Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

A round-up of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — Positive changes to help consumers fix credit reports

Consumers stand to benefit from a recent settlement that will require the nation’s largest credit agencies to make it easier to fix faulty credit reports. The settlement also impacts the way medical debts are recorded. These long overdue developments could positively impact the lives of millions of consumers who struggle under the weight of inaccurate credit reports and face an almost Sisyphean task of trying to fix them.

New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced earlier this month that his office reached an agreement with credit bureaus Experian, Equifax and Transunion to improve the accuracy of credit reports. Under the terms of the deal, the companies will rely on specially trained employees who will work through credit reporting problems with consumers. In some cases, companies had been using an entirely automated dispute resolution process.

The agreement also targets medical debts, which make up more than half of all collection items on credit reports. The credit reporting agencies will create a 180-day waiting period before recording medical debts, a nod to the length of time it can take insurers and medical billers to work out coverage issues. This is a prudent solution that should help consumers, many of whom are unknowingly penalized on their credit reports while they are actively involved in payment disputes with their insurers.

The settlement stems from a 2012 investigation in which several New Yorkers complained about the difficulty of correcting errors in credit reports. Although each of the major credit bureaus has denied any wrongdoing, they have made reasonable efforts to work with investigators to revamp the way the industry handles errors. The agencies have three years to make the changes, though most should be in place within six to 18 months.

Credit reports matter. The data constitute a kind of fiscal report card that influences credit scores and affects consumers’ ability to secure everything from home loans to cellphone contracts and, increasingly, jobs. With cases of fraud and identity theft on the rise, consumers of all economic backgrounds would be wise to keep close tabs on their credit reports, which by federal law can be retrieved for free once a year at

The Bradenton Herald — School board member Dave Miner losing ‘watchdog’ status

Before his election to the Manatee County school board in November 2012, attorney Dave Miner spent countless hours and years on education issues — commenting at board meeting, collecting videotapes of those discussion and assembling binders of district documents. He badgered the board and district for accountability.

At that time, he served as a relentless advocate of open government, forever petitioning the district for public documents that he and everyone else had a right to scrutinize.

Today, though, he has violated those noble principles — by not complying with Sunshine Law requirements. His personal records, emails primarily, that deal with district matters are documents the public has a right to access.

But Miner’s continuing delays in turning over those records has prompted a Sunshine lawsuit. In September, Chad Ritchie of Sarasota Security Patrol made a public records request for a variety of Miner’s telephone calls and emails. Two other entities made identical requests at the same time, but only Ritchie filed a lawsuit over Miner’s delaying tactics.

Here we are almost five months later, and Miner has yet to produce those records.

Ritchie’s lawsuit involves the district’s contract with his company for private security guards at dozens of elementary schools and Miner’s strong opposition to the arrangement.

In a March 17 email response to a Miner query, attorney Mark Barnebey refuted the school board member’s position that money should be advanced to cover his costs of producing the records. Cost is the sticking point for Miner. Barnebey also wrote: “I continue to be concerned with the time it has taken to respond to this public records request.” Indeed, that’s the crux of this.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal — Jurors should be unanimous on death

Although the U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to review a case involving how Florida juries recommend death sentences, the Florida Legislature shouldn’t wait for direction from Washington to ensure its system of sentencing is more rigorous and fair.

Out of the 32 states that impose capital punishment, Florida is the only one that allows a simple majority of jurors to recommend death sentences. That standard in the penalty phase runs oddly counter to the earlier phase in which juries must be unanimous on the question of a defendant’s guilt or innocence.

The issue of life or death should be meted out with like certainty. It’s unsettling that such a momentous decision can be made by such a narrow margin, with so much juror doubt.

The Supreme Court last week chose to consider next fall the case of Timothy Hurst, 36, who in 2000 was convicted of the 1998 murder of Cynthia Harrison, his co-worker at a Popeye’s restaurant in Pensacola. The jury voted 7-5 to recommend the death penalty, which was accepted by the judge.

Hurst appealed the sentence on the grounds that the jury didn’t adequately consider his defense’s claim that he was mentally disabled, and that the divided jury vote was unconstitutional. The issue revolves around a 2002 Supreme Court case, Ring v. Arizona, in which the court required that a jury, not a judge, identify the aggravating factors necessary for increasing the maximum punishment.

When Hurst’s sentence was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, the state justices upheld it on the grounds that Florida’s sentencing system wasn’t subject to the requirements of Ring v. Arizona. The U.S. Supreme Court has now decided to address that conflict between state and federal jurisprudence.

The Florida Times-Union — Times-Union Endorsement Roundup: Here are the best candidates to move Jacksonville forward

Bill Bishop has a combination of business and government experience.

His thoughtful approach to issues and willingness to talk straight to the voters led the Times-Union editorial board to endorse him for mayor.


Only three of seven candidates for sheriff have much management experience. Jimmy Holderfield emerged from the field with a wide experience of management jobs and the willingness to be more open with the public than the current administration.


Mike Hogan has been a fine public servant. However, in this case, he is competing against a top official in a successful Supervisor of Elections Office.

Since the 2000 election, this position has been highly sensitive. It is important that the successes of recent years be continued.

Tracie Davis is deputy supervisor of elections. She impressed the Times-Union editorial board with her calm, knowledgeable approach to questions.

She brings years of experience in a smooth-running operation.


Anna Brosche is one of the more substantial candidates for City Council in recent years. As head of the United Way’s board, she brings an intimate knowledge of Jacksonville’s needs.

And her preparation for the interview was substantial, as well.


John Crescimbeni is one of the most diligent and hardworking members of City Council in recent years.

His independence, combined with an eye for detail, make him a most effective legislator.

He has actively helped constituents countywide.


With at least 10 new members expected for City Council, Tommy Hazouri’s institutional knowledge of the Legislature, city government and the School Board would be invaluable.


During recent financial crises, Greg Anderson’s banking experience came in handy. Anderson was not only chairman of the council Finance Committee, he was City Council’s representative on the pension task force headed by Bill Scheu.

And as a committee chairman, Anderson’s easygoing demeanor was often an asset during sensitive situations.


One of the city’s top nonprofit leaders, Ju’Coby Pittman has a special connection to constituents often ignored by our community — the homeless and other vulnerable residents who rely on the Clara White Mission’s services.

It’s time for someone of her caliber to be in the inner circle of government.


Melody Shacter can be expected to make a real impact on City Council. She is a successful businesswoman who has the smarts and initiative to be an outstanding member of City Council.


Planning and zoning are continuous issues in Jacksonville. Therefore, the extensive background of Lisa King on the Planning Commission would be a big asset. Consolidated government is more complicated than most. King also showed appreciation for open government.


Aaron Bowman was commanding officer at Naval Station Mayport. When people call for more talent running for office, Bowman is a perfect example.


Eight years as a City Council aide put Scott Wilson in an enviable position to run for office. He was active and involved as an aide and can be counted upon to do the same on his own.


Mandarin voters often don’t re-elect their district council member, but Schellenberg deserves another term. A hard worker, he led council’s part in moving the city to a self-insurance plan, potentially saving millions of dollars per year.


George Spencer Jr. has both law and auditing expertise. He vows to bring more attention to his “forgotten” district, which includes Springfield, the Eastside and a swath of the Northside.


With Jacksonville focusing on mental health issues, Lynn Sherman’s background at Baptist Health will come in handy. She has been actively involved in nonprofit and community issues for years.


Garrett Dennis is a young and thoughtful candidate who impressed the Times-Union editorial board.


The needs in District 10, which includes Northwest Jacksonville and the Westside, are great. Reggie Brown knows the district and deserves a second full term.


When Doyle Carter speaks, people listen. He is an effective advocate for his Westside district.


A man with a strong business background, a community leader and now a veteran of City Council, Jim Love has a solid, common-sense approach.


Jacksonville’s huge consolidated government needs a watchdog agency to look for waste and corruption. The inspector general’s position must include the independent agencies. Jacksonville could mirror Palm Beach County, which has saved millions for taxpayers through its inspector general’s office.

Florida Today – Thumbs up, thumbs down

Cover uninsured, Florida style

Thumbs up: To the Florida Senate Health Policy Committee, which has seriously taken up expansion of federally funded health insurance for about 800,000 working poor people who don’t qualify for aid but can’t afford private policies. The key concept in its bill: That the Medicaid expansion would happen through the state’s cost-saving system in which enrollees belong to private managed-care plans of their choice. Their premiums would be paid to private insurers from the federal dollars available to all states under the Affordable Care Act. It will be a tough sell in the conservative House. But going with the system championed by former Gov. Jeb Bush addresses the complaint that expansion means putting uninsured people into traditional Medicaid’s “broken system.”

Put brakes on bus-stop woes

Thumbs down: To Space Coast Area Transit, for providing Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility to riders at just one in 10 bus stops in Brevard. A study it commissioned found that 89 percent of SCAT’s 852 bus stops were not ADA-compliant. That situation, including lack of paved boarding areas, is “on par with a lot of other agencies,” according to the civil engineer who surveyed stops. SCAT estimates the cost of making all bus stops accessible at about $6 million, or about $8,000 per stop. It’s been suggested to budget $150,000 a year for the next five years. In the meantime, if you’re trying to maneuver a wheelchair across grass, or you’re an older rider sitting on a bench atop a tree root, that’s little comfort – and fraught with accident potential. “Just sticking a post in the ground with no sidewalks: Those days are gone,” said Jim Liesenfelt, SCAT transit director. Right. The ADA passed 25 years ago.

More manatees at our shores

Thumbs up: To the record number of manatees — 6,063 of them — spotted during the annual manatee count in Florida this winter. Observers from 11 organizations logged 3,333 of the sea cows here on the East Coast and 2,730 on the West Coast. That’s almost 1,000 more than the previous high in 2010, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and 1,239 more than last year. Sunny weather and calm water made for high visibility and lots of manatees resting at the water’s surface, helping the count, said FWC biologist Holly Edwards. This year, more than 1,100 manatees were found seeking warmth at Florida Power & Light Co.’s Cape Canaveral power plant in Port St. John alone. Given that 140 manatees have died in the Indian River Lagoon since 2012, for undetermined reasons, this is encouraging news. These marvelous marine mammals are welcomed here, whatever the weather.

Gap in space security?

Thumbs down: To a flawed Congressional directive that could leave the U.S. unable to launch military communications or intelligence satellites for several years, according to the Pentagon. Last year, lawmakers passed a defense-authorization bill that will end the use of Russian-made rocket engines to deliver military payloads. Instead, Congress appropriated money for development of a new, U.S.-built engine. The Air Force has informed Congress that it may not be ready when United Launch Alliance exhausts its supply of Russian RD-180 engines for its workhorse Atlas rockets.

The Gainesville Sun – Cheers to Santa Fe

Saturday is usually the time for The Sun’s “Cheers and Jeers” editorial, but today we have one big round of cheers to deliver.

Santa Fe College is deserving of praise for being named the nation’s top college by the Aspen Institute on Wednesday. The Washington, D.C.-based institute awards the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence biannually.

Twice in a row, Santa Fe has made the list of 10 finalists among the more than 1,000 colleges competing for the award. This time, Santa Fe took the top honor and the $800,000 prize that comes with it.

The award recognizes a college with outstanding achievement in areas such as student learning, degree completion and earnings of graduates.

“For students who plan on community college as a stepping stone to university, there are few (if any) better places to start than Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida: Nearly two in three Santa Fe students who transfer complete a bachelor’s degree,” the institute wrote in its report on the prize.

The report notes that Santa Fe provides a smooth path for students transferring to the nearby University of Florida due to agreements between the schools and a physical presence for UF on the SF campus.

But Santa Fe also has certification and bachelor’s degree programs of its own in areas such as nursing and industrial biotechnology. Area residents can attest to its role in filling gaps in local workforce training and bringing educational programs to under-served parts of our community.

Locals have long known how lucky we are to have a college like Sante Fe. Now the rest of the country is recognizing what an asset we have here.

The Lakeland Ledger — FOIA Upgrade Would Be a Good Start

The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

The Freedom of Information Act, first enacted in 1966, allows the public to see how their government functions — and fails to function — by providing access to official records. In fiscal year 2013, government agencies released some or all of the information sought in 440,997 requests.

But too often, information that should be released isn’t because agencies invoke of one of nine exemptions spelled out in the law, ranging from protections for personal privacy to considerations of national security.

Critics have focused especially on the overuse of an exemption for “inter-agency or intra-agency” documents that has come to be known as the “withhold it because you want to” exemption.

For example, the CIA invoked that exemption to deny a request for release of a 30-year-old internal history of the 1961 Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba.

In January the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the FOIA Improvement Act of 2015. Like a similar bill in the House, it would require that agencies operate under a “presumption of openness” when considering the release of information and would limit the exemption for so-called deliberative letters and memos — written by policymakers during the decision-making process — to those less than 25 years old.

These and other proposed changes in the bills — including a requirement for a single online portal for all requests — don’t address all the problems with the FOIA.

The Miami Herald — Keep U.S.-Israel relationship strong

The surprising victory of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the polls this week represents a remarkable personal triumph, making him one of the Jewish state’s longest-serving leaders. Now, let the fence-mending begin — as hard as that may be for both the Israeli leader and his American counterpart.

There’s no love lost between Mr. Netanyahu and President Obama. Neither is big on charm offensives. But personal political feuds have no place in this relationship, a cornerstone of foreign policy for the United States and a matter of survival for Israel.

Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu are experienced enough, and wise enough, to understand the mutual value of the relationship between their two countries and to realize that, ultimately, they have a duty to set aside their differences. They are statesmen as well as politicians, and statesmanship requires tact, patience and forebearance.

It also requires forward-looking diplomacy. In that realm, the way Mr. Netanyahu achieved his victory was disappointing. His last-minute vow that under his leadership Israel would never agree to a Palestinian state was a setback for the two-state solution that many Israelis, as well as most Western leaders, see as the only avenue to peace. Just two days after his victory, the prime minister walked way back from his pandering pledge. He said he still wants “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution — but for that, circumstances have to change.”

In addition, his pre-election call for supporters to come out in force to offset the vote of Israeli Arabs is bound to cause more division and discontent in a land that has more than enough of both.

It certainly undermines whatever goodwill was generated in Europe by the terrible acts of anti-Semitism that have swept across the continent recently. The United States has consistently and dutifully fought off anti-Israeli efforts in forums like the U.N. General Assembly and the shamefully biased U.N. Human Rights Council, but it helps to have Europe’s support. Alienating European public opinion for the sake of winning a political race doesn’t help Israel.

The Orlando Sentinel — 10 questions for House on health

Why would House Republicans let their opposition to Obamacare stop them from doing what’s best for Florida?

State senators took another big step toward expanding health coverage to 800,000 uninsured Floridians last week, unveiling a budget that builds in $2.8 billion in federal funds for the plan.

Yet House leaders are still playing hardball. “We’re just not interested in that plan at this time,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Republican from Merritt Island.

We’d encourage voters who are fed up with the gridlock on this issue in Tallahassee to reach out to their representatives to turn up the heat on House leaders.

In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats have lined up together behind the plan. So have business groups and hospitals, who helped draft it.

Senate Republicans, led by Orlando’s Andy Gardiner, deserve credit for overcoming their aversion to Obamacare — the law that makes the funds available — to work out a free-market approach to expanding coverage.

It’s easy to understand the approach’s appeal for business. Florida’s high number of uninsured residents — the rate in 2013, 24.3 percent, was the nation’s second worst — means millions can’t pay for regular health care. So the cost of what care they receive — often in hospital emergency rooms — gets shifted to businesses that do pay for insurance, making them less competitive, and families with coverage, adding to their burdens.

The plan, by accepting federal funds to provide private insurance to working poor Floridians, would reduce that cost shift. It also would help spare businesses penalties many face under Obamacare for employees without insurance. And it would create tens of thousands of new jobs in the state to ramp up coverage.

Rejecting those funds doesn’t cut any Floridian’s tax bill to the IRS. It just keeps any of that money from being spent to expand health care in their home state.

The Ocala StarBanner — More access to records

This being the end of Sunshine Week, it is easy to surrender to the urge to wail and moan over how many more exemptions the Florida Legislature will carve out of our vaunted open government laws this spring, thus sealing off more information to the public.

As the First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee has tabulated, lawmakers are entertaining more than 50 changes to Florida’s public records laws, with only a couple that actually propose expanding access to public information.

Perhaps most of these ideas will fizzle by the time the session wraps up in May. Meantime, the tide occasionally changes direction. In this instance, that means praising the Florida Supreme Court for green-lighting county court clerks to make more documents available over the Internet.

For a decade, the state’s highest court blocked such access. The justices were concerned that someone’s privacy might be compromised through the release of personal information.

Yet as that freeze continued — with counties granting online access only to a select few, mostly judges and lawyers — the numbers of cases filed in local courts grew.

When the Supreme Court imposed the ban in 2004, local courts across Florida — meaning circuit- and county-level civil and criminal courts, as well as probate and family courts — fielded 3.7 million cases, according to a state report. Since then, Floridians have filed at least 3.9 million cases each year in those courts, with a peak of more than 4.6 million achieved in 2009, the report indicates.

The Pensacola News-Journal — What’s the harm in getting liquor quicker?

“First do no harm.” They need to engrave this saying in stone at the Florida Capitol.

Some laws that work well are better left alone.

Such as the Florida law that restricts hard liquor sales to a store that primarily sells liquor. The same law limits and controls direct access to these stores by requiring customers to enter through a separate door facing the outside of the establishment. Both exist to control – and thereby limit the access to minors.

When minors enter a liquor store, they immediately stand out from customers of legal age. This makes identifying and monitoring minors easier for store employees, and intimidates minors who realize everyone is watching them – and results in fewer sales to youth.

Under Senate Bill 468, Wal-Mart and other large retailers (box stores) would repeal these laws in order to place liquor directly on their shelves – right next to all their other nonaddictive merchandise like diapers, video games or groceries. This change would allow access to underage employees – some as young as 16. Not a smart move to increase alcohol availability when the ranks of state personnel charged to enforce alcohol regulations and prevent underage sales have been decimated.

Our nation’s alcohol regulations are some of the strongest and most effective strategies as confirmed by credible public health research. Existing laws regulating alcohol work.

Why do we need special regulations for alcohol sales? Because alcohol is not just another product line – it is intoxicating and addictive and particularly so when used by those underage. Business and marketing practices – perfectly legitimate for selling other commodities – may cause social harm when alcohol is being sold.

Typical business strategies increase purchases from frequent buyers, promote discounts to gain frequent buyer customers, and advertise to lure youth as a future customer base. While legitimate for many products, for booze they are inappropriate and dangerous.

So why change the law? There is no compelling reason to do this – none. Profits are high at the box stores and most consumers already go to multiple stores when they shop. Nobody’s complaining about having a hard time finding a convenient place to buy hard liquor.

The Palm Beach Post — Cities must obey voters and fund local corruption watchdog

Remember these names? Ray Liberti, Jim Exline, Tony Masilotti, Mary McCarty, Warren Newell?

Or how about this one? Corruption County.

In 2009, following federal investigations and a series of reports in The Palm Beach Post, then-State Attorney Michael McAuliffe convened a special grand jury charged with investigating public governance and corruption.

The grand jury’s key recommendation was one with staying power: The county needed a strong inspector general with real authority. A year later, it called for all municipalities to be placed under the oversight of the inspector general, too.

After a public vote in 2010, by a margin of 7 to 3, the public overwhelmingly agreed.

Former city commissioner and ex-convict Jim Exline starts over as real estate professional

U.S. appeals court rejects ex-Palm Beach County commissioner Masilotti’s claim to get back millions in land

Behind the razor wire with contrite Mary McCarty: ‘I took my life for granted. I had a wonderful life. And I blew it’

Now, five years later, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Catherine Brunson has ordered cities and towns to respect that vote and fully fund the county Inspector General’s office. It’s time to get on with it.

As the Post’s Jane Musgrave reported Tuesday, Brunson rejected the 14 cities’ and towns’ arguments that the referendum lacked the power to force them to spend money on a watchdog — even though in every single town and city, a majority of voters said yes to a corruption watchdog — and its expense.

“The people are the municipalities, and the officials who represent the people may not undermine the electorate process because they disagree,” Brunson rebuked the cities.

We mustn’t forget why the grand jury — and the public — felt so strongly about the issue. The abuses by public officials have been both disgusting and costly to taxpayers, who are still paying off some of the corrupt votes.

Some were relatively small misdeeds, dollar-wise: West Palm Beach commissioner Liberti had admitted in 2006 to taking $66,000 plus a $2,000 watch from a businessman who wanted to force a massage parlor operator to sell low. Liberti used code enforcement violations to get it done.

The Panama City News-Herald — State should reconsider DJJ plan

There are certain things you just should not do.

William Goldman cataloged a couple of these classic blunders in his book, “The Princess Bride.”

Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

And to those quality bits of advice we would add: Never get in a financial argument with the people who control the purse strings.

Unfortunately, Florida’s counties find themselves in just such a situation over splitting costs with the state for the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

The situation began in 2004 when the Legislature mandated “cost sharing” for DJJ with the counties. The plan made fiscal sense for the state, and the counties mostly agreed to grin and bear it. However, a simple arrangement — the counties were responsible for the cost of juvenile detention until the case was resolved, and the state was responsible for the offender’s detention after sentencing — turned into a budgetary mess.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel – Sen. Smith, fix bad bill on police body cams

Increasingly in cities across Florida, a small body camera is being added to the standard police uniform to help protect officers from wrongful accusations of excessive force and help citizens see what happened in the event a police encounter goes bad

So far, there’ve been no reports that people have been harmed or that these small cameras, which attach to an officer’s lapel or shirt pocket, have been abused.

Indeed, body cameras are reducing the number of complaints of police misconduct, says Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “They’re a win-win for police and citizens because they exonerate police more than they document misconduct.”

However, these cameras are making a number of police officers nervous, which is why their union is pushing state legislators to pass a law that would largely exempt body camera recordings from Florida’s public records laws, an effort that would defeat their purpose.

The bill filed by state Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, would keep secret all videos recorded within a private residence, a medical facility or at the scene of a medical emergency, which covers a lot of cases. It also would let officers decide when to turn the cameras on, which means they could turn them off when situations get tricky. And it would allow departments to destroy recordings after 90 days, which is hardly enough time for careful review of questionable cases.

Sure, police have privacy rights, too. And no one’s suggesting they push the record button when they’re sitting in their cars, drinking coffee and complaining about the boss.

But given the unparalleled authority we give police to arrest us — and use deadly force against us — their claim to privacy shouldn’t trump a tool proving to reduce claims of excessive force and build community trust.

Should officers be required to record every interaction they have with a member of the public? Why not? If citizens can witness an officer’s demeanor as he offers directions to some lost motorist or helps an errant teenager avoid arrest, perhaps people would better understand the good work our police do in the course of everyday shifts.

The Tallahassee Democrat – It’s time to divest of fossil fuels

One of the greatest threats to humanity is disruption of the climate. Most people feel powerless to do much about it, and we are growing increasingly frustrated by the ongoing failure of our country’s leaders to take action to abate climate disruption.

The fossil fuel divestment movement shows the greatest promise for impressing our leaders with the urgency of the climate crisis. In February, concerned activists in 60 countries met in the streets, on campuses, in churches, in parks and in business districts to convey the message: Fossil fuels have no future if the rest of us are to have a future. Our banks, churches, governments, universities and all other investors must dump their holdings in fossil fuels. We don’t want our money used to fuel the climate crisis.

Divestment is the opposite of investment. It means to discard from your portfolio all stocks, bonds and other funds that promote unethical or morally questionable behavior. There have been a handful of effective divestment campaigns in recent history. One expressed opposition to the genocide in Darfur; another condemned the immorality of tobacco advertising. The most powerful campaign broke the power of the apartheid government in South African in the 1990s.

First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee voted to divest its endowment funds of fossil fuels, becoming the second Presbyterian Church in the country to take this bold step.

Pastor Brant Copeland says “that moral stewardship of the Earth means more than driving fuel efficient cars and putting solar panels on our homes and places of worship. It means changing public policy and investing our money in ways that honor, rather than ravish, the planet.”

The Tampa Tribune — March Madness hits home

The annual college basketball frenzy known as March Madness, which began this week, has special meaning for Tampa this year. Not only did the USF women’s basketball team make the tournament, continuing an excellent season, but the Bulls will play their first-round game at home tonight.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

Well, it could.

Tampa and USF also will host the Women’s Final Four on April 5 and April 7 at Amalie Arena. It is the second time that Tampa, the state and the arena have hosted the Women’s Final Four — the first coming in 2008.

This demonstrates yet again that Tampa is a big player in the sports world. The 2008 event drew capacity crowds of more than 21,000 each session, and it was electrifying.

The Final Four ended with Tennessee cutting down the nets for its eighth national championship.

The excitement, the facility and Tampa’s hospitality obviously explain why the signature event of NCAA Women’s Basketball is coming back so soon.

Not to jinx the Bulls, but what a story it would be if the hometown team made it to this year’s Final Four in Tampa and won the national title. This talented team, under the outstanding leadership of head coach Jose Fernandez, is ranked 25th in the nation and has a record of 26-7.

USF finished second in the American Athletic Conference behind No. 1-ranked Connecticut, a women’s basketball juggernaut.

What a thrill for Tampa and USF, which is making its third NCAA tournament appearance, to be dancing in March.

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 His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, 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 [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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