Mountain View May Be Getting

A Bit More Expensive for Woman

What would you pay to rent a house and 23 scenic acres in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park?

Betty Dick pays $25 per month for her piece of mountain real estate, and she is angry that the government wants to raise her rent.

Dick, 83, and her late husband leased the property in 1979. The lease expired this month.

But Dick says she wants to keep her summer home, on the same terms, until she dies. The National Park Service says she can have the house and a five-acre plot -- but only if she pays rent of about $1,000 per month.

Dick has taken her fight to the U.S. Senate, which held a hearing on her mountain home last week.

Democrats have proposed that Dick keep the whole plot, at the original rent, for life. Republicans support the Park Service proposal to make her pay market rental rates if she wants to stay.

Votes on the competing bills in Congress are expected after the summer recess -- which gives Betty Dick at least one more month to enjoy her national park bargain.

-- T.R. Reid

Divorced Parent Champions

'Virtual Visitation' Legislation

As a non-custodial divorced parent who is often on the road, Michael Gough misses reading bedtime stories to his daughter Saige, 6, and helping her with homework. Instead, Gough chats with Saige over the Internet during "virtual visitation."

When Gough, 41, lived in Salt Lake City and his daughter lived in the Milwaukee area, he said, her mother wasn't receptive to the idea. So he spearheaded a bill in the Utah legislature giving parents the right to virtual visitation. He is pushing similar legislation in Wisconsin, where he has lived since last fall.

State Sen. Cathy Stepp and state Rep. Robin Vos introduced bills that would allow Wisconsin judges to include virtual visitation rights in divorce proceedings. Gough said former spouses might be worried children will spend too much time on the computer. But he said his ex-wife has come around to the idea.

"We can see each other while we're talking. I can show her pictures from my travels around the world; parents use it to practice music lessons or language lessons," he said. "This really helps break down the distance barrier that happens whether you're around the corner or around the globe."

-- Kari Lydersen

'Ghetto Talent Show' Sounds

An Off Note to Many in Miami

Miami wants kids to know it's a hip city. But how to do it?

Well, the city's parks department had an idea: hold a "ghetto talent show" in a predominantly black neighborhood. Just for good measure, the parks honchos thought they would throw in a watermelon-eating contest.

We are not making this up.

When the city's press release went out, temperatures rose among black residents in Miami's Model City neighborhood, where the city's ghetto talent was supposed to be put on display.

The city went for a little damage control, assuring residents that, as city spokesman Kelly Penton said, Miami was "trying to communicate with children" of a new generation that does not consider "ghetto" pejorative.

That didn't really appease anyone, so the city dumped the talent show.

But the complaints were a no-go on the watermelon-eating contest. It has been a part of end-of-summer picnics in Miami for four years, and when the picnic kicked off Friday morning, the contest was on, no matter how much it offended the neighbors.

-- Manuel Roig-Franzia

Mayor Targets Council Rivals

Serving in the National Guard

The mayor of Prospect Park, N.J., has struck a ringing blow for politics, local style, tossing two rivals off the borough council because they are in the National Guard and are occupied overseas.

Mayor Will Kubofcik last week declared that the two councilman will have to yield their seats. All three are Democrats, but they have often clashed over committee assignments.

Councilman Thomas Jefferson is driving a truck in Iraq, and Herb Perez is a military police officer assigned to a base in Germany.

Kubofcik said that the borough's Democratic Committee -- whose members happen to include his mother and uncle -- would pick candidates to fill the seats. He said that the council has had to delay votes because it lacks a quorum.

"It's just getting ridiculous," Kubofcik told the Record newspaper. "At this point, you can see our inability to run the government effectively."

In fact, the council has enough remaining members to reach a quorum. But some have not bothered to show up at meetings.

As for Kubofcik? He is moving to the nearby town of Bloomingdale a year before his term ends.

-- Michael Powell