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Florida editorial roundup

January 16, 2019

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

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Jan. 12

Miami Herald on Gov. Ron DeSantis and the threat of sea-level rise:

After eight years of Gov. Rick Scott degrading science and dismissing climate change, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Jan. 10 he will appoint a chief science officer to deal with “current and emerging environmental concerns most pressing to Floridians.”

This welcome turnaround came just two days after DeSantis’ swearing-in, in an executive order that also calls for $2.5 billion in Everglades restoration, creates a task force on blue-green toxic algae and instructs the South Florida Water Management District to immediately start the next phase of the reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.

In addition to the chief science officer’s remit to “coordinate and prioritize scientific data, research, monitoring and analysis” on Florida’s environment, the order also creates an Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency “charged with corralling scientific research and data “to ensure that all agency actions are aligned with key environmental priorities.”

This is whole new tone for a governor’s office that told Floridians, basically, that we couldn’t afford to both create jobs and protect the environment. Scott cut millions of dollars from water management district budgets, which meant shedding scientists, engineers and other experts; slashed more than 200 water-monitoring stations; sharply reduced policing of polluters; rolled back growth-management laws.

We hope last Thursday’s executive order is a step toward reversing that trend — and more.

Indeed, the order also created something else that Thursday’s press release does not mention. Far down the list of Executive Order 19-12 — in the 26th of 27 paragraphs — the governor directs the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to:

“Create the Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection to help prepare Florida’s coastal communities and habitats for impacts from sea level rise by providing funding, technical assistance and coordination among state, regional and local entities.”

That’s right. “Climate change,” that taboo phrase in the Scott administration, gets its own office in the DeSantis administration.

Make no mistake: this could be a huge advance for the state of Florida as the existential threat of sea-level rise becomes more and more apparent, no matter your views on the underlying cause. Our collaborative editorial-page project, The Invading Sea, has been arguing for months for action at the state level to bolster localities that are organizing to make their regions prepared and resilient for the higher waters.

...

What scientists are predicting is that the sea will rise 2 feet, and maybe more, in the next 40 years. ... DeSantis is 40, the youngest Florida governor in a century. We are talking about enormous change — traumatic change — occurring within his lifetime, and certainly in the lifetime of his two young children.

The new Office of Resilience and Coastal Protection isn’t the only big news that DeSantis’ team seemed to bury on Thursday. The 27th and final paragraph of the executive order is for the DEP to “adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida.”

This is another win for environmentalists who felt that the voter-approved Amendment 9 didn’t go far enough to protect the state’s shores from potential oil spills. It also puts a lid on any further legislative efforts to expand fracking in the Everglades.

...

Online: https://www.miamiherald.com/

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Jan. 12

Tampa Bay Times on the state posthumously pardoning four African-American men accused of raping a white woman in 1949:

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the new state Cabinet held their first meeting Friday and made history. Correcting a longstanding injustice, the governor and the Cabinet officially pardoned the Groveland Four, the four African American men who were accused of raping a white woman in 1949 and then victimized by a justice system rotted by racism. The action marks an important acknowledgment of a dark episode in Florida’s past that should be remembered but never repeated.

On the night of July 16, 1949, 17-year-old Norma Padgett and her husband were driving outside the Lake County town of Groveland when their car broke down. Four black men stopped to help, but then, Padgett said, they beat her husband and dragged her away and sexually assaulted her at gunpoint. The infamous Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall arrested Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Ernest Thomas and Charles Greenlee, who was only 16 and had come to town looking for work. Within days, Thomas, a World War II veteran, escaped from the county jail and was lynched by a mob in the Panhandle. The other three were beaten in custody until they confessed and were convicted by an all-white jury.

The injustice did not stop there. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the convictions, but as McCall was transporting Shepherd and Irvin to their second trial three years later, he shot them in cold blood, saying they had tried to escape. Shepherd died on the spot. Irvin faced trial again and lost in the face of manufactured evidence. Gov. LeRoy Collins commuted his sentence to life, and Irvin was paroled in 1968. Greenlee was paroled in 1962 and died in 2012.

Friday’s clemency hearing was the culmination of years of work to pardon the men. Elected officials from Lake County attended, as well as legislators, historians and family members of the four who believe the crime never happened. Then Padgett spoke, insisting she has always told the truth and still relives the horror of her attack every day. But the purpose of the hearing was not to re-investigate or re-litigate the case.

That possibility was lost 70 years ago, when Thomas was lynched and the others lost their freedom to a system corrupted by racists bent on vengeance. It was buried deeper when McCall murdered Shepherd and when Irvin, given a reprieve by the nation’s highest court, was deprived a fair trial again. Those perversions of justice are what was finally corrected Friday.

The Florida Legislature unanimously passed a resolution in 2017 “offering a formal and heartfelt apology to these victims of racial hatred and to their families” and asking former Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to expedite the pardon process. Scott never made it a priority. It should stand as an early mark of his character and independence that DeSantis took up the cause on his busy first week in office. He noted his belief in the Constitution and in “getting a fair shake.” The Groveland Four never got that, and now the official state record says so.

Online: http://www.tampabay.com/

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Jan. 11

South Florida Sun Sentinel on DeSantis suspending Broward County’s sheriff over his handling of February’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School:

There are two new sheriffs in town. The first, obviously, is Gregory Tony, the former Coral Springs police sergeant appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace the suspended Scott Israel as Broward’s sheriff. The second — metaphorically, that is — is the governor himself.

Although Tony is an expert in preparing for active shooters and mass casualties — the area in which Israel’s administration was tragically deficient — the job of a major metropolitan sheriff is vastly more complicated than that.

The agency is the equivalent of a major corporation, one of the largest employers in Broward County. Tony will have to get up to speed fast, considering that his ownership of a two-person consulting business is hardly solid preparation.

Israel’s background may not have prepared him suitably, either. Before defeating former Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti seven years ago, Israel was police chief in North Bay Village, a city of 7,000 in Miami-Dade County. Broward’s population is nearly 260 times greater.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office claims some 5,600 employees, of whom barely half are sworn deputies. It runs the fire-rescue operations in unincorporated Broward and seven municipalities. It operates five jails, Drug Court and probation services. It serves civil papers and is responsible for security at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades.

There are countless opportunities for things to go wrong. Should that happen — and we all hope they don’t — the governor who chose Tony would share in the responsibility.

Responsibility is the price, and the burden, of command. And as we’ve previously said, Israel shirked responsibility.

First, he refused to accept responsibility for the 12 hours of chaos that followed the January 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale airport, where a shooter killed five and injured six in baggage claim. BSO’s internal report was scrubbed and revised with a statement praising his leadership. “Everything was done excellently,” Israel maintained.

Similarly, Israel refused to take responsibility for the inadequate training, supervision and actions of his deputies at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Feb. 14, when 17 people died and 17 more were wounded by a former student armed with a military-style assault rifle. Some would have died regardless of what his deputies did or didn’t do, but others might have lived. Another issue, properly cited by DeSantis, was the department’s failure to act on credible warnings that Nikolas Cruz was a potential danger to the school ...

It’s refreshing to see someone held to account for a conspicuous failure ...

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/

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