Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — Rethinking Florida’s job recruitment efforts

Shelling out millions in public money to private corporations was never a novel, responsible or sustainable strategy for creating jobs in the Sunshine State. That’s why the Florida Legislature’s decision not to spend any money over the next year on a job incentive program has forced a healthy and overdue debate. This is an opportunity for Florida to assess its strengths and weaknesses, better target quality jobs and industries and draw a clear line between promoting economic growth and corporate welfare.

The Legislature’s refusal last month to give any new money to Gov. Rick Scott’s signature job development program has sparked a crisis at Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency. Its chief executive abruptly resigned, and Scott ordered job and spending cuts and an exhaustive review of the operation in advance of an Enterprise Florida governing board meeting next month. The governor said the agency needs to “privatize many functions” as it reduces its reliance on public funding, and he called for Enterprise Florida to refocus its effort and mission as it becomes smaller and less flush with cash.

Scott should not have been surprised by the Legislature’s move. Lawmakers tapped the brakes on the fund last year, giving Scott about half the $85 million he requested, and the Republican House leaders have been consistent in opposing the governor’s push for $250 million, denouncing it as corporate welfare out of step with the times and free market principles. They have a point.

The issue now is how to move forward. Even without incentive money, the Legislature funded the agency’s other initiatives, from marketing to international outreach. For the fifth straight year, Florida has attracted record tourism, and together with new investments in its airports and ports the state has a compelling story to tell as a powerhouse for services and exports.

Bradenton Herald — Manatee County school board should cut link between sales tax vote, impact fee discount

On Tuesday, the Manatee County School Board will weigh the wisdom of linking voter passage of a referendum extending the half-cent sales tax to setting a discounted impact fee schedule. County commissioners approved the ballot measure in January with some pointed displeasure.

And some in the community are expressing outrage at such a dubious pairing, which looks like an accommodation to home builders and developers.

Should the board approve a reversal and return to Superintendent Diana Greene’s original recommendation — that impacts fees take a glide path upon implementation later this month. The first year, the district will charge 50 percent of the maximum allowed rate as calculated independent consultant in a state-mandated study, 75 percent the following year and then 100 percent in the third year and thereafter. The board unwisely then approved a proviso: Should the sales tax pass during the expected November vote, the impact fee would remain at 50 percent and not rise.

School impact fees apply to new residential development and are restricted to projects associated to new school construction and handling growth issues in the school system.

Daytona Beach News-Journal — Be more proactive on road safety

It’s good to see the state move quickly to improve safety at a dangerous intersection of two roads in Volusia County.

It just didn’t move quickly enough.

It’s a tragic reminder that it’s better to be proactive than reactive.

Tuesday, a DeLeon Springs woman and her three grandchildren were killed in a fiery rollover crash at State Road 44 and Grand Avenue west of DeLand. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, a sport utility vehicle being driven by Alan Seidel of DeLand southbound on Grand collided with a Jeep being driven by Sandra Lopes as it was eastbound on S.R. 44. Also in the vehicle with Lopes were her grandchildren, 2-year-old Aryana Thomas, and 4-year-olds Jadyn Thomas of DeLand and Aleah Faith Zurzulo, 4, of Jacksonville. Grand has stop signs but S.R. 44, with faster-moving traffic, does not.

The horrific nature of the crash and loss of innocent life brought instant attention to the intersection — although it has been on the county’s radar for years. According to the Sheriff’s Office, there have been 42 crashes at S.R. 44 and Grand Avenue in just the past five years, with two others resulting in fatalities in 2010 and 2013. At least 22 of the crashes involved motorists on Grand Avenue crossing S.R. 44.

Florida Times-Union — JEA board must do more listening

JEA board members have missed two important opportunities to hear from their customers on important proposed changes to its solar energy policies.

The board members are still relatively new.

And as we have noted, they have taken important steps to improve the board’s performance.

However, as a municipal utility, JEA has a special obligation to maintain close communication with the public. In fact, the utility has been winning awards on customer outreach. But listening shouldn’t be limited to the staff. Board members should also be willing to hear out the public.

Florida Today – Do we even own things anymore?

Networked-home maven Arlo Gilbert recently published a cri de coeur about aGoogle decision that left him hanging. And it’s a story that raises a lot of questions: Questions about the “Internet of Things,” about property rights in physical objects and about whether American intellectual property law goes too far. And at the moment, I think the answers to those questions are that the “Internet of Things” is stupid, property rights in physical objects don’t get nearly enough respect and American intellectual property law definitely goes too far. As the nation’s mood shifts in a decidedly populist direction, perhaps lawmakers will take a look.

But back to Gilbert’s story. He’s a gadget fan, and Google has left him hanging. Here’s how he tells it: “Seventeen months ago, Google acquired Revolv, a very cool home automation hub. It is a small circular device about the size of a small container of hummus that uses a variety of common home automation radios to communicate with light switches, garage door openers, home alarms, motion sensors, A/C controllers etc. … When I arrive home my lights turn on. In lieu of motion detecting lights, I have a Z-wave motion detector that notifies my Revolv when there is motion on any side of our home and turns on the appropriate lights. Although I do set a home alarm, there is really no more effective vacation security than the programmatic turning on, dimming, and turning off of lights in a manner that would indicate that people are home. After buying my Revolv I put my outdoor landscaping light on it and threw away the old timer. Now at Sunset my landscape lighting turns on. Holiday lighting does the same. It’s magical.”

But as we all know, in the fairy tales the “magical” tool that makes everything wonderful always has a catch. In Gilbert’s case, the catch is that Google will shut down his device. They won’t just stop updating it, or end support. They’ll turn it off. Even though it “belongs” to Gilbert.

Gilbert notes: “On May 15th, my house will stop working. My landscape lighting will stop turning on and off, my security lights will stop reacting to motion, and my home made vacation burglar deterrent will stop working. This is a conscious intentional decision by Google/Nest.”

Gainesville Sun – Cheers and jeers

Gainesville is a good position for attracting and creating quality jobs, but faces challenges such as persistent poverty and a state that inadequately funds education.

That mixed message can be gleaned from recent stories that include positive news for our area, but also show much work needs to be done.

Cheer: Gainesville, for being ranked as the 21st most educated city in the country by the personal finance company ValuePenguin.

The company based the ranking on 17 different measures, ranking Gainesville 13th for the percentage of residents above 25 who have earned a degree and 22nd for the quality of primary and secondary schools as well as universities.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising for the home of the University of Florida, and other college towns scored even higher in the rankings. But in the knowledge economy, having an educated populace bodes well for Gainesville to be able to draw companies here as well as have startups formed by current residents.

Jeer: Gainesville, for being ranked 198th out of 200 in terms of whether education was lifting graduates out of poverty.

Lakeland Ledger —Oh Canada, will you take in our disgruntled?

We still have almost seven months left before Election Day, but already this election season is one of the weirdest ever. Let’s briefly recap.

The Republican front-runner has remained out front despite insulting women with misogynistic remarks, foreigners with threats of shutting or tossing people out the country and accusations of unfair trade practices, and military veterans who served as POWs, even though he never served in the military. He also has stood by a campaign manager who was recently charged in South Florida with misdemeanor battery for grabbing a reporter. The FBI is investigating the Democratic front-runner for possibly compromising classified government information, while significant numbers of voters from her own party don’t trust her. The Democratic challenger openly espouses a governing philosophy that frightened and appalled Americans for 75 years. The main GOP challenger is so disliked by colleagues within his own party that only two of 54 Senate Republicans will back him.

One Republican, a former governor Florida, spent $37.5 million for each of the four delegates he won. Another Republican, perhaps the best neurosurgeon in the nation, claimed he once tried to kill someone as a teenager and blamed unarmed people caught in a mass shooting for not rushing the gunman. We had a Democratic candidate who apologized for saying “all lives matter” after black activists complained that was somehow exclusionary.

Strange indeed.

Miami Herald —Secret web of global corruption revealed by Panama Papers

News stories on the astonishing “Panama Papers” published over the past week in the Herald offer a peek into a sinister web of global corruption and secret money. Its existence was widely suspected but never before put on public display in such jaw-dropping detail.

Bottom line: Roughly $7.6 trillion: $7,600,000,000,000. That’s how much mind-boggling wealth is socked away in tax dodges created by one law firm in Panama.

The problem isn’t the illegality revealed by this series of news stories, although there’s plenty of that. No, it’s what’s legal that shocks the conscience and demands urgent reforms by lawmakers around the world, including the United States.

There are legitimate reasons to create a shell company that offers confidentiality and privacy. The famously rich may want to conceal ownership of a residence so they can feel safe from the reach of kidnappers.

Orlando Sentinel —Don’t stifle free speech on campus

Free expression is not faring well on American college campuses these days. In some places, the problem is students taking grave offense at opinions that merit only minor umbrage or none at all. In others, it’s official speech codes that chill discussion. In still others, it’s administrators so intent on preventing sexual harassment that they avoid open discussion of gender-related matters.

There is a lot to be said for making people aware of the ways in which their words and deeds can do harm. No one wants to go back to the days when casual expressions of racial prejudice were common, or when women were mocked for taking places that should have gone to men, or when some professors made passes at students.

But it’s important not to go so far in protecting undergraduates that they lose the spontaneous and open interactions they need to understand the world and the society in which they live. An education that spares students from unwanted challenges to their thinking is not much of an education.

Luckily, there’s pushback against this trend. University of California regents issued a report deploring anti-Semitism but rejected demands to include all forms of anti-Zionism in the condemnation. When students at Emory University protested messages in support of Donald Trump chalked on campus sidewalks as an attempt to intimidate minority groups, the school president heard them out but took no action.

Ocala StarBanner — State bungled the pot issue

The Florida Legislature has done a terrible job providing people with serious illnesses access to medical marijuana, so it’s no wonder that a new poll suggests voters might take the issue out of lawmakers’ hands.

A poll released this week by St. Leo University found 68.1 percent of respondents support legalizing medical marijuana for the use of Florida residents. A constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would do just that, Amendment 2, needs 60 percent support for passage.

A similar ballot initiative in 2014 fell short of the required threshold with nearly 58 percent of the vote. This time around, Floridians will have the chance to vote on an improved initiative — and the knowledge that state officials badly bungled the matter when left to address it on their own over the past two years.

Back in 2014, state lawmakers legalized a non-euphoric strain of marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web, which has been effective in helping children with epilepsy. But problems with writing the required state regulations and legal challenges delayed its implementation, leading lawmakers to pass another bill this year to address some of those issues.

Pensacola News-Journal — Lessons after Fish House fight

More than two years ago, we posed this question to taxpayers in an editorial regarding the city of Pensacola’s collision with the Fish House restaurant:

“Where do you end up when your government foolishly tries to shakedown a private business owner on flimsy, if not downright fallacious, legal grounds?” The answer: On the hook.

And now, here we are, taxpayers. On the hook at the wrong end of our local government’s losing argument.

As reported by the PNJ’s Will Isern last week:

“Collier Merrill, owner of the landmark Pensacola restaurant The Fish House, and his landlord, Ray Russenberger, won their two-year-old lawsuit against the city of Pensacola stemming from a 2013 lease dispute .… First Judicial Circuit Court Judge J. Scott Duncan issued his ruling … wherein he found that Merrill’s sublease of land from Russenberger is, in fact, a sublease and that the city is therefore not owned millions in additional rent, as it had tried to claim in 2013.

Duncan further found that Russenberger’s renewal of his main lease from the city was properly conducted and that the terms of that renewal are to last for 30 years.”

In other words, the city was wrong from the start.

Palm Beach Post — PBC off to good start regulating ride-hailing services

It’s hard for local officials to keep up in the fast-changing roadscape of the increasingly popular Internet-based transportation services such as Uber and Lyft. One thing that hasn’t changed is the Florida Legislature’s cluelessness on regulation of the new digital age industry.

That has left local officials struggling to find their own route to the regulation that ensures public safety. The Palm Beach County Commission’s initial approval of new guidelines for the industry this week is an apt response to the Legislature’s failure to do anything.

As The Post’s Eliot Kleinberg reported, the highlight of the county proposal is that the new high-tech services and traditional taxi companies both would be responsible to conduct their own background checks or hire the county to do more comprehensive and costly fingerprint-based “Level II” checks.

In contrast, during the recent legislative inaction, Senate leaders focused on insurance requirements for drivers, while the House moved to block local governments from regulating the so-called ride-booking services at all.

Panama City News-Herald — NCAA distractions and Merle Haggard

Americans annoyed by the no-holds-barred, eye-gouging wrestling matches of the 2016 presidential campaign — and the accompanying horse-race analysis of TV experts — had a chance this week to enjoy some welcome distractions: actual sports.

The winners of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championship games didn’t criticize their opponents or question their motives. After beating them in exhausting, high-profile contests, they shook their opponents’ hands and even hugged them.

Our would-be national leaders should have watched and taken notes.

In the men’s championship, Villanova University defeated the favored University of North Carolina, 77-74, Monday night on a last-second three-point shot — which followed a game-tying, North Carolina three-pointer with 4.7 seconds to go. Agony for one team and ecstasy for another, it was Villanova’s first NCAA basketball title since 1985.

The women’s championship game featured no such dramatics, but was a testament to the sustained excellence of the University of Connecticut’s basketball program. The UConn women won their fourth consecutive national championship Tuesday night, beating Syracuse University 82-51. It was the 11th championship for UConn Coach Geno Auriemma, the most ever in NCAA basketball — in men’s or women’s competition.

South Florida Sun Sentinel –  Shacking up law, Governor called the A-word and best brew guide

Dear South Florida,

No need to put a ring on it in Florida just to avoid the morality police.

It’s legal to live in sin … in the Sunshine State … starting now. Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill repealing a 148-year-old state ban on a man and woman living together without being married. No group was more happy than the 55-and-older crowd … who notoriously live in sin together in Florida to avoid Social Security changes. And you thought grandpa moved to Boca for the beach.

Governor called a hole of a butt. Rick Scott’s visit to a Starbucks in Gainesville turned into social media nightmare when he ran into former Lake Worth Commissioner Cara Jennings, a self-proclaimed anarchist. As soon as Scott walked in, Jennings called him an “a–hole” for not expanding Medicaid coverage for Florida’s poorest residents and for signing a law making it harder for women to get abortions. Scott ran away. Leaving behind his coffee … and pride.

Tallahassee Democrat – Civil citations, not criminal charges

County Commissioner Bill Proctor plans to propose an ordinance on Tuesday making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil offense, similar to overtime parking.

It’s not quite that simple, but details can be worked out later. The idea is a good one, which ought to be pursued by the commission staff.

In a meeting with our editorial board, Proctor pointed out that Tallahassee already has a “civil citation” system for disposing of minor infractions — such as Jameis Winston getting caught stealing crab legs at Publix — but it’s a haphazard, unfair method of dispensing justice. Basically, Proctor says, it’s up to the cop to decide who gets sent home with a summons and who needs a ride out to the jail.

He wants to take away such discretion and treat all minor offenders — including pot smokers — the same.

Tampa Tribune — Florida Polytechnic’s ongoing troubles

The university that never should have been is embarrassing the state and poorly serving students — and that should surprise no one.

The Florida Board of Governors the other day chastised Florida Polytechnic’s president because the school won’t meet the Legislature’s target to be accredited by 2016.

But state lawmakers and the Board of Governors had plenty of warning that rapid accreditation would be a heavy lift before the Legislature rashly created the state’s 12th university in 2012.

Lawmakers ignored a multitude of academic and financial concerns in transforming the University of South Florida Polytechnic branch campus in Lakeland into an independent university.

The shameful episode was instigated by JD Alexander of Lakeland, then chair of the Senate budget committee, who was angry that USF President Judy Genshaft didn’t go along with his effort to lavish programs on his pet project without regard for USF’s overall welfare.

Unfortunately, his fellow lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott meekly went along, even as they cut the budget for the existing 11 universities by $300 million.

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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