Old Jail housing idea back for more talk
Cheers: There’s hope anew that the condemned Old Jail Building could be resurrected as affordable, workforce housing — smack in the middle of downtown Bradenton, a desirable location what with all the new and pending improvements, especially with millennials. The idea blossomed when Manatee County began seeking proposals for a long-term lease on the high-rise.
But the concept got shot down by the sheriff and judges uneasy about security given the building abuts the Manatee County Judicial Center. Their objections, written in a letter to the county, included the demand for additional law enforcement for security’s sake and rooftop access to a secured detention operation.
This week, though, county commissioners voted to reconsider the idea at a work session, primarily to get answers to their many questions for The Croghan Company, which retracted its proposal three months ago. Theirs was the only proposal submitted to the county. The company, doing business as Connect Bradenton, did not get the opportunity to talk to the opposition in the aftermath of the letter sinking possible negotiations with the county.
At the time of the company’s withdrawal of its proposal, Bernard Croghan stated: “To me, it’s a shame that the millennials will miss an opportunity to have in-town, walk-to-work housing that is affordable. ... The millennial population that we would have in that building posed no risk whatsoever to the security of the Judicial Center.” Croghan also tried to reassure officials that tenants would not be able to access the Judicial Center.
The county and community have been working hard on strategies to attract and retain millennials, the generation that is inheriting the position once held by baby boomers. Croghan’s plan fits the bill. Plus, this project would help alleviate the county’s affordable housing crisis. We’d like to hear a thorough discussion of this among all stakeholders.
Still weaknesses in child protection
Jeers: The death of a child at the hands of someone entrusted with their care and safety never fails to raise disturbing questions, and in this case the answers were equally alarming. Manatee County child welfare workers failed to protect a 22-month-old boy from his violence-prone stepfather, known to authorities as a threat for physical abuse.
The scathing report by the Florida Department of Children and Families after an investigation faulted members of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s Child Protective Specialist Unit, saying they made a terrible decision to allow Ethan Thompson and his five brothers back into the home after their removal because of verified abuse — a decision that came after enough evidence was at hand to support a different conclusion. Sheriff Rick Wells disputes that finding, saying CPS followed DCF protocols.
Manatee County child welfare investigators failed to correctly evaluate the threat and conditions at the home after documenting plenty of evidence indicating the boys should remain out of the residence, the DCF report stated. Furthermore, those officers violated DCF policies or child welfare practices when gauging the current perils, safety plan and conditions for the return of the boys, the agency claimed.
DCF’s conclusions are indeed questionable given new information disclosed by Herald reporter Jessica De Leon. Two months before the court ordered the five boys could be reunited with their mother, Centerstone, the case manager, recommended the boys could return home but did not alert DCF attorneys or the court-appointed guardian ad litem, case reports indicate. Dependency Court approved the boys’ return to their mother two months later — just hours before Ethan sustained fatal injuries while under the care of Montez McNeal, his stepfather.
A lack of communication and sharing of new allegations of abuse contributed to the failure, even though ample information compiled in the case should have led to a different assessment analysis. Officials lacked critical thinking, the state agency found. Centerstone appears to have dropped the ball by not informing the key stakeholders in the case.
This is not the first Manatee County case of a toddler’s death after investigators determined the child was at high risk of abuse. In that particular case, of 15-month-old Knowellan Kelly, two MCSO employees received justified punishment in April 2016. At the same time, seven sheriff’s workers received disciplinary measures for mishandling allegations of the abuse that Janiya Thomas, 11, suffered at the hands of her mother before her body was discovered in a locked freezer.
These cases are not unique to Manatee County. The Miami Herald produced an exhaustive series of reports on the system deficiencies in DCF in 2013 and 2014. A sweeping child-welfare reform law implemented in 2014 required more transparency from the state agency and mandated child-protection investigators devise safety plans centered around on the risks to children — instead of relying on promises from parents.
The Thompson case once again indicates the shortcomings in officer training. The child welfare system needs additional rehabilitation.
Quote of the Week
“I have had faith in Mosaic and supported you in the past. I have a few issues this time. ... I am concerned. It is so close to our watershed and I am concerned about that.”
— Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, speaking at Thursday’s special land use meeting on the Mosaic Company’s proposal for approval of its Master Mining Plan and the rezoning 3,596 acres of its Wingate East property to allow phosphate mining.