Florence Snyder - 4/9 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

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

Plucky kids and dedicated teachers work to save school news

Facts may have died in 2012, but the obituary has yet to reach a handful of plucky high school kids who know that local news is important, and work hard to bring it to their classmates.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal’s Erica Breunlin takes a deep dive into the shallow pool of secondary school resources for kids who aspire to careers in truth-telling, or just want to learn how to be smarter consumers of current events. As usual, it’s the teachers who are doing the heavy lifting, with very little help from individuals and institutions who claim to care about civics, civility, and surveys that show that young people can’t tell the difference between truth and tripe.

“I won’t let this thing die,” vows DeLand High School’s April Sniffen. “This thing” is The Growler, a delightfully-named school newspaper that’s been around since the 1920s, and has added an online edition to the workload, even as student participation has dwindled by dozens in the years she has served as sponsor.

Over at University High, Courtney Kohler-Hanks spends a lot of uncompensated time teaching herself to teach journalism. Like Sniffen, she has no professional training in the news business, but understands that too many kids are consuming too many empty infotainment calories and have too little access to reliable information about what is happening in the places that matter most in their own lives.

“Anecdotally, we have a sense that many schools are de-emphasizing journalism and reducing or eliminating funding for newspapers because of primarily budget constraints,” Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told the News-Journal.

“There’s also no doubt,” LoMonte added, “that students are being discouraged from pursuing journalism largely because of the uncertainty with career prospects.”

Somehow, some kids refuse to be discouraged. They’re working to “localize broader news topics and involve student voices”; “branch students’ news knowledge out past their own points of interest”; and give their readers “information about what’s going on in this school.”

“I definitely think that journalism has a bright future,” University High’s managing editor Savannah Sicurella, enthusiastically and correctly told the News-Journal.

It’s a refreshing contrast to the 60-something editors who stopped covering cops, courts, city commissions, and school boards and have the nerve to bash subscribers who left them to forage on Facebook for news of the neighborhood where they live.

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Meaningless metrics mask troublesome trends in higher education

Florida changes higher education funding formulas nearly as often as Kardashians change clothes. At the Department of Making Things Incomprehensible, Metrics Mavens have their hands full monkeying around with the Ten Metrics that determine which universities get the rich gravy, and which get the thin gruel.

Florida’s Ten Metrics appear to have been written by the folks who write insurance policies, credit card contracts and the scoring system for figure skating. We could get the same results cheaper with an actual tribe of monkeys throwing stuff against the wall.

For university boards of trustees, The Metrics may as well have been brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses himself. They are carved in stone, at least for the current budget cycle.

This week, Florida Gulf Coast University’s trustees are looking for ways to carve $8 million from the budget. That’s the amount of state funding the university stands to lose in the current round of roulette at the Metrics Casino. As of last month, the “average cost per degree metric” was kicked to the curb in favor of the “net tuition per degree metric.” FGCU administrators are projecting that the net tuition cost per degree will come in at $18,060— the highest among Florida’s universities.

In the competitive cage match that higher education planning has become, something will have to give. Items in the FGCU guillotine queue include library renovations, and real professors, who can always be replaced with minimum wage adjuncts.

Those who worship at the altar of Metrics tell us that this is the One True Path to affordable, high-quality education. Actually, $18,000 isn’t much more than the cost of college back when students could get an exceptional education with a part time job and loans they would not spend the rest of their lives paying back.

What has spiraled out of control is bogus academic and administrative jobs and golden parachutes for people with dubious credentials and friends in high places. FGCU is spending $250,000 on its search for a new president. That’s more—lots more—than university presidents were paid in the days when they had to buy their own cars and pay their own mortgages.

Political interference is an old story in Florida higher education, but the monthly manufacturing of meaningless metrics breaks new ground. We are running universities like a badly run business, and students are paying the very high price.

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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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