Florida editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
Tampa Bay Times on University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft:
University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, who announced Monday she will retire in July, will leave behind a remarkable legacy. The university’s longest-serving president led USF’s transformation from a commuter school to a destination university that has made dramatic strides in academics, research and fundraising. The future is incredibly bright, and Genshaft deserves an enormous amount of credit for positioning USF for even greater successes in academics and as a major economic force for Tampa Bay.
Genshaft, 70, focused on the future and building on recent accomplishments in her annual fall address just last week without hinting she would be leaving. But she said on Monday — the same day USF rose 10 spots to No. 58 among the nation’s public universities on the U.S. News and World Report’s rankings — that she had been thinking about retirement since May and that the timing is right.
Her retirement announcement comes just as USF has hit several milestones. The university won well-deserved recognition in June by being named one of the state’s preeminent research universities, joining the much older University of Florida and Florida State University in the state’s top tier and winning millions in additional state dollars to hire faculty and improve student-to-faculty ratios. Last month, USF was awarded a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the prestigious national honor society. And it opened another new dormitory on its main Tampa campus to complete an ambitious project called the Village and up the number of residential students at USF to a record 6,300.
Throughout her tenure, Genshaft was an unabashed USF promoter who regularly dressed in school colors and constantly pitched the brand. She recognized the major role urban universities can play as economic catalysts and became a player in the business community, serving as chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Bay Partnership. She also developed a reputation as a hands-on administrator who paid close attention to the details, and the results speak for themselves.
As with any long-term leader of a prominent institution, Genshaft has endured a few controversies. She drew international attention in 2003 for firing Sami Al-Arian, a tenured computer science professor accused of creating a terrorist cell at USF who was indicted by federal prosecutors and eventually deported. She often frustrated University of South Florida St. Petersburg supporters who accused her of short-changing the campus that was separately accredited, and she was criticized for ousting the top USFSP administrator last year even though the action was justified. USF also has yet to build its long-sought on-campus football stadium, and its teams are now stuck in the American Athletic Conference that is below the Big 10, ACC and other so-called Power Five conferences.
Those are speed bumps in an overall stellar record, and Genshaft has positioned USF for even greater achievements. The main Tampa campus has never looked better. A new medical school is rising downtown, and its ties to Tampa General have grown stronger. Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation into law this spring that will reunify the St. Petersburg and Sarasota campuses with the main university. And USF should keep aiming to join UF in the prestigious Association of American Universities, whose 60 U.S. members win most of the competitively awarded federal research dollars.
A national search for the next USF president should be open and transparent, and it should produce quality candidates who can take the university to the next level in academics, research, fundraising and overall stature. Genshaft will be leaving on a high note, but it will be important to aim even higher.
South Florida Sun Sentinel on the state Supreme Court choosing which contested constitutional amendments should appear on ballots:
The Florida Supreme Court got two right and two wrong when it decided last week which of four contested constitutional amendments should appear on the November 6 ballot ... In these cases, the Constitution Revision Commission snuck a couple of fast curves past the justices. Here’s hoping the voters will be more alert.
The court was emphatically correct in keeping Amendment 8, a battering ram for charter schools, off the ballot. The title failed to fairly inform voters what was at stake. That was the crux of Tallahassee Circuit Judge John Cooper’s order to remove the amendment from the ballot. Although the revision commission’s debate had focused on charter schools, they went unmentioned in the ballot language — the only explanation voters would see. They would have been left to figure out what was meant by language to permit “the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.” This would have dismantled the existing constitutional requirement for a “uniform” system of free public schools.
“The failure to use the term voters would understand, ‘charter schools,’ as well as the use of a phrase that has no established meaning under Florida law, fails to inform voters of the chief purpose and effect of this proposal,” Cooper had ruled.
It’s disconcerting, however, that the Supreme Court upheld his ruling by only a 4-3 vote. The majority and minority’s reasons may be explained in an opinion to be issued later.
The court was correct also in its 6-1 vote to restore to the ballot Amendment 13, the ban on commercial greyhound racing in Florida. ...
But it’s hard to reconcile the vote on Amendment 8 with the court’s 4-3 decision to restore Amendment 6, an excessively detailed victims’ rights proposal, or with its unanimous decision to allow Amendment 10, which essentially overturns home rule for Florida counties. That was one of the few great reforms in Florida’s 1968 Constitution.
Amendment 6, better known as “Marsy’s Law,” sold to the revision commission by a California billionaire whose sister was murdered, suffered from the same vague ballot description. As Cooper had ruled in that case, it failed to disclose that its “chief purpose.is to take away or reduce the protection” Florida presently affords criminal defendants. Among other things, it would entitle victims to demand speedy trials on impossibly short notice. No one has a clue as to what it might cost to implement.
Amendment 10 is another proposal with hidden consequences. It “ensures” the election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors and clerks of court in all counties,” but it fails to tell voters of Broward, Miami-Dade and six other counties that it would likely repeal parts of their existing county charters. ... This featherbedding amendment owes its existence to insider lobbying by a circuit court clerk and sheriff who were members of the revision commission.
The Supreme Court ducked the potential undisclosed harm to eight counties by saying the question of retroactivity “should be resolved in a post-election action.” That’s grossly unfair to the citizens of those eight counties who should be entitled to know before they vote what the consequences will be.
None of these outcomes settled what was most wrong with the revision commission’s record: A series of amendments in which controversial issues were “bundled” with other presumably popular but functionally unrelated proposals.
The commission defended this mischief on the grounds that its predecessor 20 years ago combined subjects. On that occasion, though, the groupings were rational and noncontroversial, and the ones that were contentious were left to stand alone. Voters weren’t forced to accept proposals they disliked in order to approve those they favored.
For now, it appears that only four of the commission’s eight amendments deserve to be ratified in November. ...
Ocala Star-Banner on water issues:
GOP gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis and his Democratic opponent, Andrew Gillum, both cite water and environment as top issues. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and his challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, both claim credit for Everglades restoration and cleanup efforts in the Indian River Lagoon.
But which candidates really have a track record to back their talk? And where are the details of their plans to secure Florida’s water supply and protect the lakes, rivers and springs that form such an integral part of our quality of life?
The urgency of these issues extends beyond the top of the ballot to legislative and even local races, and transcends partisanship. The state’s water supply is crucial to our future. The threat is immediate, as seen in the headline-grabbing algae blooms and the devastating red tide that’s killing sea life along the Gulf coast. But it’s also long-term.
One of the biggest hazards is the stress being placed on the Floridan aquifer, the vast network of underground caves that hold the state’s freshwater drinking supply. Sea level rise, pollution and overconsumption are all taking their toll, putting access to relatively inexpensive water in jeopardy. This, in turn, puts Florida’s future — which is heavily reliant on growth — at risk.
Over the past 20 years, there have been plenty of task forces and reports outlining the magnitude of the problem. What’s been missing is action commensurate with the threat. And while some of the needed changes are behavioral — for example, convincing Floridians they don’t need heavy applications of fertilizer to maintain green lawns — others will be expensive.
One of the major threats to the underground water supply: Failing septic systems that could number in the hundreds of thousands, leaching pollutants like nitrogen into the water supply.
The effects can be seen in Florida’s freshwater springs. Recently, plans to protect and restore major springs ...were put on hold after being criticized as woefully inadequate and riddled with errors. But even in their current state, these plans carry a collective price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The springs are harbingers of the aquifer’s health. As they falter, officials across the state will face the prospect of municipal well fields succumbing to contamination and salt-water intrusion.
The other big challenge: Sea level rise. People can argue about the cause, but the impacts are already manifesting. ... A 2014 study estimates that the state might need more than $1 trillion in projects by 2100 to cope with rising seas.
It’s a daunting prospect — especially when combined with other major challenges facing Florida, including education, health care and public safety. But Florida voters can’t afford to let candidates dodge water issues with platitudes. ...