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 — A better plan for disciplining Hillsborough students

The Hillsborough County School Board should agree Tuesday to accept the recommendations from district officials and a task force that would overhaul the district’s discipline plan. The proposals address issues ranging from out-of-school suspensions to the reclassification of zero-tolerance offenses. The proposed changes strike a healthy balance between handing out appropriate discipline and addressing the root problems that often lead to misbehavior.

The recommendations are included in the district’s new student handbook, which must be approved and produced before school starts next month. Among the most notable changes to the handbook is a reduction in the number of zero-tolerance offenses, which now will be the same as those defined by the state and still include violations such as possession of a firearm or weapon and making a threat or false report. The proposal also includes shorter suspension times for students. Under the new rules, a senior administrator must approve any suspension longer than five days. Supporters of that change have argued that the district relies too heavily on 10-day suspensions, which research has shown are largely ineffective and handicap returning students, whose grades typically drop precipitously because they are unable to make up missed work.

The proposed changes have been a long time coming, as the task force began its work more than two years ago. Many of the group’s recommendations did not make it into the proposed handbook. Missing is a bill of rights that students would have signed before discipline proceedings to ensure that they were aware of their rights to due process. It is also unclear if suspended students will be able to make up missed work, which was another task force proposal. The new handbook says that making up work for unexcused absences is “subject to negotiations.” But it also indicates that students with out-of-school suspensions will receive a grade of zero for missed tests and other graded work. Students who are suspended should not be doubly penalized by being prohibited from making up work. The district should revisit this issue.

The process has yielded some clear victories. Chief among them is a promising proposal raised at a board workshop last week in which Hillsborough public defender Julianne Holt offered to have lawyers from her staff work with students facing possible criminal charges to help them understand their rights before they are interviewed by law enforcement. Holt also proposed separate lawyer-led discussions with students about the criminal justice system, a promising diversion technique that could keep juveniles on the right side of the law.

The Bradenton Herald — Bradenton is on the move with several improvement projects

The city of Bradenton is making solid strides to revitalize neighborhoods, remove blight and improve economic opportunity. At the same time, one major development on the drawing board for years suffered yet another frustrating setback.

The percolating projects

  • The most expansive development now in the works holds the promise of boosting the 14th Street West southern gateway into the city as well as Village of the Arts. The old Manatee Inns site on 14th, long vacant after the city purchased the property in 2006 and demolished the deteriorating building, sits on 3.3 acres ripe for just the kind of project now proposed.

The concept for workforce housing features two rows of buildings with some 80 housing units within three mixed-use buildings, separated by green space for the kind of pop-up events and public art projects envisioned by Realize Bradenton. The street-side building would feature ground-floor commercial space with live-work units above. The other two buildings would offer options for residential and live-work units.

Sarasota-based Beneficial Communities, in association with Bradenton’s Fawley Bryant architectural firm, presented their conceptual design for the project to the Bradenton Downtown Development Authority, impressing the DDA board. The City Council will take up the proposal in several weeks.

The development would be particularly attractive to millennials, who express the desire for a downtown living and working environment in walkable and bike-able neighborhoods where entertainment venues are nearby and vehicular transportation is not vital. Communities across the country are vying for this up-and-coming younger generation of creative minds as a way to spur future economic prosperity. Both Bradenton and Manatee County are focused on competing in this arena.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Redistricting: Third time is charm

Florida legislative leaders announced last week that in August they will convene their second special session of the year, this time to take their third crack at drawing congressional districts that comply with state law. All that’s missing from that numbers salad is the partridge in a pear tree.

The third attempt at redistricting had better be the charm, and not just because the session was mandated by the Florida Supreme Court July 9 when it ordered lawmakers to redraw eight of the state’s 27 congressional districts. The Legislature’s defense of its redistricting maps has cost taxpayers more than $8 million.

In addition, after going to overtime in June to pass a balanced budget they couldn’t achieve during the regular session, legislators will spend another $150,000 on a special session Aug. 10-21 to redraw the maps.

The special budget session was the result of ideological disagreements among House and Senate Republicans. At least that was a debate over the proper role of government in health care spending. The years-long dispute over the congressional maps, though, was the product of a conscious effort by GOP consultants and staffers to rig the electoral system in their party’s favor in blatant violation of two voter-approved amendments to the state constitution.

The Fair Districts measures, passed in 2010, stipulated that when lawmakers redraw legislative and congressional boundaries, they could no longer favor incumbents or members of a political party. Even though House and Senate leaders earnestly vowed to follow the law and conduct the most transparent redistricting process in history, with the public’s input, the final maps bore a remarkable resemblance to the old gerrymandered ones.

When the League of Women Voters and other interest groups challenged the maps in court, evidence surfaced of back-room political shenanigans influencing the redistricting process, such as correspondence between Republican legislative staffers and GOP consultants on how to draw districts.

The Florida Times-Union — Cheers: Praise for Omega Psi Phi

Cheers to Omega Psi Phi, one of the nation’s largest black fraternities, for recently holding its national conference in our city.

The fraternity, which has more than 120,000 members, made a huge impact during its successful and well-attended conference at the downtown Hyatt Regency.

It drew appearances from figures ranging from former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher to the fathers of slain black youths Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Tamir Rice.

It held news-making discussions that addressed major issues like mental health, bullying, mentoring and the relationship between the black community and law enforcement.

It awarded more than $141,000 in scholarship awards to talented, achieving Omega Psi Phi students.

To top it off, it pumped money into Jacksonville’s economy.

“Our mission is to make our communities better for everyone and to make a difference wherever we are,” Antonio Knox, Omega Psi Phi’s international president, said during an interview with the Times-Union editorial board.

The fraternity definitely lived up to its mission during its three-day conference in our community.

GOOD JOB, JAMESHIA!

Florida Today – Jeb still the idea man

When he was governor, Jeb Bush and the people around him used to talk about “big, hairy, audacious goals” for changing how state government operates.

It became an acronym — BHAG, pronounced “bee-hag” — which was a little odd for Bush, who publicly disdained government’s tendency to label everything. Bush was widely credited with coining the term, although it comes from a 1994 management book titled “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.”

Maybe he read it that year in his first campaign for governor, when he promised to shake the moss off old Tallahassee.

Kids aren’t learning and schools cost too much? He had an “A-Plus Education Plan,” complete with tuition vouchers, testing of students and grading of schools. When the courts said no, when parents and administrators howled about about over-testing, the Republicans have pressed on with variations on the theme.

Affirmative action is unconstitutional? Bush had his “One Florida” plan, abolishing race-based college admissions and state contract set-asides.

And those are just three Bush BHAGs of 1999-2007. His term spanned a period when individual computers became common, and Bush eagerly embraced cyber change. Symbolically, his official portrait in the Capitol features a BlackBerry on a shelf behind the “e-governor.”

Whatever you think of him, you have to admit Bush was an idea man — a visionary to those who liked him, a blundering bully to those who didn’t.

And so it was that he came back to Tallahassee last week and topping “Mount Washington” the way he did with this comparative foothill of business as usual. His current BHAG is to wake up in the White House on Jan. 21, 2017, but first he needs to establish himself as the frontrunner in a Republican field that has 15 other candidates of varying levels of seriousness, and Donald Trump.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

Summer break can be a time when bored teenagers find themselves getting into trouble. Fortunately, Gainesville’s Summer Heatwave program provides them with positive activities to do instead.

Cheer: The Gainesville parks department, police department, State’s Attorney Office and others responsible for the Heatwave program. Participation has more than doubled compared with this time last year, The Sun reported this week.

The program includes a basketball league, pool parties, excursions around town and other activities that encourage good character, citizenship and responsibility. Juvenile crime rates have dropped at times when the program has been active in recent years, the State Attorney’s Office has reported.

Jeer: A group of Duval County parents, for seeking to ban books featuring Muslims from their local schools.

The parents have petitioned to remove the children’s books “Nasreen’s Secret School” and “The Librarian of Basra” from a third-grade reading list, the Jacksonville Times-Union reported.

The first book is about a little girl whose grandmother takes great risks to enroll her in a school for girls in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The second is the story of an Iraqi librarian who struggles to save her community’s book collection.

The parents claim they’re trying to shield kids from age-inappropriate content, but it seems clear that the religion of the books’ characters is their main objection. Their actions are shameful.

Cheer: The Homework Help program, for assisting elementary students in the Horizon House and Sunset housing developments.

The Lakeland Ledger — A Tax under new name — Police Protection Fee

Earlier this month, the Lakeland City Commission narrowly panned the idea of instituting a new fee for fire protection services. Although the assessment would have been new to Lakeland’s portfolio of taxes and fees, the idea of segregating fire services from general tax revenues is not new for many Florida cities, including a handful in Polk County. Now, one state lawmaker wants to empower local governments to do the same with police protection.

As The Ledger recently reported, state Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, plans to re-introduce a bill that allows cities to implement a police protection fee, which is currently banned under Florida law. Police agencies now must be funded through property taxes.

Smith has pushed this bill for the past five years, and finally saw it gain solid traction for the first time during the initial 2015 session. He told The Ledger he thinks fellow senators are beginning to see its merit. And Smith’s measure has the backing Florida League of Cities, which views it primarily as a way of capturing revenue from property owners who don’t pay property taxes.

Smith, it appears, seeks to sweeten his pitch by capping the fee at $200 per parcel, and by mandating an offsetting cut in property taxes.

We do not discount the importance of public safety, and don’t want a to appear to offer a knee-jerk critical reaction to a new — or at least different — tax. But this is a bad idea and should be tabled.

The Miami Herald — Immigration and politics

Congress is rushing toward an ill-considered crackdown on immigration enforcement and “sanctuary cities” for all the wrong reasons.

The murder of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco this month, allegedly at the hands of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who had been deported five times earlier, is a tragedy that never should have happened.

Throw in San Francisco’s status as a “sanctuary city” that refuses to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), plus the illegal immigrant ruckus raised by Donald Trump, and you have the makings of an instant controversy that has roused some members of Congress to a frenzy.

The trouble is, lawmakers threatening to impose penalties against “sanctuary cities” are indulging in a politically-inspired and wrongheaded rush to judgment that won’t fix anything. On the contrary, it could complicate already troubled relations between ICE and local communities.

The solution lies in finding ways to rebuild trust between immigrant-friendly communities and ICE, the federal agency in charge of deportations. They have to find a way to narrow a long-standing breach of trust that respects feelings in local communities and also protects public safety.

Some immigrants are a public menace and should be deported. But putting immigrants who are generally law-abiding on the conveyor belt to deportation just because they got a traffic ticket increases fear and mistrust in immigrant communities. That makes it harder for local law enforcement because residents in some neighborhoods won’t trust or talk to officers who need their cooperation.

The Orlando Sentinel — Expand access to courts, give plan another chance

What good is a constitutional right if you can’t really take advantage of it?

The Florida Constitution guarantees equal access to the courts, but many Floridians don’t have the means to hire a lawyer to represent themselves in civil cases — the category that includes family law, landlord-tenant disputes and domestic violence. And funding for legal aid to low-income Floridians — generally those earning up to 125 percent of the poverty level — has plunged in the past decade.

This month, by a single vote, the state Supreme Court rejected a proposal that would have authorized The Florida Bar to increase its annual fees for its members, the state’s lawyers, to raise badly needed dollars for legal aid. Now the lawyers behind that proposal, led by former state Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero, have launched a legal Hail Mary: They’re asking the state’s highest court to reconsider its ruling.

Such reconsiderations are unusual but not unprecedented. And worth a shot in this case.

That’s because the 4-3 vote against the proposal obscures a divide within the majority. Three of the justices opposed it because they preferred to wait on a court-appointed commission studying ways to broaden the burden for legal-aid funding beyond lawyers. But one of the justices, Barbara Pariente, voted against the proposal because it didn’t go far enough; it didn’t require the Bar to increase its fees.

Cantero, in his motion for rehearing, argued the court has the authority to compel the Bar to bump up its fees, as Pariente suggested. Or, he wrote, justices can postpone judgment on the proposal until the commission issues its recommendations. Either alternative is better than simply rejecting the proposal.

The Ocala StarBanner — A nation of incarceration

When President Barack Obama and the billionaire Koch brothers can agree on an issue, it shows that common-sense reforms can also save dollars and cents for taxpayers.

Last week, Obama commuted the federal prison sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders and became the first president to visit a federal prison.

He also called for action on criminal justice reforms that have bipartisan backing.

“Over the last few years a lot of people have become aware of the inequities in the criminal justice system,” Obama said in an online video. “Right now, with our overall crime rate and incarceration rate both falling, we’re at a moment when some good people in both parties, Republicans and Democrats and folks all across the country, are coming up with ideas to make the system work smarter and better.”

The offenders who will be released early had in some cases been given life sentences for drug crimes. Some had been sentenced under laws that gave sentences 100 times harsher for crack cocaine than powder cocaine. Congress has brought those sentences more in line, but the changes weren’t retroactive.

Eleven of the offenders were Floridians. As Florida TaxWatch noted, lengthy sentences for nonviolent offenders are unnecessarily harsh for the offenders as well as taxpayers. State spending on corrections grew 1,200 percent and the prison population 400 percent over a 35-year period ending in 2014, a period when the state’s population grew about 100 percent, according to TaxWatch.

The Pensacola News-Journal — City hall has failed again

The question before residents of Pensacola is this:

Government or private sector?

Which entity do you have confidence in for continuing downtown Pensacola’s progress?

A proposed $20 million in developments for the Community Maritime Park are now gone. After nearly a year of negotiations, Quint Studer has withdrawn his offers for parcels 3,6, and 9.

Describing his frustration with the misbegotten process, Studer told WEAR, “This is our third time that we’ve gone to the mat and not had a good experience. It’s probably me, but I’m just obviously not cut out to do these types of projects with the city.”

The proposed projects – a conference center, day care, the UWF Center of Entrepreneurship – were proper elements for our most important piece of downtown public property. And they were community-oriented drivers for further economic development. They were exciting developments. They were needed developments.

At least, that’s what we thought most citizens of Pensacola believed. We know that’s what Quint and Rishy Studer believed. Mayor Ashton Hayward and his staff at City Hall, apparently, thought otherwise.

Despite many public proclamations of support and enthusiasm for those developments at Maritime Park, the mayor failed to provide any measure of real leadership to see them through.

On the contrary, the mayor’s office characterized the negotiations between a taxpayer-funded attorney and Studer as simple “tweaks” to be made in good faith. In reality, the mayor did not even inform Studer before issuing a news release Thursday afternoon that declared “We will not accept the leases that the CMPA recommended.”

Apparently, the city was seeking much more than “tweaks.”

The Palm Beach Post — Tallahassee pressure must not undo water district vote

On July 16 the South Florida Water Management District governing board courageously voted 6-2 to keep its tax rate for 2016 steady, after three years of large cuts. Now, board chairman Daniel O’Keefe has called the board back for a special workshop on the budget this Friday.

Everglades restoration activists view the unscheduled meeting as a heavy-handed attempt to undo the board’s vote. They suspect the real person behind it is Gov. Rick Scott’s pick for Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, Jon Steverson. It appears Scott is backing Steverson’s push.

This heavy-handed effort to assert Tallahassee control over South Florida’s local water needs must be resisted.

Steverson is a North Floridian who has already riled outdoors lovers by suggesting logging, hunting and cattle grazing should be allowed in state parks. His views that Everglades restoration has been too costly are understood.

Steverson’s confirmation at the Florida Cabinet meeting scheduled for Aug. 5 is expected to sail through, now that Attorney General Pam Bondi has dropped her opposition. It shouldn’t.

There’s a disconnect here. In January, Scott made promises to dedicate $5 billion to Everglades fixes over the next 20 years, with $150 million earmarked for 2016.

“We will keep working to make sure we preserve our natural treasures so Florida can continue to be a top destination for families, visitors and businesses,” he said then.

So why now does his spokesman answer questions with this one-sentence statement: “Gov. Scott is disappointed they (the SFWMD board) missed an opportunity to cut taxes.”

The local board had good reasons to say no to a fourth year of tax cuts.

The Panama City News-Herald — Donald Trump torpedoes Republican chances at White House

Donald Trump, a heroic man who dodged serving in the Vietnam War on five deferments attributed to “bone spurs,” questioned Sen. John McCain’s war hero status.

The two men then had a battle of egos, publicly calling each other names. It is sad. Usually white male Republicans only argue this much in a gated community, HOA meeting over fines for bringing glass containers to the pool.

Donald Trump has extensive experience in ’Nam. He was there in 1989 to set up a sweatshop to make his flowered ties for Macy’s. A lot of good men were lost due to terrible working conditions, but Trump soldiered on. Macy’s recently discontinued carrying Trump’s fashion line, and now men emulating his fashion sense will have to hunt or trap their own hairpieces.

Before the McCain mess, Trump’s life was threatened by drug kingpin “El Chapo,” on the lam from a Mexican prison. This is unprecedented, with most Americans pulling for a Mexican drug lord. He got out of prison by digging a $5 million tunnel or, as Democrats call it, a “Pathway to Citizenship.”

Like Bernie Sanders, Trump remains a disruptive sideshow in the campaign run-up. What both candidates have tapped into is the resentment of American voters, who seem to be willing to give them both some leeway to disrupt the political elite. And, Trump has addressed the tough issues that politicians like to dodge.

The Donald’s problem is that he has his own businesses and is surrounded by sycophants telling him all day long that everything he does is great: “Yes, Mr. Trump, your hair looks great that way. I have never seen a more natural hue of orange hair since Pete Rose rocked that color in the 80s.”

When he leaves the gold-plated cocoon of Trump Tower, the reality of the political world besieges him. It’s a world where words have consequences and the leftist media is lying in wait to interpret any nutty thing he says as indicative of the Republican Party as a whole. Trump’s thoughts, of course, are not.

He is becoming the Todd Akin of this election. Democrats like to scour 315 million Americans to find one Republican with odd views. Then they amplify those beliefs as if they are the views of the entire GOP. This well-worn path of the “drive-by” media serves the Democrats well. Trump is their “useful idiot.” Keep in mind, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said the same thing Trump did about Sen. McCain.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – End closed-door spending spree with state budget

Gov. Rick Scott shocked and outraged many state lawmakers last month when he vetoed $461 million in programs and projects from the budget they passed. But he also did them a favor.

As Scott drew attention — including from us — to the spending he nixed for such worthy causes as charitable health clinics and education for kids with disabilities, he diverted the spotlight from a seriously flawed closed-door process lawmakers followed in crafting the budget.

Even so, the uproar over Scott’s vetoes doesn’t rid lawmakers of their responsibility to follow a more open and honest process for future budgets. They owe it to taxpayers. It’s our money.

In its annual critique of the budget, the business-backed think tank Florida TaxWatch faulted lawmakers for a lack of transparency in their conference committee meetings, when the two chambers reconcile their competing versions of the budget. Most of these meetings this year were brief, with “little or no debate” on spending decisions, according to TaxWatch’s 2015 “Turkey Report.”

Some items, not included in either chamber’s budget, materialized like magic at the last minute and were adopted without any discussion during conference meetings. Members of the public who attended often weren’t even provided with documents. Yet hundreds of millions of dollars in spending was formally approved in these dog-and-pony shows.

Afterward, two “supplemental funding lists” of projects from each chamber, with a price tag topping $300 million, were presented and adopted without debate by the chamber’s budget chairmen. While some of the items had at least been publicly discussed before, others came out of nowhere.

The House’s budget chief, Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, responded to criticism about lawmakers’ approach by calling it “one of the best I’ve seen in 30 years around this process.”

It’s hard to believe they could have been so bad for so long.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Mangum, trustees must end FAMU dysfunction

If you were a bright young student coming out of high school with numerous colleges to choose from, or an esteemed educator sought after by some of the nation’s top universities, or skilled administrator looking to add a different kind of campus to your professional resume, would you apply at Florida A&M University?

That’s the crux of the continuing contretemps between Dr. Elmira Mangum and the FAMU Board of Trustees. The chronic dysfunction that tarnished FAMU’s “excellence with caring” escutcheon long before she came from Cornell continues to handicap a university that has a vital mission in Florida’s higher education system and a special place in the hearts of its graduates, students and community supporters.

Since Dr. Frederick S. Humphries left in 2001, FAMU has had six presidents — three permanent, three “interim.” By comparison, Florida State has had six, all of them permanent, in 39 years.

FAMU has endured a barrage of financial discrepancies, accreditation probation, declining enrollment and even crime. The low point was the 2011 fatal beating of drum major Robert Champion in a band initiation ritual, which led to a year-long suspension of the famous Marching 100 and ultimately the ouster of then president James Ammons.

The 128-year history of Florida’s only historically black state campus is freighted with the state’s legacy of segregation and neglect. From the closing of FAMU’s law school and opening of a new one at FSU in the late 1960s, to last year’s attempt at splitting the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, many Rattlers are highly sensitive to slights — real or implied. Their protective pride is often mixed with a defensiveness about airing the university’s internal problems in public.

The Tampa Tribune — Use BP funds on land preservation

Hillsborough County commissioners should use the county’s BP settlement money to bolster its underfunded land conservation program and otherwise enhance the county’s environment.

As Commissioner Stacy White says, the money should be used for “the county’s long-standing dedication to conservation and environmental priorities.”

It’s encouraging that, so far, most commissioners seem to agree and don’t appear to be looking at the settlement as a windfall for pet projects.

The county was awarded $28.5 million from BP, compensation for the damages caused by its 2010 oil spill. A blowout on an oil rig off the Louisiana coast killed 11 workers and spewed nearly 5 million barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico over 84 days.

Although the oil did not end up in Hillsborough waters, publicity about the spill caused tourists to avoid coastal communities, and Hillsborough officials could demonstrate its economy had been harmed.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner deserves credit for pushing the county to seek damages, understanding that declines in tourism could be directly linked to the spill. He also understood that law firms seeking claims work on a contingency basis, so there would be no cost to the county.

After legal fees are paid, the county will receive an estimated $22.8 million, which could be a lifeline for the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program, which has saved more than 61,500 wilderness acres in Hillsborough.

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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