Florence Snyder, Author at Florida Politics

Florence Snyder

Florence Beth Snyder is a Tallahassee-based lawyer and consultant.

Florence Snyder: Rick Scott’s juvenile justice budget, a wet bandage for Stage 4 cancer

Eleven days ago, Gov. Rick Scott dropped a news release proposing a 10 percent pay raise for juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers.

Today, the Miami Herald dropped its comprehensive carpet bomb on Scott’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

Maybe it’s a coincidence.

The Herald’s book-length investigative series is a stomach-churning compilation of examples of Florida’s children being abused and exploited in a state system that might not have time to make proper hiring decisions, but can always find time for a cover-up.

The Herald’s project has been in the making for two years with the support of a reporting grant from the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School. The project-in-progress was no secret to Scott and his minions.

Even Herald readers got a preview of coming attractions with last February’s story about the plight of Keishan Ross, a Broward County teenager with an IQ that tops out at 61, on a good day.

Keishan was having a bad day when Scott’s DJJ Secretary, Christy Daly, had the bad fortune to be escorting the Herald’s investigations team on a tour of the Broward Detention Center. Keishan’s “deep, primal, piercing, unrelenting screams” revealed the facility as a torture chamber to a kid who lacked the capacity to understand why he was there.

Herald photographer Emily Michot‘s picture of Daly’s stricken face is worth a thousand words. To her credit, Daly didn’t try to spin what the Herald saw, heard and reported.

That was then.

Today, Daly’s singin’ a tune familiar to anyone who’s ever danced The Government Shuffle. “We have policies in place of what your relationship should be like with these children. Not everyone follows these policies and procedures. But the best we can do is have them in place,” said Daly.

States which favor professional competence over political connections do not put children into the custody of sadists, sex offenders and jailers who are able to tune out, but not able to help kids like Keishan. Effective programs do exist, but after six-and-a-half years of “aggressive steps to reform Florida’s juvenile justice system,” Scott’s #BigIdea is a 10 percent raise for people whose base salaries range from $8.50 per hour to $25,000 per year.

Scott’s news release notes that more than 2,000 juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers “have the important responsibility of working with youth in DJJ care, but they also have the unique opportunity to help change lives and redirect our youth to a successful path.”

“I look forward to working with the Legislature during the upcoming session to pass this 10 percent pay raise, which will ensure DJJ can hire highly qualified and dedicated detention and probation officers to help our youth and keep our communities safe for years to come.”

To be fair, Scott did not invent Florida’s practice of throwing stale crusts of bread at starving populations and calling it reform, and the Legislature has, for decades, been a willing partner in Florida’s penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to juvenile justice.

The Herald’s reporting is harrowing, unassailable proof that Scott’s prescription for DJJ is little more than a waterlogged bandage on a Stage 4 tumor.

Rape kits delayed is justice denied, Part 5: Westeros edition

In Westeros, rape is the sport of kings and a pastime for peasants. Game of Thrones-watchers have been moved to anger, angst and apoplexy over the steady stream of sexually-based offenses inflicted upon women in the Seven Kingdoms.

This is a puzzlement to Sophie Turner, who made her acting debut at age 13 as the highborn, ill-fated Sansa Stark in HBO’s mash-up of Middle Earth and the Middle Ages. The rape of the fictional character played by Turner provoked viewer outrage and boycott threats that befuddled the young actor.

“(Sansa’s rape) was the trending topic on Twitter, and it makes you wonder, when it happens in real life, why isn’t it a trending topic every time?” Turner wondered aloud in Time Magazine.  “This was a fictional character, and I got to walk away….unscathed … “

Unscathed, yes, but not unchanged. Baffled by the “…. backlash when this is happening to women all over the world, every single day,” Turner looked for ways to divert the public’s attention from Sansa, who needed no help, to real rape victims who need help desperately.

Today, she is an activist on behalf of the half million Rawandan women who were systematically raped in the genocide that took place two years before Turner was born. As a patron of Women for Women International, Turner uses her starpower to bring attention to a program that provides meaningful help to women who have to survive and support what’s left of their families.

Florida’s rape survivors are provided with next-to-nothing in the way of practical support. While Gov. Rick Scott jumps aboard his private jet to troll fellow governors and peddle Florida as a great place to take a vacation or relocate a business, our large and largely ignored untested rape kits gather dust in evidence lockers. In some alternate, functional universe, Sansa Stark is Florida’s governor, and the rape kits get processed faster than you can say “Power is power.”

Florence Snyder: A Valentine to Judge Carithers — thank you for being embarrassed

Duval County Circuit Judge Hugh Carithers

An unvarnished, unqualified apology is hard to find these days, so let’s take a moment to thank Duval County Circuit Judge Hugh Carithers for reminding us what it looks like.

Last month, the 1st District Court of Appeal repealed an unfortunate order of a Jacksonville-based hearing officer, and replaced it with a reminder that hearing officers do not have the authority to put people in jail for failing to pay child support.

When the Jacksonville Times-Union came calling for the view from the bench of the judges for whom the errant hearing officer works, Carithers — who heads up the family court division — did not circle the wagons. He did not hide behind flacks. There was no whining about #FakeNews and no babbling about “lessons learned.”

In a narcissistic time when hardly anybody is ever embarrassed about anything, Carithers told the T-U that “It was wrong. It was just wrong what happened to this guy. It’s embarrassing to me. It’s embarrassing to all the family judges.”

There are bigger issues here about the hiring and training of hearing officers that Jacksonville’s bench and bar will need to sort. Happily, there’s good reason to believe that the local legal community is up to the task under the watchful eye of reporters who check dockets that most newspapers ignore. Carithers did not blink at the uncomfortable truth that “this was a breakdown of the system, and the judges should’ve exercised more oversight.”  Instead of the usual plateful of empty promises to “make sure this never happens again,” Carithers served up a more modest and more credible “I’m pretty sure we’ve righted this ship. … “

At any given time, around 15,000 family court cases are on “the ship” where Carithers and his colleagues serve as captains. Litigants need and deserve judges who aren’t afraid to be embarrassed by mistakes on their watch.


Florence Snyder: In memory of Roxcy Bolton, #EndTheBacklog

In 1960s Dade County, men who were privileged to be newspaper columnists could — and did — mock “women’s libbers” like Roxcy Bolton in the pages of the Miami Herald. Department stores could — and did — have fancy private dining rooms open only to men. Banks could — and did — deny credit cards and loans to women who did not have a husband or father willing to co-sign. If police and prosecutors thought about rape at all, they thought of it as a property crime against the man to whom the victim “belonged.”

That’s just how it was, and how it might still be, but for Bolton, who died last week in Coral Gables at age 90.

Bolton was Florida’s First Feminist and a one-woman consciousness-raising group. She managed to stay happily married to her lawyer husband and raised four children while raising hell about indignities and injustices that others ignored. In a land before drive-thru burger joints, Bolton cooked up food for the family and her special firebrand of advocacy in the kitchen that doubled as her Situation Room.

Bolton outlasted the Herald guy who dismissed her as a “doll” with “silly ideas.” It took three Herald reporters to catalogue her long list of lifetime achievements in an obituary that made the front page.

Before Bolton, Florida had no battered women’s shelters, and there was no rape crisis center in the entire country. After years of personally assisting women in distress, Bolton founded Women in Distress, which continues to operate in Broward County. The rape crisis center she founded at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital was christened in 1993 as the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center, and has treated thousands of victims spanning an age range from two weeks to 98 years.

Bolton’s passing reminds us that Florida continues to have a disgraceful backlog of untested rape kits. It would be a fitting memorial and tribute, at long last, to #EndTheBacklog.

Florence Snyder: Rest in peace, Bill Cooke, and thank you for your service

Pictures of the young Bill Cooke show a brooding, handsome, James Dean kind of guy who seems to belong in front of a camera. Lucky for us that he did not see himself that way.

Cooke died last week at age 70, leaving behind a sister, a heartbroken Florida journalism community, and a body of work that serves history and inspires the photojournalists who knew him well, and the ones who wish they could have known him better.

Among the latter is Colin Hackley, a highly-regarded photojournalist who has spent two and a half decades covering Real Florida, as well as UnReal Florida. Hackley had the advantage of a formal education at one of America’s elite journalism schools, and is well-equipped to explain the magic of Cooke, a self-taught newsman who was equally comfortable wielding a camera or a pen.

“You have to recognize what the story is and how to get to each of its component parts, ” said Hackley. “Photojournalists are called to record what is in front of you in a truthful, fair manner and put yourself into a position to get the picture that tells the story.”

News people like Cooke and Hackley could count on a modest but steady paycheck in the years when Old, Big Media could count on a double-digit ROI. “It always takes courage to tell a story,” said Hackley, and courage was easier to come by when news organizations sent reporters and photographers out in teams, with a license to kill, metaphorically speaking, anything between them and the news.

Hackley describes the ideal reporter-photographer dynamic as a true partnership of professionals “who can move easily between words and visuals. It’s a second set of eyes that are as interested in telling your part of the story as you are in telling theirs.”

When the ecosystem that supported those kinds of collaborations began to collapse, Cooke was forced to draw upon his personal reserve of courage. He had plenty of that. Cooke’s blog, Random Pixels, was appointment reading for people who care about Florida, and the people who tell Florida’s story.  Even as his health was failing, he never failed to inform and entertain.

Cooke was not the only source of stories headlined “Miami Herald continues to make staff cuts with no end in sight,” but he brought a ballsy outrage to the subject that was a comfort to journalists who had been tossed out with their notebooks and cameras and very little in the way of notice or severance.

Cooke served in Vietnam and died of pulmonary fibrosis in a VA hospice. In between, he was a valiant warrior for truth in a cold and cowardly world.

Florence Snyder: Joe ‘n Mika get engaged as NBC’s credibility gets screwed

Joe Scarborough and his Morning Joe sidepiece Mika Brzezinski certainly deserve each other, but viewers deserve better from NBC News.

The left wing’s answer to Fox & Friends took their relationship “to the next level” by admitting that their “crackling chemistry” has moved them to make marital plans.

After being scooped on the story by Page Six, Scar ‘n Mika copped to being shacked up in the south of France when Joe popped the question. But nobody gets fired at NBC for getting scooped on their own story. Competence is optional, and so is ethics. That’s right, Brian Williams, we have not forgotten about you.

Morning Joe’s audience is not surprised by today’s “reveal.” In recent years, as Joe and Mika lightened their spousal baggage, NBC beefed up its Morning Joe photography budget. You could hire a few real reporters for what the network spends on glamour shots of these pretend journalists. They are indeed an attractive couple, and could make an honest living pitching luxury cruises and Viagra to the Town & Country set.

Anyone who has ever worked anyplace where a blonde is bangin’ the boss knows that the difference between the Fox News Frat House and NBC is merely a matter of degree.

The NBC logo — a preening peacock — used to seem out of place at the network whose news division was run by giants like Reuven Frank and Michael Gartner.

But it’s just right for a network that starts its day with a blowhard “analyst” who talks over everybody, including his girlfriend, and ends with a pompous fabulist who “coulda been an actor, but he wound up” making too much money to be fired from the anchor chair where real reporters used to sit.


Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 6; Opioid Kabuki Theater opens today in West Palm Beach

This afternoon, The Rick Scott and Pam Bondi Opioid Listening Tour opens in West Palm Beach. Scott and Bondi won’t be there, but People with Big Titles and No Power will.

Scott, who used to run hospitals for a living, thinks that mosquitoes carrying Zika are a public health emergency, even as Floridians and medical tourists who VISIT Florida’s criminal enterprises masquerading as “sober homes” are dropping like flies.

When Scott and Bondi’s designated listeners roll into town, they’ll be greeted by citizens and taxpayers bearing photographs of loved ones lost to heroin and its kindred killer drugs. Grieving parents, grandparents and siblings take this epidemic very personally, and they are very sick of public officials who don’t.

“We need urgency. We are tired of talking. We need action…particularly from the Department of Health and the surgeon general,” protest organizer Maureen Mulroy Kielian told The Palm Beach Post.

That’s not happening. As Surgeon General Celeste Philip said last week in her Senate confirmations hearings, it is the Department of Children & Families that will be “taking the lead” in handling this steaming souffle of hot potatoes.

Opioid overdoses claimed 600 lives in Palm Beach County last year. The statewide death toll in 2015 was 2500. If that isn’t a surgeon general issue, what is?


Florence Snyder: Hold the door on DSOs, Part 2; FAU says FU to ‘crown jewel’

Countin’ down to sine die, the House and Senate education budget conferees have bumped the secretive university and state college “direct support organizations” up the chain of command for further grinding.

Soon, we’ll know how serious the House is about forcing the DSOs to operate in the sunshine.

DSO top brass are paid princely salaries with public funds. Yet, they operate with all the transparency of a Swiss bank. We hear about them only when they do something really stupid that offends someone who’s really rich.

That’s how the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) foundation got itself the unwelcome attention of its hometown newspapers and got some “earned media” at USA TODAY.

FAU was hauled into court by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation, which “partnered” with FAU in 2007 and came to regret it when they came to believe that FAU is looking to move in and take over Harbor Branch’s $68 million endowment. That was not part of the deal, say Harbor Branch trustees.

 It will be for a circuit court in St. Lucie County to decide whether FAU — where UNBRIDLED AMBITION is, literally, uppercase and trademarked — has predatory intentions.

FAU’s in-house “former award-winning journalist” Lisa Metcalf, was dispatched to describe the lawsuit as “an unfortunate distraction that we hope to move past quickly,” adding that the folks who built what FAU President John Kelly refers to as the university’s “crown jewel” have “misinterpreted our commitment to our partnership and to our shared responsibility for efficient and proper stewardship of our resources.”

Patronizing millionaires with AV-rated lawyers is rarely a sound strategy, and the newspaper closest to Harbor Branch was appears underwhelmed, and possibly alarmed, by Kelly’s subsequent commentary on the controversy.

In a Feb. 23 guest column for TCPalm, Kelly wrote:

“The Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation is a very important component of the university. It is a certified Direct Support Organization of Florida Atlantic University. These are a category of not-for-profit organizations created by the Florida Legislature that exist for one reason: to benefit the university with which they are affiliated.”

“To ensure DSO accountability and consistency with a university’s mission,” Kelly wrote, “the university boards of trustees oversee affiliated DSO boards and approve DSO budgets, and university presidents or their designee supervise DSO senior administrators … Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Foundation became a DSO of FAU in 2008 as part of the $69 million transaction in which Harbor Branch became a part of FAU. Its sole and unique mission is to support the research, educational programs, infrastructure and overall mission of FAU and Harbor Branch.”

TC Palm speaks for the community that loved and supported Harbor Branch long before Kelly came to Boca Raton with a carpetbag full of grandiosity and UNBRIDLED AMBITION. Its editorial board wants to see this dispute resolved soon, and not in the courts.

Secrecy breeds shady practices. Accountability at the DSOs is long overdue, and would go a long way toward enhancing the credibility of Florida’s postsecondary schools.

Florence Snyder: In Miami-Dade Schools, a Bermuda Triangle for union workers

Union members expect their leaders will look out for them, but that’s not how it works in Miami, where “leadership” at AFSCME’s Local 1184 thinks that a high-interest private loan program for its lowest paid workers qualifies as a “member benefit.”

No credit? No problem! for union members who are paid a pittance to deliver essential services in Miami’s public schools. The union and Miami-Dade have rolled out the red carpet for BMG Money, a Brazilian company that’s incorporated in Delaware and has offices in a luxury tower on Wall Street South.

BMG’s loans carry a crushing interest rate of 24 percent and will absolutely, positively be repaid. That’s because the school district will act as BMG’s collection agency, deducting scheduled payments from employee paychecks.

The deal to provide workers this “opportunity” did not go before the Miami-Dade School Board for public vetting and voting. It arose instead in the room where contract “modifications” happen. Union officials who signed on the dotted line did not respond to Bulldog’s request for comment, so we don’t know what, if any, benefits the union stands to gain from the loan program.

According to the union’s draft documents, however, BMG “would provide financial literacy training to union workers; support union membership drives and make an unspecified contribution to the union.” That was news to BMG’s “chief growth officer” Tom McCormick, who told Florida Bulldog, “We do not plan on offering any incentives to AFSCME based on any milestones.”

McCormick wouldn’t discuss the particulars of the Dade deal with Bulldog, but he did go on the record to point out that BMG’s “Loans at Work” program is designed for “good people with good jobs” who might otherwise turn to “predatory payday lenders … with absurdly high interest rates of 265 percent and repayment terms that make the loans exceedingly burdensome on borrowers.”

Business is booming at BMG, which claims over 40 government and public agency clients in Florida. The company is proud to have issued over $107 million in loans to employees who otherwise would have fallen victim to predators who occupy spots higher up the loan sharking food chain.

Time will tell if these folks are being serviced, or being screwed. For many borrowers, the difference between a 24 percent loan and a 265 percent loan is the difference between being shot with a handgun or shot with a howitzer.

Either way, you’re likely to end up dead.

This is not the first time that Miami- Dade schools’ top brass and union officials have triangulated with private businesses at the expense of the rank and file. It makes for a Bermuda triangle where what little the workers have too often disappeared into someone else’s pocket.


Florence Snyder: Why children die, Part 5 — An alphabet soup of agencies can’t drain the swamp

After a lifetime of drawing the short straw, Keishan Ross may finally have caught a break.

The 17-year-old Broward County boy has an IQ that tops out at 61, on a good day. By age 3, his teachers knew that he was severely limited in his capacity to learn. He suffers from mental illnesses that he can’t understand. He will never be able to reliably cooperate with doctors, teachers or his loving mother.

By age 11, Keishan was labeled a delinquent. His mother, his public defender, and a caring judge have tried and failed to extricate him from the Government Shuffle between the Broward Regional Juvenile Detention Center and the Apalachicola Forest Youth Camp, neither of which is equipped to meet the public’s need for Keishan and children like him to be kept in a safe and secure environment under the care of appropriately trained professionals.

What Keishan needs would cost about $130,000 a year. That’s a small price to pay to avoid the bad PR generated by the horror stories that leak out of the medieval snake pits where Florida warehouses thousands of faceless, forgotten children whose “maladaptive behaviors” are a manifestation of their extreme disabilities.

It’s pure, dumb luck that brought Keishan’s plight, and his picture, to public attention. A Miami Herald investigations team, working under a reporting grant from the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School, was being squired about the Broward detention center by Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Secretary Christy Daly, when Keishan’s “deep, primal, piercing, unrelenting screams” made it impossible to think of anything else.

Jail guards are used to such Bedlam, but Herald photographer Emily Michot‘s picture of Daly’s stricken face is worth a thousand words about the gap between the professional skills it takes to run DJJ and the political connections it takes to get the job.

It’s been two months since Daly admitted to the Herald that Keishan does not belong in the Broward gulag. But it took an order from Circuit Judge Michael Orlando to get him into a Broward County psychiatric hospital for tests and treatment.

Judges prefer to leave the social work to social workers, but DJJ’s “partners” at the Department of Children & Families were unwilling to consider anything other than more of the same.

In cases like Keishan’s, a judge who’s willing to “retain jurisdiction” is the only protection a disabled child has in an elaborate ecosystem that enables an alphabet soup of agencies to evade meaningful responsibility for meaningful draining of the bureaucratic swamp where children drown.

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