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 — Move forward with Pier Park

By picking a concept that extends St. Petersburg’s bustling waterfront park into the bay, the pier selection committee embraced a flexible, innovative vision for revitalizing the city’s centerpiece public space. Adjustments are likely as with any $46 million construction project, but the Pier Park concept is transformative and exciting. It expands a world-renowned green space, and it offers a welcome path forward for resolving St. Petersburg’s painful divisions over replacing the outdated inverted pyramid with a pier for future generations. The City Council should embrace Pier Park on May 7 and direct Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration to begin negotiations with the design team.

The pier selection committee, six individuals of varied backgrounds from the public and private sectors, performed a yeoman public service by sticking to state law and considering multiple factors in a very deliberate process. By a 5-1 vote late Thursday night, the committee chose ASD architects and RogersPartners of Tampa and Workshop:Ken Smith of New York to design the pier project and oversee construction. Committee members studied documents, asked good questions and considered hours of public comment that revealed thoughtful support for all three finalists.

The result is a plan that fills the daunting gap between the uplands and pierhead with family-friendly activities, multiple access routes, event spaces and a shady “coastal thicket” boardwalk. The city’s economic comparison of plans called it a “seamless transition” from uplands to pierhead. At the eastern end, a four-story “Pier Overlook” is flanked by a sloping lawn that can hold 4,000 people and concrete floating docks for fishing and lounging. A 7,600-square-foot ground floor restaurant intrigued the committee with its ability to accommodate large crowds outside the building and air-conditioned diners inside.

The latest city analysis concluded that Pier Park’s operating subsidy would run about $300,000 higher than for the competing Alma design and roughly equal to subsidies for Destination St. Pete Pier. As contract negotiations proceed and the design evolves, Kriseman should stay alert for changes that could raise costs. The city must also verify the ASD team’s assurances that the floating docks can withstand hurricane winds and remain safely open all but a few days a year.

The Bradenton Herald — Florida Legislature failing to measure up on major issues as session nears end

As the Legislature races toward this week’s conclusion to the 2015 regular session, the lone constitutional requirement is far from settled. The House and Senate remain at loggerheads over a balanced budget, some $4 billion apart driven mostly by health care spending.

The leaders in both chambers concede a budget agreement by Friday’s deadline will not occur, but negotiations will continue.

Other pieces of legislation also show leaders out of touch with the best interests of the state.

Health care

While Senate legislation accepts billions in federal Medicaid expansion money under a Florida plan that embraces private health insurance for some 850,000 working poor residents, the House won’t budge on the issue.

But Thursday the House did extend a proposal to spend $200 million to draw down an additional $305 million in federal Low Income Pool money, which partially reimburses Florida hospitals for treating the poor, should Washington agree. This year, the federal government contributed $1.3 billion in LIP funds, but that one-year extension agreement expires in June.

On Friday, the House upped the ante to $600 million in state money with hopes that the Obama administration would send almost $1 billion. Late Friday, the Senate rejected that offer since the House continues to refuse to accept Medicaid expansion money. Monday will bring further developments.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Policing benefits from outreach

Effective police work involves more than just pursuing and arresting criminal suspects and building an evidentiary case against them. It also requires officers to establish and maintain communications and trust with the people they are sworn to protect and to serve.

So it was good to see Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood participate in a public forum April 18 at Daytona State College on law enforcement and community engagement. The event was organized by Chitwood, community activist Johnnie Ponder and the local chapter of the NAACP. Featured speakers were criminologist Randy Nelson and Michael Humphries, associate professor of ethics at Bethune-Cookman University. The chief and Nelson held a similar seminar for officers at the police department last November that was so well received that they thought it best to conduct another that involved the public.

The civil unrest that followed a white officer fatally shooting an African-American suspect in Ferguson, Missouri last year exposed — and inflamed — the poor relationship between law enforcement and minority communities in many parts of America. The problem isn’t new — a thread of recurring racial flare-ups runs from Watts in 1965 to the “Long Hot Summer” of 1967 to the Miami riots of 1980 to the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles in 1992 to the present-day strife. Indeed, Nelson notes that mistrust of police in minority, poverty-stricken areas is generational, which can be especially difficult for officers to break through.

Nevertheless, making that effort is vital to reducing tensions between police and civilians, and forging mutual respect and trust that can be used to reduce crime in the communities that suffer the most from it.

The Florida Times-Union — Cheers: Jacksonville Speech and Hearing Center deserves applause

Cheers to The Jacksonville Speech and Hearing Center for its tremendous work screening children at risk for communication disorders and giving them treatment.

The center recently conducted speech-pathology screenings for 2,385 area children, all between the ages of 2 and 5. It also provided 1,765 speech and language therapy sessions to nearly 80 children who had been identified as having potential challenges with communication.

Such work has been vital in helping thousands of poor pre-kindergarten children in Duval County’s daycare centers and preschools because it detects potential speech and hearing disorders before these kids begin school and find themselves falling behind academically.

In addition to the speech and hearing center, let’s also cheer The Chartrand Family Fund at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, The Florida Blue Foundation and Medtronic for providing grants to support the screenings.

Bravo to all for helping to improve the early lives of so many children across Jacksonville.

ENERGY HONORS

Congratulations to three area organizations for being honored by the federal government for their efforts to save energy and safeguard our environment.

Jacksonville Building Science, Providence Homes and SkyeTec were among seven Florida organizations receiving EnergyStar Partner of the Year awards from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy.

That’s no small feat because there were only 128 businesses and organizations nationwide that were considered worthy of Partner of the Year status.

Well done!

HISTORIC PARTNERSHIP

Jacksonville University deserves a round of applause for making some history.

JU has become the first American university to partner with the Petroleum Technology Development Fund in Nigeria on a program that will see several Nigerian science, technology and engineering students attend the campus to sharpen their expertise — and then help their native country as skilled academicians, professionals and technicians.

The program has sent students to schools across Europe for several years, so it’s pretty cool that JU is the first U.S. college to take part in this global partnership.

Florida Today – Rubio’s favorables rise, but so do unfavorables

Buried in the latest national poll that has Marco Rubio rising to the top of a crowded heap of Republican presidential contenders is this bit of potentially troubling news for the Florida senator: As voters get to know him, unfavorable opinions of him have grown at least as fast as favorable ones.

In February 2013, the same Quinnipiac University survey found that 27 percent of voters viewed Rubio favorably, 15 percent viewed him unfavorably, 57 percent hadn’t heard enough of him to form an opinion, and 1 percent refused to say.

In the poll released Thursday, 35 percent viewed Rubio favorably, 25 percent viewed him unfavorably, 40 percent didn’t know him well enough and 1 percent refused to say.

The poll doesn’t try to learn why unfavorable views grew slightly faster over time than favorable ones.

Nonetheless, Rubio can take heart for several reasons:

The (far too) early poll shows him leading the potential GOP field with 15 percent support, the first time he’s been on top in a major national poll. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush comes in second (13 percent) with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in third (11 percent). But keep in mind that the poll’s the margin of error was 4.1 percentage points, and the percentage of undecideds — 14 percent — is almost as large as the percentage backing Rubio.

While Rubio’s unfavorables have grown since 2013, his favorabilty ratings have gone up in the past year, especially since he announced his bid for president earlier this month.

The Quinnipiac poll found that other potential GOP presidential candidates are viewed more unfavorably than favorably, including: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Bush. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee had roughly even favorable-to-unfavorable ratios.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

There hasn’t been a whole lot to like this legislative session, but the Florida Legislature passed a measure this week that is welcome in our area.

Cheer: State lawmakers, for approving a bill that would require police departments that support more than 33 percent of their revenue from traffic tickets to alert a state legislative committee.

The bill also clears up ambiguous language in the state’s existing ban on ticket quotas. Bill sponsor Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, filed the bill in response to The Sun’s reporting on problems with the Waldo police department and its notorious speed trap.

Jeer: Gainesville Regional Utilities and city officials, for agreeing to a lousy contract with the Gainesville Renewable Energy Center biomass plant.

If a recent investigative report didn’t prove the contract is a bad deal for local ratepayers, this week provided more evidence: GRU is expected to see a net savings of at least $160,000 per day for every day the plant is shut down beyond a planned outage.

Cheer: Buchholz High School’s math team, for winning the state math championship for the 11th consecutive year.

The victory broke the previous record of 10 wins in a row.

Jeer: Members of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at the University of Florida, for allegedly disrespecting a group of disabled military veterans meeting at a Panama City Beach resort last weekend.

UF President Kent Fuchs wrote a letter personally apologizing to the veterans, who said that students with the UF and Emory University chapters of the fraternity spit on them, threw beer at them, ripped flags on their cars and urinated on an American flag.

The Lakeland Ledger — Operation Green Light: Sometimes Amnesty Works

Amnesty can be a prickly word, suggesting mercy to some people but often prompting others to think that someone somewhere is getting some benefit he or she doesn’t rightfully deserve.

For instance, in May 1865, a month after the Civil War ended, President Andrew Johnson granted amnesty to the bulk of Southerners who had fought for the Confederacy. That angered Republicans in Congress who wanted the former rebels severely punished, and laid the groundwork for battles between the White House and Congress that resulted in Johnson’s impeachment in 1868.

In January 1977, on his first full day on the job, President Jimmy Carter granted unconditional amnesty to civilians who fled from military service in Vietnam. The decision excused the flight of tens of thousands of young men and earned Carter the wrath of veterans groups, who felt the loyalty and service — and even deaths — of those who fought had been betrayed.

Contemporary Republican politicians and pundits often seem to want President Ronald Reagan beatified for his time in office, citing his work to restore American military power and for igniting a stagnant national economy. Yet many Reagan faithful tend to gloss over the 1986 law he signed that granted amnesty to almost 3 million illegal immigrants and recognized them as legal U.S. residents. Liberals now cite Reagan’s maneuver to bash GOP leaders who oppose immigration reform.

Yet sometimes an amnesty can be profitable, as many Florida court officials discovered recently.

The Miami Herald — Good for business

If “jobs, jobs, jobs” truly are a priority — as they are for Gov. Rick Scott — then state lawmakers will enhance enterprise zones, instead of killing them.

If remaking distressed and blighted areas into productive economic engines is good for business, then legislators will, this last week of the session, realize that the program’s successes across the state far outweigh the instances where prosperity has been more sluggish in coming.

If lawmakers allow enterprise zones to expire at the end of the year, many neighborhoods in their own districts will lose out. Unfortunately, they seem prepared to be just that reckless.

On Thursday, House lawmakers passed an economic-development bill that allowed this neighborhood-rejuvenating program to sunset. On the Senate’s side, the situation is not much better. But there is still time for lawmakers to come to their senses, and members of Miami-Dade’s delegation should take the lead. After all, this county has made the most of enterprise zones, and has robust communities to show for it.

Enterprise zones have been around since 1982, when a more-visionary Legislature realized that the state could partner with municipalities to halt the slide of what had been thriving economic centers. A recession was hitting hard. Manufacturing jobs were going away — far away. Without jobs, many residents had less money to spend, meaning less income for locally owned, and often minority owned, businesses.

Lawmakers fostered economic growth in distressed areas by coaxing business to take a risk and set up shop. In return, there were tax breaks for hiring locals, as well as for energy, construction and equipment costs, among others.

There are 65 enterprise zones throughout the state, in 52 counties. Miami-Dade, of course, has the largest, and the success is indisputable: Pulsating South Beach was fallow territory 30 years ago, so bad off that it qualified as a distressed area and was designated an enterprise zone; Blue Lagoon Corporate Park, near the airport, is home to a diversity of businesses; and Wynwood, a manufacturing hub before those jobs moved offshore, is being remade as a cultural and residential enclave.

The Orlando Sentinel — FSA glitches argue for greater flexibility

In March, technical glitches with the state’s replacement for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test forced several counties to suspend testing for three days. Just more ammo for critics in Florida’s ongoing civil war over high-stakes testing.

Yet, new hiccups last week — when computer woes forced school districts to suspend Florida Standards Assessments testing — recall Vietnam.

Specifically, Feb. 27, 1968. That evening, Walter Cronkite took to the air and declared that negotiation offered the best escape from a hopeless impasse in Vietnam.

Honesty that spawned the (perhaps apocryphal) reaction from President Lyndon Johnson: “If I have lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Sentiment that state officials last week probably channeled. After the debacle forced schools including Seminole High School in Sanford to reschedule computer testing for some 740 students, Seminole County School Board members said, “Enough.” If the state has lost Seminole — one of the state’s high-performing school districts in a largely Republican county — well …

Seminole officials reckoned students might be better off next year if the district ditched the FSA for a national — and proven valid — test like the SAT. They’ll probably formally ask for a waiver. Even if the district doesn’t, state education officials would be wise to offer that reasonable swap as an option for any district that desires it.

Simply put, the new tests are a hot mess. Seminole’s retort mirrors erosion in public confidence in a system meant to hold students, teachers and schools accountable for learning gains.

Not surprisingly, critics have called for Gov. Rick Scott to issue an executive order to kill penalties associated with the tests. Already the bill Scott signed this month that tossed the 11th-grade English exam also suspends utilizing FSA testing data for school grades, fourth-grade promotions and teacher evaluations pending independent validation of the tests.

The Ocala StarBanner — Leading by threat

Florida’s budget/health care crisis crossed over from troubling to absurd with Gov. Rick Scott’s threat to appoint a special health care commission if the Legislature fails to reach a compromise.

Scott warned Tuesday that the commission would “examine the revenues of Florida hospitals, insurance and health care providers and how any taxpayer money contributes to the profits or losses of these institutions in Florida.”

How such a review would help resolve the current crisis is unclear, but the misuse of taxpayers’ money in health care funding is one area in which Scott might have some expertise.

Scott, after all, was chief executive of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. in the 1990s when it was under federal investigation for Medicare and Medicaid fraud. He was forced to resign and the company was eventually fined $1.7 billion for falsely billing both Medicare and Medicaid.

Scott’s lack of leadership has helped create and perpetuate the current legislative impasse.

Instead of trying to bring the Florida Senate and House together on a budget deal, he has driven them further apart by his threats. In a little more than a week, he has threatened to sue the federal government over health care funding, threatened to call a special session on the state budget, threatened to create the health care commission and threatened individual senators with vetoes unless they bend to his will.

Threats might have worked when he was a corporate CEO, but governing requires some give and take, negotiation, carrots as well as sticks — in other words, leadership.

The Pensacola News-Journal — State fails RayAnn

For more than a year, Floridians have come to know the Moseley family from Gulf Breeze and their 12-year-old, epileptic daughter, RayAnn, through news coverage of their protracted fight to legalize Charlotte’s Web in the state of Florida. The non-euphoric strain of medical marijuana yields an oil that drastically reduces life-threatening seizures in children like RayAnn. In 2014, the Republican-dominated Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott passed legislation that legalized the plant.

Now in 2015, it is still not being grown in Florida. And these kids are still without the potentially lifesaving medicine. One epileptic child in Brevard County died last month after suffering a severe seizure. It’s beyond shameful. Implementation has been paralyzed by the rule-making process and endless legal challenges from money-obsessed parties hoping to make a buck of the newly legal plant. In the midst of it all, the Legislature has failed to offer leadership that would end the confusion and clear the way for the help these kids need.

The best legislative hope died in Tallahassee last week. The following is a statement from strategist and Pensacola native, Ryan Wiggins, issued on behalf of the Moseleys:

“A year ago when the Legislature passed and the governor signed SB 1030, no one anticipated the issues these families would experience trying to get their hands on the life-saving medicine promised to them in that legislation. For these families, the rose colored glasses are off at this point, and as they look to the future, they see nothing but challenges.

“When over forty nurseries are competing for five licenses into a multi-million dollar industry, these families foresee greed taking over again and anticipate that challenges to the procurement process will be inevitable. When that happens, it will grind progress to a halt yet again, further delaying the ability for these families to get their hands on high CBD oil.

“The Florida Legislature has the power to fix this. With a simple vote, they can smooth out this process, fixing the issues in the current legislation, thus expediting the ability for these children to receive their medication. It is heartbreaking and disappointing that the Legislature has thus far chosen not to act on behalf of these children.”

Heartbreaking and disappointing is right. Gov. Scott and legislators should pause, and candidly contemplate the moral obligations of being an elected official. If they’re not willing to put other fights aside, and make it a priority to help these children, then what kind of human beings are they?

Heartbreaking. Disappointing.

To say the least.

The Palm Beach Post — Repair relationships torn over handling of contract

The Palm Beach County School Board’s determination at bringing in a new district superintendent who is innovative, and a strong leader is commendable.

From the moment that current Superintendent E. Wayne Gent abruptly announced that he was leaving at the end of this school year — likely saving the district a publicly embarrassing contract renewal process — board members focused on doing things right this time around.

They quickly moved past a hiccup regarding the length of Gent’s stay. They hired a well-regarded firm to search nationally for the best candidates to run the nation’s 12th largest school district. Most importantly, they insisted on a diversity of input to increase the amount of skin in the game.

By the time they named their top four candidates earlier this month, there were few if any complaints or issues from community stakeholders. Indeed, when the board named 43-year-old Robert Avossa as the new superintendent there were literally tears and cheers at his selection.

But all of this goodwill has been overshadowed in recent days by the “lucrative” five-year contract offered to Avossa. The board has put itself, and by extension Avossa, in the tough position of having to repair a relationship with one of its biggest constituencies: teachers. And it has done so unnecessarily, we might add.

No one questions Avossa’s credentials as a top-notch educator and innovator as head of the Fulton County, Ga., public school system. Or his inspirational personal success story, born of self-determination. But when it comes to “optics,” it’s difficult to imagine how the board could have handled the contract negotiations more poorly.

The Panama City News-Herald — House must abandon its brinkmanship

With two weeks left in this year’s regular session, the Florida Legislature is not any closer to resolving an intra-party dispute over Medicaid and funding indigent health care.

In fact, the two sides are further apart than they’ve ever been, and time is running out on reaching an agreement.

The federal government has notified the state that in June, it will stop funding its half of the $2.2 billion Low-Income Pool, which helps cover the costs of charity care at hospitals across the state. Losing that money would deal a severe blow to local hospitals.

From the start, the Florida House and Senate, both controlled by Republican majorities, have disagreed on what to do. To maintain a LIP funding stream and avert a crisis, the Senate has proposed accepting additional Medicaid funds from Washington and using them to create the Florida Health Insurance Affordability Exchange. FHIX would provide private-policy health coverage for the 800,000 Floridians not already covered by Medicaid. Able-bodied recipients would be required to pay modest premiums and be employed, looking for work or enrolled in school. Proponents argue this would inject some market forces into the health insurance system.

The House, though, has refused even to consider the Senate plan, maintaining that it merely applies lipstick to a Medicaid pig. Most House Republicans oppose Medicaid expansion of any type on the grounds that it’s a component of the reviled Obamacare, that the program doesn’t actually provide quality health care and that the feds can’t be trusted to keep their promise to fund 100 percent of the expansion the first three years and 90 percent of it thereafter.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Scott on wrong side on health care

Gov. Rick Scott went to war last week — on the wrong side.

The governor should have been strong-arming House leaders, demanding that they expand health care coverage to nearly 1 million Floridians. Instead, Scott was threatening members of the Senate, which wants more Floridians to have insurance and is trying to save the state from Scott’s failures.

For the legislative session to end on schedule Friday, the House and Senate would have to agree on a budget by Tuesday. Instead, they remain billions apart, because of differences on health care. The Senate budget includes $2.8 billion in federal money to expand Medicaid — without calling it Medicaid expansion — and another $2.2 billion from the federal Low Income Pool that goes to hospitals and other providers, also to cover Florida’s working poor. The House includes none of that $5 billion.

We saw Tuesday the differences between the two chambers. In the Senate, they discussed policy in a public meeting. Speakers laid out for the Appropriations Committee the risk if the Low Income Pool money stopped coming. Over five years, economist Amy Baker said, Florida would lose 22,000 jobs, many of them high-paying. The economy would take a $10.69 billion hit. Fifty-three thousand people would leave the state.

Scott is to blame for putting the state at risk. Two years ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the governor that the state’s program for Low Income Pool money was flawed. A year ago, the federal government extended the money for a year — so the state could craft a better program. Scott did nothing. On Tuesday, past Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, called that “malpractice.”

Yet the governor ducks all blame. He threatened to sue the federal government, claiming that the Obama administration is withholding a decision on the Low Income Pool money — the budget year starts July 1 — to force Florida to expand Medicaid. He compared the president to Tony Soprano. He vowed to call a special session, which wouldn’t help unless positions changed. He railed at the hospital industry, passing out sheets listing hospital profits.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Sunday Zing!

Hopefully the GOP Senate will destroy the last remaining home-textile company in the U.S. (the one in Chipley) and then can truly say “Mission Accomplished!”

Barack Obama is Jimmy Carter 2.0.

Ads to present Koch brothers in different way? Remember, a pig with lipstick is still a pig.

How do people with jobs have time to protest on the streets?

The staff that decide which Zing! gets printed have the best job. They get to read them all.

Personally I favor fracking since I would love to see Florida’s ground water rendered unfit for any use.

Tallahassee to D.C.: $525. Same dates, Jacksonville to D.C.: $182. Nuff said!

The Koch brothers presidential talent competition just shows we need to replace the eagle in the presidential seal with the dollar sign.

While there may be some liberals who know how to balance a budget and checkbook, evidently none of them currently reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

I hope the Civic Center sound system is much better for concerts than it is for basketball games.

Our socialist friends say we are all the same and should live the same lives. Is a bee hive life appealing at all?

The Tampa Tribune — A new pier for St. Pete that can be embraced by all

There’s much to like about Pier Park, the design ranked first by the city’s Pier Selection Committee after two marathon meetings to evaluate the finalists for a new pier in downtown St. Petersburg.

More than any of the other finalists, Pier Park represents an extension of the existing park system that defines St. Petersburg’s downtown waterfront as a place that belongs to the people. Green spaces and shaded areas are incorporated along the pier approach, which has biking and walking trails. And there are the desired amenities, including a large air-conditioned bar and grill at the pier’s far end that will overlook the city. A large lawn will be used as a concert venue that can accommodate 4,000 people.

What it doesn’t include is the existing inverted pyramid structure, a disappointment to many who wanted the Pier Selection Committee to pay homage to that design by selecting the Destination St. Pete Pier design, which the committee ranked second.

Let’s hope that disappointment doesn’t result in a coordinated assault on the winning design, and that the St. Petersburg City Council respects the inclusive process that Mayor Rick Kriseman set in motion and votes soon to begin negotiations to build Pier Park. With a smooth process, a new pier might be in place by 2018.

The selection committee can’t be accused of taking its duty lightly. It spent a combined 25 hours over two meetings poring over the various designs and listening to the concerns of residents. They were bound by law to consider the technical aspects of the designs as well as the aesthetics. In the end, the six-member committee liked Pier Park and its features that complement the existing waterfront.

It went against a nonbinding survey of city residents that overwhelmingly ranked Destination St. Pete Pier as the favorite, though less than 5 percent of the city’s voters participated. That design incorporated the inverted pyramid into its plan.

If approved, Pier Park will incorporate open spaces with multiple uses rather than focus on the building at the end. It’s a far cry from the Lens design rejected by voters two years ago.

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.

Latest from Apolitical

Go to Top