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 — Times recommends: Vote yes on Greenlight Pinellas

Pinellas voters have an opportunity to take the first bold step toward creating a regional transportation system for the 21st century. Greenlight Pinellas is a reasonable investment in the future that would provide better transportation options, create jobs and boost redevelopment. Approving the Nov. 4 referendum also would encourage Hillsborough County to keep pursuing its own transit plan, and it would build support for light rail to span the bay. This is a moment for Pinellas voters to lead Tampa Bay, to build on the county’s successes and correct a weakness, to imagine the possibilities a robust public transit system would create for decades to come.

Tampa Bay is the largest metropolitan area without a viable transportation system that includes bus service and some form of rail. Pinellas and the region cannot compete for jobs and younger residents without more ambitious public transit that is reliable, available and affordable. It is an economic issue that affects tourism and employers, and it is a quality of life issue just as much as safe neighborhoods, good schools and vibrant cultural arts. It is Tampa Bay’s missing piece.

Greenlight Pinellas is not drawn on the back of a napkin. The plan to dramatically improve bus service and build a 24-mile light rail line from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Clearwater has been years in the making. There have been hundreds of meetings and vigorous financial reviews. An alternative analysis of transit options has been completed, the light rail route has been set and the costs have been reasonably calculated. None of those tasks were completed four years ago before Hillsborough County voters rejected a similar transit plan.

Much of the debate about Greenlight has been about the viability of light rail. Yet light rail systems in Charlotte, Minneapolis and Phoenix have exceeded their original ridership projections, and nearly all of the nation’s light rail systems are expanding. And Greenlight is not just about light rail. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority would expand bus service by 65 percent, add rapid bus routes and run buses far more frequently. Improved bus service would have a far quicker impact than light rail. When light rail started running in 2024, its operating cost would be less than one-third the cost of operating the entire transit system.

The Bradenton Herald — Poor vetting of candidates for Bradenton Housing Authority’s top job

The Bradenton Housing Authority went the cheap route on hiring a consultant to find qualified candidates for executive director, and the results proved the adage you get what you pay for.

Two of the seven finalists vying to succeed the ousted former executive director, Wenston DeSue, withdrew their applications. Both have been entangled in scandals at public housing agencies.

Bradenton Herald reporter Mark Young’s investigation into the candidates uncovered details about the finalists with simple background checks.

The two should never have become finalists. Due diligence would have disqualified them.

One candidate exited the Pittsburgh Housing Authority in 2013 under a cloud of fiscal mismanagement. He also resigned from Galveston’s housing agency after the board moved to fire him but collected $100,000 in severance pay. Just last week, he quickly resigned from a Toledo, Ohio, economic opportunity planning organization after allegations of inappropriate conduct with a teenage boy.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — A better path to government cooperation

There’s no doubt that Volusia’s patchwork of 16 municipalities, split by a narrowing “palmetto curtain” of unincorporated county, work best when they work together.

But for years, local governments have supported dual, nearly identical organizations promoting intergovernmental harmony. At times, both the Volusia Council of Governments and the League of Cities have provided venues for developing cooperative responses to shared problems. Plans to collapse the two organizations into a new group — re-invigorating the quest for shared solutions while saving $200,000 in annual operating costs — make sense.

The move will essentially dissolve the Volusia Council of Governments. It’s fitting to acknowledge the important role VCOG has played in crafting solutions to some of Volusia County’s most pressing problems: It fostered regional consolidation of emergency services such as dispatch. It provided the jumping-off point for countywide water-use discussions. And several times, it helped Volusia cities speak with one voice on crucial issues such as school funding.

Lately, the organization has kept a much lower profile. Members were routinely briefed on matters of countywide importance, such as the push to draft a regional response to the problems of homelessness, substance abuse and mental health. But over the past few years, VCOG has rarely played a role in building solutions to those problems.

The Florida Times-Union — Reasons to be proud after Dunn trial

Unlike the first trial of Michael Dunn, the worldwide spotlight on Jacksonville was dim during his recent retrial for shooting unarmed teenager Jordan Davis.

In some sense that was unfortunate.

An overwhelmingly white jury determined that Dunn, a white male defendant, did commit first-degree murder by firing multiple shots into a vehicle containing Davis, 17, and three other unarmed black teens during a February 2012 encounter at a Southside gas station.

The decision silenced the cynical skepticism that suggested the jury’s work might be marred by conflicted feelings about race

And it will put Dunn in prison for the rest of his life.

In short, the Dunn retrial verdict offered an eloquent lesson about how foolhardy it is to make rash assumptions about race and justice.

In Dunn’s first trial in February, a jury convicted him on three counts of attempted murder but was hopelessly deadlocked on whether he committed first-degree murder by shooting Davis after the two had a dispute over loud music coming from the teens’ SUV.

Florida Today – The party of ‘no’

You can win midterm elections without a positive agenda. You can’t win presidential elections that way. It is therefore vitally important for Republicans to win the Senate in 2014. Here’s why.

In midterms, it’s all right to be the party of no. The 2010 election, for example, was a referendum on the liberal overreach of the first two Obama years. Result? A Democratic “shellacking,” said President Obama. The massive stimulus, (the failed) cap-and-trade and Obamacare created a major backlash that cost Obama the House and, with it, the rest of his ideological agenda. It’s been blocked ever since.

That’s the power of no. And Republicans should not apologize for it. The role of the opposition is to oppose. With the welfare state having reached the outer limits of its competency and solvency, it is in desperate need of restructuring and reform. With an ideologically ambitious president committed instead to expanding entitlements, regulation and government itself, principle alone would compel the conservative party to say stop.

“Stop” was more than enough in 2010. With the president in decline and his presidency falling apart, it will be enough in 2014. Those complaining Republicans haven’t come up with a national agenda are forgetting we don’t have a parliamentary system. We don’t have an organized hierarchical opposition with a shadow prime minister and shadow Cabinet. We’ve got 500-odd local political entrepreneurs running under the same Republican banner but offering distinctly independent takes on its philosophy.

The 1994 Contract With America is, of course, the exception. But that required unique leadership and circumstances. We do not have that now.

The Gainesville Sun – Take to the streets

Streets are public places with a greater purpose than simply allowing cars to race through at top speeds.

That is one of the ideas behind Open Streets Gainesville, an event Sunday that will close part of University Avenue to motor-vehicle traffic.

The event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the portion of University between West Sixth and East Seventh streets. There will be art, community groups, music and other activities. The concept of using streets for public activities has its origins in a long-standing event in Bogota, Columbia, known as Ciclovia. Each Sunday, the South American city closes more than 70 miles of major roads to cars. Millions come out to bike, party and engage in other activities that promote community.

There have now been more than 100 similar initiatives in North America, according to the Open Streets Project. Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad has brought the event to a number of Florida cities including Gainesville.

For far too long, transportation planners designed streets to allow the maximum number of cars to pass through in the shortest amount of time possible. Little thought was given to how those decisions affected local businesses and the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Lakeland Ledger — Service to The Community: Long Live The Traviss Center

Do you remember the kind and gentle nurse who carefully poked your arm with a needle, ready to take four vials of blood? Or the man who welded the part on your car to keep it from leaking, all so you could drive the old jalopy for a few more years, forgoing a new car payment? What about the twentysomething, right out of school, who massaged your forearms before delicately putting several coats of nail polish on your fingernails?

Chances are those three people earned certificates or degrees from the Maynard A. Traviss Career Center at 3225 Winter Lake Road in Lakeland. The vocational/technical center is celebrating its 50th year of educating students who leave their respective programs and become the cosmetologists, masons, auto mechanics, electricians and more who contribute to the economy of Polk County and beyond.

Some of these students might not have gone on to college, leaving few options. In that respect, Traviss fills a gap, providing career opportunities that open doors.

In a prepared statement, Traviss’ director, Wayne Dickens, said “the center’s secret to such longevity has been focusing on the community’s need for a skilled workforce.”

What began in 1964 in a converted World War II barracks at the Bartow Air Base with 400 students now serves 2,000 students each school year at its Lakeland campus. Changing with the times and technology, the center now offers classes in more than 50 industries that include health sciences, information technology and aviation rather than sewing and television repair.

Some adult students attend classes during the day, while others prefer evenings — whatever fits into their schedules. High school students can also attend Traviss, then complete their program and earn a certificate after graduation.

The Miami Herald — Violence in Liberty City

We’re shrugging off persistent and deadly violence in Liberty City and other working-class and low-income communities as if those innocent victims were falling down dead in a foreign country — “over there.”

They’re not. This is happening a few blocks away from one school or another. It’s happening around the corner from a church and down the street from a mom-and-pop. It’s happening three minutes west of where hipsters play.

One of the latest atrocities occurred last week at a club on Northwest Seventh Avenue in Liberty City. The Spot, as it’s named, sits just north of Miami Dade College’s Entrepreneurial Center. Early Sunday morning, as young people — some ridiculously young to be hanging out at this venue — partied, a gunman or gunmen sprayed the club with perhaps 100 rounds. Fifteen people were injured, one critically. Another is just 11 years old.

And no one’s talking, though one or more victims likely knows the who and the why.

In June, one of the worst mass shootings in the city in decades took place near the Liberty Square public housing project. Two men emerged from an SUV at an apartment complex on Northwest 15 Avenue and 65th Street, fired with automatic weapons into a group of friends, killing two of them and injuring seven others.

And, to Hermana Richardson’s frustration, nobody’s talking.

The Orlando Sentinel — Fla. schools should work in recess

If play is the child’s main business in life, business in Florida elementary schools isn’t going so hot.

Likely an offshoot of the mini-uprisings that recently have sprung up over what critics consider Florida’s addiction to testing, parents around the Sunshine State are pressing the case for the playground.

Last month, parents in Lake County picketed elementary schools and the district office, exhorting motorists to “honk for recess,” hoping the district would free up 30 minutes of free time for students.

Parents in Manatee County also have pleaded for more recess to counter the relentless merry-go-round of testing and test prep. District officials so far have played keep away. Recess, they say, robs precious academic time.

And that’s not a bad thing, if you trust a stack of research as high as a jungle gym that supports the benefits of old-fashioned unstructured play.

Recess is a tradition that has seesawed in popularity as public school districts nationally and throughout Florida have cut or killed it in elementary schools. The reasons are myriad: lawsuits from injuries; the increased threat of encountering strangers, undermanned supervision. And the main killer: a bogus belief that time is better spent on dangling modifiers than dangling from the monkey bars.

The Ocala StarBanner — Breaking down barriers to voting

Floridians have faced their share of obstacles to exercising their right to vote and having that vote counted.

From the 2000 presidential recount to long lines at the polls in 2012, the state has too often been a national punch line when it comes to elections. Reforms such as expanded early voting have been enacted, revoked and put in place again.

Florida must change its reputation by making it easier to cast ballots as well as register to vote. A group representing Florida’s 67 election supervisors last week recommended that the state create an online system of voter registration.

Currently, Florida voters can fill out registration forms online, but they must be printed and mailed or delivered by hand to supervisor of elections offices. The proposal would allow the process to be done entirely online.

Voters would verify their registrations using signatures on file with the motor vehicles department or tax collector.

Twenty states currently offer online registration, according to the elections supervisors. Their report found no downside to the system but a number of benefits such as reduced costs and more accurate voter records.

The report recommends Florida approve the system in the next legislative session but delay its implementation until after the 2016 presidential race to allow kinks to be worked out.

The Pensacola News-Journal — Sales tax is fairest way to pay

Voters in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties are being asked to approve an increase in the sales tax to help pay for important projects in their respective communities.

We support the measures on the ballots and urge voters to approve them. In an area known for its fiscal conservatism, the ballot initiatives should be supported strongly. It’s a pay-as-you-go philosophy to public-works projects that is effective.

In Escambia, the Local Options Sales Tax is up for renewal. It has been in place since March 1992 and was extended in 1997 and again in 2006. County officials say if the tax is renewed, more than half the money will be spent on new highways and drainage throughout the county. That is a wise use of our money as we continue to recover from the April flood.

As we have said for the past five months, it’s time to fix the chronic flooding in the county to prevent the disasters of June 2012 and this April. We understand flooding can’t be stopped when rainfall is measured in feet not inches. However, the potential for widespread damage can be reduced with a better drainage system.

If approved, the sales tax increase will be spent on other worthwhile projects. “The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office will benefit from LOST to the tune of $58.5 million, while investments in fire services and other public safety functions will top $62 million,” the county’s website, myescambia.com, says. “More than $215 million will be used to build and maintain public facilities and more than $3 million will be used to support the court system.”

The Palm Beach Post — County homeless center may be turning away too many

In the nearly 2½ years since it opened, Palm Beach County’s homeless resource center has made admirable progress in helping to reduce the number of homeless on the streets. Consider, as one measure, the striking drop in the number of people seeking help:

In its first year of operation, county records show that 3,200 adults and more than 1,200 families came seeking shelter at the Sen. Philip D. Lewis Center on 45th Street in West Palm Beach.

The Panama City News-Herald — The weight of words

Here’s some good news for those of you reading this in its physical form instead of on your iPads, Kindles, computers or phones: reading something in print improves comprehension and has several added benefits.

That’s according to author Rachel Grates who wrote an article onhttp://mic.com/arts, citing and linking to several sources that showed reading physical books improves your ability to read long sentences, stay focused on what you are reading and that reading a physical book or (ahem) newspaper improves sleep and that, “Regular reading also increases empathy , especially when reading a print book.”

Grates also wrote that the ability to read long passages without hyperlinks to other things on the internet is a skill that can be lost over time. That she wrote these things in an article full of links that we discovered via Facebook and read on our computer at work is an irony that should also be noted.

Few days pass here when we don’t speak to someone who insists that they need to read a physical copy of the paper. They need to touch it and share it and clip parts of it out for placement on refrigerators or to give away to relatives and friends. Some folks also like to remind us that it makes good bird cage lining, or puppy training or fish wrapping material.

That’s fine by us. A good product should have multiple uses. We can’t tell you how many books we read that served us better when they were used to stabilize a table or as a doorstop or as something to smash against an intruder in a dark house.

The Tallahassee Democrat – Ethics

The city of Tallahassee has a new ethics officer. But it still has a problem.

Julie Meadows-Keefe was already on the job Wednesday, the same day she was named to the staff-level position. An attorney who earned her law degree from the Florida State University College of Law, Ms. Meadows-Keefe will be the point person on ethical matters involving elected city officials, staff and even vendors. She also will have the responsibility of seeing that a long list of steps the city has taken toward ethics reform are implemented.

Ms. Meadows-Keefe will earn $83,000 a year and will report to City Attorney Lew Shelley and City Auditor Bert Fletcher.

There lies the problem.

In 2012, in the wake of ethical complaints raised against members of the City Commission, commissioners created a citizens’ Ethics Advisory Panel. The panel included many notable members of the community, including Martha Barnett, who had been president of the American Bar Association and chair of the Florida Commission on Ethics, and Harry Lee Anstead, a former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

After 18 meetings covering eight months, the panel submitted a powerful report with a long list of recommendations.

The Tampa Tribune — Tribune endorsement: Vote “yes” on St. Petersburg referendum question

St. Petersburg voters are being asked to change the city charter to allow City Council members to freely voice their opinions about the mayor’s hiring of top executives. Council members were warned by the city attorney earlier this year that commenting about police chief candidates the mayor was considering might run afoul of the charter, which prohibits the council from directing or requesting the hiring of city employees.

Council members objected to what they said is a free-speech infringement, and the city attorney later revised the warning to say they could speak to family or friends but should probably steer clear of speaking to the press about the candidates. The council voted to put a referendum on the ballot that would allow them to express their personal opinions about the hiring of top executives but would still prohibit them from taking any direct action related to the hiring.

At the time, Mayor Rick Kriseman urged the council not to approve the referendum, saying it was unnecessary. Now that it’s on the ballot the mayor isn’t taking sides.

This is small potatoes as far as referendums go, but we believe anything that promotes more free speech is worthy. On the St. Petersburg ballot referendum question Nov. 4, the Tribune recommends a “yes” vote.

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.