Highs and lows of the week in Tampa Bay and Florida | Editorial
A Father’s Day inspiration, petty politics and more steps that could save lives
Kristoff Murray, 27, jumped in the water off Apollo Beach to try to save a father and son on June 11, but drowned with them.
Kristoff Murray, 27, jumped in the water off Apollo Beach to try to save a father and son on June 11, but drowned with them. [ Courtesy of family ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jun. 19

Tragedy, and life anew. It’s incredible there could be any flicker of redemption in the murder case against Ronnie Oneal III. He is accused of killing his girlfriend, along with their 9-year-old daughter, and of attempting to kill his then-8-year-old son, in March 2018 in their Riverview home. At trial in Tampa this week, jurors heard from a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s corporal. As a homicide detective, he had minimal involvement in the case. But as the young boy recovered at Tampa General Hospital, the corporal and his wife offered to be there for anything, and that moment came when the boy was headed (again) to foster care. “My wife and I would be happy to take him,” the corporal told the boy’s guardian. The adoption was formalized in 2019. It’s an aching reminder this Father’s Day weekend of the human capacity for love and giving.

It’s called teamwork, and it’s appreciated. Florida lawmakers went halfway this year by approving $200 million in bonuses for classroom teachers and principals. It was a way of saying thanks for working to keep schools open during the pandemic. But what about staff members at schools throughout Florida? The Pinellas County School District made the inequity right this month by deciding to use $7.3 million of the federal stimulus funds it received to give $1,000 bonuses to about 7,000 non-classroom teachers, support personnel and all other full-time staff. To qualify, they will have to have worked in the district since Dec. 19 and remained employed through April 30. “Every person in our district worked all year to innovate,” School Board chairperson Carol Cook said. “They all deserve it.” They sure do.

And it starts. Gov. Ron DeSantis said this week he may try to bypass a state law requiring Cabinet approval of Florida’s environmental secretary. This latest power grab by the Republican governor is largely a snub to a top Democratic rival, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who sits on the Cabinet and who has announced a challenge to DeSantis for governor in 2022. DeSantis suggested the state Constitution may be in conflict with Florida law over the appointment, and that he needs only legislative approval. But as Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reported, Florida law is clear: “The head of the Department of Environmental Protection shall be a secretary, who shall be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of three members of the Cabinet. The secretary shall be confirmed by the Florida Senate.” In other words, the governor needs both — approval of the three other Cabinet members and the Florida Senate. He should drop the politics, accept his legal obligation to share power and focus on finding an environmental leader who merits broad bipartisan support.

Jockeying over Tampa police. The Tampa City Council made the right decision this week to compromise with Mayor Jane Castor over the city’s Citizen Review Board. The board’s important mission of monitoring the conduct of Tampa police was getting lost in a power struggle over the apportionment of its members. Under the compromise approved Thursday, the mayor and council will each appoint five members of the 11-member board, with the final seat reserved for the NAACP. This was a wayward cause from the start. Maybe now the focus can turn to actually improving police standards.

No viral victory lap yet. COVID-19 is still here, posing a nagging threat to Florida. The Tampa Bay Times reported this week that coronavirus infections among people living in nursing homes are on the rise in Florida, despite widespread vaccine availability. Almost 20 percent of Florida’s nursing homes had new confirmed resident cases in the last month — nearly double the national average, which sits at 10 percent — according to a new report from AARP. The increase is hardly surprising, given how many staff members at nursing homes refuse to be vaccinated. Florida ranks third worst in the country for staff vaccinations at nursing facilities, according to federal data, behind only Wyoming and Mississippi. About 42 percent of Florida’s nursing home staff have been inoculated. The figure reflects Florida’s lagging vaccination rate overall compared to the nation, and comes as disparities persist in dozens of rural counties, especially along the Panhandle, where vaccine hesitancy, lack of transportation and other barriers continue to sap vaccination rates.

Our deadly rip currents. The drowning deaths of three people last week at the Apollo Beach Nature Preserve are a tragic reminder of the deadly power of rip currents. Janosh Purackal, 37, and his 3-year-old son, Daniel, got caught in a rip current while in the water off the preserve’s beach. A selfless hero who jumped in to save them, 27-year-old Kristoff Murray of Tampa, was also carried away. While no swimming is allowed there, and no-swimming signs are posted, the warnings have nothing to do with rip currents, but as precautions for a nearby boating channel. The county is installing new signs at the preserve, and will patrol the area for the next two weeks, to educate and remind visitors that no swimming is allowed. This was a terrible loss of life, and an incredible display of courage. It should remind all who venture into Florida’s waters to redouble their knowledge of the risks.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.