A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — Florida falling short for seniors
Florida has undermined its reputation as an attractive retirement destination for seniors by failing to provide enough resources for their long-term care. A new national study ranks Florida 43rd among 50 states and the District of Columbia in helping seniors live independently and stay out of nursing homes. As baby boomers get older, the need for long-term care services will increase exponentially, and the state is woefully unprepared to keep up with demand. Florida needs to ramp up its commitment to seniors by directing more money to programs and services that promote independent living. State leaders and the entire community play a role in ensuring that one of the state’s most vulnerable populations gets the support it needs.
The study, a scorecard produced by AARP and other organizations that support long-term care, measured state-level performance in support of the elderly and the disabled across five dimensions. Florida, which has more seniors than any other state, ranked in the bottom quartile for caregiver support, quality of life and care and choice of setting and provider. Minnesota ranked highest, followed by Washington and Oregon.
Elder care experts say most seniors want to remain independent and live at home for as long as possible. That desire, coupled with the high cost of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and the private insurance to pay for those services, has spawned legions of at-home caregivers. In Florida, 2.8 million family members provide $29 billion worth of unpaid services, according to the AARP. Many juggle full-time work with child rearing and caregiving. Others risk health challenges themselves as they struggle to meet family members’ needs. The state provides help through community-based care programs that help with things such as bathing, transportation and hot meals, but that falls short of what is needed at today’s population levels. Those resources will be further strained as the number of elderly grows.
The Bradenton Herald — County’s public investments in East Manatee warranted
With Lakewood Ranch growing by leaps and bounds and a slowdown nowhere near, Manatee County government is wisely engaged in extending essential services to a population that will be key to our economic growth.
As developers put a greater emphasis on affordable housing to build an employee base for the rising number of East Manatee businesses and as families move in to take advantage of the community’s many assets, the county’s response is encouraging. A library and public transportation would greatly benefit not just Lakewood Ranch but the county.
The county’s current improvement project at Lakewood Ranch Park, a 150-acre sports center with fields and courts for numerous activities — and the intention to add amenities in the future — reflects the importance of East Manatee.
The buzz about the Mall at University Town Center and its surrounding development grows daily as one after another popular retailer and restaurant commits to the mega complex, replete with plans for hotels, commercial and residential space. The project merits attention as the country’s first enclosed shopping mall to be built since 2006.
The expansive mall, with an October opening date, will transform this key gateway into Lakewood Ranch — placing more importance on East Manatee as an economic engine.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Time to have the chicken talk
Nine months ago, Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk asked proponents of backyard chickens to bide their time.
“Don’t flood us with emails until we have a chance to talk about it,” he said at an October meeting, when the City Commission promised to schedule a workshop to discuss allowing chickens in residential areas.
Since then, the city has had opportunities to talk about legalizing backyard poultry— more than a dozen of them, going by the number of times the City Commission has been scheduled to meet. But chicken-backers are still waiting.
This is not a complicated issue, though it may be contentious. Those who favor neighborhood poultry cite the convenience of plucking fresh eggs from a backyard coop, rather than making the trek to one of Deltona’s still rather scarce grocery stores. Chickens provide great educational opportunities for families with young children — and plenty of manure for gardening, they argue.
Not surprisingly, chicken opponents have adopted that last argument as well, citing smell from chicken waste and noise from hens celebrating their daily egg production as unneighborly distractions. (Deltona backyard-chicken fans are not asking the city to permit roosters, which are far noisier than hens.) They worry about birds getting loose, and wonder what will happen to the values of houses adjacent to chicken owners.
The Florida Times-Union — Ron Littlepage: Preservation makes sense in so many ways
Last week, I had the opportunity to visit two of our preservation parks as part of a video project I’m working on.
As a city, we don’t do nearly enough to promote our parks, often described as the largest urban parks system in the U.S.
That’s especially true of the preservation properties that fall under the umbrella of the Timucuan Trail Parks.
Early Monday morning, I was at Seaton Creek Historic Preserve, which opened earlier this year and is the latest addition to our preservation properties.
I want to emphasize early. During the heat of summer, which we are most definitely experiencing now, early is the time to visit these parks.
The temperature was pleasant, in the low 70s, as I spent about three hours walking through the preserve’s 840 forested acres.
I also want to emphasize two other words — insect repellent. Heat isn’t the only scourge of this time of year. You can add yellow flies and mosquitoes.
Seaton Creek Historic Preserve is easily accessed from Interstate 95 via Pecan Park Road.
The Gainesville Sun – Solving greening
An announcement from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences this month provides hope for possible solutions that could one day be used by citrus growers to rid their trees of citrus greening.
The bacterial disease known as greening threatens the industry. Greening has infected most of the 69 million commercial citrus trees in Florida.
Success has been seen in the laboratory so far, according to IFAS, which is working on the project in conjunction with the UF Genetics Institute.
All the work has taken place in Gainesville so far. The next step is to move outdoors for field tests.
Benzbromarone, which is used to treat gout in humans, was the most successful chemical. IFAS said it halted the greening bacterium’s spread in 80 percent of infected citrus shoots in the lab.
The other chemicals tested are hexestrol and phloretin. The former is an estrogen compound and the latter is a natural chemical from apples, The Ledger of Lakeland reported.
The Lakeland Ledger — Candidate Qualification: Little Election Vigor
The Polk County Commission is the most important governmental body, with the broadest authority, in the county.
The terms for two of its five members expire this year, which opened them for election challenges.
In Florida, county, regional, state and congressional candidates who planned to run for office as a challenger or an incumbent had to qualify with the county Election Office or state Election Department between Monday at noon and Friday at noon.
For the Polk County Commission, with the District 2 seat of Melony Bell and the District 4 seat of Todd Dantzler up for election … nothing. No one qualified to challenge Bell or Dantzler.
The most powerful governmental board in Polk is likely to remain one of the dullest, quietest boards in Polk County. Bell and Dantzler can say — fairly — that the reason they received no challenges is that they are performing as county commissioners the way they said they would when they were elected — both in 2010.
The Miami Herald — Jackson Memorial’s comeback story
Miami-Dade residents who haven’t kept up with the new, improved Jackson Health System may have blinked and rubbed their eyes in shock when they read the news last week that the county’s only public hospital is planning a billion-dollar-plus upgrade.
Isn’t this the same chronically broke entity that socked taxpayers with a bill for $330 million in losses in fiscal years 2009 and 2010? The same hospital that had to go hat-in-hand to the County Commission in 2011 to ask for a $32-million loan as a sort of “payday advance” on its future revenues to keep its doors open? The same hospital that a grand jury in August 2010 called a “colossal mess”?
Yep, sure is. And yet it isn’t.
The Health System has undergone a turnaround in fortune that began in the spring of 2011, when Carlos Migoya, a former banker and onetime pro bono Miami city manager, was hired. His selection was an act of desperation by a commission that was staring at years of red ink unless Jackson could stop losing money. It was deep in the hole and yet badly in need of improvements — which it could not finance unless it first got out of the hole.
The Orlando Sentinel — Orlando’s Fern Creek school defied odds, yet now faces closure
For years, Fern Creek Elementary has been a model of what’s right in public education.
Tucked inside an older neighborhood just north of downtown Orlando, the school — with its high population of poor and even homeless kids — defied the odds and captured national attention.
Three years ago, The New York Times described the school as a “sanctuary” for kids successfully pushed beyond their expectations.
Twice, I visited Fern Creek to learn about unique teaching methods, such as an infusion of arts education, which helped boost test scores.
Yet now, Orange County wants to close Fern Creek.
Some of the reasons sound valid enough, including a dwindling student population. But there is more to the story — including nuances of race and class, as well as new school designs.
But the bottom line is that something seems wickedly wrong when we close a school that has done so well at a time when many other schools are struggling.
Those concerns were voiced a couple of weeks ago when fired-up parents and neighbors gathered to hear Orange County Schools Chairman Bill Sublette make his case for closing their school.
Sublette explained that a new school was being built in Parramore, which would siphon off much of Fern Creek’s population and leave fewer than 200 students — not enough to keep the school open.
The Ocala StarBanner — Stop the slavery in our midst
The disturbing accusations against a Gainesville accountant show once again that human trafficking isn’t some faraway problem, but something that is happening right here in North Central Florida — in Gainesville and Ocala and Williston, all of which have had human trafficking cases in the past six months.
Timothy Deegan, 53, was arrested this month at his Gaineville house and charged with three counts of human trafficking. Police allege that he kept three women in virtual slavery for months, prostituting them, videotaping sex acts to put online, and giving them drugs in exchange for sex.
The allegations are particularly lurid, but the story is hardly unique. Other local human trafficking cases in recent months include a man accused of pimping two minors and another man accused of kidnapping a woman and forcing her to have sex with other people.
In addition to women being forced into prostitution, human trafficking also can involve immigrants and other workers being forced into labor. Florida ranks third in the number of calls received by a national sex and labor trafficking hotline.
The good news is that elected officials from our state are taking the problem seriously. Gov. Rick Scott this week signed bills increasing penalties for perpetrators of trafficking and increasing funding for safe houses where victims can be relocated and rehabilitated.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Marlette: Nan Rich makes a name in Pensacola
On cozy Alcaniz Street in downtown Pensacola, blue sky billows with outstretched limbs of heritage live oaks. You step, step, step up onto the charming front porch of Dharma Blue, the restaurant that looks like a home. It is welcoming.
Inside, the back room is awash with late afternoon sun spilling warm onto the hardwood floors. And a family gathering of sorts is abuzz with a visitor from a far away part of Florida — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Rich.
“I am the real Democrat,” she says. Not bitterly. Confidently. “Everything I do is about me being the real Democrat.”
This is how Rich has come to introduce herself to Panhandle Democrats, liberals and progressives in a gubernatorial campaign to win her party’s nomination from the man who needs no introduction in this town, or any other town in Florida — former governor and former Republican, Charlie Crist.
His ousting or awakening from the GOP was a nationally televised event. As a result, the smiley man with the tan is now the stuff of Florida folk lore. A flip-flopping phony to some folks. A still-likeable governor to others. But everyone, everywhere knows Charlie. And that is Nan Rich’s struggle.
The Palm Beach Post — As Scripps negotiates a merger, taxpayers must have a voice
Florida and Palm Beach County taxpayers have made an enormous investment in The Scripps Research Institute. It’s an investment that feels vulnerable right now.
Scripps’ president and CEO, Michael Marletta, has acknowledged that he’s been courting potential partners who could help “secure a sustainable future for Scripps” amid shrinking and tenuous research funding from the National Institutes of Health.
The Panama City News-Herald — For Tyndall the bill comes due
Any hope Tyndall Air Force Base officials had that they would never have to pay an increase in water rates dried up recently when the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ordered Tyndall to pay Bay County $450,516 in damages along with $303,589 in interest over unpaid water bills.
The judgment only covers the amount owed from 2007 through February of 2011 and Tyndall will also have to pay an additional amount for water it received from Bay County from February of 2011 until today.
Tyndall maintains the language in one of its county contracts provides a rate-increase exemption but for the most part they have kept mum on the issue in public. While Tyndall was relying on legal advice, the county seemed very sure of its position from the beginning and it seemed to be a position that made sense: all users of the system are subject to price increases.
Commissioners also noted that they followed the law when they raised the rate.
“We proved we were doing it right and we prevailed,” was how Commissioner George Gainer put it during Tuesday’s commission meeting.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Tracking DCF
Florida’s Department of Children and Families has taken a beating over a Miami Herald series “Innocents Lost,” which told the story of 477 children who since 2008 suffered what the paper characterized as “predictable and preventable” deaths.
DCF now has a new interim director, Mike Carroll, a longtime regional director who was named in late April to replace the previous interim director. Mr. Carroll has some new resources — but also the same immense challenge as his predecessors.
In reaction to the Herald’s series, the Legislature acted this past session, offering DCF millions of dollars to beef up services and case management. In all, an extra $48 million went directly or indirectly to child welfare.
In response to the difficulty the Herald had in accessing statistics on child deaths, Legislature also acted to increase the transparency in DCF, requiring “prompt disclosure of the basic facts of all deaths of children from birth through 18 years of age which occur in this state and which are reported to the department’s central abuse hotline.” Those reports were to be published on the department’s website.
Mr. Carroll and DCF have acted quickly here, and the new website is expected to be up and running this week (go to http://www.myflfamilies.com and look for the Child Fatality Prevention button).
The website fits well with Mr. Carroll’s increased use of metrics to help DCF do its job.
The Tampa Tribune — Channelside complex at critical juncture
The prolonged legal battle over the ownership of Channelside Bay Plaza will reach a critical juncture next month when bids to take control of the retail and dining complex will be considered at auction.
Port Tampa Bay, which owns the land underneath the complex, is among the bidders. Others are not expected to be made public until after the bids are opened.
We urge the federal bankruptcy judge overseeing the process to look beyond the dollars bid and consider the overall impact a particular operator might have on the complex. Awarding the complex to the port, or to an entity that share’s the port’s vision, will bring unity to the development of a part of downtown poised for phenomenal growth over the next decade.
New condo projects and apartments are being planned, along with a new hotel near the Forum, where the Tampa Bay Lightning play. Mayor Bob Buckhorn has made no secret of his desire for a baseball stadium to be built in the area that might one day host the Tampa Bay Rays. And the Lightning’s owner, Jeffrey Vinik, has a vision for developing land he owns in this part of downtown.
A big piece of that area’s future rests with the redevelopment of the failed Channelside complex, and the choice the judge makes.