Florence Snyder, Author at Florida Politics

Florence Snyder

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

Florence Snyder: VISIT clueless tourism officials in Brevard County

If there’s one thing a $113,000 a year Florida tourism executive urgently needs, it’s a $26,000 raise.

Otherwise, says the Brevard County Director Compensation and Job Performance Committee, its Office of Tourism Executive Director Eric Garvey might leave the Space Coast — where the median household income is $48,483 — for greener Florida tourism pastures, where “the average salary for his counterparts” is $154,792.

Last week, the Brevard Tourist Development Council endorsed the committee’s recommendations, which include an added $90,000 to be divided up among nine of Garvey’s “best in class” staffers.

Don’t these people read newspapers?

Florida tourism’s marketing honchos have a target on their backs, fronts and sides, along with incomes that vastly exceed what average Floridians will earn in their best years, or their wildest dreams.

This is a bad week to be bearbaiting legislators and taxpayers who think the tourism czars should pay their publicists out of their own pockets. Garvey’s bosses might want to reVISIT their strategy.

Rape kits delayed is justice denied, Part 3

Robert Sheridan Haar

In a few weeks or months, we will learn the name of the Volusia County woman who, in 1997, had the bad fortune to encounter one Robert Sheridan Haar.

Relying upon DNA evidence, police say Haar, 22 at the time, and two of his yet-unidentified predator pals abducted and gang raped her near Mud Lake in Daytona Beach.  She was 14 years old.

To her attackers, she was just a piece of meat, a nameless target of opportunity. Today, Haar sits in a Wisconsin jail, awaiting the paperwork necessary to bring him back to Volusia County, thanks to what turned up in the 20-year-old rape kit of a nameless, helpless victim whose attackers figured they’d never see again.

Haar and two sidekicks allegedly told the teenager she would be killed if she screamed or resisted. The trio dumped her in Port Orange the next morning, when they were done with her.

She’s not done with them. “Obviously, she was very emotional, she did recall the incident very well although it had been 20 years,” Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pat Thoman said in a news conference.  “She was definitely willing to pursue the case.”

Haar had managed to keep his DNA out of a law enforcement database until 2016, which is, coincidentally, the first time that the 19-year-old rape kit for this victim was submitted for testing.

Haar’s arrest comes as a reminder that he’s not the only person who might be decades overdue to face a grown woman with a prosecutor at her side and account for himself to the terrified child she used to be.

We can’t be reminded too often.

Florida’s public officials love to talk tough on crime, but they won’t cough up the chump change it would take to clear the backlog of rape kits gathering dust as perps remain free to gather new victims. The number of untested rape kits now stands, roughly, at 6444.

It’s an embarrassment. It’s a disgrace.

If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to have a will

If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to have a will, but that’s not something the Wedding Planner will tell you.

Your parents probably won’t tell you, either; it’s a statistically safe bet that your parents, your grandparents, and your wedding planner don’t have a will of their own.

Death is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. But it happens to the best of us, and to the worst. It can come suddenly, shockingly, to someone far too young. For the lucky, it comes gently, after a long and fulfilling life. Under any scenario, somebody must go through your wallet, your underwear drawer, your closets, your iPad, and figure out what to do with your stuff. Someone will look into the eyes of your dog, your cat, your bunny rabbit or your pet python and decide whether to take him home, take him to a shelter, or dump him in the Everglades.

We have enough pythons in the Everglades. If you’re old enough to have a pet python, you’re old enough to have a will.

One hundred percent of Americans will die one day, but 72 percent of them do not have a current will. Wealthy Americans are no more likely than the rest of us to have a will. And they are more likely to have a will that is out of date. In the afterlife, this’ll come back to haunt them.

Florence Snyder: Whether Adam Putnam likes it or not, it’s still OK to tell the truth

If Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is serious about running for governor, he’s going to have to dial down the #Stupid in his own office.

The Baron of Bartow went full #FloridaMan on Ocheesee Creamery, a family-owned dairy farm an hour’s drive and a world away from what former Gov. Jeb Bush derisively — and correctly — referred to as “Mount Tallahassee.” The Wesselhoefts are central casting’s idea of decent, hard-working people being run out of business by “regulators” running wild. They dote on their small herd of Jersey cows like the Donald dotes on Ivanka.

Visitors to the Creamery’s website learn that the “Jersey girls” are “an intelligent cow breed, and we enjoy being around them because they are known for their calm, gentle and docile nature.”

The “plush green grass and open fields of fresh air and sunlight” at Ocheesee would make an ideal backdrop for those ubiquitous FreshFromFlorida commercials. Instead, Putnam and his lawyers at the firm of Orwell, Kafka and ? and the Mysterians are in their fifth year of spending public funds to force the Wesselhoefts to add vitamin A to their skim milk, or add the word “imitation” to their skim milk labels.

Yesterday, it was Putnam’s turn to get creamed.

A panel of Reagan, Bush, and Obama appointees to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals circled the constitutional wagons around strict construction and decided that it is not deceptive to refer to skim milk as skim milk.

Nobody claimed otherwise before Putnam was elected as the state’s agricultural regulator-in-chief. His jihad on Jerseys has attracted embarrassing international attention, including the No. 4 slot on an April Fools’ Day roundup of “stories you thought were pranks but are in fact genuine.”

Mary Lou Wesselhoeft suspects that Putnam and his Label Police are carrying water, currying favor, and otherwise doing the bidding of bigger, richer, more politically connected dairymen. At some point, he’s going to have to explain to the rest of us why she’s wrong.

Florence Snyder: What does it take to get fired at DOH?

Lola Pouncey, a Florida Department of Health (DOH) “bureau chief” making $90,000 a year in “medical quality assurance,” set up a jewelry store in her state office. She commandeered state workers, state time, and state property in her for-profit business, according to the agency’s inspector general (IG), whose findings were available to DOH Secretary Celeste Philip well before the rest of us found out from Miami Herald reporter Glenn Garvin.

Seventeen days after Garvin’s story, Pouncey is still on the state payroll and baffled taxpayers want to know, “What does it take to get fired at the DOH?”

The IG found that Pouncey “knowingly and intentionally violated laws and agency rules.”  Worse, she tried to thwart the state’s investigation with “evasive and misleading” statements.

To her credit, Pouncey was willing to answer reporter Garvin’s questions. But DOH, like too many other state agencies, requires something approximating a papal dispensation for public servants who want to explain themselves to the public.

Garvin could not obtain permission to speak directly to Pouncey. Instead, DOH trotted out its $81,000 a year flack, Mara Gambineri, to inform Garvin that Pouncey was not fired, not suspended, just “counseled appropriately by her supervisor.”

More than 30 of Pouncey’s co-workers knew she was operating a “pyramid sales” operation. “Magnolia and Vine” jewelry and accessories were displayed in her office amid the medical quality she was supposedly assuring.

Garvin read the IG’s missive so we don’t have to and reports that Pouncey:

” … organized sales lunches known as ‘socials’ that often spilled into work time, recruited four other health department employees —some of them under her supervision — to become her sales persons, and berated them if they weren’t meeting their quotas. ‘You’ve got to get moving,’ one health department worker said she was told after her sales dipped. ‘You’ve got to get your $1,500 goal.’”

When her sales person approached Pouncey to discuss business, she would breezily declare, “OK, in that case, we are officially on break.” The rest of the staff quickly learned to stay away. “A couple of witnesses” told investigators that there were times when they needed to talk about health department matters with Pouncey “but did not because [she] seemed to be discussing jewelry with other employees.”

To avoid the distracting intrusions of health department affairs, Pouncey on at least eight occasions organized jewelry sales meetings at Tallahassee steakhouses. The meetings were scheduled for health department lunch hours, but often stretched into the afternoon workday, sometimes by as much as an hour …

“A couple of employees were told by supervisors they did not have to adjust their timesheet for the extra time spent at socials …

Some health department workers believed the socials weren’t exactly voluntary.

“Some felt if they did not attend the socials, they would not be seen as ‘team players’ … One new employee said she was told that it would be in her ‘best interest’ to attend because in the ‘boss’ is in the business.”

Pouncey could well be the least of the managerial problems at DOH, and Philip owes the public, and the employees Pouncey strong-armed, a better explanation than Gambineri’s “nothin’ to see here, folks.”

Spotted at the Governors Club: The last troubadour of Real Florida

Jeff Klinkenberg is not the kind of guy who does “luncheons,” but there he was at the Governors Club Tuesday, entertaining Friends of the First Amendment — some real, some fake — at the First Amendment Foundation’s annual fundraiser.

He looked a lot more comfortable later that day at Sally Bradshaw’s bookstore, telling true tales about things that “make Florida unique” to an appreciative audience of people who like to choose their reading material in a venue that does not sell toilet paper and tampons.

Klinkenberg coined the term Real Florida and cornered the knowledge market on everything worth knowing about people who do not need Disney to fire their imaginations or casinos to pump their adrenaline. To people genuinely committed to Florida, Klinkenberg is the Scheherazade of storytelling, revered by regular folks and by fellow A-list writers.

One of them, FSU professor and National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis showed up at Klinkenberg’s book signing to pay his respects. It was like watching Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page trade licks.

“Did you ever skinny dip with Jane Wood Reno?” Sachochis asked Klinkenberg. It was a question that could have come only from an author and journalist who knew and loved Florida long before the state became an international punchline.

Skinny dipping with Jane Wood Reno is one of the few Real Florida experiences Klinkenberg has not had. But she and her famous offspring have been in his database since 1966, when Klinkenberg was a 16-year-old stringer for The Miami News, where Reno was an esteemed reporter in an era when newspapers didn’t even have to pretend to take women seriously.

As a kid in Miami, Klinkenberg developed a passion for fishing, playing with snakes, and reading the inspired “About Florida” columns of the Miami Herald’s Al Burt. “I wanted to grow up to be Al Burt,” Klinkenberg said. “Back then, every paper had a person who wrote about Florida” so it seemed like a reasonable career goal, and a pretty good way to pay for the bait and tackle.

Great editors like the late Gene Patterson and Mike Wilson, now with The Dallas Morning News, saw the Al Burt potential in the young Jeff Klinkenberg, and turned him loose to travel the state in search of stories to inform, inspire, delight and dazzle readers of the St. Petersburg Times. Klinkenberg faithfully delivered for 37 years.

Telling real stories of real people was never just a job to Klinkenberg. It’s a calling, and he’ll be pursuing it until his last breath, or until they pave over the last square inch of Real Florida, whichever comes first.

Florence Snyder: Ain’t no Sunshine where Scott’s gone

Just in time for Sunshine Week, Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman reminds us how focused, how ruthless, how relentless Gov. Rick Scott’s flacks are in their taxpayer-financed efforts to keep information out of the hands of taxpayers.

Florida’s Ministries of Disinformation have been around since the Chiles administration, but “paranoia about the press” has ramped up significantly on Scott’s watch. Here’s how Connie Bersok, who devoted 30 years of her life to protecting Florida’s fragile wetlands, described current events at Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to Pittman and Times researcher Caryn Baird:

“When I first started, if the press called, you could talk to the press, you just had to document it for your boss. Then it became: You had to get permission first, but you could still talk.

“Then it became: The press office would approve of anyone talking with a reporter, but they had to be on the line.

“And now that’s changed to: ‘You do not talk to the press.’ As a result, a lot of the information that’s expressed to the press wasn’t much information at all.”

Bersok’s now retired and able to exercise her First Amendment rights on behalf of former colleagues who don’t dare violate the government gag order for fear of joining the hundreds of DEP employees who have been disappeared since Scott took office.

Purges are always drenched in lies, especially when the purges are aimed at nationally respected professionals with decades of dedicated public service. It’s an uphill battle keeping the air fresh and the water clean in the face of relentless pressure to build high-rises and strip malls in places that God did not mean for people to live.

It’s impossible when the scientists and planners are subject to being fired with no notice and for no reason, and no amount of Florida sunshine and DEP spin will take the stench out of Scott’s campaign to make it easier for rich people to get richer creating more and more and more minimum wage, dead end jobs! jobs! jobs!

Florence Snyder: Rick Swearingen plays J. Edgar Hoover while Broward burns

While Bald Badasses Rick Scott and Rick (“We know the terrorists are here!”) Swearingen are busy playing dress-up like Jack Bauer and Jason Bourne, Florida’s criminal justice basics are increasingly under the command of the Keystone Kops.

The governor and FDLE commissioner are looking to raid state trust funds to “fight terrorism” by adding 46 new Counterterrorism Avengers to the payroll. It’s a good way to grab a cheap headline, and deflect attention from truly terrifying tales of our collapsing criminal justice infrastructure.

Speaking to a legislative committee this week, Swearingen had the gall to invoke the memory of the five travelers who were shot to death in January at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The shooter, Iraq War veteran Esteban (“My Pleas for Mental Health Treatment Fell on Deaf Ears”) Santiago had an easy target in a facility that has suffered from years of budget cuts and bad management. As passenger traffic grew by millions, sworn deputies, traffic enforcement officers, and community service aides were cut.

We know that because Gannett’s Mike Sallah, a Pulitzer Prize-winning member of the Miami Herald Brain Drain, and Naples Daily News staffer Kristyn Wellesley followed the trail of public records and reported that there were no armed deputies in the terminal when Santiago opened fire. In the decade before Santiago’s rampage, the number of deputies assigned to the airport had dropped by roughly the number of Homeland-types Swearingen seeks to hire. Crisis-trained deputies had been kicked to the curbs to direct traffic, deal with drunks, and reunite children with their lost stuffed animals.

Down the road from the Ft Lauderdale Airport is another threat to public safety that we know about because of journalists and not because of grandstanding politicians. Florida Bulldog reports that Broward’s new courthouse is, to put it mildly, “riddled with security issues.” The $276 million building features light switches and thermostats located inside, instead of outside, the cells. That way, the inmates can literally run the asylum.

The juvenile holding cells are coed, right down to the open toilets. Revolted by the 14th-century design, the juvenile judges revolted and refused to move into the new – but not improved – facility. Those courtrooms will stand empty until someone figures out how to “repurpose” them.

America spends billions every year on counterterrorism. If we can’t rely upon Washington to do its job, then we are in more trouble than Swearingen can fix with 46 new agents, or 4600 new agents.

If trust funds are to be raided in the name of public safety, why not hire some lab technicians and get on with eliminating Florida’s shameful backlog of rape kits.

Maybe FDLE can take advantage of some of that empty courtroom space in Ft. Lauderdale.

You know you talk like a toddler, right?

A recent and deeply disturbing addition to the Word Salad Hall of Shame is the painfully frequent use of the word “right” pronounced in the earnest tone of a toddler in need of constant reassurance.

“I pooped in the big girl potty, right? so I can play with my Legos, right? and then we can go to Granny’s, right? and we can have hot dogs for dinner, right?” is an adorable, if exhausting, indication that a little one is learning how to win friends and influence those closest to her. Soon, she’ll leave the need for constant reassurance behind and make her way in the bigger world of classrooms and playgrounds.

Even a small dose of “right?” is anything but adorable in the mouths of politicians, pundits, and other professionals who get paid to persuade us that they know what they’re talking about.

It was bad enough when adults in positions of authority took to ending simple declarative sentences with a “right?” Now, they’re tacking it on to the end of each clause.

Many of the hackneyed expressions that make up the iceberg lettuce-base of Word Salad are used primarily by Valley Girls and Someone’s Ne’er Do Well Nephew that we aren’t listening to, anyway. By contrast, “right?” has metastasized to some really smart people at every point along the political spectrum.

We’d listen to them more if they weren’t in constant need of soothing, like the brilliant baby-man that Beck Bennett plays so brilliantly.

It’s a good time to buy teddy bears, right? and baby blankies, right? because we seem to be having an adult onset insecurity epidemic. Right?

 

Bad nursing homes benefit from AHCA’s passive-aggressive war on #transparency

Somebody please give Shelisha Coleman a big fat raise.

The Agency for Health Care Administration’s (AHCA) high profile flack works hard duty playing hardball with some of Florida’s best reporters, but makes tens of thousands of dollars less than men paid by taxpayers to tell tall tales about #Transparency.

Coleman had to drop a whopping load of horsefeathers on the Orlando Sentinel last week in a laughable effort to justify AHCA’s unlawful redactions to public records.

Taking up the cause of families who love their grandparents, reporter Kate Santich asked AHCA to explain why inspection reports are being scrubbed of “dates, places and pivotal words” that make it possible to gauge the quality and safety of Florida’s nursing homes.

People who pay attention to Transparency and Accountability (T&A) in Florida had no trouble believing the attorney who told Santich “I’ve been looking at these reports for 20 years, and I know what they used to look like and what they look like now. It has become arbitrary and inconsistent what they redact — but I think it’s all part of a bigger purpose to confuse people and make the reports useless.”

Like a lamb to the slaughter, Coleman was dispatched by her better-paid bosses to tell the Sentinel that state officials are merely trying to “provide additional protection of personal health information” as required by federal privacy laws.

After she stopped laughing, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen pointed out the holes in the rationalizations, prevarications and passive aggressive sandbagging served up by Coleman to justify AHCA’s “new redaction process.”

That new redaction process is good news for bad nursing homes. We can hope Santich’s story will embarrass the legislature into doing something about it. But don’t bet Grandpa’s life on it.

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