I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What is a "Failure Factory?"

When I was contacted yesterday afternoon by the PNJ to give my reaction to the news that the final challenge to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship had been overcome--I immediately thought about an amazingly powerful article I read two years ago.  It was an outstanding piece of Journalism in the Tampa Bay Times that everyone in education should have read....  It had a simple title:

Failure Factories 

The story was familiar and not isolated to Pinellas County. Dozens and dozens of Failure Factories are found throughout the state of Florida (and nationwide, for that matter)....

So, what are "Failure Factories?"

Failure Factories are public schools in poor neighborhoods that underperform for decades, trapping their populations in mediocrity. Entire families pass through these schools as they do not have the resources to attend better schools.   Pressure is applied from all directions to keep student suspensions and referral numbers down at failure factories, which creates lawlessness and a loss of focus on academics.  Good students and good parents flee, exacerbating the issue.  Soon, teachers leave and such schools have complete staff turnovers every 2-3 years.  Money is dumped in by feckless administrators and other educrats for programs that never succeed long term, yet these schools do not improve or display sustained improvement despite huge sums of money being dumped into the mix.

Everyone wrings their hands collectively and nothing changes.

Then along came a statewide program that allowed students and parents stuck in such failing schools to receive a scholarship to attend a better performing school and break the cycle---and the establishment types freaked out.  Then they sued.  (This is when I took action and said enough!)

Yesterday, after a nearly three year battle, the entrenched special interests that fought so hard and sued to stop this program (ACLU, NAACP, NEA/FEA, FSBA) were handed a humbling defeat as the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear this case.

Now, nearly 100,000 students (primarily poor, minority students) who were stuck in failure factories will have a shot at a better education and better educational outcomes.  These students will be able to choose to go to a better performing school thanks to this scholarship program.  (Although this program does not utilize one dime of taxpayer money--establishment educrats still HATE this program.)

To the people (feckless educrats, Teacher Unions, and FSBA types) who HATE this program--- I say this:

Had you collectively done your jobs, this scholarship program probably never would have been established, as it would not have been needed.  If you are mad about this, look in the mirror and take your anger out on that person, that person in the mirror who had the power and ability to fix the problems that led to failure factories but that who did nothing.

Monday, January 16, 2017

On WCOA Today

My thanks go out to the staff of 1370 WCOA, Jim Sanborn, and Don Parker for having me on their radio program this morning.

The conversation was wide ranging, from the OLF8/OLFX Navy-BCC land swap, to the beach ferry, to the pending Federal legislation dealing with conveying  property deeds to the current leaseholders at Pensacola Beach, to the status of the Jail, to current and planned happenings in District 1, to my opinion on the differences between being a school board member and being a county commissioner.

I enjoyed the discussions  that you can listen to  here (part 1) and here (part 2).

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Initiatives to Reduce Incarceration Rates in Order to Save Money

Some are of the opinion that the above graph points to the need to reform sentencing, I happen to think there may be a beneficial correlation with the reduction of crime rates being a result of the incarceration levels going up.....

The BCC will be discussing the topic of criminal justice reform at tomorrow’s Committee of the Whole meeting.  Presented for backup were several articles from Florida Tax Watch and a recent article from IN Weekly.
After reading the backup and speaking to folks very familiar with the courts locally, I have a few thoughts of my own on these recommended initiatives….but first, it is important to realize how the system works in real life.
Law enforcement officers make arrests.
The State Attorney is like a “Super Judge” and this office has discretion with respect to which cases get charged and what penalties are sought.  From time to time, Judges will disagree with sentences sought by the State Attorney, and this can create tension between the offices.
Judges try the cases.  Judges do what they do-prosecutors do what they do- and police officers do what they do.
To enact serious sentencing reform, we have to get buy-in and cooperation from the judges.  We have to elect good judges to the bench, and we have to understand that sometimes we will disagree with their sentences.  We must understand this as well:   judges know more about the cases than do the media and members of the general public.  Often the sentences the judges impose are mandatory and the judges have minimal discretion; in other instances the Judges do have discretion and wide latitude to impose various punishments-which they frequently exercise.
The media exacerbates the sentencing discretion issue when they fail to report on cases honestly or when they go after Judges in articles questioning sentences and/or condemning judges for statements made in court.  Some judges have been taken out of context and eviscerated by the local press—and the judges are powerless to respond.
If judges are ripped to shreds by the media for giving some offenders (ones that are non-violent with a high likelihood of successful rehabilitation) a second chance and a lenient sentence---the odds are that these judges may be hesitant to offer these sorts of chances again.
The system, while imperfect, works. It is slow, plodding, and cumbersome, but it works.  It works well when every independent agency does their job and works together (Law Enforcement, Judicial, State Attorney), staying in their own lanes.
Meanwhile, the costs of the system to the county are mounting, and the need to find savings within this system is paramount.
Florida Tax Watch has several initiatives they recommend to reduce the costs of incarceration.  Most of these recommendations will require coordination with Law Enforcement, State and Federal Legislators, and most importantly with the State Attorney’s office that prosecutes the cases and the Judges who impose the sentences.  Many of these initiatives will require laws to be amended in Tallahassee. The current leadership in the Florida Legislature may not be receptive to weakening the “tough on crime” sentencing laws on the books—so the BCC needs to be careful on pushing too hard for this at the state level.  However, we could advocate for some of the initiatives.
Some of the initiatives that make sense to me include:

1.        Looking at ways to substitute financial penalties for jail-time for non-injury Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) infractions.

2.       Reducing the number of non-violent prisoners in jail for minor drug infractions (users, not traffickers).

3.       Utilization of electronic monitoring for non-violent offenders (subsidized if the prisoner is unable to pay)

4.       Looking at a plan to release elderly, sick prisoners that do not pose a significant risk if released.

5.  Diverting a large number of low-level offenders to our road prison program

All of these sorts of ideas could be considered but all of these require close collaboration with the other stakeholders in the criminal justice system as well. 

Any of these things we can offer to the judges will help the system overall and will save taxpayers money.  Before I will go along with these changes, though, I will need to ensure that we communicate such potential changes with Law enforcement, the judicial and legislative branches, and constituents in my district. 

My constituents and I want safe neighborhoods and firm penalties imposed on criminals, not watered down, PC policies that could potentially increase crime locally.  I will move through these initiatives very carefully and with great trepidation, because I am a law and order Commissioner and I favor the minimum mandatory sentences, Truth in sentencing laws, and harsh punishment for violent offenders and drug dealers.  But I am open minded and not opposed to looking into the initiative I listed above and one BIG ONE below that didn't make the TaxWatch papers......

********Florida has the second highest number of prisoners that are illegal immigrants (second only to Texas) with THOUSANDS of undocumented prisoners being held in our prisons.  Why can we not turn these over to the Feds so they can be housed in the Federal system?  This would generate REAL savings locally!************

Where can we Build Low-Income Housing?

Residents received postcards like the one above, generating significant angst about the location of low income housing very close to their neighborhoods

I attended the Creekside Oaks HOA meeting last night, and the large topic of discussion was the contemplated low income housing that residents have learned about.

And the residents I spoke with had legitimate concerns about low income housing being brought in near where they live.  The concerns are valid:  Will crime increase?  Will the property values decrease? Is the former Golf Course where this construction is contemplated even zoned for this?

"We cannot get answers about the zoning, they won't tell us what the old golf course is zoned for!" one angry resident commented during the meeting.  "They will answer me when I ask" I responded.

I'm not sure what the status is of this contemplated low income housing, but I assured the residents that I would find out and that I would relay the neighbors' concerns to county staff.  I also told them I would relay any information received back from staff to Mike, the HOA president.

All of this said....

Seeing very quickly that nobody wants this low income housing anywhere near where they live---where do we put it?  I need to research this because according to the estimates I have heard, there are more than 3,000 people on waiting lists in Escambia County for affordable housing.

Where can we Build Low-Income Housing?

Several of the salient points discussed were sent to me in writing by a concerned citizen who lives in this neighborhood...

"The main focus of the meeting (hence the high membership turn out) was about the proposed low income housing development on the golf course land that surrounds our neighborhood.  Here are my thoughts on the subject which I believe are shared by all in the neighborhood -

  • A Private Developer who makes money off government XXXX (Our taxes) wants to develop a parcel of land next to our neighborhood in order to benefit from this government handout.  As soon as the land is developed and sold, this private developer takes off and leaves the oncoming mess with the community to deal with.  We all know what this "mess" will be - rundown property, trash, crime, decreased property values and eventually the folks that owned what was once considered their pride and joy move away to try to improve their quality of life.  This private developer and others don't really care because they have made their money and it's not in their backyard.  These projects never turn out good.
  • The people on the waiting list for "free stuff" move in and immediately the downward spiral begins for our surrounding neighborhood's quality of life -(see "mess").  And we have just doubled the competition for ingress to Michigan Avenue due to the single entrance into our neighborhood.  I can show countless pictures of Habitat for Humanity Homes that are completely rundown due to the lack of caring by the inhabitants.  One would think when

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dangerous Dogs

In 2012 My dog Rocky was attacked on my front porch by two
Rhodesian Ridgback dogs like the one pictured above.
Luckily the story had a happy ending for all concerned....

Today's PNJ has an article about the County Commission's discussion on the dangerous dog ordinance.

In it, I'm quoted about an incident that occurred in my front yard 4 years ago.....

My dog, Rocky, was on the front porch minding his own business when he was attacked by two Rodesian Ridgback dogs.  I immediately grabbed my pistol from the safe, and upon my return to the porch to attempt to rescue my dog, I was fortunately able to pull Rocky away without firing a shot at the other dogs. It would have killed me to shoot someone's dog--but on my property as they attacked my dog, I would have been within my rights to do so.  Fortunately, although  Rocky was rattled,  amazingly he was not injured.

(Ironically, a tru-green sales rep was in the cul-de-sac selling service contracts at the time of this event and he witnessed the entire event.  When he came up to my door after the incident and I answered still holding my .380--he simply said "Wow, this is quite a neighborhood, is it always this exciting?")

Anyway, after the initial fireworks,  I called animal control, they found the loose dogs, and notified the owner of those dogs about the issue.  They handled the whole issue very professionally.  I met with the owner of the Ridgbacks, and she apologized profusely.  I did not pursue any recourse and the story had a happy ending--thankfully.

But the state law has subsequently changed, and our policy on this matter was apparently dated and needed revision, so a new policy has been drafted by the County's legal staff.  It is very thoughtfully written, provides an appropriate level of due process provisions, and is something that I will support--as it protects the public, aligns with state law, and protects dog owners who are responsible and importantly it protects dogs.

You can read the policy here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Drainage a huge Issue in Beulah

With the huge rainstorm we witnessed on Sunday and Monday--many areas of our community experienced flooding.  A bridge at Wilde Lake Road washed out, and streets were flooded all over District 1.  I was called by a resident in Beulah, and invited to come see the issues at Rebel Road that he was facing.  I drove out and took a look.  It was bad.

Come to find out, the issue could potentially be exacerbated by potential development on a lot directly adjacent to this homeowner's property.  This issue (whether or not to re-zone that lot for a higher level of density for building) is coming up on the BCC agenda this week.

The planning board has recommended denial of the re-zoning request, and I'm inclined to support their recommendation based upon what I saw firsthand and what I read here.

Friday, December 16, 2016