For more than a decade the Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence (HOPE) has been fighting racism. If you discriminate, their lawyers will fry you. It's been a good ride. But now, on the heels of a guilty plea by felonious employee Harriette Simmons for defrauding HOPE clients, a county audit has found more problems. Skirting nepotism rules, HOPE executive director William Thompson hired his nephew, Ruben Thompson, and his niece, Leisha Austin -- Ruben as a consultant and Leisha as a $55,000-per-year executive. Also the taxpayer-backed group paid $150 to enter a golf competition. Thompson says his nephew and niece are well qualified (Ruben has left to attend law school), and the Metro Miami Action Plan tournament fee is no big deal. "I am taking the audit under advisement," Thompson says. "All I have done is give back to the community that I come from."

A trio of darts to the Miami Herald, which last week -- following calls from Riptide and not long after killing its highly regarded Sunday magazine, Tropic -- announced two new publications:

•The story about Street (a new "free alternative weekly newspaper," according to the Herald,) read like a press release. Please, guys, where is the analysis? The story didn't include the fact, made clear in an internal job posting, that there will be only one full-time staff writer. Nor did it mention the purported competition: New Times.

•The story about the new Jewish weekly, the Jewish Herald, didn't discuss the controversial past (as an underhanded media manipulator) of new editor and general manager Gerald Schwartz. Nor did it reference the competition.

•Perhaps most outrageously, a recent story in El Nuevo Herald about ex-POW and U.S Air Force Col. Ed Hubbard, who identified Cubans as his torturers, skipped a key fact. In a press conference Hubbard shocked nearly everyone by advocating the United States establish relations with Fidel Castro. El Nuevo didn't mention a word. Pandering perhaps?

Next, some good news. On August 31 authorities arrested skinflint Miami Shores Montessori school owner Ibrahim Mohamed. The charge: felony grand theft.

Miami-Dade County's most expensive school may cost even more. In a lawsuit filed last month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, builders of Northwestern high demanded $14 million from the school board. Gaston Thacker General Partners, a Georgia company, claims it suffered big losses because of the board's nettlesome minority set-aside requirements and its inefficient bureaucracy.

Although the claim is still in litigation, it's interesting on two counts. First, the school, which opened in 1997, cost almost three times the projected renovation price of $28 million. And second, in 1996 the state issued a scathing review of the district's bumbling of Northwestern's construction. Indeed the bond issue that paid for Northwestern is beginning to appear as one of the most screwed-up uses of taxpayer money in South Florida's mistake-ridden history.

Two good pirate radio stations the feds can't keep down: 97.7 FM, a hip-hop and R&B outfit run by DJs of the Pure Funk Playhouse on NW Eighteenth Avenue in Liberty City, and MIXX 96 (FM 96), known for a DJ named Khalid. Both stations were briefly closed as part of an assault on unlicensed broadcasters. Moreover the area's pirate airwaves are richer than ever. At least two other stations were on the air on a recent night. We'd give you the frequencies, but we don't want to put a crimp in this particular mutiny.

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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse