Saturday, February 17, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: DEP's failure to serve and protect

It's a sad reflection on the state of environmental protection in Florida when a state agency's lawyer fears for his job merely for enforcing the law. But the firing of Chris Byrd and several other attorneys has exposed more trouble within the Department of Environmental Protection under the leadership of Secretary Herschel Vinyard. Gov. Rick Scott should clean house before Vinyard does even more damage to the agency and to the environment.

Byrd told Tampa Bay Times staff writer Craig Pittman this month that he had a sinking feeling after winning a trial victory against a Marion County couple whom a jury found had illegally filled in wetlands along the Rainbow River. Rather than celebrate, Byrd thought: "When (Deputy Secretary) Jeff Littlejohn hears about this, I'm probably going to lose my job." And sure enough, he did — after Littlejohn met with the defendants to hear their complaints. Byrd was one of four DEP lawyers ousted from their jobs. His colleague, Kelly Russell, told the Times they were fired because their legal advice "was not well received by" Littlejohn, his aides or "outside influences."

Vinyard and Littlejohn aren't talking, but a DEP spokesman said the four lawyers were fired from the 42-attorney legal team because of a drop in caseloads, not over policy disagreements. That explanation hardly is a comfort. Enforcement cases have dropped dramatically — to 799 last year, compared to 2,289 in 2010 — because DEP has taken a softer line with industry. The agency has slashed its workforce of inspectors, Byrd said, and now requires that Littlejohn's office sign off on any enforcement case before it goes to the attorneys. DEP disputes that claim, though it acknowledges that ranking officials "work with" in-house attorneys "to determine the best course of action" in permitting disputes. The net effect is the same — bargaining with polluters after the damage has been done. The practice also sends the message that people can circumvent the regulatory process and permitting laws with little risk of getting caught, and if they do get caught an apology is apparently enough.

This is hardly the first time that Vinyard and Littlejohn have undermined public trust in the department, and they are not protecting the environment. Staff attorneys should not be afraid to vigorously prosecute enforcement cases. And they shouldn't be second-guessed by political appointees who are interested in accommodating polluters at the expense of the state's natural resources. Scott has tolerated the problems with Vinyard's management for too long. Allowing him to stay means that Scott either shares Vinyard's lack of interest in protecting the environment or is more concerned about winning contributions from developers and other business interests than in preserving what's left of Florida's natural resources.

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Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

Editorial: Buckhorn should not appeal verdict in firefighterís case

The city of Tampa should have taken Tanja Vidovic seriously from the start when the Tampa firefighter complained about her treatment in the workplace. Now that a jury and judge have spoken, itís time for City Hall to cut its losses, learn from its mi...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

Editorial: CareerSource troubles mount as public trust drops

The dark cloud enveloping Tampa Bayís job placement centers keeps growing. There are accusations of forged documents, evidence of nepotism and concerns about grossly inflated performance numbers that could be tied to receiving more public money and b...
Published: 02/15/18
Updated: 02/16/18
Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Editorials: Prayers and platitudes after shootings arenít enough

Even before the victims of another mass shooting at another public school were identified, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state legislators and members of Congress rushed to South Florida or to social media to offer their thoughts and p...
Published: 02/15/18
Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

Editorial: DCF review should get to the bottom of Hillsborough foster care issues

The Florida Department of Children and Families is right to call for a timely and "comprehensive" review of Hillsborough Countyís foster care system. Though the probe is a reaction to a recent case involving a child who was left unattended, the revie...
Published: 02/14/18

A Washington Post editorial: Modernize 911 calling before it becomes an emergency

This Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the first 911 emergency call placed in the United States. Since then, uncounted lives have been saved and people helped. It has been a great accomplishment of government.But even as an estimated 240 million 9...
Published: 02/13/18
Updated: 02/14/18
Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Editorial: Scott, Cabinet cannot be trusted on felonsí voting rights

Gov. Rick Scott always has been grudging and imperious about restoring the voting rights of felons, requiring them to wait for years before begging the governor and Cabinet to be recognized again as citizens. That arrogance is on full display in a le...
Published: 02/13/18
Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Another voice: ĎDreamersí donít know whom to trust on immigration

Immigrants brought into this country illegally as children by their parents may be wondering whom to trust. The political theater being played out in Washington hasnít settled the status of either the "Dreamers" or the estimated 11 million other undo...
Published: 02/13/18
Editorial: Promising Tampa stadium site for Rays

Editorial: Promising Tampa stadium site for Rays

While it came as little surprise, the Tampa Bay Raysí selection of an Ybor City site near Tampaís Channel District as the best spot for a new stadium is an important milestone in the effort to keep Major League Baseball. Now comes the hard work of de...
Published: 02/09/18
Editorial: Senate should reject Houseís attack on public schools

Editorial: Senate should reject Houseís attack on public schools

After pummeling public education so soundly last year, itís little surprise Republican state legislators are mounting another attack on public schools, teachers and local districts. The mammoth education bill passed by the House last week is loaded w...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/13/18
Editorial: TIA expansion a reminder to aim high

Editorial: TIA expansion a reminder to aim high

Thereís nothing particularly exciting about a tram, much less a rental car facility. But the new projects at Tampa International Airport set to open Wednesday are a sign of confidence in the bay area ó and a challenge to improve regional transportati...
Published: 02/08/18
Updated: 02/09/18