Florence Snyder - 2/12 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 5 – Hey Florida, talk to the hand!

One hour isn’t much time for a Senate subcommittee “confirmation hearing” on the heads of the agencies as important to “health and human services” as the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

But that’s what Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Anitere Flores allotted, and not one second longer. So, you’d think that AHCA’s acting secretary Justin Senior and DOH’s Interim Surgeon General Celeste Philip would each get a half-hour of the committee’s time … but you would be wrong.

Senior’s “hearing” was a tongue-bath and tummy rub that consumed most of the hour. To be fair, the feds had just dropped 1.5 billion into the AHCA’s coffers. Maybe Flores & Friends think that cash came Florida’s way due to Senior’s executive brilliance, as opposed to President Donald Trump‘s synergistic bromance with Gov. Rick Scott.

Or maybe they were running out the clock to get Philip safely to the border of Munchkinland and out of Oz altogether before she stumbled over that pesky poppy field.

Delray Beach Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader and large numbers of Floridians want to know why we don’t acknowledge the state’s opioid epidemic and get on with the business of dealing with it. In the minuscule amount of time available for Rader to ask and Philip to bob, weave and weasel her way through an “answer,” viewers got a pretty clear preview of coming attractions on the Opioid Listening Tour, announced last week by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who are not expected to attend.

Instead, Philip and others with titles, but no actual power, will deploy to four cities in three days for 90-minute “community conversations.”  It will be like watching a Lifetime Cable movie, but with less depth and sincerity.

 

Florence Snyder: Why children die: B.A.B.Y. Court works, but Florida prefers to pay for things that don’t

Planting pinwheels may “raise awareness” of child abuse, but the hard and labor-intensive work of preventing child abuse goes on in places where skilled professionals collaborate to do more difficult things.

One such place is Orange County’s B.A.B.Y. Court. There, Circuit Judge Alicia Latimore offers lollipops to toddlers and tots who have suffered the trauma of abuse or neglect. That’s the fun part. The judge’s serious, life-changing work is to closely monitor the progress of the teams of social workers who help mitigate the long-term damage that predictably follows when pre-verbal children suffer harm at the hands of adults who were supposed to protect them.

B.A.B.Y. Court was incubated at the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy, where “lessons learned” is more than a leaf of word salad tossed into a news release every time a child dies in “state care.” Dr. Mimi Graham and her colleagues are Florida’s head cheerleaders for evidence-based methods of “trauma-informed care.” In the hands of appropriately educated professionals, it is entirely possible to break the intergenerational cycles of abuse, addiction and mental illness that break spirits, drain public treasuries and kill children who could have been saved.

Florida’s social welfare system is stuck in the mid-20th century, where caseworkers in the trenches receive little pay and less respect from a rotating cast of “leadership teams.” Failure is not only an option, it’s inevitable in a system that hasn’t had a new idea since the Graham administration, and isn’t trying very hard to fund programs that will give taxpayers a significantly better ROI.

Judges like Latimore who preside over dependency court dockets of despair say that B.A.B.Y. Court has helped close the revolving door through which families re-enter the child welfare system. The average cost-per-child of getting it right the first time is $10,000, and right now, Orange County has room in the budget for a paltry 10 cases at a time.

The Department of Children and Families, by contrast, has room in its budget for a “communications team” that includes nine flacks and a “Creative Director.”

That says a lot about what we value. And what we don’t.

 

Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 4 – Showtime at the Kabuki Theater

When Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi finally got around to talking about Florida’s opioid crisis, the hot air was suffocating.

In parts of Florida, opioids have overtaken homicides and DUIs as a cause of very premature and utterly unnecessary death. That is not breaking news to anyone who has been paying even a little attention. In a time when reporters are in short supply, almost every newspaper in Florida has made a noble, front-page attempt to assess the grievous impact of the opioid epidemic on their local communities.

The truth is out there, along with plenty of supporting data. Much of it comes from Palm Beach County, where “sober homes,” operated by insurance fraudsters and human traffickers, have proliferated like pythons in the Everglades. A relentless newsroom at The Palm Beach Post prodded the community to confront the mounting death toll, and to come up with evidence-based strategies and solutions.

And that’s exactly what the community did.

There’s a grand jury report full of strategies and solutions courtesy of Bondi’s hand-picked pill mill czar Dave Aronberg. There’s a Sober Homes Task Force Report. There’s a Heroin Task Force trying hard to get a second vote for a good plan of action that starts with joining states like Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia in acknowledging opioid addiction as a public health emergency that can be significantly ameliorated by public health professionals.

But who cares what an army of experts and affected citizens and taxpayers think?

Not Scott, whose brother’s unspecified addiction “taught” him that “In the end, it’s always going to come down to that individual and that family is going to have to deal with this issue.”

Not Bondi, who brings to President Donald Trump‘s Opioid Task Force insights such as “No short-term fix is going to help this problem,” as if anybody on earth had suggested a “short-term fix.”

Scott and Bondi will be sending a multiagency Kabuki Theater Touring Company around the state to hold “workshops” and “generate ideas.”  That news did not go down well in Palm Beach County, where beleaguered taxpayers, addicts struggling to recover, and grieving families of the dead are stocking up on torches, pitchforks and rotten tomatoes.

Excellent ideas are all over the place. It’s leadership that’s in short supply.

Dave Aronberg takes a number and gets in line

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg added his name last week to the list of public officials begging Gov Rick Scott to recognize the opioid epidemic for the public health emergency that it is, or at least have the guts to look them in the eye and tell them why he won’t.

America’s opioid problem is so “yuge” that Scott’s pal, President Donald Trump. has added it to son-in-law Jared Kushner‘s portfolio of priorities. Maybe Aronberg can get an audience with Kushner next time he’s in residence in the Winter Palace at Mar-a-Lago. Better still for Kushner to cross the bridge and see for himself the suffering occasioned by the “proliferation of fraud and abuse in Florida’s addiction treatment industry.” The pain and misery visited upon addicts and the people who love them is incalcuable. The body count and hard dollar cost to taxpayers are much more easily measured. In Palm Beach County, with its plethora of shady “sober homes,” the numbers are staggering.

Since 2012, the number of opiod overdoses has doubled once and doubled again. Nearly 600 people overdosed-to-death in 2016, according to The Palm Beach Post. The newspaper has been crunching the data and telling the stories of the dead, and the ones left behind, for months. It makes for excruciating reading, but Scott and his “leadership team” are unmoved.

The Post shamed Scott into a throwing citizens, taxpayers and grieving survivors a small bone last month when the Governor grudgingly allowed he was “still reviewing” public officials’ pleas to take Florida’s opioid crisis seriously.

Then, he returned to his regularly scheduled talking points.

Aronberg will be harder to ignore than “the liberal media,” and the first responders and emergency room staffs who are staggering under the weight of an impossible workload and wondering why Scott is more worried about ISIS than the crisis they deal with daily. Aronberg served as Attorney General Pam Bondi’s pill mill point man.

Bondi, a reliable Scott supporter, loves to talk about her leadership in shutting down pill mills, and now serves on Trump’s task force on opiod and other drug abuse.

A public health emergency delcalarion is overdue, and an idea whose time has surely come. If Scott continues to stonewall, there will be more deaths, and more public officials bearing pleas and petitions. The line forms to Aronberg’s right.

‘We Dine Together’ is rare good news from Boca Raton

Boca Raton, the plastic surgery capital of the world and a nice place to be from, is doing something right with its kids.

Located in south Palm Beach County, just minutes away from Ground Zero in Florida’s opioid crisis, Boca Raton is America’s City Most Likely to Be Mispronounced by Late Night Comedians and Out of Town Reporters.  One of them, CBS News’ Steve Hartman, visited Boca Raton High School and introduced the nation to some millennials who just might save the world.

We Dine Together is their effort to reinvent the high school lunch period. Traditionally, lunch is the time when the popular kids cluster together and make themselves feel good by making the newcomers and odd ducks feel bad.  At Boca Raton High, about a hundred of the school’s most attractive, articulate and self-possessed kids fan out during the midday meal on a mission to make sure that no one feels ugly and unwanted. Watch the video to see how they do it, and why they do it. Have some Kleenex handy.

We Dine Together kids are wise beyond their years. They understand that everybody has something interesting to say to someone willing to listen.

Feeling ugly and unwanted is a one-way ticket to depression and despair. Kids can, and do, self-medicate with plastic surgery and pills and other forms of temporary relief, and too many of them will not survive.

History may well record millennials as The Smartest Generation. They know they aren’t going to get a lot of help from a governor, and a governing class, which can’t bring itself to admit that the opioid epidemic is a public health emergency. They may be starved for adult leadership, but they’re trying hard to see to it that none of their numbers are starved for company.

Why children die – Part 1: If Everybody’s responsible, nobody’s responsible

Lauryn Martin-Everett

“Foster care kids are our kids. They are our kids,” said Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader in support of legislation making it easier for youth in state custody to obtain a driver’s license.

You hear that line a lot — a lot — from “leadership” at the Department of Children & Families (DCF), and from the flacks who wear the skirts behind which “leadership” hides. It means nothing. It means less than nothing.

Latest case in point: Lauryn Martin-Everett. The 16-year-old spent half her life as one of “our kids” before hanging herself by the neck until dead in a “children’s shelter” which gets money from the “community-based care” which gets money from the DCF which gets money from the state legislature to “parent” tens of thousands of infants, toddlers and teens in “out-of-home care.”

Lauryn had looks and style and a high wattage smile. She got good grades, ran track, and went out for cheerleading. We know all that because the Miami Herald tracked down Lauryn’s 29-year-old sister, Whitley Rodriguez. It was Whitley who paid for her little sister’s athletic gear and school clothes, and otherwise kept track of Lauryn, both dreaming of the day that they could do what sisters do without having to beg for permission from publicly funded parents like the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter. Prior to Lauryn’s suicide, the “shelter” was best known as a good place for a pimp to find employment as a “mentor to at-risk” kids and a trolling ground for sex traffickers in search of fresh meat.

Only God and DCF would know why Whitley was not among the state’s candidates to provide Lauryn a “forever” home. Whitley speculates that she could not have passed the “home study” because she didn’t have a driver’s license.

DCF’s “leadership” is not talking, but thanks to what little is left of Florida’s public records law, we know that the state adopted Lauryn out to some “forever family” that later returned her in a fit of buyer’s remorse.

This happens more than you might think. Florida spends millions to get foster children off the state’s books by marketing them with the same techniques used to market politicians and consumer products. Those mass adoptions create regular opportunities to obtain “positive stories” from the organizations DCF loves to refer to as “our media partners,” but not everyone lives happily ever after.

Florida has never paid more than lip service to the idea of recruiting and retaining the kind of highly competent, highly qualified social workers who would not, on their worst day, be fooled or bullied into letting infamous child abusers like Jorge and Carmen Barahona adopt a goldfish, let alone four of “our kids.”

Ours is a system where everybody is responsible, which is just another way of saying that nobody’s responsible. It is a Tower of Babel, and Florida is decades past due to rethink it from the ground up.

Florence Snyder: VISIT clueless tourism officials in Brevard County

If there’s one thing a $113,000 a year Florida tourism executive urgently needs, it’s a $26,000 raise.

Otherwise, says the Brevard County Director Compensation and Job Performance Committee, its Office of Tourism Executive Director Eric Garvey might leave the Space Coast — where the median household income is $48,483 — for greener Florida tourism pastures, where “the average salary for his counterparts” is $154,792.

Last week, the Brevard Tourist Development Council endorsed the committee’s recommendations, which include an added $90,000 to be divided up among nine of Garvey’s “best in class” staffers.

Don’t these people read newspapers?

Florida tourism’s marketing honchos have a target on their backs, fronts and sides, along with incomes that vastly exceed what average Floridians will earn in their best years, or their wildest dreams.

This is a bad week to be bearbaiting legislators and taxpayers who think the tourism czars should pay their publicists out of their own pockets. Garvey’s bosses might want to reVISIT their strategy.

Rape kits delayed is justice denied, Part 3

Robert Sheridan Haar

In a few weeks or months, we will learn the name of the Volusia County woman who, in 1997, had the bad fortune to encounter one Robert Sheridan Haar.

Relying upon DNA evidence, police say Haar, 22 at the time, and two of his yet-unidentified predator pals abducted and gang raped her near Mud Lake in Daytona Beach.  She was 14 years old.

To her attackers, she was just a piece of meat, a nameless target of opportunity. Today, Haar sits in a Wisconsin jail, awaiting the paperwork necessary to bring him back to Volusia County, thanks to what turned up in the 20-year-old rape kit of a nameless, helpless victim whose attackers figured they’d never see again.

Haar and two sidekicks allegedly told the teenager she would be killed if she screamed or resisted. The trio dumped her in Port Orange the next morning, when they were done with her.

She’s not done with them. “Obviously, she was very emotional, she did recall the incident very well although it had been 20 years,” Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pat Thoman said in a news conference.  “She was definitely willing to pursue the case.”

Haar had managed to keep his DNA out of a law enforcement database until 2016, which is, coincidentally, the first time that the 19-year-old rape kit for this victim was submitted for testing.

Haar’s arrest comes as a reminder that he’s not the only person who might be decades overdue to face a grown woman with a prosecutor at her side and account for himself to the terrified child she used to be.

We can’t be reminded too often.

Florida’s public officials love to talk tough on crime, but they won’t cough up the chump change it would take to clear the backlog of rape kits gathering dust as perps remain free to gather new victims. The number of untested rape kits now stands, roughly, at 6444.

It’s an embarrassment. It’s a disgrace.

If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to have a will

If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to have a will, but that’s not something the Wedding Planner will tell you.

Your parents probably won’t tell you, either; it’s a statistically safe bet that your parents, your grandparents, and your wedding planner don’t have a will of their own.

Death is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. But it happens to the best of us, and to the worst. It can come suddenly, shockingly, to someone far too young. For the lucky, it comes gently, after a long and fulfilling life. Under any scenario, somebody must go through your wallet, your underwear drawer, your closets, your iPad, and figure out what to do with your stuff. Someone will look into the eyes of your dog, your cat, your bunny rabbit or your pet python and decide whether to take him home, take him to a shelter, or dump him in the Everglades.

We have enough pythons in the Everglades. If you’re old enough to have a pet python, you’re old enough to have a will.

One hundred percent of Americans will die one day, but 72 percent of them do not have a current will. Wealthy Americans are no more likely than the rest of us to have a will. And they are more likely to have a will that is out of date. In the afterlife, this’ll come back to haunt them.

 

Florence Snyder: Whether Adam Putnam likes it or not, it’s still OK to tell the truth

If Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is serious about running for governor, he’s going to have to dial down the #Stupid in his own office.

The Baron of Bartow went full #FloridaMan on Ocheesee Creamery, a family-owned dairy farm an hour’s drive and a world away from what former Gov. Jeb Bush derisively — and correctly — referred to as “Mount Tallahassee.” The Wesselhoefts are central casting’s idea of decent, hard-working people being run out of business by “regulators” running wild. They dote on their small herd of Jersey cows like the Donald dotes on Ivanka.

Visitors to the Creamery’s website learn that the “Jersey girls” are “an intelligent cow breed, and we enjoy being around them because they are known for their calm, gentle and docile nature.”

The “plush green grass and open fields of fresh air and sunlight” at Ocheesee would make an ideal backdrop for those ubiquitous FreshFromFlorida commercials. Instead, Putnam and his lawyers at the firm of Orwell, Kafka and ? and the Mysterians are in their fifth year of spending public funds to force the Wesselhoefts to add vitamin A to their skim milk, or add the word “imitation” to their skim milk labels.

Yesterday, it was Putnam’s turn to get creamed.

A panel of Reagan, Bush, and Obama appointees to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals circled the constitutional wagons around strict construction and decided that it is not deceptive to refer to skim milk as skim milk.

Nobody claimed otherwise before Putnam was elected as the state’s agricultural regulator-in-chief. His jihad on Jerseys has attracted embarrassing international attention, including the No. 4 slot on an April Fools’ Day roundup of “stories you thought were pranks but are in fact genuine.”

Mary Lou Wesselhoeft suspects that Putnam and his Label Police are carrying water, currying favor, and otherwise doing the bidding of bigger, richer, more politically connected dairymen. At some point, he’s going to have to explain to the rest of us why she’s wrong.

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