Christie: Should the Austin serial bomber be considered a ‘terrorist’?

The suspect in a string of bombings in Austin is dead, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirms March 21. Manley stirred controversy when he called serial bomber Mark Conditt “a very challenged young man” instead of a “terrorist”. (Ricardo B. Braziell/Austin American Stateman/TNS)

UPDATE: According to the Daily Beast, Chief Manley Thursday morning told an audience in Austin that he now feels comfortable calling the Austin bomber “a domestic terrorist,” according to reporters at a panel discussion on the bombings. “When I look at what he did to our community—and as your police chief—I actually agree now, that he was a domestic terrorist for what he did to us,” Manley said. Read more…

To some degree, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley probably wishes he could take it back. But it’s far too late for that.

After Austin police, ATF,  FBI and other law-enforcement finally caught up to 23-year-old serial bomber Mark Anthony Conditt earlier last week, after he terrorized the Texas capital for three weeks, killing and maiming several people with homemade bombs, the unemployed college dropout took himself out by detonating one of his own devices.

RELATED: Inside the 20 hours that led to Austin bomber Mark Conditt’s downfall

The authorities viewed a 25-minute cellphone video left behind by Conditt that detailed the differences among the weapons he built and amounted to a confession. It seemed to indicate that he knew he was about to get caught; in fact, Austin SWAT was closing in on him when the device detonated and killed him.

Chief Manley, possibly a bit punch drunk from weeks with little sleep and continued stress, felt compelled to give an arguably unqualified and politically unwise assessment of Conditt based on the cellphone recording.

Sign up for the Opinion Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/dlzoBH

“It is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his own life,” Manley said of the recording, which authorities still have not released amid the ongoing investigation.

Mark Anthony Conditt

Hold up. The “outcry of a very challenged young man”? people asked.

Let’s recap: This “very challenged young man” just held an entire city in a grip of fear for weeks with bombs he made from materials bought at Home Depot.

Isn’t that the definition of a “terrorist”? That’s the question that blew up quickly all over social media after Manley statement — what many criticized as just the latest example in which a white suspect seemed to receive an injection of humanity that is less often extended to blacks, Muslims and others.

“Remember how they talked about innocent black children” like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice or Freddie Gray, tweeted Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“I believe passionately in acknowledging the humanity of those who commit even terrible crimes. Reading this police chief’s empathy for this young white man highlights the awfulness — the plain awfulness — of the persistent refusal to extend this empathy to young black people,” Ifill added.

Those young black males were described as “thugs” by some authorities and in popular discourse. Another case often cited is that of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old fatally shot by a white officer in August 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. The New York Times described Brown as “no angel” in a profile, a phrase that drew an angry response from readers and was criticized by its own public editor.

Beginning March 2, police say Conditt planted bombs in different parts of Austin, killing two people and severely wounding four others. He began by placing explosives in packages left overnight on doorsteps, killing 39-year-old father Anthony Stephan House and 17-year-old musician Draylen Mason and critically injuring 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera. He then rigged an explosive to a tripwire along a public trail, injuring two young men who crossed it. Finally, he sent two parcels with bombs via FedEx. One exploded and injured a worker at a distribution center near San Antonio.

Police are still trying to figure out Conditt’s motivations. The recording is only one piece to figuring out that puzzle.

RELATED: Who is Mark Anthony Conditt, the suspected Austin bomber?

After Manley drew fire for calling Conditt “a challenged young man,” he struck a different note Saturday, saying: “The suspect in this incident rained terror on our community for almost three weeks.”

That’s not an apology; nor does it come right out and label Conditt a terrorist.

The same can now be said for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, who after hearing the recording called Conditt a “sick individual,” but not a terrorist, according to the Associated Press.

McCaul, a former federal prosecutor who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, chose instead to use his news conference to heap praise on law enforcement officials for bringing the three-week spree to an end. He called the investigation, which included more than 800 officers, a textbook example of how local, state and federal agencies should work together, the AP reported.

Of Conditt, McCaul said: “He did refer to himself as a psychopath. He did not show any remorse, in fact questioning himself for why he didn’t feel any remorse for what he did.”

Conditt makes no mention of a racial motivation on the recording, but investigators are still looking into that as a possibility, McCaul said. The first three victims were minorities.

In the days and weeks to come, as law enforcement officials look into what motivated Conditt, it will be interesting to see whether or not they move away from this kinder, gentler description of the bomber.

Take our poll here and tell us what you think:

Goodman: Florida’s system on ex-felon voting not just massively unfair. It’s ‘unconstitutional’

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press via AP)

In 2010, an ex-convict in Florida named Steven Warner cast a ballot in an election. This is illegal, because unless felons jump through the hoops of a lengthy clemency process, felons in Florida are barred from voting for life.

Warner wanted his rights restored, and, after waiting the required five to seven years after completing all the terms of his sentence (prison, parole, probation, fines), he found himself three years later in front of the state’s Executive Clemency Board.

Gov. Rick Scott, who sits on the board along with his cabinet, asked Warner about his illegal voting.

“Actually, I voted for you,” Warner said.

Scott laughed, then said, “I probably shouldn’t respond to that.” A few seconds passed. Then Scott granted the former felon his voting rights.

Warner is white. But the board rejected five other former felons who had cast illegal ballots on that basis. Will it surprise anyone that four of those five were African-American?

This is the sort of arbitrary, imperious and no doubt politically motivated decision-making that U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker cited in the stunning ruling he issued on Thursday evening, declaring Florida’s method of restoring felons’ rights unconstitutional.

The federal judge’s decision is an explosive truth-bomb aimed squarely at a system which gives the governor, much like a medieval king, “unfettered discretion to deny clemency at any time, for any reason.” Or as Scott himself said at one hearing, according to the ruling: “We can do whatever we want.”

“In Florida, elected partisan officials have extraordinary authority to grant or withhold the right to vote from hundreds of thousands of people without any constraints, guidelines or standards,” Walker wrote. “The question…is whether such a system passes constitutional muster. It doesn’t.”

His powerhouse ruling comes, coincidentally, nine days after state judges approved a measure for November’s ballot which, if approved by voters, will automatically restore voting rights of felons after they’ve served their sentences, except for murderers and sex offenders. It gives the drive for the much-needed Amendment 4 an incalculable boost.

And it is a withering attack on Scott, just as the two-term Republican is expected to announce a run for Senate against Sen. Bill Nelson, the Democratic incumbent.

For it is the miserly system that Scott established in 2011 to enable a few lucky ex-cons to have their rights restored that is flayed in Walker’s blistering decision.

Unlike the Voting Restoration Amendment drive — which has focused on the inequity of denying some 1.7 million Floridians their rights — Walker zeroes in on the extremely arbitrary way in which they might get those rights returned.

“To vote again, disenfranchised citizens must kowtow before a panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority,” Walker writes. “No standards guide the panel.”

To be clear, the judge said it is constitutional for Florida to bar felons from voting for life, if the state wants to continue to be one of the three or four states in the nation to do so. “But once a state provides for restoration,” he writes, “its process cannot offend the Constitution.”

It is decidedly unconstitutional to have a system based on race, he writes. Or a system that’s so arbitrary that the governor can decide whether to grant the right to vote depending on whether that ex-felon is going to vote Republican or a Democrat. It’s unconstitutional to make ex-convicts meet standards of behavior that are never really defined — or as Walker scorchingly calls them — “frankly, mythical.”

The results of Scott’s mean-spirited system are perfectly clear. When Charlie Crist was governor, the then-Republican tried to end the state’s backwardness with executive clemency rules in 2007 that automatically restored voting rights for those who served sentences for lesser felonies. More than 155,000 felons got their rights back.

Scott overturned that, and then some. His 2011 rules, with their five- to seven-year waiting periods and demands for unspecified sterling behavior, are now often cited as the toughest in the nation. In the last seven years, just 3,000  people have received restorations.

And more than 10,000 people are on a backlog of cases waiting for hearings to have their rights restored.

“The context of these numbers is not lost on this court,” Walker writes. “More than one-tenth of Florida’s voting population — nearly 1.7 million as of 2016 — cannot vote because they have been decimated from the body politic. More than one in five of Florida’s African American voting age population cannot vote.

“If any of these citizens wishes to earn back their fundamental right to vote,” he adds, “they must plod through a gauntlet of constitutionally infirm hurdles. No more.”

Walker did not impose a solution — yet. He ordered lawyers for ex-cons and the state to file briefs related to remedies before Feb. 12.

So this ruling makes the second big development within two weeks with the potential to demolish Florida’s shameful status quo that prevents most ex-felons from reentering civil society despite having served their sentences.

On Friday came a third. The Constitution Revision Commission decided to consider the issue after Warner’s explosive ruling. The commission, which meets every 20 years to recommend possible amendments to the state constitution, had already considered several proposals aimed at automatically restoring rights for ex-felons. But members withdrew them after the voting-restoration petition drive got Amendment 4 onto the ballot, fearing that too many similar-sounding ballot initiatives would confuse voters and dilute all of the initiatives’ chances.

Would the same thing happen with a new ballot proposal aimed not at automatic restoration but at fixing the clemency process? That’s one of the next things to watch as the energy for reforming this long-stultified system gains unexpected momentum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christie: Are we painting PBC sober homes with too broad a brush?

Matthew Anderson talks with his attorney during a court hearing in May. Anderson, owner of two Palm Beach County sober homes where police responded to 28 calls last year — including six overdoses — was arrested on multiple counts of patient brokering. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

As Palm Beach County seems to sink further into an opioid crisis that continues to kill people with impunity, a question arises as to the proper villain in this tragedy.

Operators of sober homes, those treatment centers where many addicts reside to help kick their habit, are increasingly concerned that too much government time — and money — is being spent on cleaning up their industry rather than actual treatment.

That appears to be the gist of Sunday’s “Point of View” op-ed penned by licensed psychologist Rachel Needle.

One could argue that the fact that fentanyl is now killing more people than heroin in Florida bolsters her point that more focus should be on treatment.

RELATED: Fentanyl killing more in Florida than heroin: CDC report

What do you think?

POINT OF VIEW: Treatment is vital to addicts’ recovery

Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg testified recently to Congress about sober home abuses.

While politicians, prosecutors and many others often speak about the two interchangeably, a sober living facility (aka sober home) is not the same as a substance use disorder treatment center (aka rehab, treatment center).

Sober homes are group homes where people who are in recovery live together. Some sober homes are affiliated with treatment centers, while others are not. Living in a sober home — and paying rent, buying their own food, living by rules, remaining sober — helps a person in recovery take responsibility for their life and regain their independence.

Palm Beach County chief assistant state attorney Al Johnson, left, Congresswoman Lois Frankel, and State Attorney Dave Aronberg, right, announce that a grand jury has issued 15 recommendations to combat the opioid crisis in Palm Beach County last December. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

A treatment center is where an individual struggling with abuse of alcohol or drugs goes to get treatment. At treatment centers, there are licensed mental health professionals and physicians involved in treatment. There are different levels of care at treatment centers, including detox, residential, day/night treatment (sometimes referred to as partial hospitalization), intensive outpatient, and outpatient treatment.

“The majority of sober homes in South Florida” (which is where I can speak to) are not “flophouses.” As in all industries, there are people who are unethical and take advantage of the system. Luckily, Aronberg and the Sober Home Task Force have made significant progress with that problem in South Florida. They have written and passed new legislation, and arrested those with unethical and illegal practices.

Maybe it is time that we move on to what I see as the biggest issue (besides the societal issue we have), and that is the insurance companies.

Of course, there are negative things in the world of substance use disorder treatment, but we are leaving out a lot of the positives.

In most cases, people are not overdosing and dying because of bad sober homes. They are overdosing and dying because they are abusing substances, their tolerance is lower after being sober for a period of time, the drugs are more potent or synthetic, and because the insurance companies do not give people the time they need in treatment to have the highest chance at success. Research has shown that the longer you are in treatment, the more likely you are to remain sober. It also tells us that the longer you stay abstinent from drugs and alcohol, the more likely you are to continue being abstinent.

Unethical and illegal sober home operators are few and far between. South Florida has many great treatment providers and a lot of individuals who are getting help, changing their lives for the better, and staying sober. We should highlight some of those success stories.

Do your research on a treatment center or sober home before going or sending a loved one to make sure it is a reputable and legitimate place. I assure you, there are incredible treatment centers and sober homes in South Florida that have helped thousands of people. Let’s shift this conversation once and for all.

RACHEL NEEDLE, FORT LAUDERDALE

Editor’s note: Rachel Needle is a licensed psychologist at the Center for Marital and Sexual Health of South Florida and an adjunct professor at Nova Southeastern University.

Christie: Post reader calls for PBC Judge Santino’s removal from bench

Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino speaks in front of a Judicial Qualifications Commission panel at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on August 2. Santino is accused of violating judicial canons during her campaign. (Meghan McCarthy/ The Palm Beach Post)

The topic of whether Palm Beach County Judge Dana Santino should remain on the bench has been a hot one among Post Opinion readers for months.

And now, one Post reader writes that the Florida Supreme Court should remove her, and Gov. Rick Scott appoint her cheated opponent, West Palm Beach defense attorney Gregg Lerman.

I first blogged about it back in March, positing that same question from readers.

Here’s the skinny on what’s got so many folks agitated:

During a hard-fought and very testy campaign for a judicial seat last fall, Santino stepped over the line in criticizing Lerman. Santino said some pretty nasty things about what Lerman does for a living, i.e. defending criminals.

Turns out denigrating any part of the legal profession in such a way during a campaign is a no-no. Thus, Santino was charged with violating four canons that dictate how judicial candidates are to behave. The 49-year-old former guardianship and probate attorney has admitted that her attacks on Lerman violated two of them.

But, in court papers, her attorney, Jeremy Kroll, insists she has a stellar record of legal service and has learned from her mistakes. So instead of a recommendation to the Florida Supreme Court that Santino be removed from office, he suggested the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) — a six-member panel of two judges, two lawyers and two citizens — save her nascent judicial career. Kroll suggested she receive a public reprimand and a $50,000 fine — the same punishment an Escambia County judge received in 2003 for making similar claims on the campaign trail.

RELATED: County Judge Santino’s future on bench now up to state panel

But in this case, precedent shouldn’t be prologue. And the fact Santino has exhibited good behavior since taking the bench would be like rewarding a driver who caused a major accident for being good driver for the few months until their trial.

Also, there just seems to be something wrong with addressing someone who admitted to doing something so dishonorable as “Your Honor.”

Yes, people makes mistakes. But to repeatedly make such mistakes, then fail to correct those actions, and then not acknowledge them after you’ve won tarnishes a judge and the robe they wear.

At a two-day hearing before the JQC last week, Santino was appropriately contrite and apologetic. But while casting herself as a “political neophyte,” she also deflected blame onto her political consultant, Richard Giorgio.

It just doesn’t wash.

What’s really unfortunate is that Santino might actually make a decent jurist if allowed to remain on the bench. But she might not. And what kind of message would that send to future judicial candidates, as well as the defendants and attorneys that would come before her?

And letter published on Tuesday morning’s Post Opinion page reflects that sentiment:

Dump Santino; put Lerman on bench

Dana Santino has now confessed to the Judicial Qualifications Commission charged with determining her fitness for the county court bench. She says she made a terrible mistake trusting her “hired gun” consultant’s advice and libeling her opponent in last fall’s race, Gregg Lerman, through vicious emails sent to county voters and an infamous “Truth About Gregg Lerman” Facebook page.

An Air Force general I worked for once told me, “Integrity means doing the right thing when nobody’s looking.” What could be a greater “fail” than for Santino to do the wrong thing when everyone’s looking? And then to double down and defend her actions repeatedly when called into question before Election Day, when there still was time to clean up her campaign?

The right thing to happen now is for the JQC panel to remove Santino from the bench. Then when Gov. Rick Scott appoints her replacement, the next right thing to do would be to appoint Lerman to the judge’s chair that he almost certainly would have won outright if not for Santino’s outrageous and illegal conduct.

That would be a remarkable act of statesmanship by the governor, for Lerman successfully sued the governor last year to prevent him from appointing the judgeship in the first place, forcing it onto the ballot so citizens like us could make the decision. It would mean Scott could set aside personal animus and do the fair thing that, intuitively, would very likely have been the will of the voters, had Santino not cheated so brazenly and fearlessly.

What a refreshing and encouraging message that action by our governor would send in this time of cynical partisanship.

STEVE EVERETT, SINGER ISLAND

Christie: Was brutal arrest of felon Byron Harris by Boynton Beach cops justified?

Byron L. Harris

By now, everyone has an opinion about the alleged over-use of force in the 2014 arrest of Byron L. Harris, a then-26-year-old felon with a lengthy record, after a high-speed chase by Boynton Beach police.

Was the beating by several police officers when they finally caught up to Harris and passengers Jeffrey Braswell and Ashley Hill, a violation of their civil rights? Or was it just an adrenaline rush gone horribly wrong?

A letter writer in Monday’s Palm Beach Post views it as more the latter. Terry Aperavich, of Boynton Beach, begins his letter:

I proudly support the Boynton Beach Police because they are all that stand between me and the bad guys that are turning our once civilized society into a dangerous battleground. Did the police get it wrong in the case of Byron Harris? Perhaps.

Aperavich goes on to say, however, that he is “tired of turning the streets over to the bad guys and then for them to be treated with kid gloves when they are finally apprehended.”

To be sure, he’s not the only one that feels that way. These high-speed chases — happening in other parts of the country, as well — put not only the life of the suspect and police at risk, but more importantly the general public.

But as the Post Editorial Board pointed out in a June 21 editorial, federal prosecutors are taking seriously the evidence that the Boynton officers not only violated Harris’ civil rights, but tried to cover it up.

A frame of the video that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter captured of Boynton Beach police officers who punched, kicked and used a Taser on three people in 2014. It shows the Aug. 20 police chase and arrest of Byron Harris, and two passengers.

The June 8 federal civil rights complaint alleges that a sergeant allowed officers to rewrite their police reports to justify their use of force after learning that a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office helicopter camera had captured them punching, kicking and Tasering the driver and two passengers of a car they’d halted after the Aug. 20, 2014 high-speed chase.

VIDEO: Watch the sheriff’s office helicopter video of the incident

Yes, there must have been a lot of adrenaline pumping in that situation — on both sides. But is that an excuse for law-enforcement pummeling someone they’ve been chasing?

If we’re going to use that reasoning, should a stressed-out teacher be allowed to smack a serially unruly child that has pushed the teacher’s buttons way too often on a given day?

Point is, there are a lot of stressful jobs that come with an adrenaline rush. Law enforcement is surely among the worst, as most of us can’t even imagine what they have to put up with day-in and day-out on our streets.

But cops know that going in, right? So shouldn’t we expect more from our police than a half-dozen or more of them beating someone down just because they’re angry they made them chase them through said streets?

Or does a suspect, who seems to care for no one but himself during a 100-mph car chase, deserve to reap what they sow?

Take our poll:

Christie: Should Lisa Rivera, accused of stealing school funds, resign?

Greenacres Councilwoman Lisa Rivera has been mum since being arrested Monday on grand theft charges.

Any way you slice it, this situation ugly.

Ugly for the Palm Beach County School District. Ugly for school students and parents. But most of all, ugly for the residents and taxpayers of Greenacres.

The arrest of District I Councilwoman Lisa Rivera on grand theft charges on Monday has the sprawling suburb in a tizzy.

After calling Monday a “terrible day,” Councilwoman Paula Bousquet said: “I’ve had some concerns about some of the decisions (Rivera) made and why they were made… It was just a sad day.”

“The impact is the exposure to the city,” City Manager Andrea McCue said. “But there was no involvement by the city. We just want to make sure we continue with business as usual.”

It’s a little hard to believe that’s really possible given that we’ve yet to hear from Rivera since she was arrested on charges of stealing more than $23,000 between 2013 and 2015 while she was treasurer at Boca Raton High School.

Her arrest on the charges, which also included official misconduct and organized scheme to defraud — all felonies —  was the second in a week of a county schools treasurer. That alone helped draw attention to the incident.

But Rivera is also a twice-elected public official who last ran unopposed. As the first elected Latina, she also ran as a change agent against the city’s “old political guard,” led by former Mayor Sam Ferreri.

No surprise then that Ferreri was not especially kind in his comments about Rivera’s arrest. He called his old nemesis’ high-profile arrest a “sad day” for Greenacres. “It’s a disgrace to the people she represents,” Ferreri said. “It’s an embarrassment to the city.”

That was before Gov. Rick Scott late Wednesday suspended Rivera in lieu of the charges against her.

The Greenacres City Council, seen here honoring City Clerk Joanna Cunningham (center) in May, is having to move forward without Rivera.

RELATED: Governor suspends Greeancres Councilwoman Lisa Rivera

That left the city council with either having to find a temporary replacement. But they are in familiar territory.

The city appointed Anderson Thelusme to fill out the remaining year of former Councilman Jonathan Pearce’s District IV seat when Pearce ran for mayor earlier this year.

Officials said the city will now advertise Rivera’s seat, and begin accepting resumes and letters of interest ahead of the July 17 council meeting where they will conduct interviews.

But this also raises the inevitable question — among others — of whether Rivera should resign her seat while fighting these charges.

Rivera hugs Marcus Stukes’ Aunt Takesha Harrell in April on the site where Marcus and his friend Matthew Makarits were shot to death in Bowman Park in Greenacres. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Curiously, she has yet to make a statement to the media or to her constituents, if for no other reason than to put the latter’s minds at ease.

Other than her denial of the allegations against her last October, Rivera and her husband — a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy — have been mum about the charges or her plans.

But, as they say, nature abhors a vacuum. Not making a statement only invites insinuations and rumors when the residents of Greenacres deserve facts and ultimately truth.

That first has to come from Rivera. If there was ever a time for that brash, no-nonsense style to take center stage it is now.

The people who voted for her, and supported her are waiting.

What do you think Rivera’s next move should be?

Goodman: Delray Beach: All American City and ‘relapse capital’ all at the same time

Suzanne Spencer, former executive director of the Delray Beach Drug Taskforce, and Delray Beach Police Chief Jeffrey Goldman speak at a 2015 press conference about heroin overdoses and deaths in the city. (Photo by Hannah Winston)

Delray Beach this week became the first city in the state to win the All America City Award for a third time.

This same week, the city also gained national attention for being “the biggest relapse capital.”

In a lengthy front-page article on Wednesday, the New York Times documented the town’s unwanted status as one of the worst-hit centers of the opioid epidemic.

“Here, heroin overdoses long ago elbowed out car crashes and routine health issues as the most common medical emergencies,” writes reporter Lizette Alvarez. “Last year, Delray paramedics responded to 748 overdose calls; 65 ended in fatalities. In all, Palm Beach County dealt with 5,000 overdose calls.”

The story rightly emphasizes that, unlike other places reeling from rampant opioid addiction, “most of the young people who overdose in Delray Beach are not from here.” They come from the Northeast and Midwest in search of drug treatment “in a town that has long been hailed as a lifeline for substance abusers.”

But as the Palm Beach Post has exhaustively reported, that treatment industry has been corrupted by bad actors who use insurance fraud to reap huge illicit profits and cynically thrust recovering addicts deeper into addiction.

“We have these people sending us their children to get healthy,” Dave Aronberg, the county’s state attorney, says in the Times, “and they are leaving in ambulances and body bags.”

Delray won the All American City Award for its efforts to advance early literacy. The honor is bestowed by the National Civic League, founded in 1894 by urban reformers including Theodore Roosevelt, Frederick Law Olmstead and Louis Brandeis.

The city founded a board that worked with schools, parents and city leaders combat the summer slide, boost school attendance and prepare beginning students for school. The result, officials said: a 25 percent bump in grade-level reading from kindergarten through third grade in Delray schools.

Delray previously was named an All American City in 1993 and 2001.

No doubt, Delray leaders would rather their city be best known for its literacy-boosting virtues. But the Times story on the seaside town’s dangerous drug reality deserves a wide audience, especially up North. Maybe it will be read as a warning to people struggling with substance abuse: Think twice before coming down here for the help you might never receive.

Christie: PBC cities risk return of ‘Corruption County’ by shorting IG’s office

Palm Beach County Inspector General John A. Carey speaks with county commissioners before the start of a meeting at the Governmental Center in West Palm Beach. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

Palm Beach County’s Office of the Inspector General has to feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of local government.

They don’t get “no respect, no respect at all.”

Latest case in point: Despite documented success at ferreting out, and drawing attention to questionable government actions, county commissioners last month decided not to grant Inspector General John Carey’s budget request for $500,000 for additional staffers — part of a 10-person boost Carey wants over the next three years.

RELATED: Cities balk at idea of helping PB County pay for inspector general

This wasn’t some arbitrary request, mind you. The IG’s office, according to Carey, has questioned $24.7 million in costs, identified $21.9 million in potential cost savings and referred 119 cases to law enforcement, the county or Florida Commission on Ethics.

Not bad for a much-maligned agency that’s been under-funded, under-staffed and under-appreciated by many of the local elected officials it works for.

Remember that 15 of our 39 municipalities sued to keep from paying their share for running the IG’s office.

Remember also, that in response to a 2009 grand jury report citing repeated incidences by former members of the county and West Palm Beach city commissions — earning us the nickname “Corruption County” — 72 percent of voters in 2010 had had enough. They approved expanding the IG’s office to cover all then-38 municipalities, and to be funded by them.

By they way, that was a majority of voters in each and every municipality.

The will of the voters aside, however, 40 percent of the county’s cities didn’t like the idea of paying for someone to look over their shoulders. They should decide how their city’s money is spent; a rather compelling argument when budgets are tight.

That made for a protracted legal battle, which the cities eventually won in a December ruling from the 4th District Court of Appeal. The court determined that, “Notwithstanding the constitutional principle that ‘(a)ll political power is inherent in the people,’ voters may not waive a municipality’s sovereign immunity through a local referendum.”
No surprise that leaves the IG’s office in a rather tough spot. You see, it must by law provide oversight and conduct investigations not only in the county but in cities that don’t pay for its work.
Palm Beach Count Ethics Commissioner Sarah L. Shullman

County Ethics Commissioner Sarah L. Shullman told the Post’s Wayne Washington that the cities are being shortsighted in refusing to fund the office. She said that its basically contract review work, and even its fraud investigations can potentially save a city far more money than it would cost to contribute to the office’s budget.

Carey, meanwhile, is trying to stay above the fray and not bite the potential hands that might feed him.
He just wants the money for the additional staffing. “I’m trying to stay out of the argument between the cities and the county,” he said, but added that the office’s limited staffing “hurts our ability to serve the citizens of Palm Beach County, who voted overwhelmingly for our oversight. At the end of the day, I just hope we find a way to adequately fund the Office of the Inspector General.”
Yeah, good luck with that.
Carey did try to take his case to the public — albeit in an email to local media outlets the day before commissioners decided to accept County Administrator Verdenia Baker’s budget recommendation to hold off on the requested $500,000.
In a short, soft-spoken cover letter, he chided “friends and IG supporters” to:

  Please see the attached IG Update on our accomplishments to date and where we stand as a result of the end of the lawsuit over funding of your Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General.

  June marks my third year as your Inspector General.  Over the past three years, I have spoken to hundreds of business and community groups about what your Office of Inspector General is doing to guard taxpayer dollars and promote integrity, transparency and accountability in government.  If you have a group you would like me to speak to, please let me know.  I thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to meet and speak with those I serve.

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker said she seriously considered Carey’s request but decided that other staffing needs were more pressing. She also did not include funding for all of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s request for new deputies. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Commissioners and Baker, who rightfully has her eye on a likely $25 million property tax revenue shortfall from a potential expansion of the homestead exemption next year, were moved, but not enough.
While some commissioners said they support the IG’s work, their hopes lie in the cities’ “voluntary” largesse.
“I think our recourse here is as clear as day,” Commissioner Hal Valeche said. “We need to go after the cities. They are getting a service and not paying for it, and that is not right. I don’t know how we apply leverage. We can shame the cities, which is my preferred course. You just don’t get something for nothing in this world.”
I’m not sure that the municipalities get that. They seem to be under the impression that they don’t need a corruption watchdog because we’re no longer “Corruption County” — a universally despised moniker.
But what if the reason we’re no longer “Corruption County” is precisely because we have a corruption watchdog?
Is it so hard to believe that government officials will behave badly when they are convinced no one is watching? Or that no one cares enough to do anything?
As much as we’d like to move past it, we need to remember that universally despised moniker was earned. A majority of taxpayers in every municipality agreed, and voted to do something about it.
A state appellate court shot them down. But that doesn’t erase their concern or wishes.
Our municipal government officials can either go on kidding themselves — and their residents — that “Corruption County” can’t happen again, or they can pony up the money to help pay for the IG’s work to make sure it doesn’t.

What do you think? …

Goodman: Florida House loosens up on medical marijuana, but not to smoking it

The Florida House has overwhelmingly passed a bill setting out rules for medical marijuana that’s much less restrictive than before, but the legislators are being picky about how patients take the substance.

A vaporizer or a brownie? No problem. A pipe or cigarette? No way.

The House bill, passed by a 105-9 vote on Tuesday, settles most of the differences with the more relaxed Senate bill, but it still doesn’t go far enough to please the backers of the constitutional amendment that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.

“This is still a fatally flawed piece of legislation,” Ben Pollara, policy director for United for Care, the group that pushed the amendment, told Miami New Times.

The details are important because, although Floridians approved Amendment 2 in November by more than 71 percent, it’s up to the Republican-led Legislature to hammer out rules for how medical pot will be grown, distributed, prescribed and used. It’s all supposed to be ready for patients in September — and will be in effect for years.

Related stories from the Palm Beach Post:

Advocates want medical marijuana in Florida, but not like California

How did weed win in a landslide? Credit the white rural voters who gave Florida to Trump

Florida doctors have mixed opinions about medical marijuana

Amendment 2 passes in landslide: What’s next for legal pot?

Under the House’s proposal (HB 1397), patients with one of about a dozen “qualifying conditions” — including cancer, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy — could be certified to obtain medical marijuana by a doctor. But not all chronic pains will be equal under this law.

“The bill also says that patients with chronic pain can access the drug, but only if that pain is directly linked to a debilitating condition that would have qualified them regardless,” the Herald/Times reports.

The House made a number of notable improvements after negotiating with the Senate. As the Sun Sentinel reports:

  • Noneuphoric forms of marijuana can now be used in public. Public use of full-strength medical marijuana remains a misdemeanor.
  • Pregnant patients can now get noneuphoric, low-THC marijuana. Previously, they were banned from using marijuana at all.
  • The number of medical marijuana growing licenses will increase by 10 before July of next year. (There are currently seven licensed growers.) Then, four new licenses will be available for every 100,000 patients.

The Senate is expected to take up its bill (SB 406) on the floor for the first time today.

By allowing patients to use vaporizers or edibles but not to smoke marijuana products, the House is violating the spirit of Amendment 2, critics say.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, pointed out that marijuana is safer than prescription drugs that have caused a statewide crisis in addictions and overdoses:

“Would we rather have them use dangerous prescription drugs … or would we prefer that they smoke a bowl and go to sleep and actually wake up the next morning?” Smith asked. “Who are we to tell legitimate patients that they can’t smoke their cannabis? That is not our business, members. It’s not our business to infringe upon their personal freedoms; it’s not our business to infringe on the sacred patient-doctor relationship.”

Critics also worry that by capping the number of growers and distributors too strictly, the state will create cartels that will jack up prices and limit choices. “Patients will be driven to the black market,” Pollara said.

But House Majority Ray Rodigues, the sponsor of his chamber’s bill, noted that marijuana is still an illegal Schedule 1 drug in the eyes of the federal government. He said it’s a balancing act to fulfill the wishes of Florida voters while not violating federal law. There’s also a strong desire among legislators to prevent medical pot from becoming a back-door way of condoning recreational marijuana.

 

 

 

Christie: Scott too quick to yank prosecutor over ‘death penalty’ flap

Florida Gov. Rick Scott took the unprecedented step of replacing a sitting State Attorney over a difference of opinion over the death penalty. (Scott McIntyre/The New York Times)

Not so fast. What looked like a quick decision for a governor who is a major — to say the least — proponent of the death penalty may not be as quick as he thought.

On Monday, more than 100 legal experts issued a letter expressing concern with Gov. Rick Scott’s removal of State Attorney Aramis Ayala from the Markeith Loyd case. Ayala, a first term state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit in Orange and Osceola counties, said she would not pursue the death penalty. Scott vehemently disagreed.

Orange-Osceola County State Attorney Aramis Ayala (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

As if we need reminding, this is a governor who has done everything within his power to execute as many people on death row as he can during his two terms. That effort had already been interrupted by the state’s use of a questionable drug cocktail and a subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decision that derailed the state’s entire capital punishment system. The Legislature last week finally passed a law to address the concerns outlined by the nation’s high court; and it was quickly signed by Scott.

Then, Ayala made her pronouncement about not seeking the death penalty under any circumstances. This was particularly galling to death penalty advocates because Loyd not only allegedly killed his girlfriend, but also a police officer. Scott gave Ayala the boot in favor of a another State Attorney who promised to seek the death penalty.

By the way, the other 19 State Attorneys — including Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg — took the political opportunity to re-affirm they have no qualms with seeking the death penalty when the crime merits it. In other words, they will use prosecutorial discretion.

But the 119 signatories on Monday’s letter include two former Florida Supreme Court chief justices, four retired state Supreme Court justices, more than two dozen current or former state and federal prosecutors, and approximately 90 law professors. The judges, lawyers and professors’ opinion is that Scott’s move infringes on the independence of prosecutors, exceeds his authority, undermines the right of Orange-Osceola voters, and sets a dangerous precedent. 

“Your executive order that seeks to remove State Attorney Ayala from this position in the Loyd case – absent any showing that her decision is violative of the state or federal Constitution – compromises the prosecutorial independence upon which the criminal justice system depends,” the letter states. “Second, your removal of State Attorney Ayala compromises Floridians’ right to the services of their elected leaders. Floridians in the Ninth Judicial Circuit elected State Attorney Ayala because she represents their local values and concerns.”

The letter concludes, “This action sets a dangerous precedent. The governor picking and choosing how criminal cases are prosecuted, charged or handled in local matters is troubling as a matter of policy and practice. Indeed, there appears to be no precedent in Florida for this type of use of power.”

Accused cop killer Markeith Loyd looks toward family members during court proceedings in Orlando. (Red Huber /Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

To that end, Ayala on Monday said that she’s not willing to surrender the Loyd case.

She told Orange-Osceola Chief Circuit Judge Frederick Lauten that what Scott did was indeed unprecedented, and “overstepped his bounds.” She said she may file a legal challenge and asked the judge to temporarily halt the two murder cases against Loyd while she figures out what to do.

This may not be so quick after all.