A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

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A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times Discipline of officers shouldn’t wait

Tampa police responded to an internal scandal last week by announcing the department would disband its stand-alone DUI squad. That’s a good idea. Folding these officers within a larger, unified command will make them more effective and accountable. But the move does nothing to discipline two DUI officers for their role in setting up an arrest. The department is buying time when it should be restoring public faith by dealing with these officers’ misconduct.

Police Chief Jane Castor said the special unit’s members will be spread out among the department’s three patrol districts, which divide the city into geographic areas. While the department toyed with the idea for years, Castor said the January arrest of Tampa lawyer Philip Campbell reinforced the need for the change. A special prosecutor’s report released last week alleged that two Tampa officers, Sgt. Ray Fernandez, who oversaw the DUI squad, and Timothy McGinnis, an officer assigned to the squad, worked in concert with a rival law firm to set up Campbell’s arrest. That is certainly enough to reorganize the DUI unit. It’s also enough to begin disciplinary proceedings.

Fernandez needs to answer why he targeted Campbell after being tipped off that he was drinking by a “close, personal” friend who was an attorney at the rival law firm, Adams & Diaco. He exchanged 92 texts with this attorney in the hours leading up to and shortly after Campbell’s arrest. And how did Fernandez “accidentally” erase his text messages the next day? Why did McGinnis refuse after Campbell changed his mind to allow him to take a sobriety test? That denied evidence to the state and defense and cleared the way for an arrest.

The Bradenton HeraldBad timing on Long Bar Pointe developer lawsuit against Manatee County

As they say, timing is everything — especially in the court of public opinion during an epic campaign to gain official approval for a precedent-setting development that has widespread opposition.

Yet the developers of Long Bar Pointe filed a lawsuit against Manatee County last week, claiming an unlawful taking of property for the key road to the development that one of the project partners at one time promised to build and pay for. The impertinence in this civil action is baffling, to say the least.

On Tuesday, the Manatee County commission will hold a public meeting to discuss big plans from partners Larry Lieberman and Carlos Beruff on creating a destination resort with shopping and dining spots, a boat basin and thousands of home on Sarasota Bay. The developers need major changes in the county’s comprehensive plan in order to proceed, but thousands in the community object to the project’s destructive impact on the environment.

Then here comes a lawsuit — which most certainly does not come out of the public relations playbook on how to win friends and influence people.

The Daytona Beach News-JournalFlagler County gets a jobs boost

Flagler County got a huge boost on Tuesday when AVEO Engineering announced it would create 300 jobs over three years.

This could be a watershed moment as Flagler emerges from the Great Recession, which affected the county like few other U.S. counties.

The problem Flagler County encountered in the last decade was fueled by the area’s attractive nature. Many people saw Flagler County as a pleasant place to retire, or they saw it as a bedroom community, located near major employers in Volusia, St. Johns and Duval counties.

As people poured into the county through the last decade, the Flagler economy boomed. This boom was driven in large part not by diverse industries but by one industry — the building industry, which filled the demand for new houses and structures created by the growth. The county’s rapid annual growth topped the U.S. Census Bureau’s charts at least twice in the 2000s.

But then came the bust. The housing bubble burst in 2007, and the counties and states hardest hit were those that saw phenomenal housing growth.

The Flagler unemployment rate skyrocketed to double digits.

It’s been a long journey back to more normal economic conditions. In May, the unemployment rate was finally in single digits, at 9.6 percent. But seasonal factors arrived in June, pushing unemployment back to double digits, at 10.2 percent.

So there is still much work to do. Job No. 1 is to diversify the Flagler County employer base.

To their credit, county officials have been taking action on this front. In 2011, county leaders gathered for an “emergency” economic strategy session. In late 2011 and early 2012, the Flagler County Commission dissolved Enterprise Flagler, their economic development agency, and replaced it with the Flagler County Department of Economic Opportunity. The agency had some success, pulling in more jobs at Sea Ray Boats from Merritt Island to the company’s Flagler plant.

The jobs that AVEO Engineering will add at its 56,000-square-foot building and hangar will produce high-quality LED lighting for the aviation industry. The international company has offices in New York, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom.

Now Palm Coast joins that impressive family.

The Florida Times-Union Why can’t jurors use the courthouse parking garage?

Today’s columnist challenge: Make a column about a parking garage interesting.
Challenge accepted.
It’s easier than one might think when it involves a parking garage deal that was smelly to begin with and only ripens with time.
The garage in question is the courthouse parking garage.
Yep. Another bad deal growing out of the $350 million courthouse. Imagine that.
The garage was one of three built for the city by Metropolitan Parking Solutions.

The Lakeland Ledger Bank Mismanagement: Going Bust In Florida

When it comes to mismanagement in the banking industry, nothing should be a surprise anymore. The world is still paying, after all, for the 2008 financial crisis, which was triggered by securitization schemes tied to irresponsible mortgage lending.

Still, one is taken aback all over again by this week’s news series “Breaking the Banks” — a look at some of the 68 Florida community banks that went bust in recent years — by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and also published by The Ledger.

The series detailed the fiscally risky habits of several of these fallen banks. It noted that agencies in charge of oversight were sometimes slow to halt the mismanagement, even when they were aware of it.

While Polk County is home to solid community banks, two failed in 2010: Community National Bank at Bartow and Olde Cypress Community Bank, which was based in Clewiston but had one of its four offices in Winter Haven. Risky loans undermined both banks.

FAST AND LOOSE

Dozens of institutions played fast and loose under the very noses of their watchers and directors.

The faulty practices detailed in the series include:

  • Imprudent lending (including millions of dollars for people with criminal pasts).
  • Too many loans to fellow bank officials.
  • Nepotism.
  • Wasteful spending.
  • Asset deals that sometimes put insiders’ interests before the overall health of the bank.
  • Sales and loans that obfuscated a bank’s bottom-line weakness.

Whether the actions were fraudulent is debatable, but their destructive impact is not.

How do such practices affect the public?

Heedless lending standards — especially in the case of riskier loans for large commercial projects — can spur overdevelopment and sprawl, followed by foreclosures and price declines.

The Miami HeraldBreak the gridlock

President Obama’s proposal of a “grand bargain” linking a cut in corporate taxes with new federal spending on infrastructure and job creation got the brush-off from GOP leaders in Congress last week. That used to be called cutting off your nose to spite your face. Reducing corporate taxes has been a longtime Republican goal, but these days party leaders seem so fixated on rejecting any presidential initiative that they can’t even support their own ideas.

For years, Republicans have complained that the U.S. rates are so high that they discourage investment and economic expansion. They called the 35 percent U.S. rate a job-killer because it’s the highest nominal corporate tax rate in any of the world’s developed economies. Actually, loopholes in U.S. tax law brought the effective corporate rate in 2011 to 12.1 percent, the lowest in decades, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. But even so, a cut in corporate rates might just be the switch that can turn on the economy.

The offer made by the president is precisely the sort of deal that Americans would like to see Democrats and Republicans working on to get the economy back on track. Corporate tax reform can’t pass Congress on its own. A stand-alone infrastructure bill faces equally bleak prospects. So a bargain to cut the top corporate tax rate to 28 percent, and manufacturing to 25 percent, coupled with a guarantee to underwrite new spending on roads and infrastructure and other programs would seem to be a good compromise.

But Congress left town for the summer recess last week without paying much attention to Mr. Obama’s proposal, except to disparage it.

The most bizarre response came from Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential candidate, who has previously characterized the president as a socialist. This time, he likened the president to some sort of corporate patsy: “The president claims his economic agenda is for the middle class. But it’s actually for the well-connected.”

Congress won’t be back until after Labor Day, but the president’s critics are unlikely to give his offer a more positive response even then. Their unwillingness to reach any sort of compromise with Mr. Obama ensures that the recovery will remain bumpy and uneven.

The Orlando SentinelGrowth is back. Can we do it right?

Skimming the pages of the newspaper these days, you see stories of conflict, angst and tension.

Seminole residents are riled about a proposed tourist attraction — complete with mini-golf! — on the shores of Lake Jesup.

Maitlanders are worried that peaceful orange groves may give way to a big-box store.

And Orlandoans are worried that organic-veggie-seeking yuppies are going to clog their roads around the new Fresh Market just north of downtown.

In other words: We’re back, baby!

After years of stalled growth, Central Florida is back to doing what it does best: growing.

And fighting.

Orlando is back in the nation’s top 10 for housing starts. Major office projects are sprouting again. And the newspaper is once again fattening with full-page ads showcasing model homes supposedly just 20 short minutes from everywhere you’d ever want to go.

On some levels, the Great Recession gave us a new appreciation for the growth industry we used to take for granted.

But this is also a good time to see whether we’ve actually learned anything.

Central Florida leaders have historically handled growth with the same kind of vision and restraint my kids demonstrate when walking to a candy store on allowance day.

It’s a free-for-all.

We have built wherever and whenever with little consideration for the long-term.

And it cost us plenty — in terms of both quality of life and tax dollars.

We start with sprawl, which costs us all.

The Tampa TribuneDon’t make target of EPC

It was disturbing to see Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham skewer the Environmental Protection Commission at a recent budget workshop.

Higginbotham, as the Tribune’s Mike Salinero reports, chastised the agency and said it was “again becoming an impediment” to business.

This is the kind of talk commissioners have frequently used when seeking to undermine the agency.

Higginbotham stresses he has no issue with EPC’s “rules and regulations.” He had received complaints and wanted to be sure field workers were prompt and considerate dealing with regulated parties.

That’s reasonable enough, but the commissioner should have known his pointed comments at the public workshop would rekindle thoughts of past efforts by industry-friendly commissioners to intimidate the EPC.

Indeed, business interests have sought to neuter the EPC virtually since former state lawmaker Terrell Sessums established it in the 1960s. A particular sore point with developers is that the EPC has stronger wetlands protections than the state.

Higginbotham, to his credit, helped defend the EPC from a 2007 commission effort to eliminate its wetlands responsibilities. The east Hillsborough commissioner, though pro-business, is no industry lackey.

But at the workshop, he took the EPC to task for two cases, one involving Speedling Inc., a nursery in Sun City, the other concerning the Varn family ranch in Plant City.

Higginbotham says he wasn’t seeking any special treatment for those operations, and his office had even initiated one of the environmental complaints against Speedling. He just wanted the conflicts to be resolved quickly and fairly.

Still, his comments hardly seemed intended to advance resource protection.

The Palm Beach PostOne failed prosecution, but many victories in war against pill mills

Federal prosecutors may not have been able to convict two doctors in the overdose deaths of eight pain-clinic patients, but law enforcement in Palm Beach County is winning the larger fight against pill mills.

A jury acquitted Drs. Cynthia Cadet and Joseph Castronuovo of causing the deaths and conspiring to distribute controlled substances but found them guilty of money laundering. The doctors worked for Executive Pain in West Palm Beach and American Pain, which operated in Broward County and Boca Raton before moving to Lake Worth. The clinics were part of a $40 million illegal prescription painkiller operation run by twin brothers Christopher and Jeff George of Wellington.

 

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.