A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times — New prisons chief makes progress
Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones is right to rebid nearly $1.4 billion in contracts for health care providers in Florida’s prisons. Her decision comes at a time when suspicious inmate deaths are inexplicably high and medical teams appear to be short-staffed in many prisons. It makes good business sense for the department to review the state’s medical contracts to ensure that inmates are getting adequate care and taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.
Jones announced last week that she would call for bid proposals for medical services providers before the start of 2016. In its invitation to negotiate, the department will look for companies that can provide medical care and enhanced services such as delivering specialized care to inmates with mental health issues, improving the coordination of medical and mental health re-entry planning and implementing electronic health records.
The state privatized medical care in prisons at the behest of the Florida Legislature in 2011. Now the state pays Wexford Health Sources $48 million a year to service 15,000 inmates at nine South Florida prisons. Another contractor, Corizon Health, receives $229 million a year to provide care to 74,000 inmates in North, Central and parts of South Florida. Corizon’s contract expires in 2018. Wexford’s expires in 2017.
Jones’ announcement comes at a dark time for Florida’s Corrections Department. The Miami Herald has detailed multiple instances of inmate abuse and death at the hands of prison guards and repeated instances of misconduct among prison staff. The Legislature is considering a bill that would set up an independent oversight commission to increase accountability in prisons, and some legislators have been making surprise visits to inspect prisons. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, called on Jones to rebid medical contracts after he visited several prisons where inmates were being underserved.
Jones’ aggressive approach to reshaping Florida’s prison system is exactly what is needed to turn around an agency rife with problems and accustomed to operating with little accountability. In renegotiating the agency’s deals with medical providers, Jones expects to spend more money to pay for expanded services. This will be money well spent, particularly because new contracts should clearly define expectations of contractors and set penalties for failing to meet them.
The Bradenton Herald — Bradenton Herald Editorial
While Tuesday’s formal ceremonies, grand speeches and photo opportunities mark the official opening of the Legislature’s regular session, the pomp will mask the many weighty and transformational issues on the agenda.
Two state agencies operating under scandalous clouds require major reforms. The Department of Children and Families and the Department of Corrections have come under intense public scrutiny for various mission failures, including the deaths of children and inmates, lax policies and weak oversight.
Plus, the Department of Education has come under withering fire over the crippling number of high-stakes standardized tests and other exam requirements. Lowering the percentage that student test scores count in teacher evaluations is also on the table.
November’s passage of the Florida Water and Land Legacy constitutional amendment demands legislative attention on setting priorities and policies for spending billions of taxpayer dollars over the next two decades. Cries of foul have already erupted over fears a large chunk of the money will be spent on municipal and county infrastructure projects that do not honor the clear intent of the amendment. Such projects are typically funded from other pots of money.
With the Legislature under the firm control of the Republican majority, GOP lawmakers representing large portions of Manatee County stand in the crosshairs of other major initiatives.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Politics of surplus will dominate session
When the Florida Legislature convenes its annual 60-day session Tuesday, lawmakers will have a full plate of issues to address — and pockets full of tax revenues to spend.
The state is projected to have a $1 billion budget surplus this year, another clear sign the economy is growing stronger. It also sets up a showdown between legislators who welcome the increased ability to spend and Gov. Rick Scott, who wants to use nearly $700 million of the surplus on various tax cuts. The governor’s package — which includes trimming or eliminating taxes on cable, satellite and cell phone services; college textbooks; manufacturing machinery and equipment; and corporations — leaves room for bargaining.
Scott also has proposed boosting spending on public schools by $842 million. However, more than half that hike comes from higher property taxes at the local level that result from increasing property values. The state could implement a roll-back rate on the Required Local Effort rate it imposes on school districts, which would offset the rise in property values. But that would force the Legislature to find more money in its General Fund to pay for schools.
Instead, Scott’s plan continues the trend of requiring local districts to shoulder a heavier burden on funding. In 1998, the state share of public school funding was 59 percent and the local share was 41 percent. The ratio has since shrunk to 51-49. If districts are to pay more (and in Volusia County’s case, pay more than it receives back from the state), then they need more autonomy from Tallahassee on how those dollars are spent locally.
The Florida Times-Union — Mayport is ready for its makeover
Mayport’s potential is as alluring as a soothing ocean breeze.
The merging of the St. Johns River with the Atlantic Ocean creates a majestic, beautiful panorama.
The area has a historic significance that has endured for centuries.
The village draws keen interest from historians who engage in lively debates over the exact location of the Fort Caroline.
And Mayport’s lighthouse is truly iconic.
That’s why it’s a shame that Mayport has become yet another of Jacksonville’s underappreciated gems.
It qualifies in many ways as a blighted area.
Residents and businesses have been leaving. Many of the residents don’t have city sewer hookups. And city planners have been working on improvement plans for years and years and years.
Indeed, redeveloping Mayport was listed as a key reason that Mayor John Delaney supported Florida’s Waterfront Partnerships during the late 1990s.
The legislation was designed to help improve working waterfronts with planning and financial aid, but too little action has followed.
Florida Today – City manager: Satellite isn’t sitting on threats
Recent criminal incidents in our sleepy City of Satellite Beach have understandably concerned many residents. Therefore, our city is taking steps to ensure the safety of residents by adding additional patrols to the community and more beach patrols in the future.
Additionally, we are committed to addressing unsubstantiated rumors that serve to create dissension and upheaval in our community, particularly at a time when we need to support and help one another.
For example, former City Council member Sheryl Denan claimed in a letter to FLORIDA TODAY that she brought “an intended hit list” to Satellite High School where the school resource police officer acknowledged having seen it but advised there was nothing to worry about and the “hits” would not happen. She mused whether this alleged dereliction of duty led to the recent attack on a 17-year-old on Glenwood Avenue.
Here are the facts:
During an unrelated meeting at Satellite High last October, Mrs. Denan made a general reference to beachside gang activity and stated there was a “hit list” circulating on social media. Our resource officer responded that he had heard rumors about some type of list. But no specifics, such as an alleged hit list, were provided at that meeting, Principal Mark Elliott confirmed.
Our officer had looked into the “list” rumors last year and learned the names of several juveniles, most of whom lived outside Satellite Beach and only one of whom is a SHS student. The officer then spoke with investigators from the other jurisdiction to gather and share information on the juveniles. No specific information surfaced that would warrant further police action.
None of the juveniles identified then were involved in the recent Glenwood incident.
Our officer has worked with local youth for more than two decades, and he cares deeply about what happens to them. He follows up complaints and concerns almost daily to resolve any issues between students and sometimes even non-students.
Before the Glenwood incident, he was given no list or facts that would warrant such action.
None of the individuals directly or indirectly involved in the Glenwood incident made any complaints to law enforcement beforehand. Only afterward have several people come forward with specific information about the ongoing issues among that particular group.
Some now claim they knew this would happen. Yet no one volunteered information that would have allowed police to intervene before the tragedy.
Police cannot take action on nonspecific rumors or posts on social media, which are considered free speech. Police departments everywhere are aware of such rumors and comments and pay attention to them. But to act, police need specific information, facts and witnesses.
The Gainesville Sun – Cheers and Jeers
Gainesville is fortunate that law enforcement officers and community members are working together to close divisions.
Cheer: The Gainesville Police Department and groups such as the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding for working to address disproportionate arrests of minority youths.
The efforts include the sessions where officers and young people can discuss their perceptions of one another.
Jeer: the developer of the Finley Woods subdivision, Tommy Williams Homes, for subjecting Arredondo residents to spotty mail, school bus route changes and a lack of access to their own driveways.
Area drivers were also given scant notice that parts of Southwest 62nd Avenue/63rd Boulevard were being closed to traffic for more than a month.
Cheer: Dancing mom Bonnie Northsea for giving birth to a nine-pound baby boy last week.
The Gainesville native became an Internet sensation in recent weeks for a video she recorded of herself in Gator gear doing the zombie-style dance from “Thriller,” hoping it would encourage labor.
Cheer and Jeer: The Gainesville City Commission gets a cheer for directing staff to prepare to open the Paynes Prairie Sheetflow Restoration Project, but a jeer goes to all involved parties for the fact that it will only be open on weekends for the rest of the fiscal year.
The project has been years in the making and figuring out how to provide week-long access should have been sorted out long ago.
Cheer: The Wagmore Foundation for its $1.3 million gift to the Community Foundation of North Florida.
The money will help the Alachua County animal shelter become a no-kill facility.
The Lakeland Ledger — Animal Hoarding: Killing With Kindness
No one can dispute Nancy Pfund’s sincere affection for cats. Her “furry family,” as she has told The Ledger, is “my whole life.” Those who know her best say the 69-year-old founder of the Polk County Cat Coalition is most guilty of loving felines too much.
Last week, however, a jury in Bartow found the Winter Haven resident guilty of something else: five counts of misdemeanor animal abuse. The verdict resulted from a Sheriff’s Office investigation last April that uncovered 92 cats, two dogs and a pig living in near-uninhabitable conditions, at least for most of us. According to an account of the trial by The Ledger’s Cody Dulaney, jurors were aghast when prosecutors unveiled pictures of the inside of Pfund’s 1,100-square-foot home.
The photos depicted an army of roaches, maggots and flies drawn to decaying, strewn-about garbage, surfaces soaked in feces and urine, moldy pet food and bowls of tainted water. A sheriff’s deputy told the jury that cat droppings in some parts of the home reached the top of his boots. Pfund’s son, who owned the home at the time of the raid and later sold it, testified that he spent $50,000 to repair and remodel it. County Animal Control had to euthanize 26 of Pfund’s diseased cats and a dog; three others died in custody.
The animals were discovered when a neighbor attempted to feed them for Pfund, who was laid up in Winter Haven Hospital, fighting off an allergic reaction to medication. They lived in such a mess because Pfund rejects the euthanasia policies of more mainstream shelters. County Judge John Kirkland touched on that when it came time to punish her. “I think you have the best intentions, but your main problem is you can’t say ‘no,’?” Kirkland told Pfund. “It just got out of control.”
The Miami Herald — State Legislature: Off and running
May the bipartisan bonhomie that a small group of Miami-Dade state lawmakers exhibited during a visit with the Editorial Board be infectious. It’s that time of year again — the members of the Florida Legislature are about to take their seats in Tallahassee and conduct the state’s business. And to be clear, it’s none of the state’s business where its transgender residents want to go to the bathroom, one of the sillier, intrusive and time-wasting initiatives on tap. Plus, it seeks to criminalize people in gender transition. Lawmakers should dispose of that one — quickly. There are serious issues with which they must responsibly contend. Here are just a few:
Lawmakers from across the state should reject bringing the enterprise-zone program to an abrupt and unnecessary end. Tweak it? Perhaps.
Its mission is to bring jobs creation and capital investment to distressed and underutilized neighborhoods by offering incentives to businesses that locate in such areas. While a state report says that enterprise zones have had mixed results in other parts of Florida, they have been an unqualified success in Greater Miami.
The once-rundown and fallow area on south Miami Beach — now fetchingly called SOBE — owes its global appeal and vitality to being in an enterprise zone. In the city of Miami, Wynwood, once a bustling factory district that fell on hard times as businesses moved offshore, then evolved into a funky arts district, is thumping with new life — and economic buzz — because of enterprise zones.
The program encourages businesses to take a bit of a risk in exchange for tax credits for employees hired or on wages paid. These are performance-based incentives.
South Beach, its success aside, remains an enterprise zone, and that rankles some state lawmakers. Sure, it’s time for a debate on how to modify the program, perhaps basing continued inclusion of successful turnarounds on a graduated scale. But ending the program? No, clearly its opponents should see for themselves the good that enterprise zones have done.
The Orlando Sentinel — Champ & Chump: Sarina Gumbert and Jessica Recksiedler
Sarina Gumbert: An air traffic controller at Orlando International Airport, she acted with grace under fire one morning last October when a corporate jet was heading toward a commercial airliner after each had just taken off. Quickly recognizing the risk of a mid-air collision, she ordered the pilot of the corporate jet to turn. She calmly repeated that order four times until the pilot complied. Gumbert made light of her actions, saying she just did what she was trained to do. Leaders in the air-traffic-control industry, however, were plenty impressed. Next week she’s scheduled to receive the industry’s top award.
Jessica Recksiedler: A circuit judge who sits in Sanford, she’s shown questionable judgment when sitting behind the wheel. She’s racked up a long list of traffic tickets, including six for speeding, and two for careless driving. Now she’s in hot water with the agency that polices judges for not telling a panel interviewing her for an appeals-court vacancy about one of her traffic stops. She and the agency decided it was a misunderstanding, but she agreed to a public reprimand. Supreme Court justices will make the final call. If they summon her to Tallahassee, we hope she leaves lots of time to drive there.
The Ocala StarBanner — Pressure to expand Medicaid
Pressure continues to mount on Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli either to agree to expand Medicaid or to come up with a better way to fund health care for low-income Floridians.
The latest challenge was posed by state Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano. The Bradenton Republican said last week that Florida faces a crisis over the impending loss of $2 billion in federal funds for low-income health care.
The allocation is set to end in June because the federal government anticipated that health care needs of the working poor and uninsured would be covered by states’ expansion of Medicaid eligibility.
The expansion is called for under the federal Affordable Care Act, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states can choose not to expand.
Florida is one of 22 states that have rejected Medicaid expansion, even though the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs for the first few years and 90 percent thereafter.
Crisafulli, like previous Speaker Will Weatherford, contends that the federal government can’t be trusted to fulfill its Medicaid funding obligations.
So far, Crisafulli’s fears have not borne out, as more and more states — including several led by conservative Republican governors and legislatures — elect to expand Medicaid.
Calls for Florida to follow suit have come from Florida hospitals that will suffer the loss of federal Low-Income Pool funds.
“We have a problem and it cannot be ignored,” Galvano told a Sarasota business group.
The Pensacola News-Journal — Change Warrington Middle
We’re optimistic a plan to transform Warrington Middle School into a community school also will improve the surrounding neighborhood. It’s the kind of community partnership that is sorely needed to strengthen homes and homerooms.
Two weeks ago, reporter Carlos Gieseken broke the news that a grant application is in the works to pay for a study of what’s needed by the school, the students, their families and the community. The study would take about a year to complete before launching the community school. The first, Gieseken reported, was Evans High School, which became a community school in October 2012.
“It offers mentoring, after-school programs, continuing education and a variety of health services to students and their families as well as teachers and community residents,” he reported. “Depending on the day, hours of operation for community and in-school programs can run from 7 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. The school’s wellness cottage even provides access to a nurse, medical assistant and dentist.”
Imagine children with a toothache being treated at school instead of having to deal with the pain while concentrating on math, reading or other classes. Those who live in poverty-stricken areas typically can’t afford a trip to the dentist or doctor for checkups. Having medical and dental professionals on campus will go a long way in helping the students better focus on learning.
At Evans High, school performance improved quickly. It went from failing to a B school, David Bundy, director of the Center for Community School and Child Welfare Innovation at UCF, told Gieseken, pointing out “graduation rates, student achievement, attendance and parental involvement has improved.”
The lead nonprofit for the Warrington Middle application is the Children’s Home Society, Gieseken reported. The University of West Florida will be the university sponsor, and Sacred Heart Hospital and the Nemours Children’s Clinic will serve as health care partners.
However, it’s not a sure thing.
The Palm Beach Post — Muoio deserves second term as mayor in West Palm Beach
Like most cities transitioning to become an “urban center,” West Palm Beach has struggled with various issues the past several years: an aging, overtaxed water system; a troubled subsidized housing agency; and changing community demographics.
Those are just a few of the issues Mayor Jeri Muoio inherited when she began her first term four years ago. And while we have not always agreed with her priorities and approach to some of these issues — moving too slowly to clean up a problematic water and sewer operation, for example — residents and taxpayers have benefited from the city’s overall direction.
With that, The Post endorses Muoio in the West Palm Beach mayor’s race for a second term. She deserves a chance to make good on the groundwork she has laid.
Former City Commissioner Kimberly Mitchell, who gave up her District 3 seat, is seeking to unseat Muoio. With 13 years on the dais, Mitchell is certainly smart and experienced. There is no doubt she cares about the city and its residents. But her willingness to open the city’s checkbook for “capital improvement projects” raises concerns when such borrowing may not be necessary.
Muoio, after playing hardball with the county on a land swap, may prove to have scored home run with the proposed spring training baseball stadium near 45th Street and Military Trail. She is showing the same fortitude when it comes to the All Aboard Florida train station downtown. New leadership in both housing and police agencies is also promising.
As we’ve said previously, Muoio has made some missteps. Her stubborness regarding the proposed State Road 7 extension out west is a source of frustration. However, it is to her credit that she is willing to fight for residents.
We believe that she has earned a second term.
The Panama City News-Herald — Campus gun bill gets an F
It is significant that the people in authority who are most responsible for keeping college campuses safe, and who know the most about potential dangers students face, are overwhelmingly opposed to the guns-on-campus bill some Florida lawmakers are pushing toward passage.
The bill (SB 176) would allow individuals with concealed-firearm licenses to carry guns at state colleges and universities, overturning a longtime ban on concealed weapons on campus. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee approved the bill last week on a 3-2 vote.
The vote, according to the News Service of Florida, came “despite opposition … by the university system’s Board of Governors, university police chiefs and the 12 public universities.”
So the people most knowledgeable about the likely effects of guns on campus don’t want guns on campus.
Why, then, do some legislators?
For Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, sponsor of the bill, the big selling point is the idea that gun-toting people on a college campus could step in and stop violence.
Sometimes that works. Usually it doesn’t. Last year, a crazed couple in Las Vegas ambushed and killed two police officers who were having lunch. An armed civilian named Joseph Wilcox confronted the assailants. He was shot dead.
The South Florida Sun Sentinel – In Delray Beach, Mayor Glickstein deserves another term
When Cary Glickstein became Delray Beach’s mayor two years ago, he inherited the mess that city government had become.
The previous mayor and commission had hired a manager, Louie Chapman, who had little experience relevant to Delray Beach and soon proved to have been the wrong hire. He failed to institute basic management procedures. The police/fire pension fund had severely unfunded liabilities that threatened the city’s financial future. Delray Beach’s largest contract, for trash hauling, had been extended without bidding.
Today, Delray Beach has a new manager, Don Cooper, who has lots of experience in Florida. Cooper and other new department heads are raising standards at City Hall. The city avoided an impasse with the police union but still struck a deal that strengthens the pension fund and gives Delray Beach more control over its investments. Similar negotiations are underway with the firefighters’ union. The trash contract went out for bidding, which will save residents roughly $8 million.
And, for good measure, Delray Beach soon should have new, improved rules for downtown development. Based on that record, the Sun Sentinel recommends Glickstein over Tom Carney in the March 10 election.
The race is a rematch of 2013. Carney had been named interim mayor, a move many in Delray saw as engineered by friendly political factions to boost his chance for the permanent job. This year, Carney entered the race late, and his case against Glickstein is weak.
Carney says that under Glickstein, commission meetings have become “less civil” and that staff turnover has been high. Carney also claims that Delray Beach has not made progress on redeveloping Congress Avenue and that major decisions, such as the downtown building rules, are made without sufficient public input.
In fact, the biggest impediment to progress in the last two years was Chapman, whom Carney voted to hire. Despite a finding by the Office of Inspector General that Chapman misled the commission and the office’s investigators, the commission couldn’t force him out until last July and install an interim manager to begin the rehab at City Hall. Cooper didn’t start work until last month.
“Yes, there was tension,” Glickstein says, “but I was voted into office to change what was going on. That would not have happened without taking people to task.” He adds, “I am frustrated that we didn’t get more things done, but when you put the wrong people in the wrong place the damage is far-reaching and long-lasting.”
The Tallahassee Democrat – It’ll be an epic showdown. Or not
My dream had an Old West theme. New Democrat publisher Skip Foster bursts through the saloon doors. The piano goes silent and Lilly LaLoosh stops dancing. I push back my chair, stand and look him dead in the eye.
I reach for my gun, but it’s just an ice cream cone. I take a lick and realize Ben & Jerry’s Salted Caramel is pretty good, but that doesn’t matter now because it’s time to kick up a row.
Skip killed our beloved political endorsements — he shot ‘em right in the keister.
I haven’t met Skip Foster. We’re having lunch soon; I’m guessing the endorsement issue may come up. It’s a big water cooler topic in our political town. How will we ever find our way without the Democrat telling us what to do?
As a candidate, I was involved in four elections and each time was relieved to receive the Democrat’s endorsement. Candidates won’t admit it, but they all want it real bad. You start thinking about it as soon as you decide to run. Make no mistake; in this town, the Democrat endorsement is the key to the elected official’s washroom.
The process is daunting. The candidates have a last meal and head through two big wooden doors. Three people — they may as well be wearing black hoods — greet you, and the interrogation begins. An hour later you leave the room looking like you were hit in the head with a bag of biscuits.
Then you wait three weeks, until one Sunday morning you open the paper and learn your fate. I’m guessing it’s been that way since the Democrat landed on a porch in 1905.
Now that the endorsements are gone, the few of us who are voting might actually have to pay attention. That’s been a problem for us the last few years. We always took pride in our hometown voter turnout, but not so much anymore. Sadly we have started looking like the rest of Florida … uninterested.
You can’t blame our Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho. There’s no better cheerleader for voting than Ion. No, this one’s on us.
The Tampa Tribune — Ease the school testing craze
To its credit, the Florida Senate is responding to the public’s complaints about the state’s school accountability mandates, and we hope the efforts result in needed reforms.
The proposed revisions, it should be stressed, do not represent a retreat from the school accountability effort championed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, which has undoubtedly improved state schools. But the Senate legislation under discussion would ease the obsession with testing and give local school districts more control over testing policies.
Parents, teachers and students all complain testing now dominates schools. The mandated tests can have critical consequences on school rankings, student advancement and teacher evaluation. They force teachers to focus on test preparation, rather than lesson plans or other classroom work that also are valuable.
In addition, teachers resent that up to 50 percent of their evaluation is based on student test scores, which may not accurately reflect their classroom abilities.
Sen. John Legg, the Lutz Republican who chairs the K-12 education committee, tells us his panel has been listening to the public and understands that changes are needed. Legislation surely will be revised through the session that begins Tuesday, but its existing plans looks to provide a solid blueprint for change.
A key step would be to repeal the 1999 law that required local school districts to administer a standardized assessment test in every subject not tested statewide.
The change would not remove the statewide standardized tests and also not remove the end of course test requirements for high school, but frees districts to determine whether the assessment tests are necessary.
Another proposal would limit the time students spend taking state- or district-required tests to 45 hours a year, 5 percent of the time a student spends in school. The cap would not affect tests given by teachers for a course.
Legg says the 45 hours seems a reasonable number but acknowledges there is uncertainty because it is unclear just how much students are being forced to sit through all the tests. He says there needs to be a cap somewhere, and “this will force them to measure” how much testing goes on in each district.
Another necessary measure would allow schools to reduce the role of student test scores in teacher evaluations. State law now requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student scores. In Hillsborough, the test scores account for 40 percent of the teacher evaluation. Hillsborough developed its own teacher evaluation criteria in conjunction with the Gates Foundation and with the state’s approval.