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New column: Why Dent’s ‘experience’ isn’t the right kind

The Sarasota News Leader logo

I’m wading into the supervisor of elections primary this week in my first guest column for The Sarasota News Leader, a new online outfit I blogged about back in June.

They publish a fresh slate of stories and columns each Friday, and I’m happy to report they liked a piece I wrote about Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent enough to include it in this week’s edition. To sign up for SNL updates, just enter your email address in the box on the upper right of the homepage; if you’re more of a Facebook fan, head here and click “Like.”

Here’s a taste of what I wrote about Dent (the link to the full version is below):

Earlier this week, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial board recommended Kathy Dent in the supervisor of election race. The board stressed Dent’s on-the-job experience as its deciding factor.

Dent has experience, yes. But it is an experience fraught with incidents of disingenuousness, a lack of full disclosure and missteps that, viewed collectively, render that experience less than impressive. A brief recap:

In August 2006, Election Systems & Software (ES&S), the company that supplied new voting machines to be used in that fall’s elections, notified Dent’s office of some potential problems for users. ES&S instructed Dent to install new posters in voting halls to insure the public was made aware of the proper protocol to follow to make sure their votes were recorded by the new machines. The posters — which Dent, over nearly three months leading up to the election, never did make public or install — would have advised voters to push “firmly” on the touchscreen. The posters would have emphasized that voters must carefully “hold down” their selected candidate’s box “until it is highlighted” — a delayed process that might take several seconds, the posters warned.

Dent’s decision to not put up the new posters during the November elections, which included the contentious race between Christine Jennings and Vern Buchanan, was inexplicable. But what followed was even more confounding.

Despite the fallout of 18,000 votes unaccounted for, despite the loud outcry from the public and media searching for any information that might help make sense of what had happened to those missing votes, despite the national spotlight that once again cast a pall over Florida voting practices, Dent’s office was not forthcoming about the ES&S warning letter and the recommended posters. When the existence of both was brought to light some time later by other sources on the Internet, the silence from Dent’s office, in retrospect, was deafening.

Click here to read the piece in full. If you’re a registered Republican, be sure to cast a vote in the Kathy Dent/Jon Thaxton primary that ends next Tuesday. And if you like what I had to say, let the SNL editors know about it.

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Posted on August 10th, 2012 Comments (4)Comments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: Signing off

Photo by Ashraful Kadir, via Flickr

Today’s column will be my last for Ticket.

I’ve enjoyed writing in this space — sharing stories about everything from dads teaching their children how to skip stones across the water, charities and fundraising events, and women who put their titillating talent (and tassels) to the burlesque test, to pieces about local firefighters, nurses and profiles of some of our area’s most interesting people — like entrepreneur Flori Roberts, and Hart’s Landing bait salesman Aron Johnson and Sarasota’s “sexiest” in February. This column has been a privilege to write and, I hope, a pleasure to read.

Reflective and observational column-writing, in my opinion, is an essential component to the complete experience of reading a newspaper, and I hope to continue to appear occasionally in other sections of the Herald-Tribune. There’s no greater pride as a writer than appearing in one’s hometown paper. And there’s really no greater reward for a column writer than the relationship formed by weekly interaction with readers.

That interaction has taught me that people yearn to connect — and that readers find it meaningful to read newspaper content that, while it might not sell any tickets to events or explain a new tax code, still manages to share stories that get under the skin, ignite the senses and remind us of our shared humanity.

Since launching Sense and the City in Ticket in late 2010, I’ve been fortunate to receive hundreds of responses from local readers and beyond, including seasonal visitors and online readers across the U.S. and in Europe — even comments from people I meet standing in line at the supermarket or at a party. Whether readers disagree or agree with what I write, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed hearing what they think, feel and experience in their own lives.

One of my favorite reader responses was from a man who sent a “snail mail” to me, care of the newspaper. His letter was in response to a column I wrote this past March, titled “Precious Singers in the Night,” which contained the following paragraph:

I smile at [the birds’] faith. Faith that the sound they make from deep within their small bodies will carry out into and through the night air and reach the ears of another like themselves. I find myself somewhat in awe of that faith — the faith it takes to sing in the darkness, through the middle of the night to dawn, across an unmeasured distance, alone, unknowing if, or when, you will be heard.

The reader stated that that he, too, had listened to birds singing in the night and that the column had “struck a special chord” with him. He wrote, “I’ve been a paper carrier for 13 yrs., and have often found myself on some isolated rural road, stopping to roll additional papers in the wee hours of the quiet morning — I’ve been mesmerized and haunted by these awesome sounds — they are fascinating and beautiful.”

What that letter writer could not know — or maybe he could — is that his words struck a special chord in return. Because, in addition to celebrating the mystery and magic of songbirds, that column was about human loneliness and the need to connect viscerally, soulfully, in a world where we are all increasingly separated, by the busyness of keeping a roof over our heads, the sturm und drang of political rhetoric, the machinery of social media; even separated, at times, by our own fear of being unloved, unwanted or unheard.

His letter bridged that divide, offering proof that human beings can indeed sing out to one another across time and space — across newspaper print and handwritten letters — and connect powerfully, if briefly, even without ever meeting. His letter, along with the many other responses I’ve received from readers, answered nearly every question I’ve raised in my columns over the past year or so, confirming for me that courage and wonder and faith do exist and persevere… in the voice of songbirds… in the ears of  newspaper carriers… and in the hearts of readers.

Thank you all.

Follow M.C. on Facebook and Twitter; email her at mcrealityonline@yahoo.com.

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Posted on July 5th, 2012 Comments (4)Comments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: Diane McFarlin will be missed

Diane McFarlin

Having met Sarasota Herald-Tribune Publisher Diane McFarlin only once and then briefly — when we bumped into each other one night at a Ringling Town Hall lecture, and I learned that she was as warm and genuine up close and personal as she was elegant and beautiful from afar — I knew I wasn’t the best-qualified person to write about why so many of us, even those who don’t know her well, feel a pang of loss now that she’s leaving the H-Tto become dean of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

To help me out, several other women, with far fewer degrees of separation to Diane than I, were kind enough to share their insights and memories via email. I thank them for helping readers get a glimpse of the woman behind the publisher.

BIZ (941) magazine editor Susan Burns was an intern at the H-T during the time that Diane, then in her early 20s, was already city editor of the H-T‘s sister paper, the Sarasota Journal. “Diane was an inspiration to so many contemporaries and other young women who watched her rise in the male-dominated world of journalism,” Burns wrote. “You don’t get to Diane’s position without incredible intelligence and drive, and yet she accomplished all of it with grace, warmth, integrity and humor.”

Writer and longtime H-T social columnist Marjorie North, who had a front row seat to Diane’s hardworking ascent through the newspaper ranks, wrote, “Diane was up every morning before daybreak and entered every sacred bastion of the newspaper, from advertising to circulation, human resources to press operations.”

Learning the nuts and bolts of the business was smart strategy; caring about the people at her paper and in her community seems to have been just part of Diane’s nature.

“Her business sense was sharp — think about how early she got into multimedia with SNN back in the ’90s — and it was matched by her commitment to community,” Burns wrote. “She helped raise millions for the needy in her leadership of Season of Sharing.”

Susan Rife, arts and books editor and senior staff writer, recalled coming to the H-T in 1999 as part of what was known as the “Wichita Mafia” — a group of four journalists from the Wichita Eagle, including Janet Weaver (now Coats), who was managing editor under Diane, who, at the time, was executive editor.

“When Diane moved into the publisher’s office,” Rife wrote, “we used to kid around the newsroom about the place being ‘Amazonia,’ with women as publisher, executive editor, managing editor and probably in several other key roles at the paper.”

As publisher, Diane had to make tough decisions during tough times. “Letting employees go was one of her greatest challenges,” North wrote. When the downturn came and layoffs became necessary, North recalled, “she knew it was better for her to do it with heart and compassion than for it to be left up to a hatchet man who didn’t know the organization like she did.”

Diane’s caring for the paper’s employees earned her a “staff who would fall on their swords for her,” North wrote, and Rife echoed those sentiments.

“I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that she is well-loved in the newsroom,” Rife wrote. “Her newsroom background guaranteed that she ‘got’ us, and yet she maintained just the right amount of distance. I have never gotten a publisher’s office directive telling me to do this or that, cover this or that, or handle things any way other than as I saw fit.”

She wasn’t just well-loved at the paper though. Longtime friend and Sarasotan Jacki Boedecker wrote:

Diane and I have been dear friends since we met at the University of Florida as undergrads in 1974. Through our every-weekday-morning ritual of a two-mile, pre-dawn walk over the past two decades, I’ve been afforded the daily joy of experiencing all that is Diane — intelligent, generous, kind, courageous, humorous, honorable, ever faithful to family and friends — rain or shine. Her wise counsel, principled spirit and steadfast compassion have been an unfailing support to me, as well as my family, and she is a devoted role model, mentor and friend to my three daughters. Simply put, Diane has been and will always be a true blessing in my life.

And a blessing, no doubt, to countless other media colleagues and friends; families who were helped through Season of Sharing, and, of course, the thousands of readers in our community who can’t start their day without opening the newspaper first.

In their emails to me, North described Diane as “brilliant” and “ethical.” Rife, commenting about Diane’s well-known sense of style, wrote the words that many women in Sarasota have been thinking (only slightly enviously) for years: “She always is so put together!” And Burns captured the sentiment of all with her closing words, “Diane is simply a class act. We will miss her.”

And indeed we will.

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Posted on June 28th, 2012 Comment (0)Comments RSS Feed

Sarasota Blues Festival VIP Offering Doesn’t Fit

The Sarasota Blues and Music Festival is irking me with its $75 VIP tickets. VIP? In a parking lot across from Ed Smith Stadium? Whatever! Read my outrage at this week’s Sense and the City column in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

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Posted on June 21st, 2012 Comment (0)Comments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: At SMH, kindness is the cure

My mom recently underwent surgery at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and the experience has made me reflect on the importance of kindness and care in helping folks recover. And so I turned those thoughts into this week’s Sense and the City, out in the Ticket today.

Here’s a sample:

It’s easy, when you arrive at a hospital for surgery, to view it as a giant conveyor belt sending a blur of bodies through an elaborate, dispassionate assembly line.

You’re dispossessed of your belongings — no jewelry to touch for good luck; no glasses to help you see the size of the needles; you don’t even get to keep your underwear on, for crickets’ sake. You might as well say goodbye to your ego and any sense of vanity as well — it’s hard to be Miss Priss when your butt’s hanging out the backside of a barely there hospital gown.

All the usual accoutrements of self-articulation, the titles, degrees and ZIP codes… they’re not much help here. All you’ve got is your body and the complex swirl of thoughts and emotions that make up who you are inside that body. The sense of vulnerability must be mind-blowing.

I worried about this recently when my mom, a fiercely independent woman, entered Sarasota Memorial Hospital for five hours of surgery. But to my great relief, the staff of caregivers surrounding my mom seem less like paid professionals just doing their jobs and more like longtime companions doing work they loved.

Read the rest right here.

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Posted on June 14th, 2012 Comment (1)Comments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: Lessons for grads from The Graduate

"Plastics"

Attending a college graduation party the other day got me thinking about graduates in general, and of course, The Graduate, the 1967 classic best known for its proto-cougar storyline. And that got me thinking about what kind of advice I’d give to new graduates:

Remember The Graduate? The 1967 film where Dustin Hoffman played young Benjamin, just graduated from college, who, during a party at his folks’ home, is given a one-word bit of advice from a guest: “plastics.” As in, pursue a career in plastics, in order to make it big in the world.

And if the graduate had followed that advice? Sure, maybe he and his stolen bride would have ridden that bus off into a future of financial security. But the flip side would have been that Benjamin ended up an old man whose grandkids would blame him for the giant swaths of plastic bottles and six-pack rings that pollute our oceans.

I thought of The Graduate last week when I heard the story of 24-year-old Victoria Ann Brill, who has filed as a write-in candidate for the Sarasota County Supervisors of Elections race between two Republican contenders — incumbent Kathy Dent and Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton. Victoria’s not in it to win it — she just wanted to close the primary so that non-Republicans wouldn’t be able to vote.

Somebody older than her undoubtedly also gave Brill a one-word bit of advice: “loopholes.” As in, take advantage of loopholes whenever you can to help yourself — or your politically minded friends and family — manipulate the means to an end. Legal or not, exploiting a loophole, especially when it affects the rights of others, is not exactly something to be proud of. As if, with apologies to Thoreau, you can manipulate voters’ rights without injuring democracy.

Read the rest of this week’s Sense and the City over at the Ticket website.

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Posted on June 7th, 2012 Comments (2)Comments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: Boomerang and the butterfly

Boomerang

Were you aware that May is National Pet Month? In honor of it, for this week’s Sense and the City, out in print in today’s Ticket, I present the tale of Boomerang and the butterfly:

Boomerang is my cat, so named because when he started hanging around my house as a stray, whenever I shooed him out of my yard, bang, he’d come back again. Just like a boomerang.

Eventually, he charmed his way into my heart and home. I adopted him, moved him indoors, domesticated him (um, yes, that means I neutered him) and made peace with being considered a crazy cat lady, with not one, not two, but three rescued cats.

When he was wild, he would sit a few feet away from me as I worked in the yard pulling weeds or digging up old tree stumps. He’d roll in the grass, climb trees, hide under the fallen palm fronds and play in the leaves when I raked; it was almost like having a dog.

He’d catch turtles in the nearby pond and hunt lizards and birds. Many mornings I opened my front door to find a dead something or other he’d caught and brought home with pride as a present for the woman who was now feeding him so well he no longer needed to eat what he killed.

After adopting him, I trained him to walk on a leash so he could still enjoy the evening air, stretch his legs in the grass, sniff the air and remember his former life of freedom.

One evening, I took him on a walk along the long row of Mexican petunias bordering the sidewalk in front of my house. As we meandered along, a butterfly floated past us, flitting in and out among the bushes. No ordinary butterfly this, it was large and magnificent — dark brown with just a thin line of yellow along the edges. As I stopped to watch him, Boomer laid down on the sidewalk, enjoying the warmth it still had from the hot day.

Check out the conclusion to the story over at the Ticket website.

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Posted on May 17th, 2012 Comment (0)Comments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: The mystery of moms

The cover of Diane Keaton's memoir, Then Again

Mother’s Day is coming up this Sunday, and rather than just do brunch (like you’ve done every year for the past decade), why not reflect on what makes your mom tick, and take some time to get to know her? That’s the subject of this week’s “Sense and the City,” out in print in today’s Ticket.

Here’s a sample:

Actress Diane Keaton focuses much of her new memoir, “Then Again,” on her mom — helped by having access to 85 volumes of diaries her mother wrote over the course of her life. The journals contained thousands of pages of her mother’s most private thoughts about herself, her children, her marriage. I don’t know if Keaton knew her mom all that well while she was alive, but she sure gained entirely new and perhaps sometimes shocking insights into her mother after her death through these journals.

In this day of electronic correspondence and Facebook, fewer and fewer people are keeping journals, much less busy moms who nowadays even keep their grocery lists on their smart phones.

The roles moms play, though — as breadwinners, carpoolers, laundresses, housecleaners, homework-helpers, grocery-getters, button-sewers, advice-givers — haven’t changed much, and those busy duties make it even harder to get to know them. Unfortunately, many children take it for granted that they know all there is to know about their moms.

After all, “Mom” encompasses everything. For most kids, the concept of “Mom” is that of a bottomless pit. Everything goes in — every desire, want, need, curiosity, whim, joy, heartache, drama, catastrophe and success is poured in — but not much about Mom ever gets to come out.

How can it? They’ve got to attend to your needs first.

For the rest, head over to the Ticket website.

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Posted on May 10th, 2012 Comment (0)Comments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: May’s UnSeason Scene

Kevin So will play WSLR's Kumquat Court studios at 8 p.m. Fri., May 18

This year’s tourist season might be dead, but hurricane season is looming. For this week’s Sense and the City, I’m spotlighting a handful of must-do events coming down the pipe in May.

Here’s a taste:

The Sarasota Film Fest has come and gone; snowbirds are flying north, it’s only a matter of weeks before another hurricane season kicks off — May has arrived and with it, a calmer, but no less fun flurry of places to see and be seen.

May 8, 5:30-8 p.m. — Sarasota Magazine holds its Best of 2012 party at Selby Gardens; showcasing restaurants and shops that were voted “best of” by readers of the magazine, and giving scenesters one last “season” event at which to shake things up. I attended last year’s inaugural event and thought it was one of the most fun and relaxed parties I’ve been to in Sarasota — ever. Great people-watching (for the fashion alone) and hob-nobbing party (almost everybody who’s anybody) made all the more enjoyable by music with deejay Barry Carew, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and a setting amongst lush greenery, banyan trees and water views. ABC Channel 7’s Bob Harrigan and Lauren Dorsett will emcee this seriously “don’t-miss” festivity. A portion of the proceeds benefit the gardens themselves and the Sarasota Chalk Festival. $50; bestofsarasota.eventbrite.com.

Friday, May 11, is the opening reception of the Florida Artist Group (FLAG) exhibit and symposium at Ringling College of Art and Design, 5-7 p.m., featuring painters, sculptors and photographers who have received statewide and national recognition for their work.

Saturday, May 12, painter/printmaker Tom Nakashima, whose work is currently on view at the Vero Beach Museum of Art, will make a presentation. Also on Saturday — a walk-about of the Sarasota High School soon-to-become Sarasota Museum of Art, led by SMOA founding members Wendy Surkis and Peppi Elona, includes a sneak-peak virtual tour and architectural model of the future museum. The symposium runs through June 1; for details on the opening weekend and entire symposium, visit floridaartistgroup.org.

Read the rest over at the Ticket website.

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Posted on May 3rd, 2012 Comment (0)Comments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: Sportsmanlike behavior

Curt Schilling (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The early weeks of baseball season have been making me think about why men love sports so much — and why men love to play sports so much, even when they get too old to compete with the young guys. I wrote about it for this week’s Sense and the City, in print in today’s Ticket. Here’s a taste:

My older brothers were athletes and though I was the youngest, and a girl to boot — they still taught me what they considered to be the essentials of life: how to tuck a football in the crook of my arm and run like hell, how to throw a lateral, how to fake left, how to shoot hoop and aim for that sweet spot on the backboard, how to go in for a lay-up.

Later when I started dating, I always seemed to end up with guys who had a seemingly bottomless wealth of knowledge and superior recall of stats and names and years and coaches and where their favorite players went to college. (Though I’ve wondered, with a couple of boyfriends, how the heck they could remember the number of some obscure player’s high school jersey, and yet still manage to forget my birthday.)

Men always seem so unusually happy when they’re watching sports on television or when they’re getting their clubs out to go hit a few, or when they’ve just come back from an afternoon of Ultimate Frisbee. When I hear a man whoo-hooting with excitement over a touchdown, or see the ultra-relaxed smile of a man who’s just run six miles, I feel like I’m getting a rare glimpse into his interior emotional world.

Most of all, I love men’s never-say-die attitude about their bodies. I admire the way they keep showing up at the court for a game of pick-up with guys half their age, keep tying the shoelaces on their running shoes even when their knees are close to giving out, keep digging the football out of the closet on Thanksgiving Day to throw glory day passes to their young nephews in the backyard.

Read the rest over at the Ticket website.

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Posted on April 26th, 2012 Comment (0)Comments RSS Feed