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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Blame Game Part I

It is easy to place blame on others when things go sideways at any point within the criminal justice system

There have been lots of discussions in the county about how we can safely lower our jail's population to save taxpayer dollars, while simultaneously maintaining public safety as the highest priority.

I spoke with a panel of experts on the subject last month, and the video of that meeting is here.

I spoke honestly and candidly with the ACLU about this topic, and that video is here.

We have many individuals that linger in our jail for non-violent, low-level crimes, and we ought to be able to find a way to put such inmates on ankle monitors or pre-trial release to free up jail space for the truly violent offenders in our community.

But this requires teamwork.  More importantly, this will require that each entity that participates in this process works together---no chest beating, no grandstanding, and most importantly--no playing the blame game.

What is the blame game?

The blame game goes like this.  The police arrest the suspect, suspect is charged by the State Attorney and defended by the Public Defender.  Depending upon the severity of the crime, the suspect is either taken immediately to jail, released on his/her own recognizance, or the case is settled or not prosecuted by the State Attorney when it is brought before the judge.

The judges are the linchpin in the process--and they have the toughest job so far as I can tell.  The decisions they make can have life and death consequences---and Heaven forbid a judge gives a break to a seemingly non-violent offender who then while on pre-trial release re-offends with violence.  At this point it becomes "Open-Season" on such judges, and everyone piles on and the judges cannot respond due to ethics rules.

Recently in San Francisco, a young offender, with a prior felony arrest and conviction, was released just a week after being re-arrested for illegally possessing a weapon.  The judge in this case followed a locally developed protocol, but unfortunately she was given a faulty score which allowed this young man to go free.  Tragically, within a week this man committed a murder in conjunction with a botched robbery.  Now everyone in that case is in hiding and the public and the media want that judge's head on a stick.

Judges locally have been lambasted in the press for attempting to show compassion to offenders who show potential for turning their lives around.

Negative statements have publicly been made about judges that downward depart from State Attorney recommended sentences.

So, it seems that when there is no upside, no chance for rebutting inaccurate, false information about a case by judges when a jail release goes wrong--what chance do we really have to work with Judges that become the community's pinatas when a seeminly non-violent jail releasee commits a violent crime?

Let's face it:  It is easy for the Police to beat their collective chests and say "We arrested them multiple times--and the judges release them!"  (While simultaneously not mentioning that often the arrest and concomitant evidence becomes legally inadmissible due to procedural errors by such arresting officers)

It's easy for the State Attorney to "Throw the book at poor criminals" because that is popular and makes for spectacular, newsworthy press conferences when a harsh sentence is imposed.  (What is not discussed is the large number of cases the SA does not prosecute for a variety of reasons.  Another thing not to be discussed or even mentioned are the cases not pursued by the SA for various "reasons" some of which cases  focus on popular, locally elected politicians.  Even in cases where evidence of malfeasance in office is delivered on a silver platter--sometimes these cases never get properly investigated--they just get pushed aside--they simply do not make for good optics and nifty press conferences.....)

 It's easy to say the public defenders are overwhelmed and understaffed and are doing the best they can.

So there are a lot of things that are easy.  Playing the "Blame Game" is easy.  It is the status quo.

So how can we fix that?--we will discuss this in part II.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BCC's Jail Bid Award to be Protested....

The bid award for construction of Escambia County's new jail has been informally protested-- meaning the decision to ratify the board's action at last Thursday's COW will be stayed pending the completion of this protest process.  Step one is informal, with the director of purchasing and relevant staff hearing the facts of the case and the director of purchasing making a preliminary determination.  If the protest is dismissed at this level, step two (if the challenger wishes to appeal) involves hiring a special master to hear the case, with the special master's decision being brought to the BCC for their consideration/action at the next regularly scheduled meeting.  The BCC action on the special master's decision is the final step in the process, unless the losing party wishes to take the matter to circuit court--which is an option available after the BCC's process is completed.

Here is the email from the director of purchasing announcing the protest....

Notice of the meeting tomorrow (open to the public) is here...

Here is the email from Yates Construction protesting the bid award...

Monday, August 14, 2017

Why I Won't Be at the ECAT Town Hall Meeting Tonight....

I fully support everyone's right to discuss mass transportation in Escambia County, and I fully support the ATU's right to hold a public "town-hall" meeting this evening at PSC to gin up support for ECAT.

 I think the meeting will be well attended and the press will certainly cover it.

I don't know if this meeting was advertised--- so I'm not sure we can attend this meeting and speak, even if we wanted to.

I have heard that at least two of my peers on the BCC will be attending this meeting, and this is 100% up to them to make this decision.

For my part, I won't be coming only because we have all received legal guidance from our attorney and the attorneys we engage for labor negotiations not to attend this meeting.

Add to this the fact that we are currently in discussions with ATU to bring the drivers in-house in order to save about $1 Million dollars or so in insurance costs.

In addition to this, all 5 of the county commissioners are being sued by ATU in our official capacities as County Commissioners, and Doug Underhill is being sued in his personal capacity as well.

The basis of this litigation is the allegation that the BCC violated the free-speech right of the union.

So for these and no other reasons, I will not be in attendance tonight--as I do not see any positive outcome to be achieved by my being there, but there is a significant downside that I fully understand.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Attendance Boundary for New Beulah Middle School goes East past HWY 29...

Today the Escambia County School Board held a meeting where they discussed the new attendance zone boundaries for Beulah Middle School.  I took a screen shot from the video, that is why this picture is of poor quality.  I was proud of the fact that our newly elected school board member from district 1, Kevin Adams, took issue with the extent of the boundaries and how they extend so far to the East.  I share his concern, and I believe the way this is drawn it will exacerbate existing traffic issues in Beulah.  We will see how this is eventually voted, but this concerns me.

More importantly, it concerns me because I am well aware of the tremendous growth Beulah is experiencing right now, and I knew this several years ago when I voted AGAINST this middle school...I knew then what I know to be true today--our middle school enrollment when compared to our capacity illustrated that we had sufficient capacity at that time to simply re-zone the boundaries and work within our existing facilities.  Our district is experiencing declining enrollment--so why build this brand new giant middle school was my question.  I strongly felt we needed another ELEMENTARY school in Beulah--and I know I was right because even after we finish Kingsfield Elementary and we start taking half of Beulah's students up there---we will still need portables at Beulah elementary and we will be building a stand alone cafeteria there (at the expense of additional PE facilities)

So, in my opinion, we went with the wrong plan, and now the zoning is going to complicate traffic.  This new zoning just makes it much more urgent for us to get our new off-ramp from the I-10 in Beulah ASAP!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

We Already Have 100' of Right of Way (ROW) on Beulah Road--We need 104.5

I have asked staff for the map and they have provided it.  We need 104.5 feet total to upgrade Beulah Road from a two-lane road to a four-lane connector that will eventually tie into I-10.  The segment of  this roadway that will be constructed south of I-10 and north of 9-mile road will require just 104.5 feet---and we have 100 feet already!  We will not be swallowing subdivisions or homes to build this.

Here is the map and overlay (not precisely to scale, but much more so than the DOT/Atkins renderings) that shows the county already possesses nearly enough ROW to do the project.

What is the Truth About the ROW Needed in Beulah between I-10 and 9 Mile Road?

Many residents were enraged the other night for a number of good reasons as it pertained to the Beulah Beltway project.  Many were upset about the crowd size, the small venue, the AC that didn't work, and many other legitimate reasons.

One reason several were upset was that mixed messages were being given, by staff and others at the meeting,  regarding just how much ROW will be needed to construct the southbound portion of the interchange from I-10 to 9-Mile Road.

Therefore, I have asked staff to go on record so that we are speaking with one voice as it pertains to this aspect of the project.  We need 104.5 feet.  We have 100 feet already.  These are the facts as it pertains to the southbound section of this project....See the County Attorney's Email below....

On WCOA this Morning....

A wide variety of relevant topics to be discussed including the jail, ECAT, Budget, etc.

Podcast part 1 is here

Podcast part 2 is here