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 — Drop hotel from St. Petersburg waterfront plan

St. Petersburg laid the foundation for its current downtown renaissance more than a century ago, when city officials wisely preserved the waterfront for public use. On Thursday, the City Council can expand on that commitment by approving a Downtown Waterfront Master Plan for upgrading public spaces as money becomes available. One unnecessary concept — a hotel and conference center — has provoked criticism and suspicion among a citizenry that has repeatedly rebuffed such for-profit intrusions onto the waterfront. The council should approve the plan but reject the hotel idea. One divisive element should not imperil the master plan’s exciting mix of new activity centers, landscaping and infrastructure.

Under St. Petersburg’s charter, a referendum must approve any sale or long-term lease of city-owned waterfront or park land. The master plan is not a defensive document designed to build in extra protection — any future council could alter it by a simple majority vote. The plan is an optimistic road map for linking a 7-mile waterfront more effectively for boaters, pedestrians, bicyclists and boaters, creating connecting routes around difficult bottlenecks like Albert Whitted Airport.

From Coffee Pot Bayou on the north to Lassing Park on the south, the plan envisions picnic areas, concession booths, benches, boardwalks and shady promenades — including a pedestrian swing bridge over Salt Creek as a direct link to Lassing Park. It would overhaul Bayboro Harbor with deep-water wharfs and marine-related “development opportunities” that mix well with an existing commercial area.

AECOM, the engineering consultants who drew up the plan, needlessly suggested that a conference center, parking garage and hotel on what is now a surface parking lot for the Mahaffey Theater and Salvador Dalí Museum could generate income to help pay for other elements in the master plan. That might make financial sense on paper, but it invites a political backlash that neither St. Petersburg nor the master plan can afford.

Residents have long demonstrated an aversion to large, for-profit ventures on that section of the waterfront, like the Tampa Bay Rays’ ill-fated 2008 stadium proposal. Council member Steve Kornell vowed this month to reject the entire master plan if the hotel remains on the drawings. That stance is an unwelcome overreach, given that any hotel would require a referendum. But Kornell is reflecting substantial anti-hotel sentiment, fueled in part by city officials’ failure to include the hotel in early master plan drafts presented to the public.

The Bradenton Herald — Rick Scott hits the panic button

Some sanity ruled in Tallahassee last week. Not much, but some. Gov. Rick Scott signed some little bills into law, but the political situation could not be worse.

A special session of the Legislation is on the horizon over the failure to reach agreement on a budget, but lawmakers are optimistic. On the other hand, Gov. Rick Scott stands in full political meltdown mode with his unwarranted warning of a “government shutdown.”

On Thursday, Scott ordered state agencies to write up lists of critical services that cannot be halted should the House and Senate fail to negotiate a budget by July 1. Those lists are due Monday by 5 p.m.

The governor hit the panic button.

This could simply be a political ploy to force the Senate to drop its reasonable and pragmatic modified Medicaid expansion plan that benefits hospitals and 840,000 poor Floridians lacking health insurance.

In announcing his precedent-setting call for contingency lists of “critical services needs” in the event of a government shutdown, Scott cited the Senate’s strong support of the chamber’s bill for a Florida-specific, market-driven, free-enterprise health care insurance plan.

This political desperation comes right on the heels of the governor filing a lawsuit against the federal government over health care money.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Tallahassee muddies water management

The St. Johns River Water Management District is suffering from a drought of experienced managers, a situation that is man-made.

That man is Gov. Rick Scott.

Earlier this month, five senior staff members at the regional water management agency, including Executive Director Hans Tanzler, resigned within seven days of each other. The News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles Pulver reported that the resignations of the four staff members were at the request of Jon Steverson, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Robert Christianson, one of the executives who resigned and who has been with the agency 25 years, told Pulver that Tanzler told him the Scott administration “wanted a new culture in the leadership of the St. Johns district and that other senior staff would be let go.”

Mike Register, the water district’s interim executive director, has declined to explain why the employees resigned, saying in a statement that it wasn’t “productive or necessary to expound upon the reasons for the resignations.”

The heck it’s not.

The state’s five water management districts provide local oversight of water quality and supply, use and permitting, and flood control. They are funded with tax dollars, and their nine-member boards are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Their meetings and operations are subject to the state’s Sunshine Law.

It’s as clear as Blue Spring that the St. Johns Water Management District is accountable to the people who are affected by its policies. Therefore its leadership owes the public a full explanation for the shakeup, not an arrogant brush-off.

The Florida Times-Union — Times-Union Endorsements: Curry, Williams lead the list of endorsed candidates

Mayor Alvin Brown has failed at his two most important jobs as CEO of the city.

The budgets he submitted to City Council have been erratic and chaotic. One budget presumed a drastic 14 percent cut in city departments. Another required more debt on an indebted city.

Major decisions on key staffers have been poor.

As a result, City Council has had to fill the vacuum, but this is not designed as a strong City Council form of government.In a strong mayor form, the incumbent has huge advantages but Brown has not capitalized on them.

Brown’s record has its pluses, of course. He is a gentleman, a great ambassador for the city, a builder of public-private partnerships, a convener of task forces. And it’s true that many mayors have their early stumbles. But Brown’s performance in key areas has set a new low.

Lenny Curry has the skills in finance and staffing that Brown lacks. Curry built a business with those skills. He knows how important it is for a CEO to surround himself with outstanding people. He would get the city’s finances back on track and hire good people for key positions. In short, he would lead.

While Curry has experience in politics as head of the state Republican Party, he has no experience running a government. In most other situations, that would be a detriment, but not now.

Brown has had his chance. The executive branch needs a fresh start.

Florida Today – Not so fast on Mel Hi’s razing

Ultimately, what happens to historic old Mel Hi is up to our community — or should be.

Do we value the potential of a cultural center enough to:

  1. Invest $50,000 to assess the potential of a cultural center at old Mel Hi that could be worth millions?
  2. If the numbers are there, can we put our collective creative minds together to make it happen?

Historic Mel Hi is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and is one of Eleven Most Endangered Historic Sites in Florida.

“It is easily the largest, most visible, most recognizable, centrally located, and unspoiled structure of the 1920s Florida boom period in our area,” says local historian Karen Raley.

Historian Bob Gross: “Of all historical structures, historic schools are specially qualified for state and federal grants, especially for those who qualify for the National Register of Historic Places — as does old Mel Hi.”

As of March 17, not even Melbourne’s own Historic Preservation Board had an opportunity to discuss its concerns with the city council.

Historic places threatened with destruction now enrich our lives. See OldMelHi.com for examples. But what might be done with Mel Hi?

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and Jeers

Lawyers sometimes get a bad rap, finishing near politicians and, ahem, journalists in rankings of least-liked professions.

But local lawyers deserve credit for stepping up to help the least fortunate among us.

Cheer: Alachua County lawyers, for providing free legal services for the homeless in the area.

Lawyers from the 8th Judicial Circuit Bar Association, Three Rivers Legal Services and the Southern Legal Counsel have been meeting monthly with clients of Grace Marketplace. The county’s lawyers are also taking on its doctors in a fundraising competition to get the homeless center’s kitchen up and running.

Jeer: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, for his inability to clearly answer whether he would have gone to war in Iraq knowing what he know now.

On Monday, Bush told Fox News that he would have gone to war. On Tuesday, he claimed he misheard the question. On Wednesday, he said that he didn’t know and wouldn’t answer hypotheticals. On Thursday, he said he would not have gone into Iraq.

He’s going to have to give more consistent — and convincing — answers to be a serious presidential contender.

Cheer: Members of law enforcement agencies across the county, for getting certified as members of a team trained to defuse crisis situations with mentally ill individuals.

Both the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and Gainesville Police Department have pledged to have all officers trained as soon as possible.

Jeer: U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, for his bizarre, profanity-laced tirade to reporters this week.

Given his long history of outrageous remarks — such as when he compared the tea party to the KKK — Grayson is showing he has the wrong temperament to run for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio’s Senate seat.

The Lakeland Ledger — Military Equipment: Police Need Proper Tools

Ingrained in our national DNA from the outset has been the idea that the police andmilitary are separate parts of the government apparatus intended to provide security, stability and defense of lives and property.

The Founding Fathers, rubbed raw by the often ham-handed and brutal tactics of British troops, who confiscated what they wanted whenever they wanted through the use of court-issued warrants, specifically wrote into the Constitution the Third and Fourth amendments, designed to shield civilians from intrusive armed forces.

That concept of limiting the use of the military against civilians was reinforced through the enactment of the Insurrection Act of 1807 and the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which originally mandated that “anyone” deploying U.S. troops “for the purpose of executing the laws” faced a $10,000 fine and two years in prison, if convicted.

The system worked fine for nearly two centuries. In more recent years, however, the foundation of the wall separating the two is eroding. One reason has been 50 years of police, through the development of SWAT units, adopting and utilizing military-style tactics in dangerous situations — and some not so dangerous. Another has been the work of the Defense Department’s Law Enforcement Support Office, created under a 1997 law authorizing the military to transfer its gear to local law enforcement.

The Miami Herald — Miami-Dade must save itself from traffic nightmare

This Sunday, the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald are both publishing months-long investigations examining the state of Miami-Dade’s transportation system and why we’re constantly in unforgiving stressful traffic gridlock.

The newspapers’ findings are sobering and depressing.

Not necessarily because they reveal what we already know — that we are spending more of our precious time sitting in traffic as we inch along in our cars from home to work, and for that matter, to everywhere else we routinely travel.

The depressing part is that our transportation reporters conclude that there is no magic bullet and no immediate solution in sight. Yes, a billion dollars to finance significant major projects would do it, but that won’t happen.

So listen up: Neither the federal government, Tallahassee nor Miami-Dade taxpayers, who feel they gave enough with the half-penny sales tax, are willing to open their pocketbooks again to make a financial commitment to improve traffic. That’s the reality.

There’s not going to be a west or north expansion of Metrorail anytime soon. And that still would not have been a cure-all — we are obsessed with cars.

Miami-Dade Commissioner Esteban Bovo Jr., as head of the board’s Transportation and Mobility Committee, is the man in the hot seat. But it’s a good thing there’s a realist at the helm. Mr. Bovo, and our investigations, conclude that we’re in such a hole with so many cars and drivers using a failed traffic system that any substantive traffic solutions will likely be enjoyed by our grandkids, not us.

“I don’t know if we’ll be able to fix Miami-Dade’s traffic problems in our generation,” said Mr. Bovo, who recently agreed to allow the Miami Herald to videotape, with two GoPros attached to his car, his frustrating 47-minute daily commute from his children’s school in Hialeah to the Government Center in downtown Miami.

The Orlando Sentinel — Bolster president’s trade power

After a setback earlier last week, a bill that would empower President Obama in negotiating trade agreements cleared a procedural hurdle in the U.S. Senate Thursday on a bipartisan vote. Both of Florida’s senators — Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio — wisely voted to open debate on the legislation.

Supporters are now optimistic that the Senate will give final approval to trade promotion authority for the president this week. But the TPA bill also must pass in the U.S. House, where it faces a more hostile reception.

TPA is opposed by some Democrats who, like King Canute, would try to hold back the 21st-century tide of international commerce from America’s shores; and some Republicans who aren’t inclined to give the president more authority for anything.

Even so, we hope strong majorities in both chambers will vote to grant Obama this authority — not for his sake, but to give America its best shot at prospering in the global economy.

The volume of trade in goods and services across borders keeps growing, and America’s economic competitors have been taking advantage of it by reaching their own agreements. Those pacts will give their companies preferential access to burgeoning markets abroad if the U.S. doesn’t keep up.

TPA gives presidents the right to negotiate agreements and present them to Congress for an up-or-down vote, without amendment. It’s easy to understand why Congress has consistently granted this power to presidents in both parties for decades. It’s a practical necessity to reach the best possible trade deals.

U.S. trading partners won’t make their best offers at the bargaining table if Congress can rewrite the agreements. So presidents and their representatives need TPA to negotiate without a handicap.

But Congress also stands to gain from TPA legislation. It gives lawmakers a chance to set guidelines for trade agreements and strengthen their oversight.

The Ocala StarBanner — Mobster morals

For all his talk about how the feds are behaving like mobsters from “The Sopranos,” Gov. Rick Scott is the one who is running state government like an extortion racket.

Unable to bully the Florida Senate into backing down on Medicaid expansion, Scott is now strong-arming Florida hospitals to share their profits.

For some muscle to force them into that position, Scott created a Commission on Healthcare and Hospital Funding to investigate their finances. If there was any illusion that the commission was set up to do anything but push the governor’s views, Scott shattered it by stacking the group with political supporters almost completely lacking in health care experience.

Just one of the group’s nine members, Dr. Jason Rosenberg of Gainesville, has significant experience in the health care field. Other members include the owner of a beef-consulting firm, a hotel developer and a retired brigadier general.

One thing that some members have in common is political contributions to Scott and other Republicans. The commission’s chairman, home builder Carlos Beruff, has contributed more than $107,000 to Republican causes and candidates — including $80,000 to Scott or his Let’s Get to Work committee, Floridapolitics.com reported.

Scott has shown that he’ll say and do just about anything to get his way on the hospital funding issue. The tea-party backed conservative is even willing to sound like a socialist, as he did when he said hospitals should share their profits to pay for the care of uninsured patients.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Gov. Scott’s sun-shiny socialism

This week’s award for the most confused Florida Republican goes to a governor.

Not that governor. Sure, Jeb Bush may have been a little confused while answering questions about his big bro’s legacy in Iraq. But who wouldn’t be? That was a long time ago, after all.

These days, the only guy with the name Hussein is in the White House. And the onlyWMDs that pose a significant threat to American exceptionalism are White Moms Dancing. So we can pardon Jeb for his lack of a clear answer on what he would or would not have done in Brother Dubya’s shoes. Hey, Shiite happens, right?

The most profoundly befuddled state Republican is our current governor and my favorite cartoon muse — Rick Scott. Not to be outdone by Bruce Jenner for shocking revelations, Gov. Scott came bursting out of the conservative closet recently and revealed himself to be — drum roll, please — a socialist!

The astounding conversion was pointed out in a must-read Tampa Bay Times editorial last week that explained how the governor “has asked hospital executives and his kangaroo health care commission to create a plan for hospitals to share profits to cover the potential loss of the Low Income Pool, a $2 billion pot of public money that helps cover the cost of treating the uninsured.”

Profit sharing?!

Gasp!

Don’t hold that breath, you hopeful-hearted Commies. Our bald-noggined head of state ain’t likely to extend this newly-embraced Marxist mindset into all aspects of Sunshine State living.

The Palm Beach Post — Scott’s health care end game makes pawns of Floridians

It’s said that chess grandmasters like to think eight moves ahead as they calculate their opponents’ likely moves in the patient pursuit of checkmate.

Gov. Rick Scott apparently fancies himself just such a grandmaster. He’s approaching the health care and state budget debacle as if it were some sort of elaborate match, positioning pieces for an end game that wins him control over the whole board of federal and state safety-net health care money, while knocking down the successful federal health policy he loves to hate, the Affordable Care Act. Then he could declare himself winner, right?

Wrong.

It’s clear that the people of Florida are pawns in this game. When people’s livelihoods and their access to medications and doctors are at stake, it’s no time for chess. Scott needs to end the gamesmanship and pursue statesmanship.

The dictionary defines a “statesman” as a “disinterested promoter of the public good.” Where’s the public good in Scott’s latest salvo, a suggestion that he’d allow a government shutdown rather than submit to the Florida Senate’s insistence that Medicaid eligibility be expanded, so that the 830,000 people in the health care gap between the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies and Medicaid could gain coverage?

On Thursday, Scott asked agency heads to prepare a list of “critical state services our citizens cannot lose in the event Florida is forced into a government shutdown on July 1.”

His stated reason for contemplating such a dire outcome is that expanding Medicaid would cost state taxpayers “$5 billion over 10 years.” Missing entirely from his analysis are recent calculations from the Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

The Panama City News-Herald — Legislative cheers and jeers

The sudden, let’s-give-up-and-go-home end of Florida’s legislative session last week has been roundly criticized, but not all lawmakers were grumbling as they packed to leave. After the House adjourned three days early amid a dispute with the Senate over Medicaid expansion, The Associated Press reported what happened next:

“Republican House members cheered, some raising both thumbs in the air.”

Truth be told, the final fate of some bills really was worth cheering, although this wasn’t what the GOP members had in mind.

One of those bills would have let school districts designate people with military or police experience, concealed-weapon permits and special training to carry guns inside public schools. This newspaper editorialized against the bill, and Okaloosa County’s sheriff and superintendent of schools spoke against it, too.

The guns-in-schools bill died during the legislative session.

A similar bill — let’s call it the guns-on-campus bill — would have allowed people with concealed-weapon permits to carry guns at state colleges and universities, overturning a longtime ban on concealed weapons on campus.

College administrators and police chiefs lined up against it. It died as well.

As we’ve noted before, opposing these bills does not insult the Second Amendment. Resisting the proliferation of guns in public places does not jeopardize anyone’s right to own firearms.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Budget aside, the good and bad from session

While Florida’s budget fight is overshadowing everything in state government these days, it’s worth noting that state lawmakers did manage to pass 232 bills in the recently concluded legislative session and Gov. Rick Scott has now begun the dance of deciding which bills to sign, veto or allow to become law without his signature.

To his credit, the first bill Scott signed addressed the uproar over high-stakes student testing by eliminating the new 11th grade language-arts exam and the requirement that final exams be administered in all courses. It also capped student testing time at 45 hours per year, and ended the requirement that students who test poorly automatically be enrolled in remedial courses.

On Thursday, the governor signed 27 more bills into law, including good measures that allow craft brewers to sell beer in half-gallon-sized “growlers,” that make it a crime to upload “revenge porn” photos of ex-lovers on websites, that prevent cities from setting quotas for speeding tickets, and that prohibit people from using drones to take pictures that violate privacy.

Unfortunately, he also signed bills that will keep you from seeing the email address of people who do business with tax collectors and the motor vehicles division, which represent more body blows to the state’s Sunshine Law.

Then on Friday, the governor surprised many by signing a bill that in two years will let people register to vote online, which should help more people get registered. His elections chief opposed the move, but all 67 county supervisors of elections believe the future includes a secure registration website. Given that 20 states have gone before us, Florida should be able to learn lessons and get it right.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Learn about bicycling during National Bicycle Month

It seems everybody loves bicycles. Bike shops keep selling more bikes. More roads have bicycle lanes. Our city parks have great bike trails. The St. Marks Rail Trail is full. Advertisers love showing fit happy couples on bicycles.

But I remember a man who hated bicyclists using “his” roads and “not paying gas taxes.” Since then, I have learned a lot about the high cost of roads and who really pays for our “one person, one car” culture. The truth is surprising.

Every time a cyclist purchases a taxable product, buys a home or pays an income tax, that cyclist is paying for roads. The Leon County Penny Sales Tax fact sheet says “most of the money will be spent on building and improving our local roads.” More than $550 million tax dollars are expected.

Tax Foundation says gas taxes and tolls pay only one third of road costs. Bicycle-friendly Copenhagen, Denmark (rated the happiest country!) found they lose 20 cents for every mile a car is driven. For every mile a cyclist uses a road for transportation, the city earns 42 cents. No wonder more downtowns are in a race to get people out of their cars!

Money spent on gas leaves a community. The number one reason citizens cannot afford a home is car expenses. Also, Leon County spent $8 million dollars bulldozing polluted muck out of our once-famous big bass, white sand and clear Lake Jackson. Sadly, storm water runoff during I-10 widening “re-polluted” it. Forests are cut to make expensive storm water ponds and ugly parking lots.

Driving instead of bicycling can greatly increases health care taxes. The Centers for Disease Control says obesity-related diseases costs top $170 billion/year (not counting missing work and disabilities). My too few patients who are over 50, in good health and not taking expensive medications make “moving” a part of their daily lives. New bicycle commuters are surprised how healthy and happy they become!

The Tampa Tribune — Protect workers from wage theft

A recent report ranked Hillsborough County among the worst places in the state for wage theft, which occurs when employees are denied their rightful compensation for hours worked.

And although workers can pursue federal remedies for unpaid hours, their complaints may fall outside of federal laws, and there is no guarantee the employers will pay up even when ordered to do so. Seeking relief in the courts can be a financial risk.

That’s why local governments are adopting wage-theft ordinances that provide a simpler way for workers to pursue claims. Miami-Dade County adopted the state’s first such ordinance in 2010, and last month St. Petersburg became the state’s first municipality to adopt one.

On Wednesday, a wage ordinance similar to those in Miami-Dade and St. Petersburg is expected to come before the Hillsborough County Commission.

Hillsborough officials have wisely sought to make the ordinance effective but keep it from being an unnecessary burden on businesses. It is being called a “wage recovery” ordinance. The Hillsborough ordinance seeks to resolve conflicts through collaboration, rather than government censure. The county would get involved only after an employee had discussed the matter with the employer without result.

Commissioners should signal their support by voting to schedule the public hearings needed before it can be formally adopted.

As The Tampa Tribune’s Mike Salinero reports, wage theft occurs when employees are told to work before or after clocking in for the day, when they are denied time-and-a-half for overtime hours, when they are denied tips or a final paycheck, or are expected to work shifts without breaks, as required by law.

Low-wage earners are more likely to be victimized and, at the same time, more likely to be reluctant to challenge their employer for fear of losing a job. Day laborers, hotel and restaurant workers, or construction and lawn care workers, are among the occupations more likely to be at risk for working uncompensated hours. They are less likely to have the means to challenge their employer through the federal Department of Labor, which does not cover most local jobs and has 72 inspectors to handle wage theft complaints in the entire state.

Cheating workers out of their rightful pay does not just hurt the employees, but penalizes conscientious businesses.

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 [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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