Florence Snyder - 3/8 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

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

Cox Newspapers’ founder spins in his grave as lights go out at The Palm Beach Post

Florida’s Ministries of Disinformation got an early Christmas present from Santa in Atlanta when Cox Newspapers pulled the plug on the Tallahassee Bureau of The Palm Beach Post and laid off its lone remaining ranger, veteran newsman John Kennedy.

The Cox media empire was born in Dayton, Ohio in an era when men with political ambitions could make a fortune and make their way to the Governor’s Mansion from a basecamp in the news business.

In 1920, Gov. James M. Cox almost made his way to the White House. His running mate was fellow One Percenter Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The family blood got thinner over the years and Gov. Cox’s heirs relocated to Atlanta, where the climate was warmer and the taxes were lower. For decades, though, they honored their founder with scrappy political reporting that kept the Tallahassee bureaus of bigger, better-funded news organizations on their toes.

As a publisher and a politician, Gov. Cox crusaded for the first version of a state highway system; a no-fault system of compensation for workers injured on the job; and restrictions on child labor. Decent roads and decent treatment of children and working people are not what politicians want to talk about these days at their “avails” and they are not crying in their eggnog at the news that there will be one less reporter trying to get them off their talking points and messages-of-the-day.

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John Glenn was celebrity for all seasons

John Glenn couldn’t get to first base as a presidential candidate in 1984. Even then, America was more easily dazzled by Ronald Reagan, who had played a hero in the movies, than a man who flew 149 combat missions in World War II and Korea before becoming the first person to orbit the earth.

Long before game show host Donald Trump took the presidential plunge, we were well on the way to redefining words like “hero” and “celebrity” so that practically anyone could qualify

Glenn was the last survivor of the deservedly storied, fabled, heroic and celebrated Mercury 7 astronauts. His death at age 95 reminds us that there was a time when you had to do something your mother, and everybody else’s mother, would be proud of to become a person of interest to other celebrities and regular folks.

Those old enough to recall the dawn of the Space Age feel like we have lost the most dashing, fair-haired, genuine hero in the family. We knew Glenn’s name, and the names of his six Mercury compadres. We knew their wives’ names, too, and we identified with their children, who saw their daddies climb in to a tin can to travel to unimaginably faraway places filled with unimaginably dangerous things.

By the time Glenn sought the presidency, actual accomplishments were neither mandatory nor much appreciated. Most 80s voters wouldn’t recognize an astronaut standing next to him in line at a 7-11, and would not have wanted an autograph, anyway.

Glenn stayed in the game, and even returned to space at age 77 as a human guinea pig for gerontologists. “To sit back and let fate play its hand out and never influence it is not the way man was meant to operate,” he said. “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest.”

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There oughta be a T-shirt for the David Richardson Tour

State Representative — and glutton for punishment — David Richardson (D-Miami Beach) brought his lonely crusade for improved prison infrastructure to the Columbia Correctional Institution on Thanksgiving Eve, giving inmates and guards the rare gift of something to be grateful for.

Florida’s correctional facilities have been decaying for decades, out of sight and out of mind except when there’s a riot, or bad publicity, or bad publicity caused by a riot.

Self-styled “one-man band” Richardson has taken it upon himself to change the public attention paradigm with a series of surprise visits to the decrepit, dangerous Big Houses located in places few Floridians can locate on a map. He’s shown up unannounced at 60 facilities and spoken with more than 225 inmates. It’s a tour without a T-shirt, but the Miami Herald has covered Richardson like Rolling Stone covers The Rolling Stones, making it impossible for the Department of Corrections (DOC) to ignore him, even if he is a Democrat.

The punch list at Columbia is a familiar one. Unflushable toilets. Unworkable showers. Cold water in hot water faucets. Heating systems that don’t work on freezing winter nights. Cell windows jammed shut on broiling summer days. “Head-splitting” noise from out-of-control exhaust fans.

The conditions were horrific — unfit for human habitation,” Richardson told the Herald.

To her credit, DOC Secretary Julie Jones did not try to deny Richardson’s findings or lie her way out of the Herald’s questions. Basic maintenance has been neglected for so long that Jones couldn’t get half of Florida’s prisons fixed if she had Enterprise Florida’s slush funds to work with.

Forced to function like a triage nurse in an overwhelmed emergency room, Jones has no choice but to give the leaking roofs a “priority over hot water” and to rely on corrections staff to bring their own wrenches and squeeze in tasks that should be done by maintenance workers, if Jones could hire maintenance workers for the poverty wages the job pays.

Many Floridians and everyone in the Legislature who isn’t Rep. Richardson have no problem housing prisoners and even troubled teenagers in facilities that are unfit for hamster habitation, let alone humans.

But what about the health and safety of corrections officers like Dale Nye, who has served Florida since 1995 and earns less than $34,000? Nye took to the comment section of the Herald to note, more in sorrow than in anger, that “… in 13 years … my Institution has only gotten one new vehicle…. held together with wire, seats worn-out, so that after you ride… six hours, your hips and shoulders ache, exhaust leaks that fill the car with fumes …”

Nobody is saying that prisoners should be housed at Hiltons with room service and HBO. But they — and their guards — ought to at least have air that’s fit to breathe.

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Family farms offer big quality for just a little capital

Not every vegetarian is opposed to eating meat in every circumstance.

What they do oppose is the Fresh from Factory Farms brand of agriculture that makes antibiotics manufacturers rich and the rest of us fat and sick.

So, it’s great news that Nicole Kozak and Manny Cruz have found a way to make a living farming the old-fashioned, pre-Industrial Revolution way. Treat yourself to a video tour of the couple’s farm, and farming methods, courtesy of Ft. Myers News-Press reporter Patricia Borns, and be inspired by the couple’s commitment to “building their farm’s future in ethically harvesting, as well as raising, quality meats.”

At Circle C Farm, the southwest Florida couple has been tending free-ranging, organically-raised, GMO-free poultry for six years, and last year became USDA-certified to “harvest” their birds.

Yes, that’s an agri-business euphemism for butchering Bambi, but man does not live by bread alone. Every culture in every pre-20th century eon evolved to create respectful ways of living with the animals they would consume for protein, clothing, and other necessities of human life.

Family farms like Circle C have the support of experts like Vanessa Bielema, a University of Florida IFAS Extension Agent specializing in sustainable food systems. She says that “small farmers take pride in raising their animals, and they want to see the process finished in a humane, satisfying way.”

“How we handle animals is very gentle,” Kozak told reporter Borns. “We spend a lot of time, energy and money to make sure they’re cared for, and it shows in the quality of the meat.”

At the end of a good life, the animals die a humane death at the hands of a human instead of a machine. It’s a much faster and far less terrifying end than most people get.

Circle C is looking to become a bigger player in the clean food movement. With a capital infusion of 2.3 million, the farm hopes to rebrand as Florida’s only USDA-approved facility offering humane, on-site harvesting of red and white meat.

“I think there’s a felt need for a high-quality processing center in our region that Circle C could fill,” Bielema told the News-Press. “Almost every small livestock farmer I talk to either has access issues with distance to processing facilities, or is dissatisfied with the quality they get back.”

Among those feeling the need are 4H Club kids and elite breeders like Corrinna Hensley, who is currently schlepping her heritage hogs to separate USDA-inspected slaughter and butchering facilities. That takes a bite out of profits, adds stress to the animals, and raises prices for consumers.

Circle C’s capital needs amount to petty cash in the cruel and unwholesome world of industrial agriculture. Kozak’s business plan should be an easy sell to smart bankers who care about their children’s health and state’s future.

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One reason for women to #LoveMyStudentNewspaper

It’s #LoveMyNewspaper Day, and The Independent Florida Alligator has certainly earned a hug from feminists, and from men who like their wives, daughters, mothers and sisters.

Molly Vossler, who covers the Nothing Ever Changes Around Here beat for The Alligator, has updated the depressing and open secret that “Men dominate UF’s list of highest-paid faculty.”

Many Gator freshmen weren’t even born in 1998 when highly credentialed anthropology professor Maxine Margolis sued the university for salary discrimination following years of failed friendly persuasion. UF’s lawyers defended the indefensible for three years before writing Margolis a check on condition that she not reveal the amount.

That’s always a clue that “leadership” has very little intention of fixing the problem, so Vossler’s findings should surprise no one. Fifteen years down the road from Margolis’ lawsuit, The Alligator’s analysis shows that of UF’s 100 highest-paid salaried faculty members who work at least three-fourths of the year on the academic side of the house, only eight are women.

“It seems to me that very little has changed at the university,” Margolis told The Alligator, in a sample of the dry, Algonquin Round Table wit that is lost on people who think the humanities are a waste of time.

Vossler reports that university officials are “aware” of the disparity, and “working to address it” by which they mean they will stick it in an envelope addressed to the year 2031.

Vossler’s story takes us down Memory Lane to 1971, when then-UF President Steve O’Connell appointed the UF Status of Women Committee. Such Kabuki Commissions were popular in the 70s, and were better at producing reports than results.

Newspapers are only as good as their sources, and sources don’t come any better than Dr. Shahla Masood, a professor in the UF College of Medicine and its fourth-highest-paid female faculty member. Dr. Masood would be welcomed and well-paid at the best teaching hospitals in the world, and she is not afraid to say for publication what all university women know.

“Inequality in the workplace has become the norm,” she told The Alligator, and “some female faculty members feel afraid to speak up in fear of being ignored, criticized or, in extreme cases, fired.”

“It’s about identifying the necessity of speaking up, because we have to rupture the silence,” she continued. “I want to rupture that silence, and I’ve been thinking about that for a long time.”

Every campus has at least one woman with the resume and the guts to speak up. Let’s hope that every campus has a newspaper like The Alligator to give them the chance to rupture the silence.

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For media training, Mom’s the word

Dannette Henry
Dannette Henry

Too many public officials feel entitled to cut to the front of every line. This week, one of them had the misfortune of being caught on tape saying so.

Daytona Beach City Commissioner Dannette Henry was close enough to see the shooting and beating of a young man as it was unfolding in her neighborhood last Wednesday. “They need to come to my damn house,” she yelled at the dispatcher on the receiving end of her 911 call. “Oh my God, I got to call the chief because you all take too long.”

Danette Henry had every right to be hysterical. Her own children were with her as she witnessed a young man being chased down, shot at and beaten. Cursing, however, is optional in a crisis, and Dannette Henry did a lot of it as the police dispatcher worked calmly to gain the information needed to render aid.

Also working calmly was the Daytona Beach News-Journal’s crime reporter Lyda Longa, who logged overtime dragging basic, always-public police blotter information out of Interim Police Chief Craig Capri.

derrick-henry
Derrick Henry

Longa’s initial public records request came back with a report that was unreadable and illegally redacted, perhaps because of the Henry family’s prominence in local politics. Danette Henry’s brother Derrick Henry was just re-elected Mayor. The beating victim turns out to be their nephew Patrick Henry, whose father, also named Patrick Henry, was sworn in this week to the state House of Representatives.

Longa persisted, and the complete report was released Friday. In due course, the full crime story will be told, whether the Henrys like it or not.

At the moment, it appears they do not. Commissioner Henry is incommunicado, and so is her brother, the State Representative, who apparently learned nothing from the “media training” provided to freshman lawmakers at taxpayer expense. Rep. Henry hung up the telephone on a reporter Thursday afternoon, and hasn’t been heard from since.

His son, however, was feeling well enough to “peek out from a side door of the house and yell two expletives at reporters” who were talking to his mother, Cheryl White, in the driveway.

White, holds no office, but she appears to be, by far, the best media wrangler and public relations person in the family. As her son began to spew, she promptly instructed him, “That’s enough young man.”

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Dine in peace at Duffy’s

The GOP can preach a great game about private property rights, but can’t always play it at a major-league level.

This week, the Cape Coral Republican Club got booted from its regular meeting place at Duffy’s Sports Grill. Club President Bob Davies thinks it’s because “Some Democrats must have complained.”

Duffy’s president Jason Emmett counters that the Cape Coral Club has lately been unable to curb is enthusiasm and confine its political talk to the private party room in which it’s been holding meetings for over three years.  The group has been “migrating into dining areas and bothering people who just want to eat or watch a game on TV … and enjoy themselves and not feel bothered” by partisan politics,  Emmett told News-Press political writer Betty Parker.

Emmett’s explanation seems reasonable, and in any event, it’s a business decision that he has the right to make.

In less partisan, paranoid times, it would not have been even slightly controversial.

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Reasons for taxpayers to join prisoners and riot @DOC

Prisoners are rioting on a regular basis at the Franklin Correctional Institution, and taxpayers will join in soon if the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) doesn’t stop using public funds like cheap toilet paper.

It’s been three years since three prison investigators who were doing the jobs we pay them to do confirmed cover-ups of inmate abuse at Franklin Correctional. Instead of firing the abusers and fixing the problems, DOC higher-ups covered up for the miscreants, and punished the good guys with demotions and dubious internal investigations.

Governments do this because oftentimes, it works. For every ignored inspector who lawyers-up and turns whistleblower, there’s many more who shut up and stay on the payroll. Some state workers walk away quietly and try to start their lives over before being tagged with career-ending labels like “troublemaker” and “not a team player.”

When it became clear to DOC inspectors Doug Glisson, Aubrey Land and John Ulm that there was no audience in Tallahassee for their concerns that Franklin Correctional inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo had been gassed to death by prison guards, the trio hired attorney Ryan Adams, whose firm has cleaned several government clocks, including Gov. Rick Scott’s.

No matter how right you are or how good your lawyer is, litigation is no fun. Adams says that early on, his clients would have been satisfied with transfers to a different state agency and payment of their legal fees, which amounted at the time to $25,000.

Since then, the price went up. On Tuesday, as Franklin Correctional was amid its fourth case of “inmate unrest” this year, the state was cutting checks to the whistleblowers totaling $800,000, plus a cool quarter million to Andrews’ firm.

It made for a busy day at DOC’s Department of Nothin’ to See Here, Folks!

The “situation” at the prison “was quickly and effectively resolved and resulted in no injuries to staff or inmates,” agency spokeswoman Michelle Glady told the Miami Herald.

And the million-something? Most of it will come from “the agency’s liability insurance” Glady told reporters, as if that was money that grows on trees. The $320,209.66 balance, Glady said, “will come from the agency’s administrative trust fund,” as if that was a petty cash drawer in Bill Gates’ office.

WJXT’s Matt Galka did some back-of-the napkin calculations, noting that “The average correctional officer makes about $30,000 a year, so the more than $320,000 of taxpayer money being used on the settlement could have filled 10 positions for one year.”

Glady’s salary — $80,000 — would cover a couple more. But this is Florida, where the Swiss Guard that protects public officials from pen-wielding reporters is far more valued than the prison guards who protect us from inmates with shivs, and nothing to lose.

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CNN reports, eloquently, on the nightmare that is Florida Medicaid

It’s been ten years, almost to the day, since Congressman-elect Charlie Crist pulled $360 out of his pocket to pay for a year’s supply of thermal blankets for 12-year-old Kevin Estinfil, and pulled the plug on state lawyers who’d been fighting in the Third District Court of Appeal to deny the boy the basic supplies that were keeping him alive.

Back then, Crist was the Florida Attorney General who had just been elected Governor, and Kevin was confined to a Medicaid group home for children with life-threatening medical conditions. Kevin’s case turned up on Crist’s radar thanks to bad publicity courtesy of Miami Herald reporter Carol Marbin Miller, but not before the state had spent enough money jerking Kevin’s caregivers around to pay for a warehouse full of thermal blankets.

Today, half of Florida’s children rely on Medicaid “insurance,” and the plan is managed as badly now as it was a decade ago.

People who study Medicaid for a living will not be surprised by anything in the damning new report from CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, and neither will families who have sacrificed their savings, their careers, and any hope of a normal life for the sake of a child who will never be able to care for himself.

For the rest of us, Cohen’s look into the lives of Florida’s “health care refugees” is a bone-chilling holiday buzzkill.

Among the refugees are Kim and Richard Muszynski, formerly of Boynton Beach. With good jobs and longtime Florida roots on both sides of their blended family, they could not have imagined packing it in and starting over in Colorado.

But that’s what they did, after five-year-old daughter Abby, who was born with a life-threatening genetic disorder, had one near-death experience too many due to the toxic combination of underfunding and red tape for which Florida’s Medicaid program is infamous.

In Colorado, Abby’s physical health and her parents’ mental health have improved dramatically. Somehow, America’s Centennial State has figured out how to give children enrolled in its Medicaid program the therapies and medications ordered by doctors, without interference from Dr. No at the Department of Pennywise, Pound Foolish.

Another member of the Florida Medicaid Diaspora is three-year-old Sofia Patriarca. Like Abby, her needs are complex and will require round-the-clock care all her life. Sofia’s parents sold their family pizzeria in Lantana and will relocate to a state that’s safer for children with unique abilities.

“Medicaid forces us to give our children subpar care,” Sofia’s mother, Stefany Garcia-Patriarca, told CNN. “They treat them like animals instead of children.”

It took special courage for Heather Rosenberg to tell CNN that she and her husband have considered leaving Florida to obtain better health care for their children. As foster parents to 16 children, three of whom they adopted, Rosenberg is an expert on Florida Medicaid.

She described it to CNN as “horrible” and “an absolute nightmare,” hastening to that she speaks as a mother, and not in her role as — wait for it — children’s ombudsman at the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Florida spends a small fortune recruiting foster and adoptive families, and promises that they will not have to dip into their own pockets to fund essential medical services that are beyond the reach of all but families with the richest private insurance plans.

No matter how much room people like the Rosenbergs have in their hearts, they’ve only got 24 hours in a day, and they should not have to spend a minute of it begging the state to keep its promises to Florida’s Medicaid eligible children.

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In Saint Augustine, a dead priest pleads for the life of his killer

The death penalty used to be a big story in Florida. Print and broadcast executives gave sustained and thoughtful consideration to coverage decisions. The moral, religious, public safety, and financial dimensions of this irrevocable punishment are vast, and cry out for quality journalism. For years after Gov. Bob Graham signed John Spenkelink‘s death warrant, the beat was a magnet for the most ambitious reporters, editors, and editorial writers in the golden age of journalism.

The story is as vast as it ever was, but the staffing is down to next-to-nothing, which is why you probably missed the stranger-than-fiction and sad beyond belief story of The Rev. Rene Robert.

For 38 years, Father Robert served the Catholic Diocese of Saint Augustine beginning in 1980 as a teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. He was respected by people of all faiths, or little faith, like the convicted criminals he worked with in his prison ministry.

One of them, Steven James Murray, is accused of Father Robert’s murder and faces the death penalty. Murray admitted the killing in a newspaper interview, and led the police to the body of the slain priest.

Tomorrow, Father Robert will plead from the grave for Murray’s life when local death penalty opponents gather at the Shrine at Mission

Nombre de Dios to voice their belief that it is wrong for the state to take the life of a convicted criminal, no matter how vile the crime, and no matter how innocent the victim.

Much on their minds is the Declaration of Life signed by Father Robert in 1995. The document works like a living will or organ donor card. It expresses an individual’s values and desires that can be acted upon only in a circumstance where the declarant is unable to lobby on his own behalf. There are tho09usands of people like Father Robert who have signed the Declaration, swearing before a notary that they oppose capital punishment, even if the punishment is directed at someone who inflicted suffering, followed by death, upon them.

Even kings can’t rule from the grave, and the Declaration of Life carries no legal weight. But after a lifetime of service to north Florida, Father Robert’s wishes carry great moral weight, and have earned him tomorrow’s hearing in the court of public opinion.

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