Archive for September, 2009

Candid Camera
September 23, 2009

Memo

To: Beverly Gallagher, Suspended Broward School Board Member/Accused Criminal

Cc: Other Arrested Public Officials

South Florida watched you run from news reporters today after your arrest for extortion, wire fraud and bribery.  You covered your well-known face while someone held up papers in front of the camera lenses.  That was a slap in the face to your constituents (and, ironically, a surefire way to attract even more attention in a newscast).

So In the spirit of public service, we offer some reminders of the fundamentals, certain basic truths that may have been lost in the gravitational pull of power and authority of elected office. 

Your arrest and the charges against you are big news.  Valid, relevant, important news.  Because you have offered yourself up to represent citizens and oversee their money and their interests, everything you do and every decision you make on their behalf and with their money is subject to public scrutiny.  And the business of news is public scrutiny.  That’s why we showed up.

You are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and you may well be innocent.  But your arrest raises questions among your constituents and they deserve answers.  An answer may be as simple as, “I cannot comment at this point” or “I look forward to my day in court”.   The point is, your constituents deserve your respect and your attention.

Running from news cameras is akin to running from the public you promised to serve. 

Many of them are children.  You know, the kids who go to class in Broward schools every day where teachers try to instill responsibility, courage and honesty.  Imagine what they think, seeing one of the school board members scurrying away from all three.

This is a tough time for you, no doubt.  It’s also pretty tough for the constituents who feel betrayed by you.  So please regain your sense of responsibility to those who elected you, and – bonus – regain your dignity.

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Sauced
September 23, 2009

I tried it.  I had to.

We are covering the case of a (now-former) Miami-Dade teacher charged with child abuse, accused of giving two of her autistic students hot sauce-spiked soda.  She took the stand in her own defense today and said that the spiked soda was her soda, she loves to drink her soda with hot sauce, and those children took a sip of her soda by accident.  Here’s exactly what she said on the stand:

“I love it… That’s our culture. We eat hot sauce a lot…  My soda, my food, my salad…”

After hearing that, how could I hope to offer a full and fair report without the essential understanding that comes from first-hand experience.

Admittedly, this was not scientific.  I have no idea just how much hot sauce she put in the can of soda, how much of a gulp the students may have taken.  I didn’t have Luzianne, her sauce of record, so I had to go with what was in the fridge, which was Crystal brand.  I aimed a few shakes of it into a half glass of Mountain Dew, the only soda I found in the house, which was all but flat since someone didn’t twist the cap on the two-liter bottle all the way.

“I held my nose, I closed my eyes, I took a drink.”    

Full disclosure: I don’t like soda, never drink it.  And I love the more gringa versions of hot sauce, thanks to years of training by my husband, who has been known to throw a challenge to chefs at the Thai restaurant to make dinner too spicy for him.

And the verdict is…

… Not as bad as I expected.  I wouldn’t recommend hot sauced soda, mind you.  But I can see why, if you are the kind of spice-addicted pain-as-pleasure gastronome that I have met in some BBQ, Tex-Mex and/or Thai circles, you might like the little kick that a few dashes of pepper sauce adds to counter the sweet syrup of soda.

I can also see why a special needs child whose ability to communicate is challenged might freak out a bit if the soda he expected to taste left a slight but sudden burning sensation in the back of the throat.

Did teacher spike the soda to teach the kids a lesson, modify their behavior?  Would that meet the legal definition of child abuse?

And the verdict is…

Metal or Mental Detectors?
September 15, 2009

If you haven’t seen Coral Gables Senior High School, let me describe it to you. 

It’s the kind of architecture I’d describe as Tropical Mediterranean.  Aside from obvious Spanish influences, the school that first opened for the class of 1954 has lots of windows, breezy walkways and sunny courtyards, nothing like the prison-chic architecture of later school years, the monolithic concrete windowless boxes that so many South Florida schools are.

The architecture of CGHS is important to note before you answer this question:

Should schools have metal detectors?

That question was among the first to be knee-jerked back into the spotlight even before the body of 10th grader Juan Carlos Rivera was removed from the sunny Gables High courtyard where another student had stabbed him, ended his life, during a fight between classes Tuesday.

“Where was the security, the metal detectors?” parents asked, reporters asked, students asked.

“We do not believe in turning the schools into prisons,” said Alberto Carvalho, Miami-Dade’s School Superintendent.

As far as I can tell, South Florida schools are without metal detectors for several reasons.  The first is likely money.  The machines and the people to run them cost far more to install and operate than cash-strapped school systems care to spend.

But I sense they would spend it, if there were valid data to suggest that a metal detector deters violence in school.  But there is not.

Sure, it could pick up a metal weapon on a body that passed through it.   But it could not pick up something more telling and more dangerous. 

Metal detectors can’t detect state of mind, can’t detect disregard for human life, and can’t detect a psyche sensitized to violence and its permanent affects.

People who bring all that with them to school can get around a metal detector fairly easily.  So many school campuses are wide open to tropical breezes and surrounded by acres of chain link fence. 

The point is, the real issue with school security shouldn’t be keeping weapons outside the school perimeter, it should be keeping the kids who are inside morally equipped enough, clever enough, confident enough to deal with the kind of conflicts and issues that have been around since long before Coral Gables High School was built.  You know, long before a generation grew up watching violence become a game on a screen, long before thug culture got cool.  

The superintendent had this to say:  “We need to ask parents in the community, ‘What are we teaching our kids?  What is their level of personal and civic adequacy?  How do they respond to criticism from others or stressful situations?’”  

Those are much better questions than, “Where are the metal detectors?”.

Fuzzy Math
September 7, 2009

Those who know me well will tell you: I am not a numbers girl.

Sure, I can add, subtract, multiply and divide. I can figure the cost of a dress on the 25% off rack.  But Budgets?  Taxes?  Amortization?  Debt Service?  Even those words make my eyes glaze over.  I’m one of those people who have to work extra hard to wrap my head around those numbers.

And so I’ve worked diligently to do that these last few months, covering the debacle that is the Miami-Dade County budget.

Seems to me it should be a pretty simple equation: income (taxes, fees, interest, investments) has to cover outflow (services, salaries & benefits, debt).

Only here’s the problem, if you believe the calculations. The county is $444 million dollars too short to cover the budget that begins October 1st, some three weeks away. No question, some amount of mismanagement and bad judgment got it there. But the immediate issue is – it’s here, and in less than two weeks, 13 county commissioners are going to sign off on a plan to somehow make the equation work. Eight of those commissioners voted against even thinking about raising one penny of anyone’s property tax.

So something is going to go. But what? and who?

More than a few county insiders tell me they believe majority of the commission is in fantasy land.  Those commissioners are quite convinced that all they have to say is, “we will not lay off one employee and we will not cut any services”, and some staffer in some office somewhere will magically find the money to pay for it and make them right.

And so some commissioners say that.  We have it on tape.

What will happen at the budget hearing and vote September 17th is anyone’s guess.  The sure bet is – it’s going to be a long night.  And there is going to be a morning after. 

But the fallout may be hard to handle.