Florence Snyder - 3/12 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

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

Spotted at the Governors Club: The last troubadour of Real Florida

Jeff Klinkenberg is not the kind of guy who does “luncheons,” but there he was at the Governors Club Tuesday, entertaining Friends of the First Amendment — some real, some fake — at the First Amendment Foundation’s annual fundraiser.

He looked a lot more comfortable later that day at Sally Bradshaw’s bookstore, telling true tales about things that “make Florida unique” to an appreciative audience of people who like to choose their reading material in a venue that does not sell toilet paper and tampons.

Klinkenberg coined the term Real Florida and cornered the knowledge market on everything worth knowing about people who do not need Disney to fire their imaginations or casinos to pump their adrenaline. To people genuinely committed to Florida, Klinkenberg is the Scheherazade of storytelling, revered by regular folks and by fellow A-list writers.

One of them, FSU professor and National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis showed up at Klinkenberg’s book signing to pay his respects. It was like watching Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page trade licks.

“Did you ever skinny dip with Jane Wood Reno?” Sachochis asked Klinkenberg. It was a question that could have come only from an author and journalist who knew and loved Florida long before the state became an international punchline.

Skinny dipping with Jane Wood Reno is one of the few Real Florida experiences Klinkenberg has not had. But she and her famous offspring have been in his database since 1966, when Klinkenberg was a 16-year-old stringer for The Miami News, where Reno was an esteemed reporter in an era when newspapers didn’t even have to pretend to take women seriously.

As a kid in Miami, Klinkenberg developed a passion for fishing, playing with snakes, and reading the inspired “About Florida” columns of the Miami Herald’s Al Burt. “I wanted to grow up to be Al Burt,” Klinkenberg said. “Back then, every paper had a person who wrote about Florida” so it seemed like a reasonable career goal, and a pretty good way to pay for the bait and tackle.

Great editors like the late Gene Patterson and Mike Wilson, now with The Dallas Morning News, saw the Al Burt potential in the young Jeff Klinkenberg, and turned him loose to travel the state in search of stories to inform, inspire, delight and dazzle readers of the St. Petersburg Times. Klinkenberg faithfully delivered for 37 years.

Telling real stories of real people was never just a job to Klinkenberg. It’s a calling, and he’ll be pursuing it until his last breath, or until they pave over the last square inch of Real Florida, whichever comes first.

Florence Snyder: Ain’t no Sunshine where Scott’s gone

Just in time for Sunshine Week, Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman reminds us how focused, how ruthless, how relentless Gov. Rick Scott’s flacks are in their taxpayer-financed efforts to keep information out of the hands of taxpayers.

Florida’s Ministries of Disinformation have been around since the Chiles administration, but “paranoia about the press” has ramped up significantly on Scott’s watch. Here’s how Connie Bersok, who devoted 30 years of her life to protecting Florida’s fragile wetlands, described current events at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to Pittman and Times researcher Caryn Baird:

“When I first started, if the press called, you could talk to the press, you just had to document it for your boss. Then it became: You had to get permission first, but you could still talk.

“Then it became: The press office would approve of anyone talking with a reporter, but they had to be on the line.

“And now that’s changed to: ‘You do not talk to the press.’ As a result, a lot of the information that’s expressed to the press wasn’t much information at all.”

Bersok’s now retired and able to exercise her First Amendment rights on behalf of former colleagues who don’t dare violate the government gag order for fear of joining the hundreds of DEP employees who have been disappeared since Scott took office.

Purges are always drenched in lies, especially when the purges are aimed at nationally respected professionals with decades of dedicated public service. It’s an uphill battle keeping the air fresh and the water clean in the face of relentless pressure to build high-rises and strip malls in places that God did not mean for people to live.

It’s impossible when the scientists and planners are subject to being fired with no notice and for no reason, and no amount of Florida sunshine and DEP spin will take the stench out of Scott’s campaign to make it easier for rich people to get richer creating more and more and more minimum wage, dead end jobs! jobs! jobs!

Florence Snyder: Rick Swearingen plays J. Edgar Hoover while Broward burns

While Bald Badasses Rick Scott and Rick (“We know the terrorists are here!”) Swearingen are busy playing dress-up like Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne, Florida’s criminal justice basics are increasingly under the command of the Keystone Kops.

The governor and FDLE commissioner are looking to raid state trust funds to “fight terrorism” by adding 46 new Counterterrorism Avengers to the payroll. It’s a good way to grab a cheap headline, and deflect attention from truly terrifying tales of our collapsing criminal justice infrastructure.

Speaking to a legislative committee this week, Swearingen had the gall to invoke the memory of the five travelers who were shot to death in January at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The shooter, Iraq War veteran Esteban (“My Pleas for Mental Health Treatment Fell on Deaf Ears”) Santiago had an easy target in a facility that has suffered from years of budget cuts and bad management. As passenger traffic grew by millions, sworn deputies, traffic enforcement officers, and community service aides were cut.

We know that because Gannett’s Mike Sallah, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the Miami Herald Brain Drain, and Naples Daily News staffer Kristyn Wellesley followed the trail of public records and reported that there were no armed deputies in the terminal when Santiago opened fire. In the decade before Santiago’s rampage, the number of deputies assigned to the airport had dropped by roughly the number of Homeland-types Swearingen seeks to hire. Crisis-trained deputies had been kicked to the curbs to direct traffic, deal with drunks, and reunite children with their lost stuffed animals.

Down the road from the Ft Lauderdale Airport is another threat to public safety that we know about because of journalists and not because of grandstanding politicians. Florida Bulldog reports that Broward’s new courthouse is, to put it mildly, “riddled with security issues.” The $276 million building features light switches and thermostats located inside, instead of outside, the cells. That way, the inmates can literally run the asylum.

The juvenile holding cells are coed, right down to the open toilets. Revolted by the 14th-century design, the juvenile judges revolted and refused to move into the new – but not improved – facility. Those courtrooms will stand empty until someone figures out how to “repurpose” them.

America spends billions every year on counterterrorism. If we can’t rely upon Washington to do its job, then we are in more trouble than Swearingen can fix with 46 new agents, or 4600 new agents.

If trust funds are to be raided in the name of public safety, why not hire some lab technicians and get on with eliminating Florida’s shameful backlog of rape kits.

Maybe FDLE can take advantage of some of that empty courtroom space in Ft. Lauderdale.

Florence Snyder: You know you talk like a toddler, right?

A recent and deeply disturbing addition to the Word Salad Hall of Shame is the painfully frequent use of the word “right” pronounced in the earnest tone of a toddler in need of constant reassurance.

“I pooped in the big girl potty, right? so I can play with my Legos, right? and then we can go to Granny’s, right? and we can have hot dogs for dinner, right?” is an adorable, if exhausting, indication that a little one is learning how to win friends and influence those closest to her. Soon, she’ll leave the need for constant reassurance behind and make her way in the bigger world of classrooms and playgrounds.

Even a small dose of “right?” is anything but adorable in the mouths of politicians, pundits, and other professionals who get paid to persuade us that they know what they’re talking about.

It was bad enough when adults in positions of authority took to ending simple declarative sentences with a “right?” Now, they’re tacking it on to the end of each clause.

Many of the hackneyed expressions that make up the iceberg lettuce-base of Word Salad are used primarily by Valley Girls and Someone’s Ne’er Do Well Nephew that we aren’t listening to, anyway. By contrast, “right?” has metastasized to some really smart people at every point along the political spectrum.

We’d listen to them more if they weren’t in constant need of soothing, like the brilliant baby-man that Beck Bennett plays so brilliantly.

It’s a good time to buy teddy bears, right? and baby blankies, right? because we seem to be having an adult onset insecurity epidemic. Right?

Bad nursing homes benefit from AHCA’s passive-aggressive war on #transparency

Somebody please give Shelisha Coleman a big fat raise.

The Agency for Health Care Administration’s (AHCA) high profile flack works hard duty playing hardball with some of Florida’s best reporters, but makes tens of thousands of dollars less than men paid by taxpayers to tell tall tales about #Transparency.

Coleman had to drop a whopping load of horsefeathers on the Orlando Sentinel last week in a laughable effort to justify AHCA’s unlawful redactions to public records.

Taking up the cause of families who love their grandparents, reporter Kate Santich asked AHCA to explain why inspection reports are being scrubbed of “dates, places and pivotal words” that make it possible to gauge the quality and safety of Florida’s nursing homes.

People who pay attention to Transparency and Accountability (T&A) in Florida had no trouble believing the attorney who told Santich “I’ve been looking at these reports for 20 years, and I know what they used to look like and what they look like now. It has become arbitrary and inconsistent what they redact — but I think it’s all part of a bigger purpose to confuse people and make the reports useless.”

Like a lamb to the slaughter, Coleman was dispatched by her better-paid bosses to tell the Sentinel that state officials are merely trying to “provide additional protection of personal health information” as required by federal privacy laws.

After she stopped laughing, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen pointed out the holes in the rationalizations, prevarications and passive aggressive sandbagging served up by Coleman to justify AHCA’s “new redaction process.”

That new redaction process is good news for bad nursing homes. We can hope Santich’s story will embarrass the legislature into doing something about it. But don’t bet Grandpa’s life on it.

A birthday card for the unofficial, undisputed queen of Tallahassee

(PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Rosanne Dunkelberger is President of Dunkelberger Consulting, Editor-at-Large for Extensive Enterprises, and formerly editor of Tallahassee Magazine.)

It’s a Milestone Birthday for Rosanne Dunkelberger, and her kids have asked millennials she’s mentored and friends who knew her before she was an award-winning magazine editor to tell them what we remember most about the Unofficial Undisputed Queen of Tallahassee.

To the Geritol Generation of media lawyers who knew Rosanne in the disco era when she worked as staff director for The Florida Bar’s Committee on Media and Communications Law, she’s the woman who did all the work that we got all the credit.

Back then, the Bar’s annual Media Law Conference was a signature event. Hundreds of lawyers, judges and journalists attended to engage with and learn from speakers of statewide and national prominence.  For years, the Conference commanded the personal attention of the Bar President, who hosted a pre-conference dinner, usually in his home, where Bar leaders built significant and sustained relationships with media and political leaders, and nobody ever dreamed there’d come a time when the legislature would set about to castrate the courts.

Rosanne’s larger-than-life work ethic, and her genius at conjuring pleasant settings for meaningful conversations, helped to create and to nurture countless relationships that operated above and below the radar, and always in the public interest.

The Conference was funded in large part by underwriting from law firms and news organizations. With big money and bigger egos involved, there were opportunities aplenty for disaster. Rosanne’s extraordinary talent at wrangling donors; massaging egos, and arranging place cards were at the center of many of the Bar’s greatest conference hits.

Rosanne was also instrumental in creating a new “Florida Bar product,” the Reporter’s Workshop, an invitation-only seminar aimed at print and broadcast journalists who were new to the legal beat. One has only to look at the agendas for the programs she staffed to see the outstanding quality of their design and execution.

Rosanne is one of those very rare people who does not have a mean, selfish, or self-aggrandizing bone in her body. She makes any #Process better, just by being in it.

Let them eat steak – Part 2: Rick Scott edition

While Melissa McCarthy-impersonator Sean Spicer was confiscating his staff ‘s cellphones in search of leakers to fire, somebody tipped Independent Review Journal’s Benny Johnson to President Trump’s Saturday night dinner plans.

Johnson identifies his tipster as a “trusted source.” Obvious suspects include Trump-whisperer and former Breitbart News big shot Steve Bannon. Bannon might have a soft spot for Young Mr. Johnson, who began his new media career as a contributor to Breitbart and fell, briefly, upon hard times when he was fired from BuzzFeed for multiple acts of plagiarism.

Maybe it was the president himself, who, disguised as “John Barron,” mild-mannered publicist for Ratings and Sex Machine Donald Trump, used to call up reporters and dish irresistible tabloid trash for the Bonfire of the Vanities crowd.

Who knows? Who cares! Whoever it was that told Johnson to ask for a balcony table at Trump International Hotel’s steakhouse — thank you for your service!

Johnson’s minute-by-minute account is an SNL-level trove of rich, vivid, and telling details about the “worry worry super scurry” that surrounds a President and Guy Who’s Accustomed to Having His Own Way.  It also works nicely as a pitch to the Food Porn Channel for a docudrama on “how a restaurant prepares for a president.”

The story is lavishly illustrated with pictures that are remarkably revealing, considering they were taken in a steak palace and not a photography studio. Johnson was unable to catch a shot of Trump’s meal—well done New York strip soaked in catsup, allegedly — but the Tower of Bacon at Johnson’s table will make you lust in your salivary glands like a dirty old man drooling over a hot young blonde.

Trump’s guests did not include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who dined across the room with his wife. If Trump was talking foreign policy over the $24 shrimp cocktails, he was doing it with Florida Governor Rick Scott, a man who makes up in certitude what he lacks in expertise. Also at the table was Brexit Boy and Party Crasher Nigel Farage, and Ubiquitous Daughter Ivanka Trump, accompanied by the Father of Her Children and Maker of Middle East Peace Jared Kushner.

Johnson’s photo gallery includes a shot of Trump “discreetly” slipping a $100 bill to a “Latino busboy” who is, presumably, extremely vetted and not a rapist. The left side of the Twitterverse is sure this was Kabuki generosity staged for the benefit of a camera Trump knew was there. If that’s true, we’ll be hearing about it soon enough on Full Frontal, whose researchers are fanning out and talking to busboys Trump knew in his pre-presidential life if they’re not too busy performing the public service of euthanizing the White House Correspondents Dinner.

If Donald Trump won’t man up, meet with teen, maybe Betsy DeVos will

President Donald Trump ought to give Jackie Evancho the meeting she asked for. He owes her bigly.

The sixteen-year-old musical prodigy performed the national anthem at Trump’s inauguration, adding a huge dose of class to the festivities and sparing a grateful nation from another round of DJ Ravidrums, Toby Keith and Three Doors Down.

Evancho’s political skills are right up there with her astonishing vocal chops. In the wake of Trump’s mean-spirited withdrawal of federal protections for transgender students, she took to Twitter, and to television, to politely ask Trump to meet with her, and with her 18-year-old transgender sister, to learn about what life is like for children whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had at birth.

That’s a lot for a sex-obsessed 70-year-old man to wrap his head around. But we’d like to think that Trump would have done it if any of his five children had felt utterly out of place in the pink or blue blankets in which they were first swaddled.

The Evancho family, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the mother of a transgender son and a congresswoman who has refused to pander to uninformed and uncurious culture warrior constituents, and every other family with a transgender son or daughter has had to choose between educating themselves and supporting their loved one, or throwing the child to the wolves.

The alternative to unconditional love is to give license to self-appointed gender police, and to the Mean Girls, Bully Boys, and Bathroom Bill Brigades who make life so miserable for transgender kids that one out of three of them will attempt suicide.

Too many of them succeed, which perhaps explains why Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tried to talk Trump out of telling transgender kids that they’ll be happier — and definitely safer — with homeschooling. If Trump doesn’t have the guts to meet with the Evancho sisters, let’s hope that DeVos will.

David Santiago plays Jason Bourne while FDLE ferrets out real terror in the House

We are a nation of immigrants with very short memories. How else to explain HB 427’s frontman David Santiago‘s embrace of a ludicrous and mean-spirited effort to take Florida out of a federal program that assists people fleeing “war, persecution and violence.

Not so long ago, folks whose name ended in a vowel might be admonished — along with Jews, dogs and Irish — to “keep off the grass.” Yet Santiago and a large crowd of pols whose people arrived here from Someplace Else are hell-bent on taking Florida out of a federal program that assists refugees to settle in to an economy that depends in large measure upon the friendship and goodwill of tourists from Someplace Else.

Florida’s participation in the refugee program has been quietly managed for years by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Prior to the Era of Extreme Hysteria and Vetting, it operated with a low profile and a high degree of success. Catholic Charities and other organizations not known for harboring “bad hombres” work closely with state authorities and refugee families, and FDLE’s intelligence officers have assured lawmakers that “zero terrorism incidents in Florida can be attributed to refugees.”

While Santiago & Company preen and play dress up as Jason Bourne, FDLE keeps busy investigating genuinely terrifying threats to public safety. Operation Cupid’s Arrow, for instance, targeted dirty old men trolling Craigslist for little girls to sexually abuse. One geezer arrested in the sting was the $161,000 a year associate general counsel for Florida State University. Another was the “Civics Program Coordinator” for the school boys — and girls — in the House of Representatives’ Legislative Page Program.

Florida abuses teachers and can’t figure out why there’s a teacher shortage

At the rate Florida is hemorrhaging classroom teachers, it soon won’t matter that we can’t hire school bus drivers for $11.88 an hour, because there won’t be any classrooms worth taking the kids to.

Every week brings fresh reporting about Florida’s teacher shortage; none of it is a surprise to parents or policymakers who have been paying even the slightest bit of attention.

The teaching talent pool began to shrink in the mid-20th century as women’s professional options expanded into better-paying places. Still, girls and an increasing number of boys raised to revere teachers continued to pursue careers in the classroom.

Teaching reading to fidgety first-graders and science to 17-year-olds suffering from senioritis is hard duty under the best of circumstances. In recent years, it’s become close-to-impossible.

Technology and testing mandates change at warp speed, to the delight of stockholders in companies that sell technology and tests. There’s no money left for toilet paper and Kleenex, so teachers’ pay for those “amenities” personally.

Technology has also made it possible for helicopter parents to harass teachers at any hour of the day or night. Email is great for monster moms and douchey dads who wanted to bully teachers while wearing pajamas and drinking heavily. But it sucks down a lot of time that teachers need to grade papers and attend “trainings” on their uncompensated time.

It’s hard to maintain teacher morale when the wage gap in the public-school system is closing in on the wage gap in the private sector. In Miami, for example, Superintendent and Fashion Plate Alberto Carvalho can afford to dress like Rico Suave on his $345,000 salary. Teachers making $40K are lucky if they can keep up with their student loans.

Then there’s the daily dose of defamation heaped upon teachers by folks looking to dismember the public-school system for the benefit of people whose salaries in privatized “education” make Carvalho’s pay look paltry.

There are limits to people’s willingness to be a piñata for paltry pay and no respect. Teachers could be forgiven if they decide to homeschool their own kids and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

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