A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Keep tourism promotion in the public eye
When a successful leader is wooed away, it can be tempting to push for radical change. But the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council made the right call this month when it rejected the idea of converting the county’s public tourism agency into a private-public partnership. There are lessons to be learned from the departure of the agency’s executive director, but making how the county spends bed tax money less transparent is not one of them.
D.T. Minich had an impressive seven-year run as the executive director of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, leaving the county this month in the middle of a fourth year of record tourism in the county. He is now executive director of Experience Kissimmee, Osceola County’s tourism agency that is converting from a public agency into a public-private hybrid. He’s expected to earn at least $38,000 more than the $164,000 he earned in Pinellas, and he will be able to shield specifics about the group’s activities from public view, just as other public-private partnerships do in Florida, including Visit Tampa Bay in Hillsborough County and the state’s economic development agency, Enterprise Florida.
Walter Krages of Tampa’s Research Data Services told the Pinellas tourism council he felt private-public agencies could be more nimble. But council members also understood the downside in a county where small businesses play such a large role in tourism: Private-public agencies can be opaque, raising serious questions about just who is benefitting from the bed tax dollars all hoteliers are required to collect.
The Bradenton Herald — FDOT, we’ve heard this Cortez Bridge song many times
This is déjà vu all over again — and again and again.
The Florida Department of Transportation keeps returning to gauge public sentiment over the future of the Cortez Bridge. At Thursday evening’s public open house, FDOT answered questions from residents.
Are there any new questions about this? Maybe about details, but the agency’s options are always the same. Those alternatives have received public scrutiny numerous times.
One must wonder if FDOT is waging a war of attrition to wear down or outlast stout opposition to the construction of a high-level fixed bridge. Other options for replacement are both drawbridges, one low, one mid-level.
Repairs and rehabilitation to the 1950s-era span are also on the table.
The aging structure is currently in the midst of a $4 million repair job that will only extend its life for another decade once complete in 2015.
Longtime residents remember that the agency proposed replacing the current drawbridge with a 65-foot-high, fixed span in the late 1980s. FDOT backed down but kept the idea afloat.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Halifax Health moves forward from lawsuit
Having finally settled a five-year-long whistleblower lawsuit that cost it $120 million in fines and legal fees, it’s understandable that Halifax Health would want to put the episode in its rear-view mirror and focus on what lies ahead.
Successfully navigating the future, though, requires learning from the experience of the past and avoiding decisions that led to the huge settlement. The hospital cannot afford any more costly detours.
Nor can it have the government giving it confusing directions.
Hospitals swim in a vast sea of regulations. They have a difficult but mandatory responsibility to comply with those rules. That includes separating the common fish from the barracudas that can take a chunk out of the hospital’s hide.
Halifax Health failed in that regard when, in 2008, Elin Baklid-Kunz, an employee in the hospital’s compliance office, notified management that employment contracts violated the federal Stark Law, which regulates physician services for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Her concerns were justified according to a legal analysis done by Halifax Health’s associate general counsel.
Despite its own employees warning of the problem, Halifax Health’s legal counsel sought the opinion of an outside counsel, who concluded that the arrangements could be defended in court but gave no assurances that a judge or jury would agree that the agreements were legal. The hospital chose to go with the outside opinion.
The Florida Times-Union — Christians are being persecuted worldwide
Father Frans van der Lugt had spent 50 years in Syria.
The priest was a pacifist trying to build coalitions in a country being ripped apart by religious extremism, according to The Wall Street Journal.
In the last year, 1,213 Christians were murdered in Syria, reported Tom Wilson in Commentary Magazine.
Other estimates are much higher.
Recently, church bells fell silent in Mosul, Iraq where extremists have enforced an intolerant version of Islam.
This senseless persecution is part of a worldwide trend. Christian minorities have been attacked in Libya, Sudan, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan, reported the Regional Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo.
This may come as a shock to Americans, but Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote in The New York Times, “Christians are dying because of their beliefs, because they are defenseless and because the world is indifferent to their suffering.”
Christianity is the dominant religion in the United States. Yet American Christians only represent 10 percent of the world’s followers of Christ.
In 2012, almost two-thirds of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians lived outside of the West. That share will grow to three-quarters by 2050.
The Gainesville Sun – A winning formula
As the late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis used to say, “Just win, baby.”
For all the bells and whistles added to Gator football games to attract fans, winning is the best formula to fill empty seats.
That’s not to say that some of the changes made this season won’t help.
Tonight’s kickoff time of 7 p.m. is one of the most welcome improvements. Last season, a 12:21 p.m. kickoff was downright dangerous for an August opener in the Florida heat.
Fans struggling to use their phones in The Swamp should also cheer for the 36 new cellular antennas in the stadium. Fireworks, putting other games on video boards before kickoff, and improved stats and replays on those boards are ways to make the live experience better than watching on TV.
The Southeastern Conference’s new policy on sound is a bit of a concern. It now allows for recorded music to be played until the center is standing over the ball. And here we thought that the soundtrack to a college football game was the band.
Perhaps the change was meant to appeal to younger fans. Open seats in the student section were particularly noticeable last season, and this season students tickets didn’t sell out for the first time in decades. UF athletic director Jeremy Foley even sent a letter to students encouraging them to enter the ticket lottery.
The Lakeland Ledger — Pedestrian, Cycling Safety: Studies Put Polk on the Right Path
How do you walk down the road: Do you face traffic or walk with it? Many people don’t know that when walking, you should face traffic. When riding a bicycle, you ride with traffic.
There’s a good reason for the differing rules. When walking facing traffic in areas where there are no sidewalks, you have a chance of seeing approaching traffic and moving out of the way should you fear danger. When riding a bicycle, you ride with traffic so cars can maneuver around you much more easily, without backing up.
Polk County is commissioning a study to learn more about the habits of residents in the hopes of finding out how it can shed the distinction of having more pedestrian deaths than 58 counties in the state (107 in a seven-year span) and more injuries than 57 counties (978 in that same time frame from 2006 to 2013).
Bicyclists didn’t fare much better: 25 people were killed and 648 were injured during that time. Two deaths prompted safety improvements.
The Miami Herald — Nasty and expensive
Welcome to the fight. With primary opponents disposed of, the stage is now set for what some are anticipating will be Florida’s most expensive — and nastiest — gubernatorial race ever.
The race is so close, only one or two percentage points separated the candidates as of last week.
One Miami-Dade pollster, not involved in the race, told the Editorial Board: “It will be close and nasty. And a virtual race … to the bottom. Each candidate will be trying to prove to voters that he’s not as bad as the other guy,” said Fernand Amandi of Bendixen & Amandi International. The gloves will come off, but Floridians will be the innocent bystanders who get pummeled, unfortunately.
In the primary, Mr. Crist, a former Republican — and former governor, state attorney general, education commissioner and state senator from St. Petersburg — easily defeated Nan Rich by a margin of 74 to 26 percentage points. But can Mr. Crist excite the Democratic Party? Although Democrats edge Republicans by 486,000 in the state, their apathy would prove fatal in November.
True, the state’s Republican base is shrinking and growing whiter. There’s one advantage, though, to that lack of diversity during a mid-term election: They vote far more often and in bigger proportions than minorities. Mr. Scott won the primary easily with 87 percent of the vote over two unknown opponents.
The Orlando Sentinel — ‘Hands off my Medicare’ won’t close shortfall
When Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican nominee for vice president, toured Florida recently to promote his new book, he wasn’t just greeted by fans. Protesters summoned by the Democratic Party and allied groups showed up to accuse the House budget chief of planning to dismantle Medicare, the federal health program for seniors.
“Hands off my Medicare,” read a typical sign carried by a protester in Pensacola.
Ruling out changes to Medicare scores cheap political points — especially in Florida, where more than 3.5 million residents get health care through the program. However, standing pat is a recipe for fiscal disaster.
Much of the news coverage of the latest report from Medicare’s trustees, released last month, stressed the program’s improving finances. But the bottom line is that Medicare’s hospital insurance trust fund is projected to go bankrupt in 2030 — just as today’s 49-year-olds become eligible for the program.
Without reform, Medicare is unsustainable. Take it from the program’s trustees, who wrote that “Medicare still faces a substantial financial shortfall that will need to be addressed with further legislation. Such legislation should be enacted sooner rather than later …”
The Ocala StarBanner — Endangered manatees
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether manatees should be officially classified as “endangered” or “threatened.”
Before examining the merits of a petition seeking to change the classification, let’s recognize one vital fact: Manatees can be seen swimming near the shores of our region, but they are not doing swimmingly as a species.
The petitioners — supported by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which “litigates for limited government, property rights and a balanced approach to environmental regulation” — want manatees’ federal status changed from endangered to threatened.
According to federal law, endangered status means the species is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” Threatened is defined as “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
In other words, if the classification of manatees is changed, the creatures would be considered likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Conservatives should not support death penalty
Today, support for the death penalty is at a 40-year low and distrust for the government is near an all-time high.
Many conservatives, including Oliver North, Ron Paul, Michael Steele, Jay Sekulow, and myself, find the death penalty to be a violation of the deepest-rooted conservative principles – protecting innocent life, fiscal responsibility, and limited government. In a time when conservatives across the nation are reconsidering their support for capital punishment, Florida lawmakers are moving in the wrong direction.
Florida’s broken death penalty system is just as flawed, if not more, than the other 31 states, that still have capital punishment on their books. Nationally, more than 140 individuals have been wrongly convicted, sentenced to die, and later released. Florida has more wrongful capital convictions than any other state, which is a disturbing distinction.
The cost of the death penalty is repugnant. It costs millions more dollars to execute someone than to sentence someone to life-without-parole. It has been estimated that Florida could save more than $50 million a year by replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole. This is a taxpayer-funded program with a terrible return on investment. The death penalty, as many studies have shown, doesn’t reduce murder rates, and the long, drawn-out system retraumatizes murder victims’ friends and family members.
The Palm Beach Post — Opting out of state tests a great gesture but bad policy
There’s nothing new about the fact that Florida’s standardized tests are unpopular with educators and parents. But other than complaining about Tallahassee’s mandates or hoping for some big changes in state law, there didn’t seem to be much to be done about it.
But now “opt out” fever is spreading. Lee County on Wednesday became the first school district in Florida to refuse to impose statewide exams, including end-of-course exams and next year’s replacement for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. A handful of other counties are contemplating doing so, too, including Palm Beach County.
The Panama City News-Herald — An opportunity for downtown
The vacancies in two key positions are an opportunity for improvement in downtown Panama City.
This week Dutch Sanger, the director of Panama City’s Downtown Improvement Board, announced he will resign from the DIB this year. Main Street Director Angela Hood resigned last month.
As director, Sanger worked to market downtown, host events, recruit businesses and promote historic preservation.
Sanger had successes and failures as DIB director, like anyone in a high-profile job. As The News Herald’s Ben Kleine noted, under Sanger’s leadership the DIB won numerous awards over a period of years from the Florida Festivals and Events Association and the Florida Main Street Association.
Also, under Sanger’s leadership, The Friday Fest event was a rousing success that brought thousands of people into the downtown area.
However, Sanger was also controversial at times and, at one point, survived a very public battle to have him removed from his job. Sanger recently come under fire again because of the cash management system at Friday Fest and a commission paid to him out of BP money.
The Tallahassee Democrat – TCC’s dream
Tallahassee Community College hasn’t given up on its dream of using nearly 2,000 acres of land within Wakulla Springs State Park as part of its long-range vision for Wakulla County.
But before you grab your torches and pitchforks, it’s worth considering what the springs need, what Wakulla County needs and how TCC can be an important part of both.
First, a brief review of the issue.
In May, TCC’s Wakulla Environmental Institute made a request to lease the land from the Florida Park Service for the next 50 years. TCC, which is active in workforce development, would have used the land to train future park managers.
But there also were plans for a camp site near Cherokee Sink, which is part of the system of sinkholes and caves linked to Wakulla Springs, and the image of RVs lined up on the previously undeveloped land brought opposition from citizens and environmental groups.
In late July, TCC withdrew its request, saying it needed more time to address community concerns — and also fearing that the lease could become an issue in the coming governor’s race.
Through its many programs, TCC has done a lot to boost the economies of area counties, from law enforcement and health care in Gadsden County to aquaculture in Wakulla County. TCC President Jim Murdaugh said last week that he wanted to help make Wakulla County a world-class destination, using education, recreation and conservation in an environmentally responsible way.
The Tampa Tribune — Stop the write-in fraud
The statewide election turnout in the Tuesday primary was a woeful 17.6 percent, with only 2.07 million Floridians casting ballots while 9.7 million registered voters didn’t bother.
One quick way the state could generate more interest in elections is to eliminate the write-in loophole that disenfranchises voters to enhance party politics.
Lawmakers should put an end to the sham, which undermines the intent of a constitutional amendment Floridians adopted in 1998 by a 2-1 margin.
That worthy measure states that if a primary race between candidates of the same party will determine the winner of the office, all registered voters should be able to cast ballots.
The aim was to ensure all voters could participate, regardless of whether a party failed to field a candidate, as frequently occurs in districts dominated by one party.
But the amendment did not address write-ins. They can close a primary and force a general election by simply signing some forms at the local elections office. They do not have to pay a qualifying fee or collect enough signatures to qualify for election.