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.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Smashing Sour Grapes

It is not secret that failed 2010 Mayoral candidate Diane Mack was in the tank for one of my opponents in my recent campaign for County Commissioner in District 1.  In February, she wrote this piece in the PNJ.  During the campaign over the last 11 months, Diane Mack was a consistent facebook "like" to many of my opponent's posts on her campaign page.  Who cares, though? I didn't, I just went about my campaign doing what I do---campaigning hard and crushing elections.

Didn't matter what Diane Mack said, thought, or did--- I won the primary and general election by a large margin.

Here's the thing-----It really is not about two of my opponents in this last election being male or female--it is about who the voters select.  The voters selected me.  I'm sure Diane is distraught about the national elections as well, where her superstar Hillary Clinton was beaten by Donald Trump---despite Barrack Obama campaigning harder for her than any sitting President in American History ever campaigned for his successor....really embarrassing for him....

But back to local politics...

Just today----- along comes this piece of tripe in today's PNJ by Diane Mack....  Where she takes a shot at me by saying   "In this year in which we witnessed the defeat of a woman who was the most qualified of four candidates for a vacant Escambia County Commission seat (District 1) the community has been given an uncommon opportunity"  Here is what I have to say to Diane about her

Monday, November 21, 2016

On 1370 WCOA's Good Morning Pensacola Today

From who I am and where I'm from, to my time on the school board and how I found myself in that job for 10 years, to what I think of politics locally, to hot topics like building the new jail,  beach traffic and economic development and the OLF 8 land swap--the conversation this morning was wide ranging.  I appreciated the opportunity to offer my opinions on all these topics.

You can listen to the entire interview    part I  here
                                                               part II here

Monday, November 14, 2016

Market-Driven, Private Sector Approach to Managing Beach Tolls, Traffic

When I heard about the recent move to automate all lanes going out to Pensacola Beach, I was somewhat concerned.  I believe this will drastically reduce revenue.  I know it will.  A large portion of the revenue generated will now be re-directed to Sun Pass, and these recurring fees and costs will result in steep revenue declines going forward, as much as $500,000 yearly compared to what we currently collect.  How will we replace that revenue?  I’m not inclined to support new taxes on citizens, or the imposition of new fees for consumers who choose to go to the beach, simply to cover a self-inflicted revenue loss created by a bad decision.  I’m a small-government, fiscal conservative and I want less government, less regulation, less taxes, smarter decisions and more prudent governance.

Government is not like a business in the sense that government’s job is not to maximize profit but rather to generate revenue sufficient to provide needed services to citizens. Services cost money and revenues must be raised --and government should strive to be efficient like successful private sector, for-profit entities are.

Movie theaters offer discounts for matinees, restaurants offer early-bird dinner specials, and bars have happy hours.  All of these promotions attempt to increase revenue in off-peak periods.

Why don’t we use some smart, market driven initiatives to help ease beach traffic issues while simultaneously building off-season use of the beach by citizens?  I think there are some things that can be done right away to create a win-win scenario—without going to a fully automated, Sun Pass system.

The toll by plate collection process will be cumbersome and I believe will result in further revenue declines (e.g.  Where will the fee be sent for island visitors driving rental cars?) What percentage of the toll by plate notices and bills will we realistically collect?  50%, 40% or less?

How about we do something better:

I’d like to look at reducing the toll to $.50 cents,  re-installing automated baskets,  thereby substantially reducing employee costs currently incurred by utilizing human toll collectors.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

One Foot in School District, One Foot in County Government.....

I have one more School Board meeting to go this coming Tuesday, November 15th, and then one week later, on Monday November 21st at 12:00 Midnight my time on the School Board will end and my time as a County Commissioner will begin.  So I am in between both jobs now, in a very unique position hving one foot in the school district and one foot in County Government.

Leaving the School Board will be bittersweet:  I have one child left in the schools, two nephews in the schools, and many friends intimately involved in the schools, either as employees or volunteers that work closely with the district.  So while I am leaving my service as a school board member in just a few days, I will always have fond memories of my time here and I will always keep one eye on what is happening with our local public schools ---as I feel the public schools as we know them are in deep distresss.  I believe they will be changing drastically in the years going forward due to numerous issues and problems that are not being properly addressed. We need to be more fiscally responsible with certain spending items that we fund.  We spend HUGE amounts of taxpayer dollars on high-priced seminars--and nobody bats an eye.  We need to be more frugal.   We need to enforce discipline strictly and demolish the politically-correct approach to discipline that has infested our schools from the top-down to the detriment of good teachers, good students, and good families (this is what is driving our significant enrollment declines).  We must eliminate as many locally required tests as possible--we test too much and people are sick and tired of this.  We must eliminate social promotion that still runs rampant in our district (especially between middle school and 9th grade and acutely among over-age students), and get back to enforcing rigorous academic standards that have meaning and giving grades that are earned.  If we give away advancement and promotion for those who do not meet the standards, we are simply awarding participation trophies, and NOT doing anybody any favors.   And we have to look at district enrollment as a key metric instead of fecklessly trying to ignore and/or explain away this real problem of enrollment decline while simultaneously not measuring it as a function of our strategic plan.  Our neighboring district to the east is EXPLODING in school population and we are declining....why?  We need to look at and measure teacher churn site by site, to see where teachers are under significant stress---and we need to increase  pay for teachers who work in schools that serve communities marked by significant levels of social dysfunction. What is going on with the IB program and other issues at Workman MS?, what is happening at O.J Semmes ES?  I hear stories about the iCare program at Brentwood ES

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

16 Months Part IV: The Finish Line....

Sixteen months and 1 day ago I announced my intention to leave the school board and run for a position on the Escambia County Commission.  Today is zero hour, we've reached the finish line.

While I am very excited about the challenges that lie ahead, I am also amazed at the way time flies...  Walking to nearly 9,000 homes personally in this campaign and meeting all kinds of people in all kinds of places--I have developed an even stronger appreciation for our community.  We are a community of good people that care deeply about our neighborhoods.

I was humbled to receive the nod in the August primary election, and I feel very confident about my chances to win tonight's contest.

Looking forward, we have big challenges in the county that we must confront:  OLF 8, rebuilding the jail, figuring out how to fix gridlocked traffic on the beach, and addressing numerous infrastructure challenges county-wide--not to mention setting budgets that never seem large enough to handle the needs that exist.  I look forward to helping solve these issues with my fellow commissioners and the county staff starting on November 22nd..

Looking backward, our schools face tremendous challenges as well, many of which are self-inflicted, many of which are not our fault and come to us from the community we serve.  While we have done some great things of which I am very proud over the last ten years--  I lament the fact that I have not been able to move the needle more significantly on some other very important things, including:

1.  Strict and equally applied enforcement of discipline policies, and curbing bullying and abusive behavior by students against other students and staff that persists.
2.  Reducing the amount of district-driven standardized testing.
3.  Reducing the massive and overly burdensome "box-checking" and other mandates foisted on classroom teachers from the district administration.
4.  Seriously discussing and dealing with declining enrollments in our system.
5.  Seriously discussing and addressing Staff Churn ( and bargaining location pay for teachers in schools with high levels of social dysfunction)
6.  Moving into the 21st Century and modernizing our District's Structure to include Appointing our Superintendent of Schools like 99.4% of our nation's public school districts already do.

But hopefully these items can be addressed effectively by future boards going forward.

There will always be challenges to address whether we are talking about County or City or School District Bureaucracy,  I simply want to do the best I can for taxpayers and citizens wherever I end up, and this is what I have tried to do over the last 10 years as a school board member.

Now that I have reached the finish line, and if I am elected tonight, this is what I will continue to do as a County Commissioner.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Voting NO

From time to time as a school board member I vote against recommendations.  I do this when I do not believe voting yes is the appropriate course of action.

-When staff wanted to fire a basketball coach for reasons other than those stated in the board’s backup, knowing this would spur litigation and despite the fact that this coach wanted to quit---yes I voted NO.

-When students are treated in disparate fashion based upon race with respect to disciplinary recommendations—so we can balance numbers--, I vote NO

-When schools do not follow board policy on bullying and harassment, I speak out forcefully and take action and often vote NO on recommendations.

-When our district conducted a disastrously bad investigation into disbarring a supplier, I voted NO

-When we decided to spend an exorbitant amount of money building middle school in a 
neighborhood where we desperately need another elementary school, and not a middle school, Yes, I voted NO.

There are many more examples I could point to, including a recent one at last Tuesday’s regular meeting.

At this meeting an agenda item was presented for our approval.   Now, this expenditure was not coming from our general fund—it was money we were (are) receiving from a state grant.  Yes, this is grant money, but it is still taxpayer money.

Anyway, the backup presented was opaque;  it listed amounts and brief summaries of the monies that would be sent to three different companies for “Professional Development” and “Coaching.”  Not given in the backup were some important issues I wanted outlined.  “How many hours is this coach from this company going to spend here?”  “How can we know this is effective, how do we measure the effectiveness of this coaching?”  I got no good answers, except that it would be one coach, for roughly 60 hours on several occasions, training about 40 district “leaders.”  For this part of the expenditure ($31,500.00), this equates to $525 dollars per hour for “coaching.”  

Sorry, I think this is exorbitant, and I cannot support spending this much.

$525 per hour for one employee of this company to do small group coaching on “personality traits” and how to be better leaders.  Are you kidding me?? 

  No way, no how, ever!

We’ve tried coaching leaders at struggling schools in the past with high-dollar programs and this hasn’t worked.

I wanted to explore a more cost effective approach, having employees in our professional learning department find training online in order to tailor a program to teach our employees utilizing open-source materials, MOOCs, and/or other free and readily available materials.  I wanted to do this instead of hiring expensive private “coaches” at $525.00 per hour.

I lost the vote 4-1.

I was told by several folks “its grant money, if we don’t use it, someone else will!”

Here’s my problem with that line of thinking: 

Okay, did we negotiate the very best price for this coaching, did we?  Or, did we just send a request for a proposal and accept the contractor’s rate?  I believe we lost our focus on demanding maximum value out of this purchase, the board was not provided with each contract with each of these firms that delineates exactly what the deliverables will be and how the costs were calculated.  It’s like the mentality is this “It’s grant money, so let’s spend it, and the state approved it so it is acceptable!”

I reject that.

Somewhere, at some time, a General at a base somewhere said NO, I’m not paying $600 for a toilet seat that I can get at Home Depot for $29.99.  And most certainly there was probably a purchasing agent that said to him “Sir, these are very good toilet seats and the DoD has approved the requisition and all of the bases are buying these, so are we sure we want to reject these—I mean we have money from the Pentagon specifically earmarked to use for replacing these toilet seats and it won’t come from our post operating fund---are we sure we want to say no??”

Thankfully that General did reject this.  And then Packard Commission was formed.  And then purchasing was scrutinized, and things got more affordable (although still priced above market in many respects) than they were in years past.  One general saying no could eliminate all the $600 toilet seats in the DoD---then the taxpayers save money---see how that works?

Every public official that has any part in acquisitions and budgeting should be forced to watch the film “The Pentagon Wars” to see how outside influences can run costs into the stratosphere. 
President Eisenhower warned us all about the military industrial complex, and his fears were legitimate.  And what he feared, came to pass.

A lot of this is applicable to today’s education industry.

In today’s world, with our educational expenditures exploding and at levels per pupil that are the highest in the world, I think we need to beware of the Educratic-Industrial Complex!  Between people that grift off of the taxpayers selling seminars, conventions, and pedagogy courses to public entities and school districts—to the testing companies that are driving costs up while changing the way we teach---to the public sector organized labor unions that drive up costs in education---we need to have another Eisenhoweresque moment.  


We spend too much and receive too little in return, and nobody bats an eye.  Instead, we turn to policymakers and others and say we are “underfunded.”  We’re not underfunded, we’re inefficient and wasteful.   Unfortunately there appears to be little appetite in changing this mindset.