A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — USF St. Petersburg makes remarkable progress
For the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, this is a summer of great promise. The chancellor who was hired last year is settling in, the Legislature steered millions toward new construction, and relationships with business partners are being expanded. A campus that too often struggled to find its identity is developing an ambitious long-range plan for increasing enrollment, enhancing its research and strengthening its ties to the community. That vision will benefit USFSP students, enrich the city and provide more skilled graduates for the regional workforce.
Chancellor Sophia Wisniewska hopes to increase enrollment from 4,700 students to 10,000 students over the next decade, which would generate more tuition money to hire more faculty, improve student services such as academic counseling and enhance research. Much of the growth would be in the later years, and a campus that did not have on-campus housing until several years ago would add more rooms. The University Student Center that was built two years ago bustles with activity, student applications are up and academic standards for admission are rising.
Wisniewska envisions closer ties to local employers who too often have to look elsewhere for new college graduates with the skills they seek. She sees how academic programs in areas such as finance, health care and information technology could be tailored to prepare students for jobs in the area workforce and enhance USFSP’s position as an option for top high school students who gave little thought to staying home for college in other eras. The long-range plan is expected to be presented to USF president Judy Genshaft and the Board of Trustees in September.
The Bradenton Herald — To Manatee County commission, quit putting off indigent health care issue
Political paralysis appears to be driving the Manatee County commission debate over the indigent health care issue. The pending depletion of the trust fund that helped pay for medical services for the poor and destitute demands a strong determination to find a solution.
This month commissioners couldn’t agree to organize a health care summit in August. That hesitancy comes in the wake of some public objections about paying researchers to study the issue, and the commission tabling that idea.
County administrators conducted two public listening sessions to get input just weeks ago. Though there was little agreement on solutions, Deputy County Administrator Karen Windon saw a strong desire for collaboration.
Those charrettes were part of the county’s development of a comprehensive health program to provide the least expensive and most effective care for the indigent while also stressing healthy lifestyles and disease prevention through public education.
A detailed strategic plan needs to be composed for this prudent mission statement, and the county should be looking at successful programs in other jurisdictions as a potential model here.
But once again, the commission appears stuck in political mud. The lack of inertia and urgency is dumbfounding.
The county trust fund that reimburses medical providers for treating indigent patients is forecast to be bankrupt next year.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Protect shorebirds by working together
By tradition, many boaters and visitors regard the various spoil and natural islands in the Halifax River as prime, relatively rule-free party spots. But the recent case of the disappearing terns on Ponce Inlet’s Disappearing Island suggests a need to keep a closer eye on human behavior on those islands used by migratory birds and other wildlife.
That still will leave plenty of island space for human (and canine) play. A 2008 survey of Volusia County’s spoil islands revealed little wildlife on most of them — including several with intense recreational use. And for the most part, boaters are respectful, even protective, of designated conservation areas.
But isolated acts of irresponsibility can do major damage — as seen this month on Disappearing Island, a unique and popular hangout that emerges each day at low tide. In early June, environmental management officials noticed an unusually large number of nests on a part of the island that doesn’t submerge. Investigation revealed some 63 nests of the least tern, a scarce and skittish species that’s regarded as “protected” in Florida due to dwindling numbers. It was the largest colony of least tern nests recorded in decades, and a cause for celebration — for all too brief a time.
On June 16, the director of the county’s Marine Science Center photographed a couple strolling on the island with a large group of dogs, three of which were roaming, off-leash, inside the area marked off to protect the terns. As The News-Journal’s Dinah Voyles Pulver reported, a visit to the island revealed only six tern nests remaining, including two that hadn’t been there the previous week. County officials also observed dog tracks inside the roped-off nesting area.
It seems likely that the dogs destroyed some nests and scared off nesting terns, leaving eggs to broil in the sun.
The Florida Times-Union — Ron Littlepage: What part of “shared sacrifice” is hard to understand?
The Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund board met Friday morning and approved a resolution supporting the framework of the agreement reached between Mayor Alvin Brown and the fund’s representative, John Keane.
The board’s chairman, Walt Bussells, stressed that the City Council is still examining the agreement and may make changes that would have to come back to the board for consideration.
But he said it would be “unconscionable” to let the council do its work if the board was against the agreement as proposed, thus the need for the resolution.
The board’s support of the changes in the pension plan’s benefits, governance and funding is a solid step forward in what has been a long process of trying to solve the biggest threat to the city’s financial health.
But hurdles clearly remain.
During Friday’s meeting, Richard Tuten, who represents firefighters on the five-member board, said that police and firefighters, especially the younger ones, are nervous about what they see as a change to the so-called 30-year agreement and that’s causing them to leave or retire early.
“All of this scared people to the door,” Tuten said. “They are scared something else is going to happen, that another shoe is going to drop.”
Former Sheriff Nat Glover, who also serves on the board, said he, too, is hearing from police officers who are about to “bolt.” Much of the fear is based on false information, he said.
“There is really no reason for panic here,” Glover said. “Just get the facts out there. We need advocate to say, ‘No, that’s ridiculous.’”
A clear understanding of what’s in the agreement is important because we are all in this together: the taxpayers who will have to come up with the additional money to pay down the pension plan’s unfunded liability, the police and firefighters who will see a change in benefits and the fund’s board, which has to administer the plan.
The Gainesville Sun – Whole-grain goal
Kids are expected to turn their noses at anything that appears healthy.
But a new study by University of Florida researchers refutes that conventional wisdom. The study found that children given whole-grain foods eat the same amount as those given refined-grains foods that are less healthy.
The findings have significance for efforts to improve school lunches and help address an epidemic of childhood obesity.
One in three U.S. children is obese or overweight. Evidence suggests that people who eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains better manage their weight and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Since 2012, federal law has required schools with federally subsidized lunch programs to offer more of those options. Some school officials have complained about increased costs and students throwing away food. House Republicans have backed a measure to allow districts to opt out of the regulations.
Changing bad behavior is rarely easy. The UF study suggests schools might have a better shot at getting students to improve their diets if parents played a bigger part.
The study included two groups of middle-school students. Participants were given either refined-grain or whole grain pasta, rice, bread and other foods to eat at home, along with either options of snack foods to eat at school.
The Lakeland Ledger — Polk-Republic Settlement: Garbage In, Garbage Out
The Polk County Commission was right June 17 to agree in a unanimous vote to settle with Republic Services, the garbage collector with which it contracts for countywide pickup outside the cities.
Among the terms of settlement is a $500,000 payment to Polk County from Republic Services.
Other terms clarify points in the county’s 2010 contract, and specify more exactly the details of how the garbage collection will be carried out and which side is responsible for what, reported The Ledger’s Tom Palmer in an article June 18.
From 2005 through 2011, Republic charged Polk County for ongoing household garbage collection at empty property, uncompleted homes and unoccupied homes — at a cost estimated by the county at $1.46 million. The number of lots involved was 12,774.
The county set up a program for property owners to make claims of overpayment, paying out $629,291.
This month’s settlement agreement is the second to result in payment by Republic to Polk County.
The Miami Herald — Banking on exports
Given the multitude of problems facing the United States, it’s appalling to see prominent members of Congress focusing on the U.S. Export-Import Bank as a target of opportunity. Why has a useful government agency that works exactly as intended suddenly become a political football?
Relatively few Americans have heard of the Ex-Im Bank, or its purpose, but ever since its creation under Franklin Roosevelt the agency has been a critical force behind the success of American businesses competing in overseas markets.
Its role is twofold. It provides export credit insurance so that U.S. companies selling made-in-America goods abroad have protection against the risks of doing business overseas. And it provides financing for foreign buyers purchasing American-made goods. For obvious reasons, this is not a role that private banks are eager to play. The risks are deemed too great for a private institution, whereas a government agency has the clout and the means to act overseas.
Its services are not free. The agency charges fees and interest, like any other bank — and regularly produces an annual profit. Last year, it helped reduce the U.S. deficit by $1 billion.
So why in the world would incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and other like-minded Republicans zero in on the Ex-Im Bank for extinction? The short answer is that they see it as an enabler of “crony capitalism,” helping big businesses like Boeing, Caterpillar and GE that should not have to rely on the full faith and credit of the U.S. government to make a profit.
The Orlando Sentinel — Osceola sensor center deserves broad support
Osceola County leaders swung and missed in the past couple of years on two plans to develop a prime parcel of county-owned real estate in Kissimmee near Florida’s Turnpike.
Thank goodness, because a new plan could turn out to be a home run.
The Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, unveiled by Osceola commissioners and University of Central Florida officials, promises to create badly needed high-wage jobs in the county and across the region. UCF President John Hitt said it could be an “economic game changer.”
Hitt, one of the architects behind Orlando’s Medical City, knows a thing or two about economic development.
The center, set for 20 acres of the 400-acre Judge Farms property, would be a research and development facility for “smart” sensors — already found in cars, medical devices, appliances, smartphones and other staples of modern life. The annual global market for smart sensors is about $8 billion, but Hitt said it could soar to $1.9 trillion by 2020 as applications proliferate.
Here’s how UCF, Osceola County and the other public and private partners behind the center envision their plan playing out: UCF researchers, already working on smart sensors, would accelerate their efforts at the 100,000 square-foot center. Advanced manufacturers, eager to capitalize on this cutting-edge technology, would be drawn to the region; some might locate on land adjacent to the center. Rick Weddle, head of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission, said the center could spawn tens of thousands of jobs.
The Ocala StarBanner — Cellphones and privacy
In Wednesday’s landmark ruling protecting cellphone data from unauthorized searches, the U.S. Supreme Court built a strong bridge — from America’s 18th-century struggle for independence to today’s struggle for privacy.
That the decision was unanimous — on a court normally divided between conservatives and liberals — lends even more power to the message it sent to law enforcement and the federal government.
While the ruling dealt directly with cellphones, the court’s rationale could easily be extended to laptop and tablets and perhaps to information held by third parties such as phone companies — the crux of the controversy involving the National Security Agency.
In essence, the court made it clear that Americans — even if under arrest — deserve protection in all but the most extreme cases from warrantless government intrusion in their homes and on their phones.
At a time when the boundaries between public and private information are constantly being tested — and crossed — Americans needed that reassurance.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Don’t just gripe, take your turn
“How did you like being on the town council?”
“I loved it, only left on account of health and fatigue.”
“The voters were sick and tired of me.”
It goes both ways. The one asking had decided she didn’t want to be on the Century town council anymore. The complaints over her votes had knocked the shine off public service, especially those regarding having farm animals inside the town limits. Some came close to accusing her of being the Antichrist were it not that’s a job women aren’t allowed to take.
Maybe a demon?
I always think of it as demonizing. The idea is that it isn’t enough to disagree. You have to convince yourself anyone who sees things differently must have some evil purpose for voting a certain way – every last time on every last vote. You’d think every opposing candidate power mad, on the take or holding some hidden agenda to destroy the nation, even if they’re just running for town council of a teeny, tiny town.
The former councilman had been accused of being a college graduate, as if anyone should or even could be ashamed of going to Auburn, or decision-makers should be dropouts. The other was accused of hating animals for not wanting them in Century. On a larger scale, a rich man running for office is accused of secretly enriching himself at the public trough. Presidents tend to be painted as wanting to take over the world or hand America over to our enemies. Or not. Elections are implied to be rigged and those supporting the other guys to be nonexistent or idiots.
The Palm Beach Post — Sheriff’s budget woes due to exploding payroll costs
If you want to understand why the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office consumes more tax dollars each year, consider this: While most county government employees are expecting a 3 percent raise next year, sheriff’s office employees collectively will receive nearly double that.
Indeed, budget figures show that sheriff’s office salaries will go up next year by an average of more than $3,800 per employee, far more than the raises in store for other county workers, including librarians, engineers, bus drivers, park attendants and lifeguards.
The Panama City News-Herald — A community resource requires community involvement
Time and again members of the local community and the Panama City Commission have worked together to fund The Science and Discovery Center of Northwest Florida.
The educational center, once known as The Junior Museum, is a jewel in this region that brings students a better understanding of science, technology, engineering and math. Those disciplines, referred to as STEM in the education community, are a vital part of improving the economy in Bay County. A well trained workforce will attract new industries and children who are nurtured in these areas will be able to start their own competitive and rewarding businesses.
In 2012 city officials cut funding to the facility in half from $27,000 to $13,500. In response Bill Cramer, the owner of Bill Cramer Chevrolet stepped in and provided the $13,500 needed for that year. In 2013, The St. Joe Community Foundation presented the center with a $25,000 grant. That was money that allowed officials grow its preschool program from 22 to 54 students and make other improvements.
Also, in 2013 Panama City Commissioners considered eliminating the final bit of funding they provide to the center. However, Mayor Greg Brudnicki and Commissioner John Kady were so moved by the work the center does that they kept the funding intact and called on other municipalities to get involved.
Although the center is located in Panama City it is of enormous benefit to Bay County and beyond. The benefits were seen even in Tallahassee. In March Gov. Rick Scott visited the center and pointed to the work being done there as the model for programs across the state.
The Tallahassee Democrat – Kyle Touchstone: We need a diverse, growing economy
As the new executive vice president of the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County (EDC), I’m sometimes asked what the difference is between the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce and the EDC. The easiest way to explain it is that the Chamber focuses on growing businesses while the EDC focuses on growing the overall business community.
Local businesses can’t grow successfully if there isn’t the support and resources in place to ensure they succeed. By growing the business community, we’re able to diversify our economy, creating both direct and indirect jobs and opportunities. New jobs increase the demand for consumer goods and services supporting our retail sector. This leads to an increase in the tax base for the region, which leads to an increase in community services and ultimately an improvement in residents’ overall quality of life.
The EDC grows our community by focusing on three main areas: business recruitment, business retention and expansion, and fostering entrepreneurialism. Each of these focus areas is key to a successful business life cycle.
Entrepreneurs take their unique and innovative ideas to the marketplace. Retention and expansion ensure those businesses remain here and support the overall growth of the economy. Recruiting focuses on attracting sustainable businesses that serve as end product users or suppliers to existing businesses.
For a region dependent on local and state government, focusing on expanding the private sector also helps to offset public sector job losses, which have totaled more than 2,000 since 2009. By establishing a more diversified economy, our region isn’t as impacted by fluctuations in certain industry sectors.
The Tampa Tribune — Preserving Florida’s great outdoors
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is wise to seek property owners’ help in pursuing land conservation.
After a recessionary lull, the state’s population growth is returning to full throttle, making it critical to preserve valuable natural areas.
And that won’t happen without the help of private property owners.
Commission staff has identified about 19 million acres of significant wildlife habitat on privately owned lands.
The state will never be able to buy every key parcel, nor should it try, given that much of it exists on ranches and other productive agricultural operations.
But by collaborating with landowners, the state could develop strategies to preserve habitat without threatening the landowners.
As FWC Chairman Richard Corbett of Tampa said at its meeting the other day, “To the average person, government is regulation, stop, start, but our view is different. We want to find out how we can step in to make the land better and lives better, and how we can all work together.”
These owners have been good stewards. But they can’t be blamed for worrying about government controls curtailing their financial opportunities.
As Tribune/Scripps correspondent John Osborne reports, the commission is already working with landowners, offering them incentives to preserve property and helping them with conservation plans and wildlife management.
The state should continue to build on such collaboration.