Florence Snyder – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Florence Snyder

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

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.

Florience Snyder: St. Pete College’s Soviet-style presidential selection would make Vladimir Putin proud

In less pretentious times, St. Petersburg Junior College hired presidents without the help of consultants who make them look ridiculous.

But it’s a “state college” now, and its presidential search is an expensive and entertaining-for-all-the-wrong reasons mashup of Marcel Marceau and The Muppets.

To be fair, variations on the Soviet- stylings of SPC’s presidential search are happening all over Florida. We know more about SPC’s shenanigans because it is among the few “community colleges” where a reporter is paying attention.

Under the understated headline “Discussion is discouraged as SPC searches for a new president, ” the Tampa Bay Times’ Claire McNeill provides this riveting account of the consultant-driven Kabuki presidential search, and the abuse heaped upon anyone who might challenge it.

Observers “sat quietly while members of the college’s search committee drew check marks beside the candidates they saw fit to advance to the final round. In just 20 minutes, without discussion, the top five emerged,” McNeill reports.

Consulting Puppet Master Jeff Hockaday allowed search committee members to come on down!!! and “take turns at the whiteboard, marking those who should advance.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

One thing that won’t happen is the kind of meaningful dialogue that ought to occur when hiring a CEO for a school, a business or a well-managed lemonade stand.

The irony was not lost on former trustee Ken Burke.

“We’re here at the Collaborative Labs, but we’re really collaborating by just tabulating our scores,” he told McNeill, referring to the name of SPC’s conference facility in Clearwater. “(Hearing) what other people see in their resume would help me say, ‘Gosh, maybe I read that a little bit wrong, and I may want to adjust something.'”

Communications Department Chair Albert Farr might well have been risking his job in pointing out that the whole point of a committee is to exchange ideas.

But Hockaday, who has led-by-the-nose more than 80 presidential searches, considers such conversation “dangerous.”

Actual educators like Professor Emeritus Maggie Knoop consider Hockaday’s methodology “about as high school as you can get.”

More like second grade, but that’s good enough for trustees such as Deveron Gibbons. Happy to be on Hockaday’s leash, Gibbons can’t be bothered to consider the opinions and information supplied by the faculty and others whose job descriptions do not include attending receptions and rubber-stamping consultants.

Gibbons fulminated about faculty “questioning the integrity of this board.”

“This is not a witch hunt … You are not going to bully this committee,” Gibbons said. “You’ve got people going out trying to be Sherlock Holmes … You can’t be a renegade out here, assuming you have more information than the consultant. … We have to be clean and be careful that we don’t overstep.”

Overstep who?  Sherlock Hockaday?

As the legislative session enters the homestretch, community colleges are under unprecedented and long-overdue scrutiny.  Trustees do their schools no favor in shutting down the voices of the people who do the heavy lifting on campus, teaching the students who fund those $300,000 presidential salaries, along with all the wine and consultant Kool-Aid that the trustees can consume.

Florence Snyder: Why children die, Part 4 — Clues in the resignation letters

In the wake of two suicides of teenage foster children in their “care,” the “leadership team” of Miami’s “community-based care” agency took their marbles and accrued benefits and went home.

Judging from their whiny, self-involved letters of resignation, the agency’s name — Our Kids — refers to the six-figure people running the place, and not to Florida’s abused, abandoned and desperate for competent adult attention infants, toddlers and teens.

Our Kids’ president, vice president for information technology and chief operating officer have more in common with overprotected rich kids with helicopter parents than impossibly brave kids like Victor Docter, who survived, barely, the “forever family” the state paid to take off its books.

The IT guy, David Harland, presumably does not have any blood on his hands, but he seems to have absorbed by osmosis the stress his “teammates” were feeling due to “[T]he unnecessary challenges our team continues to encounter from a handful of board and ‘community’ members, whose underlying motivation is questionable …”

President and CEO Jackie Gonzalez‘ resignation letter reads like President Donald Trump‘s daily renderings of how much he’s accomplished idespite inept predecessors in the Oval Office and fifth columns in the courts, the Congress, and the CIA.

Gonzalez offers a Top Ten list of accomplishments and marvels at the “enormous improvements throughout the organization and the system of care” in that brief and shining moment that was apparently known in her fevered imagination as Camelot.

Gonzalez brags about Our Kids’ success in getting foster children off the state’s books and into permanent homes. Improvements to the salaries and working conditions of the men and women in the trenches where children’s lives are saved, or not, would be something to brag about.

But Gonzalez and generations of child welfare “leadership” don’t spend a lot of time forcing that issue.

Gonzalez, Harland, and Chief Operating Officer Barbie Toledo are aggrieved by “meddling” of “a small but vocal group” of board members; a state chartered watchdog group; uppity foster parents; children’s advocates; and judges who have had a bellyful of bad lawyers defending bad social work.

Our Kids is under contract to the Department of Children and Families and subject to Florida’s open meetings and public records laws. Yet, it took a formal public records request by the Miami Herald to pry loose the call-in number for citizens and taxpayers to listen remotely.

When not busy not following the public records law, Our Kids’ board is making plans to hire a public relations firm to “help the agency shape and disseminate its message.” Because if there’s one thing foster kids need, it’s better public relations for snowflake leaders who make lots of money, provide no hands-on services, and wilt under scrutiny from a small, vocal minority of people who pay their salaries.

Florence Snyder: Let’s hope someone loves Frank Artiles enough to get him some help

On a busy day of hearings in a busy week of the legislative session, a south Florida woman wanted a picture of herself and a friend and the rain pouring outside the Knott Building. She scanned the immediate vicinity for a friendly face, and held her iPhone out to Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson.

Plainly the tourist had no idea that Gibson was a member of an elite, exclusive, and powerful club.

The tourist was utterly unaware that the elegant lady she approached is one of a tiny handful of Floridians upon whom the sun rises and sets in #TheProcess. Most definitely, the tourist had no clue that hundreds of people are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to catch a moment of the time of this woman and her 39 colleagues in the Florida Senate.

Gibson smiled, took the iPhone, and spent a stunning amount of time considering camera angles and composing multiple shots.

This is the gracious public servant that Frank Artiles refers to as a “fucking bitch.” To her face. At the members-only venue where people pay through the nose for a quiet place to eat, drink and do business, and pay extra for private lockers for their personalized cigars.

Artiles has a history of verbal violence toward women, African-Americans, and Muslims. His drunken diatribe Monday at the Governor’s Club is not the first time he has embarrassed himself in a bar. We now know that “pussy” is his go-to insult for a white male lawyer who outranks him in #TheProcess pecking order.

It has been suggested on the Sayfie Twitter Ticker, where some Floridians still get some information, that Artiles. a former Marine, may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Let’s put that one to rest. PTSD doesn’t cause bigotry, but alcohol makes bigots more likely to reveal their pre-existing prejudices.

Artiles didn’t much look like a Marine as he stood on the Senate floor to read an insincere, meaningless apology written for him by some hastily-assembled Committee to Save Artiles Career. The senator from a Diverse Miami Neighborhood shifted on his feet, looking like a rattled schoolboy as he rattled the pages of his prepared text.

When people can’t exercise the control and judgment we expect of a third grader, there is often a medical explanation. Let’s hope someone loves Artiles enough to help him find out.

Florence Snyder: Richard Corcoran, please show some love to our real life Smokeys

The men and women who take care of Florida’s forests and parks have a serious case of hair on fire, and the Legislature would do well to listen to them.

Trained professional foresters and the people at parks ‘n rec are easily among Florida’s best ambassadors. These stewards of “Real Florida” have been instrumental in attracting tourists since before Mickey Mouse was born, and they work for a lot less cheese.

This crowd is not prone to whining, or crying wolf. It takes a body blow to the budget to make them ask that we think for a moment about the work they do in the places where the wild things try to survive the wildfires that are engulfing the state.

Here’s the map that shows what they’re dealing with. Even Gov. Rick Scott thinks it’s a crisis. Yet the House proposes cutting $10 million — roughly 25 percent — of the current state parks budget.

That’s chump change to the swells and potentates at the Capitol, but in the hands of Florida’s land management professionals, it covers a lot of weed-pulling, lawn mowing, landscaping, and protecting the public from the invasive species that generations of Florida lawmakers never had the wit to do anything about.

More importantly, they are the real-life Smokey Bear, doing whatever it takes to prevent wildfires that increasingly threaten our economy, our way of life, and in some cases, the actual lives of firefighters, park personnel, residents and tourists.

The Senate budget preserves the status quo, but the better-by-far proposal comes from Gov. Scott. He proposes a 17 percent increase to pay for badly needed fire equipment; long overdue road repairs; and a Parks and Community Trails program to encourage families to VISIT places that aren’t in central Florida.

Scott’s budget also includes money to bring Florida’s parks into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. That’s the law President Bush 41 signed in 1990 to facilitate inclusion for our kinsmen with “unique abilities.” How is it possible that this still on the list of Florida’s unfinished business?

Florida’s foresters and park personnel are not asking anything for themselves. They simply want the essential tools of their trades, and they should not have to be begging for the basics.

Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 5 – Hey Florida, talk to the hand!

One hour isn’t much time for a Senate subcommittee “confirmation hearing” on the heads of the agencies as important to “health and human services” as the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

But that’s what Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Anitere Flores allotted, and not one second longer. So, you’d think that AHCA’s acting secretary Justin Senior and DOH’s Interim Surgeon General Celeste Philip would each get a half-hour of the committee’s time … but you would be wrong.

Senior’s “hearing” was a tongue-bath and tummy rub that consumed most of the hour. To be fair, the feds had just dropped 1.5 billion into the AHCA’s coffers. Maybe Flores & Friends think that cash came Florida’s way due to Senior’s executive brilliance, as opposed to President Donald Trump‘s synergistic bromance with Gov. Rick Scott.

Or maybe they were running out the clock to get Philip safely to the border of Munchkinland and out of Oz altogether before she stumbled over that pesky poppy field.

Delray Beach Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader and large numbers of Floridians want to know why we don’t acknowledge the state’s opioid epidemic and get on with the business of dealing with it. In the minuscule amount of time available for Rader to ask and Philip to bob, weave and weasel her way through an “answer,” viewers got a pretty clear preview of coming attractions on the Opioid Listening Tour, announced last week by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who are not expected to attend.

Instead, Philip and others with titles, but no actual power, will deploy to four cities in three days for 90-minute “community conversations.”  It will be like watching a Lifetime Cable movie, but with less depth and sincerity.

Florence Snyder: Why children die: B.A.B.Y. Court works, but Florida prefers to pay for things that don’t

Planting pinwheels may “raise awareness” of child abuse, but the hard and labor-intensive work of preventing child abuse goes on in places where skilled professionals collaborate to do more difficult things.

One such place is Orange County’s B.A.B.Y. Court. There, Circuit Judge Alicia Latimore offers lollipops to toddlers and tots who have suffered the trauma of abuse or neglect. That’s the fun part. The judge’s serious, life-changing work is to closely monitor the progress of the teams of social workers who help mitigate the long-term damage that predictably follows when pre-verbal children suffer harm at the hands of adults who were supposed to protect them.

B.A.B.Y. Court was incubated at the Florida State University Center for Prevention and Early Intervention Policy, where “lessons learned” is more than a leaf of word salad tossed into a news release every time a child dies in “state care.” Dr. Mimi Graham and her colleagues are Florida’s head cheerleaders for evidence-based methods of “trauma-informed care.” In the hands of appropriately educated professionals, it is entirely possible to break the intergenerational cycles of abuse, addiction and mental illness that break spirits, drain public treasuries and kill children who could have been saved.

Florida’s social welfare system is stuck in the mid-20th century, where caseworkers in the trenches receive little pay and less respect from a rotating cast of “leadership teams.” Failure is not only an option, it’s inevitable in a system that hasn’t had a new idea since the Graham administration, and isn’t trying very hard to fund programs that will give taxpayers a significantly better ROI.

Judges like Latimore who preside over dependency court dockets of despair say that B.A.B.Y. Court has helped close the revolving door through which families re-enter the child welfare system. The average cost-per-child of getting it right the first time is $10,000, and right now, Orange County has room in the budget for a paltry 10 cases at a time.

The Department of Children and Families, by contrast, has room in its budget for a “communications team” that includes nine flacks and a “Creative Director.”

That says a lot about what we value. And what we don’t.

Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 4 – Showtime at the Kabuki Theater

When Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi finally got around to talking about Florida’s opioid crisis, the hot air was suffocating.

In parts of Florida, opioids have overtaken homicides and DUIs as a cause of very premature and utterly unnecessary death. That is not breaking news to anyone who has been paying even a little attention. In a time when reporters are in short supply, almost every newspaper in Florida has made a noble, front-page attempt to assess the grievous impact of the opioid epidemic on their local communities.

The truth is out there, along with plenty of supporting data. Much of it comes from Palm Beach County, where “sober homes,” operated by insurance fraudsters and human traffickers, have proliferated like pythons in the Everglades. A relentless newsroom at The Palm Beach Post prodded the community to confront the mounting death toll, and to come up with evidence-based strategies and solutions.

And that’s exactly what the community did.

There’s a grand jury report full of strategies and solutions courtesy of Bondi’s hand-picked pill mill czar Dave Aronberg. There’s a Sober Homes Task Force Report. There’s a Heroin Task Force trying hard to get a second vote for a good plan of action that starts with joining states like Maryland, Massachusetts and Virginia in acknowledging opioid addiction as a public health emergency that can be significantly ameliorated by public health professionals.

But who cares what an army of experts and affected citizens and taxpayers think?

Not Scott, whose brother’s unspecified addiction “taught” him that “In the end, it’s always going to come down to that individual and that family is going to have to deal with this issue.”

Not Bondi, who brings to President Donald Trump‘s Opioid Task Force insights such as “No short-term fix is going to help this problem,” as if anybody on earth had suggested a “short-term fix.”

Scott and Bondi will be sending a multiagency Kabuki Theater Touring Company around the state to hold “workshops” and “generate ideas.”  That news did not go down well in Palm Beach County, where beleaguered taxpayers, addicts struggling to recover, and grieving families of the dead are stocking up on torches, pitchforks and rotten tomatoes.

Excellent ideas are all over the place. It’s leadership that’s in short supply.

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