Tom Bennett Park on cusp of remaining all public
While the idea of a water park in Manatee County could be appealing, the selected site proved objectionable to quite a few residents and park enthusiasts. Tom Bennett Park offered an intriguing location along Interstate 75 near State Road 64. The developer intended to construct a world-class water park with slides, a wave pool, a lazy river, an Old Florida ambiance and more with a ground-breaking within a month of final approval. The Lost Lagoon water park once had a 2017 opening date.
The Lost Lagoon people first pitched the idea to the county in the fall of 2014. Discussions between the county and the developer got serious more than a year ago, and things looked to be progressing.
Everyone seemed to agree that this would a wonderful asset to the county. We had favored the idea, too.
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Manatee County commissioners were forging ahead but speed bumps kept slowing progress, those bumps being mounting opposition to carving 20 acres out of the 200-acre Tom Bennett Park for Lost Lagoon. Dozens of East Manatee foes formed an organization, Save Tom Bennett Park, and finally pummeled commissioners into submission.
Some weeks ago, commissioners unanimously agreed to instruct staff to halt negotiations with Lost Lagoon Development LLLP. This vote followed a unanimous one from a county evaluation commission that recommended negotiations begin. That never happened.
Now commissioners must consider permanently ceasing negotiations. That would be the prudent path given the stout opposition. The very idea of placing a private enterprise inside a popular public park always had negative overtones here, though such a partnership has proven successful elsewhere.
Cheers to county commissioners for coming around on the idea. Cheers, too, to Save Tom Bennett Park and other civic activists working hard to keep the park totally public.
Jeers to Scott, state for denying rights to ex-felons
Last week’s primary vote serves as a reminder of Florida’s dreadful status as the top state in the country for the number of disenfranchised past felons who have paid their debt to society but remain on the fringes of society without the right to vote. More than 1.5 million Floridians are barred from the ballot box because of a past felony conviction.
Jeers to Florida for being one of only three states that bar automatic restoration of voting rights after felons have completed their prison sentences.
Jeers to Gov. Rick Scott for blocking appeals for the recovery of a basic right from the overwhelming majority of free men and women. During his tenure, only 2,000 former felons sat before the Clemency Board and won the right to vote. Another 10,000 await a board hearing.
The governor and Florida Cabinet constitute that board. Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi led the charge to unravel the Clemency Board’s relaxed state policy under then-Gov. Charlie Crist. That defunct policy permitted automatic restoration of rights for non-violent felony offenders, and more than 155,000 won the return of their rights. Today, an annual average of 500 former inmates are granted those rights after a years-long appeal process.
The political motivations are clear: Republicans figure former felons will vote for Democrats, and that could overturn the GOP majority in the Legislature, decide the governorship and even the presidency.
A ballot initiative pushed by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, if it makes the ballot and is approved, would automatically restore voting rights for some freed felons. That may be the only hope for justice due to the political fallout. Either that or a reasonable governor and Clemency Board.