This article on the homeless issue in Hillsborough County reveals the lack of leadership in the county.
Mike Merrill, county administrator, innocently states that no one told him about the problems. The article lists warnings given to the county attorney, deputy county administrator for social services and three department heads. Standard operating procedure in Hillsborough County seems to be: Don't tell the county administrator so he will not be held responsible.
What happens when the situation blows up and cannot be ignored? The higher-ups do not get punished because they did what they were supposed to: protect the county administrator. Instead, the middle managers were punished because they were "at fault." So middle managers were supposed to stop sending people to a slum landlord who was also a high-level Republican official and deep-pocketed Republican Party donor? Were these middle managers also the ones who wrote memos warning the higher-ups of the problems? Standard operating procedure: Fire the people who delivered the message but protect those who protected Merrill.
A second issue is money. It is obvious that the county commissioners do not believe that the county should fund programs for the homeless. Instead, commissioners believe they should give millions to multimillionaire developers to build a big-box retail store, Bass Pro Shops. Of course, the developers donate to re-election campaigns.
What is the response of Merrill and the County Commission to the homeless mess? Give the program to a nonprofit. This, again, is a complete lack of leadership. Now the taxpayers will fund a nonprofit, resulting in a lack of accountability.
Elizabeth Belcher, Seffner
Alarms fail to inspire action | Dec. 29
Help is repaid to society
This article reflected my frustrations after various corporate and county agencies, including the Homeless Recovery program and Neighborhood Service Centers, repeatedly stated that I couldn't be helped. The disregard for those in need is not contained within a single agency but is part of the overall zeitgeist in Hillsborough County. Until powers that be, groups and individual citizens alike recognize that the overall health of our community would benefit from addressing this issue, the system will remain broken, underfunded and preferably invisible.
The various trajectories leading to homelessness are indeed slippery slopes. For me, a doctoral candidate preparing for internship placement and final dissertation defense, it was the sudden onset of a chronic, life-threatening illness in April 2013. After six of the last eight months as an inpatient, without income or the ability to work upon discharge, and fighting for my life on a feeding tube, I was not eligible for any assistance program, utility relief, or refuge in a homeless shelter.
The homeless, and those at risk who are accessing services to prevent it, are not a singular stereotyped group of individuals who only wish to feed off the system. This is a heterogeneous group as diverse as society itself. The average American is said to have one to two months of income saved, but anecdotal evidence suggests the majority live paycheck to paycheck at best.
Helping families avoid homelessness increases their ability to maintain or gain employment and continue to contribute to the overall revenue and success of the community. A successful community draws new business, retains residents, and flourishes across all domains.
J.L. Murray, Tampa
Citizens' plan ensures sinkholes are repaired | Dec. 25, commentary
Sinkhole symptoms, causes
Several articles have appeared recently on the proposal by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to fix rather than litigate confirmed sinkhole claims. The articles have provided pros and cons of the Citizens' proposal, but also have questioned the effectiveness of subsurface grouting versus underpinning for sinkhole remediation. As an engineer who has evaluated sinkhole claims for almost 40 years, I believe some facts regarding grouting versus underpinning are needed.
The debate gets to the question of treating the symptom or the cause of the damage. Settlement damage is the symptom that everyone sees, while the underlying sinkhole activity progressively weakening the soil supporting the structure is the cause that very few will see.
While state law says that only an independent engineer retained by the insurance company can provide a stabilization/repair plan for the land, building and its foundation when required, many proponents of underpinning attempt to convince the public and their customers that underpinning alone should be substituted for a repair plan that may specify subsurface grouting.
"Subsurface grouting" is intended to (1) seal off open cavities within the limestone, (2) densify/compact the weakened soil profile, and (3) restore bearing capacity and strengthen the soils supporting the structure. This process treats the cause of the sinkhole development that resulted in the building's settlement. Additionally, when near-surface soils above the stopping limits of the deep grouting are unusually loose, the deep grouting may be complemented by a secondary program of shallow chemical grouting using a material that will increase the load-bearing capacity of the soils closest to the surface.
A well-planned and well-implemented grouting program will direct the grout to beneath the damaged structure, not away from it, restore bearing capacity to the supporting soils, and eliminate further soil movement into the limestone. This process takes away the potential for imminent collapse due to soil instability or soil movement.
"Underpinning" or "pinning" can treat the symptom of building settlement but not the cause. The process generally refers to installing steel pipes into the ground beneath the structure's foundation for use in supporting the structure in weak soils and/or for use in lifting and releveling severely damaged buildings.
Pins have their place in a remediation process and should be considered by a professional engineer for inclusion in the repair plan when certain conditions exist. However, the dynamic process of soil weakening associated with sinkhole activity cannot be arrested or even slowed down by underpinning alone. If soil loss into the rock is not halted, continued soil weakening will occur and the support initially developed by the pins can also be lost, resulting in more settlement and more damage.
The prudent engineer evaluates the conditions causing the damage and the condition of the structure at the time of his investigation and then proposes a repair plan that will address both the cause and the symptom considering what is best to restore the building to a pre-loss condition. This plan may include grouting alone, a combination of deep and shallow grouting or a combination of grouting and underpinning. In the case of a sinkhole claim, it should never consist of underpinning alone.
George C. Sinn Jr., PE, president, Florida Association of Sinkhole Stabilization Specialists, Clearwater
Wanted: strong leaders to fill these seats Dec. 30, editorial
Concern over pension fund
Tampa police Chief Jane Castor should not mind retiring. With the large pension benefit increase Mayor Pam Iorio secured for police and firefighters in 2004, Castor should retire with an annual pension equivalent to her police chief salary. Given the average life expectancy for women, Castor may end up receiving her large pension for as many years as she worked for the police department.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn campaigned that he would continue the large police and fire pensions. Now he needs to ensure the pensions are funded. A writer for Forbes has twice questioned the credibility of the financial reporting for the Tampa fire and police pensions. It would be fiduciary recklessness to ignore these concerns, especially since police pensions in other cities have defaulted due to generous benefits combined with underfunding.
Barbara Langland Orban, Tampa
Rates and risks
In all I have read about flood insurance, there is an important assumption that is never stated: The rates are too high for the risk involved. That implies the actuaries are wrong. If that is true, in a free market new insurance companies that have better actuaries would come pouring into Florida to make money on the overcharge.
However, if the actuaries are indeed right, the risk is correct, and the government should not be providing welfare to owners of valuable water view and access properties.
My sinkhole insurance cost has quadrupled, and my lot has been here for decades without a sinkhole. Can I get the government to subsidize my sinkhole insurance?
John E. Dorgan, Spring Hill
My mom follows me into the digital world Dec. 31, commentary
Put down device and serve
Do people really feel the need to share such insignificant facts about themselves as their dog's antics or the "Earl Grey at her favorite local tea shop"?
Yes, times change, the digital world is here to stay and much good can be said about this technology. But to be so immersed that you actually want total strangers to become part of your life is sad.
How about looking into the myriad volunteer opportunities available rather than sitting at a screen tweeting and Facebooking your day away? Just a thought for the new year.
Janet Sunderland, Spring Hill