Florence Snyder, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 17

Florence Snyder

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

Florence Snyder: Why children die — Part 2; clues in the claims bills

It’s that time of year when claims bills are briefly — very briefly — in the news.

Claims bills are the state’s reluctant, belated, grudging way of saying “we’re sorry” for the malfeasance and malpractice that ruined someone’s life. In a functioning system, simple mistakes and honest errors are caught quickly and generally capable of remediation for a sum less than $200,000. That’s the cap on damages that can be paid to an injured person without the legislature’s specific permission in the form of a claims bill.

We do not have a functioning system.

We have, instead, claims bills for victims who’ve spent years stonewalled by taxpayer-funded lawyers working for “leadership teams” whose political skills exceed their managerial competence. Sometimes, if the publicity gets bad enough, the state will admit wrongdoing, spare the victim a jury trial, and support (or pretend to support) a claims bill.

Among the stonewalled is a young man known by his initials, CMH, “to protect his privacy.” His claims bill has been kicking around the Legislature since 2013, when a Palm Beach County jury awarded him $5 million after finding that the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) was worried neither about his privacy nor his safety, when they placed a “predatory” foster child in his home.

CMH was just 9 years old when his parents, good and generous regular suburban people, offered to take one of Florida’s abused and neglected children into their Wellington home. The state employees who handled the handoff knew, but did not tell CMH’s parents, that the older boy had become a ward of the state by reason of the abuse he suffered in his family of origin, and was highly likely to victimize younger children.

And so, he did.

CMH’s claims bill may be approved, and Lord knows he deserves every penny. But there will be more victims, and more claims bills, as long as Florida continues to tolerate its social services Tower of Babel that rewards low-cost, low-skill activities like “filling out forms and bubbling in boxes” and pays no more than lip service to the idea of recruiting and retaining highly competent, highly qualified social workers who would not, on their worst day, unload a child in need of intensive professional help and round-the-clock supervision on an average family in Wellington.

 

Why children die – Part 1: If everybody’s responsible, nobody’s responsible

Lauryn Martin-Everett

“Foster care kids are our kids. They are our kids,” said Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader in support of legislation making it easier for youth in state custody to obtain a driver’s license.

You hear that line a lot — a lot — from “leadership” at the Department of Children & Families (DCF), and from the flacks who wear the skirts behind which “leadership” hides. It means nothing. It means less than nothing.

Latest case in point: Lauryn Martin-Everett. The 16-year-old spent half her life as one of “our kids” before hanging herself by the neck until dead in a “children’s shelter” which gets money from the “community-based care” which gets money from the DCF which gets money from the state legislature to “parent” tens of thousands of infants, toddlers and teens in “out-of-home care.”

Lauryn had looks and style and a high wattage smile. She got good grades, ran track, and went out for cheerleading. We know all that because the Miami Herald tracked down Lauryn’s 29-year-old sister, Whitley Rodriguez. It was Whitley who paid for her little sister’s athletic gear and school clothes, and otherwise kept track of Lauryn, both dreaming of the day that they could do what sisters do without having to beg for permission from publicly funded parents like the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter. Prior to Lauryn’s suicide, the “shelter” was best known as a good place for a pimp to find employment as a “mentor to at-risk” kids and a trolling ground for sex traffickers in search of fresh meat.

Only God and DCF would know why Whitley was not among the state’s candidates to provide Lauryn a “forever” home. Whitley speculates that she could not have passed the “home study” because she didn’t have a driver’s license.

DCF’s “leadership” is not talking, but thanks to what little is left of Florida’s public records law, we know that the state adopted Lauryn out to some “forever family” that later returned her in a fit of buyer’s remorse.

This happens more than you might think. Florida spends millions to get foster children off the state’s books by marketing them with the same techniques used to market politicians and consumer products. Those mass adoptions create regular opportunities to obtain “positive stories” from the organizations DCF loves to refer to as “our media partners,” but not everyone lives happily ever after.

Florida has never paid more than lip service to the idea of recruiting and retaining the kind of highly competent, highly qualified social workers who would not, on their worst day, be fooled or bullied into letting infamous child abusers like Jorge and Carmen Barahona adopt a goldfish, let alone four of “our kids.”

Ours is a system where everybody is responsible, which is just another way of saying that nobody’s responsible. It is a Tower of Babel, and Florida is decades past due to rethink it from the ground up.

Palm Beach County Commissioner has great advice for Rick Scott — Part 2

As the dust settles on last week’s Trumpcare debacle, President Donald Trump is reaching out to Sen. Chuck Schumer and others who think that America should join the rest of the civilized world in making basic health care a fundamental right.

That makes this an excellent time to remind Trump’s good friend, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, about the burgeoning public health crisis in the backyard of the Winter Palace at Mar-a-Lago.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay was the first public official to urge Scott to call Florida’s heroin epidemic by its right name: a public health crisis. That was, and remains, the Very Best Idea in Florida Right This Minute, and McKinlay’s choir is, thankfully, growing.

Last week, Palm Beach County’s Chief Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath tossed his robe into the ring. In his plea to Scott, Colbath noted that last year’s local death toll was in the hundreds, and each overdose call to the Fire Rescue folks costs taxpayers about $1500. The price paid by first responders can run much, much higher.

Colbath is no bleeding heart, big-government, soft-on-crime snowflake. Experience as a prosecutor and insurance defense lawyer shapes his view from the bench.

The Palm Beach Post’s pacesetting, big-picture reporting on the opioid epidemic paved the way for police and prosecutors to begin cleaning up the Palm Beach County sewer of “sober homes” where pimps, extortionists and insurance fraudsters got rich preying upon addicts too sick to take care of themselves and insurance companies too stupid to recognize a criminal conspiracy.

But, as Colbath and everyone else paying attention can see, the problems have metastasized far beyond Palm Beach County. They won’t be solved easily, and they may not be solved at all without the statewide leadership that Scott’s Department of Health is long overdue to provide.

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!

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