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We need to do a better job policing homestead exemption

Re: Home's sweet for Crist, not for landlord, by Steve Bousquet, Feb. 18.

This story has legs, not because Attorney General Charlie Crist has done anything wrong but because of his prominence in Florida politics and unfortunate admission of ignorance of the homestead exemption law, which denies the real property tax exemption to residential property owners, like his landlord, who rent rather than occupy the premises for which the exemption is claimed.

This situation raises two issues that have not been addressed by media reports: Why did not the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office discover this violation of a law that should be easy to enforce? And how widespread is this tax-evasion scheme throughout Florida?

I'm reminded of the words of a former secretary of Florida's Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, Jim Towey, who, when asked why Florida's food stamp error rate was 17 percent compared with the national average of 10 percent, said "People lie to us."

Is there no one on the property appraiser's staff with responsibility for discovering property owners who lie on their application for the tax exemption?

Joseph H. Francis, St. Petersburg

Crist's story raises questions

Re: Crist, a renter, gets tax law lesson.

According to the Feb. 17 Times article, Attorney General Charlie Crist did not know his landlord was claiming the homestead exemption and did not know that it was illegal for his landlord to claim the exemption on the property he was renting to Crist.

I find the attorney general's ignorance hard to believe. Why? Because it's just too convenient. "Oh, I did not know he was doing it, and I did not even know it was illegal for him to do so," sounds too contrived. It sounds to me as though the attorney general's friend was tying for an illegal tax break, the attorney general is too jaded to even acknowledge something is wrong, and now he is trying to hide behind a veil of naivete.

According to the Times, the landlord said, "I'm not going to talk about Charlie. I'm not going to get into that, okay?" Unless "Charlie" knew about the tax evasion, how does he enter into the conversation?

Attorney General Crist has had a reputation for giving Floridians good service as attorney general, but his claimed ignorance of the law and of goings on around him call his reputation into question. Even if his ignorance is genuine, it calls into question his ability to serve. Perhaps he should save himself and us further embarrassment and drop out of the race for governor now.

Philipp Michel "Mike" Reichold, Largo

Keeping us safe from sex offenders

The Miami Herald's series on Florida's Sexually Violent Predator Program (SVPP) - the subject of a recent editorial in your newspaper (State can do more to prevent tragedy at hands of sex offenders, Feb. 14) - contained several inaccuracies. Please allow the Department of Children and Families, the agency that oversees this program, to respond.

Our screening process for admitting sex offenders to the Florida Civil Commitment Center (FCCC) works. A team of 22 doctoral-level licensed psychologists and psychiatrists reviews offenders' criminal and mental health records and conducts face-to-face interviews with them. While even one offense is one too many, according to a 2004 report by the Florida Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Governmental Accountability, of the more than 12,000 sex offenders screened before their release from prison and not recommended for civil commitment, only 5 percent were rearrested for serious sex offenses.

The series also recommended Florida follow the example of other states that require an individual to have at least two sexual offenses on record before being considered for commitment. Florida screens all sexual offenders, even those with a single offense. If we were to follow the Herald's recommendation, we would be weakening our sex offender laws - and we are not about to risk the safety of the public.

Several references are made in the Herald stories to offenders who were "released" from the facility, and this warrants a clarification. The actual decisions are made by circuit courts based on petitions filed by state attorneys. No offender can be committed or released solely on DCF's recommendation.

Each of the individuals cited in the stories were "detainees" who had been recommended for commitment and were awaiting their court trial. Detainees awaiting court action constitute 60 percent of the FCCC population. It is unfair to judge the program's effectiveness by the actions of individuals who were not actually committed to the FCCC by a court. Persons who have been released were detainees not committed following their trials or were committed to the program but released by a court, despite our opposing recommendation.

Finally, DCF is paying close attention to the delivery of services and treatment at the FCCC. The department has identified numerous deficiencies and has issued multiple corrective actions and other directives to the contractor, Liberty Behavioral. DCF is currently engaged in procuring a new contract. DCF will continue complying with the law and fulfilling its moral and legal obligations, because all Floridians deserve to be safe from sex offenders and predators.

Lucy Hadi, secretary, Department of Children and

Families, Tallahassee

Downplaying the president

Re: Bush visits Tampa, Feb. 18.

So the president of the United States, the leader of the free world, makes a major appearance in Tampa and the story is not on the front page. Hey, it's not even in the front section! You folks are a real hoot!

Ed Davis, Tampa

Partisanship is showing

The recent visit by the president of the United States did not receive front-page coverage.

The vice president's shooting accident was covered ad nauseam, yet Al Gore's hateful speech in Saudi Arabia was not reported at all.

Steve Bousquet's article about Charlie Crist's landlord claiming homestead exemption was news. So why was the Crist name mentioned 13 times in a derogatory way?

When is the St. Petersburg Times going to register as a political action committee for the Democratic Party?

Jack Vanderbleek, St. Petersburg

An important issue?

As a retired newspaper publisher and columnist, I'm appalled at the media overkill on the Cheney shooting accident. Yes, the Cheney entourage screwed up the postshooting public relations, and, yes, it is reflective of the "we want to control everything" aspect of this administration. However, it wasn't a coverup.

Ironically, journalists lately have whined and expressed general alarm at the industry's news staff and money cut-backs. It is argued, with considerable merit, that this will affect news coverage of the important issues of the day. One has to inquire: What do they consider important issues?

Bill Northrop, North Redington Beach

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