Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

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

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

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

Tampa Bay Times — Who will look out for cable customers?

The turbulence that consumers already face with choice, pricing and service became more uncertain this week with the announcement that Charter Communications would buy Bright House Networks, the major cable television provider in the Tampa Bay area. The deal looks like a good fit for the companies involved, but federal regulators need to ensure that customers are not steamrolled in the name of market forces and innovation.

The $10.4 billion purchase of Bright House, the nation’s sixth-largest cable operator, would propel Charter from the fourth-largest operator to the second-biggest. The deal folds about 900,000 Bright House customers in the St. Petersburg, Tampa and Sarasota markets under Charter, along with another 1.5 million in the Orlando metro area and parts of Alabama, Indiana, Michigan and California.

In a statement, Charter said the move gives the company “strategic flexibility” to increase its business, which is shorthand for increasing its leverage with television content providers by taking on bigger market share. In an ideal world, that economy of scale could benefit viewers by giving them better programming and pricing, and positioning Charter customers to take advantage of new technologies and products that a bigger mother ship has under development.

The flip side of consolidation is that customers have fewer places to go and there are many neighborhoods with only one cable provider. The question for federal regulators is whether the Bright House buyout works as well for paying customers as it does for the companies. Major customer satisfaction surveys rank Charter at average or slightly below other providers, markedly below the scores for Bright House. How the company can improve with even a larger operation is anybody’s guess. A Charter spokesman said the company recognized the need to improve service, and that the impact to customers would be clearer as the deal closes, which could happen by 2016.

The Bradenton Herald — Just a few thoughts: Friendly City truly so; Uber worries; new Bradenton sign

Here’s more affirmation of the Friendly City’s engaging nature.

The first Skyway Film Festival in downtown Bradenton will screen some 50 films over two days in June. Joe Restaino, the festival’s artistic director, previously led Tampa’s Gasparilla International Film Festival and remains on the board.

No stranger to Manatee County, several of his eight film productions ventured here for scenes.

In this week’s news report about the new Skyway festival, the Tampa resident told Herald writer Marty Clear this telling statement in describing the great support from governmental agencies and the Bradenton community surpassing his expectations:

“It took us years to get this kind of support in Tampa. Years. But Bradenton has really embraced us.”

Stand up and take a bow, Bradenton.

This is quite the testimonial about a small town besting a big city on creating a welcoming atmosphere that attracts new cultural and business opportunities.

Passenger risk with Uber

Patrons of the popular Uber ridesharing service should be well aware that the personal auto insurance policies carried by their drivers excludes livery services. Passengers are not covered because of that exclusion, according to the Florida Insurance Council.

But bills moving through the Legislature would require that either the driver or ridesharing service carry automobile liability insurance, though not until March 2016.

To its credit, Uber is negotiating with a host of states for a national coverage plan.

Legislation in both Florida’s House and Senate would require each driver to carry $1 million in liability insurance when either carrying or en route to picking a passenger.

On personal risk, forewarned is forearmed.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Paving the way for equal parking

New Smyrna Beach’s recent decision to impose fees for off-beach parking was guaranteed to be unpopular — nobody likes suddenly having to pay for something they used to get for free. But it also has proved to be unfair — and potentially provoked a legal response from the county.

In March, city commissioners voted to charge nonresidents of New Smyrna $10 for a daily fee or $100 for an annual pass at the city’s Flagler Avenue lot as well as for parking at 27th Avenue, Esther Street and North Beach parks. City residents and property owners will be able to park at the lots for free. Officials say they need to generate revenue to pay for upkeep at those facilities, which totals about $160,000 a year, and to potentially acquire more parking areas down the road. The fees could be implemented in the next six months.

The move followed a similar action by the Volusia County Council, which voted in January to increase beach tolls for motor vehicles, the first such hike since 1996. The county said that inflation had eroded the fees’ buying power — two decades ago, revenues from the tolls covered about 40 percent of the annual costs of beach operations, whereas by 2014, those prices that had aged as well as grunge bands covered only about a quarter of the costs.

In both the city’s and the county’s cases, even if you didn’t like paying more, there at least was a strong case to be made that the revenues were needed to maintain the service being provided, and that part of the burden would fall on those who used them.

The Florida Times-Union — City Council should finish the job – it should act on pension reform

The Jacksonville City Council was tantalizingly close to a solution on the police and fire pension.

The 9-9 vote left everyone frustrated and exhausted.

Then, the very next day came the court ruling that tossed out the controversial “30-year agreement” due to Sunshine Law violations.

But let’s resist the temptation to complicate matters.

We are too close to a solution to lose it.

DON’T COMPLICATE MATTERS

Let’s keep things simple. Let’s just ask everyone to do the right thing.

This means making an agreement that:

Protects the taxpayers.

Provides competitive benefits to new police officers and firefighters.

Asks for shared sacrifice by the current police officers and firefighters.

We urge the Police and Fire Pension Fund board, as a matter of good faith, not to appeal the court ruling on the 30-year agreement.

We ask the board members — especially Nat Glover, the former sheriff and president of Edward Waters College — to be statesmen.

Surely Glover sees the importance of resolving this issue for the city’s future.

And for the futures of the retiring firefighters and police officers who rely on the pension fund being stable and sound.

The current sense of uncertainty isn’t helping them. It isn’t helping anyone.

Some of the opposition to the pension reform plan recently rejected by City Council was due to the fact that it barred council members from imposing changes for 10 years in collective bargaining.

But the court said no agreement can be for longer than three years.

So that issue is now out of the way.

And that should pave the way to a deal that can win a majority of votes in City Council.

City Council would maintain its rights under collective bargaining to impose an agreement following an impasse.

Florida Today – Love it or lose the Indian River

What is Brevard’s center of gravity? What pulls us together? My answer: the river.

As we top the Beachline’s high bridge at Cocoa, the river’s grand vista opens before us. Our Indian River Lagoon is the one common experience running through all our lives, the constant presence we see daily. Our river is the heart of our community.

The river’s biodiversity is amazing, the key component driving its ecological and economic value. The critters we see, big ones like manatees and dolphins, smaller like the mullet and reds and seatrout, smaller still at the squint-to-find-’em funny-little-things level — these are links in a chain of life with its roots at microscopic level. The river teems with vitality.

And as with any intricate biome, that mix of life forms and complexity is always in flux, turned over by storms, harmed by pollutants, subject to myriad man-made forces and natural pressures. Spend time on the river as I have in my canoe and you sense a yearly rhythm: sea-grass springing forth in May, otter puppies learning to fish from their moms, rounds of algae blooms followed by incredible clarity, the mullet growing from tiny to big-enough-for-lunch.

There’s fragility to our river, too, something we’ve become much more aware of in recent years. Anthropogenic activity — the stuff we humans do — disturbs the fine balance and threatens our river’s future.

Pollutants are a big worry. Good news: We’re working on it. Local governments on both sides of the river are taking steps to limit the nutrients going into the waters from lawn fertilizing. Oil spills are pretty much gone. Tough regulations and good policing have largely eliminated the really nasty stuff, the toxic wastes and lethal chemicals that once were just dumped into the ground or buried in rusting drums, later leaching into the river.

And we’re dealing with the most significant pollutant of all: fresh water. Huh? Yes, as Dr. Diane Barile (Florida Tech’s grande dame of river studies) says it, the river’s biggest pollution worry is rainwater flushing into the river in unfiltered pulses. This lowers the salinity and shocks the delicate life forms finely tuned to the water’s natural state. Thus, the mundane business of handling storm runoff and slowing down its trip to the river is a key component of river health, the reason that every new development has retention ponds and municipalities are spending so much on stormwater systems.

The Gainesville Sun – On the money

Sorry, Andrew Jackson, but a woman’s place is on the $20 bill.

Jackson has appeared on the bill since 1928. He’s a peculiar choice to adorn our currency, given that he favored precious metals over paper money.

Our seventh president left the legacy of Jacksonian democracy, but also policies that removed Indian tribes from their ancestral lands. Jackson was responsible for the Trail of Tears, during which thousands of Native Americans died while being forced west.

More significantly, the United States has no women on its paper currency. The organizers of the “Women on $20s” campaign seek to change that fact by the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 2020.

The group has narrowed down candidates to 15 significant women in U.S. history. They include American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, environmentalist Rachel Carson, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

To see the full list of candidates and vote, visit www.womenon20s.org. The candidates will be whittled down to three contenders in addition to a Native American candidate, Chief Wilma Mankiller, for a final vote.

The U.S. is behind the rest of the world when it comes to recognizing women on its currency. Countries from Syria to Sweden have women on their paper money, while the U.S. has featured only suffragist Susan B. Anthony and Native American guide Sacajawea on its much-maligned $1 coins.

Jackson’s controversial history provides an opening for the $20 bill. It’s an overdue recognition for at least one of the women who have accomplished so much over our history.

The Lakeland Ledger — Playing With Fire Will Get City Burned

Lakeland officials have explained a new fee for fire protection with a written

presentation that concludes with a series of supposedly still-unanswered questions. The first query on the list: Do we implement a fire assessment fee? The City Commission may nod collectively in agreement, endorsing staff’s point that the city must have fresh revenue, and tax landowners for a service they may not be paying taxes for now.

But we say no.

A new fire fee might be acceptable if city officials demonstrated a compelling need. But officials’ past public comments and City Manager Doug Thomas’ explanation to The Ledger’s editorial board do not justify an eye-popping $17.1 million tax hike — or, in other words, 78 percent of what the city now collects in property taxes.

Our key reason: as far as we know, this is possibly the biggest tax hike in the city’s history.

But there are other concerns. For instance, those who could least afford it would be hard hit.

City records indicate that 56 percent of all residential parcels pay $200 or less in yearly property taxes. City staff have discussed a tiered rate between $181 and $264, depending on the size of the home, as well as charging single-family homeowners $206. Either way, most homeowners would be slapped with a tax increase approaching 100 percent or more.

The Miami Herald — The Iran bargain

Although it’s far too early to proclaim the nuclear “framework” deal between Iran and five world powers an unqualified success, negotiators have delivered an agreement with surprising specificity that deserves serious consideration.

Indeed, until the final details are presented to the public a few months hence, it will be impossible to either condemn or endorse a deal that has been years in the making and that, at the very least, brought Iran to the negotiating table and temporarily halted its nuclear weapons program.

That’s more than can be said for all the years of bluster and posturing that preceded the Obama administration’s concerted effort to find a diplomatic solution to a problem that has bedeviled the international community for more than a decade.

Both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry said the deal unveiled Thursday is not final until all the details are nailed down, an important point to keep in mind going forward. Commendably, the first reaction of Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, was measured skepticism rather than outright dismissal, saying he wanted to learn more before rendering judgment.

Other members of his party, however, have been consistently negative, even before the details were disclosed. Judging the agreement with Iran on a purely political basis does a disservice to their constituents and to the country at large.

On the basis of yesterday’s bare-facts outline, Iran appears to have made the kind of major concessions the international community has been seeking without success for years. These are just a few of the highlights:

▪ A reduction of installed centrifuges in Iran from about 19,000 today to 6,104.

▪ Agreement not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent (instead of 20 percent) for at least 15 years.

▪ Agreement to convert Iran’s once-secret Fordo facility so that it is used for peaceful purposes only — into a nuclear, physics, technology, research center.

The Orlando Sentinel — Iran must prove it can be trusted

After a spate of late-night bargaining sessions and a blown deadline, negotiators for the U.S., Iran and other world powers staggered across the finish line on Thursday and declared victory. Smiles all around in Switzerland. Triumphant tweets. Declarations of a landmark accord that would keep Iran from building a nuclear weapon, from plunging the already-seething Middle East into a nuclear arms race.

Keep your powder dry. What the U.S. and its allies sealed with Iran on Thursday is a deal … to make a deal. Vital details to flesh out this framework are still to come, by a June 30 deadline.

We’ll see, as this unfolds, whether negotiators have averted a nuclear crisis or were so eager for a deal that they’ve let Iran off the hook.…

The intangible in all this: trust. Yes, trust between Obama and Congress. And trust between Iran and the world.

Perhaps it was just posturing, but within hours of the deal, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was already complaining via Twitter about the “spin” the State Department was putting on the deal.

Iran has not demonstrated it can be trusted. It has shown a masterful ability to stonewall negotiations and break promises over the years. Assuming a final deal can be reached by June 30 — a big assumption — that won’t change. Iran will have to prove, over years, that it will live up to this bargain. Before that, the architects of the deal have to convince the world that it will create more security, not more risk.

The Ocala StarBanner — Invasive threat

As recent news reports remind us, the presence and growth of invasive species is an all-too-real problem for Florida.

Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service outlawed the interstate sale or transport of one type of non-indigenous python and three species of anaconda that have been discovered in the Everglades. The move followed similar action from three years ago, when the service banned such transfers of three types of pythons and one species of anaconda.

As that was happening, Florida TaxWatch, the fiscal watchdog group in Tallahassee, released a report applauding the FWC’s efforts to tame the lionfish. This rapidly breeding pest, normally found in the western Pacific Ocean, can consume more than 70 types of fish, and has become a threat to Florida’s big-dollar sport and commercial fishing industries, as well as its tourist-attracting coral reefs.

TaxWatch noted that the FWC has met the threat by prohibiting its import for aquarium sales, organizing lionfishing derbies (with no bag limit) and developing a smartphone app to report sightings.

But it’s not just fish and snakes that cause biologists and residents headaches — and not all of these exotic critters reside in South Florida.

Last year, the FWC went on the offensive against the tegu lizard, an aggressive South American transplant that can grow to 4 feet and can devour dogs and cats. The commission reports that Central Florida is one of its known breeding habitats.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Invest in successful outcomes for kids in foster care

It’s a sobering look at reality: If we don’t invest in child welfare case management, children in foster care will pay the price.

Consider this: a child in foster care who has only one case manager has a 75 percent chance of either safely returning home or joining a family through adoption … a child with two case managers has a 17.5 percent chance … a child with four has only a 2.2 percent chance. A 2.2 percent chance of finding stability and leaving the system.

Now throw this into the mix: Florida struggles with a 30.4 percent turnover rate among case managers and an average stay on the job of just 2.2 years.

But even dire statistics don’t accurately depict what this really means. They aren’t mere numbers – they represent victimized children who languish in uncertainty, who will continue to languish if Florida does not address the challenges that accompany significant turnover in case management.

Putting it bluntly, we can’t afford to accept “what is.” Our kids deserve better. And so do our communities.

It’s time to invest in successful outcomes for children in foster care.

That begins with a commitment to quality case management, to our workforce. We must invest in the professionals who dedicate their days, nights and weekends to helping children who have endured pain so severe that they can’t even live safely in their own homes.

These professionals are responsible for making life-and-death decisions on a near-daily basis. They are responsible for helping children and families overcome insurmountable challenges. And they are responsible for 12, 15, 25, sometimes 30 or 40 children at any given time.

The Palm Beach Post — Strike ‘free agent’ provision from overhaul of FHSAA

For years now, there has been growing tension between some Florida legislators, particularly in the House, and the Florida High School Athletic Association.

The FHSAA, a state-sanctioned nonprofit that oversees high school sports across Florida and governs high school athletics, managed to build a reputation as an inflexible, slow-moving monopoly. That, in return, has drawn the ire of lawmakers largely because of constituent complaints from frustrated sports parents.

As a result, this legislative session, the House is trying for the second time in three years to overhaul the FHSAA, which receives no state or federal funding but has a yearly budget of about $5.2 million. As of Friday, a similar Senate measure (SB 1480) has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.

The House deserves credit for efforts to bring the association more in line with today’s diverse education system. But a provision of PCB EDC 15-02 that would essentially sanction unfettered recruiting of student athletes is as short-sighted as it is unfair when it comes to providing an equal opportunity to play high school sports. Moreover, it could open the school doors further to the influence of money.

For the most part, the bill overhauls the FHSAA’s governance, setting up a 16-member board to oversee the association. It would also require a third-party review for students suspected of being ineligible and allow students to continue to play while their eligibility is reviewed, though games could be forfeited if the student is later ruled ineligible. Also, high schools would be allowed to join FHSAA for some sports, but not in others —- particularly football.

These should be welcomed by the association.

We agree that a provision that opens the door to the Florida education commissioner possibly replacing the group in two years is a bit worrisome, and more specific criteria need to be worked out. But even that shouldn’t stand in the way of addressing a growing cacophony parental complaints regarding issues such as appeals.

“It’s long past the time to limit the power of a very large, protectionist organization and place our priorities with the students,” said Rep. Elizabeth Porter, R-Lake City, during a March 26 hearing of the House Education Committee.

That concern should apply to all students. We take issue with House bill’s provision that would allow students whose schools have no team in a given sport — namely charter and private schools — to attend a different school in their county for athletic purposes only. The option also would apply to students who are home-schooled or are enrolled in virtual schools.

The Panama City News-Herald — FBI’s suspicious behavior

At best, a new report about terrorism asserts that an FBI agent inexplicably linked a Saudi family and its abrupt departure from Sarasota, before the 9/11 attacks, to the hijackers who crashed airplanes into the Twin Towers. The two hijackers took flight lessons in Venice, not far from the prestigious development where the Saudi family lived in 2001, in a home owned by a prominent relative.

At worst, information contained in the report — “The FBI: Protecting the Homeland in the 21st Century” — is part of the bureau’s continuing efforts to hide or discredit evidence concerning the Saudi family that lived in the Prestancia development and conceal connections between the family, or other Saudis, and the hijackers.

We are not inclined to believe in, or write about, wild conspiracy theories.

To that end, if the FBI had not repeatedly tried to prevent judicial, media and public review of key documents involving the family and its departure two weeks before 9/11 — leaving behind cars, furniture, clothes and a refrigerator loaded with food — we would reluctantly accept the latest, best-case account as complete, accurate and embarrassing. The same goes for a report that asserted phone registers and video evidence linked the family and the terrorists.

But, as written previously, a federal judge has found that — instead of following the law and producing documents that could show whether or not the Sarasota

Saudis provided assistance to the 9/11 terrorists — the FBI:

Provided him records with “apparent” and unexplained chronological “gaps.”

Presented to the court documents that “seem incomplete.”

Submitted “summary documents” that “do in fact seem to contradict each other.”

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Gambling at a crossroads, time to decide

After years of collecting gambling dough for re-election campaigns, Florida legislators should finally show their cards and address the critical choices facing the state’s gambling industry — a sometimes sparkly, sometimes dreary business that is here to stay, whether you like it or not.

Time is of the essence because a deadline fast approaches. The five-year part of Florida’s two-prong compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, the part that gives the tribe exclusive rights to offer blackjack and certain other table games at its five biggest casinos, expires July 31. The compact’s second part, which gives the tribe exclusive rights to operate slot machines outside Broward and Miami-Dade counties, lasts another 15 years, though storm clouds hover over that deal, too.

If blackjack is not renewed, Florida will lose about $132 million in revenue sharing next year, about half of the compact’s annual payout. Yet it’s unlikely the tribe would stop dealing cards, no matter the expectation that it wind down games within 90 days of the deal’s demise. More likely is years of costly litigation.

Tribal leaders think they have an ace in the hole. They say the state violated its promise of exclusivity by letting racetracks in Broward and Miami-Dade offer video slot machines that mimic a blackjack game, complete with buxom video dealers. They’ve got photos, too, of billboards advertising “live blackjack.” Federal law lets tribal lands offer the same betting games allowed on state lands, so absent an extension of the compact, the tribe will be able to offer the same games racetracks do, without paying the state a cent.

The Seminoles cannot be taxed because they are a sovereign nation. The only way they’ll agree to share revenue is if they get some kind of exclusive deal. Given their strong performance over the past five years, they deserve a signal from the state, as well as some certainty, whether you agree with their demands for exclusivity or not.

But this year, Gov. Rick Scott folded early. Last year, when running for re-election against the former governor who negotiated the 2010 compact, Scott struck a deal that would have one-upped his competitor, securing more money, over more years and keeping the state’s status-quo landscape on gambling.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Changing liquor law would be bad for public health

Some laws are better left alone —- such as the Florida law that restricts hard liquor sales to a store that primarily sells liquor. The same law requires customers to enter through a separate door, thereby limiting access to minors. Minors entering a liquor store immediately stand out from customers of legal age; this intimidates minors, who realize everyone is watching them and results in fewer sales to youth.

Under Senate Bill 468, Wal-Mart and other large retailers would be able to place liquor directly on their shelves – right next to all their other non-addictive merchandise like diapers, video games or groceries. This would allow access to underage employees, some as young as 16. Not smart to increase alcohol availability while the ranks of those charged to enforce alcohol regulations and prevent underage sales have been decimated.

Existing laws regulating alcohol work. They achieve a healthy balance in business practices that keep prices moderate — not too low to push consumption, not too high to push bootlegging or theft. The regulations make spirits reasonably available, prohibit over-the-top promotions that foster heavy consumption and strictly control sales to minors.

Alcohol is not just another product line. It is intoxicating and addictive, particularly so when used by those underage. Business and marketing practices – perfectly legitimate for selling other commodities – may cause social harm when alcohol is being sold.

There is no compelling reason to change the law. Profits are high and most consumers go to multiple stores when they shop. Nobody’s complaining about having a hard time buying hard liquor. The first consideration for any change in alcohol regulation should be its impact on public health and safety, not customer convenience.

So what’s the real agenda? Money. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 8, 2014, “Wal-Mart has said that it aims to double its alcohol sales by 2016.” To make more money, the box stores want to implement what amounts to a major cultural shift in how and where alcohol is sold at the expense of the rest of us – and our kids.

The Tampa Tribune — The suspect accord with Iran

President Obama, having invested so much in the effort to achieve a much higher level of international security in the Middle East, expressed satisfaction with the agreement hammered out this week over Iran’s nuclear program.

And that is understandable, because despite the fears that no accord would be reached, the weary but persistent participants in the negotiations resolved their differences at the last minute.

But although the White House is celebrating, others are understandably criticizing the agreement as inadequate. There will be calls in Congress for additional sanctions against Iran instead of an agreement that fails to address important issues.

Some of the criticism is politically motivated, but there’s no denying that in some important respects the accord falls short of the president’s stated goals.

For example, Obama’s critics can remind him — and the American public — that in 2012 he declared that the only agreement with Iran he’d accept is one that would put an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions and require the Iranians to “abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place.”

Under terms of the new accord, none of Iran’s existing nuclear facilities will be closed and none of its 19,000 centrifuges will be disabled.

And although the accord calls for Iran’s nuclear operations to be mothballed for 10 years, there is no way to predict what the leadership in Tehran will do after that.

In fact, at that point Iran might become a nuclear power, or at least be unimpeded in the path to that status.

The terms of the accord simply are not sufficient to satisfy the critics, especially those Republicans in Congress who don’t trust the Obama administration to properly protect America’s (and Israel’s) interests.

Under the agreement, too much of the formula for an enduring peace between Iran and its adversaries will depend on trusting the intentions and the behavior of Iranian hard-liners, including those who refer to the United States as “the great Satan.”

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.

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