Saturday, July 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Hernando deserved better in drug treatment case

Hernando County government poorly served the public with its continued bumbling of a Spring Hill drug treatment facility affiliated with the Church of Scientology. The five-year ordeal ended last week with a nearly $2 million settlement to Narconon Spring Hill Inc. and flummoxed county commissioners wondering how the clinic's operators circumvented the county's own code enforcement to house clients in an unlicensed facility within a residential neighborhood. Hernando residents deserve a county government that is more thoughtful and accountable than this expensive lesson illustrates.

Commissioners may have been in the dark about the code violations, but their lawyers weren't. Narconon's undocumented expansion came to light in 2013 as part of the housing discrimination lawsuit it filed against Hernando. The county's outside counsel highlighted the off-site facilities in arguing the county shouldn't be liable for exorbitant damages.

"We're the ones who have permitted them to lease houses and use houses off site so that they could continue to use this facility to get the counseling services that they say they need,'' the county's legal team said in its closing arguments.

It's hard to be indignant over an illegal clinic while arguing you blessed it so Narconon could serve its growing clientele.

That's just part of the bungling. The lawsuit could have been avoided if a past commission hadn't tried to win political points by pandering to neighbors opposing Narconon's proposal to expand its Cessna Drive clinic from 22 to 54 beds. A 1992 county permit allowed up to 150 beds on a larger parcel in what originally had been an adult congregate living facility. The site was later divided into smaller pieces, and Narconon obtained permission to open its substance abuse treatment center there in late 2008 and sought to expand just five weeks later. Both the county's professional staff and the appointed zoning board recommended approving the proposed expansion, but commissioners denied the request after hearing neighbors object to the type of clientele being served.

Narconon and the property owner, Toucan Partners, sued in federal court two years later and reached a settlement in August, a month after an appeals court had ordered a new trial to determine how much the county owed the companies because of the commission's discrimination toward recovering addicts. (Only two members of that commission, David Russell and Jim Adkins, remain in office.)

Narconon's behavior is far from exemplary. To serve additional clients paying up to $30,000 for three months of treatment, the company expanded to two houses and a commercial strip center absent a state license from the Department of Children and Families. DCF was unaware the center was providing services at unlicensed facilities in Hernando until the Tampa Bay Times inquired late last month. Narconon applied for a license for one site in a strip shopping center after the newspaper started asking questions, and DCF issued Narconon a temporary license to provide "intensive outpatient" services.

Narconon's ability to circumvent the rules and the county's lax oversight of its own codes illustrate the prevalent attitude toward government regulation: It is easier to act improperly and ask forgiveness later than to seek permission in the first place. Hernando residents deserve better from their county government.

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Editorial: NFL calls wise time-out on disciplining protests

The National Football League kept an embarrassing situation from becoming even worse by shelving its new policy clamping down on players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.The league announced late Thursday it would suspend the 2-month old p...
Published: 07/20/18
Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is shoring up his final year in office with the proposed city budget he released Thursday. The plan includes no big-ticket items, opting instead to maintain ongoing investments in parks, roads and other basic public services....
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18

IRS making ‘dark money’ darker

Under a perverse interpretation of federal law, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations supposedly devoted to "social welfare" can spend large amounts of money to influence elections without publicly disclosing the identities of their donors. But instead ...
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

The CrossBay Ferry appears headed for another round of rides across Tampa Bay, with local governments pledging one more year of financial support. But as more taxpayer money is steered into this project, it’s important to recognize what purpose the f...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott says he is considering requests to order an independent investigation of how Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office screens applications for concealed weapon permits. It’s a reasonable request, and the governor h...
Published: 07/18/18
Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

July in Florida. The height of summer tourist season. Rental cars clog the highways and tourists crowd the beaches, motels and all-you-can-eat shrimp joints. Many of our neighbors are off to North Carolina or somewhere cooler. So it’s an awfully inco...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Maggy Hurchalla joked this spring that all she could offer a billionaire who won a $4.4 million judgment against her after she exercised her free speech rights were "two kayaks and an aging Toyota.’’ The billionaire didn’t laugh. This week, Martin Co...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/18/18
Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

In one of the most surreal news conferences of our time, President Donald Trump actually stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday and called the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election "a disaster for our coun...
Published: 07/16/18
Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

The St. Petersburg City Council made the appropriate but difficult decision to reject a contract with renowned artist Janet Echelman for one of her aerial sculptures. It would be wonderful for the city to have one of her signature works, but Spa Beac...
Published: 07/13/18

‘Everybody needed to know what happened’

The brutal murder of Emmett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mississippi nearly 63 years ago went unpunished, but not forgotten. A decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to allow an open casket at Emmett’s Chicago funeral represented an act of def...
Published: 07/13/18