Guidelines

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, September 21, 2017

What is the Status of Inmate Health as of 9-21-2017?



At the workshop earlier today, several issues were discussed pertaining to our health facilities in the County Jail.

We heard from Director of the Jail Medical Clinic Dr. Paul Henning, and we also heard from Corrections Director Tamrya Jarvis.  The discussion settled around exactly what our inmate health picture looked like, a snapshot if you will.  We have heard about lots of inmates needing dialysis treatments, we have heard about patients on expensive AIDS medicines, etc.

This very informative update, below, was provided by Corrections Financial Manager Whitney Lucas.

"As of today, at 2:30pm, there were 24 HIV patients and 2 dialysis patients incarcerated at the Escambia County Jail.  To date there have been 304 dialysis treatments provided to 8 incarcerated individuals since October 2016.  These treatments come with a price tag of $650/each plus transportation costs.  Dr. Henning was asked to provide the number of patients receiving chronic care within the facility at this time.  In the month of July 2017 there were 118 scheduled routine/follow-up appointments.  August 2017 saw an increase in these visits resulting in 206 appointments.  It is important to understand that these figures do not represent the total number of patients held at the facility with chronic ailments as there are some who may not have been scheduled for their follow-up/routine visit during that two month period.  The utilization/cost of EpiPens was also discussed this morning.  According to our records we are currently remitting $278.73 for a 2 pack of these."


Wednesday, September 20, 2017

When is it Appropriate for the Taxpayers to Pay Legal Bills for a Commissioner?

Should the taxpayers pay for the legal defense of a County Commissioner?


I've been sued three times in my life.  Each and every time it sucked.

I was sued by a drunk-driver's insurance company 4 years after the drunk-driver totaled my VW rabbit in 1985 on Navy Blvd.  State Farm paid for my representation and settled the claim in 1989.

I was sued in 2002 over an alleged ADA violation in a retail space I rented in San Diego California.  I paid more than $30K out of my pocket to correct the facility deficiencies and to settle the suit.  Lloyd's of  London, my commercial liability insurance carrier at the time, initially refused to provide defense or coverage -- so I hired a lawyer to sue them for bad faith and they begrudgingly sent some money to help defend what was a frivolous lawsuit.  It sucked. It sucked badly.

I was sued by an individual from Polk County Florida in my official capacity as a school board member over our Board's refusal to comply with what turned out to be an unlawful public records request made of the Escambia County School District in 2009.  In this instance, as a sitting school board member, the suit was brought against me for something I did in my official capacity as an elected official---and therefore the school district provided a legal defense.  We were victorious in this matter.

I list these three items because the circumstances of a lawsuit dictate who pays for legal defense.

Doug Underhill, the sitting Commissioner for Escambia County in District 2, is seeking taxpayer funding of his legal defense for a current suit that is being brought against him and another individual for an incident that was not a part of an official act.  The revelation of the private chat occurred after Doug was a commissioner, however the chat occurred before Doug was a commissioner.  This is a sticky wicket for sure--and I understand the request for coverage but before coverage is provided, there are some serious questions that must be asked, because to pay for these fees, if in contravention to statutes, puts commissioners at risk of making an illegal expenditure.

I have done significant reading and research on this issue, and I do not feel we can legally justify paying Commissioner Underhill’s legal fees in connection with the lawsuit by Gene Valentino—because the action that brought the litigation was not done in connection with any official duty by Doug ( he was not elected to the position when the action at issue occurred) and I don’t believe a legitimate case can be made that the taxpayers via the BCC paying for Doug’s defense serves any legitimate public purpose.  Both prongs must be met for a public official to be provided with legal defense paid from public monies.


 111.07 Fl Statutes, AGOs  91-59 and 2013-15 as well as Thornber vCity of Fort Walton Beach speak to this topic.

Even though Doug has stated at a previous meeting (July 26th) that he would be paying for his own legal representation in this matter.....

video

......I get it that he is able to change his mind.  But just because he has changed his mind doesn't change the fact that we have to be smart and we can't violate law.


I’ll be suggesting that the board move very cautiously should we even entertain the idea of saying yes to paying Commissioner Underhill's legal fees.  I’ll suggest that we first seek an opinion from the comptroller-as she has potential liability under Ch 129 (129.09)-so we should ask for her opinion on whether or not she feels this is indeed an appropriate expenditure;  I will want her on board before action is taken. 
A Clerk of the Court has liability under 129.09 for paying an illegal charge.


Additionally, I believe an Attorney General’s Opinion should be sought by the BCC asking about the legality of this expenditure specifically before the board takes any action; we have liability that includes potential removal from office for malfeasance under 129.08 if we “pay an illegal charge against the county.”  Doug wasn’t the commissioner at the time of the event, and the defense of what he is being sued for does not serve a public purpose so far as I can tell.  I don’t feel it is appropriate to pay his fees for that case, and moreover I think it could be illegal to do so.

A County Commissioner has liability under 129.08 for paying an illegal charge against the county.



On WCOA This Morning



I was a guest this morning on 1370 WCOA's Good Morning Pensacola Show.

Areas of discussion included:

-Budget

-Beach Traffic/Parking

-OLFX/OLF8 Land Swap

-Upcoming Meetings/Events in District 1

You can listen to the interview here

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Beulah Interchange Meeting to be Postponed



Due to Hurricane Irma's impacts on Florida last week--the FDOT presentation to the BCC that had been scheduled for the Committee of the Whole Meeting on 9-14-2017 has been pushed to this week's Agenda Review Session at 9:00 AM.  This report from the FDOT was to be on the subject of the Beulah Interchange.

After the meeting this week, a subsequent, evening town-hall style meeting will be scheduled.  We had tentatively scheduled this town-hall for Monday, September 25th at Hillcrest Baptist Church--however this date will need to be changed and a new date will be announced soon for this evening meeting.

Once we have the date, we will post it on myescambia.com as well as other social media platforms.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

So Where Did Staff Find $3.75 Million?

Unlike this picture below--I can guarantee it was not lying around, sitting under a mattress somewhere.

There is no money "under the mattress" at the BCC

Staff has been put under significant pressure to find additional money for employee pay raises;  to their credit, they have proposed several ways to fund us with additional recurring revenue to help with our current budget crunch.  These sources are listed below.....



How Should the BCC Prioritize the $3.75 Million in Additional Recurring Revenue?

One of the most intriguing aspects of last night's meeting was the presentation on newly found, recurring revenue that can be injected into this year's budget.  We did not spend too much time deciding where it will go-however I believe it is all but a certainty that these funds will be used for pay raises.

But how should the BCC prioritize the $3.75 Million in additional recurring revenue that was presented to us last night?

I have my idea, and I am certain the other commissioners do as well.  the below slides list some of the ways this money could be split, in order to maximize the number of employees that can receive a raise.

I, for one, will not spend nearly the entire $3.75 Million on one group, all but assuring all others forego pay raises this year.  For me, this idea is a non-starter.

I will start with first responders (Firefighters, EMS, paramedics, dispatchers, Corrections Officers, Road Corrections Officers, and Sheriff's Deputies) and work my way outward to the rest of the employees of the BCC, the ECSO, the Supervisor of Elections office, and the Clerk's office.

If we do this right, everyone can receive at least a small pay increase;  this is the direction I am most likely to go.....The final decision on this money and how it will be spent will be made at the BCC's second and final public hearing on the budget, to be held on 9-26-2017 at 5:31PM.


what would some of these pay changes look like and cost?  see below...

....Below are some of the costs associated with implementing other pay rate/pay raise plans....




First Budget Hearing



Yesterday evening the Board of County Commissioners held our first of two required budget hearings.  The second and final hearing will occur on September 26th at 5:31 PM in the commission's chambers.

Last night's two-hour meeting was a mix of satisfaction and consternation for me...Satisfied that we did what we needed to do--consternation in that we did not settle the issue of where to allocate the $3.75Million dollars staff was able to identify and put on the table.  more about this later...but first, the meeting itself.

After hearing a lot of rhetoric about how we don't want to cut any items, can't cut, haven't cut "Squat"-- I put a bulls eye on one huge target--the $455K that we spend to partially fund Escambia Community Clinics.  This organization does great things for the medically vulnerable in the community, so my idea to slash $100K from their budget was not a reflection upon their worth or the way they do their work.  It was simply a function of the fact that ECC receives about 30% of all of the discretionary allotment pool for all of our outside agencies.  They employ 12 Medical Doctors (Starting pay $160,000 and several work at other hospitals as well), have multiple funding sources, and according to the director who spoke at the podium---they could have absorbed a cut this size.
So I said I would support cutting $100K from that group to get the ball rolling.  Nobody wanted to touch it. "If we can't even agree to cuts from this group, one of the largest outside organization recipients of funding--I doubt we will agree to cut anything"  I stated.  I was right.  I then suggested we reduce each group's allocation by 15%--again, nobody had an appetite to do this.  At our last workshop, we had all agreed to keep the funding levels where we left them, but I would have been willing to cut more.  People talked about cuts--but in reality only certain entities or groups were or

Monday, September 11, 2017

Budget Breakthrough?

There is a potential budget breakthrough coming;  It will be discussed at an upcoming BCC meeting.  Here are the details...
We may have found an additional $3.7 Million Dollars in non-recurring funds that could be used for employee raises.  We will discuss these potential sources and uses of funds at Tuesday's first budget hearing.

WCOA Interview 9-11-2017



This morning my interview with Don Parker and Jim Sanborn was broadcast on AM 1370 WCOA.

We had a great discussion about numerous topics--to include: the Jail, the bid protest of the jail, the global settlement of the jail explosion from 2014, the current state of the budget, the state of the disagreement with Sheriff Morgan over his budget request, and also a lengthy discussion of the disbursement process of the County Law Enforcement Trust Fund.

I also briefly discussed what could be a budget breakthrough that could provide for employee raises.

I always appreciate the opportunity to appear on this program!

Full interview can be heard here 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Horse Stall Fees Waived for Hurricane Irma Evacuees!

Escambia County's Equestrian Center is waiving per-horse stall fees for Irma Evacuees


There has been much discussion yesterday evening and also today on social media about Escambia County's Equestrian Center's use fees for horse owners affected by the storm.

I have spoken with administrator Jack Brown about this matter, and his staff have advised that the stall fees per horse (Typically $18.00 daily) will be waived for non-local horse owners who are evacuees from Hurricane Irma.

Owners will be responsible for providing their own shavings (or purchasing these from us)and also owners will be responsible for feeding (and providing the feed) for their horses.

We will allow for the horses to remain in our center for a reasonable period of time after the storm, in order to allow for evacuees to plan for return to their respective communities.

We have a number of RV spaces available as well, upon which we pay TDT fees, water and electricity charges.  These spaces will be available for use by horse owners at our customary rates as availability and space permits.

A press release describing all of this will be coming out later this afternoon.

Equestrian Center Information:

 7750 Mobile Hwy, Pensacola, FL 32526


Friday, September 8, 2017

There is a lot Going on in Beulah!



Take a look at the map above.  There is a lot of building going on in Beulah--tons of it.  Right now, our infrastructure is not sufficient to handle everything that is happening.  Some folks are angry, they do not like the growth and wish things could be the way they "used to be."

Unfortunately, growth has come to our area, and so long as it is managed properly, growth is good.  Navy Federal Credit Union bringing 10,000 jobs to district 1 is a GREAT THING!

Developing OLF 8--will be a great thing!

I just want district 1 to know I am working hard to get the infrastructure modernized to accommodate the growth;  There is much to do but once we do it, we will all be better off for it. Making 9 Mile road a 4-lane road, adding the interchange in Beulah, finding another north-south connector road between Mobile Highway and 9-Mile road, getting the exit out of NFCU through the visitor's center.  All these things and more are being worked.

We will have more jobs, a larger tax base, more amenities, restaurants, and retail facilities.  This is all coming, and once we have it, our community will be even better than it is already.

We just have to have patience and get through the construction and planning phases.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Watch the Video of the D1 TownHall Held in Beulah Tuesday Night

Lots of important issues were covered and discussed during the town-hall meeting we held Tuesday evening in Beulah.  Staff answered many questions, and we discussed future growth, OLF8/OLFX land-swap, road improvements, The Beulah Beltway and impacts on current residents, the new school in Beulah (Cameo appearance by D1 school board member Kevin Adams) Mass Transit, the New Jail, Stormwater issues, and yes, I discussed this year's contentious budget environment.  Watch the video in High Definition below.


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Could there be a Budget Breakthrough Coming?

There is a potential budget breakthrough coming this year, stay tuned for more details....

As I have said all along, I won't support raises for one group ahead of others, regardless of what I am called and regardless of how I am attacked personally for this stance.

I've done public budgets before--this is my 11th year doing them--and nobody gets 100% of what they want ever--that is just the nature of the beast.  If everyone gets everything they demand then nobody will operate in a fiscally responsible manner because people always want more.  This is an axiom of truth ringing especially true in the public sector.  I have said I support all first responders and I value what they all do for us to keep us safe.  I can't imagine that this is not a universal feeling shared by our entire community and nation---especially as we witness the heroism in the face of Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

But should we play favorites though?  Is one "group" more important than others? Should one "group" get pay raises when others do not?  I think if we start playing favorites this will lead to big problems and that's why we need to be balanced in our approach to giving pay increases if the budget allows.

Because If you are dying on a highway after a massive traffic collision, believe me the EMTs and paramedics are the most important public servants in your world at that moment.

When your house is on fire--the most important public employee to you is the firefighter who is rescuing your family, your pets, and trying to save your house.

When you have a massive, ongoing, and significant drainage problem threatening your house( as many in District 1 do currently)--County Engineering is the most important group to you.

If you're poor and you get hit with a big legal issue--the public defender, probation officer, and the judge are the priority.

And yes, when a prowler is breaking down your back door in the middle of the night--the police who respond to save you and catch the bad guys are the most important people in your world.

So who is the most important public employee?  Attempting to define this is a fool's errand that  I won't  run.

So it is with great relief and with a measure of optimism I report that, without raising year over year property tax millage rates on existing property owners, there may be a significant breakthrough coming that will benefit all employees this year.  

It is a possibility and it is because folks have been working diligently behind the scenes despite the negative attacks, despite vocally prolific  naysayers that remain unaware of the work taking place behind the scenes in county staff offices.  People are working, people are trying to do the best they can despite some community elements publicly proclaiming they "have no confidence" in the BCC.

All I'll say at this point is stay tuned Friday.  Look for more details to be unveiled.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

District 1 Town Hall Meeting Tonight



Our next town hall meeting will be held tonight, Tuesday September 29th at 6:00 PM at Beulah Elementary School, 6201 Helms Road, Pensacola, 32526.

Issues to be discussed this evening include:

--Growth Management, discussion on growth in NW Pensacola/Beulah area

--OLF 8/OLFX Land Swap with the Navy

--Traffic/roadway Improvements scheduled/contemplated for the area

--Budget Issues confronting the BCC (Including the Sheriff's Budget Issue)

--Jail Update

--Update on Mass Transit

--Library for District 1

--Beulah Fire Station Renovations

--Master Plan for Beulah

I look forward to meeting and hearing from interested constituents, and staff will be on hand to answer constituent questions as well.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Bi-Partisan Cooperation from U.S. Senators on Beulah Traffic Issues....

We received this letter today from the office of U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D) Florida.  It is a joint statement of support signed by Sen. Nelson and Senator Marco Rubio (R) Florida.  This letter supports Navy Federal Credit Union's attempt to help with traffic issues in Beulah that are problematic for not only NFCU's employees--but also for citizens that live and work in the Beulah area.  I hope that this letter helps to cut through some of the red-tape and allows NFCU to help this part of Escambia County.  I'm very appreciative of the Bi-Partisan cooperation on this issue--and I am also very appreciative of NFCU's leadership for working hard to help!  See the letter, below.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Coffee With The Commissioner, 8-22-2017

Thanks to everyone who woke up early to attend this morning's Coffee with the Commissioner event at the Hardee's on Wilde Lake Blvd.

We had a great crowd of folks, and we discussed a broad range of issues--from the contentious budget to the trash outside on Wilde Lake Blvd.  We talked about the process for the county taking a roadway, we discussed who is responsible for cutting back vegetation that blocks "school zone" signs. We discussed street lights for Avondale, a traffic light at the Beulah Road/Mobile Highway Intersection, The Beulah Beltway project,  the OLF8 OLFX  land swap, and stormwater management issues.   We even  had several folks that just wanted to stop by to listen and say hello.

So, to all who participated, again I say thank you!

After hearing from all the folks in attendance, and after administrator Jack Brown spoke to the group, I discussed some upcoming projects for which I will advocate utilizing D1 discretionary funds:

1.  Shoulder improvements for Beulah Road, Klondike Road, Eight Mile Creek

2.  A Master Plan for Beulah

3.  A District 1 Library/Community Center/Senior Center

4.  An addition to the Beulah Fire Department to add bunk house and a kitchen facility.

5. Sidewalks on the west side



I reminded everyone about next Tuesday night's District 1 Town Hall meeting that will be at 6:00 at Beulah Elementary School.  I'm pretty confident we will have a good crowd for this upcoming meeting, and I look forward to it!


Budget 2017 Part II: What has Prompted the Attack on the BCC?

Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions." S. Alinski

So I have gone into this budget with an open mind and with open eyes. I've done budgets for more than a decade, and the process so far as I can tell is moving along toward completion...... We have gone through a zero-based departmental review, and we have cut multiple positions and we have also shaved expenditures for outside, charitable entities (while not eliminating them entirely). Our employees are not slated to receive raises this year, and we are working on a plan to try to save money on our out-of-county inmate housing.  In short--we are trying to find ways to increase the ECSO budget.

But the process has now been made personal, regrettably.

I have stated that I want to work to see raises not just for LEOs, but also for dispatchers, corrections officers, EMT's, Fire Fighters, and Paramedics.  I value all first responders.  Would it be appropriate to find money for one group over the others?  I think not.

Although I have expressed a willingness to work cooperatively to find a compromise, this has been met with ridicule and condescension.

I have asked to meet with the sheriff after he initiated contact with me personally via a series of sarcastic text messages--and he has said NO.  I have asked him four times, in writing, and he has either ignored the requests, ridiculed them, or denied them by saying "I don't participate in futile efforts."

The sheriff has rebuked our Administrator's efforts to meet with him (as the BCC had directed) saying only "we'll see you in Tallahassee."  The sheriff has stated he will appeal his budget to the Governor unless the BCC fully funds his 8% year over year budget increase.  "All or nothing!" this is what we are hearing from the ECSO.
The BCC asked Jack to meet with the Sheriff to discuss a compromise......this (above) was the result....


(I personally do not believe such an appeal, if it occurs, will end successfully for ECSO should it actually be conducted; it is not like the People's Court where one side walks out with a verdict in a tidy, 30 minute process.....)  But this decision is totally up to the sheriff--it is his right to do this-I simply think working cooperatively to find a solution is the better route.

Maybe that is not possible this year though...

Lately, the BCC (and me personally) have been featured on billboards and on facebook videos--portrayed as people that do not value law enforcement, do not "like" the sheriff, do not understand the needs of the sheriff's office, and do not care about public safety.  We've been ridiculed, I've been called a "Bullshit Artist" on a radio program, been told I can't read, can't hear, don't "get it", can't find the nose on my face, etc. etc.

I truly want to work to make this year's budget work for everyone involved--but it's hard to do while

Monday, August 21, 2017

Budget 2017 Part I-The Lay of the Land



I've been a county commissioner for just over 8 months.  This is not my first trip to the budget rodeo, though.... been there and done that for a decade on the school board.  And we went through the recession and made tough choices when I served on that board-- we came out on the other side of the recession in 2011 and 2012 with bruises and cuts but otherwise we made it through.  In 2008-2009 we cut more than $40 million from the School District's budget-----2009-2010 was tough and 2010-2011 we got some relief from the Federal Government in the form of temporary stimulus money.  Through all of these ups and downs -- the school buses still ran, lunches were served, and students learned.  While I did not agree with every aspect of the budget decisions of those days, I'll say this:  Decisions were not always popular, yet disagreements were not personalized so far as I remember.

Fast forward to my new job as one member of the 5 person Board of County Commissioners.  It is dynamic, there are lots of moving parts, and we are responsible for setting the budget for not only our own organization, but we have a hand in setting the budgets for the other constitutional offices as well--to include the property appraiser, the tax collector, the supervisor of elections, the clerk of the courts, and the sheriff's office.  We have had initial budget workshops, multiple meetings, and administrator Jack Brown, as he is required to do, has presented the board with a balanced (tentative) budget.  The property appraiser's office and the tax collector's office budgets have statutorily dictated, formulaic budgets approved by State offices-so we exercise limited control over those budgets other than to fund them.  We have had no issues with those budgets, one is getting a very small increase (tax collector) and one will be receiving a modest increase of just over 4% (property appraiser).

The Clerk of the Courts and the Supervisor of Elections offices are both under our budgetary auspices and control, and both of these offices are receiving budget reductions this year of between 1-2%.  Neither of these offices is being funded for employee pay increases.  While nobody is happy-I have received no complaints from anyone (publicly or in emails) from either of these departments regarding their budgets for this year.

The Sheriff's office is a bit different. I'm still working out the best way to tackle this tough issue.  We work with the ECSO, based upon their budget request that is submitted yearly to the BCC, to fund their operations to a level that is adequate for them to carry out their constitutional, law enforcement functions.  For the past 5 years, the BCC has funded the ECSO with budgetary INCREASES averaging 4% yearly.  This has been adequate to allow for the BCC to fund the sheriff for 3% pay increases for deputies for the last 4 years running.  In addition to this, the ECSO has historically been the largest single recipient of LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) revenue--with the ECSO receiving $52+ million from this source over the last 10 year period.  This year, the ECSO has requested an 8% increase over what was requested and received last year.   8%!  This year, BCC employees have been

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

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

On AM1620 Discussing the Beulah Beltway Town Hall.....



I was asked to be on AM1620 this morning to discuss the meeting at Plainview Baptist Church Monday night.

Podcast is here.

We Have to Be Smart With our Jail Spending....

I am a Republican.

I am a fiscal Conservative.

I want violent offenders locked up and kept incarcerated!

........But we are spending way too much money on our Jail and this is killing our ability to fund needed infrastructure repairs and public safety.

We need to work together on this problem, we need to work collaboratively (as County Commissioners that own the Jail) with Judges, Prosecutors, Law Enforcement, Public Defenders, and our Jail staff.  Can we lower the jail population safely and save our taxpayers $ Millions?  I think we need to.....

                                      This video is a well produced, 4 minute video that captures
                                       the essence of this issue...


Monday, August 7, 2017

Here is What I Want Beulah Residents to Know

The project to connect the interstate to 9-Mile road at Beulah road will require a total of 104.5 feet.


104.5 feet total.  See the diagram below, from the DOT study....

The southbound artery from the I-10 to Beulah road will be 104.5 feet in width total.  Currently, Beulah road and associated ROW encompass 100 feet.

So to all of those who are concerned that the 4-laning of Beulah Road from the I-10 to 9-Mile road will "Swallow" entire subdivisions, I want you to know that we currently have 100 feet with the existing Beulah Road, and we need a whopping 4.5 feet more to do what is pictured above.

No Subdivisions swallowed, no homes demolished---particularly if we choose alternative 5--the #1 rated alternative.  For more information visit www.beulahbeltway.com


Alternative 5 is the highest rated option of the 7 alternative corridors for the Beulah Beltway project....


I Apologize for Tonight's "Cluster" of a Meeting......

Our meeting tonight was poorly planned.  I personally apologize to all citizens that attended tonight....We will do a better job at next month's rescheduled meeting...


The room was not big enough.

Our meeting tonight was poorly planned.  I personally apologize to all citizens that attended tonight....We will do a better job at next month's rescheduled meeting...


There were not enough chairs for the folks that came to the meeting.
Our meeting tonight was poorly planned.  I personally apologize to all citizens that attended tonight....We will do a better job at next month's rescheduled meeting...


Tempers flared as folks in the back of the room struggled to hear the speakers in the front.

Our meeting tonight was poorly planned.  I personally apologize to all citizens that attended tonight....We will do a better job at next month's rescheduled meeting...


And then the breaking point came when some in the crowd demanded that we immediately cancel and re-schedule the meeting.

One attendee, as I was attempting to calm the room, began screaming about the temperature and the lack of room and his inability to hear----and the whole thing devolved from there....

So to all of those who made an effort to come to tonight's meeting--I apologize.  This meeting was a cluster, there are no two ways about it.

But the good news for those that stayed is that we were eventually able to discuss this project with dozens of citizens, and a lot of folks left with a better understanding of the timeline for construction of this beltway connector  and the amount of land needed to construct the project.  I passed out 50 business cards and everyone that contacts me will get a response.

Additionally--we announced another meeting about this project will be scheduled for mid September--at which time much more up-to-date information will be presented and a LARGER, AIR-CONDITIONED venue will be acquired for the meeting.

But, there is no sugar-coating the pill--tonight's meeting was an epic failure and I apologize for this to all that attended.  We will do better, I will do better at the next meeting.

Friday, August 4, 2017

How Governments Can Work Together Effectively

The Escambia BCC and School District may be teaming up to enhance fire safety awarenss--this is a great example of how local governments can work together for the common good... 


Yesterday at the Escambia BCC workshop we discussed many issues of importance.  One of the biggest early discussions was about fire safety.  After two tragic losses of life to fires over the last several weeks--we all bounced ideas back and forth about how to better get the message out about the importance of fire safety and utilization of inexpensive smoke detectors.

An inexpensive smoke detector and an inexpensive battery can save lives.  If there is not a smoke detector in a home, or if there is one and it is not maintained properly with occasional checks and twice-yearly battery changes---this condition can lead to tragedy not unlike a traffic fatality that could have been prevented had a car's occupant only worn their seat-belt...

This awareness of the value of fire prevention is an area where local entities can work together better to achieve a desired outcome.  I think the BCC and the Escambia County School Board should work together on this.

The BCC's morning discussion revolved around previous efforts by the county to provide free smoke alarms via door to door campaigns in neighborhoods stricken with poverty and blight.  This noble effort has been worthwhile yet the effectiveness of this approach was questioned.

I suggested that we work together with the school board to help get the message out to an even wider audience--and to identify more families that could utilize assistance with installation of smoke detectors in their homes/apartments.

We have open houses coming up in the next three weeks in our local schools, and if we can come to an agreement with the school district we would like to bring a uniformed fire fighter to each open house to describe available programs for smoke detector/carbon monoxide detector installations.  I think this could be an extremely effective way to reach some families that need this assistance--as these open houses are well attended by families.

I also suggested that we request to be allowed to give occasional messages over the school district's call-out phone system, particularly around spring and fall, to remind folks to change out the batteries in their existing smoke detectors twice yearly.  A good time to remember to do this is during the time changes in the spring and fall.

If we can work together with the school district on this outreach effort--we could potentially save lives.  Let's do this.  Let's prevent the next tragic yet preventable loss of life locally by working together to leverage our efforts.

Administrator Jack Brown has already reached out to the school district to see if we can partner with them in this endeavor to keep kids and families safe--and we await their (hopefully receptive) response.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Misinformation Creates Panic, Confusion, and Anger

Although the swath depicted in this map might look like a "subdivision swallower"--in reality the additional width needed, over and above what we already have with Beulah Raod, is 4.5 feet.......


"We are thinking of selling our home and leaving Escambia County"  came the exasperated voice on the other end of the line.  "How could this be allowed to happen?--we love our home and we have already had to move once due to noise encroachment--are we going to have to move again?" he continued.

The issue is the southbound connector from the Beulah Beltway project.  Multiple alternatives for the location of this proposed route are presented at the website www.beulahbeltway.com.

The drawings are not to scale.  "Sir--we're not going to tear your house down, these drawings are not to scale."  I explained.

Apparently, someone was handing out flyers in a few Beulah neighborhoods lamenting the potential that 300 homes and families might have to be "re-located" as a result of this new southbound artery being constructed.

Here is the deal:  for the southbound artery--we need only about 104.5 feet to construct this connector.  Currently, Beulah road and existing ROW equals about 100 feet----so yes we may need to acquire an additional 2.25 feet from both sides of the existing Beulah road to accommodate the new southbound road.  I think we can get 2.25 feet from both sides without tearing down any
subdivisions.

The project will be discussed at a meeting this coming Monday afternoon--here are the details and additional contact information about this project for all interested persons:

The Beulah Beltway Alternative Corridor Evaluation Public Meeting from 5:30-7 p.m.

Plainview Baptist Church

1101 W. Nine Mile Road Monday, Aug. 7

For more information, visit the project website at www.beulahbeltway.com.

If you have any questions regarding the proposed project or this meeting, please contact Atkins Project Manager Gregory Allen, P.E. at 850-466-4113 or gregory.allen@atkinsglobal.com, or Escambia County Project Manager David Forte at 850-595-3404 or dvforte@myescambia.com.

District 1 Getting Solar-Powered!

A massive solar array capable of producing enough energy to power 7400 homes locally is coming on line this month in District 1


One of the largest solar arrays in the Southeast United States will be coming on line this month.

It is located right here in District 1--at the site of the former runways at OLF Saufley Field off of Blue Angel Parkway in central Escambia County.

According to the U.S. Navy, this field will begin generating electricity this month, and the ceremony to "turn-on" the array will occur on the 22nd of this month.

Other interesting facts about this array:

 -Department of Defense - Secretary of the Navy directed development of a plans to obtain 1GW of renewable energy.

-NAS Pensacola partnered with Gulf Power through the Renewable Energy Program Office (REPO) to construct a 65 MW solar photovoltaic facility located on NOLF Saufley Field.

-The Saufley Field/Gulf Power facility will begin power generation in late July 2017 and will be capable of producing enough energy for 7,400 homes in Escambia County.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Taxpayers Win! No Millage Rate Increase this Year

The BCC agreed today to not raise property tax millage rates for 2017-2018 


The Board of County Commissioners officially set the millage rate for 2017-2018 today at a special meeting.

The great news for taxpayers is two-fold.

1.  There will be no millage tax rate increase this year for Escambia County Property Owners.  The board voted to keep this rate static--the same as last year.

2.  The board agreed informally to re-address the process of how LET Funds are disbursed to add a greater degree of oversight (as required by statute) for this process that has recently come under fire.


This process review will take place via staff from the BCC meeting with officials from the Sheriff's department after we get through the budget process in September.  I preferred that we do this right away, however upon hearing from my counterparts--I agree that the perception could be that this is retaliatory given the current impasse we appear to be in with the sheriff with respect to his budget request.

As I stated in the workshop--"no problem--I've waited 6 months-I can wait a few more to have this process looked at.

The process definitely needs to be fixed--in my opinion.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

LET Funding: Process for Disbursement of Funds to be Discussed at Tomorrow's Meeting



After doing a significant amount of reading over the weekend, in light of this very embarrassing article which popped up online on Saturday morning and was in the print edition of the PNJ on Sunday--I feel the BCC needs to discuss the Law Enforcement Trust Fund (LET) process.

I say the article was embarrassing because it was.  For the BCC's part, I believe we can do a better job at being more involved in the process, because at the end of the day-although only the Sheriff can recommend allocations from this fund-- we are the approval authority for the expenditure of these funds.

Under the current process we are utilizing--we simply reimburse the ECSO out of the LET fund for checks that have already, in some cases, been written and cashed out of the ECSO general fund.

But what if the expenditure is questionable?  What if the BCC does not believe that a particular expenditure (out of the dozens and dozens made yearly) is appropriate under the statute?  Under our current system, we have no control, no check and balance function, and no recourse.  The statute is clear, the BCC must take a more active role in the process, and AGO Opinions are clear that the BCC has the final say in whether or not an expenditure should be authorized.

A letter from the SAO last year described some overall areas of the process that could use refinement as well, and I have heard from numerous constituents that want a greater role for the BCC in this process.  So I am listening and I will discuss this with the full board tomorrow morning.