Wednesday, April 25, 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: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Updated: 22 minutes ago

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18