By Raoul Bataller
LaBELLE, FL (Friday, July 15) — During the last two years, Hendry county has been the subject of considerable invasions of its public meetings by Lee county residents who had no business taking up our time, and exhausting our patience, many doing nothing but throwing tantrums.
Our residents were surprised to see for ourselves Lee county residents more confused than absolutely necessary over the presence of laboratory facilities using monkeys, and reporters venturing inland to humiliate, not learn, for the sake of ratings, accompanying their own subjects for their camera work, Business business business, nothing spontaneous, fodder for film at 11.
No basis in law or fact
Nearly four dozen articles by a freelancer were published by the Ft. Myers Gannett paper, the News-Press, on premises that the news editors should have known had no basis in law or fact, that issuance of permits for laboratory work using monkeys call for no circumstances in which government officials operate in the sunshine.
Many stories quoted bitter people maligning our residents as good ol’ boys work behind closed doors.
Sunshine law irrelevant
Last week a Twentieth Judicial circuit judge threw out the allegation that the issuance of permits in ag zoned “animal husbandry” areas should have risen to board action calling for decisions in the sunshine. They were permits issued at the staff level, and properly so. No violations of Florida Sunshine law.
Dreams and ideals mistaken for law
This was lousy journalism suffering from immature social-media type anything-goes publishing unqualified to cover interactions with groups whose dreams and ideals they mistake for law.
The people of Hendry county are still suffering from toxic relations resulting from an undisciplined Associated Press bureau putting on the wires abusive materials that were published everywhere that animal rights activists could be found.
The county government concerns itself with expressions by residents of the county, and county government does not concern itself with the positions of animal rights groups headquartered elsewhere. Nor should it.
Abuse, pure and simple
The Ft. Myers editors last March let fly —in the worst of social-media tradition of amateurs willing to say anything for shock value— its contempt for all things Hendry county. Writing about the private RiverBend community problems upgrading a treatment system, the News-Press two line full headline snarled, “Why it took two years to get the lead out of one community in Hendry county.”
It should have said, “why it took two years for the Ft. Myers News-Press to learn that the Law is law. Dreams and ideals are not.
The laboratory work that has gone on at three facilities using monkeys has been examined by authorized health and ag agencies with approvals. There was no reason to be peskering Hendry county why county officials took no part in those technical health-related inspections.
More important than monkeys
But monkey labs in Hendry have almost no significance, and what we’re witnessing, journalism failing to heed their responsibilities to properly educate, applies beyond Ft. Myers to the greatest problem in Florida.
Certainly it is a major part of the problem in the southern half of the state, from the Stuart News to the Miami Herald (Miami's drinking water is at stake in the Water Management district but no one from Miami showed up at this week’s critical Water Management district meeting).
It would have been interesting to talk to Lee county residents at that meeting to see if they believe Sanibel is the center of all hydrological systems, or if they believe water runs from south to north. But none of them showed up.
The Water Management district proceeded to solve the Caloosahatchee estuary problem responsibly whether they cared or not, or were listening or not, or showed up or not. The press in south Florida is dismaying but not scary to the folks in charge at SFWMD.