Highs and lows across Tampa Bay and Florida this week | Editorial
A mayor, a lawmaker, the governor, a retired ballplayer and seagrass research make this week’s roundup.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor responds to questions about former Tampa Police Department Chief Mary O'Connor’s departure early this week.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor responds to questions about former Tampa Police Department Chief Mary O'Connor’s departure early this week. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Dec. 10, 2022

Tampa’s police chief. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor was right to act decisively Monday by forcing the resignation of Police Chief Mary O’Connor. The chief abused her position and embarrassed law enforcement by flashing her badge to get out of a traffic stop in Pinellas County last month. Castor sent the right message in asking O’Connor to resign, noting the police department’s “high standards for ethical and professional behavior” and the chief’s responsibility to “lead by example.” She further made an important point by taking the opportunity to underscore that it is unacceptable for any public employee “to ask for special treatment because of their position.” The department is in capable hands under the interim boss, Assistant Chief Lee Bercaw, and we hope he continues to bring attention, as O’Connor did, to the uptick in the number of murders in recent years. Castor also said this week she would conduct a national search for a new chief that would be “comprehensive” and “exhaustive,” and one in which the community would be involved. That didn’t happen last time, at least in a meaningful way, and this job requires it.

Tax dollars at work. Another swing and a miss for Gov. Ron DeSantis’ elections police. A Miami judge on Wednesday tossed out another voter fraud case brought by DeSantis, the third to fall apart since the Republican governor made a splash in August to announce the arrests. Circuit Judge Laura Anne Stuzin reached the same conclusion as another Miami judge did in a different voter’s case, saying that statewide prosecutors didn’t have the ability to bring charges against Ronald Lee Miller. Though Miller, 58, was ineligible to vote, his voter registration application was cleared by the Florida Department of State, and Miller voted in November 2020. Miller’s attorney, though, challenged the prosecution on the same argument that succeeded in front of another judge — that statewide prosecutors didn’t have the authority to bring charges. The judge agreed, ruling that Miller did nothing to facilitate this mistake across county jurisdictional lines, the trigger for statewide prosecutors to get involved. Here’s yet another example of a half-baked political effort by DeSantis to make headlines, on the backs of fellow Floridians and at taxpayers’ expense.

Saving our seagrasses. Researchers have just completed the first phase of an ambitious new mapping project that hopes to address the ecological damage from propeller scarring throughout the Tampa Bay estuary. Years of boating mishaps have decimated seagrass at several popular recreational areas; the new study will map damage “hot spots” and help officials enhance boater education and outreach at the areas where seagrass is suffering the most. Boat propellers that strike the seafloor can buzzsaw anything in their way — especially the fragile seagrass so vital to sustaining the local ecosystem. The mapping project will help raise boater awareness of the impacts from propeller scars with the ultimate goal of minimizing future scarring. That education campaign can take many forms, such as advising boaters on how to use navigational beacons and other tools and tricks to better avoid shallow water. This is a great example of what can happen when technology combines with environmental responsibility.

Hooper pops off. State Sen. Ed Hooper’s gross mischaracterization of a bay area road project should be a lesson to lawmakers to get their facts straight. In October, the Clearwater Republican wrote a critical op-ed in the news website Florida Politics. “It should be alarming to all of us that (the Florida Department of Transportation) is investing over $242 million of Florida’s taxpayer dollars to construct three pedestrian underpass tunnels along U.S. 19,” he wrote, urging readers to a website urging Gov. Ron DeSantis to “Dump the Humps.” But the dollar figure Hooper cited is for a much larger project, and it doesn’t include pedestrian tunnels. As the Times reported, the $242 million price tag covers an entire highway renovation project, including two new interchanges. And while it includes three pedestrian crossings, only one of them is a dedicated pedestrian underpass like Hooper described, and its cost — about $2.6 million — represents only about 1% of the total budget. Hooper walked back his comments when confronted with the facts, and mused: “Maybe I don’t write the best op-eds.” This was a reckless way for a state legislator to influence public policy, and it’s how communities make big mistakes.

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About time. A hearty congratulations to Tampa native Fred McGriff for his selection to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. He was overlooked for nearly two decades — he retired in 2004 — but a 16-member committee formed to take another look at players who had been passed over voted him in unanimously. McGriff hit nearly 500 home runs, won a World Series, and made five all-star teams, all the while avoiding any hint of scandal even though he played in an era ridden with abuse of performance enhancing drugs. Better late than never.

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 Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.