A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — A Florida solution to high flood rates
When Congress creates a problem, it should clean up its mess. But Congress’ inability to respond to punishing new flood insurance rates in several states makes it necessary for Florida to look out for itself. Florida, long a cash cow for the National Flood Insurance Program, should be exploring options such as starting its own flood insurance pool and rebuilding a private market here. A national fund remains preferable, but not at the expense of Florida’s economy.
Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater announced the state would file a brief in support of a lawsuit filed last month by Mississippi’s insurance commissioner. The suit is a long-shot argument that the Federal Emergency Management Agency improperly implemented the Biggert-Waters Insurance Reform Act of 2012 because it didn’t finish an affordability study before setting new rates that are sending shock waves through real estate markets. Florida leaders should get more creative.
Biggert-Waters had admirable goals in the wake of enormous claims after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy that forced $24 billion in federal loans to the flood insurance program. Congress aimed to put the program on the path to solvency by eliminating premium subsidies starting Oct. 1 for homes built before federal flood maps were created, and next year for homes that were grandfathered into lower rates when flood maps were revised. The unexpected result was exponentially higher premiums. The increases will be phased in over five years for homeowners and upon sale for new property owners. That has put a vice grip on all but cash-only sales in older, low-lying neighborhoods in Florida. And Washington has yet to adequately explain the assumptions behind the new rates.
The Bradenton Herald — Manatee County school district probe depicts alarming administrative culture
The Manatee County school district’s detailed investigation into the conduct of key administrators involved in the case of a male school employee accused of inappropriate interactions with female students makes numerous damning statements.
One in particular stands out in support of termination of the five administrators, as recommended by Superintendent Rick Mills. The school board will address the issue Monday night.
The administrative report by the new investigator for the district’s office of professional standards, Troy Pumphrey, concludes that all five violated various policies that “demonstrated immorality, misconduct in office, incompetence, gross insubordination, and willful neglect of duty” and “knowingly failed to report actual or suspected child abuse as required … or report alleged misconduct” by a district employee that “affects the health, safety or welfare of a student.”
This all stems from allegations against Rod Frazier, the former Manatee High parent liaison and football coach who resigned in the wake of misdemeanor charges of battery and school interference.
The five administrators recommended for firing, all on paid administrative leave, are:
• Bob Gagnon, former principal of Manatee High School and assistant superintendent.
• Former Manatee High assistant principals Gregg Faller and Matthew Kane.
• Debra Horne, former investigator for the office of professional standards and assistant principal of Prine Elementary.
All four face felony charges of failure to report suspected child abuse. Gagnon and Kane are also accused of giving false reports to law enforcement.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Port Orange should not pressure the schools on signs
Port Orange officials should rethink the pressure they are applying on public schools within city limits.
Apparently some of the fundraising that Volusia County’s public schools are doing within the city has irked the city’s elders. Port Orange City Mayor Allen Green says he is concerned about a “sea of signs” marring the city’s finely maintained image.
City officials need to ponder the schools’ funding dilemma. And they probably should back off any attempts at official action. The city likely cannot regulate school property because of state law.
What’s happening is the schools are under pressure to raise private money because of budget cuts and decreased tax revenue. Similar stories abound across the state and nation as the economy slowly recovers.
At Port Orange Elementary, the PTA raised $3,000. Every little bit helps, organizers say. The money can be used for supplies and a variety of other uses. These fundraisers bring out the public-spirited best in the community.
But in Port Orange, the signs and banners on the schools’ property offend certain leaders.
Many cities tightly control the display of signs within city limits, and some go overboard. Some cities even regulate reasonable political yard signs, and require a deposit be paid before signs are put up.
Many of these restrictions are constitutionally dubious. Other restrictions cannot be fought because they regulate the signs of business, a power which the courts have given local governments more leeway to exercise.
The Florida Times-Union — City’s spinning wheels need to gain positive traction
Stories ripped from the headlines of yesteryear are, well, the same stories in the headlines today.
Fellow Times-Union columnist Mark Woods was doing some research recently when he ran across this headline: “Deep Channel is Vital to Port’s Future.”
The editorial in the Times-Union concluded that “the channel must be dredged deeper to accommodate the supertankers of the future.”
The Gainesville Sun – Prove the case
When you’re asking for nearly $49 million in tax incentives, it takes a lot of nerve to refuse to provide evidence that you qualify.
That’s exactly what the developers of the University Corners project are doing. They’ve taken the position that the Gainesville Community Redevelopment Agency is subjecting them to an “unprecedented level of scrutiny” — as their attorney, David Coffey, put it last week — so they won’t provide requested information on the project.
In their report, CRA staff members said that in their experience nationally it is both “customary and appropriate” for someone seeking a public subsidy to provide financial information supporting their request for assistance. The report lists more than a dozen documents that developers have failed to provide.
The developers seem to think that elected officials and the public should just trust them and not do anything to scuttle the project. After all, the project would have a “transformational” effect on the city, they insist.
University Corners had a much bigger potential to transform the city when it was first proposed nearly a decade ago. Now, it comes as mixed-use, vertical development can be seen in nearby projects such as Stadium Club and the Continuum. Innovation Square has the potential to take the “live, work and play” development concept to an even larger scale in the campus area.
The Lakeland Ledger — Lakeland Police Scandals: You Don’t Know
Listen to explanations by the majority of Lakeland city commissioners about how the Police Department and city government have improved this year, and you will be told that Police Chief Lisa Womack and City Manager Doug Thomas have been the solutions to what ails Lakeland.
You will not be told that they were the top officials in charge as an extensive series of scandals was revealed — resulting in Lakeland and its Police Department becoming a national disgrace and laughingstock.
Lakeland resident Billy Townsend asked commissioners in a meeting Monday about their view of the scandals, the job security of Thomas and City Attorney Tim McCausland, and honoring the public’s view after it selects a mayor in the Nov. 5 city election. Townsend is a corporate writer, author and a blogger for Lakeland Local. He formerly was a reporter and editor for The Tampa Tribune and The Ledger.
City Commissioner Keith Merritt told of taking a class for new city commissioners after his November 2011 election. He said he asked a question of a city manager there: “He told me that Mr. Thomas is the best city manager in the state, and it wasn’t a worthy question because I had someone who could answer it.” Merritt added, “That’s a perspective that gives me context in my determinations of the city manager.”
The implication: Thomas is all-knowing. The rationalization: Being the best, Thomas is not capable of poor performance.
The Miami Herald — Yes to Jackson Health System
After years of mismanagement and chronic deficits, Miami-Dade’s once ailing public hospital, the Jackson Health System, has become one of the good-news stories of South Florida and has earned the right to ask the community for a vote of support in a bond issue next month.
Skeptics may have doubts. Didn’t we just agree to a huge bond issue for the school district last year? And didn’t we force the mayor to backtrack on a plan to raise property taxes for a good cause (public libraries and an expanded animal shelter) because we couldn’t afford to pay more?
Yes and Yes. Ideally, another public bond issue could be delayed until the effects of the painful recession are behind us.
But there is no time to waste because the hospital system has foregone needed repairs and upgrades for years due to its recurring deficits. Now, with the nation’s healthcare system undergoing fundamental changes, it can’t afford to wait any longer.
Moreover, a failure to support this particular bond issue would ultimately cost Miami-Dade’s taxpayers more in the long run.
The key to Jackson’s success is the ability to attract enough insured patients to fund those who cannot afford care. And in order to bring those paying patients through the doors, Jackson has to upgrade its facilities to compete with other hospitals throughout the region — hospitals that already count on Jackson to take the uninsured.
It really is just that simple.
The Orlando Sentinel — Stewart: Steady as she goes on Common Core
Pam Stewart is the latest to go through the revolving door into the Florida education commissioner’s office — the fifth to hold the job since Gov. Rick Scott took office less than three years ago.
Stewart, who started last month, faces a full plate of challenges that helped drive her predecessors out of the office door. She’ll need to demonstrate more persistence, fortitude and judgment than they did.
The stakes couldn’t be higher — the quality of public education in Florida, the foundation for the state’s economy and its quality of life.
School funding is a perennial issue for Florida’s education commissioner, as well as the governor and state legislators. Stewart won’t get a pass.
Four years ago, a group of fed-up parents sued the state for educating students on the cheap. The suit alleges the state has ignored a 1998 constitutional amendment that requires Florida officials to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools.”
In 2011, schools nationally spent an average of $10,560 per student. Florida chipped in only $8,887. Lawmakers have boosted overall funding since then, but are now considering sacrificing some state revenues in a fresh round of tax cuts that might otherwise be available to invest in schools.
This past week a judge cleared some procedural obstacles to the funding lawsuit moving forward. If successful, it could trigger an extreme makeover of Florida’s education system.
For now, however, Stewart is occupied with Common Core State Standards.
The Ocala StarBanner — Common ground
A Florida Senate committee has taken the first steps toward making much-needed changes to the controversial “stand your ground” law.
More steps lie ahead — in both the Senate and the House — but the bipartisan approach embraced so far offers hope for amending the flawed self-defense statute.
The Senate Judiciary Committee began the difficult process Tuesday by voting 7-2 to approve a bill that adopts several recommendations made by a governor-appointed “stand your ground” task force.
Among other proposals, the bill would:
* Prohibit people who are aggressors in confrontations from claiming “stand your ground” immunity.
* Require sheriffs and police departments to set guidelines for “neighborhood watch” programs and limit members to observing and reporting suspected crimes.
* Specify that law enforcement must conduct a full investigation in shootings, even if “stand your ground” is claimed as a defense.
The bill would leave in place the bulk of the 2005 law, sponsored by state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, that allows people to use deadly force if they feel threatened.
The legislation and the task force were sparked by problems that came to light in the Trayvon Martin case. In 2012, Martin, an unarmed, black 17-year-old, was followed through a gated Sanford community by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. The two confronted each other and Zimmerman fatally shot Martin. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder last July. Though he did not claim “stand your ground” as a defense in his trial, his earlier assertion of the law triggered massive protests.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Gotta know when to fold ’em
Last Monday, New Jersey-based Spectrum Gaming Group released some initial conclusions of a $400,000 study on the potential effects of expanded gambling in the state of Florida.
It’s conclusion? Don’t bet on any economic jackpot from more casinos.
Not that this is really anything new. In 2011, Spectrum authored a report on behalf of Genting World Resorts during the company’s lobbying push for new gambling regulations that would permit them to build massive resort casinos in South Florida. Florida’s business and tourism powerhouses chose sides on the issue and their armies of lobbyists were dispatched to Tallahassee to fight it out. The side with Disney’s lobbyists won – so no resort casinos. In Florida, you don’t mess with the Mouse.
Apparently that wasn’t the end of it. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Spectrum even has a stop in Pensacola planned for part of the study. It’s hard to imagine that all-powerful Disney would ease its opposition, but it appears that interested parties still think they may have a shot in Tallahassee.
Now, here in Florida, where we offer an officially state-sanctioned sucker bet called the Florida Lottery, arguing for the immorality of expanded gambling would be hypocritical. After all, casinos generally offer games with far better odds than scratch-offs, Lotto or certainly, the hell-frozen-over-chances in Powerball.
So it’s not the morality that we’ll take issue with – it’s the math.
The killer stat in the Spectrum report is the finding that 93 percent of Florida’s current $2.4 billion gambling revenues come from our fellow Floridians – not some prodigal outsiders who set afoot on Florida shores with mouths watering for casino buffet crab legs and wallets overflowing with expendable income. The majority of whatever money the state sucks off the top is Floridians’ money to begin with.
It’s a shell game – where our own cash is simply swiped around the economic table with little new money to be had. For our statewide community and the Florida economy, it’s a game where there’s nothing to really win.
The Palm Beach Post — Separate myths from facts about the Affordable Care Act
The government shutdown that began over the Affordable Care Act spotlighted a host of myths promulgated by opponents since before President Obama signed the law in 2010.
As the messy roll-out of the health insurance exchanges shows, the law is anything but perfect. Implementation will reveal more flaws that Congress will need to address. One of those flaws, however, is not that the law puts government between patients and doctors.
The Panama City News-Herald — A study in trade-offs
When Florida lawmakers approved spending nearly $400,000 on an independent study of the state’s, gambling industry, they must have thought they were buying answers, not more questions.
Members of the House Select Committee on Gaming last week reviewed a draft report from The Spectrum Gaming Group about the economic impact of expanding gambling in Florida. The report is a prelude to the Legislature discussing comprehensive gaming reform during its 2014 session, which could include allowing casino-style resorts similar to what Mississippi has.
Spectrum concluded that such an expansion would have a “moderately positive” effect on the economy and a “mild” effect on wages and employment. The study’s authors ascribe that to the fact that the state’s economy is so large and the counties most likely to get casinos — Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange — are so populous, it would be like tossing a bucket of water into a backyard swimming pool. That’s different than, say, Mississippi, where a few coastal casinos can have greater impact on a smaller economy and population.
That’s not what some lawmakers wanted to hear. Some pointed out that potentially thousands of new jobs would be welcomed even if as a share of a larger workforce they failed to move the statistical needle substantially.
Others complained that the Spectrum report didn’t take sides and offered data to support both pro-gambling and anti-gambling forces. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, compared it to a Rorschach test, “where everyone can stare at the inkblot and see what they want to see.”
Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach, told Spectrum officials, “… [I]t seems to me is that the effects are so negligible it’s going to be very difficult for us to drag something out of this to make a hard decision.”
Such is the life an elected official crafting public policy: Sometimes the answers aren’t all laid out in front of you.
The Tallahassee Democrat – There’s a whole lot of new shopping in Tallahassee
“The new Whole Foods in Tally lives up to its hype. It is Disney World for adults, with air conditioning.” — Facebook post by Tallahassee attorney Reggie Garcia
Gee, does anyone remember the opening of the “new” Publix in Killearn?
I thought about that, with all of the frenzy built up over the long-anticipated opening of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s in the same week.
Remember the new Publix, with its cooking school, bright lights, everything new and updated?
Well, one thing is clear. This town loves new, cool things, and I’ve decided that it must largely be attributed to the fact that so many people in Tallahassee travel to other cities like Atlanta and elsewhere for everything from clothing to shoes to quaint coffee shops and more.
Add eating to that list. And cooking. And shopping at health-food stores. With ample wine selections. And flowers.
Now, so many of the shops that have whet our appetites and emptied our pocketbooks hours away are bringing that convenience to the capital city.
You wonder what’s going to be the next big draw right before the Christmas holidays.
But for now, I bet many of your co-workers, friends and social media buddies are buzzing about this week’s new entries just north of Midtown and in the Killearn area.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the commercial and retail growth in Tallahassee as evidenced by the opening of Bass Pro Shops and other huge retailers catering to every need of the outdoors enthusiasts.
Well, now it’s clearly evident that Tallahassee also is home to plenty of foodies, from those who get out and sample our restaurants on a regular basis to those who prefer to splurge on in-home cooking and dining. And, there are those who simply shop around for the enticing takeout meals, such as those offered at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.
The Tampa Tribune — Support the Tampa Baseball Museum
Now that the Tampa Bay Rays have ended their nail-biting journey though the postseason, baseball fans can turn their attention to another undertaking worthy of their support.
With each passing month, the organizers behind the creation of the Tampa Baseball Museum are moving closer to their goal of opening next spring.
Most recently, ownership of the West Tampa home where baseball legend Al Lopez lived was transferred to the Ybor City Museum Society, which will oversee its restoration and opening as a permanent museum dedicated to Tampa’s rich baseball history.
The home was moved in May to West 19th Street in Ybor City. If all goes as planned, museum organizers will display permanent and rotating exhibits that chronicle the people and events that link Tampa to Major League Baseball, and to the minor leagues, Little League and the Negro Leagues.
Lopez was a professional player and manager, and is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But as City Council member Charlie Miranda likes to point out, he also established many of the youth programs and sports facilities in the area.
His path to baseball greatness was followed by more than 80 others from Tampa who grew up to play in the major leagues.
Baseball luminaries such as Wade Boggs, Lou Piniella, Tony LaRussa, Dwight Gooden, Tino Martinez, Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield all hail from the Tampa area.
A preservation grant and in-kind donations have provided the funds needed to get a good start on refurbishing the home and opening the doors by the time Major League Baseball teams open spring training next year. The museum is always looking for memorabilia, and for corporate and individual donations.