Carlton: Spend now for mental health care, or spend later

John Jonchuck is accused of killing his daughter.
John Jonchuck is accused of killing his daughter.
Published Feb. 28, 2015

John Jonchuck, the clearly mentally disturbed father accused of throwing his 5-year-old daughter, Phoebe, from a bridge near the Sunshine Skyway to her death in the waters below, is incompetent to stand trial.

Given no motive we've heard that could begin to make this make sense — revenge, greed, anger — no kidding.

And there is something grimly notable about this latest.

Consider the history: The Department of Children and Families, that underfunded, overburdened state agency that's supposed to look out for kids like Phoebe, failed her completely. Not once but twice within 10 days of her death, people called the abuse hotline that should have been her lifeline.

Afterward, the DCF noted "a well-documented history of concerns related to this family."

It's also of note that Phoebe's murder occurred in a state that has ranked an unforgivable 49th in per-capita mental health funding for people like Jonchuck — a man described by those who knew him as unpredictable and on psychiatric medications, when he took them. This was a father who came wearing his pajamas to his lawyer's office with his daughter and talking wildly just hours before she died.

Now put aside for one minute the horror of that, if you can, to consider this:

Those among us who do not consider adequate funding for the DCF or mental health care anywhere near a priority should note for the record that they'll now pay to house Jonchuck at a prison mental health facility.

There, if our history is a guide, he will probably be treated and medicated enough to be legally competent to stand trial. Though Jonchuck's mental history has not been made completely clear, imagine if he had that kind of help before this happened.

If he is convicted of first-degree murder, taxpayers get to house him for the rest of his life.

And unfortunately, there's nowhere in there to figure in the cost of a little girl's life.

On a different note, too bad departing Hillsborough school superintendent MaryEllen Elia was not named national Superintendent of the Year this week. It would have been one more rebuke from the real world to the shortsighted contingent that sent her packing.

Elia was already named top superintendent in Florida and was one of three finalists for the national title. A lot of us get what she's done to put Hillsborough County on the map, schools-wise, like helping secure a $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. So we see the absurdity in School Board members firing her in a dispute more about style than substance.

That top win would have said: Best in the nation, but here in Hillsborough, we don't care. (Though "one of the best in the nation" counts, too.)

No doubt Elia will land on her feet and move forward. And we get to deal with this backward step.

Speaking of backward, former Hillsborough County Commissioner and state Sen. Jim Norman recently made clear he is considering a political comeback commission run. Apparently, Norman's convinced all is forgiven (or maybe, he's hoping, forgotten) in that scandal over a lakefront vacation home bankrolled by a millionaire political benefactor who had appeared before the commission.

He best be ready. Rumor has it the well-regarded Rev. Tom Scott, also a former commissioner and Tampa City Council member, is thinking of running, too.