No misuse of tax dollars in Greenlight Pinellas | June 3
A transparent process
As reported in the Times, the Florida Department of Transportation's Inspector General has issued a report vindicating PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas education campaign, finding "no evidence PSTA campaign expenditures violated the advocacy provisions of state law." Although I am pleased with this outcome, as chairman of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), I feel compelled to comment on this matter.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, in his April 1 letter requesting the review of Greenlight Pinellas, states that it had "come to his attention" that PSTA was in violation of state law. The FDOT review found no such violations.
This calls into question the credibility of those whom Sen. Brandes relied on as a basis of launching this FDOT inquiry, the subjective nature of the senator's request, and the taxpayer cost of the review.
The facts are: Not only has PSTA conducted the Greenlight educational process in full compliance with state and federal regulations, but the FDOT review found that PSTA could have used state funds for marketing, but chose not to. This is further confirmation of PSTA's responsible and accountable approach to the transit initiative from its inception. In terms of fiscal planning, policies and procedures, we have consistently adhered to the principles of transparency, accountability, and responsible stewardship of taxpayer resources.
I am confident that the Greenlight Pinellas education campaign, having been fully vetted by the Florida Department of Transportation, will enable Pinellas residents to cast a fully informed vote on the future direction of transportation in our community. That is — and always has been — the goal of Greenlight Pinellas.
Kenneth T. Welch, Pinellas County commissioner and chairman, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, St. Petersburg
Common Core could burn Bush | June 1
High standards agenda
As CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which was founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, I appreciate that the Tampa Bay Times doesn't support most of our reform agenda.
Open debate is a good thing. But it should be an honest debate as well. Such was not the case with an analysis about our support for the Common Core State Standards. It was heavy on speculation and allegations and light on corroborating evidence. And so I would like to make a few brief points not included in the piece.
Donors don't set our agenda. They sign onto it.
Bush and the Foundation began advocating for Common Core in 2010, after we were convinced the standards were a vast improvement over what existed in many states. This fits with our agenda of setting high standards for all children, measuring results with quality assessments, holding adults accountable for student achievement and giving parents school choice.
It is a holistic approach, with donors supporting some or all of these policies. And, yes, this includes those interested in Common Core. It also includes those who have little interest in Common Core but strongly support school choice.
I appreciate the cynicism rampant in today's political climate. But Bush has been involved in education reform for more than 20 years. It is his passion and he never has deviated from his agenda regardless of the external political climate or actions of a donor.
Even those who vehemently disagree with Bush acknowledge his stubborn adherence to principle. The historical record is pretty clear on that. It may be hard for some to understand, but not those who have worked with him for years trying to improve education for all children.
Patricia Levesque, CEO, Foundation for Excellence in Education, Tallahassee
The push for ferry service | June 3
Not the line we need
A Times editorial failed to mention that paying for a ferry service in an isolated part of the region will be a drain on scarce transportation funding.
While all this time and money is being spent on a study for this line in southern Hillsborough County, nothing has been set aside for a study of the ferry line that we really need: one that runs from downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa.
The major traffic problem in this region is bridges choked with traffic. Gridlock decreases our quality of life and the quality of life of the millions of visitors to our region.
Why doesn't the military provide a ferry shuttle for MacDill employees and use taxpayer funds to offset the costs for service members? Why doesn't St. Petersburg stand up for more than the leftovers with this proposed service? Our downtown is bustling with residents and visitors, many of whom commute to Tampa and vice versa.
How are we ever going to know if a cross-bay ferry line would serve us better if we don't do a study? Why are millions of dollars going into this out-of-the-way ferry proposal?
Jeannie Cline, St. Petersburg
Mental illness and guns | June 4
No easy answers
Unless you are personally involved with someone with a mental illness, you cannot understand the depths of worry, fear and despair the family goes through. Parents just want their child to be like everyone else. Generally, these families are honest, law-abiding, working people who respect and like the police.
Once mental illness strikes, however, family members live in constant fear that both the child and the police may overreact when they come into contact with each other: one from paranoia or delusions, the other from fear and ignorance.
Assignment to a state hospital is extremely difficult. There are fewer beds, longer waits, tougher criteria, etc. Even at Baker Act hearings, moms cannot bring themselves to testify "against" their adult children, even when it means commitment will get them the treatment they so desperately need.
The Tampa Bay area is fortunate that 15 years ago a community effort brought together law enforcement, mental health providers and advocates to establish Florida's first Crisis Intervention Teams (CIT). Selected law enforcement first-responders receive an intensive 40-hour course of training primarily to recognize the signs and symptoms but, more importantly, to learn how to calm, assess and facilitate the person in crisis.
Actions by these CIT-trained officers get desperate people to treatment, not to jail.
Donald Turnbaugh, past president, NAMI Pinellas County, Palm Harbor