Today we're talking about political waste, arts-center plans, the wrongfully convicted and elderly Floridians who are neglected and abused.
Let's start with the waste.
I've argued for years that Orange County taxpayers needn't keep spending money on an elected tax collector. And nobody has better helped make that case than current tax collector, Earl K. Wood, did in this week's paper.
Wood, 94, admitted that he rarely even enters his office anymore. And when asked about his $151,800 taxpayer-funded salary by Sentinel reporter David Damron, Wood responded that his "salary is not that big" — not when compared to UCF President John Hitt anyway.
Really? That's the kind of logic needed to justify this post? If Wood had tried that with my mother, she would've asked him whether he would also follow Mr. Hitt off a cliff. (And then sent him to his room.)
Collecting taxes doesn't require party affiliation or campaigns. In fact, I bet you can't name a single burning issue or platform that separated one candidate for tax collector from another in the past decade.
Wood, a Democrat, may be a perfectly amiable man. But this post doesn't require a politician. It simply requires a competent office administrator. So, as county officials begin looking for ways to streamline government in this year's charter review, this should be on the list.
The art of the deal
So, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs dropped a bomb on the arts-center crowd last week, suggesting that the center get its financial ducks in a row before getting any more public money.
I've been a loud proponent of the new center. I still am. But public scrutiny of any project with this much public money is always a good idea.
Right now, some arts-center backers are responding with righteous indignation about Jacobs' lack of diplomacy in going public with all this. (Think of all the pearl-clutching you saw inside the Caddyshack country club the first time Rodney Dangerfield walked in.)
The difference here, though, is that Jacobs has respect. In fact that's why voters elected her.
So my advice to the arts-center folks: Get over it.
Fix what's needs fixing. Change what needs changing. And make the kind of adjustments needed for our current economic reality.
This project is at a crossroads. And your reaction right now may determine its fate.
More on this one at orlandosentinel.com/takingnames.
If it wasn't enough that Florida has a shameful record when it comes to wrongful convictions, now comes the maddening news that Florida isn't doing what it's supposed to by compensating those who lost decades of their lives.
Excuses about tough financial times aren't good enough. After all, no one asked guys like Brevard County resident Bill Dillon whether it was a good time for him to be locked up for 27 years for a crime that courts later said he never committed.
In the past, I have joined justice advocates in heaping praise upon state Sen. Mike Haridopolos and others who have championed the cause of these often voiceless victims — $30,000 a year in restitution in Dillon's case, for instance.
But then the last session closed without Haridopolos getting Dillon's compensation bill passed.
Now Haridopolos is senate president. He could get the legislature to make Laffy Taffy the official state entrée if he wanted.
We'll soon see just how hard he is fighting for these disenfranchised and deserving souls.
Respecting our elders
And finally, Gov. Rick Scott has proposed so many cuts that a potentially serious one been largely overlooked and under-reported — the ousting of Florida's top advocate for elderly people.
The man, long-term care ombudsman Brian Lee, was a thorn in the side of nursing homes that neglected their residents.
And, according to the Miami Herald, Scott ousted Lee shortly after Lee asked the state's 677 nursing homes to reveal more detailed information about their ownership stakes as part of a federal push for greater transparency and accountability.
Scott's office wouldn't offer more of an explanation or discuss plans for this office's future. That's unsettling.
This office is primarily staffed with hundreds of volunteer watchdogs who believe the state's oldest, most vulnerable residents are worth protecting. They are right. And our elected leaders should realize that.
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