A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Times recommends: Kriseman for mayor
Under Mayor Bill Foster, St. Petersburg has been treading water for nearly four years. The city faces no major crises, crime rates remain low and the economy is recovering. Yet the mayor’s lack of vision and unsure footing in key areas has resulted in stagnation and missed opportunities. For voters seeking a fresh start and stronger leadership, the only viable alternative is Rick Kriseman.
Kriseman, 51, is a trial lawyer with the experience and creativity to lead the city. He has served as a member of the St. Petersburg City Council and the Legislature, and he has developed a reputation as being progressive on public policy and persuasive in advocating his positions. He is as comfortable talking with neighborhood associations as he is with City Council members and legislators, and his familiarity with both local and state government would be an asset.
As a City Council member between 2000 and 2006, Kriseman was a stabilizing influence who worked well with Mayor Rick Baker. He helped sell to homeowners associations a plan by Baker and St. Petersburg College to build a joint-use public library. He was the deciding vote in Baker’s move to sell city property in Hernando County to the Southwest Florida Water Management District after receiving stronger assurances the land would be preserved. Kriseman also was an advocate for open government, leading the effort to stream council meetings live on the Internet.
As a state House member between 2006 and 2012, Kriseman often focused on environmental efforts and public education. He fought for tax reform and open government, and against Republican efforts to pack the courts with conservatives and make it harder for consumers to sue. Kriseman has been criticized by Republicans as being too partisan in Tallahassee. But there were few opportunities for a Democrat in a chamber firmly controlled by Republicans to reach a bipartisan compromise, and Kriseman became an articulate spokesman for the minority party.
The Bradenton Herald — Is county in grip of urban warfare? Surge in gunfire alarming
The recent outbreak of shootings sounds alarm bells once again in the community about the critical need for a stronger and coordinated response to combat violence, gangs and drugs. Past efforts at stemming mayhem after high-profile homicides have fallen short.
Over the past two weeks, five shooting incidents brought the nightmare of violence to various neighborhoods, sparing no part of town.
A staggering string of violence
On July 27, passengers in two vehicles exchanged gunfire, and a 4-year-old at home with his mother when a stray bullet hit his head. While the boy is recovering, he might lose sight in one eye.
On Aug. 1, Brenton Coleman Sr. was gunned down while holding his 5-year-old on the grounds of the 13th Avenue Community Center after a youth football practice that had attracted hundreds of parents and children. Bradenton police describe this as an “execution-style killing” perpetrated by two men, who remain on the loose.
The victim’s son and brother were arrested Aug. 7 after police stopped a stolen car for speeding and found two loaded assault rifles inside. The driver fled and ditched a 9mm handgun in a yard.
On Aug. 4, a sheriff’s deputy witnessed two groups of gunmen firing upon one another in a convenience store parking lot in the 5100 block of14th Street West. One man sustained an arm wound, and the gunmen fled. Casings from high-powered rifles were found at the scene.
Just hours later that day, a vehicle passenger fired several rounds at a man standing outside his car with his baby inside in a Palmetto neighborhood.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Team Volusia finding its way
Team Volusia, the public-private economic development group, was born in controversy, but has survived long enough to gain solid support from various interests in this fractious county. Perhaps that bodes well for the future of cooperative economic development efforts in Volusia County.
On Saturday Team Volusia celebrated its third anniversary. That, in itself, is good news for the group. Two years ago, Team Volusia’s future looked uncertain as it struggled to find its place in the local economic development arena. County government and the privately funded CEO Business Alliance, a group of business leaders formed to complement Team Volusia’s business recruitment program, were major players along with Team Volusia.
County government officials wanted to maintain a strong role for the county’s economic development department. It was not clear how the economic development “labor” would be divided between the county, Team Volusia and the CEO Business Alliance.
Geographical divisions and old conflicts between the county and Volusia’s cities hovered over the creation of Team Volusia. Cities in West Volusia were worried that they would take a backseat to Daytona Beach and the coastal area of the county.
An earlier effort at countywide economic development collapsed in 2001, in part because of parochial squabbling. Some local observers thought the same fate awaited Team Volusia. The group was further hindered by a false start with its first CEO, Helen Cauthen, who left the position after only a year on the job.
The Florida Times-Journal — Finance Committee says no to some budget cuts
Peace almost broke out as the City Council Finance Committee began budget hearings last week.
The budget warm-ups had included some pointed criticism of Mayor Alvin Brown’s proposal for the next fiscal year, such as “incompetent” and “dereliction of duty.”
It wasn’t exactly a kumbaya moment, but Finance Chairman Greg Anderson kicked off the first hearing Thursday morning with the promise that “this is our opportunity to move Jacksonville forward” and that the process will be “timely, respectful and orderly.”
The Lakeland Ledger — Chief’s Sex Cases In Two Cities: Open Eyes When Hiring
As 2010 was winding down, and Lakeland was winnowing its candidates for police chief, City Manager Doug Thomas knew that a Police Department sex scandal had come to light in Elgin, Ill., when Lakeland finalist Lisa Womack was police chief in Elgin.
Lakeland was lackadaisical, failing to follow up on records related to the sex case and to Womack. A long list of opportunities to learn about a top candidate for one of the city’s most important positions was lost. This will be a worrisome memory as long as Lakeland takes a passive approach to hiring.
Among city employment officials, a police chief search committee and, particularly, City Manager Doug Thomas — who chose Womack for Lakeland police chief from six finalists in December 2010 — none dug into the issue deeply.
For instance, Lakeland did not seek a 700-page report on the investigation into the sex case, reported The Ledger’s Rick Rousos in an Eye on Polk investigative article one week ago.
Nor did Lakeland request copies of more than 450 related emails, which are public record. The emails were between the two Elgin officers involved in the affair, then-Deputy Chief of Police Bob Beeter and Sgt. Tamara Welter.
Unlike the Lakeland Police sex scandal, which the State Attorney’s Office says involved 10 on-duty police officers over a period of eight years, and more than 20 police officers and employees altogether, the Elgin case was limited to Beeter and Welter. It was discovered by her husband, Lt. Greg Welter, also an Elgin Police officer at the time.
Greg Welter told Rousos he found suggestive emails between Beeter and Tamara Welter in November 2009 on a computer the Welters shared.
He did not trust Womack to investigate, Greg Welter said, so he hired a private detective.
The Miami Herald — Fix Stand Your Ground to make us safer
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford recently asked some excellent questions:
“Does the law keep the innocent safer? Is it being applied fairly? Are there ways we can make this law clearer and more understandable?”
He was referring to the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground self-defense law, after the July acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Speaker Weatherford raised the questions when he recently announced that he would order hearings on the law. That’s the good news. The not-so-encouraging news is that the hearings will be chaired by state Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, a staunch supporter of the law who opposes even modest tweaks. It will be up to Rep. Weatherford to make sure the hearings are full and fair — meaning both supporters and opponents of the now-controversial law can have their say and be heard with respect.
Truth is, there is zero hope that the law will be repealed by a GOP-led Legislature. In fact, when it was approved in 2005, Stand Your Ground, which eliminated the words citing “a citizen’s duty to retreat” in most public confrontations, had Democratic support, too. It passed the state Senate 39-0. In the House, 20 Democrats voted against it. Strengthening a self-defense law made sense to many legislators on both sides of the aisle.
But since then, it’s become clear that there is need to improve the law’s wording and clarify the definition of “stand your ground.” Consider: A 2012 Tampa Bay Times investigation showed that in 200 cases where a Stand Your Ground defense was used, nearly 70 percent of those who invoked it avoided prosecution. Worse, the investigation found that defendants, regardless of race, were more likely to prevail in court if their victims were black. And conflicting judges’ decisions in several Stand Your Ground defense cases in South Florida have shown the law to be subject to arbitrary interpretations and desperately in need of clear guidelines.
The Orlando Sentinel — Don’t use Bennett’s exit to revive elected ed chief
If you wash your car, expect rain.
If you blow some extra cash on something frivolous, expect you’ll soon need that money for an unexpected repair.
Another axiom that’s become familiar to Floridians: If Gov. Rick Scott picks an education commissioner, expect him to bolt within a year or so.
Just eight months after he took over for Gerard Robinson — who abruptly bailed out 14 months after stepping in to succeed Eric Smith — Tony Bennett resigned. The reason: a school-grade scandal from his last education post in Indiana.
Now, the state again turns to state schools Chancellor Pam Stewart to step in temporarily. Perhaps the governor should consider outfitting the office with a revolving door. Scott’s burned through three permanent and three interim commissioners in 31 months.
Understandably, the flux over who’s in charge of Florida’s three Rs has parents, educators and business leaders in an uproar. And predictably, Bennett’s scandal-shrouded exit has revived wrongheaded calls for an elected education commissioner.
Last week, the state Democratic Party scurried to gather in a week 10,000 signatures on an electronic petition urging a revival. Andy Ford, who heads the state’s largest teachers union, agrees. Said Ford: “We hope to see bipartisan support for a proposal to give voters back the right to choose the person who holds one of the most influential offices in the state.”
Influence, as it turns out, is the primary reason voters were right to junk the elected education commissioner post in 1998.
The Palm Beach Post — By the numbers, Florida could be healthier with Obamacare
How politicized has the Affordable Care Act become? Even rates the newly insured will pay for individual coverage next year will depend on whether they live in a state whose politicians support or oppose the law.
Regulators in Florida, the first of 26 states to file suit against the law in 2010, say premiums on average will be 35 percent higher than current plans. The Obama administration says rates will be lower than expected. In fact, the proof will be in the insurance policy itself.
The Tampa Tribune — Brogan’s departure leaves a void
Frank Brogan’s announcement last week that he is stepping down as chancellor of Florida’s university system leaves a void at a time when Florida’s education system is reeling.
Brogan, 59, says he accepted a similar job in Pennsylvania because he was nearing the end of a five-year contract and preparing to search for another job. His participation in the state’s deferred retirement program would have forced him from the state’s workforce in 2015, and he says he was not ready for retirement.
But he had plenty of other reasons to want to leave.
Gov. Rick Scott and legislators have cut university funding, opposed tuition increases, and voted to build Florida Polytechnic University outside Lakeland for reasons that had little to do with education and everything to do with appeasing former Sen. JD Alexander.
Brogan is a former teacher, principal and school superintendent who was elected education commissioner and then lieutenant governor under Jeb Bush. He oversaw the university system during some of the state’s bleakest budget times.
Now that the economy is recovering, the state needs to nurture higher education if it hopes to retain the best and the brightest among its youth, and to foster the innovation great universities can inspire. An educated workforce attracts the kind of businesses and jobs that grow economies.
We understand that tough budget times during the recession made for some difficult budget decisions. And we also understand the governor’s desire to keep tuition affordable. But the state needs to listen when its next chancellor urges them to invest in higher education.