11 December 2013

A Merry Christmas for Willi Berchau

As you may have read in a previous blog entry on guardianship dangers, I mentioned the story of how Willi Berchau unfortunately got caught into the vicious cycle of Florida's guardianship laws, all over selling a house for less than market value that got the attention of a social worker.  Unfortunately, guardianships can be commenced against an adult for any reason and often times without warning.
I just found out via another ABC Action News article that Willi has been freed from the restrictive confines of guardianship!  With that said, Willi is now a free man - free to go wherever he chooses, free to obtain a Florida driver license or ID card, free to exercise the right to vote, and so on.  After all, a person under guardianship, especially a plenary guardianship, loses all rights that we take for granted.
Now Willi can enjoy the biggest Christmas present that he has been waiting for:  Being released from the confines of Florida's guardianship laws.  And a special thanks to ABC Action News and its I-Team reporter, Adam Walser, for exposing the flaws that are part of Florida's current guardianship laws.
After all, Florida's guardianship laws need to be reformed.  And our legislators in Tallahassee can make it happen when the Florida Legislature convenes which is just around the corner.  We can't let our older Floridians live in fear of being caught into the vicious cycle of guardianship.
Score a victory for elders' rights in Florida!

28 November 2013

My answer to retailers who want to open on Thanksgiving Day

As I reported in a previous blog entry not too long ago Thanksgiving as we know it today is slowly becoming extinct, thanks to Corporate America who wants to make a quick buck by opening on Thanksgiving Day.  To me, opening on Thanksgiving is not right.
When a retailer opens their doors on Thanksgiving Day, their workers cannot even be with their families enjoying quality time.  Instead, a retailer's workers whose stores are open on Thanksgiving Day have to work like any other day.  As such, Thanksgiving related activities are disrupted thanks to Corporate America's desire to make a quick buck on a major holiday where traditionally almost everyone is closed save for the neighborhood convenience store.
In fact, I signed a petition on MoveOn.org that was started by Mike Lux pledging that I will not shop at a retailer that is open on Thanksgiving Day.  I would like to share the petition with you (if you would like to add your name to the petition, you can do so by clicking on the MoveOn.org link shown below):
In retail, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day are the only two holidays that workers traditionally receive. Now that many stores are choosing to open on Thanksgiving, that break is being taken away, denying retail workers the rare opportunity to spend a holiday with their families. And most of these workers are only being paid minimum wage for their trouble.

A holiday should not be a luxury for the rich; we believe all workers deserve time to spend with loved ones.

That's why I signed a petition to Retail CEOs, which says:

"Thanksgiving is one of the only holidays that retail workers receive. By opening stores on Thanksgiving, stores rob thousands of men and women the opportunity to spend time with their families.

A holiday with family should not be a luxury for the rich; we believe that all workers deserve the chance to relax and give thanks with loved ones.

We, as consumers, have the power to tell stores not to open on Thanksgiving by staying home. We hereby pledge not to shop on Thanksgiving Day, to show the retail industry that everyone deserves a holiday."

Will you sign the petition too? Click here to add your name:

And I do agree with Mike Lux.  We as consumers need to show Corporate America that everyone, especially the retail industry, deserves a holiday such as Thanksgiving as well as Christmas.
Moreover, in three states - Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine - opening on Thanksgiving Day is illegal due to their respective state laws on the books that forbid retailers from opening their doors on a major holiday such as Thanksgiving, according to this ABC Action News article (WFTS-TV, the ABC affiliate here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area).  Perhaps Florida needs to join Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine in getting a law passed that would prohibit retailers from opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day.
And it can be done.  All we Floridians - especially hard working Floridians who look forward to Thanksgiving to be with family and friends instead of work - need to do is to exert pressure on Tallahassee by writing or emailing our legislators.  We Floridians need to make our voices heard and heard loudly.
After all, Thanksgiving is part of a time honored tradition rooted in the foundation of the American republic, back when the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts and when Ponce De Leon landed in St. Augustine right here in our State of Florida in 1513.  It is a time to give thanks and a time for relationships with family and friends.  Back in my younger years I remember when practically everyone was closed on Thanksgiving Day - even the local McDonald's Restaurant and the statement below the store hours sticker:  We rest on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  That's the way it should be.
Sadly, I have seen McDonald's open on Thanksgiving to a certain extent:  Some McDonald's only open for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, while I have seen McDonald's open all day on Thanksgiving.  However, I do not mind the better restaurants (NOT the fast food chains) opening only for Thanksgiving dinner for those people who would rather not cook a Thanksgiving dinner at home.
My answer to retailers who want to open on Thanksgiving Day, as the title of this blog entry states, is this:  I will refuse to patronize any retailer that shows disrespect of the values and traditions of the Thanksgiving holiday by not spending my hard earned money at a retailer that is open on Thanksgiving Day.  At least Corporate America will not get a Dollar of my hard earned money on Thanksgiving Day - if you believe in the values and traditions of Thanksgiving, you need to do the same.
I would like to wish all of my website and blog viewers both at EdwardRingwald.com and The Edward Ringwald Blog a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving Day.  Besides, Thanksgiving is the start of the Christmas holiday season, and onward with the holiday season!

15 November 2013

Is Thanksgiving Really Extinct?

Thanksgiving - and the start of the Christmas holiday season - is just around the corner.  As I reported about this same time last year, Thanksgiving is a time to be with friends and family, a time for big dinners and all the rites and rituals of Thanksgiving (being the grand entry way into the holiday season) including the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade shown on your local NBC affiliate (here in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, that would be WFLA-TV Channel 8) and the constant stream of holiday music that kicks off the season.

I got to agree, the holiday season is my favorite time of year.  It truly is.  Except to Corporate America, who wants to throw Thanksgiving in the trash by opening retail stores for the sole purpose of making a quick buck when in fact Thanksgiving is a day of rest.  Back in my younger days, I remember when practically everyone was closed on Thanksgiving Day as well as Christmas Day, save for the neighborhood convenience store around the corner for those last minute items you need.

This article I found at TruthOut.org really has me tiffed.  I cannot understand why more and more retailers are breaking tradition and opening their doors on Thanksgiving Day.  What these retailers that want to open on Thanksgiving Day are trying to do is to make that quick buck at the expense of their employees having to work on Thanksgiving Day instead of being with their families.  After all, being open for business on Thanksgiving Day is not right.

Here in St. Petersburg, we have one grocery retailer that has a long standing tradition of not being open on Thanksgiving:  Publix Super Markets.  That's the way it should be:  Thanksgiving is a time for family, not for making a profit.  For that reason, this is why I do my grocery shopping at Publix.  (And more friendlier staff!)

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry on Thanksgiving, if the founder of Publix, George Jenkins, ever found out that his stores were open on Thanksgiving Day, he would be very sad to see what Corporate America is doing to Thanksgiving.

But two other supermarket chains here in St. Petersburg prefer to be open, all in the name of customer convenience:  Sweetbay and Winn-Dixie.  Sweetbay from what I understand is in the process of being bought out by Bi-Lo Holdings of Jacksonville, the same company that owns Winn-Dixie.  Even when Sweetbay is finally bought out and the Sweetbay name disappears from the St. Petersburg grocery landscape, Winn-Dixie - and their open on Thanksgiving Day policy - will still be around.

So, who is planning to be open to a degree on Thanksgiving Day?  According to an article in USA Today as mentioned in the TruthOut.org article, you'll be surprised:

Target:  8 PM
Best Buy:  6 PM
Macy's:  8 PM
Kohl's:  8 PM
KMart:  6 AM Thanksgiving morning - just what is going on here?

And one more place we can't forget:  McDonald's, which used to have a closed on Thanksgiving Day policy until recently.  It used to start by being only open during breakfast hours; now it includes lunch and dinner like any other day.

Just what is going on here with Thanksgiving Day being thrown on the back burner by Corporate America wanting to make a quick buck?

Like I mentioned last year, here's my take on Corporate America being open on Thanksgiving Day for the sole purpose of making a quick buck, and it's well worth repeating here (in other words, I am going to say it again): 

1. Being a native born American citizen, I firmly and strongly believe in all the holidays that America celebrates, including Thanksgiving as well as Christmas. 

2. If Corporate America does not want to have anything to do with Thanksgiving, then have your corporate eons lobby Congress to repeal Thanksgiving as a national holiday. Believe me – it won’t happen; Thanksgiving is deeply rooted in tradition as an American national holiday to begin with, going back to the days when the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock in 1620 and earlier when Juan Ponce De Leon landed on the Florida east coast near St. Augustine in 1513.
3. Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays to be with family and friends. As such, I do not conduct any business on Thanksgiving as well as Christmas.  Besides, I was born and raised in an era where retailers were closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas (and we knew better to stock up on things before the holidays); unfortunately, today we live in an "I gotta have it right now" era - an era of instant gratification.
4. Finally, if the spirit of the American holidays – especially the fall holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas – offend you in any way, please consider leaving the United States of America and find another country where our American holidays are not celebrated, especially a country where human rights and civil liberties are grossly violated.

We cannot let Thanksgiving as well as Christmas become extinct, thanks to Corporate America that think these holidays are a nuisance. Thanksgiving and Christmas - along with America's other major holidays - are not a nuisance; instead our nation's holidays are part of our heritage.  Besides, you have a right to express your disapproval by not spending your hard earned money at retailers who intend to be open on Thanksgiving Day.

In short:  Let's take back Thanksgiving and what it really means to America.  The same thing with Christmas.

Onward with the holiday season!

18 October 2013

Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young

St. Petersburg and southern Pinellas County sadly lost a legend in Congress today (Friday, 18 October 2013).  Congressman C.W. "Bill" Young passed away, one week after announcing that he would not seek a 23rd term in Congress.
Not only Congressman Young was my representative where I lived all my life here in St. Petersburg, he will be well remembered for a lot of good that he did over the years being St. Petersburg's advocate in Washington.  Specifically, Congressman Young will be well remembered for the reconstruction of the Treasure Island Causeway and the removal of tolls that occurred when the bridge was reconstructed.
Links to related articles at these Tampa/St. Petersburg news outlets:
My thoughts and condolences go out to Congressman Young's family during this time of sorrow.  May Congressman Young rest in peace - you did your job very well representing our St. Petersburg interests in Washington.

27 September 2013

Guardianship Dangers!

If you care about you or your loved one's well being, I urge you to please read this entry word for word.  In fact, may I suggest my topic on Guardianship in Florida and reading it side by side with this blog entry?  (It's simple:  Right click on this link to get on over to my Guardianship topic at EdwardRingwald.com and select "open this link in a new tab".  This will work for both Internet Explorer and Firefox.)
This article I found at ABC Action News (WFTS-TV, the ABC affiliate here in Tampa) as part of their I-Team Investigation broke my heart.  This is the story of William Berchau, a 99-year old Pinellas Park resident, who unfortunately succumbed to the restrictive confines of Florida's guardianship laws.  Furthermore, Mr. Berchau was placed in a locked unit of a Pinellas Park assisted living facility (ALF) dealing with Alzheimer's Disease and after some intervention by ABC Action News, Mr. Berchau has been freed from the locked Alzheimer's unit.

In another case that was investigated by the ABC Action News I-Team, there was the case of a 90-year old Clearwater resident, Paulette Karpa, who also fell victim to the restrictive confines of Florida's guardianship laws.  Ms. Karpa ended up in the same Pinellas Park ALF as Mr. Berchau, Grand Villa.
How did Mr. Berchau and Ms. Karpa succumb to the restrictive confines of Florida's guardianship laws?  All it took was the allegations of a social worker.

In Mr. Berchau's case, the social worker was claiming that Mr. Berchau was trying to sell his home for much less than market value.  On the flip side of the coin, in Ms. Karpa's case it was a series of calls to police about attempted burglaries which turned out to be unfounded.  To make things worse, Ms. Karpa did have her legal documentation in order.

Yeah right, a social worker.  I am not saying that not all social workers in Florida are bad; instead, there are social workers out there - unfortunately - that will do anything to do irreversible damage to you or your loved one's well being.  That includes adults as well as children.
By the way, is selling your home for less than market value grounds for guardianship in the State of Florida?  To me, that is complete hogwash in my book.  There are plenty of reasons why homes sometimes have to be sold for less than market value; one of them is to get away from arbitrarily high maintenance fees if the home is part of a condominium.  Besides, condominium maintenance fees can drain the budget of a person especially if the person is living on a fixed income such as Social Security.  Another reason, of course, is in the event of a mortgage foreclosure.
In order to sell a home, it is very important to get an all purpose appraisal from a licensed property appraiser.  Neither your county's Property Appraiser nor Zillow are the Gospel of your property value.  An all purpose appraisal may cost you some money; however, it's money well worth spent.

Is also calling the police to report a burglary grounds for guardianship?  To me, that's also complete hogwash in my book.  We teach our children at an understanding age to call the police if someone breaks into the home.
All it takes for a guardianship case to commence against you or your loved one is the allegations of a total stranger.  Most commonly, as in the case of both Mr. Berchau and Ms. Karpa, is the allegations of a social worker, particularly a social worker employed by the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Here's an article I found at Fiduciarywatch.org very useful:  How Guardians and Conservators Take Advantage.  You might also want to read that, as it's Florida specific.
You got that right, the Florida Department of Children and Families.  This agency is supposed to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation but nine times out of ten it works in reverse.
How does DCF work in reverse?  You'll be surprised:
1.  A social worker, becoming aware of an incident of abuse, neglect or exploitation involving a vulnerable adult (vulnerable meaning disabled or elderly, but that's subject to interpretation), files an Adult In Need of Services petition stating that the vulnerable adult is in danger.  In what danger?

The petition is presented to the judicial system and the judge approves the petition to last no longer than 60 days.  Before the 60 day period is over, the social worker will have a petition to determine capacity and for appointment of a guardian and will in most likelihood file the emergency guardianship petition for fast tracking a person from a law abiding citizen to a ward of the state.

An Adult In Need of Services petition, once granted, takes away certain rights of an adult, mainly medical treatment.  Unfortunately, due to the 60 day temporary nature of the Adult In Need of Services petition and order, it gives the social worker the necessary time to get the regular and emergency guardianship petitions going.  After all, the emergency petition for guardianship lasts 60 days while the alleged incapacitated adult is inquisitioned by the court appointed Examining Committee.
2.  If you somehow spanked your child the night before at home and the school officials discover the bruises the next day, your child's school principal makes a mandatory report to DCF.  You get a phone call from your child's school saying that you must come by at your earliest opportunity; once there you are greeted by not only the school principal but by a DCF investigator and a law enforcement officer who arrests you on child abuse charges.  At the same time your child is taken into protective custody by DCF and a social worker is preparing the court petitions that will eventually lead to your parental rights being severed.

Imagine for a moment you having to see your child taken away by DCF under the uber watchful eyes of a social worker.  Now imagine your loved one, stripped of his or her rights thanks to guardianship, and you can only visit your loved one in the ALF facility under the uber watchful eyes of either the professional guardian or the social worker hired by the professional guardian.
There are other situations where the actions of a social worker can destroy the livelihood of you or your loved one.  One of them is in a hospital emergency room where even the simplest of all medical emergencies can trigger a visit by the hospital's on-duty or on-call social worker.  Based on the medical condition that brought you to the emergency room and what you said, more than likely the social worker is filing not only the petitions to determine capacity and appointment of guardian but is also filing the petition for emergency guardianship, the 60-day temporary guardianship imposed while action is pending on the more permanent guardianship being proposed.
Take a look on a blank Petition for Emergency Guardianship form in Florida.  This sentence is very disturbing:  Petitioner is an adult interested in the welfare of the alleged incapacitated person.  In other words, a social worker or another person - based on perjured testimony - can commit a person into an institution on an emergency basis.
Once it's all said and done (meaning the judge has ruled the adult incapacitated and is in need of guardianship) the alleged incapacitated person's status is legally changed to being a ward of the state.  Nine times out of ten, the family member does not become the guardian - instead, the job is handed to a professional guardian with the major intention of doing it for the money.
Now that a professional guardian - a total stranger unknown to the family - is in control of the incapacitated person's affairs, let the asset wasting spree games begin.  As a professional guardian, he or she can collect so much an hour for his or her professional fees.  How is the professional guardian paid?
1.  Loot all bank or credit union accounts.
2.  Sell all real estate owned by the ward, way below market value.  (Be sure to pay off any mortgages first).
3.  Sell all heirlooms and possessions of the ward.
4.  Sell any motor vehicles owned by the ward.
5.  Receive all government and other benefits the ward is receiving, such as Social Security.
6.  Place the ward on an "allowance" the professional guardian dictates.
OK.  The professional guardian now has total and complete control of the ward's daily activities.  How is this accomplished?
1.  Place the ward in an ALF or nursing home.  (Locked Alzheimer's units are ideal, if the professional guardian knows good contacts).  At least restrict the ward to the confines of the ALF.
2.  Take away the voter identification card.
3.  Take away the Florida Driver License.
4.  Take away the United States Passport.
5.  Take away the right to seek or retain a job.
6.  Obtain a restraining order keeping relatives and family away from the ward.
7.  Redirect all mail addressed to the ward to the professional guardian.
8.  If the ward is married, initiate the petitions for dissolution of marriage.
9.  Determine which doctor(s) the ward will see for ongoing medical care.
Now what happens when the ward's assets run out?  Usually this happens because of the ward residing in the ALF the professional guardian places the ward in.  It's plainly simple:  Apply for Medicaid.
Once the ward is on Medicaid, the ward is sent bouncing around the State of Florida to not one but many ALF's.  The ward ends up being placed in an ALF - sometimes a maximum security correctional institution style ALF - hundreds of miles away.
So, in the mind of a professional guardian, he or she is making plenty of money off of an incapacitated person and enjoying the benefits of life.  However, in the mind of the ward, it becomes a world of anxiety and fear not knowing what the next action will be.
Our State of Florida is increasingly becoming a dangerous place to live, especially if you are an elderly person.  Right now our guardianship laws - codified in Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes - allow any person, particularly a social worker, to raise allegations against a person that will lead into a lifetime of legalized exploitation and imprisonment - and I mean life imprisonment in an ALF.
And our guardianship laws need to be fixed.
The first thing that needs to be fixed is who can be a guardian.  The use of a professional guardian should be prohibited unless there is verified evidence that there is no living relative that can assume the duties.  If a Declaration of Preneed Guardian is presented - as in the case of Ms. Karpa - then a professional guardian cannot be appointed unless the designated guardian expresses to the court in open testimony that he or she cannot serve.
Speaking of professional guardians, there needs to be better judicial oversight and that includes making all the yearly accountings that professional guardians must file public record.  Moreover, there should be no placement of the ward in a secure ALF on the guardian's own initiative; placement of the ward in a secure setting (such as a locked Alzheimer's section of an ALF) should require the approval of the judge after a hearing is conducted based on proper testimony and evidence.
Moreover, professional guardians need to be held accountable for their actions, especially on a criminal justice scale.  Any theft or exploitation committed by a professional guardian should be a felony punishable by imprisonment for an extended length of time, as well as the permanent revocation of the professional guardian's privilege anywhere in the United States, not just Florida.
As for the ward, there needs to be a bill of rights for those that are under any form of guardianship that protects the dignity and respect of the ward.  Among them is the right to live in a residence of one's choosing.  Another is the right to travel and carry identification.  And another is the right to vote.

After all, a Florida resident can carry a Florida Identification Card if the time comes that he or she can no longer operate a motor vehicle.  In the alternative, an U.S Passport Card is also ideal for identification related matters too.
When a petition for guardianship is filed no matter what, the petitioner as well as the members of the examining committee must be required to testify in open court under oath as to the truthfulness of the petition.  In other words, the social worker who initiated the guardianship petition (through legal counsel) should be prepared to testify under oath as to why a guardianship is being sought.
If there is evidence of less restrictive methods such as a durable power of attorney, then the petition for guardianship must be dismissed.  If a petition for guardianship is filed frivolously against a person and the judge rules as such then the petitioner shall be held financially liable for damages sustained by the alleged incapacitated person, including attorney fees paid to defend against the false allegations made by the petitioner.
In other words, Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes needs a major overhaul by our legislators in Tallahassee.

Getting back to the situations that placed Mr. Berchau and Ms. Karpa in the wrath of Florida's guardianship laws, who is their court appointed guardian?  You'll be surprised to know that it is a professional guardian, and that professional guardian is nothing more than Pinellas Park City Council Member Patricia Johnson, according to the ABC Action News articles I mentioned earlier.

A Pinellas Park City Council Member, like anyone who holds public office in the State of Florida, holds a position of public trust.  It holds true from Rick Scott on down.  After all, Rick Scott continually violates the trust and confidence of the people of the State of Florida from the day he was anointed Governor in January 2011.

From reading both ABC Action News articles, it is my opinion that Patricia Johnson has violated the trust and confidence of the residents of the City of Pinellas Park by her actions as a professional guardian.  The people of Pinellas Park should do the right thing:  When Patricia Johnson is up for re-election as Pinellas Park City Council Member, vote her out of office!

The best thing you can do for yourself or your loved one is to make sure your affairs are in order.  Here are some important legal documents you or your loved one should have, and these should be prepared with the help of a competent attorney that is licensed by the Florida Bar and specializes in Probate and Elder Law:

1.  Last Will and Testament.
2.  Durable Power of Attorney.
3.  Living Will.
4.  Designation of Health Care Surrogate.
5.  Designation of Pre-Need Guardian.

Keep the originals in a secure place, but scan them to PDF files first and store the PDF versions somewhere in a place where the files are readily accessible if needed.

Remember, if you need legal assistance in Elder Law or any other legal related matter, be sure to have a consultation with the attorney of your choice.  Most attorneys will give you a 30- to 60-minute consultation either free or for a small fee.  Be sure you check out the attorney's qualifications and expertise (including courtroom track record) and read everything before you sign that retainer contract and hand over any money.

The above tips presented here in this blog entry are not to be construed as legal advice.  Should you run into a situation where you need legal help on an Elder Law or any other legal matter, consultation with an attorney licensed by the Florida Bar is strongly advised and encouraged.

And as for William Berchau and Paulette Karpa, they deserve plenty of dignity and respect, not have them live out the golden years of their lives in an institution and their everyday lives controlled by a total stranger.

A very special thanks goes out to ABC Action News reporters Adam Walser and Francis Gilpin for exposing the harrowing consequences of Florida's guardianship laws.  As I mentioned earlier, Florida's guardianship laws need to be fixed - and big time.

21 September 2013

Where has Movie Theater Etiquette Gone Part IV: Etiquette to the Rescue!

Remember back to March 2013 and the premiere of Where has Movie Theater Etiquette Gone Part III at the Edward Ringwald Movieplex?  If you haven't read it yet you should; in fact if you right click on this link and select "Open in a new Tab" (works on both Internet Explorer and Firefox) you can read that blog entry as well as this blog entry side by side.
The place:  AMC Regency 20 Theatres, located in Brandon at FL 60 and Interstate 75 east of Tampa.  It's also reachable from the Selmon Crosstown Expressway as Brandon is the expressway's east end.
The movie:  Insidious Chapter 2, the sequel to 2011's Insidious.  It's a horror movie about a husband and wife trying to unlock the secret that had them somehow tied to the spirit world.  If you go see this movie, be prepared for edge of your seat scenes!  Being a new release, I thought it was a must see; after all, my mother (who unfortunately passed away in March 2000) liked going to those horror movies too.
So, I set out on northbound Interstate 275 across the Howard Frankland Bridge into Tampa, checking out the progress of the Interstate 275 mega-reconstruction project as I passed by, which is supposed to be wrapped up in 2016.  The pieces are slowly being assembled, one by one.
Then through downtown Tampa and eastbound Interstate 4, going past the Selmon Crosstown Connector which will enable traffic to seamlessly transition between Interstate 4 and the Selmon Crosstown Expressway.  The connector will also benefit interests at the nearby Port of Tampa; in particular, gasoline tanker trucks won't have to go through historic Ybor City and 21st/22nd Streets and try to preserve the historic character of Ybor City at the same time.
After the Tampa Bypass Canal it's southbound on Interstate 75 to Exit 257, FL 60 to Brandon.  A couple more turns through the traffic signal garden on FL 60 in Brandon and - before you know it - AMC Regency 20 Theatres.  Park the car and find the main entrance.
Notice the heavy Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office presence at the theatre, which means extra peace of mind, as I make my way to the box office.  Purchase tickets to the 11:15 PM showing of Insidious 2.  To make maximum use of my waiting time, go to a nearby Starbucks to get something to eat and drink as well as work on my laptop.
As showtime drew nearer, enter theatre and usher takes ticket.  Head over to Auditorium 13 and the special line for the show.  Before that, make a pit stop at the concession stand for evening meal, as I don't want to eat too late.
Enter Auditorium 13 and find great seat and settle in.  After enduring about 15 minutes of upcoming attractions, now our feature presentation.  Right as the lights dimmed down and the movie started, trouble was brewing on the horizon when a group of unruly - believed to be teenage children - sat in the seats next to me.  These children insisted on their "right" to chatter and text on their cell phone, even after I courteously told them to please cut the chatter and observe silence during the movie.
After all, Silence is Golden at AMC Theatres.  And they mean it to their word.
Already someone else made a complaint regarding the teenage children's behavior.  The usher came in and warned the teenagers to please be seated and to cease all chatter and have respect for others who are trying to see Insidious 2 in quiet.  The usher put those teenagers on notice that if the conduct continues, ejection is in order.
25 minutes into Insidious 2.  The teenagers continued to insist on their "right" to use their cell phone to text as well as chat.  When I reminded these teenagers to be quiet, I was given dirty looks.  The genre of Insidious 2 brought the tragedy at the Cinemark Movie Theater at Aurora, Colorado in the back of my mind and the increased security by the major theatre chains including AMC Theatres in the wake of what happened in July 2012.
That was it.  Time to step out of Auditorium 13 and see the usher.  Within seconds, backup in the form of Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputies working security detail for AMC Regency 20 Theatres was called.  Within a few minutes, the unruly teenagers were ejected.
As for me, I was way too concerned of seeing the movie any further for fear of retribution.  As such, the management of the AMC Regency 20 gave me a pass to use to see any movie (including special engagements) at any AMC theater.  Believe me, I put that pass to good use the next day, over at AMC Veterans 24 Theatres.
But I got to hand it to AMC Theatres.  They have a very successful Silence is Golden policy for many years; after all, I pay $10.50 regular adult admission for the privilege of seeing a movie that I would like to see, and I think I should be able to see a movie in its entirety without any distractions from cell phone users and chatters.
And I got to admit it:  The staff and management of AMC Theatres, especially the three Tampa area AMC Theatres - Veterans 24, Westshore 14 and Regency 20 - will do anything and everything to make your movie going experience a memorable one.  The staff at these three AMC Theatres will resolve any problems with patrons who do not wish to observe proper movie theatre etiquette including silence during the feature presentation.  Speaking of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office presence at the AMC Regency 20 (as well as the Tampa Police Department and Westshore Plaza Mall Security presence at the AMC Westshore 14 as well as the security presence at AMC Veterans 24), it makes going to the movies much more safer and enjoyable.  And I got to agree with you on that.
While we're on the subject of movie theater etiquette, more needs to be done to better enforce proper etiquette when inside a movie theater auditorium during the feature presentation.  What I believe should be done is laws being enacted that address the issue of disrupting a movie due to improper etiquette; you can make this happen by writing or emailing your legislators in Tallahassee and demanding better.
Want proof on criminal laws that deal with a specific subject?  Look at Section 871.01 of the Florida Statutes - this law deals with disruption of a church service.  The same thing can be applied to movie theaters as far as disruption during the movie by chattering patrons is concerned.
If such a law were passed here's how it would be worded:
Disturbing motion picture feature presentations; penalty -
1.  Whoever willfully interrupts or disturbs any movie theater whose purpose is the exhibition of motion pictures upon the payment of the applicable price of admission commits a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
2.  A person found guilty of a violation of this section, in addition to the penalties prescribed in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083, shall be denied admittance to any movie theater in this state for a period of six months.  A person found guilty of a violation of this section shall be liable to the owner of the movie theater for any financial liability incurred in the refund of admissions paid as a result of such interruption or disruption.

As I wrote in Where has Movie Theater Etiquette Gone Part III, I am going to enumerate the pointers that you should know when you go to the movies, whether it's the big multi-screen multiplexes or the small two-auditorium theater in town:
1.  Turn off that cell phone, BlackBerry, iPad, Droid or whatever when you enter the theater auditorium.  Better yet, lock up that cell phone in your vehicle out of sight.

2.  Your ticket only allows you to see a movie at a particular time and only within a particular auditorium.  This information is printed on your ticket when you obtain it from the box office or the ticket kiosk.  Your ticket does not allow you to hop from auditorium to auditorium; if you want to see another movie the same day at the theater be sure to purchase a ticket for the other movie too.  Auditorium hopping is grounds for exclusion from a theater without refund.

3.  When the movie starts, please observe silence during the feature presentation.  Your fellow movie goers will thank you.  Like AMC Theatres says, it's movie time, not cell phone or texting time or whatever.

4.  If you have a group of people that want to attend a movie, call ahead of time and find out if your theater will make arrangements so that your group can sit together during the show.  Please, don't show up with your little group right when the movie starts and chase other people out of their seats.  Unless told to do so by someone in authority at the movie theater such as an uniformed usher, I will not yield my seat to your group that decides to show up at the very last minute.

Now there is a meaning to come early to get a good seat.  In fact, if you buy your movie tickets on Fandango or MovieTickets.com you are advised to show up well in advance to get a good seat.

If everyone can follow these simple tips I presented above for going to the movies then everyone will be happy and at the same time everyone will get their money's worth for the price of admission.

22 August 2013

St. Petersburg Primary Election coming up on Tuesday, 27 August 2013

In a few more days, we St. Petersburg residents will be headed to the polls to decide on at least two important items:  Who we will have for the next Mayor of St. Petersburg (the top two winners will advance to the St. Petersburg General Election on 5 November 2013) and whether you want the new St. Petersburg Pier - called The Lens - to be built or not.
Bur first, let's review the Pinellas County Four-Step if you decide to cast your ballot at your assigned polling place on Tuesday, 27 August 2013.  A summary of the Pinellas County Four-Step is thus:
Prerequisite to the Pinellas County Four-Step:  Picture and signature identification, which you must bring with you to the polls or you will be asked to vote a provisional ballot.  Here's the run-down on the picture and signature identification you will need:
Florida Driver License
Florida Identification Card
United States Passport (the passport book or card is OK)
Debit or credit card
Student or Military ID
Retirement Center ID
Neighborhood Association ID
Public Assistance ID
Step 1:  Here is where you check in after you are greeted by the polling place deputy, whose job is to maintain law and order in the polling place.  Show the poll worker one of the items of picture and signature identification as described above and confirm your address as it is shown in the register.  Sign the register as shown to you by the poll worker.  The poll worker will hand you a yellow ticket with your name on it for you to take to Step 2.
Step 2:  Here is where you exchange the yellow ticket you received in Step 1 for the actual ballot.  You will be asked to fill in the oval to confirm that your name is correct on the yellow ticket and you will be asked to sign in the space on the yellow ticket to prove that you actually received your ballot.  The poll worker will hand you your ballot in a red secrecy envelope, ready for you to proceed to Step 3.
Step 3:  Step on over to any one of the many open privacy booths in the polling place.  This is where you make your selections using the black pen that was supplied to you in Step 2.
A ballot marking machine is available if you would like to use it.  Simply let the poll worker know and you will be shown how to use the machine.
Made a mistake?  Simply return to Step 2 and request another ballot.  Remember, Florida law (Section 101.031 of the Florida Statutes, which contains the Voter Bill of Rights, and it's listed in Item 4 under Voter Rights) restricts you to three ballots, so if you are on your third and final ballot, it is strongly suggested that you use the ballot marking machine to make your selections.
Regardless of whether you mark your ballot by hand in the privacy booth or use the ballot marking machine, there is one more step involved; that is your ballot being scanned as described in Step 4.
Step 4:  Here is where you feed your completed ballot into the scanner.  A poll worker is on duty at the scanner to assist you as needed.  Wait until the scanner takes your ballot and the "success" message on the screen.
Collect your "I Voted" sticker and exit the polling place.  That's all there is to it!
OK.  Now that you got the Pinellas County Four-Step, you are ready to go vote!
Speaking of what's going to be on the 27 August 2013 St. Petersburg Primary Election ballot, there is one major question which I feel will cause a lot of confusion, and that is the question of The Pier.  Let's untangle that confusion right here.
Here's the exact wording of the question as shown on the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections' web site.  I will reproduce this for you exactly as shown:
An Ordinance Terminating the Michael Maltzan New Pier Design Agreement Based on The Lens Concept
Shall an ordinance be added to the City of St. Petersburg’s existing ordinances that would require the City to send a notice of termination, within five business days of the effective date of the ordinance, to Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc. to terminate the existing architect/engineering agreement between the City of St. Petersburg and Michael Maltzan Architecture, Inc. which agreement was approved by City Council Resolution Number 2012-233 on May 17, 2012?
Voting YES on this question signifies that you want the architect/engineering agreement between the City of St. Petersburg and Michael Maltzan Architecture related to the New Pier Design cancelled.  Voting YES will mean stop The Lens.
Voting NO on this question signifies that you want the architect/engineering agreement between the City of St. Petersburg and Michael Maltzan Architecture related to the New Pier Design to remain in place as it is now.  Voting NO will mean keep The Lens.
So, it all boils down to one sentence:  It's up to you.
As for whatever your preference is, I'll leave that up to you and you alone to decide.  When you go into the polling place on Tuesday, 27 August 2013 you will be informed and you will make your decision based on what your choice will be.
And one more thing while we're on the subject of voting in the St. Petersburg Primary on Tuesday, 27 August 2013:
If you have received a mail ballot and you have already mailed it in, great!
However, if you have received a mail ballot and you want to go vote at your assigned polling place, it's not too late!  Just be sure to bring the mail in ballot with you when you go to the polls; the poll worker will collect your mail ballot and you will be given a regular ballot as described in the Pinellas County Four-Step earlier.
And if you have lost your mail ballot by any chance, you can still vote at your assigned polling place!  Simply let the poll worker know and the poll worker will check to see if you have not voted yet before you receive your ballot.
Whatever you do, don't just sit there and do nothing St. Petersburg:  Get out there and VOTE!  Not only at the primary on 27 August 2013, but the general election on 5 November 2013 too!
Again, get out there and VOTE!

18 August 2013

Back to School and Your Parental Rights for 2013-2014

Well, it's that time of year again!
School will be back in session for the 2013-2014 school year in most school districts of the Tampa/St. Petersburg metropolitan area. For Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Polk and Manatee counties school gets underway on Monday, 19 August 2012 while Hillsborough county gets underway on Tuesday, 20 August 2012. As a parent, you're more than likely getting your children ready for the new school year, probably taking advantage of the tax free holiday that happened on 2-4 August 2013!
Unfortunately, if you live in Citrus County - home to communities such as Inverness, Crystal River, Lecanto, Hernando, Citrus Springs, and we can't forget Citrus County Speedway as well as Lake Rousseau and the Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Withlacoochee River - school started on Wednesday, 7 August 2013.  Why does the Citrus County School District start classes much sooner than the rest of the Tampa Bay region?
A year or so after the law was passed (Section 1001.42 (4) (f) of the Florida Statutes) restricting the school start date no earlier than 14 days before Labor Day, our lawmakers in Tallahassee wanted to reward (Section 1003.621 of the Florida Statutes) academically high performing school districts such as the Citrus County School District.  The reward?  Permit academically high performing school districts to start school much earlier, all in the name of the super high-stakes FCAT test!
Public schools in Florida are nothing more than drill and practice for the annual FCAT test.  If you want your child to get a meaningful education in Florida, consider enrolling your child in private school, that is, if you got the large sums of $$$$ or your child is lucky to get a private school scholarship.  Unless, of course, you live in Pinellas County and your child applies for and is selected to attend a fundamental school where parental involvement and mandatory homework is required among other things.
Our legislators need to go back and repeal Section 1003.621 of the Florida Statutes that allow these academically high performing school districts carte blanche on the school start date.  The school start date needs to be uniform throughout the State of Florida, no ifs, ands or buts.  And don't give me the FCAT as an excuse!
Now on to your parental rights as a parent of a child attending a public school in Florida.
The most important thing to remember is this:
Neither your school district nor your child's school principal own or have custody of your children.  You did not sign away any rights as a parent when you registered your child for school and signed on the dotted line on the registration form.
In fact, Bay News 9 has put together a page of your rights as a parent when it comes to your child's education in public school. A few of them, according to the Bay News 9 article, are as follows:

1. You, as a parent, have a right to look over your child's school records and see test results, teacher comments and any disciplinary action taken against your child. In the Pinellas County School District, you can log in to Parent Connect and see much of this information on your child; access requires a login which you can get from any school upon presentation of a government issued photo ID.

2. If your child's school is a Title I school - a school that receives federal funds for low income children to help them succeed in school - federal law requires that you as a parent be involved in programs and decisions that affect your child. Your child's school principal will tell you if the school is a Title I school.
3.  You have the right to ensure that your child is not physically punished for any violations of school rules whatsoever.  After all, paddling conveys a message to your child that it is OK to solve problems with violence.  In fact, I recommend that you make this your personal commitment to your child.

In fact, corporal punishment is prohibited in the Pinellas County School District per the Student Code of Conduct.  Pinellas County's prohibition also extends to parents and anyone else while on school district property.
4.  If your child is involved in any incident that can lead to disciplinary action, you have the right to review the action taken against your child with the principal.
More importantly, you are an active participant in your child's education.  You are not to be placed on the sidelines as far as your child's education is concerned.  After all, this is why you pay property taxes to your school district - demand better from your school officials.
While we're on the subject of parental rights as far as school is concerned, now that the 2013-2014 school year is on the horizon...
Florida's public school campuses are increasingly becoming nothing more than closed mini-North Koreas.  Why?  For this school year, closed campuses have a better meaning:  Just mention Sandy Hook Elementary - which was indeed a horrific tragedy - and school officials will use that as an excuse.
Remember, if you have to visit your child's school for any reason, be sure to report to the front office, sign in and present valid governmentally issued ID.
God knows what your child will be exposed to once your child enters the closed neverworld of a Florida public school campus.  Bullying?  Child abuse?  Physical abuse?  Emotional abuse?  The subject of your child's teacher's abusive comment on the teacher's Facebook page?

Seems like every time you turn on Bay News 9, 10 News (WTSP-TV), ABC Action News (WFTS-TV) or NewsChannel 8 (WFLA-TV) or you pick up a copy of the St. Petersburg Times (to this day, I still do not recognize the misnamed Tampa Bay Times) or The Tampa Tribune and find this:  School official arrested on child pornography related charges.  Now doesn't that sound scary?

Or, God knows, what your child could be bringing home from school?  Let's say your child comes home from school and you are going through your child's backpack.  You find something that is objectionable and you make your concerns known to your child's school principal.  Instead of taking the time to listen to your concerns, the principal contacts law enforcement and has you arrested for trespassing on school grounds!  In fact, there is a video out there on YouTube called Overruled:  Government Invasion of your Parental Rights which was produced by ParentalRights.org - I have it embedded into a blog entry I made right around August 2012 when the 2012-2013 school year started and you can read that blog entry as well as watch the video here.  The Overruled video speaks for itself when it comes to parental rights as far as school is concerned.
Just lately I paid an online visit to the website of Virgil Mills Elementary School in Palmetto, which is in Parrish in Manatee County and located basically at the southern terminus of Interstate 275.  A glance at Virgil Mills' arrival and dismissal procedures for the 2013-2014 school year is obvious:  Virgil Mills' principal, Mike Rio, intends to enforce his draconian policy - which is not written - of dangling the threat of a trespass warning on any parent that does not comply with the arrival and dismissal procedures and Principal Rio has made good on that promise by stationing off duty Manatee County Sheriff's Deputies in the student pickup line.

You can read the original story on why Virgil Mills Elementary parents have to wait an inordinate amount of time to pick up their children and the consequences of a trespass warning for the parents enforced by Virgil Mills Principal Mike Rio over at Bay News 9.  That was an excellent article by Bay News 9 reporter Summer Smith, by the way.

After all, as the 2013-2014 school year gets underway we can make our schools safer for our children and it can be done.  We do not need to turn our public schools into correctional facility fortresses or closed mini-North Koreas for that matter at the expense of keeping your child safe at school.

You as a parent play an important role in your child's education.  As such, you as a parent do not sit on the sidelines and let your child's school principal dictate what is appropriate for your child.  As I mentioned earlier, you pay taxes for public schools - demand better from your school officials.

With that said, onward with the 2013-2014 school year!

04 August 2013

Before you make the ALF decision for your parents...

Recently I came across this article by Linda Hurtado of ABC Action News (WFTS-TV, Tampa's ABC affiliate) on how to choose the right Assisted Living Facility (ALF) for your parents when the time comes.  It is a well written article on what to look for in an ALF and - most importantly - your financial options when the time has come to choose an ALF over independent living.

DISCLAIMER:  Before I go on further, none of what you are about to read is considered, nor it should be construed as, legal advice.  If you have any questions regarding this or any other legal issue, please by all means see an attorney who is licensed by the Florida Bar.
While I think most ALF's are reputable and show a level of unparalleled dignity and respect for the residents that live there, unfortunately there are ALF's out there that will take advantage of your parents from a financial standpoint.  In fact, I have read horror stories of ALF's that resort to the use of Florida's guardianship laws in order to get their hands on every dollar of a parents' assets.

Once an ALF finds someone with a substantial amount of assets, an ALF has struck a vast pool of Texas Tea.  Or an underwater Gulf of Mexico goldmine.  Let the financial feast begin!
Before I go on further, may I suggest reading my topic on guardianship in Florida - the legalized kidnapping and exploitation of the elderly and disabled as well as our veterans that proudly served America - over on my web site?  This will give you a basic idea of what a guardianship is in Florida and the potential for abuse, especially at the hands of professional guardians and others involved in assessing a person's capacity to make informed decisions such as social workers and psychiatrists.
The first thing you should do if the time comes to consider placing your parents in an ALF is to consult an attorney.  Your attorney can assist you in many ways as to the preservation of your parents' assets.
After all, once an ALF knows of your parents' assets - especially significant assets - the ALF has essentially hit a goldmine as far as a good source of income is concerned.  An ALF can welcome your parents with open arms, but once your parents are settled into the congregate living world of an ALF, the ALF administrators can declare open season on your parents' assets, as well as your parents' daily activities among other things.
An ALF is run by an administrator who oversees the day to day operations of the ALF.  Working under the ALF administrator is a team of professionals - either on the staff or on call as needed - such as social workers and psychiatrists, just to name a few.  All it takes is knowledge of a serious medical condition, such as diabetes (and I don't care which type of diabetes it is) or Alzheimer's, to set off a cascade of legal events that turn your parents from legal adults into wards of the State of Florida.
The administrator, working in concert with the social worker, psychiatrist and the ALF's legal counsel, will file a petition for guardianship with the goal of going after the parents' assets.  In Florida, two petitions start the guardianship process:  The Petition to Determine Capacity and the Petition for Appointment of a Guardian.
Once the petitions are filed and the parents are notified that petitions have been filed to inquire into their mental capacity to make everyday decisions, a hearing is held before a probate judge to appoint the three person examining committee.  It is the job of the examining committee to inquire into a person's ability to make everyday decisions, and the inquiry does not stop with the interview of the person that is the subject of the guardianship petition.
The examining committee goes further by getting testimony from the ALF administrator and the ALF's social worker among the persons.  Next, the examining committee will get their hands on any and all medical records of the alleged incapacitated person by way of the subpoena process.

Speaking of medical records, despite federal privacy laws such as HIPAA in place, the examining committee can look at not only the medical records from the alleged incapacitated person's physician, but records maintained by other entities such as the Medical Information Bureau as well as Milliman for prescription drug histories and FICO (you got that right, FICO, the same company that gives you your credit score) for the FICO Medication Adherence Score, a scorecard as to how well a patient complies with doctors' orders by taking the medications as prescribed.  All it takes is a legal subpoena, of which the maintainers of the alleged incapacitated person's medical records must comply with once served.
Once everything is all said and done, the reports of each member of the examining committee are summarized into a report that is given to the probate judge.  The judge reviews everything and in a subsequent hearing, if everything is in order the judge will adjudicate the person incompetent and appoint a guardian.
Once the adjudication is all said and done, bingo!  The ALF just got their hands on your parents' assets in order to pay for the cost of being in the ALF!  And legally, thanks to Florida's guardianship laws!
And as for your parents, your parents are in the custody of a total and complete stranger who dictates the way of life for your parents.  God knows who was involved in the selection of the professional guardian:  More than likely the ALF.  Moreover, the guardian either severely restricts your visits to your parents or, worse, cuts off all your visitation privileges completely.
Remember, a person who is a ward of the state (in other words, under guardianship) has much less rights than a convicted felon.  Among the rights lost (assuming a plenary guardianship):
The right to vote
The right to determine where you live
The ability to seek or keep a job
The ability to have a Florida Driver License
The ability to manage property
The ability to sue or be sued in court
The right to determine who you can be associated with
The ability to travel - even outside the ALF
The ability to retain an United States Passport
The right to make decisions regarding medical treatment

The professional guardian goes to work immediately on whatever assets can be converted into cash in order to pay the recurring monthly ALF fees such as room and board among other things.  A house which has been the home of your parents - and which you more than likely grew up in - is sold and the proceeds go to the professional guardian which eventually ends up in the hands of the ALF - usually after the professional guardian helps himself/herself to a share of the proceeds as professional guardian fees.

The same thing goes for all other assets the parents had:  Money in banks, money received as a result of receiving government benefits, family heirlooms - and the list goes on and on.

Once all the assets are spent, then it's time to apply for Medicaid.  Once Medicaid is approved, the financial lifeline in the ALF's favor thanks to your parents is still intact.

You are kept out of all decision making as far as your parents are concerned.  The only time the ALF or the professional guardian overseeing the affairs of your parents will contact you is if your parents passed away.  In other words, you are kept in the dark regarding your parents.

Once your parents pass away in the ALF, it's game over for all the players that have overseen your parents' care.  Then the ALF finds its next "victim" and the wheel of guardianship spins all over again.

So what can you do for your parents when it comes time to think about making the transition from home to ALF?

First and foremost, arrange a meeting with an attorney, preferably an attorney that knows both wills, trusts and probate as well as elder law.  Most attorneys can give you a 30-minute consultation either for free or for a small fee.  This cannot be over-emphasized enough:  Check the attorney's qualifications and expertise as well as his or her courtroom track record before you hand any sum of money to an attorney when you sign that retainer agreement.

Be sure that the attorney you select is licensed by the Florida Bar.  Much better, an attorney licensed by the Florida Bar and certified in probate and elder law matters is much more favorable.

A competent attorney will show you the ways that your parents' assets can be structured to prevent their being taken by professional guardians.  Steer clear of attorneys who think that guardianship is the only way to preserve assets - just remember what happened to a Clearwater resident whose name is Carol Kinnear as far as the unintended consequences of a guardianship are concerned.

Next, research ALF facilities in your area by starting online and visiting the individual ALF websites.  Narrow down your list based on their reputation (how do I find out?  Do a Google search for (name of ALF facility) complaints) and contact them to arrange for a tour of the facility.

When you take a tour of the ALF facilities, you may want to take your parents along.  While you are there, you will get a first impression of what the facility is like.  All I can say here is trust your instinct - if while you are touring an ALF facility you have any concerns about placing your parents there, the best thing to do is to err on the side of caution and leave the facility.

The only time that your parents give out their personal information is when the decision is made to enter a specific ALF and the paperwork is completed.  In fact, have your attorney review all ALF paperwork before signing anything.

In fact, work with your attorney to discuss safeguarding your parents' assets before your parents sign the ALF paperwork.

Now what if, despite your best efforts, your parents resist your efforts to place them in an ALF?  According to Linda Hurtado of ABC Action News your parents do not have to go to an ALF, unless adjudicated incompetent in a guardianship proceeding.

In other words, your parents are legal adults with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto, the same way when you turned 18 and became an adult yourself.  The only way the rights and privileges as an adult can be taken away from you - other than being convicted and sent to prison - is the guardianship process as defined in Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes.  Then again, a person under guardianship has much less rights than a convicted felon.

So please, before you make the ALF decision for your parents, speak to an attorney first.  After all, your parents took great care of you, and someday the time will come when it's time for you to take care of them.