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 — St. Petersburg should wait on spending most BP money

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has imaginative plans to spend BP settlement dollars to fight environmental calamity and enhance the city’s quality of life. But the City Council has wisely applied the brakes until it explores the more mundane task of making sure a leaky sewage treatment system does not overflow during heavy rainstorms like it did this summer. August’s dumping of raw sewage underscores the wisdom of delaying spending too many BP dollars until a study in January sheds more light on the benefits of sewer repairs and how to best finance them.

The recent global settlement of claims from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster has city and county officials all over Florida rethinking their budgets because of an unexpected influx of cash. Many think these one-time dollars should flow directly to environment-related programs, such as expanding Hillsborough County’s land acquisition and protection program. Others advocate splashy “legacy” projects, like Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s plan to augment Tampa’s green space by remaking Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. Pasco County officials may finance recurring infrastructure needs, such as fixing crumbling roads and stormwater pipes weakened in August’s flooding.

In St. Petersburg, Kriseman’s suggestions for the city’s $6.5 million BP allotment include forward-thinking projects like making city buildings more energy efficient and developing a “resiliency” plan to prepare for sea level rise and extreme weather events. Proposals to replace an aging marine research vessel — the City Council voted last week to contribute $250,000 in BP money to the $6 million cost of a new ship — and experiment with running a ferry between Tampa and St. Petersburg also have environmentally connected merit. Other parts of Kriseman’s plan bear closer scrutiny, like setting aside $1 million for a bike share program. Though environmentally friendly, that allocation still has kinks to work out. His proposed $1 million contribution to seed a citywide arts endowment has no underlying environmental connection and is better left to compete with other worthy causes during annual budget discussions.

The Bradenton Herald — Palmetto’s impressive streak of civic improvements continues

Palmetto continues to impress with civic improvements. Fresh on the heels of a makeover of the Riverside Park boat ramp and docks after Sutton Park upgrades and completion of the Fifth Street project, the Palmetto Community Redevelopment Agency has big plans brewing for the next five years.

Those include additional redevelopment of Sutton Park, a multimodal trail system and continuing work on the Main Street Complete Street Project.

On a smaller scale, an intriguing and innovative idea for a combination seawall and living shoreline is moving forward. The ground-breaking plan would literally give new life to the seawall, described as “near failure” and “scary.”

Before the city can proceed with the trail system, the seawall east and west of the Green Bridge must be repaired, which the city is expediting.

Since traditional seawalls increase coastal erosion by thwarting the natural tidal process, Palmetto plans to establish a living shoreline that both promotes marine habitat and yields aesthetics.

Once a new seawall is in place, reef balls would be constructed to appear like coral structures to allow for the growth of marine vegetation and attract marine life. Half of the structure would jut out of the water to serve as a home for other plant life, though an artist will paint the dry half to match the surrounding environment.

Reef Ball Foundation Chair Todd Barber, tapped for the project, said: “Palmetto is going to be the lead in this technology that we hope to see spread across the entire Gulf Coast.”

What a terrific project and a plum for Palmetto, a city that keeps progressing.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — A hail of ethics complaint in Flagler

Florida should set a high bar for accountability among public officials. That hasn’t always been the case. In recent years, the state has devoted increased attention to ethics, both in elections and public office. And the Legislature is set to consider even tougher ethics rules in the coming session.

That’s entirely appropriate. Voters have a right to expect a lot from the people they trust with the ability to write laws and spend tax money.

But the same rules that create accountability can become a weapon when wielded by people with an agenda against certain officials, or a general sense of discontent against a governmental entity. There’s a point where watchdogs become attack dogs, and the law should provide a safety valve for that situation as well.

In court filings this week, Flagler County officials say things have reached that point. They are asking the state Ethics Commission to charge two residents — John Ruffalo and Dennis McDonald — with attorney’s fees and other costs stemming from two recently dismissed ethics complaints, saying the petitions were filed with “malicious intent” and contained “one or more false allegations.”

There are more than just two complaints involved. Including complaints to the Ethics Commission, the Florida Elections Commission, the Florida Bar, State Attorney R.J. Larizza and one lawsuit, there have been 22 cases brought against Flagler County officials in the past two years. The complaints have come from members of the Flagler County Ronald Reagan Republicans and former Supervisor of Elections Kimberle Weeks.

Of those, three drew blood. Flagler County commissioners Nate McLaughlin and Frank Meeker paid $250 each in an elections commission complaint about an ad that featured them both. Commissioner Barbara Revels settled a more serious charge in January, stemming from two votes to purchase a former hospital for use as a sheriff’s operations center. She admitted she should have filed a conflict of interest disclosing a financial agreement with the owner of the property and paid a $2,500 fine. The most serious charge was dismissed.

The Florida Times-Union — Vitti, School Board need to work out differences

Nikolai Vitti just passed his third anniversary as superintendent of the Duval County Public Schools.

That means Vitti is in the danger zone — despite the fact that his contract was recently extended.

The average urban school superintendent lasts 3.2 years, according to a survey by the Council of Great City Schools.

But a survey is not needed to see the warning signs for Vitti and his relationship with some of his seven bosses on the Duval County School Board.

LETTER WASN’T THE FIRST SIGN

A certified letter signed by three School Board members chastised Vitti’s behavior, citing his “persistent lack of respect when addressing board members.”

The letter was drafted by Board Member Connie Hall, a former school principal, and signed by Board Members Becki Couch and Paula Wright.

The letter was drafted after Hall walked out of an Oct. 13 meeting. As the Times-Union reported, Vitti had talked over some board members. A tendency to interrupt can appear disrespectful.

Later, five members of the board met with city General Counsel Jason Gabriel regarding the matter.

Florida Today – Gas tax? Sales tax? Or make do?

Brevard leaders have given themselves until Feb. 1 to figure out how to pay to repave thousands of miles of aging county roads.

You and I have until then, too, to let them know at public workshops what we think of proposals for a six-cents-per-gallon gas-tax hike (approved by commissioners), a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase (approved by voters) – or something else.

To help start the conversation, I questioned County Commission Chairman Jim Barfield of Merritt Island, who forced the decision by proposing a gas tax.

Question: One year into your first term, and you’ve proposed a gas tax increase to pay for road maintenance. Explain.

Barfield: Over the year, I wanted to make sure I understood the budget and its development process to make sure there wasn’t money elsewhere that we could use for roads. Not just one-time money, but a sustaining revenue source. There was a report by a blue-ribbon committee that laid out options.

First was to maintain the current $14 million from the general fund. Second was a gas tax. Next was reinstating impact fees. And after that was a half-cent sales tax. I just want to address it.

I haven’t found the money that we could put into roads without cutting services. We could cut libraries or parks, but I don’t think that’s what our community wants. I think our community wants sustainable, reliable roads. But they also want quality of life.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers And Jeers

Football concussions attract most of the attention, but there’s another sport that causes young people to suffer injuries that stay with them for life.

While college football rivalry games are happening this week, another annual sporting event is being held at an Alachua motocross park. As in previous years, a troubling number of young participants are being hospitalized with serious injuries.

Jeer: Gatorback Cycle Park, for the latest string of crashes that sent children to the hospital.

Six people were hospitalized Monday from injuries suffered at Gatorback, which is holding its 2015 Thor Winter Olympics motocross competition this week. They include a 11-year-old boy who injured his back, a 14-year-old boy with a broken collarbone and a 14-year-old with rib and back pain.

This isn’t the first time significant injuries have happened at Gatorback. Past incidents include a 16-year-old boy killed in an ATV race and 6-year-old boy run over during a motorcycle race in 2006. Four years ago, a 16-year-old boy died after suffering a severed spine and head injuries in a crash during the same event being held this week.

UF Health Shands doctors reported treating 26 patients between ages 8 and 25 during the 2012 event. At least seven children had to undergo major orthopedic surgeries and five suffered injuries that put them at risk for a lifelong disability, those doctors reported.

Parents need to better appreciate the dangerous situations they’re putting their children into when they let them race motorized vehicles. Some sports just aren’t worth the risk.

The Lakeland Ledger — Hunting 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 That could be allowed in each of the state’s 161 parks, the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman reported. 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 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, wants the parks to pay 100 percent.

Public parks, at the state or county level, weren’t intended to be money­making or break­even 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 Miami Herald — Paying tribute, paying it forward

Different holiday, same sense of gratitude. On Labor Day, the Editorial Board paid tribute to individuals and organizations with whom Board members had met during the year and who are working tirelessly to make this community a better place to live. There are so many do-gooders that Thanksgiving Day is the perfect time to continue the kudos.

They are working with passion and commitment on behalf of us all. We thank them.

Seed School

SEED is a college-prep boarding school. But its students aren’t the predictable, privileged crowd. Located on the campus of Florida Memorial University, the school has created a haven of books, learning and a family-like environment for smart, focused young people living in untenable circumstances and, perhaps, slipping through the cracks of the school system. They come from homes mired in poverty; a relative might be in prison or they might not live with a biological parent; perhaps, they’re on public assistance.

SEED sees them through from sixth grade to graduation, and provides more than classroom learning. Parents are invited to sit in on classes, attend workshops and interact with their child on a more-engaged level.

Here’s just a small sample of the good SEED is doing: Students sometimes enter three years below grade level academically. Within one year, they have caught up. Commend SEED for providing fertile ground in which these young minds can grow.

The Orlando Sentinel — Fla. deserves better effort from Rubio: Where We Stand

For a moment, it looked as though U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio had refocused on his day job, even as he runs full tilt for the presidency.

Perhaps you recall that during the Oct. 29 GOP debate, Rubio was asked about having the worst attendance record in the U.S. Senate, having missed 34 percent of the votes this year. The moderator even quoted a South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial, which argued Florida’s senator was ripping us off and that he should resign to run and let the governor appoint someone else who can do the job full-time. That criticism was echoed by Rubio’s erstwhile mentor, now rival for the Republican presidential nomination, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

In the week after the debate, Rubio had a near-perfect attendance record. To make it happen, he canceled two out-of-town fundraising events so as not to miss a single vote. It appeared as though he’d gotten the message that voters expect politicians to do their jobs, even when they’re running for a different job.

Then, Paris happened. And when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went behind closed doors this week for a briefing entitled, “The Aftermath of Paris: America’s Role,” the Tampa Bay Times reported that Rubio was not there. “The Florida Republican is on his way to California for fundraising.”

Failing to attend committee meetings and intelligence briefings is just as concerning as missing floor votes. This is particularly true on matters of foreign policy, an area in which Rubio holds himself out as an expert. It is insufficient for him to expect his staff to relay the nuance of information presented.

Besides, an essential part of doing your job is showing up.

The Ocala StarBanner — Caution with reason on refugees

Americans must balance sympathy, prudence and facts as Syrian refugees seek shelter in the United States. Careful vetting, teamed with more informed public dialogue, can help us move past prejudice and political paralysis.

The plight of these refugees — among millions displaced by Syria’s horrific war — is heart-wrenching. Yet they come from a country that has long been deemed a terrorism sponsor state. This does not signify that the refugees are, or ever will be, terrorists, but it does help explain why many Americans are fearful of opening the door to thousands of Syrians. Critics see the refugees pouring into Europe and link them — with little or no evidence — to this month’s deadly attacks in Paris.

Against that backdrop, two recent U.S. polls showed that at least half the respondents believe that America shouldn’t accept more Syrians. Members of Congress — in both political parties — have picked up on the mood of fear, resisting President Obama’s effort to bring more of the refugees (mostly Muslims) into the country. Opponents passed a bill demanding absolute assurance of safety before admitting the refugees — an impossibly high standard.

Meanwhile, in many states, governors — including Florida’s Rick Scott — want the resettlements stopped until “extensive evaluation of the risk” is completed. Indeed, some governors have just said no, with or without a security evaluation.

While it’s fair to demand security scrutiny, a blanket refusal to even consider admitting Syrian refugees sends a message of intolerance. Acceptance or rejection should be based on sound reasoning and facts, not fear or prejudice.

The Pensacola News-Journal In thanks for our 2015 turkeys

Let’s talk turkey. We’re all probably hungover from the bird and the tryptophan-induced trip of Thanksgiving. But the best cure might be a feather from the bird that bit ya. So let’s give thanks to government and all the silly birds it produces. Here in good, old God-blessed America, every year is the year of the turkey.

Here’s to our presidential turkeys. As the terror-torn world lifts its weary eyes to America, our headless head of state appears clueless about how to undo the murderous, Islamic wildfire that his Turkey-in-Chief predecessor enflamed when he decided to play with the matches of Middle Eastern warfare. So much for leading the free world. Maybe the Russians or Chinese can figure it out. Thanks Bush and Obama!

And let us give thanks, too, for the grand dame of the Animal Farm, the mighty Turkey Hillary. She kept the Clinton tradition alive this year by essentially proclaiming that she “did not have textual relations” with her own email accounts. Nice, Hillary. Bill is surely proud.

Gobbling their way to 2016, the GOP flock has produced some delightful specimens. King of them all, of course, is the Trump Turkey. Muslims, Mexicans, truth, logic, tasteful hairstyling — all of them will be banished from the barnyard once the Trump Turkey is in charge.

Of course, Turkey Jeb (that great, white, heritage breed) has failed to pluck much plumage from his rival Trump. Turkey Jeb has been too busy strutting and squawking about testing foreign foul for appropriate religious beliefs. Because, you know, religious mandates were what America was founded on.

The Palm Beach Post — Spending on medical research an investment in us all

To retain U.S. leadership in biomedical advances that cure devastating diseases — and lead to healthier, safer lives for all Americans — we must invest more in research. Federal funding supports a wide range of important research in Florida. In 2015, the state received nearly $750 million in research grants from federal agencies, including $521 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

While Florida is garnering an ever-increasing share of these dollars, the pool of money the nation currently invests in biomedical research is shrinking. Adjusted for inflation, the NIH budget has declined by more than 25 percent in the past decade. The huge decrease has slowed the pace of discoveries that will allow people to enjoy healthier lives.

The United States was once the world leader in funding biomedical research. But today, other nations are investing far more. In fact, many of our top scientists are being recruited by nations that are making biomedical research a priority. We are allowing other countries to surpass us within the next 10 years.

This decline in funding comes at a time when the U.S. faces its largest-ever population of individuals over 65 years. More than 75 percent of Americans will have at least two chronic diseases, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer, as they age. Unless we find ways to prevent or cure these diseases, health care costs will bankrupt our country.

The Panama City News-Herald — How to be thankful when happiness is not a choice

I spend a lot of time wishing people “peace,” as you may have noticed if you’ve been reading this column for very long. That’s at least in part because I’m seeking that state of being as well.

And yet, this past weekend I had the experience of seeing one of those cute hand-painted signs with words to live by and having a decidedly un-peaceful reaction. The sign, perched on a high shelf at a shop in the beaches area, said, “Happiness Is A Choice.”

For a hot second, I wanted to drop-kick that sign across the shop. I wanted to find the person who painted that sign, punch him or her in the nose, and ask them if they were still happy. How was that “choice” thing working for them?

In my defense, it was the end of a bad weekend.

I don’t condone violence. I don’t want anyone to be unhappy. I long for a world where peace and kindness are the norm, rather than a goal.

Driving to work on Monday, I passed people jogging on the roadside in their color-coordinated clothes and headbands with iPods strapped to their biceps. I also passed a homeless woman wearing layers of clothes a uniform shade of dirt who was crossing U.S. 98 through rush hour traffic. Nothing about either situation seemed obviously happy or unhappy.

But — and forgive me for stereotyping — it occurred to me that a person who can go out jogging on a Monday morning has enough leisure time and disposable income to “choose” happiness. The homeless woman would probably be happy with a warm breakfast or hot coffee, but her “choices” were far more limited.

Can a person be poor, yet happy? Of course. Sick, yet happy? Sure. Alone, yet happy? Why not. Similarly, a rich person can be unhappy, as can one who has never been ill in his whole life, or one who is surrounded by friends and loved ones.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Jeb on war, holiday lights fight and state budget blues: The Splash

Dear South Florida,

Thanksgiving is behind us. Time to get ready for the rest of the holidays. Could someone slow down the clock?

Mad Bush. Donald Trump’s talk of getting tough on Muslims in America has Florida’s former governor buzzing with anger. Jeb Bush knows a heck of a lot more about world affairs and the war on terror than Trump, and Bush is picking up media time pointing it out. Still, Trump is winning the war of the polls.

Loved Lauderhill letter writer Linda Ribner’s take on Trump. She fears “electing a political neophyte with zero foreign policy experience whose entire campaign is based solely on sloganeering, chest thumping and a policy of nationalistic bombastic nonsense.” Why, what can go wrong, Linda?

Trump is earning a lot of news headlines for calling for Muslims in America to carry IDs, creating an illegal immigrant deportation police agency and for saying a black protester deserved to be roughed up for interrupting a Trump rally. More and more Trump is sounding like Hitler.

More war, more guns: Don’t think the Islamic State isn’t having an effect on Floridians. Dani Secreto of Boynton Beach says the “Second Amendment allows all Americans to arm themselves, and for the first time in my life I truly believe we need to.” Hear you Dani, but studies show more guns means more fatalities and injuries at home. Tough call.

Terror children: These times are tough on parents who must explain the war on terror and how some people say they want to destroy America in the name of God. As if the birds-and-bees talk wasn’t hard enough.

The Tallahassee Democrat – On Tuesday, help the Big Bend give back

You’ve heard of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but what about #GivingTuesday?

The Big Bend will join the international #GivingTuesday movement, now in its fourth year, to spark a day of focused support to nonprofits on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Started in New York City in 2012, #GivingTuesday encourages individuals, companies and organizations to give to their favorite charities and to share their giving stories on social media.

In the Tallahassee region, 280 nonprofits are coming together under the #BigBendGivesBack campaign.

This year’s #GivingTuesday will fall on Dec. 1, serving as a day to remember those in need and the organizations who work year round to assist them. If the campaign takes off as it has in other locations, it could be a big boon to local nonprofits.

#GivingTuesday has been adopted in several U.S. cities including Baltimore, Philadelphia and Charlotte with successful results. Baltimore, for example, surpassed its 2013 goal of raising $5 million for the city’s charitable organizations.

If there were ever a city made to run with the concept of #GivingTuesday, it’s Tallahassee, where residents have a long history of volunteering and charitable giving.

“The human service nonprofits in Tallahassee are so essential to the fabric of our community, and philanthropy is so important to our nonprofits,” said Ellen Piekalkiewicz, executive director of United Partners for Human Services.

Piekalkiewicz said that roughly 16 percent of the nonprofits’ revenue comes from private donations, and donated services from volunteers equate to about $14 million in resources.

The Tampa Tribune — A tax cut, not a handout, for families

It was curious to see Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul at the last Republican presidential debate chastise Marco Rubio for his proposal to increase the child tax credit.

Paul dismissed the Florida senator’s plan as a trillion-dollar “welfare transfer plan.”

It is nothing of the sort. The Child Tax Credit provides a way to provide modest help to working families, the reason President George W. Bush increased the credit from $500 to $1,000.

Rubio now proposes to create a $2,500 per-child tax credit.

The credit would be only partially refundable — up to the amount an individual’s credit exceeded their income tax plus payroll taxes, hardly an unfettered handout.

Indeed, it is not a handout at all. It’s a tax cut, one that helps families meet their children’s needs.

It would, as any tax cut, divert money from the federal coffers, but that doesn’t make it a liberal welfare scheme.

The measure encourages work, because if you are not working and not paying payroll taxes, you can’t benefit from the plan — the reason progressives don’t like it.

The credit empowers families to decide how to use their money.

Moreover, the increased spending that will result from the tax cut will generate more economic activity.

So the estimates that it will cost more than $1 trillion over 10 years are likely faulty.

A similar approach is taken with the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides low-income workers a tax credit that increases as their income grows up to a certain level. It provides a powerful incentive for recipients to remain at work and increase their earnings.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush rightly favors doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit.

 

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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