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.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Public Records Law: It's no Joke--Just ask Martin County.....

There are often huge monetary costs  associated with failure to comply with Florida's Open Record's Law.  Martin County just had to pay $371,800.00 in legal fees to partially settle a violation of the open records law...

People can be flip about requests.  Private citizens, in most instances, don't have to produce documents or anything else upon request by another private citizen unless there is a court order or a subpoena.

But public officials do not have the luxury of saying no.  Furthermore, they do not have the option of specifying arbitrary procedures after a request is made of them.  Heck, my understanding of the Florida public records law leads me to believe that a public official has to respond to a request to produce a document even if the request is made verbally.  If the request is made in writing and is not honored--there will be problems....

If a request is made of a public official and not fulfilled, there are penalties that can be enforced, to include monetary penalties and/or jail in some cases (look at the case of former Escambia County School Board Member Vanette Webb)

So I take any request made of me with deadly seriousness;  as a school board member I had to respond to many, many requests.  I filled them all, each and every one of them, as quickly and as thoroughly as humanly possible.  Thus far as a county commissioner I have responded to three records requests, and I complied quickly and thoroughly to each one.

Others locally are not as forthcoming and actually say no, or try to put conditions on how they will accept and when they will accept requests for information, or from whom they will accept requests...  They do so at their own peril, is all I will say....

Because I understand the law even though some that should, apparently do not understand the law

A Visit to the Pit

A view from the shooting stations at the bottom of the pit off of Longleaf Drive, facing Northwest November 19,2017

After a series of complaints by neighbors regarding bullets being found in and around their property (s)--I wrote a series of blog entries that were picked up and reported on by local media.

Folks were finding bullets and bullet holes in their fences, cars, and in the bottom of their pools.

But where were/are the bullets coming from and who is firing the shots?

This is the million dollar question that has yet to be fully answered.

What we do know is that there is some target shooting happening at the old borrow pit owned by Eager Beaver. Primarily it is the owner of the property, his friends, family, and some members of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.

Yesterday afternoon, the owner of the pit, H.C. Jacques, texted me and asked if I wanted to come out to the pit and see the layout and what has been going on.  My answer was yes and so yesterday I made a visit to the pit.

A view to the targets from the 100 yard rifle stations at the pit  November 19, 2017

After opening the gate, driving through, and then re-closing it behind me, I drove down the paved road about a quarter of a mile to a clearing at the bottom of the pit.  A trailer was on my left, a large warehouse type structure was on my right, and several vehicles were parked directly ahead of me.  I pulled over, parked and was greeted in short order by Mr. Jacques, a military veteran, small business owner, and shooting enthusiast.  After we shook hands and said hello, we got down to the matter at hand that concerns both he and I.

"I get it, I know the neighbors are concerned and I get that.  But we are not the source of the bullets that are being found in the neighborhoods up on Wymart" Mr. Jacques stated flatly.  "We are safe down here, we know how to properly handle our weapons and we are focused on safety." he continued. "We are also at least 20 feet down in a pit, below the level of the houses--and we are shooting down on the targets--so how could it be our bullets hitting these structures?" he asked. "I'm told that the bullet hole in the car from the news was from a .45--and nobody down here shoots a .45 except me.  And I also heard that what was found in the pool was shell casings--not bullets--which means someone was firing their guns up there--that is the only way casings would be there" He continued.

As we walked down further into the pit, he showed me where they conduct their target practice.  "There is where we shoot.  that table there is 100 yards (from the target), the one back behind us is 200 yards, and the one back there up on that knoll is 400 yards.  But that is where we are shooting, that direction."

"What is beyond that target area, that berm where you have the targets?"  I asked him.  "11 acres of woods." was Jacques' reply.

Aerial View of the shooting area from Google Earth (targets as depicted larger than actual so they can be seen on map)

On my left was a series of berms, and as we walked over that direction-- I asked if those were ever used for practice.  "Sometimes we set up targets over there, but we haven't lately.  That area is for pistols, 9MM.  But we don't use that area anymore"  he stated.

As we walked back toward the main rifle target berm, he pointed out some spent 9MM casings as well as shotgun shell casings.  "We do some trap-shooting down here as well sometimes, but that type of shot is not going out of our property" He continued.

While I was talking with Mr. Jacques, he received a phone call from a member of the Sheriff's Office Swat Team.  They spoke for a moment and then the call ended.  "They came in 4th place in an

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Bullets over Bellview

First and foremost--I have been an NRA supporter for years, I am a conservative, 2nd Amendment supporter.  I also own guns.

Secondly--I strongly support law enforcement, and I always have (despite how some folks lately want to inaccurately portray me.... Just read this editorial I wrote two and a half  years ago and you will see where I stood on law enforcement then and where I still am today)

With this out of the way--my number one concern is safety.  Number one.  That's why I have been trying to find out who has been firing live ammunition in an abandoned borrow pit near Longleaf Drive.

I have had a rash of phone calls from concerned residents in the Bellview area, particularly the residents that live off of Wymart Road, complaining of bullets raining down on their property.

One resident called just yesterday and said last Saturday there was so much firing she called 911 because bullets were whizzing through her trees in her front yard.  "I'm afraid to let my kids out of the house!" she exclaimed.  She says she has called 911 about the problem and nothing is being done.  This past Saturday, she claims the responding officer said "Nothing can be done about this--the swat team is down there practicing"

Another resident has found a bullet hole in his car, another resident had a bullet lodged in the side of his house, and another resident has fished 3 bullets out of his backyard pool.  Channel 3 did a feature story on this yesterday. 

So with the revelation that in addition to airsoft and paintball guns being fired in the pit-- 9MM pistols and AR15s are also being fired down there--I am concerned.  I have also confirmed with the owner of the pit that  he and some Sheriff's Office personnel are using this location for shooting

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

On WCOA This Moring

I always appreciate the opportunity to come on the radio to discuss topics of interest with the listeners of AM 1370 WCOA.

Today's topics on "Good Morning Pensacola" included the following:

--Massive traffic gridlock in Beulah during construction on Mobile Highway--what caused it, what can be done to ameliorate this problem

--Weapons being fired near Wymart Road near West Florida High School--with bullets turning up in the bottom of pools, in people's cars, etc.   Who is doing this shooting?

--Our Budget situation, and can/will the Governor force the BCC to raise tax rates to pay Sheriff Morgan's budget demand?

--Our recent sign ordinance discussion, and issues surrounding the degree to which a recent supreme court ruling has limited our ability to regulate signs locally

--Priorities going forward as I assume the chairmanship on November 30th.
                   --efficiency of time in meetings
                   --civility in our process

--The ruling allowing Sean's Outpost to continue to operate in the Satoshi Forest area

hear the entire interview here

I always enjoy being asked to come on the radio, and I appreciate WCOA for having me on the show on a regular basis

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Could it be a Lucky's Market?

Could Pensacola's Ever-man Foods be facing new competition from an established, Organic Foods Grocer setting up shop out in Beulah?

As the community of Beulah in District 1 continues to grow, I have wondered about what chain grocery store is looking to open in Beulah. I know something is coming based upon the information I posted last month.  I've spoken to folks I know that are familiar with Winn Dixie, and so far as I understand it, they are not opening a new store in the Pensacola Area.  With two stores apiece on Nine Mile Road already, it is doubtful that either Publix or WalMart will open a third store on the same road. Everman foods recently expanded their downtown store--I doubt they are considering opening another one.  Barnes has closed down, and Greer's supermarket opened a new location earlier this year down on Bauer Road--not sure if they are looking for another store close to the Alabama border (I guess they could be, but I doubt they would be building a new facility vice leasing an already constructed facility.).

I'm not familiar with any other grocery stores looking to open a new location.

So who is coming out to Beulah?  What Grocery Store?

After I posted that a new grocery store was coming to Beulah, complete with several outparcels that may include additional restaurant options for our community (I live here too!)--this generated much discussion on the Facebook "Beulah Scoop site"  So, I decided to ask some questions of some other folks I know and to look on the internet for additional clues. 

In researching some grocery companies that are currently expanding in Florida, I came across Lucky's  Market.  They are a grocery chain founded by two chef's in Colorado back in 2003.  They have an interesting website that lists a lot about their philosophy and culture.  They are focused on organic foods that are "good."  from their website  " "If you don’t want to eat things like pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones, you shouldn’t have to. Natural and organic food shouldn’t be priced out of your reach"

This company opened a brand new store in Panama City just last month, and a recent Tampa Bay Tribune article indicated Lucky's is looking to open 6 more stores in Florida over the next 18 months--although Pensacola was not listed as one of the locations in this article.  But I also know sometimes locations can be added or deleted as these location decisions are finalized.

Could this company, Lucky's Market,  have an eye on Beulah for their next location?  With Navy

Who is Shooting Live Ammunition at the Pits Near Houses on Wymart Road?

A silver sedan, a Blue Dual-Axle Full-Size Pickup truck, and 3 Sheriff's Office Vehicles were parked in front of the Pit last Monday as residents heard many volleys of loud gunfire from a pit off of Longleaf drive (photo courtesy of  a resident)

At a recent meeting of the Lake Francis Neighborhood Watch I attended--the residents there all wanted one answer from me:  Who is shooting live ammunition so close to neighbors and houses on Wymart Road?

This Silver sedan was parked in front of the pit on Monday, November 6th.  (Photo courtesy of a resident)

I told them I would look into this matter and try to figure it out.  Since that time I have spoken to several residents that have found bullets on their property after hearing shots fired at the pit.  One resident found a bullet in his car, and he turned it over to the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.  Another resident told me he has found multiple bullets in his backyard pool.  "They look like 9 MM and 223 rounds.  I collected them from the bottom of my pool, I called the sheriff's office and I turned them in to a deputy" this resident told me.  "If these bullets are coming down in my pool--what's to say they won't hit me or someone else in the neighborhood?" he questioned as we spoke over the phone.

Another nearby resident I spoke with says he has heard loud shots coming from the pit for a while now.  "One night, I heard what sounded like automatic weapons being fired down there--that or a bump stock on a rifle--but it was rapid fire!"  he continued  "I've heard explosions down there too, really loud ones.  I had a recording of this gunfire on my phone for a while, but I accidentally deleted it recently when I was trying to free up space on my phone."  he told me.

I have followed up with code enforcement staff, and they do not have any information on any permitted shooting ranges in this area.  An internet and Facebook search turned up an organization called "Beaver Bayou Battleground" that runs an air-soft gun game in this location from time to time.  They have some interesting drone footage of the events and the course online.  But residents with which I spoke are convinced what they are hearing is not air-soft or paintball guns.  "Absolutely not a paintball gun--nope those are real guns being fired down there!" said a neighbor I spoke with about this.

I have been contacted by the sheriff's office and I have forwarded them pictures of several vehicles that a resident sent to me from this past week. There was a silver sedan, a Blue Full-Sized Pickup Truck, and three sheriff's office vehicles there.  All of these vehicles were parked at the entrance to the pit just this past Monday--a day where lots of shooting was happening.

Yesterday, I received the following text from a concerned resident  "Sorry to text on Saturday but shooting in the pit continues."

I hope that together we are on the verge of solving the mystery of who is un-safely firing weapons down in this pit--I hope we solve this before an innocent bystander is hit by one of these bullets!  With many residents now expressing concern, with several schools very close to this location, we certainly do not need a tragic, preventable gun accident to injure or kill someone.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

My Thoughts on Assuming the Chairmanship

As I prepare to assume the chairmanship of the Board of County Commissioners, I want to reflect on my thoughts on this transition and the year ahead of us.

This past year has been one of the best years of my life, I love this job, and I remain humbled by your support and confidence.  I will try to do the best I can to earn your continued support-but if you disagree with me on something—call me!  Let’s talk, let’s meet & I’ll listen!

Last year we struggled with many challenges as a community, and we have persevered.  Many of the challenges remain, and there will be many more to come no doubt.  But as a board, I see great potential in our combined ability to lead and solve many of these complex problems going forward. 

The greatest single challenge that lies ahead is our budget.  We’re under severe pressure for a number of reasons, and maintaining fiscally conservative stewardship of your money will be our number one priority.  With an expanded homestead exemption waiting in the wings (which will cost the county roughly $5 Million in lost revenue) we’ll start out with even less recurring revenue.  Because I believe we must live within our means, I won’t support raising the millage rate on Escambia County Property owners—which means we must increase our tax base with intelligent, business-friendly decisions that foster growth.

Another concern is our jail.  We’ve selected a firm, the plans are set, and this facility should be completed within the next 26 Months.  In addition to finishing our new jail, I am laser focused on finding creative ways to safely reduce our costs associated with running this facility.

Economic development is another important topic that is crucial to our area.  As the Pensacola area continues to diversify her employer base, more jobs will become available, and employment outcomes for residents will continue to improve-- but we must continue to strive for jobs diversification in our area.  Manufacturing, high-tech jobs, and continued maintenance and growth of the small business sector are vital.  We will focus on diversification while simultaneously supporting the final stages of acquiring OLF8 in Beulah to further add to our jobs base.  

Finally, I look forward to making the process of government more efficient and civil. 

Every hour we meet, our staff is idle in the chamber, unable to be in the field doing their jobs. Moreover, when we have marathon meetings that last for 5,6, 7 or more hours—we are alienating a segment of the public that wants to participate.  We should be prepared for meetings in advance of the meetings and utilize only the time necessary to conduct our discussions and deliberations--- and not one minute more. 

Whether it’s a budget disagreement or a controversial decision the board must make—we must be civil and refrain from making principled disagreements on policy and finance into a zero-sum game of absolutes devolving into ad hominem personal attacks.  This must end. The motto I’ll strive to emulate as your chairman will be to praise in public, be critical in private, and treat citizens, fellow elected officials, and every employee with respect and dignityjust as we want to be treated.

As I transition into the chairmanship-- I want Escambia County citizens to know two key things:  I thank you for giving me the honor and the privilege of serving you, and I will work as hard as humanly possible to improve our county in my time here.