- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:

Aug. 10

Miami Herald on Florida governor’s agreement to use state funds to settle public records lawsuits:

Even for someone who has amply shown contempt for open government, Rick Scott’s latest failure to play by the rules is outrageous. The governor has agreed to pay $700,000 - in state funds - to settle seven public-records lawsuits involving alleged violations of Florida’s public-records law.

That’s our money that the governor is using to get out of a jam involving an arrogant attempt to prevent the public from seeing communications with his staff.



The case involved the governor’s secret plan to have the Cabinet buy a building near the governor’s mansion. Tallahassee attorney Steven R. Andrews, who had an interest in the property, sued to find out what the governor was up to. The case turned up private email accounts used for government business between Mr. Scott and his staff, after he adamantly denied such accounts existed.

When Google was ordered to turn over all relevant documents - potentially exposing more emails wrongfully hidden from the public - the governor realized the jig was up. He decided to settle.

The upshot: The governor violated the public’s constitutional right of access, and the people of Florida now have the privilege of paying $700,000 - for his denial of information to them. In other words, the public is both the injured party and the party liable for paying damages for the injury.

This is what the Sunshine State has come to under Mr. Scott, who is believed to be the first sitting governor of Florida to be successfully sued for violations of the state Constitution. And it gets worse.

First, there has not been a full public accounting of how much state money was used to defend the governor in the Andrews case, despite repeated requests from this newspaper and others, as befits a serial stonewaller.

Second, the governor and Cabinet have also agreed to settle a case involving violation of the open-meetings law for the abrupt ouster of Gerald Bailey, former commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, with no public discussion or vote.

So far, this case has cost the state more than $225,000 in legal fees, not including the legal fees from the governor’s office, which, of course, he refuses to disclose. When all is said and done, the bill may be much higher.

And here is the final indignity: The $700,000 settlement in the Andrews case will include $120,000 from the governor’s office, $60,000 from the Department of State and $75,000 from the office of Attorney General Pam Bondi. But the bulk of the money, $445,000, will come from the Department of Environmental Protection.

Why DEP? Because DEP is flush, thanks to the voters’ overwhelming approval of Amendment 1, which sets aside money to protect Florida’s natural resources. Like Willie Sutton, Mr. Scott knows where the money is.

Rick Scott should own up to his misdeeds, make amends to the people of Florida and pay for the settlement and legal costs out of his own pocket, just like he paid $76 million of his own money to get elected in 2010. It won’t fix the damage to the state’s proud tradition of open government, but it places the penalty on the responsible party.

Don’t look to Attorney General Bondi for help. She’s been the governor’s handmaiden in all this. But we’re disappointed in the silence of Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam and CFO Jeff Atwater, the other two members of the Cabinet. Both are said to harbor political ambitions. Is Rick Scott the model they plan to emulate?

Online:

https://www.miamiherald.com

____

Aug. 11

Tampa (Florida) Bay Times on Florida Supreme Court forcing state legislature to redraw congressional districts:

The hot air is not just outside the state Capitol in Tallahassee. There is plenty of it inside, where Republican legislators are fuming about the audacity of the Florida Supreme Court to force them to redraw congressional districts as the state Constitution requires. They complain their constitutional rights are being violated, they are being forced to keep public records of their conversations and documents, and their hands are being tied in the way the districts are redrawn.

Tough.

The legislators brought this hot August special session on themselves. They are the ones who allowed the redistricting process to be poisoned in 2012 by secretly meeting with Republican consultants. They are the ones who looked the other way when those consultants got special access to maps and other information. They are the ones who sat quietly as consultants manipulated the process by producing maps and misrepresenting them as the work of others, including a college student who had no idea his name was being used.

The legislators are the ones who violated the Florida Constitution by failing to comply with the 2010 Fair Districts amendments approved by the voters. They are the ones who did not meet the amendment requirements that the congressional districts be drawn without any intent to favor political parties or incumbents. Now they don’t like it that the court has provided clear direction on how to draw legal districts, that they can’t seek private help from consultants to manipulate the lines and that they have to do their work in the open.

Tough.

Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, complained that the court exceeded its constitutional authority and that “when one branch goes deep into other areas, the people lose.” Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, complained that the court has “run roughshod” over the Legislature and that his constitutional rights are being violated, and he mused about hiring a personal lawyer. Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, compared it to a police station where police record conversations with suspects.

Actually, suspects as a description is too kind. The Legislature already has been found by the Florida Supreme Court to have violated the state Constitution and the will of the voters. If anyone treated anyone like suspects Tuesday, they were the Republican and Democratic legislators who questioned staff members about their motivations, conversations, race and political affiliations as the staff explained the proposed congressional map that they drew. If the court erred, it was in giving the Legislature another chance to draw legal congressional districts when it already has failed twice.

Lawmakers would be wise to listen to one of their outside lawyers, George Meros, who suggested they follow the court’s direction and redraw a North Florida minority district so it would stretch from Jacksonville west to the Tallahassee area instead of south to Orlando. They would be wise to ignore U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, who showed up to complain that the legislative staff had carved his Orlando area district into several districts and left him nowhere he can win. And they would be wise to quit whining about the Florida Supreme Court and get comfortable redrawing districts in the sunshine rather than behind closed doors with secret help from their political consultants.

Tough.

Online:

https://www.tampabay.com

___

Aug. 10

Gainesville (Florida) Sun, on the importance of locally grown and raised foods:

Often the views of aging rural farmers and younger urban dwellers don’t intersect.

But the importance of locally grown and raised foods is an issue on which they can agree.

Urbanites driving the “buy local” movement help support small farmers, at a time when big agriculture makes it more difficult for them to compete.

Conservation easements are another way to help protect small farms and the livelihoods of the people working on them.

As The Sun reported Monday as part of its two-day series on land conservation, easements protect some of the environmental and scenic qualities of rural farms while allowing income to be earned from the land.

“Agriculture property is what’s getting developed the fastest. That has a lot of environmental effects,” Ramesh Buch, manager of Alachua County’s land conservation program, told The Sun. “Food is traveling farther. It’s being grown and shipped when it’s not ready. People are getting divorced from where their food comes from.”

He continued, “I think we should be protecting those lands . I think working landscapes are critical. Keep the jobs in your local landscape, keep the food in your local landscape.”

Buch is turning his focus to the protection of working landscapes as the next step in the county’s successful land conservation efforts.

Easements allow aging farmers to keep their land in agriculture for the next generation. Examples in the local community include Freddy and Wilma Wood, known for their association with the rustic post office and general store in Evinston.

The Woods sold an easement of more than $1.1 million for 136 acres of their property between orange Lake and County Road 225. Wilma Wood told The Sun that it provided money for their grandchildren’s educations while protecting land that has been used for growing vegetables and cattle ranching.

“We wanted it to be forever in farmland. We didn’t want housing on it. It’s just so beautiful we didn’t want it destroyed,” she said.

Easements aren’t always a perfect solution for protecting the environment. Some types of large-scale agriculture simply aren’t suited for environmentally sensitive areas, as we’ve seen with some of the dairies located near our region’s springs. But the agency paying for the easements can limit uses of the land to protect wetlands and other environmentally significant features.

Easements done right can protect both farming and the environment, creating potent political alliances. State Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam has spoken in support of using money from Amendment 1, the land and water conservation initiative, to buy more easements. Unfortunately, some of his fellow Republicans decided to spend the vast majority of this year’s money to pay for existing operations of state agencies.

Farmers and other environmental advocates should work together to ensure more of next year’s funding goes to easements as well as the outright acquisition of conservation land.

Buying local foods is just one piece of supporting sustainable agriculture. Buying conservation easements will help keep those farms around for the both the people working the land and those who enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Online:

https://www.gainesville.com

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