Tampa Bay Times Archives - Page 2 of 27 - SaintPetersBlog

Saying voter intent ‘ignored’ on medical marijuana, Tampa Bay Times is just plain wrong

The Tampa Bay Times is just plain wrong about something, and it has stuck in my craw for nearly a week now.

Last Thursday, a Times headline read: “Voter intent on medical marijuana ignored.” Two days later, columnist John Romano followed suit with virtually the same narrative.

“Ignored?”

The clear inference of the editorial – notably, the word “ignored” – utterly fails to acknowledge reality.

“Ignored” clearly and purposefully claims the will of those who voted for the constitutional amendment has been intentionally disregarded or not considered. Whether you agree or disagree with the direction things are headed, clear evidence suggests Amendment 2 is NOT being ignored.

If the amendment were indeed being ignored, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) would have done nothing. Nada.

Instead, the DOH – absent legislative guidance and before rule hearings or public testimony – took a fairly dramatic stance expanding access to medical cannabis. The Department publicly stated physicians can now order medical marijuana for those patient conditions identified in the amendment.

That’s not ignoring. That’s the Department of Health taking a pretty bold step forward. (Applause?)

Typically, state agencies have limited authority to make such a determination. But in this case, the DOH action – taken within days of Amendment 2’s enactment – allows for the expansion of conditions precisely as directed under the newly passed amendment.

One could make the argument that this is the exact opposite of “ignored.”

Further, DOH did not (and does not) have authority to simply wipe away statutes put in place explicitly to handle an array of issues that deal with a substance that is (may I remind everyone) STILL illegal at the federal level.

The agency could not have, for example, issued an edict allowing anyone to grow marijuana or to sell it as that person saw fit. And they cannot just wipe away licensure requirements or legislatively mandated training requirements for physicians that are currently still on the books. Instead, they let the current statutory framework for growing, distributing and selling to stand – concepts that are clearly articulated under the law as it stands now – taking the bold step of allowing physicians to immediately begin ordering medical cannabis for a new group of patients.

Seriously, what more do the good folks at TBT want?

Second, and equally bizarre: they roundly criticize lawmakers.

This accusation – plainly false – simply makes no sense.

Lawmakers are, right now, in the business of meeting, taking public testimony and considering various viewpoints. They drafted bills, weighing different options and are moving forward with great speed, even though the start of the legislative session is still weeks away.

There have been three public hearings and, as of this writing, two separate Senate bills are being floated, and we can expect one from the House any moment now.

Again, what more do they want?  Session hasn’t even started.

Let us keep in mind that 70 percent of voters did NOT vote for recreational marijuana usage. Voters said “yes” to the PHYSICIAN-directed use of MEDICAL marijuana for patients with extreme conditions. The proponents repeatedly and steadfastly maintained that we would not have widespread use of marijuana but that it would ONLY be available for the severely ill.

One must presume that the critically ill are under the treatment and care of a licensed and, hopefully, fully trained physician.

The paper’s position that the Board of Medicine should have no role in the administration of medicine is not only misguided, but entirely inconsistent with the promise made by those who supported this amendment.

As a father and a citizen of this state, I am genuinely terrified that Florida could become the next California – or worse. We have seen what happens when imperfect, but well-intended, laws are exploited.

Once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s almost impossible to put it back in.

I don’t want to live in a state where anybody with a smartphone can feign virtually any illness and have pot delivered to their front door. I am fairly confident that most who voted in support of Amendment 2 will agree.

Of course, we will never know exactly what anyone who voted for (or against) it was thinking.

But here is what we do know.

You may not like the way things are headed. You may prefer Sen. Brandes’ approach over the one from Sen. Bradley. You may think DOH moved too quickly or was too narrow in their interpretation. Fine. Fair enough.

But saying the Department of Health has “ignored” Amendment 2, or imply that lawmakers have done likewise, is simply – and demonstrably – wrong.

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Alan Clendenin dismisses complaint filed against him as ‘baseless’

The battle to be the next chair of the Florida Democratic Party is becoming increasingly crazy – and intense. Two of the five candidates have had to move to different counties to be eligible for the position and one of them, Alan Clendenin, has been hit with a complaint regarding his election as state committeeman in Bradford County last month.

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Times Adam Smith was first to report that Patricia Byrd, a state committeewoman in Bay County, filed a complaint last week with current chair Allison Tant, calling on her to reject Clendenin’s election.

In a statement issued Tuesday night, Clendenin is dismissing the complaint, alleging that Byrd is a supporter of Stephen Bittel, the Coconut Grove developer whose own election as state committeeman in Miami-Dade County last month has been subject to criticism.

“Instead of making the case for why he’s the best person for the job, it appears as though this candidate is trying to win by clearing the field using baseless and unfounded complaints to disqualify his opponents,” Clendenin says about Bittel.

“I want to be clear – the complaint filed today with Chair Tant is baseless,” Clendenin continued. “Like other candidates in this race, as well as the past four FDP Chairs, I qualified for this position within our current rules. I know that these rules do not make sense to many people which is why I’m calling for them to be changed and will make this a top priority if elected. This complaint is nothing more than an unnecessary distraction from talking about how we move this party forward.”

Clendenin and former state Senator Dwight Bullard both lost in their bids for state committeeman at their respective counties reorganization meetings last month, making them ineligible to run for state party chair. However, both have now relocated to different counties where there were positions open for committeeman; both were elected.

In Clendenin’s case, it necessitated moving from his South Tampa home to Hampton in Bradford County. Bullard moved to Gadsden County, after losing his bid for committeeman in Miami-Dade.

Bittel won that vote, but only he was able to run after the party’s former committeeman, Bret Berlin, resigned to make way for Bittel.

Duval County Committeewoman Lisa King and Osceola County Democratic Chair Leah Carius round out the field.

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Media lawyer Alison Steele leaving Rahdert, going solo

Longtime media attorney Alison Steele is leaving the St. Petersburg law firm she has helped build for the last quarter-century and starting her own solo practice.

Steele
Steele

Steele, a name partner in the firm of Rahdert, Steele, Reynolds & Driscoll, Friday said she was sending announcements out over the past weekend.

She will continue to focus on media and employment law and civil litigation.

According to her online bio, Steele “has concentrated in legal issues affecting journalists, including litigation and appeals in cases involving Florida’s public records and open meetings laws, public access to judicial records and proceedings, the federal Freedom of Information Act, subpoenas to journalists, libel, invasion of privacy, copyright and trademark matters, and labor and employment law.”

Steele has long represented the Tampa Bay Times, recently including a libel suit brought by Palm Beach billionaire developer Jeff Greene.

He claimed the Times and Miami Herald derailed his 2010 U.S. Senate campaign that year with coverage of alleged fraudulent real estate deals and wild parties on his 145-foot yacht. The suit settled earlier this year on confidential terms.

Steele also has represented the Miami Herald, the New York Times, the First Amendment Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union, according to her bio.

Steele said she’s leaving the firm on good terms: “I started out with George (Rahdert) in 1987, then took a year and a half for a federal clerkship, then returned to practice with George in 1990.

“We have coming up on 30 years of friendship, more than 25 practicing law together,” she added. “We built a great firm together. We have a great legacy together. We’re going to continue to be great colleagues and friends.”

Florence Snyder, a First Amendment lawyer and FloridaPolitics.com columnist, called Steele “the best reporter’s lawyer I’ve ever seen—and a gifted corporate counsel as well.”

“It’s hard to operate with integrity in both those quadrants of the galaxy, but Alison sets the bar very, very high and jumps it with ease,” said Snyder, who served as a Poynter Institute trustee before becoming an administrative law judge in 2000. “She’s the lawyer I would most want by my side in a knife fight,”

Steele “is a 1984 graduate of Stetson University in DeLand, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Stetson Reporter, Florida’s oldest collegiate newspaper,” her bio says.

She received her law degree with honors in 1987 from Stetson University College of Law, where she’s an adjunct professor. Steele also is visiting faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and the University of South Florida.

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As 2016 closes, Hillsborough’s transportation problems still mostly unsolved

Another year of our lives is about to become history, and that means another year where little tangible was accomplished in terms of addressing the transportation needs of the citizenry in Hillsborough County.

But a whole lot of people did get angry with each other over the process, anyway.

At this time a year ago, the biggest concern was: What would come out of the Hillsborough County Sheriff Department’s investigation into Go Hillsborough, the two-years-in-the-making transportation plan that called for a 30-year, half-cent sales tax increase?

“The Sherriff’s Office has completed most of the work in its investigation of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan but the results won’t be made public until mid-January,” the late and lamented Tampa Tribune wrote in December of 2015.

But it would not be released in January. Nor in February.

When it was ultimately released in March, the 1,974 page-report from the Sheriff’s office and State Attorney Mark Ober found no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing in how county staff, commissioner and private consultant Beth Leytham acted in the months leading up to the selection of Leytham’s client, Parsons Brinckerhoff, to the project. But any momentum for what was always a rather large lift had been severely thwarted, thought it didn’t mean it was DOA, at all.  The referendum always required a simple majority of commissioners to vote to put the half-cent plan on the November 2016 ballot.

However, some Tampa liberals – considered to be the base of support for the tax – balked at what they said was a plan with too heavy an emphasis on roads and a lack of transit in the city.

On April 27, after hearing more than 60 people speak during a four-hour hearing, the BOCC rejected the plan on a 4-3 vote. The proposal died after Commission Victor Crist, always considered the swing vote on the seven-member board, said he was going with his “gut feeling” in opposing the measure.

But like Freddie Krueger, Go Hillsborough wasn’t quite dead yet.

Flash forward to six weeks later, when another 67 people came before the BOCC to give their views on a slightly revised measure. In this case, the tax would have gone for 20 years instead of the original 30 year-plan. But the vote tally on the BOCC was still the same. Go Hillsborough was dead. Again.

Several months later, the board ultimately voted to approved dedicating $600 million over the next decade to fix roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersections. But not much for transit, which upset newbie Commissioner Pat Kemp.

There is no talk about a referendum going up anytime soon.

While the county went nowhere on addressing transit, the Florida Department of Transportation’s ambitious plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 275, Interstate 4 and Interstate 75, as well as overhauls to the Howard Frankland Bridge moved forward. Sort of.

Opposition to the $6 billion plan Tampa Bay Express project has come most prominently from the areas that would be directly impacted, in Tampa’s Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and V.M. Ybor neighborhoods, and it’s been lasting and sustaining for more than a year-and-a-half.

The single biggest public hearing on the project took place on a summer night in June, when the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization held a public hearing on whether the TBX plan should be placed in its Transportation Improvement Plan for the next five years.

The 12-4 vote in favor of the plan came after eight hours of public hearing and 180 people signed up to speak, with the meeting concluding at 2:18 a.m.

Considered the biggest public works project in the history of the Tampa Bay area, the vote showed that while there are some lawmakers who strongly oppose the plan, the majority of the political and business establishment still remained solidly behind it.

In December, FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold said that he was hitting the “reset” button on the project, bringing in new staff to manage the project, “and work more intensively with the local communities.”

According to a Tampa Bay Times investigation, 80 percent of the registered voters living at properties that FDOT aims to raze for TBX are in black and Latino households.

Another ongoing story that began in 2014 and lasted through most of this year was the continuing drama playing out at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

At one point during the acrimonious negotiations regarding the level of severity on background checks for ridesharing drivers, Uber pulled out their “Work with us or we’ll leave” card, which carried some real force after they literally did leave the Austin, Texas market over a similar disagreement with local regulators. And in this seemingly never ending saga, the public has, for better or worse, always been on the side of Uber/Lyft, and against the perceived stuffy bureaucrats not willing to adapt to a “disruptive” new mode of transportation.

At times, it got very ugly – and that was just between PTC Chair Victor Crist and his executive director, Kyle Cockream. Neither man ended up looking great at the end of it all, with Cockream first announcing his resignation, then postponing, then resigning again.

Crist, meanwhile, did a 180 from his previous stance in support of going hard on Uber and Lyft, and seemingly overnight became their ally, much to the consternation of fellow PTC board members David Pogorilich and Frank Reddick.

By the end of the year, the beleaguered PTC was barely standing, after a vote by the Hillsborough legislative delegation may ultimately give the agency just twelve more months to find a graceful way to exit the scene, with presumably the regulatory duties being handled by the BOCC, which is the case virtually everywhere else.

And oh, yes, Uber and Lyft drivers are now legally good to pick up and drop off passengers (not that their illegal stance did much to deter them previously).

And then there was the Cross-Bay Ferry pilot project taking residents from Tampa to St. Petersburg and back, a plan spearheaded privately by former County Commissioner Ed Turanchik and publicly by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who, hat in hand, was able to procure $350,000 each from the local governments of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Tampa and his own City Council in St. Pete, respectively.

And while there was a lot of fanfare when the rides began, with seemingly every local official being captured on Facebook Live taking a maiden journey, WFLA- Newschannel 8 reported in mid- December that one recent day, only two people had taken the ferry, and a week before, only one passenger was on a trip from Tampa to St. Petersburg.

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With its Lego project, the Tampa Bay Times crushes my hopes and dreams

Last week, the digital geniuses at the Tampa Bay Times debuted a multimedia presentation that used animated Lego figures and constructions to tell a complicated story about a planned toll road on the Howard Frankland Bridge.

“How the plan to fix Tampa Bay’s most important bridge fell apart, told in Legos” from Eli Zhang, Caitlin Johnston, Anthony Cormier, and Martin Frobisher is an absolute must-click for its combination of shoe-leather reporting and “Everything Is Awesome” visualization.

It’s a great read.

It’s visually stunning.

It’s also — to me and only me — heartbreaking.

Please allow me to explain, without taking anything away from the great work of the Times reporters, while also knowing that many in the Times newsroom will take some pleasure in my agony.

Back in May, I wrote in a Facebook post: “it hit me what my next project will be. The next enterprise of Extensive Enterprises, so to speak. People won’t get it at first. They’ll think it’s silly. Then it will get the right people’s attention. And then everyone will say, ‘How much does it cost to do that for us?'”

My excitement originated from a video from Bloomberg: “The White House Correspondents’ Dinner in Legos.

The introduction was — “Curious how the White House Correspondents’ Dinner works? We explain … with Legos.”

It’s that simple.

As soon as I finished, I had a Eureka moment. Why not bring the Lego video concept to Florida politics? Isn’t that what I’ve done before — take a national idea and make it Sunshine State-sized?

My plan was straightforward. I would first produce a video about some storyline involving Florida politics. From there, I would partner with public relations firms who needed a new way to tell their side of a food fight happening in the Florida Legislature.

“Marion Hammer wants 18 year-olds to bring guns to college campuses … told in Legos.”

“The Workers Comp food fight … told in Legos.”

“Why you can’t get Uber in Miami … told in Legos.”

Whatever. You get the point.

A team of folks (much funnier than I) would help write the scripts. I’d build the Lego sets. Kevin Cate would shoot the videos.

It’s ratings gold, Jerry.

Except for one thing — Lego sets are not very easy to build. At least not the interesting ones.

And, like the Times, finding the right Lego Minifigures is next to impossible.

Kristen Hare of The Poynter Institute details the roadblock the Times team faced.

“We’ve found many Lego-people-packs online,” said (Adam) Playford, director of data and digital enterprise at the Times. “But they all have too many weirdos, like Lego Bananaman and Lego Grim Reaper. Regular Lego people are apparently no longer in vogue.”

Playford and Co. solved their Lego-people-problem by putting out an all-hands-on-deck request to the staff at the Times. I, of course, do not have that luxury.

So … and here’s where some of the agony begins to set in … I worked with a firm in London to create custom Lego Minifigures.

For the script of the first video, I would tell the story of Marco Rubio and the race for Florida’s U.S. Senate seat.

I ordered Minifigures resembling Rubio, Donald Trump, Patrick Murphy, Alan Grayson, Carlos Beruff (in a trademark black shirt), Ron DeSantis (pictured here in a Navy outfit, of course), and David Jolly.

As for the sets; well, let’s just say what the Times built for its very nice story about a bridge is, um, child’s play.

I started by building the small city building sets:

Soon, I became more ambitious, building bigger sets:

I assembled cars, planes, and trucks (including a replica of one the U.S. Senator drives) so we could shoot the pivotal scene from outside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera tells Rubio he should re-enter the race.

I even built The White House (which was very difficult because it’s from the “Architect” class of Lego sets, which is basically Lego’s way of saying “A lot of f*cking pieces are in this box.”

I’ve been building and collecting Lego sets for nearly seven months, thinking the entire time that no one else would bring an idea I first saw on Bloomberg to Florida politics.

And then my bitter rival, the Tampa Bay Times, unveils its pretty little story about a bridge.

When I read the first tweet about the story, I knew what it was about without clicking on the link. My heart sank to a depth deeper than those caissons that hold up the Howard Frankland.

Sure, as my wife and other friends have said, I could continue my Lego project — and I still might.

But that’s like making “Deep Impact” after you learn that “Armageddon” is in production.

“Deep Impact” is probably the better film, but everyone remembers “Armageddon.”

If I do a ” … as told by Legos” video now, critics will say, “but didn’t the Times do that first?”

And screaming “but Bloomberg did it before either of us” does nothing to solve the problem.

Now I am stuck with a whole lot of Legos — which is OK, since my daughter, Ella Joyce, loves building with them.

In fact, Legos are one of the things we’ve been able to do together.

Just yesterday, Ella became sick on our way to a Christmas event replicating a train ride to the North Pole (it’s awesome, and I recommend it to every parent.) We were forced to turn around, missing one of our favorite holiday traditions.

To make up for it, I finished building this — bringing the North Pole to Ella:

If this episode has taught me anything, it’s that, as an entrepreneur, when a light bulb goes off, move quickly. That’s what worked for Sunburn, Florida Politics, INFLUENCE Magazine and everything else I’ve done.

I moved too slowly on this project and, subsequently, I lost out.

That won’t happen again.

Speaking of which, I have an idea for a …

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Union activists want Wal-Marts in Tampa Bay region to pay price for offshoring security costs

Although retail giant Wal-Mart is known for low prices, it’s increasingly earning a reputation for offshoring security costs to local law enforcement agencies.

Earlier this year, the Tampa Bay Times reported that law enforcement in four counties logged 16,800 calls to Wal-Marts in one year alone.

It’s much the same around the nation. An Arizona Republic investigation published this month revealed that between 2011-2016, three of the top five addresses to which Phoenix police officers responded were Wal-Mart stores.

In Beech Grove, Indiana, city officials in 2015 declared Wal-Mart a public nuisance, after a local news station reported that Beech Grove police had been called to the store more than 1,000 times in the last two years.

“We’re very concerned about this issue,” said Marc Rodriguez of the West Central Florida Labor Council. Rodriguez was gathered with activists with the Fight for $15! movement in front of the Wal-Mart store on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

“We know that Wal-Mart is a tremendously profitable corporation. They’re the largest retailer,” he said. “The largest private sector in the world, and with all of that we feel that a basic level of responsibility should come with that as well.”

Jenny Divish, an organizer for Making Change at Wal-Mart, said that they’re working on trying to get the Tampa City Council to pass an ordinance that would penalize and fine a property owner or tenant $2,500 for every call that exceeds more than 10 calls to the police per month.

“Until we get them to the city council until we pass this resolution like Beech Grove, Indiana and all these cities,” Divish said, “Wal-Mart’s not going to be held accountable and they’re still going to take these public dollars, until they’re held accountable at a higher level.”

Divish said in her discussion with council members, there is a desire for more hard data on calls to service before they come forward with any resolution.

Making Change at Wal-Mart is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

 “The reason why this issue exists its part of a pattern on the part of Wal-Mart in terms of irresponsible business practices and in terms of trying to cut corners,” Rodriguez said. “We know that in recent years Wal-Mart has eliminated a lot of positions. They’re eliminating cashiers and replacing them with machines. It gives people the message that Wal-Mart doesn’t care about what’s going on in their stores.

“This is part of a pattern, the same way in which Wal-Mart cuts corners and passes the cost of securing their stores onto the public in terms of relying on the police and straining the resources of communities, that’s the same way that they pass the cost of their low wages and lack of benefits on to the public as well.”

Making Change at Wal-Mart said this television ad (shown below) is running in Tampa and other cities Thursday:

 

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Mitch Perry Report for 12.15.16 — Pier politics, part VIII

St. Pete City Council members are scheduled to receive a report on the progress of the St. Petersburg Pier at City Hall this morning.

Architects from ASD Architects, Rogers Partners Architects + Urban Designers, representing the Pier and W Architecture and Landscape Architecture and Wannemacher Jensen Architects, representing the Pier Approach will present updated renderings of the new Pier. According to a news release, City staff will report on timing, budget and next steps.

Not covering St. Petersburg on a regular basis these days, I have to admit I wasn’t aware where we all were in the process. Otherwise occupied, I didn’t realize that there has been an additional $20 million added to the budget from Pinellas County. For years the top line had been $46 million, which it remains in terms of how much the city will allocate to it.

As reported in yesterday’s Times, now Mayor Rick Kriseman wants the county to cough up an additional $14 million that has been earmarked to build an intermodal transportation center for light rail and buses. That now pushes the budget up to $80 million.

“I don’t want us to have any regrets down the road,” the mayor tells Times columnist John Romano this morning. “I want to be able to give the community something really special.”

When I closely covered the saga of the Pier in 2012-2013, I learned that while removes the element of the downtown crowd was all in for “The Lens” and couldn’t be bothered to hear arguments for maintaining the now razed inverted pyramid Pier, many people in the community felt otherwise. Though Councilman Wengay Newton was depicted as just being eccentric in supporting the 1973 model, he was actually onto something with his resistance to making such a change.

So, yes, people, the Pier is a complicated thing.

Like the never-ending saga of the Tampa Bay Rays, it’s still hard to predict how this whole Pier thing is going to work out. Though there is a sentiment within the same circle of folks who liked the Lens to just quash the whole damned thing, that won’t work.

So maybe Kriseman is on to something. It’s hard to say when it comes to the Pier. City Council members in the past year have found their voice in confronting the administration regarding the sewage crisis — will they as a whole resist the urge to keep on spending on something “really special”?

In other news …

In a health care committee meeting in the Florida Senate yesterday, some health care providers say this whole managed Medicaid system isn’t working out so well for them.

While Tampa Bay area lawmakers try to pass a law that removes the suspension of driver’s licenses for a series of crimes unrelated to driving, they don’t do so for drug crime.

Hillsborough County Commission Pat Kemp heard from some Tampa-based constituents not happy with the low salaries that are so prevalent in the area.

The Tampa Bay History Center is about to go through an $11 million expansion.

And critics of the Tampa Bay Express project aren’t surprised to hear FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold call for a ‘reset,’ but they want the whole thing killed.

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After dead veteran scandal, someone needs to say ‘you’re fired’ at Bay Pines VA

I was about to muse aloud why someone hasn’t been fired yet from the Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Health Care System when this statement came in from U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who represents the district where the facility is located.

“Unsurprisingly, not a single VA employee has been fired following this incident, despite a clear lack of concern and respect for the Veteran. The men and women who sacrificed on behalf of our nation deserve better.”

Yep. Unsurprising.

That is the sad truth in the aftermath of the shocking report late last week that instead of transporting a deceased veteran from the hospice wing at the facility to the morgue, he was left unattended for nine hours, first in the hallway and then in the shower room.

That was bad enough.

But then, as a 24-page report first revealed by the Tampa Bay Times details, there was an attempt to cover up that incident from February before anyone found out. I can only imagine how that went down.

“Uh, what’s this body doing here?”

“I don’t know. Think we should tell someone?”

“Are you kidding? People don’t need to know this. We’ll just tidy things up and pretend this never happened. Let’s get some lunch and figure out a plan.”

That plan, according to the report, included falsifying records. That should be a firing offense right there.

Following this to its logical conclusion, though, it appears that covering your backside, in this case, was a lot more important than doing things right and treating a deceased veteran with the respect he deserved and promised as a quid pro quo for the service he gave to his country.

And hasn’t that been a problem in the VA for a long, long time now?

As Bilirakis says, “The report details a total failure on the part of the Department of Veterans Affairs and an urgent need for greater accountability.”

That “total failure” included numerous breakdowns in procedures for dealing with deceased veterans. There can be no excuse.

Bay Pines is far from the only Veterans Affairs facility to come under fire, and it appears to be a systemwide problem. Issues with the giant agency will be a stain on the legacy of President Obama as he prepares to leave office next month.

For now, as far as we know, no one lost their job at Bay Pines over this, even though it happened about 10 months ago. There apparently was a lot of finger-pointing, according to the report, and attempts to deflect blame, but somebody screwed up big time and needs to pay the price.

A spokesman for Bay Pines told the Times that, “We feel that we have taken strong, appropriate and expeditious steps to strengthen and improve our existing systems and processes within the unit.”

That’s a good thing.

This is one time, though, where it would be smart to borrow a line from incoming President Donald Trump. Whoever is responsible needs to hear those magic words: You’re fired.

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Baseball commissioner: Rays stadium is about location, location, location

Another year has almost passed and, so far as we know, nothing much has happened to lead anyone to believe the Tampa Bay Rays are anywhere close to securing a new stadium. But there were two developments this week that seemed to be forces pulling in the opposite direction. That’s never good.

On Monday, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, baseball Commissioner Ron Manfred told reporters that the No. 1 priority for a stadium is location, location, location.

“I think getting, not only a new facility, but a facility that is more appropriately located within the Tampa-St. Pete market would be good,” he said at a Q-and-A session at George Washington University.

In case we didn’t get the message, Manfred added this: “Ultimately, there has to be an end game. If in fact, there’s not a site or there’s not a financial arrangement that’s viable and we become convinced of that, our rules allow for the possibility of relocation. At that point of desperation, it’s possible a team would be allowed to relocate.”

The “end game” got an interesting twist a day later when state Rep. Brian Avila, a Hialeah Republican, filed HB-77. Boiled to its essence, the measure would outlaw pro sports teams from leasing government-owned land to build or renovate a stadium.

A couple of points about all this:

Manfred is correct on his point about the requirement that a new stadium be “appropriately located” in the Tampa Bay market. Right now, it doesn’t look like they’re close.

There has been a lot of chatter about building a new ballpark adjacent to Tropicana Field, but that would just double-down on the original disastrous decision that stuck the Rays in the extreme western part of the marketplace.

The only places that make sense for the long term are downtown Tampa, the Westshore area in Tampa, or a spot in Pinellas off the Howard Frankland Bridge. The Rays have to be in the center of the market. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

The question of money brings us to the second point: How to pay for this.

I’ll conservatively put the cost at $600 million (although I believe it will be higher than that). The Rays will be expected to pony up a large chunk of that cost — perhaps through ticket surcharges and other fees. To do that, they’ll need a large season-ticket base, which in baseball means corporate sales.

Already, businesses in Hillsborough are reluctant to buy Rays’ tickets in mass quantities because clients and employees won’t make weeknight trips through the area’s stifling traffic at rush hour to get to the Trop.

For the sake of argument, let’s say they work out the location requirement and ticket sales spike. That bar is pretty low, by the way. The Rays attracted a little less than 1.3 million fans last year, by far the lowest in baseball.

Based on 2016 attendance figures, Tampa Bay would need an additional 1 million fans per season to be in the middle of the pack (San Diego, at No. 15, drew 2.3 million). That’s a jump of about 14,000 extra fans per game.

Before they can focus on that, though, the question for politicians becomes how to subsidize the stadium cost without having taxpayers storm their offices with pitchforks and flaming torches. We’ve all heard things like dedicating some tourist tax and rental car money, but I’m not even sure that’s feasible. Those industries have potent lobbyists who will be shouting in the ears of people like Brian Avila to keep MLB’s mitts off their money.

This issue has been dragging on for years and the Rays seem stuck in quicksand as a franchise. The way to change that is to heed Manfred’s words about location and stop with the nonsense of shoveling more money into a failed spot.

Nothing else can happen until they move past that.

Then, all they need to do is find a way to pay for it.

Then actually build it.

Then figure a way to put a competitive team in that new building.

To be continued …

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Joe Henderson: Not just papers; it’s #LoveMyWebsite day, too

On Sunday afternoon, a man carrying an AR-15 assault rifle walked into a popular pizza place in northwest Washington D.C. and began shooting.

No one was hurt, thank goodness and the gunman was arrested.

What he said after being taken away, though, should be a warning to us all. He said he came to “self-investigate” whether Hillary Clinton was using the restaurant as a front for a child sex trafficking ring. Just before the election last month, that story had made the rounds among crazy people who frequent conspiracy-theory websites and believe what they read.

Normally, such a thing would be limited to charter members of the Tinfoil Hat Society. But after the ironically named “fake news” became real news for its impact on the recent elections, I guess we can’t afford to assume people can tell the difference – although I do think a few well-publicized libel judgments against sites that deliberately lie on the scale we just saw might give these miscreants a moment of pause.

I mention this because the hashtag #LoveMyNewspaper was trending Monday on Twitter. That gives me a warm feeling. I worked for about 45 years in the newspaper industry, including nearly the last 42 at the Tampa Tribune before it was bought and closed in May by the Tampa Bay Times.

This is not to lament that day because my attitude is to look forward, not backward. Besides, we know the business side of the newspaper industry overall sucks. The website newspaperdeathwatch.com lists 15 large papers that have closed since 2007 and details cutbacks and layoffs at many others, including the venerable New York Times.

Let’s all just take a deep breath, though. The need for detailed and accurate information doesn’t go away – maybe now more than ever, as the story in Washington shows. That’s where legitimate media comes in.

No matter your political persuasion, you can’t disagree that America is entering uncharted waters. Reporters have always been basically under siege from readers and politicians who don’t like their work, but as the recent national election proves they are more necessary than their enemies would like to admit.

So, I would add to the love for newspapers with another hashtag: #LoveMyWebsite – at least the ones like this one where readers go looking for real information and find it.

Reporters for SaintPetersBlog, FloridaPolitics.com and the Times perform their craft with distinction. They find out things people need to know and they understand the difference between fact and fantasy. That’s what we’re all after.

The Times revolutionized the game eight years ago when it launched PolitiFact, but probably never guessed the Pulitzer Prize-winning site would have to be used, as it was Nov. 4, to debunk the sex-trafficking story with a “Pants on Fire” rating.

And if you a frequent visitor to this site, you understand what a valuable tool it is to help stay abreast of the goings-on in Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and around the state.

When someone is willing to play that kind of mind game to dupe the nation that we see on the splinter sites, you need to ask what else they are willing to do.

The only way to combat that is with inconvenient truths known as facts. That is where reporters come in. That’s where newspapers with resources and willingness to shine a light in dark places are most needed. That’s where websites willing to cover local races with the same vigor as a governor’s race are most needed.

So yes, love your newspaper.

And love your website.

We’re all in this together.

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