Tuesday, October 16, 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.

Comments
Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

Editorial: Bilirakis mimics Trump, colleagues in misleading voters

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis wants voters to believe he is different than his Republican colleagues in Congress and President Donald Trump. The Palm Harbor Republican says he pays more attention to local issues than to the president, claims he doesnȁ...
Updated: 0 minutes ago
Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

Editorial: Tampa water project benefits entire region

A proposal that goes to the three-county utility Tampa Bay Water on Monday could benefit residents, the economy and the environment across the region. The utility's governing board will consider a proposal by the city of Tampa to redirect highly trea...
Published: 10/12/18
Updated: 10/15/18
Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

Editorial: Rays’ purchase of Rowdies good for St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Rays’ purchase of the Rowdies soccer team adds some stability to the region’s roster of professional sports franchises. It also guarantees that the Rowdies, who have amassed an enthusiastic fan base in a short time, will k...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

Editorial: Remember Mexico Beach when next evacuation order comes

When the sun rose Wednesday, Mexico Beach was a sleepy town of 1,200 people on Florida's northern Gulf coast. By sundown, it was gone. The pictures show the heartbreaking devastation left by Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle. Entire neighbor...
Published: 10/12/18
Shortsighted opposition to TECO

Shortsighted opposition to TECO

The destruction from Hurricane Michael is only the latest reminder of Florida's growing vulnerability to extreme weather, rising sea levels and other impacts of a warming climate. But the Sierra Club's opposition to Tampa Electric Co.'s plans to retr...
Published: 10/12/18
Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

Editorial: Answering questions about Hillsborough school tax

The Hillsborough County school tax on the Nov. 6 ballot is a smart, necessary investment in the nation's eighth-largest school system. The 10-year, half-penny sales tax would create stronger, safer schools and a healthier learning environment for mor...
Published: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Times recommends: Chronister for Hillsborough sheriff

Florida sheriffs have long hand-plucked their successors from within the ranks. While he is a product of this tradition, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is uniquely qualified to be elected on his own merits.Then-Sheriff David Gee surprise...
Published: 10/11/18
Updated: 10/12/18
Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

Times recommends: Yes on Florida Supreme Court retention

One justice on the Florida Supreme Court faces a merit retention vote in November, essentially an up-or-down vote of confidence allowing him to remain on the bench. Merit retention votes occur at least one year after the justice’s initial appo...
Published: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Yes on retaining 4 appeals judges

Times recommends: Yes on retaining 4 appeals judges

The 2nd District Court of Appeal judges are on the Nov. 6 ballot for merit retention. Voters are being asked whether the appellate judges should be retained for another six-year term.Two pieces of information are helpful in deciding. First, the Flori...
Published: 10/11/18
Times recommends: Vote no on Clearwater strong mayor

Times recommends: Vote no on Clearwater strong mayor

A handful of influential business leaders are understandably frustrated with Clearwater’s failure to rejuvenate its downtown and eager to duplicate the rebirth of downtowns in Tampa and St. Petersburg. But they have focused on the wrong soluti...
Published: 10/10/18
Updated: 10/11/18