Our Opinion: Engaged



Tallahassee-Democrat-logo-squareFrom the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board:

“In the hubbub over the mute button with which the mayor can silence citizens speaking at City Commission meetings, there is a point that may be overlooked: Citizens should feel engaged with their government long before arguing over who has control of a microphone.

“That’s why city and county commissioners, as well as other officials, take part in the town hall forums and “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” events sponsored by The Village Square. It’s why the county offered its Citizen Engagement Series in 2012 and 2013. And it’s why the county and The Village Square now are teaming up for a new series called “The Club of Honest Citizens.”

Read the entire editorial at Tallahassee.com



Florence Snyder: Wheat, Chaff and Shoeleather



3247073217_0861b0afd4_zThe Ledger, Imperial Polk County’s newspaper of record, is run by a young woman from the Old School.

Editor Lenore Devore thinks reporters should look at the wheat to be found in public records, and not the chaff of press releases peddled by taxpayer-supported ministers of disinformation.

So when the Lakeland Police Department’s “public information officer” stonewalled a young police reporter looking to flesh out details of a local shooting, Devore did what good editors do. She refused to let her newsroom take “no” for an answer.

That was in the fall of 2012, when the community and its newspaper had high hopes for Lakeland’s new police chief, Lisa Womack. But Womack quickly proved to be Lakeland’s worst enemy, and her own, as The Ledger uncovered instances of the Department falsely claiming that records did not exist or could not be found, Womack candidly if stupidly admitted she plays a “cat-and-mouse” game with the press regarding Florida’s hundred-plus-year-old public records law.

The State Attorney asked the grand jury to take a look, and The Ledger took the unusual step of allowing Devore and five of her reporters to testify under oath and behind closed doors. Journalists usually resist being “part of the story,” and for good reason. A newspaper’s credibility rests entirely upon the public’s belief that the newsroom is working for readers, and not for the powers that be.

But The Ledger didn’t report anything to the grand jury that it had not already reported to its readers.

The grand jury issued a scathing report, expressing doubt as to Womack’s fitness to serve as police chief given her hostility toward her legal duty of candor with the press and public. The report remained secret for 10 months, as the city fought tooth-and-taxpayer dollar to keep it secret.

Meanwhile, honest people who knew things and trusted their newspaper to report them began to come out of the woodwork. The more The Ledger dug, the more “new sources provided information from right under the chief’s nose,” said Devore.

The Ledger’s front page was awash in stories of sex scandal cover-ups by higher-ups. A police captain, a city human resources chief, and 28 others were fired or forced to resign. There were reports of frat-boy “bra searches” designed to frighten and humiliate rather than to serve and protect.

One officer was arrested on charges of sexual battery and stalking. Another officer admitted to requiring DUI suspects to sign forms he had not yet filled out. The State Attorney was forced to drop dozens of that officer’s cases, and later concluded that “public safety is at risk in Lakeland.”

A year after The Ledger wrote its first story detailing problems with public records at the police department, the city lost its $220,000 fight to keep the grand jury report secret. A month later, the police chief resigned.

Lakeland’s credibility is in a mighty big hole, but the city fathers won’t stop digging. And neither will The Ledger, which recently reported that the city secretly hired a public relations firm and paid it $130,000 for fruitless and futile damage control. You don’t have to live and pay taxes in Lakeland to appreciate this kind of dogged, persistent, meat-and-potatoes local reporting. Every community deserves an editor like Devore, but far too few communities have one.

______________

Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at lawyerflo@gmail.com

(Photo Credit: Lakeland Local)



Luck O The Irish to you



(Photo credit.)



Happy Pi Day




(Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson)



Happy Pi Day




(Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson)



Today is Town Meeting Day in Vermont



Here’s to the Town Hall. We are true believers. Town Hall Meeting Day gives us one more excuse to link to Maira Kalman’s NY Times “And the Pursuit of Happiness” blog for “So Moved:” HERE. It is must read.



Honoring Public Service- a New SPC Tradition



Sen. Dennis Jones

Sen. Dennis Jones

A new tradition was established at St. Petersburg College last week with inauguration of the Distinguished Public Service Award Dinner. The Feb. 21st event, staged by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at the Seminole campus, honored Dennis L. Jones, a former SPC Vice President , for his 32 years of public service as a state senator, state representative, civic leader and doctor of chiropractic medicine in St. Petersburg.

Nearly 200 people, including 18 current or former public officials and a large number of SPC administrators and staff, filled the Conference Center at Seminole to honor the work of Sen. Jones specifically but also to recognize exemplary public service in general.  As Dean Susan Demers of SPC’s College of Policy, Ethics and Legal Studies put it in her role as master of ceremonies, the ancient Greeks considered public service to be the highest calling of mankind, and Sen. Jones epitomized that quality in his career and life.

SPC President Dr. Bill Law opened the program by recognizing Sen. Jones for his role in funding and creating the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, which serves as a conduit for civic engagement and academic enrichment within SPC and the community, and also represents all 28 members of the Florida College System in the public policy arena.

In summing up Sen. Jones’ career, speakers focused on the important legislation that he had a major role in passing as well as on his skill at building consensus by working across party lines. A humorous note was provided in a video message by former House Speaker Fred Lippman, who served with Sen. Jones in the Florida House for 20 years. Dr. Lippman, now chancellor at Nova Southeastern University, said that the two of them were responsible for passage of more legislation in that period than any other legislators.

Seminole campus Provost Dr. Jim Olliver enumerated highlights of those legislative successes: mandatory child safety seats and driver/passenger seat belts, organ donor designation on driver licenses, Bright Futures Scholarships, “Rails to Trails” using old railroad corridors, Seminole Indian casino tax compact, state poison control registry and judicial reforms to aid small business. Among major projects affecting SPC, Dr. Olliver credited Sen. Jones for helping to secure funding for the Health Education campus, the Seminole Library, and the Bay Pines STEM learning center.

Dr. James Winterstein, President Emeritus of National University of Health Sciences, spoke of Sen. Jones’ role in establishing the University Partnership Center, which includes NUHS’ doctor of chiropractic medicine program.  And Kim Black, President of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association, offered detailed evidence of his commitment to public education.



Tallahassee Democrat: Leaders mix, chat, mingle and learn at speed date event



Tallahassee-Democrat-logo-squareFrom today’s Tallahassee Democrat, by TaMaryn Waters:

Forget about matchmaking: Thursday’s “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” event gave residents face time with some of Tallahassee’s most powerful leaders over pizza and cold drinks.

A bell dinged every seven minutes, signaling a table change for leaders. The setup — one table, one leader, seven citizens and seven minutes of civil conversation — created a low-key dialogue at St. John’s Episcopal Church downtown.

The free event was sponsored by The Village Square and Leadership Tallahassee. Last year, the unique concept attracted roughly 60 attendees. This year, coordinators were forced to cap registration at 120 people.

Read the entire article online at Tallahassee.com.



Tallahassee Democrat, Our Opinion: Interacting



From today’s Tallahassee Democrat editorial:

How often have you wished for a few minutes with Tallahassee’s community leaders, to share an opinion, offer a suggestion or even learn more about them? Sure, you see them at community events, fundraisers or in the supermarket, but that’s not real access.

You get your chance tonight in “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 211 N. Monroe St. It’s the second year for the event, which earned Tallahassee national exposure last year for its originality. This free event, sponsored by Leadership Tallahassee and The Village Square, follows the town hall forum earlier this month.

Read the rest of the editorial online at Tallahassee.com.



Medical Marijuana is a Smokin’ Issue



Marijuana Plant

As a political issue, medical marijuana is as hot as any issue I have seen in Florida in many years.

That is clear to me after attending two recent forums on the topic in the Tampa Bay region – at the Manatee Tiger Bay Club in Bradenton and at the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club. So be prepared for passionate debate when the Institute for strategic Policy Solutions presents its forum on April 17th at the Seminole campus of SPC. The forum, titled “Medical Marijuana: Should Florida Go to Pot?”, will be a program of the Institute’s Village Square series, and advance registration for the dinner event is required (at spcollege.edu/solutions).

The Sarasota Tiger Bay Club debate on Feb. 12 featured Orlando attorney John Morgan arguing for passage of a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes and Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight arguing against passage. Morgan is head of Morgan and Morgan, the personal-injury law firm whose “if you or someone in your family has been injured” commercials are seemingly everywhere on local TV. He is also the attorney who personally bankrolled the initiative petition campaign that helped put the medical marijuana issue on the Florida ballot this November.

Morgan said his passion for legalizing marijuana for medical purposes began with his father’s cancer and his brother’s spinal cord injury. His father was in “unbelievable pain” and had lost his appetite. Like many cancer patients, he was “wasting away,” Morgan said. After Morgan procured some marijuana for his father, his appetite returned and his pain was greatly relieved, he said. As for his brother Tim, who became a quadriplegic after a diving accident, marijuana relieved “uncontrollable spasms” and pain, the attorney said.

Sheriff Knight warned that legalization of marijuana would  “have significant negative consequences” in three areas: Greater access to pot by teens, increased crime, and reduced quality of life, including lowering of property values. This has been the consequence of  legalizing the drug in California, said Knight, displaying a map of Anaheim with 43 red dots representing medical marijuana dispensaries spread out across a community of 325,000. Sarasota, with a population of 375,000, could see a similar proliferation of pot dispensaries, likening them to the “pill mills” that sprang up to provide prescriptions for Oxycontin pain pills until Florida cracked down two years ago. Knight warned that children would be able to access these dispensaries without a prescription and without their parents’ consent, points that Morgan refuted. Florida would only have as many dispensaries as the state Legislature allows, he said, adding that Florida will learn from California’s mistakes.

John Morgan and Sheriff Knight

John Morgan and Sheriff Knight

The marijuana available today is three times more potent than it was 20 years ago, Knight said, and is highly addictive. One in six persons who try marijuana as teens will become addicted, he said. Morgan argued that many legal drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are also highly addictive and far more dangerous than pot, citing Oxycontin, Xanax, Percocet, Ativan and Adderall in scathing attacks on the FDA.

“I don’t know why God put this plant (marijuana) onto this Earth for us, but He did,” Morgan said. “And it works. For a lot of really sick people, it works.” Countered Knight: “I am scared to death of a crime wave,” citing the lure of the cash-only dispensaries to the criminal element, including Columbian cartels.

The Manatee Tiger Bay debate featured similar warnings from Dr. Jessica Spencer, an addiction specialist, and Dr. Fabian Ramos, a physician specializing in pain relief. The pro side was represented by Cathy Jordan, who uses marijuana to ease the pain and health issues associated with ALS disease, and Donnie Clark, a farmer who served time in prison in the ‘80s and ‘90s for growing marijuana. Dr. Spencer said marijuana is more dangerous to smoke than tobacco, and said she considers medical marijuana as “a stalking horse” for full legalization of the drug for recreational purposes, not just medicine. She cited statistics about the negative effects of marijuana use on job performance, absentee rates and increased incidence of impaired driving. Dr. Ramos also worried about the dispensaries becoming versions of the “pill mills” that prescribed pain pills for virtually any complaint, and repeated Sheriff Knight’s concern about teen access to pot and higher crime rates because of the cash-only nature of medical marijuana sales.

Mrs. Jordan spoke of the therapeutic effects of marijuana to relieve her ALS symptoms, and Clark advocated growing marijuana as a cash crop to enhance agricultural profits – not for ingesting purposes, but for production into hemp, a natural fiber.

The Institute’s debate on April 17 will feature similar lively exchanges, with plenty of opportunity for audience participation. Watch for details to come soon.

–David Klement

Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions



Tallahassee Democrat Editorial: Input makes ‘Our Town’ forum valuable



Tallahassee-Democrat-logo-square“Decisions made by local elected officials play a huge part in our everyday lives, but think about it: How often do you get to interact with these officials?

Usually, it’s not until there’s some crisis like a rezoning issue, a fee-increase proposal or a looming decision affecting canopy roads or recreation.

And in how many of those cases did you help set the agenda?

Well, you get your chance Thursday night by participating in The Village Square’s “Our Town” forum co-sponsored by the Tallahassee Democrat and Leadership Tallahassee. It runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 211 N. Monroe St. There still are seats available, so go to http://tothevillagesquare.org to register and print your free ticket.”

Read the rest of the article online at Tallahassee.com



Press Release: Tallahassee Town Hall 2.13



THE VILLAGE SQUARE CONTINUES ‘OUR TOWN’ FORUM SERIES
Leadership Tallahassee and Tallahassee Democrat partner in Tallahassee Town Hall

(TALLAHASSEE, FL) – February 10, 2014 – If you want to participate in civic life in Tallahassee but aren’t interested in preparing a three-minute speech for a commission meeting, what options do you have? Thursday night, February 13, citizens will have a rare opportunity to talk informally with both Tallahassee City Commissioners and Leon County Commissioners.“OUR TOWN: Tallahassee Town Hall” will be moderated by the Tallahassee Democrat’s Politics and Policy Editor Paul Flemming. The program will pair commissioners from both the city and the county for a cross-governmental discussion about where Tallahassee is as a community, where we’re going, and what challenges we face in getting there. Scheduled to join the conversation are City Commissioners Andrew Gillum, Scott Maddox, Nancy Miller and Gil Ziffer; and County Commissioners John Dailey, Bryan Desloge, Kristin Dozier, Mary Ann Lindley and Nick Maddox.

The town hall program is a continuation of an ongoing series of unique local forums sponsored by The Village Square, a nonprofit formed by local leaders – from both sides of the political divide – to improve the civility and factual accuracy of the civic dialogue. The forum, co-sponsored by Leadership Tallahassee and the Tallahassee Democrat, is part of a grant funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Fund at the Community Foundation of North Florida to foster an informed, engaged community. Programming continues on Thursday, February 27 with “Speed Date Your Local Leaders.”

The program is from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 211 N. Monroe Street (use rear Calhoun Street entrance). It is free and open to the public, but a reservation is required. Participants are welcome to bring a take-out dinner and a drink.

Those who are unable to attend can watch the program livestream at www.Tallahassee.com or follow an online discussion on Twitter, hashtag #TDvsq.

For more information and to reserve your seat and print your ticket, go online to www.tallahassee.tothevillagesquare.org or call 850-590-6646.

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An Encounter with a Living Legend



 

Clyde Butcher and David Klement

Clyde Butcher and David Klement

Clyde Butcher is an original – a genuine Florida character who defies alligators and mosquitoes in the muck of swamps to capture his priceless images of pristine nature and who minces no words in telling anyone who listens how poorly the state has managed its natural resources.

Clyde shared some of those images – and insights about how he shoots and processes them – along with choice words about the pollution of the Everglades, the state’s natural springs and its rivers, in two presentations sponsored by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College on Jan. 29th. The eccentric photographic artist, in full Florida cracker regalia of flowered shirt, straw hat, baggy pants, croc shoes and chest-length white beard, commanded the room as he highlighted his life and his art in separate presentations to a student forum in the afternoon and a Village Square dinner program in the evening.

Butcher, often referred to as “the Ansel Adams of Florida,” is a gentle giant of a man who morphs into a mystic when you get him talking about the connection between the human spirit and nature. In his Village Square talk, he spoke of a communication bond between trees and plants and a chemical reaction in humans when exposed to a forest – a positive reaction. He speaks of wilderness as being “a sacred necessity,” and recounts how, after the tragic death of his son at the hands of a drunk driver in 1986, he went into the deep woods of the Big Cypress National Preserve where “the mysterious spiritual experience of being close to nature helped to restore my soul.”

There is similar tone of mysticism when he speaks about his art. “I make pictures large enough so that you can’t see them,” he says in reference to his large-scale – as big as 4-by-5-feet – black-and-white photos of nature. “You have to scan, and the mind puts together what you see. I want you to see the sky, and veins in the leaves.”  The unique perspective of his pictures, along with the scale, “make people feel like they want to walk into them. I want people to be drawn in and feel their way through the environment.”

Yet in his public talks he is plain-spoken, talking nonchalantly about wading in chest-high waters teeming with gators and water moccasins to set up his tripod for the perfect shot, and in giving a humorous account of helping President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter briefly elude the Secret Service on one of his frequent “swamp walks.”

And he is blunt when talking about the greatest threat to the Everglades. “In plain English, its s—,” he says, using the four-letter word for human waste. The incursion of development to the very edge of the Glades – in some cases beyond the edge – and destructive forms of agriculture such as sugar cane fields to the immediate north have done immense damage to the quality and quantity of the watery expanse named the “River of Grass” by Marjory Stoneman Douglas in her landmark book about the Everglades.

Clyde bemoans that careless regard for pristine wilderness as he disdains the politicians who pay lip service to environmental protection even as they strip funding from restoration programs. But he worries more about an even greater threat to the Everglades: sea level rise brought about by climate change. By 2025 – just 11 years from now – the Glades will be under water, he told me after the evening lecture. Extraordinary tides are already inundating parts of the preserve, and they will only get worse in the next few years.

The only solace to be found in that gloomy prediction is his promise to continue photographing those doomed patches of Eden even into his eighth decade. At least we will have his pictures to remind us of what once was. And those lucky enough to have attended his lectures will have the memories of having rubbed elbows with a living legend.

–David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions, St. Petersburg College