Florence Snyder, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 17

Florence Snyder

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

Jackie Pons to taxpayers: DROP dead, part 2

Jackie Pons is still the kind of public official who gave Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) a very bad name.

To refresh our recollection on a pol best-forgotten, if he’d only go away, Pons lost his bid for re-election November as Leon County’s Superintendent of Schools.  As a DROP-enrollee since 2014, he was entitled a $6778 monthly pension check and a one-time payment of just under $200,000.

Most folks would call that a comfortable retirement. But behind Door No. 2 at the Florida Department of Welfare for the Rich was the promise of a $400,000 DROP payday if he remains at some public trough or other until 2019, plus a few hundred dollars more monthly walkin’ around money.

With a little help from his friends and a little saber-rattling from his lawyers, Pons is on track to suck every last nickel out of DROP. He’s already made some otherwise serious people look like buffoons. First, it was David Coburn, Chief of Staff to Florida State University President John Thrasher. who managed to keep a straight face while telling the Tallahassee Democrat that in Pons’ capacity as a $50,000 a year “business analyst” with FSU’s admissions office, Pons was “working on a project to recruit students from underserved areas of the Panhandle.

We don’t know how that project went, but we do know that Pons resigned from FSU just three weeks after he was hired.  Last week, Pons resurfaced at Florida A & M University’s Developmental Research School. As the K-12 school’s “development officer,” he will “provide information to meet (school) goals and objectives” and “develop a fundraising plan.”

As we’ve noted here before, it’s been 10 years since Lucy Morgan double-dipped her Pulitzer Prize-winning plumb line into the murky waters of DROP and its myriad opportunities for mischief. Her reporting resulted in reforms that closed off the dark alleys of the Florida Retirement System, where the most extreme examples of taxpayer abuse occurred.

For most state workers, the system operates to provide a modest return on investment in a lifetime of exemplary public service.

For people who don’t mind being simultaneously shameful and shameless, it’s a big pile of money for nothin.’

A birthday card for the unofficial, undisputed queen of Tallahassee

(PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Rosanne Dunkelberger is President of Dunkelberger Consulting, Editor-at-Large for Extensive Enterprises, and formerly editor of Tallahassee Magazine.)

It’s a Milestone Birthday for Rosanne Dunkelberger, and her kids have asked millennials she’s mentored and friends who knew her before she was an award-winning magazine editor to tell them what we remember most about the Unofficial Undisputed Queen of Tallahassee.

To the Geritol Generation of media lawyers who knew Rosanne in the disco era when she worked as staff director for The Florida Bar’s Committee on Media and Communications Law, she’s the woman who did all the work that we got all the credit.

Back then, the Bar’s annual Media Law Conference was a signature event. Hundreds of lawyers, judges and journalists attended to engage with and learn from speakers of statewide and national prominence.  For years, the Conference commanded the personal attention of the Bar President, who hosted a pre-conference dinner, usually in his home, where Bar leaders built significant and sustained relationships with media and political leaders, and nobody ever dreamed there’d come a time when the legislature would set about to castrate the courts.

Rosanne’s larger-than-life work ethic, and her genius at conjuring pleasant settings for meaningful conversations, helped to create and to nurture countless relationships that operated above and below the radar, and always in the public interest.

The Conference was funded in large part by underwriting from law firms and news organizations. With big money and bigger egos involved, there were opportunities aplenty for disaster. Rosanne’s extraordinary talent at wrangling donors; massaging egos, and arranging place cards were at the center of many of the Bar’s greatest conference hits.

Rosanne was also instrumental in creating a new “Florida Bar product,” the Reporter’s Workshop, an invitation-only seminar aimed at print and broadcast journalists who were new to the legal beat. One has only to look at the agendas for the programs she staffed to see the outstanding quality of their design and execution.

Rosanne is one of those very rare people who does not have a mean, selfish, or self-aggrandizing bone in her body. She makes any #Process better, just by being in it.

In Tallahassee and Orlando, advocates walk and talk about eating disorders

“I was four years old when I looked in the mirror and saw an obese, deformed body looking back at me,” recalled a college girl who is, thankfully, doing fine now.

She won’t be at Tallahassee’s Cascades Park tomorrow for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Walk because she’s running a half-marathon someplace else. But she’ll be there in spirit. She knows how lucky she is to be among the survivors of a ruthless, complex mix of heredity and environment that causes many boys and many, many more girls to weaponize food and wage war on their minds, bodies and spirits.

Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice. They are not a fashion accessory that rich white girls like Karen Carpenter and Princess Diana order up from the Nieman’s catalogue. They are among the most serious and difficult conditions to treat. They are the mental illnesses most likely to kill.

Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders do not discriminate by race, gender, ethnicity or family income.  Good professional advice is hard to find, and much of what insurance covers will actually make matters worse.

Former congressman and recovering alcoholic Patrick Kennedy has seen all manner of mental illness in his immediate and extended family, so it’s well worth noting that he ” … has always felt that eating disorders suffer the most persistent discrimination within the mental health community in both insurance coverage and research funding. I commend NEDA for raising awareness to this issue and for setting the stage for progress.”

The pink ribbon crowd commands a disproportionate share of the high-priced PR people in the Awareness Industry, so props to the Tallahassee Democrat for bringing the Tallahassee walk to local attention. The second of two NEDA walks scheduled for Florida takes place Saturday, March 11 in Orlando.

These illnesses are so cruel, so cunning, that they can snatch our children from under our noses while they are still small enough to be sitting in our laps.  We could use a whole lot more awareness.

 

Grieving octogenarian does the heartbreaking heavy lifting that government won’t

The clubs have names like I Am One and Brave Women of Palm Beach County, and to look at their elegant members, you’d think they were ladies of leisure on their way to a fashion show or an art gallery.

Instead, they are the heartbroken survivors of beloved children and siblings whose extreme mental illnesses ultimately killed them, and they are on their way to any and every microphone they can find. They have learned the hard way that silence kills, and they are done suffering in silence.

At age 85, Rita Thrasher is not worried about people who think that mental illness is something about which to be ashamed. She and “a small group of thoughtful, committed” mothers and sisters are working to comfort afflicted families, and afflict federal, state, and local governments that are stuck in the 80s — the 1880s — in their approaches to mental illness.

By the time Mrs. Thrasher’s daughter Valerie ran away from home at age 18, she had been suffering for seven years from the bipolar disorder than would lead her to a lonely death at age 42.

Then and now, there was precious little meaningful help for people like Valerie. Mood disorders don’t show up on X-rays, but their symptoms cause heartache and chaos in a young person’s world. These conditions can be managed effectively, and people with mental illnesses can lead happy, productive lives.

But for every family that can find, and afford, the necessary care, there are tens of thousands who live in communities where competent professional help does not exist, or is unaffordable to all but the very rich.

The kids self-medicate with infinite varieties of self-harm as their families try desperately to protect them. But parental love is no substitute for appropriate medical care. The kids end up in jail. They end up dead. Some of their loved ones will follow them off the cliff.  Others, like the Brave Women of Palm Beach County, will take their cue from Mrs. Thrasher. “I am doing this work today because I want it in the curriculum of life,” she told the Sun-Sentinel’s Brooke Baitinger.

From her mouth to God’s ear, and to the ears of every Florida health care policymaker.

Let them eat steak, Part 2: Rick Scott edition

While Melissa McCarthy-impersonator Sean Spicer was confiscating his staff ‘s cellphones in search of leakers to fire, somebody tipped Independent Review Journal’s Benny Johnson to President Trump’s Saturday night dinner plans.

Johnson identifies his tipster as a “trusted source.” Obvious suspects include Trump-whisperer and former Breitbart News big shot Steve Bannon. Bannon might have a soft spot for Young Mr. Johnson, who began his new media career as a contributor to Breitbart and fell, briefly, upon hard times when he was fired from BuzzFeed for multiple acts of plagiarism.

Maybe it was the president himself, who, disguised as “John Barron,” mild-mannered publicist for Ratings and Sex Machine Donald Trump, used to call up reporters and dish irresistible tabloid trash for the Bonfire of the Vanities crowd.

Who knows? Who cares! Whoever it was that told Johnson to ask for a balcony table at Trump International Hotel’s steakhouse — thank you for your service!

Johnson’s minute-by-minute account is an SNL-level trove of rich, vivid, and telling details about the “worry worry super scurry” that surrounds a President and Guy Who’s Accustomed to Having His Own Way.  It also works nicely as a pitch to the Food Porn Channel for a docudrama on “how a restaurant prepares for a president.”

The story is lavishly illustrated with pictures that are remarkably revealing, considering they were taken in a steak palace and not a photography studio. Johnson was unable to catch a shot of Trump’s meal—well done New York strip soaked in catsup, allegedly — but the Tower of Bacon at Johnson’s table will make you lust in your salivary glands like a dirty old man drooling over a hot young blonde.

Trump’s guests did not include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who dined across the room with his wife. If Trump was talking foreign policy over the $24 shrimp cocktails, he was doing it with Florida Governor Rick Scott, a man who makes up in certitude what he lacks in expertise. Also at the table was Brexit Boy and Party Crasher Nigel Farage, and Ubiquitous Daughter Ivanka Trump, accompanied by the Father of Her Children and Maker of Middle East Peace Jared Kushner.

Johnson’s photo gallery includes a shot of Trump “discreetly” slipping a $100 bill to a “Latino busboy” who is, presumably, extremely vetted and not a rapist. The left side of the Twitterverse is sure this was Kabuki generosity staged for the benefit of a camera Trump knew was there. If that’s true, we’ll be hearing about it soon enough on Full Frontal, whose researchers are fanning out and talking to busboys Trump knew in his pre-presidential life if they’re not too busy performing the public service of euthanizing the White House Correspondents Dinner.

The Grimm truth about Alberto Carvalho’s assault on WLRN

Friends of the First Amendment have their hands full with the War in the White House Pressroom.

That may explain why Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto (Rico Suave) Carvalho thought his attempted hostile takeover of the highly respected and ferociously independent WLRN newsroom might pass unnoticed.

Thankfully, fans of the free press have taken notice, and are rallying to the support of the high-quality journalism this public radio station produces with a small staff and a tight budget.

The Miami school system has owned WLRN’s broadcast license since before Carvalho was born, and has heretofore had the wisdom not to interfere with its editors and reporters.

If Carvalho gets his way, they’ll be reporting to his head flack and serving up mass quantities of happy talk about Carvalho, if they know what’s good for ’em.

The Miami Herald’s veteran columnist, Fred Grimm, explains that “Reporters who’ve dealt with the notoriously prickly Miami-Dade School District … [learned] Carvalho and company can hardly abide critical stories [such as the recent] series of stories exploring problems with the school district’s alternative school for suspended students.”

Grimm and many other Miami citizens and taxpayers have found a lot to admire in Carvalho’s stewardship of the county’s public schools. That could change irrevocably if Carvalho persists in his Putin-like effort to annex WLRN.

If Donald Trump won’t man up, meet with teen, maybe Betsy DeVos will

President Donald Trump ought to give Jackie Evancho the meeting she asked for. He owes her bigly.

The sixteen-year-old musical prodigy performed the national anthem at Trump’s inauguration, adding a huge dose of class to the festivities and sparing a grateful nation from another round of DJ Ravidrums, Toby Keith and Three Doors Down.

Evancho’s political skills are right up there with her astonishing vocal chops. In the wake of Trump’s mean-spirited withdrawal of federal protections for transgender students, she took to Twitter, and to television, to politely ask Trump to meet with her, and with her 18-year-old transgender sister, to learn about what life is like for children whose gender identity differs from the sex the person had at birth.

That’s a lot for a sex-obsessed 70-year-old man to wrap his head around. But we’d like to think that Trump would have done it if any of his five children had felt utterly out of place in the pink or blue blankets in which they were first swaddled.

The Evancho family, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the mother of a transgender son and a congresswoman who has refused to pander to uninformed and uncurious culture warrior constituents, and every other family with a transgender son or daughter has had to choose between educating themselves and supporting their loved one, or throwing the child to the wolves.

The alternative to unconditional love is to give license to self-appointed gender police, and to the Mean Girls, Bully Boys, and Bathroom Bill Brigades who make life so miserable for transgender kids that one out of three of them will attempt suicide.

Too many of them succeed, which perhaps explains why Education Secretary Betsy DeVos tried to talk Trump out of telling transgender kids that they’ll be happier — and definitely safer — with homeschooling. If Trump doesn’t have the guts to meet with the Evancho sisters, let’s hope that DeVos will.

Dan Raulerson and Dennis Baxley say ‘Let them eat steak’

In 10 years as head of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), Stephen Auger didn’t do much to solve the chronic, critical problems of people who work hard, play by the rules, and still can’t afford a decent place to live.

But he won the hearts and minds of millionaire senators like Dennis Baxley and Dan Raulerson, who think that buying steak dinners for people who do business with FHFC is a good use of taxpayer money.

Auger is among the casualties of Gov. Rick Scott‘s pre-session purge of agency heads caught in the act of frivolous, selfish, useless and stupid expenditures of public funds.

If government was really “run like a business,” Auger would have been gone years ago, when a Tampa Bay Times reporting team led by Susan Taylor Martin first began turning the rocks over at FHFC and finding an embarrassing pile of misfeasance and nonfeasance.  But Auger held on to his $183,000 job until December, when the legislature’s own auditors weighed in on FHFC’s miasma of mismanagement. Highlights include $443,000 in criteria-free staff bonus payments and a $52,000 “lender appreciation” dinner which featured broiled lobster tails, filet mignon and a nice “display” of tasty “imported and domestic cheeses.”

State audit manager and Master of Understatement Christi Alexander formally presented audit findings last week to the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, noting that such expenses “did not appear to be clearly necessary” to FHFC’s affordable housing mission.  Raulerson tried to stick a fork in Auger’s critics by pointing out that the real cost of the Festival of Filet was “only” $36,000, thanks FHFC’s ability to attract corporate “sponsorships ” from folks who very, very much appreciate the money they make doing business with FHFC.

Raulerson has no problem with FHFC blowing more taxpayer money on one dinner than many of his constituents make in a year.

But he is upset that “[Auger] lost [his] job over this, and that’s not right. I don’t think (FHFC) did anything wrong … What they did was entirely within reason.”

Baxley dismissed the audit as so much “nitpicking” over “an opinion that they had too nice a dinner. “

“I feel like we overreact to things sometimes,” Baxley said. “I believe in hospitality; I believe in recognition ceremonies for my employees … An audit to me is, I want to know if they’re stealing money or wasting money. But if they’re doing a function they’re allowed to do, part of their authority is to decide how big a dinner to have.”

Raulerson and Baxley delivered a depressing and not terribly subtle warning.  It may be a cold day in Florida before we see another “nitpicking” audit of public officials like Auger who party like Marie Antoinette.

 

David Santiago plays Jason Bourne while FDLE ferrets out real terror in the House

We are a nation of immigrants with very short memories. How else to explain HB 427’s frontman David Santiago‘s embrace of a ludicrous and mean-spirited effort to take Florida out of a federal program that assists people fleeing “war, persecution and violence.

Not so long ago, folks whose name ended in a vowel might be admonished — along with Jews, dogs and Irish — to “keep off the grass.” Yet Santiago and a large crowd of pols whose people arrived here from Someplace Else are hell-bent on taking Florida out of a federal program that assists refugees to settle in to an economy that depends in large measure upon the friendship and goodwill of tourists from Someplace Else.

Florida’s participation in the refugee program has been quietly managed for years by the Department of Children and Families (DCF). Prior to the Era of Extreme Hysteria and Vetting, it operated with a low profile and a high degree of success. Catholic Charities and other organizations not known for harboring “bad hombres” work closely with state authorities and refugee families, and FDLE’s intelligence officers have assured lawmakers that “zero terrorism incidents in Florida can be attributed to refugees.”

While Santiago & Company preen and play dress up as Jason Bourne, FDLE keeps busy investigating genuinely terrifying threats to public safety. Operation Cupid’s Arrow, for instance, targeted dirty old men trolling Craigslist for little girls to sexually abuse. One geezer arrested in the sting was the $161,000 a year associate general counsel for Florida State University. Another was the “Civics Program Coordinator” for the school boys — and girls — in the House of Representatives’ Legislative Page Program.

Florida abuses teachers and can’t figure out why there’s a teacher shortage

At the rate Florida is hemorrhaging classroom teachers, it soon won’t matter that we can’t hire school bus drivers for $11.88 an hour, because there won’t be any classrooms worth taking the kids to.

Every week brings fresh reporting about Florida’s teacher shortage; none of it is a surprise to parents or policymakers who have been paying even the slightest bit of attention.

The teaching talent pool began to shrink in the mid-20th century as women’s professional options expanded into better-paying places. Still, girls and an increasing number of boys raised to revere teachers continued to pursue careers in the classroom.

Teaching reading to fidgety first-graders and science to 17-year-olds suffering from senioritis is hard duty under the best of circumstances. In recent years, it’s become close-to-impossible.

Technology and testing mandates change at warp speed, to the delight of stockholders in companies that sell technology and tests. There’s no money left for toilet paper and Kleenex, so teachers’ pay for those “amenities” personally.

Technology has also made it possible for helicopter parents to harass teachers at any hour of the day or night. Email is great for monster moms and douchey dads who wanted to bully teachers while wearing pajamas and drinking heavily. But it sucks down a lot of time that teachers need to grade papers and attend “trainings” on their uncompensated time.

It’s hard to maintain teacher morale when the wage gap in the public-school system is closing in on the wage gap in the private sector. In Miami, for example, Superintendent and Fashion Plate Alberto Carvalho can afford to dress like Rico Suave on his $345,000 salary. Teachers making $40K are lucky if they can keep up with their student loans.

Then there’s the daily dose of defamation heaped upon teachers by folks looking to dismember the public-school system for the benefit of people whose salaries in privatized “education” make Carvalho’s pay look paltry.

There are limits to people’s willingness to be a piñata for paltry pay and no respect. Teachers could be forgiven if they decide to homeschool their own kids and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

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