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

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

Tampa Bay Times — The right way for churches to help schools

Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz should be commended for the work it is doing with the Hillsborough County School District. For years, the church has made a concerted effort to help students at one of Hillsborough’s most troubled schools, and it is extending its reach to assist principals throughout the district. The separation of church and state should be recognized, but as long as churches such as Idlewild recognize the boundary lines, their secular efforts to help public school students should be encouraged.

The Tampa Bay Times’ Marlene Sokol reported this week that Idlewild, one of the bay area’s megachurches, began a relationship with Just Elementary School in 2007. The church and its members have donated time and money to the struggling urban school, engaging in everything from mentoring programs to serving as homeroom parents to raising money for uniforms and planting trees. When superintendent Jeff Eakins took over the district this summer, Idlewild offered to help him achieve his goals of creating a vibrant school culture that includes mentoring, conflict resolution and student leadership. The church invited principals to a Sunday service and gave them T-shirts with Idlewild’s logo, an act that civil libertarians and officials with other religious faiths reasonably argued crossed the line. Separately, Idlewild offered to host monthly principal training workshops featuring district-approved speakers, such as University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, on its sprawling 143-acre campus. Ultimately, the district decided to hold the training at a school, a smart move that respects the boundaries of church and district employees.

Partnerships between school districts and outside organizations are ripe for criticism because organizations or their members might take positions that are at odds with the district’s responsibility to provide an education for children that is free from religious or political influence. But properly managed, those relationships can be fertile ground that benefits both students and volunteers. Under no circumstances should help from any organization come with strings attached that would compel students or district employees to align with a particular belief system or political agenda. That does not appear to be the case in this instance.

The Bradenton Herald — Florida draws the curtain on transparency

Things aren’t as bad as we thought. The Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity gave the state of Florida a D-minus when it comes to government accountability and transparency. We were positive that, in a state where the governor won’t release his tax return, families can’t find out how their loved ones died in prison and we can’t even find out how much we’re paying Pitbull to promote Florida, the state had surely earned an F.

And it looks as if lawmakers are prepared to do even more damage in the upcoming legislative session.

The center took a look at every state, and Florida landed down in the second half of the pack — ranking 30th — when it comes to being up front and clear about what elected officials, administrators and bureaucrats are doing on our behalf.

The center’s report didn’t pull any punches:

Over the past several years, the rich and powerful in Florida have seemed far less accountable to open government laws than the drug-addled and hapless. So while the public is welcome to read about how a spring breaker bit off a hamster’s head, nobody was supposed to learn about how Gov. Rick Scott ousted a top law enforcement official behind closed doors, potentially violating the state’s open meetings law.

When Scott secretly sought to have the Cabinet buy a building near the governor’s mansion, an attorney with an interest in the property sued. Scott capitulated and settled seven lawsuits alleging public-records violations for $700,000 — of taxpayers’ money.

The Legislature, too, has used its authority to draw the curtains on public access, adding one exemption after another to Florida’s once-progressive Sunshine laws. Last session, lawmakers passed a body-camera exemption that closes access to police video shot in a home, a healthcare facility or any place where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”

However, it’s clear by now that cameras both inform the public, shield officers from wrongful-conduct allegations and clarify the answers to difficult questions of what happened, especially if someone ended up dead.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Draining bottle clubs of their mischief

Volusia County’s bottle clubs have run dry, and there appears little thirst for them in Flagler County either.

In July, the Volusia County Council amended existing law to prohibit establishments where alcohol is consumed from remaining open past 2 a.m. The move was aimed at so-called “bottle clubs,” where people go after regular bars close to continue drinking. Customers are served drinks from their own liquor bottles, while the club provides the “setups,” such as juices, sodas and ice.

Two of the three clubs in the unincorporated county, Papi’s and Daytona’s Last Call, both on Nova Road, had been the sites of a high number of law enforcement calls for public disturbances. In May, police said a fatal shooting on the Oakridge Boulevard bridge stemmed from an altercation in Papi’s parking lot. That proved to be the last straw, so the county took action to ensure the late-night/early morning parties went elsewhere.

Now, bottle clubs in Volusia are no more. Papi’s has closed and the property is for rent. Daytona’s Last Call is now a gentleman’s club called The Player’s Lounge that is licensed to serve beer and wine. The third establishment, Daytona RSVP, is now Twist, a nightclub geared toward the LGBTQ community (although it still has a bottle club license).

Not surprisingly, things are much quieter now, too. Volusia County Sgt. Jim Turner told The News-Journal’s Katie Kustura that calls for service have decreased since the businesses were banned from operating as bottle clubs.

The Florida Times-Union — U.S. must lead a worldwide coalition to destroy ISIS

While the world mourns the lives lost and injured in the Paris terrorist attacks, it must also act decisively in putting down the ISIS threat.

In order to act efficiently, however, we must get over the immediate emotions and plan a comprehensive and effective strategy to destroy ISIS.

That starts with understanding our enemy.

To quote Sun Tzu, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

GETTING TO KNOW ISIS

So let’s start with a reliable expert on the Middle East, Juan Cole of the University of Michigan. In his blog, Cole describes ISIS as a modern raiding pirate state. We’re probably talking about 25,000 fighters.

It is using its stronghold in Syria and Iraq as a base from which to plunder.

“They don’t actually do much governing of the places they dominate and mainly extract resources from them,” Cole writes.

Florida Today – Corruption bill meets capitol critics       

I had never before been lobbied against.

The first time was stomach-churning.

But I had asked for it. My Gannett news colleagues and I spearheaded a campaign to get an anti-corruption bill introduced in the Legislature — and succeeded.

Now proposed in the House by Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, bill 16-05 came before the Rules & Ethics Committee he chairs for its first official, public vetting Tuesday.

Quick to object were the road contractors. They don’t want to be added to the definition of “public servant” in Florida statutes on bribery. Their lobbyist attacked that part and a column I had written, ultimately raising a reasonable (but fixable) concern.

But even quicker to object were a handful of representatives who seemed much more concerned about the impact on businesses in their districts than about corruption itself or the taxpayers who absorb its costs.

A few were offended by the thought of our bill forcing contractors to open up more of their chapter records to activists who hate business. Where they got that thought is anyone’s guess — the bill text they were given plainly states it doesn’t apply to anything but the statutes on bribery, bid-tampering and official misconduct.

But they left believing it did. And I left knowing that passing this bill — nearly two years in the making — will require more than zesty editorials back home.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

Just days after Paris was devastated by deadly terrorist attacks, French President Francois Hollande declared his country would accept 30,000 Syrian refugees over next two years.

Here in the United States, a country that dwarfs France in size and population, we’re fighting over admitting a third as many refugees. Some of our politicians are trying to score points by demonizing refugees fleeing terrorism as terrorists themselves.

Jeer: U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, for being among House members seeking to block Syrian refugees.

Yoho sponsored a bill that would allow governors to reject federal requests to have Syrian refugees in their states. Florida Gov. Rick Scott is among the governors who have said they would stop welcoming Syrian refugees.

The bill would also require federal officials such as the directors of national intelligence and homeland security to certify that each refugee is not a threat. The House ended up passing another bill Thursday, with Yoho’s support, that would do something similar.

Yoho said that Congress couldn’t block Syrian refugees “too many times,” the Huffington Post reported. He also claimed the program to check refugees is riddled with security risks. In reality, Syrian refugees go through an extensive vetting process that lasts up to two years.

Cheer: The Gainesville City Commission, for “banning the box” on applications for city employment.

Applicants are required to check the box if they have a past arrest, discouraging otherwise qualified individuals from applying. A national campaign urges municipalities and employers to ban the box.

The Lakeland Ledger — Open carry seems too open-ended

A Florida House committee earlier this week moved our state one step closer to allowing people to openly display firearms in public. The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, by its 7-6 vote Wednesday, became the second legislative panel to approve a so-called “open carry” bill, which was authored by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, and is co-sponsored by Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City.

Thus Florida, according to Marion Hammer, the renowned long-time lobbyist for the National Rifle Association in Tallahassee, soon could no longer be among the five states to prohibit the practice.

We respect and support the rights of gun owners to carry their weapons in accordance with existing laws. We believe that is a fundamental right under the Constitution, but also a matter of personal choice for self-defense, or the defense of firearms owners’ families and homes.

That said, though, this bill is troubling. So we urge the Legislature to think long and hard about its implications before sending it on to Gov. Rick Scott. Here are a few points for lawmakers to consider.

The bill would apply to the state’s 1.4 million licensed concealed-weapons permitholders, and future ones. Yet what benefit would they derive from this law that they don’t have now? We suppose the main one is that openly displaying a gun would serve as a warning to potential trouble-makers. But then, it would seem, the gun becomes a tool of intimidation for the innocent. And what signal does open carry send to police?

The Miami Herald —Teens are dying too young in this town

As we’re distracted with the ravages of the Paris bombing, and the threat of more attacks, a sinister type of deadly terrorism is underway in Miami-Dade.

Young people, mainly young black teens, are being killed or wounded at an alarming rate. The hardest hit public school appears to be Miami Northwestern Senior High, where so far this year four students have been killed. Imagine that happening when you were in school?

The latest victims in this rash of violence: a 9th grader. Let me say that again—a 15-year-old, 9th grader. Who could be so angry at a kid that age to kill him in a drive-by shooting? The assailant or assailants, who remain at large, are likely not much older.

When ambushed, Johnny Lubin Jr. was doing what kids do; walking home from school at 3:50 p.m. Wednesday, near the corner of Northwest 77th Street and 14th Avenue. A vehicle pulled up and someone inside took aim.

Police are still searching for a motive for the killing of the popular student, football player and middle school prom king.

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Albert Carvalho recently told the Editorial Board that incidents of violence inside schools have dramatically decreased, but when kids walk into the community after school, their lives are often put in danger by their surroundings.

On Thursday, he visited Miami Northwestern to console stunned students and teachers. At their age, death is not supposed to be so tangible.

“These killings have taken a heavy toll on our student population,” Mr. Carvalho said.

The Orlando Sentinel — Ghosts of racism past haunt campuses

The recent protests by college students across the country are mostly about racial insensitivity and charges of discrimination and mistreatment on campuses today. But there also are complaints about what students see as symbolic vestiges of a racist past. Some of these objections are more valid than others, but even the worthy ones raise difficult questions for institutions that revere tradition but also have obligations to the current generation of students.

On Wednesday, Princeton University announced it would no longer refer to the heads of its residential colleges as “masters,” a term inspired by the ancient universities in England. Dean of the College Jill Dolan said the title “heads of college” better captures “the spirit of their work and their contributions to campus residential life.”

Maybe so, but the name change also was a response to a concern, also voiced at Yale, that the term “master” is racially offensive because it could be associated with slavery. Never mind that the title of master of a college has no more to do with a slave master than it does with a master chef. (It is more similar to master’s degrees, which presumably Princeton will continue to confer.)

Much less frivolous are demands that colleges rename buildings or programs identified with historical figures who supported slavery or segregation. At Yale, some students want the university to find a new name for Calhoun College, named after the 19th century politician John C. Calhoun, a Yale graduate, U.S. senator, vice president — and one of the nation’s fiercest defenders of slavery. At Princeton, a group known as the Black Justice League has called for the name of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the U.S., to be stripped from a residential college and the Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs.

The Ocala StarBanner —The hunt for park revenue

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection stirred up a needless controversy by declaring that all state parks — big or small, with beaches or near residential areas — should be considered for hunting.

Park planners have been ordered to include a “hunting” category on a checklist of what could be allowed in each of the state’s 161 parks, the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman reported this week.

Hunting initially was to be considered in parks of more than 1,000 acres, a former state planner told Pittman. But last month, agency officials directed that hunting be part of the review process for all parks.

Although the DEP says it has no current plans to allow hunting at any parks, the wide-open proposal suggests a bureaucratic arrogance that puts financial interests ahead of public interests and sentiments.

The proposal is part of new DEP Secretary Jon Steverson’s plan to make state parks pay from themselves by allowing activities that were previously banned.

Florida’s park system already pays 77 percent of its expenses through fees, concessions and other charges. Steverson, who has also proposed permitting additional cattle grazing and timber harvesting in state paks, wants the parks to pay 100 percent.

Public parks, at the state or county level, weren’t intended to be money-making or break-even propositions. They were set aside for the public’s enjoyment and to protect and preserve treasured elements of our natural environment. Among those precious features are animals and other wildlife.

For those reasons, hunting and certain commercial activities had been banned at the parks.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Respect RESTORE committees

For more than five years, we’ve endorsed the idea that local residents should have the say over how BP oil-spill money is spent in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. After all, our beaches, our water and our businesses were affected by the spill.

We applauded when both counties appointed committees of people well-versed in finance, the environment and other areas to consider projects and make recommendations. There is an impressive roster of people who have worked years on sifting through the projects. They conducted a number of meetings and did a commendable job of reminding the public about submission deadlines. After looking at the proposals, many of them vital and in the spirit of the RESTORE Act, a consultant for Escambia County rated each as part of the recommendation process. We hoped the work would be rewarded with support from the County Commission.

Now, it appears that at least one commissioner, Escambia’s Doug Underhill, wants to usurp the role of the RESTORE committee and let the commission decide what’s best for us.

“Nobody else but the five of us have the opportunity to determine what our priorities are for this county moving forward,” Underhill said at a committee meeting a week ago. Our reporter, Thomas St. Myer, covered the meeting and wrote that Underhill later scoffed that some of the projects weren’t “on my list.”

This heavy-handed approach from a rookie commissioner — he was elected a year ago — is not in the best interest of the county nor the ongoing recovery from the 2010 spill. It was a concern we’ve had from the beginning that elected officials and bureaucrats would wrest the process from the people to satisfy their agenda, not ours.

We’d prefer the sage advice offered by Commissioner Wilson Robertson who said the consultant’s scoring matters.

The Palm Beach Post —No party affiliation? Change, or your vote won’t matter

The quote “Stop the world; I want to get off” is how I am feeling these days. Many of us have reached a point where we no longer believe our democracy is all about “we the people” but more about “the best government money can buy.”

As a result, many of us no longer believe in the two-party political system but have decided to become “no party affiliation” (NPA) voters.

I note on our Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections’ website that we have 830,031 registered voters. The Democrats total 354,843; the Republicans 230,677; and, most interesting, others: 244,511.

I am an NPAer and would like to remind other NPAers that Florida has a closed primary. So if you want to vote in the very important presidential primary in March, you must register with one of two popular political parties.

You will have to complete a new voter registration form at www.pbcelections.org, or call the elections office.

You must complete our new party change at least 29 days prior to the election in order to be eligible to vote with your new party affiliation.

In the past, a lot of people stayed home and said “Let the party leaders make the decision.” We cannot do this next year, as many of us have lost confidence in those leaders.

The Panama City News-Herald — Islamophobia in GOP race back with a vengeance

What a surprise. In the aftermath of Paris, Republicans have rediscovered one of their favorite illnesses, Islamophobia. Painting with a predictably broad brush, Marco Rubio compares Muslims to Nazis. Donald Trump talks about shuttering mosques. Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush want to ban all Syrian refugees who are Muslim, and admit only those who are Christian.

They’d probably laugh at this plea for tolerance, voiced by the president:

“Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads. And they need to be treated with respect.”

Yeah, that Barack Obama is such a bleeding-heart, and his predictable response to our enemies is weakness. Unfortunately, those aforementioned tolerance remarks were voiced six days after 9/11 by President George W. Bush.

Obama did make similar remarks on Tuesday, saying it’s wrong to cull the ranks of Syrian refugees by practicing religious discrimination. He said that “slamming the door” would betray America’s pluralistic values.

“In America’s ideal of freedom, the public interest depends on private character — on integrity and tolerance toward others. … That edifice of character is built in families, supported by communities with standards, and sustained in our national life by the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Qur’an.”

Oh, wait! That’s not Obama. That was George W. Bush, again — on Jan. 20, 2005.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Heed this lesson about for-profit colleges

Do. Your. Homework.

All students should, of course. But we direct this urgent advice in particular to people who are deciding whether to enroll in a for-profit college. Why is this so important? A U.S. Justice Department announcement provides a real-life lesson.

On Nov. 16, Education Management Corp. agreed to pay $95.5 million to settle allegations that EDMC — the country’s second-largest for-profit college chain — broke the law by paying recruiters based on the number of students they enticed to enroll.

In addition to the Justice Department, EDMC had been sued by dozens of states, including Florida, where the company has seven campuses including facilities in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami. The colleges include the Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University.

The company, which also agreed to provide $100 million in debt relief to some students, did not admit any wrongdoing. About $6.5 million in the debt relief is earmarked for Florida.

But serious problems with the for-profit college industry as a whole were evident from Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s comments that the EDMC settlement was a “historic step forward in our collective and ongoing fight against fraudulent and abusive practices.” Those “practices” include lying to students about job placement.

The federal government has been trying to crack down on a devastatingly harmful scam. The for-profit colleges entice students to enroll and agree to pay tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. “Counselors” walk the students through the steps required to secure federal loans. Students who drop out or graduate and find they still can’t find jobs are stuck with the debt. When they default — ruining their credit ratings — taxpayers are on the hook.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Don’t give up on state charitable giving program

“The habit of giving only enhances the desire to give.”

– Walt Whitman

There are so many great quotations about “giving” and “getting” for a reason – giving is a core value of the human race. And it’s hard. We value what we have – our property, our possessions, our money, our security, our positions. It is human nature to cling to those things.

Someone once said that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. We fear what might happen if we lose what we have. And yet, we know deep down that giving is the key that unlocks the heart.

This reality is what makes the recent story of the mismanagement of Florida state employees’ charitable donations so maddening.

In case you missed it, Democrat reporter Jeff Burlew’s exclusive investigation revealed that the for-profit company – Solix, Inc. – tasked with administering the state employees annual charitable campaign was keeping more than half of what was donated as an administrative fee. While contributions plummeted, Solix’s take dropped only slightly, meaning Solix was taking a higher percentage of contributions.

Even without that revelation, Solix had abandoned the fundraising activities that had led to as much as $5 million being contributed by state workers as recently as nine years ago. Now those donations have dwindled to $566,000. A Florida Senate panel immediately summoned the head of the Department of Management Services for an explanation. He called for the entire idea of a formal state employee charitable campaign to be scrapped.

The Tampa Tribune — Prudent course on refugees

President Obama seems intent on ignoring the public’s fear of terrorism by vowing to veto a House bill passed Thursday that strengthens the vetting process for Syrian refugees.

The bill passed with enough Democratic support to overcome a veto but still must be adopted by the Senate, where the outlook is uncertain.

In any event, Obama’s veto pledge is unfortunate because the House bill addressed the public’s fears about jihadists slipping into our country without simply blocking access to legitimate refugees.

The legislation will delay the flow of the refugees into the United States, but immigration will continue once the security measures are implemented.

Obama accused proponents of bigotry, but House Speaker Paul Ryan, in supporting the bill, was careful to avoid the vitriol and scare tactics.

He stressed, “People understand the plight of those fleeing the Middle East. We are a compassionate nation. We always have been, and we always will be. But we must remember our first priority is to protect the American people.”

Unlike Obama, Ryan and other supporters of the measure understand Americans’ anxiety. The well-orchestrated terrorist attack on Paris showed how even a relatively few crazed individuals can wreak havoc.

Americans know that at least one of those terrorists apparently arrived in France as a Syrian refugee. They also know that the Islamic State barbarians have vowed to strike the United States. So it’s no surprise polls show that Americans strongly oppose Obama’s plans to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country.

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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