Florence Snyder - 7/11 - SaintPetersBlog

Florence Snyder

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

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

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

For Richard Corcoran, a Sisyphean task

“We have a spending problem in this state,” says House Speaker Richard Corcoran (R-Land ‘O Lakes), and nobody in their right mind could argue with him.

Florida spends more stupid money than a drunken sailor on shore leave. Any state worker can — if they trust you — rattle off a Top Twenty list of publicly funded member projects, unnecessary junkets, sacred cows, and six figure people who just graduated college with a degree in kissing the right rear ends. They cost a bundle, and taxpayers would not miss them if they were gone.

Pork ‘n nonsense has been bloating the budget since Corcoran was in knee pants. An expanding economy and bipartisan support for bonding and other forms of kicking cans down the road has, for decades, kept The Piper at bay.

Lately, there are signs that The Piper is losing patience.

In Palm Beach County, the bills are coming due at the medical examiner’s office. Thanks to the heroin epidemic, business is booming at the morgue, with bodies piling up at a pace that threatens the office’s good standing in the National Association of Medical Examiners. We don’t think about the Office of Autopsy unless we’re watching CSI or grieving a loved one lost in circumstances that are unexpected, unattended or otherwise unexplained. Then, we can think of nothing else, and we darn well expect our government to provide timely and accurate answers.

On the ground in Alachua County and from the skies above the Treasure Coast, the goop and gunk that threaten our water supply and our very way of life are the subject of endless, expensive talk and turf wars. Lawsuits funded on several sides by taxpayers are easy, and profitable for many of the players. Problem-solving is harder, and lacking in a critical mass of constituents.

For anyone, anywhere, who has been rescued, comforted or inspired by a firefighter, the suicide of Indian River County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief David Dangerfield comes as a gut-punch.  After a lifetime of performing heroic acts and making it look easy, he left us with a five-alarm reminder that “post-traumatic stress syndrome for firefighters is real,” and the limited supports we grudgingly provide them pales in comparison to the need.

It takes money to maintain a credible medical examiner’s office, clean water, and appropriate care for the people who care for us, so it’s encouraging to hear Corcoran take note of the difference between “pork belly fat and things that make the trains run on time.”

Environmental scientists, medical examiners and mental health professionals to minister to the very real needs of public servants in traumatic lines of work are the difference between trains that run on time, and train wrecks. Here’s hoping Corcoran will be bringing a sharp butcher knife to the pork roast.

The Walking Warehoused

For most of history, dying was an event. These days, it’s a “process,” and one that can go on for decades.

It’s rough on families. And it’s a gold mine for those who had the cash and the foresight to invest in the burgeoning “assisted living” industry.

Old folks’ homes are springing up here faster than mattress stores and burger joints.

The Tallahassee Democrat’s TaMaryn Waters reports that 12 of these places are in the pipeline and, says AARP spokesman Dave Bruns, “The market sees a lot of opportunity.”

The local “Office of Economic Vitality” is pleased as punch. Competition for the Medicare set is fierce and commercials are ubiquitous. Even on Thanksgiving morning, construction workers were on-site, toiling to get a facility in the capital city’s high rent district ready for opening day.

Nobody wants to be a burden to their children, and advertising agencies do a remarkable job of making these “senior living communities” sound like Club Med. On television, you can’t smell the disinfectant that pervades the “memory care” wing, even in the five-star, amenity-intensive care units.

Decades of dementia is the new normal for significant segments of the population. The warehousing of those who cannot fend for themselves is a source of steady employment for people with strong backs, the patience of a saint, and extremely limited career options. But it is not a sustainable business model for a society that seeks to fulfill the Fifth Commandment.


At Thanksgiving, three ways to trump politics

According to front page stories everywhere, America is bracing for a tense holiday weekend.

Our biggest seasonal challenge used to be arranging the place cards to keep Drunk Uncle’s hands away from Junior’s girlfriend. After years of practice, most families have survival strategies for annual airings of grievances over who Mom loves best. But is there enough Xanax in Grandma’s medicine cabinet to take the edge off the First Thanksgiving After Trump?

Probably not, so here are some Hatfield & McCoy-tested conflict avoidance game plans to help politically divided families Trump the blues and drain the bile from the crankiest Clinton supporters.

1. Mindless television: For a bipartisan bonding experience, gather the Rs, the Ds, the Bernie Brigade and the Never-Trumpers ’round your screen for a binge-watch of Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party. Elderly felon Martha Stewart and middle-aged stoner Snoop Dogg join forces to name drop and drop live lobsters into boiling water. The show is taped before a live audience of appreciative drunks, and you’ll want a martini, too, as Martha regales Snoop with a story about Barbra Streisand’s fondness for free-standing toilet paper holders. Snoop reciprocates by turning Martha on to Golden Oreos.

The only way this show could be improved is if Snoop and Martha taped at The Villages.

2. Clean out closets:  Screw your courage to the sticking place and deal with that room where Christmas 1957’s board games, books, and stuffed animals went to die. Every community has a church, synagogue, mosque or domestic violence shelter that will wrap stuff that you’ve used once, or never, in holiday ribbons and put it directly in the hands of some man, woman, or child who may find life-changing meaning and encouragement in the small kindnesses of strangers.

3. Thank somebody who’s not expecting it: A while back, a Tallahassee doctor who provided birth control pills to FSU freshmen at the dawn of the sexual revolution got a handwritten, snail-mail thank you note from a patient he surely did not remember. But she never forgot “that doctor on the east side” who treated her with respect and understanding in that not-too-distant time when young women couldn’t obtain a credit card, much less contraceptives, without a husband to “take responsibility.”

Genuine expressions of gratitude require genuine effort. Pushing a like button on your iPad is not the same thing as a card, a letter, or a cup of hot chocolate with the neighbor lady who used to patronize your high school band’s candy sales, whether she wanted candy or not. We all have people who helped us along the way and most of them will never know how much it mattered. Thanksgiving is a good time to track them down and tell them.

On Thanksgiving, advice from AAA. And Mom

No matter how often the trained professional experts at the American Psychological Association tell us that the human brain was not designed for heavy-duty multitasking, we keep stockpiling toys that tempt our drivers to distraction, and sometimes death.

Just in time for the holidays, Neal Boudette of The New York Times reminds us that American technological exceptionalism has brought us the biggest spike in traffic fatalities in half a century, and fingers app addiction as the likely culprit.

The teenagers, little kids, and even the babies in the back seat all have their own screens, relieving drivers from having to distract them with 20th-century games like “count all the blue cars.”  That cuts down on annoying questions from the peanut gallery, such as “Are we there yet?” freeing up moms and dads for Bluetooth, Snapchat and Pokemon Go.

Aided by the North Star, 16th-century explorer Ponce de Leon made his way from A Land Without Indoor Plumbing to La Florida. Today, he probably couldn’t find his own Waze to the grocery store.

Any traffic cop can tell you that the techno-chickens have come home to roost. In the first six months of 2016, traffic fatalities are up by 10.4 percent, to 17,775, from the comparable period of 2015, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The keepers of the grisly statistics are alarmed, as well they should be. That’s a subject for long, thoughtful consideration on another day.

Right now, it’s time to for 2.29 million Floridians to load the car and head over the river and through the woods. The AAA is on the rooftops, shouting its seasonal plea.

You know how it goes, because you heard your mom say it every time you walked out the front door: Be patient. Limit distractions. Stay safe.

USF’s Herb Maschner loses title, but not money

herb-maschnerFor an academic who can’t keep his hands off the co-eds, friends with funds sure do come in handy. That’s the takeaway from the tawdry tale of the University of South Florida’s Herb Maschner.

The aptly named anthropologist left his longtime professional home at Idaho State University for USF, bringing with him a long-standing relationship with the well-endowed Hitz Foundation. Dazzled USF administrators didn’t ask about skeletons in the closet, and Maschner didn’t disclose that he was on the wrong end of a sexual harassment claim.

The accusations leveled by a graduate student under his supervision had been investigated, and sustained, leaving Maschner hot to trot out of Idaho.

USF made him an offer which included tenure, a $57,000 raise to $195,000; and a background check that wouldn’t pass muster at a well-managed burger joint.

Soon after Maschner arrived in Tampa, the Hitz Foundation ponied up $4.6 million for a “USF Center for Virtualization and Applied Spatial Technologies” with Maschner as its executive director.

They might have all lived happily ever but for Idaho State quibbling about money with Maschner’s victim.  A trial is set for December, and the pesky press in Idaho was writing about the case, forcing Maschner to at last come clean at USF.

Pesky Anastasia Dawson of the Tampa Bay Times broke the sordid story to taxpayers east of the Mississippi, forcing USF to assemble a Committee to Add Insult to Injury.

Weeks of dithering followed. Administrators eventually stripped Maschner of his fancy title, but not his fancy salary, and promptly took cover behind the skirts of an unfortunate spokeswoman. Lara Wade emailed the Times with the ludicrous claim that taking Maschner’s name off the letterhead “will facilitate greater productivity and success for him and his colleagues,” by which she means that “faculty members at the center … will report to their department chairs instead of Maschner, who has “also has been stripped of all governance responsibilities, such as committee assignments or evaluative functions  …”

The anthropology faculty is rightly concerned that “the negative publicity would affect the reputation of their department and harm recruitment” and wants the administration to “… identify a way to disassociate our department from professor Herb Maschner and to rescind his membership in the department immediately.”

That may be too little, too late, but it’s not too much to ask of a university that aspires to “preeminence.”

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