On legal defense, cuts indefensible | Nov. 13, editorial
Tough times call for new thinking
I agree that defendants in criminal proceedings have the constitutional right to legal representation provided at government expense. However, while the Legislature must balance a budget that accounts for all areas of government, each funded entity has a responsibility to ensure that available resources are utilized efficiently and effectively.
I agree that, in light of the impact that budget cuts have on the vitality of constitutional processes, across-the-board cuts are "indefensible." It is for this reason that the Legislature did not allow the state's public defenders to suffer a 4 percent reduction to their budgets this fiscal year while other state-funded entities suffered at least that amount in reductions. In fact, not only has the Legislature recognized that standardized cuts are not appropriate, but my Senate committee worked diligently to find additional dollars — $14.3-million, to be exact — so that the final reduction to public defenders was less than 1 percent.
In tough economic times, we cannot rely on state revenue alone to fulfill the various demands placed on government. I appreciate the efforts of those who have been proactive in their responsibilities to offset the impact of budget reductions by enacting trust funds and pursuing collectible fee assessments. When possible, our local public defender for the 13th Judicial Circuit, Julianne Holt, has diligently collected and assessed the nominal fee charged to indigent defendants and deposited the funds into her trust fund. Although these revenue streams are available for each judicial circuit, collections have been disproportionate across the state, as evidenced by the varying degrees of anxiety expressed by those public defenders least prepared for the economic shortfalls forewarned of by Gov. Charlie Crist and the Legislature.
Another approach that public defenders, the courts and the clerks of the court should adopt is the verification of indigence by criminal defendants who request a public defender.
It is my belief that with good efforts to contain costs, indigent people will continue to receive the viable defense to which they are entitled.
Florida state Sen. Victor Crist, District 12, Tampa
Proposed Pinellas school closings
Don't close a good school
I was astonished to learn that our beloved school, Palm Harbor Elementary, is one of five on the chopping block due to budget cuts.
Our school is an A-rated school with more than 4,000 hours of recorded volunteer service, a strong and valued PTA and an excellent principal, faculty and staff.
My suggestion to the school board: If you must close schools, close a less than A-rated school and have those students attend our school, where they will receive a first-rate education. I don't understand the logic in closing such a fine, academically exceptional school. Where else can you find a school that can accommodate both gifted children and the handicapped in one setting?
And more importantly, we are family. We depend on each other, we care for each other and we are always there for each other.
Our community will not allow this injustice to happen. A word of warning to the Pinellas School Board: We might be small in size, but we are enormous in spirit, strength and conviction. We will attend every board meeting, we will protest, we will fight until we are assured our school is here to stay and our family remains in tact.
Diane Rancan, Palm Harbor
Schools hunt for $40M | Nov. 19
For years I have been paying taxes in Pinellas County while witnessing the defunding of our school system. Now we are informed that our son's middle school will become the latest victim. What is most frustrating as a parent is the backward logic behind the cuts.
Southside Fundamental has consistently been an A school for years, with quality education from exceptional educators. Isn't this what we would like to see in a school system? Why close a school that works and leave failing schools open?
Michael Glennon, St. Petersburg
Blair says he was slandered | Nov. 14
A lawsuit, after all
So Brian Blair thinks Kevin Beckner has slandered him and is considering "legal action."
Is this the same Brian Blair who went on the O'Reilly Factor to slander the Hillsborough County School Board simply because they proposed a secular calendar rather than try to accommodate every religious holiday under the sun?
The same Brian Blair who in April again attacked the School Board by falsely claiming that the annual Day of Silence was sanctioned by them?
The same Brian Blair who forwarded an American Family Association "Action Alert" slandering gays and lesbians?
The same Brian Blair who supported Ronda Storms' motion to ban gay pride displays in Hillsborough libraries, trampling free speech and slandering gays and lesbians in the process?
Hmmm . . . maybe legal action is called for. How about "The Slandered Citizens of Hillsborough County vs. Blair"?
John Perry, Tampa
Downturn deals | Nov. 15
Buying isn't saving
While I realize your item on the front page is designed to spur the retail market, I have to comment that this sort of "saving" is partially to blame for the mess we are in today.
The shoppers didn't save $117.60 — they spent $315.95! We buy stuff that is on sale, not because we really need it, but because it is "saving us money." Let's not keep fooling ourselves that spending is saving.
G.G. Williams, St. Petersburg
Stop racial profiling
Racial political profiling, even as well-intentioned as Timothy Noah's article, What we didn't overcome (Nov. 12), has got to stop. Do we really need to know that John McCain had 12 percent more white voters than Barack Obama? Obama won more American votes, period.
Political pollsters assume a group-think — what issues whites should support, whom blacks should support and so on. Racially polling in politics is divisive. Racial identification should be struck from our voter IDs and from polls. Racial classification has some legitimate purposes— such as medical — but it doesn't matter when voting. One vote counts the same as another.
This article unfortunately only continues racial profiling. Aren't we a nation of individuals? Federal, state and county agencies should stop compiling racial and ethnic profiles. The excessive data collection is wasteful and, more times than not, irrelevant.
Joseph Weinzettle, Dunedin
New state bird? | Nov. 10
Keep the mockingbird
Florida schoolchildren voted on which bird should replace the mockingbird as our state bird. Why? What is wrong with the mockingbird? And why are children making this decision, which will be submitted in a bill to the Legislature and the governor?
I hope that Floridians will join me in writing their state representatives and senators, as well as the governor, asking them not to replace the mockingbird.
Betty Burke, San Antonio
Prostitution sting snares 17 offenders Nov. 17
I, for one, am overjoyed that the Tampa police are combating prostitution in a manner that is sure to show the best results reducing this illegal activity. Prostitutes don't care if their names and pictures are in the local papers, but I'm sure the 17 offenders arrested so far are concerned that their names, ages and city of residence are published.
It's time for Pinellas County to follow suit.
Gail Randle, Clearwater
Oversight out the door in Baghdad | Nov. 18
We did it
The hope was to bring Western standards of accountability to Iraq.
The result was $13-billion in American funds lost to theft, fraud, embezzlement and waste by Iraqi officials.
Mortimer Brown, Lutz