Summary of recent Florida newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:


Oct. 24:

The Orlando Sentinel on University of Central Florida salaries

University of Central Florida President John Hitt has overseen his institution's growth into the nation's second-largest university. More important, national surveys have rated UCF one of the most innovative universities and best values for students.

Beyond UCF's borders, Hitt has been a consistent leader in successful efforts to strengthen Central Florida's economy. We agree with one of the trustees who oversee the university, John Sprouls, that UCF has been fortunate to have Hitt at the helm.

So why would we question the president and other UCF leaders receiving a total of $364,000 in "performance pay" on top of their salaries?

Well, additional compensation for faculty members at UCF has been a pittance by comparison. Their last raise, in 2014, was 3 percent, along with additional merit increases of about 2 percent.

The president of the faculty union told the Sentinel that some full-time faculty make just $31,500 a year. Possible faculty raises for this year are still under negotiation.

Meanwhile, raises for the taxpayers who support UCF and other public universities in Florida also have been hard to come by in recent years.

And while the UCF dividends would be performance pay, not a raise, we doubt taxpayers would see a big distinction. It's more money, bottom line.

Largely for the same reasons, we didn't support recent decisions to award bonuses at two other taxpayer-supported agencies, Space Florida and Enterprise Florida.

We understand that private corporations routinely reward their executives with performance pay. That's an issue between those companies and their shareholders. Public agencies, however, must answer to the public — even when the money for the university's performance pay comes from foundation funds or other sources not directly provided by taxpayers.

Hitt, whose base salary is about $506,000, is in line to receive $158,000 in performance pay — a 31 percent premium.

UCF vice president and medical school Dean Deborah German, who makes $560,000, would get another $40,000. Another nine UCF vice presidents, with salaries ranging from $175,000 to $325,00, would receive additional pay for performance of between $10,000 and $24,000.

Hitt's base salary, considering the size of UCF and its accomplishments, is not out of scale nationally. Last year the average U.S. public university president made $428,000. Hitt certainly qualifies as above average.

Trustees Chairman Marcos Marchena told us he's convinced that performance-based pay works. If so, that's a good argument for doing it at other public agencies, too. But making performance pay standard across government could add a significant burden to taxpayers, and compound the inequity.

We appreciate the commitment to excellence at UCF from Marchena, Sprouls and the other trustees. We just don't agree that additional pay for a small group of top earners is the fairest way to get there.

Trustees are scheduled to address performance pay in a meeting Wednesday. We hope they reconsider their plan.

Amid this appropriately public discussion about pay for the university's leaders, UCF has refused to publicly release football Coach George O'Leary's contract. In fact, UCF is the only public university in the state that has refused to release its coaches' contracts.

UCF's excuse is that its athletic department is run by a Direct Support Organization, which is exempt from state laws that require public agencies to make their records public. The university said it would ask O'Leary to voluntarily release his contract, but the coach said Thursday that he wouldn't.

Who works for whom? The public has a right to know the details of O'Leary's compensation.

And state lawmakers should remove the public records exemption from DSOs at their first opportunity.



Oct. 23:

The Tampa Bay Times on state Senate deal:

Florida senators wisely voted this week to remove the Confederate flag from the official Senate seal. The controversial flag is a divisive symbol that offends so many Floridians, and it should not hold a place of honor on any modern-day official insignia.

Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, and Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, requested in June that the Senate Rules Committee re-examine the Senate seal. Since 1972, the Confederate flag has been part of the seal, which also includes banners representing the United States, France, Great Britain and Spain — all flags that have flown over Florida. The rules committee voted in early October to remove the Confederate flag and replace it with Florida's state flag. The full Senate affirmed the committee's recommendation earlier this week. It was the right call.

Nine African-American worshipers in a South Carolina church shouldn't have had to die — killed by a man who was photographed with a Confederate flag — for the nation to revisit the place of Confederate symbols in modern culture. The symbols represent heritage and pride for some but also are hurtful to many African-Americans. The Senate's decision respectfully acknowledges African-Americans' pain and relegates the symbols to their proper place: history.



Oct. 21:

South Florida Sun-Sentinel on the shooting death of motorist Corey Jones

It should be priority one for law enforcement agencies dealing with a deadly shooting by a police officer: Inform the public quickly — and with detail — to prevent rumors from spiraling out of control. To maintain public trust, transparency is critical, even as the investigation unfolds.

And on this all-important measure, the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department has failed miserably in addressing last weekend's shooting death of stranded motorist Corey Jones of Boynton Beach.

The Sunday morning death of Jones, who was shot by Palm Beach Gardens Officer Nouman Raja, is a horrific event. People whose cars break down in the middle of the night don't expect to have a deadly confrontation with police. And given our nation's heightened concerns about the deaths of black men at the hands of police, the city's police department had a duty to release as much information as quickly as possible.

But it didn't happen.

Now, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is leading the investigation. That would be welcome news except that Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has a reputation for being overly defensive when it comes to officer-involved shootings. A recent investigation by The Palm Beach Post and WPTV found that since 2000, sheriff's investigators have cleared deputies in 97 percent of fatal shootings, even when evidence contradicted their stories.

On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott offered the assistance of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to help in the investigation, a good first step. State Attorney Dave Aronberg is investigating, too.

But in the short term, the public deserves more complete answers.

"We don't want another Ferguson, where they sat on information for days," said John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association. "Get out there and address the public."

Here's what we've been told so far:

Jones, a 31-year-old drummer who worked as an inspector for the Delray Beach Housing Authority, was driving home after a band gig early Sunday morning when his car broke down near the Interstate 95 exit at PGA Boulevard. Officer Raja was working a plainclothes burglary detail nearby and decided to investigate what he thought was an abandoned vehicle.

A confrontation occurred when Raja stopped to investigate, said Palm Beach Gardens Police Chief Stephen Stepp. When the officer stepped out of his car, the chief said "he was suddenly confronted by an armed subject."

The chief's sketchy outline leaves loads of unanswered questions.

. How did Jones manage to so quickly be standing by Raja's car?

. Did Raja immediately identify himself as a police officer? "His family believes he went to his grave not knowing who this person was," their attorney, Benjamin Crump, said on CNN.

. Did Jones approach with his gun in his hand? Was he pointing it?

. Did the two men exchange words? If so, what were they? Why was the exchange described as a confrontation?

. What made Raja fire his weapon? How many shots were fired?

. What was said on the radio transmission and 911 call?

. And why did it take so long to notify the family? Jones' uncle says the family didn't learn about the shooting for 12 hours.

Stepp should have answered these and other questions after convening a hastily called news conference Tuesday night.

For the moment, we continue to await answers. Meanwhile, a protest rally is set for this morning at the city's police department.

The hope is that everything remains peaceful and judgments aren't made until a full accounting is complete.

In today's climate, that will be difficult.

It would be far better for investigators to make more information available, the sooner the better.


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