Progress on protecting children | June 15, editorial
Fight scourge of domestic violence
Child advocate attorneys like myself often fight in courtrooms and the public realm to protect the rights, health and welfare of Florida's at-risk children. But all too often, the worst abuses go on in places we cannot see or reach — behind a family's closed doors.
That's apparently where 2-year-old Justin Polk died this month. He died in an Orlando hotel room of blunt force trauma and strangulation. No one has been charged with his death, though his mother and her boyfriend were arrested on charges of child abuse.
The Florida Department of Children and Families had investigated the Polk family for high risk three times over the past two years. In what seems a continuation of a horrible tragedy, earlier this year it was revealed that more than 470 children known to DCF to be at risk had died. In the case of Justin's family, each investigation — reportedly for inadequate supervision, environmental hazards or domestic violence, including most recently in March — was closed. Now Justin is dead and his two siblings are in DCF custody.
Domestic violence is a scourge on our families and especially our children. If families cannot be kept together in safe situations, children must be removed from possible harm. Abused children often grow up to be adult victims. Some become abusers themselves.
This goes beyond DCF's role. It's each citizen's responsibility to try to reduce domestic violence. If we see or suspect abuse, we must report it to authorities.
Otherwise, children will continue to suffer and many will die as a result of abuse. Please do your part — the life of a child may depend on what you do.
Gloria W. Fletcher, vice president, Florida's Children First, Gainesville
World Refugee Day
U.S. generosity leads way
Today, World Refugee Day, brings awareness to the plight of more than 15 million refugees worldwide. I have seen firsthand the struggles of refugees from various backgrounds who have been lucky enough to resettle in Tampa Bay.
Walk up to the sushi counter in most any Publix supermarket in the area and your food is likely to be prepared by someone from Myanmar (formerly Burma) who was a victim of torture at the hands of his government before he was able to escape. A local family struggled for years to rebuild their lives before they approached the supermarket chain with the idea to develop sushi counters. Now this family trains and places Burmese sushi chefs in Publix supermarkets in the bay area.
We saw this same spirit in the waves of Jewish refugees and their descendants during the many years that Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services, in partnership with HIAS, the global Jewish refugee organization, helped those persecuted from the Soviet Union, Germany and then Russia.
The United States has been the world leader in welcoming refugees. Today, we accept more than all other countries combined. These policies are what create diverse communities like ours on the Gulf Coast. But today, as conflicts in places like Syria and Sudan create so many refugees, our system is mired in bureaucracy.
You can help. In honor of World Refugee Day, call your senators and congressman and ask them to support the Refugee Protection Act, which would eliminate onerous and unnecessary red tape that keeps qualified refugees waiting in limbo for approval to resettle.
Rochelle Tatrai-Ray, president and CEO, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services Inc., Clearwater
Discord continues in Pinellas over potential sale of Pasco land | June 11, Bay Buzz blog
Water supply is safe, secure
Recently, water has been at the forefront of conversation in this region. You may have heard news reports or seen election-related information about well fields and about the safety and sustainability of your drinking water in Pinellas County. The drinking water in this region is safe, it's high-quality and it's not for sale.
Tampa Bay Water was created in 1998 to assure adequate, reliable water supplies for the governments it serves: Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa. Through these governments, it supplies water to more than 2.3 million people in the region. The agency was created to end the region's water wars and provide a reliable and environmentally sustainable drinking water supply for the region. And we've been doing that successfully for over a decade.
Tampa Bay Water has reduced groundwater pumping by more than 50 percent over the last decade, but groundwater remains an important part of the regional water supply.
Cross Bar Ranch, the subject of recent news coverage, is one of 13 major well fields that serve our region. Decades ago, Pinellas County bought the property in Pasco County; when Tampa Bay Water was formed, ownership of the 17 water wells on the property was transferred to the regional water supplier.
What is important to know is this — whether the ownership of Cross Bar Ranch changes hands, the water supply is safe and secure. A legal covenant "perpetually protects" Tampa Bay Water's use of its part of the property to provide drinking water and restricts what the owner can do. The uses must be compatible with public drinking water wells. In short, the water that comes from Cross Bar Ranch will remain under ownership of Tampa Bay Water.
Susan Latvala, Pinellas County commissioner and chair of the Tampa Bay Water board of directors, Clearwater
Watch out for pedestrians
According to the 2014 Dangerous by Design report, Tampa is once again the second most dangerous city in America for pedestrians. While design is arguably a component of this problem, a second component is driver awareness.
Recently, I almost became a statistic while trying to cross a low-speed road at a pedestrian crossing during my walk home from a grocery store. The amount of honking required for me to cross the street suggested that because I chose to transport myself in a free, healthy, and eco-friendly way, I deserved to be hit.
Drivers, please look for pedestrians. If a driver in another lane has stopped at a pedestrian crossing, consider slowing down. Thank you to those out there who are already making strides to improve the walkability of this beautiful city.
Alicia Manteiga, Tampa