies to treat your appetite.

Even edible ground covers can be incorporated into a garden.

Many herbs are tough and attractive as are some of our tropical vegetables, such as dry land taro, sweet potato, monstera, and Tahitian spinach.

There are so many choices, the list is almost endless. Several books are available at local bookstores and garden supply stores. Sunset’s “National Garden Book” is a great starter.

There also are many publications available through the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service to help you with care and use of some of the plants you might select.

These can help in planning your landscape and maintaining it in the proper manner.

This information is supplied by the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. For further information about gardening and landscaping, contact one of our master gardeners at 322-4892 in Kona or 981-5199 in Hilo.

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Gardening tips: how to turn a small terrace and balcony into a year-round treat

Making a great outside space from a small terrace and a tinier balcony presents a challenge, even for the most creative garden designers.
“All roof gardens and balconies are tricky because there are so many construction issues to consider, such as drainage, weight load and street access,” says garden designer Charlotte Rowe, who was called in to work her magic on the sixth floor of a warehouse development near Tower Bridge for a couple who wanted year-round space for entertaining.
“For this project, we had to use a furniture hoist to bring in the planting and the planters. Everything had to be made bespoke for it all to fit properly.”
With spectacular local views such as the Shard as a backdrop, the key is to keep the design simple, says Rowe, with clean, sharp lines and a small, select evergreen plant palette that, with the aid of a built-in irrigation system to offset high-rise drying winds, is easy to maintain.
“The clients wanted both seating and dining areas on the terrace, which is only three-and-a-half metres deep and nine metres long. We created separate rooms by turning the decking around, so that for the seating area, opposite the sitting room indoors, we placed the decking down the depth to make the space appear deeper.
“Then we ran the boards along the width of the dining area, as well as making a square ‘rug’ by contrasting the decking beneath the coffee table. We do that a lot, not just to delineate spaces, but because a long expanse of decking is just plain boring.”
Another device Rowe used to differentiate the two areas was to use slatted panels of Western red cedar — the same wood as the decking — for the benches in the seating area, then paint the same-sized raised bed in the dining area a contrasting off-white.
“For the trellis boundary walls, we kept the slats close together at the bottom, and then went wider at the top, not just to soften the effect, but also to allow in a bit more light. It’s a trick we use a good deal,” she adds.
A bank of clipped rosemary, set with a trio of olive trees, provides a fragrant headrest for the built-in benches that have leafy corners of clipped Pittosporum tobira Nanum and cushions of waterproof fabric from John Lewis.
As well as lighting the olive trees, and setting lights in the decking between tall planters of box domes, Rowe ran a line of lighting along the base of the sitting room glass doors to avoid the gloomy “black mirror” effect when the clients look out at night.  

Beneath the terrace, one floor down, is an even trickier space that the clients wanted not only to be transformed, but to have a strong focal point. In a space just 2.3 metres by 3.4 metres, this is a tough call for any designer. “It’s not a large enough balcony to sit out on for any length of time, but it was on constant show from the interior, so needed to look good,” says Rowe.
“The back wall was a horrid metal with a mirror slapped on it. We had to be careful, because the other side of the wall was a communal staircase, so we could only add a façade.
“The client wanted some kind of mirror to make the space appear larger, but I’m not crazy about clear mirror in gardens. I suggested making it a subtler dark grey and encasing it with trellis, so it became a dark mirrored panel that was still able to reflect light.”
Against the wall, Rowe placed a dark grey aluminium bench stashed with two matching cube stools beneath, designed by Jennifer Newman. Rowe’s solution for a strong focal point was to build a tall, slim polished plaster fireplace at one end that could be ignited at the flick of a switch, and to flank it on either side with two narrow olive tree pillars.
As a finishing touch to the fireplace, she added a skeletal animal head, complete with antlers, that matched the head already positioned on the sitting room wall indoors. “Why not have a touch of ancestral home, outdoors, even if it is in the heart of the city?” says Rowe. Why not, indeed.

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Gardening Tips: Recognizing poisonous snakes in the area

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Tips and recollections

Posted: Sunday, November 1, 2015 12:30 am

Tips and recollections

By Bob Beyfuss
For Columbia-Greene Media

I ran out of room before I finished discussing last year’s garden successes and failures.

I want to thank a few readers for their excellent suggestions and for sharing their experiences too! Gardeners are usually interesting people who share a passion for creating and observing life in an increasingly unnatural world. We are different than most people in that regard.

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Sunday, November 1, 2015 12:30 am.

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Garden Tips: Figs a lovely, edible addition to South Florida landscape

The often-seen “fruit” of a fig is not really a fruit but a part of the flower structure called a syconium. The flowers are small, fleshy and borne on the inside wall of the hollow syconium.

When pollinated by a very small (almost microscopic) wasp, the true fruits form as small, hard seeds. The seeds are noticeable as the small dots in the filling of Fig Newtons.

The Ficus pictured is grown for its fruit. An old-fashioned favorite of Florida gardeners, fig trees are known to horticulturists as Ficus carica. They grow best in full sun or part shade and are tolerant of sandy soils. They prefer an alkaline pH and the soil must be well-drained.

Figs are drought-tolerant once established, though regular irrigation will increase fruit production. Figs are moderately salt-tolerant.

Figs are small trees or large shrubs. The leaves are deciduous, palmate, with three to seven lobes, rough on the upper surfaces and fuzzy or pubescent on the lower surfaces. The leaf margins are sometimes toothed. The branches are irregular and the trunk small; both have silver-gray bark.

Fig trees exude large quantities of milky latex sap when damaged or pruned.

Using edible plants in the landscape is a hot trend, but the irregularly shaped fig tree is an acquired taste. Though the shape is very interesting, it often is not welcomed in highly formalized or tightly pruned landscapes.

However, there is nothing more interesting that a well-grown fig tree highlighted with night lighting.

Place fig trees where fallen fruit will not be a nuisance. They also need room to grow, between 13 and 20 feet on square should be adequate. Figs are not particular about fertilizer; use a balanced fertilizer with a full minor element component applied two to four times per year. Good fig varieties for Florida include “Celeste,” “Brown Turkey” (aka “Everbearing”) and “Green Ischia.”

Root-knot nematodes are serious pests of figs and can make them short-lived and unproductive.

There are no pesticides available to control nematodes; the best control is to suppress nematode populations with thick layers of mulch and lots of organic matter in the soil.

There also are several leaf diseases that can cause problems; the best control for these is to remove fallen leaves to prevent reinfection.

Fig trees can be stubborn about bearing fruit. An old wives’ tale suggests beating the tree with a stick will cause that fruit to form.

There is no scientific proof this works; however, there is evidence that such vibrations send a message of danger throughout the plant. Plants under stress often flower in an effort to “save” the species.

Many longtime Florida gardeners swear by this method.

Carol Cloud Bailey, correspondent

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Carolyne Roehm’s Tips for Growing a Gorgeous Garden

Bouquets a bit more sophisticated than those were the subject of my previous book, Flowers, published in 2012. But when I started working on At Home in the Garden, which Clarkson Potter is releasing this fall, I wanted to get away from snapping close-ups of blossoms and record larger views of my garden at Weatherstone, my house in Sharon, Connecticut. (I use a Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital camera and basically learned photography by taking too many pictures.) A broader perspective was also key. While there are a lot of great how-to books around, this one is about visual inspiration, from highlighting outdoor elements that fascinate me (topiaries, furniture, pots) to creating a garden you can entertain in. At Home in the Garden also includes my watercolors of flowers. In fact, painting is the form of meditation that works best for me—I flunked the regular kind—and it makes me look more closely at the blooms and their details.

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