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.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On Good Morning Pensacola Today....

I was the featured guest this morning on AM 1370 WCOA, the Pensacola area's #1 ranked and highest rated morning news program.

I appreciated the opportunity to come on the show this morning with Jim Sanborn and Don Parker to discuss multiple areas of continuing concern for the Board of County Commissioners.  Among the topics discussed this morning:

--Upcoming contract renewal talks between the BCC and administrator Jack Brown

--BCC's purchase of the Forest Creek Apartment Complex due to continuing and worsening drainage issues

--Discussions with ECAT on the future of mass transit in Escambia County

--Ongoing budget issues

--New Jail construction

--School Board and County working for more Vocational/Technical training opportunities

--my upcoming transition to become Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners

You can listen to the full interview   here (part 1)  and here  (part 2).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pay Compression, Part II: A 3-Year Look at ECSO W-2 Data

Total Compensation as reported on W-2 forms for the Escambia County Sheriff's Office for the last 3 tax years--where is the compression?

After reviewing total compensation figures reported on the W-2 forms for ECSO employees for the last three tax years (summarized in the table above), some interesting data emerges.

--As it relates to "pay compression" that has been indicated as a major issue within the ECSO, the spread between the pay bands above appears to indicate a normal distribution (without compression)-- with what looks like personnel that are near the top of the ranges being longer term employees nearing the end of a career, with a large number of personnel at the bottom of the chart either starting out, or working only part of the years in question, and a significant number of personnel in the middle range of pay--as one would expect to see with any large organization. 

--Over the last three tax years, a growing percentage of employees are entering the above $50K total compensation threshold, growing from just 18% of the employees earning more than $50K in 2014, to more than 26% going over that mark in 2016.  (Average Pensacola-area salary for 2016 is $41,388.00 according to

--On the other end of the spectrum, when we exclude employees that earned less than $19K (which includes a large number of new hires that did not stay on for a variety of reasons) We see that the total percentage of employees that earned total compensation of $49K or less has decreased significantly, from  70% of employees in 2014, to 67% of employees in 2015, to just 57% of employees in 2016.

I am told these W-2 figures indicated above include all compensation (assignment pay, shift differentials, police bonuses, educational attainment pay, longevity, overtime, etc.) however, these figures DO NOT include the compensation earned by deputies that work off-duty assignments.  (these officers receive IRS Form 1099's from private entities that hire deputies)  Therefore, in many instances, the pay for individual officers was actually higher than what is indicated in the chart above because the 1099 information is not available to add in to the totals.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Constitutional Officers Return an Additional $1,040,086.71 to the BCC at End of FY

By state law, the constitutional offices of Escambia County must return excess, unexpended funds back to the BCC at the end of the Fiscal Year. On Monday, the Escambia County Clerk of the Court returned nearly One Million dollars.

Today, we received another $1,040,086.71 from the Tax Collector, the Property Appraiser, and the County Sheriff.

The amounts returned to the county are indicated on the checks above.

In speaking to staff--although the precise amounts to be returned were not known in advance--the BCC was aware that money would be coming back and had a general idea of what this amount would be.

Escambia County Clerk returns Nearly $1,000,000.00 to BCC!

Escambia County Clerk of the Court Pam Childers returned $914,107.81 to the BCC yesterday.

Escambia County Clerk and Comptroller Pam Childers returned $914,107.81 dollars to the BCC yesterday--excess revenue that by statute must be returned at the end of each fiscal year by her office.  It is important to note that although the board does frequently receive money back from the constitutional offices at the end of October yearly (Clerk's office returned $723,000.00 last year) the exact amount of this revenue was neither known nor anticipated by the board prior to the BCC finalizing the FY2018 budget last month so far as I understand this situation...

In a letter that accompanied the check (above), Mrs. Childers described the revenue, explaining that it came from two sources--Finance and Official Records.  From the letter:

"The first is the savings of the finance budget, and the second is the effect of additional revenues generated in the official records function..the savings in the Finance department totals $429,042..the Official Records department has excess funds of $485,065 which is predominately the impact of an upward turn in the economy."

The board, in conjunction with recommendations from the Administrator and the staff, will ultimately decide where these excess funds will be spent.

An AM 1620 this Morning Discussing the Beulah Beltway Meeting and Pensacola Beach Fee-Simple Legislation

Andrew McKay, host of AM 1620's Pensacola Morning News, had me on his show this morning.

The thrust of the discussion centered on last night's very successful public meeting on the Beulah Beltway project. (The entire meeting was live-streamed by our office and can be found by going to our facebook page  )

We talked about the reasons why the meeting went well, some specifics on the project, and we even segued into the very complex long-running matter of the fee-simple federal legislation that affects beach property owners.

I appreciated the opportunity to speak on the radio, and the brief podcast can be heard here

Monday, October 30, 2017

On 1370 WCOA this Morning

I was a featured guest this morning on Pensacola's top-rated morning show, Good Morning Pensacola with Jim Sanborn and Don Parker.

I was sandwiched in between a medical segment on what a "Hospitalist" is and a discussion of why this year's flu -mist vaccine may not protect one from the flu...kind of a different pairing but I went with it anyway..

When it was my turn to be up, though,  the discussion moved very quickly from medical issues like gout and chronic pain and centered solely on the County's Response to the Sheriff's budget appeal, and most importantly, the salient reasons why the BCC's recent shade meeting to discuss strategy to defeat the appeal was 100% legal and 100% appropriate.  In the brief segment of about 4 minutes, I was also able to discuss the reasons why questioning the Sheriff's expenditures from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund is also an appropriate discussion topic in the BCC's response to the Sheriff's appeal.

You can listen to the very brief audio of this interview here

Equivocation is Easy....

In a classic scene from the 1981 comedy "Vacation" --Rusty is being attacked viciously by his cousin's dog, and Rusty's mom glibly states "Rusty, stop playing with the dog"--insinuating Rusty is somehow to blame for the mauling while simultaneously downplaying the dog's role in the attack and the seriousness of the attack....the scene was so patently absurd that it produced bellicose laughter among the audience--because it was so ridiculous!

Sunday’s PNJ editorial encourages the Sheriff and the BOCC, as it relates to this year’s budget and subsequent appeal and response, to “Grow Up and Get Over It!” imploring us to solve the issue like “leaders.”

On its face, this editorial and it’s message seems reasonable and rational.  However, upon a more stringent, reasoned analysis—it seems like the author has taken the lazy, easy path—and equivocation in this instance is both convenient and expedient.  It is immediately apparent that whomever wrote this piece did not read the county’s response to the Sheriff’s budget appeal, because like a wrecking ball going through an abandoned building set for demolition, the BCC response cuts devastating swaths of destruction through the Sheriff’s argument(s).  Had the author read the response, he/she would have known this, and perhaps some intelligent themes could have been expounded upon/infused in the editorial, such as:

--The Sheriff has said on many occasions that his men “went7 years without a pay raise”..but wait---Attachment 13 of the ECSO’s own appeal clearly shows that ECSO employees have had raises in 7 of the last 11 years, and in 14 of the last 18 years!  Why the disconnect—in what 7-year period did the deputies not receive raises??

--The Sheriff has said our budgeting process this year has been “arbitrary and capricious”—but paragraph 1 of page 4 of our answer to his appeal succinctly vaporizes that claim.  Did PNJ read this paragraph and the case cited?

--The BCC’s public comments and statements, so far as the public record clearly indicates, have been professional, courteous, and respectful toward the sheriff and his officers.  The Sheriff, by contrast, has engaged in a summer of name calling, personal attacks, and ad hominem insults directed at individual commissioners and BCC staff. The sheriff has insinuated that the administrator is dishonest, he has referred to the BCC as out of touch, saying we “can’t read, can’t hear, can’t find the nose on our face.”  The Sheriff even called me a “Bullshit Artist” on WCOA radio. (he used a radio-

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Logic, Reason, and Facts: A Review of the BCC's Answer to the Sheriff's Budget Appeal, Part I

If you listen carefully, you can hear the citizens of Escambia County reading the facts and saying, collectively, "oooohhhhhhh, now I see what is happening and why there are so many problems...."  (Note:  If you get a "knot in your shirt" and stuff this knotted shirt in your ear, though, you won't hear anything)

Yesterday afternoon, the Escambia BCC finalized its response to the Sheriff's appeal of his 2017-2018 budget allotment.

The staff did an excellent job of capturing the issues, documenting them, and putting these issues into a very easy to read, easy to understand response.  Kudos to Administrator Jack Brown, County Attorney Alison Rogers, Asst. Administrator Amy Lovoy, Asst. Administrator Matt Coughlin, Deputy County Attorney Charlie Peppler, and all the other staff that contributed to producing this response.

The cover letter is 29 pages that reads very easily and makes a very impactful statement on why the BCC's budget should be upheld by the Governor.  The BCC response is based on logic, reason, and facts.  It is noticeably barren of emotion.  Just the facts, laid out very plainly with nearly 600 pages of associated back-up documents.

The entire package can be viewed and downloaded by any citizen by going to this page.

Contrary to what some people have stated, I have never said that the Governor has only seen 3 responses to these sorts of appeals over the last 30 years.  What I have stated over and over like a broken record is that the Governor and his full Administration Committee have only had to make the final ruling on one of these appeals just 3 times in the last 30 years.  Of course I understand that many more have been filed, but what I have also stated on numerous occasions is that this process is designed to foster a compromise before the Governor has to make a ruling personally.  This is factual, and if some folks that appear to be tone-deaf would simply listen and not get their shirts in a knot (and then stuff the shirt in their ears) they would realize this!  Only 3 times all the way through the entire process in 30 years.  Listen.

So after spending three hours consuming every page of this document last night--several points bear further inspection/study/dissemination--starting with the following parts of the 29 page opening document/statement:

---Page 6. paragraph 2 and the table illustrate clearly that in the past 5 years, the Sheriff's personnel budget has increased an average of 5% yearly.  ( don't have any idea where the 1% budget increase claim that we have all seen in videos comes from.  Even if we only took the last 5 years' worth of increases and assumed no increases for the previous 5 years before that---you still have annual budget growth in the personnel budget of 2.07% per year over the last ten year period.  This is simple, factual arithmetic, folks)

-- Page 8.  Could the LETF have been used for more appropriate crime prevention initiatives?  Training?  Complex investigations costs?  equipment?  School Resource Officers?

P. 9.  Why no use of  a fixed percentage of total LETF yearly (how about 50%) to help pay for School Resource Officers?  Any savings achieved by utilization of LETF funds for a portion of these SRO costs would have freed-up money from the Sheriff's general fund to help with his pay issues.

P. 12 .  Why were the reported entry deputy salaries LOWERED after 2013?

P. 13 Why the discrepency between what is reported as starting salaries and what the actual starting salary is?

P. 15.  The Evergreen Salary Study is not complete, has not been accepted by the BCC yet.  Let me repeat.  The Evergreen Salary Study is not complete, it has not been accepted by the BCC yet.

P. 16--last sentence on page....  Why has county staff had to wait three months (more than 90 days) for W-2's that were requested on July 20th from the Sheriff?  These documents were necessary to compare to what has been reported as "pay" for deputies on spreadsheets.  The county wishes to compare what is listed as "pay" to what was actually "paid" historically--however if we cannot get the documents to make this comparison---how can we make the comparison.  Why have we not received one (1) W-2 yet from the Sheriff after waiting more than 90 days?

P. 18--The BCC's budget has yet to reach the levels we were at in 2007....2007 BCC total Budget was $458 Million.    2017 Budget is $456 Million.  ( Sheriff's personnel budget is up 5% per year on average as illustrated on page 6).

P.22--This Graph clearly illustrates that it is simply not true that a better ratio of deputy per 1000 residents lowers crime.  Not true, not borne out by the facts on the page.

P. 25  Very LIBERAL sick-leave payout policy that is much more genereous than the policy for county employees is putting pressure on the Sheriff's budget

P.  28  Because the Sheriff subsidizes his employees' health insurance costs to such a generous degree, his budget is being pressured.  (BOCC employees' health premiums cost as much as 673% more in premium than do the Sheriff's employees)

There are many more examples of really stark issues with the Sheriff's appeal to be discussed.  This is simply the first pass.  I would encourage all citizens, and especially employees of the Sheriff's office, to look carefully at the BCC's response and the associated attachments.  Our response is based upon logic, reason, and facts.  We value law enforcement, public safety, and all of our citizens.  But this year, even as we compromised and provided raises once again (6th year in a row with a 3% raise for deputies)--this fair budget is being appealed.  I look forward to the upcoming 12-14 months as we work through this process........I stand behind our work and I believe the BCC will prevail in this process and that the Governor will not force us to raise tax rates on property owners in order to give the Sheriff an extra $2.7 Million.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Coffee With a Commissioner 10-24-2017

This morning we held our monthly coffee with a commissioner event, and we had a nice turnout for the session.

For this morning's event-we tried something new.  We live-streamed the beginning of the meeting on Facebook, so that other District 1 constituents who were not able to make the meeting could watch live if they so chose.

We had about a dozen folks show up, and I gave a brief introduction of the staff that were present, I introduced myself to the participants individually, and then we went around the room allowing everyone present to ask questions and generate discussion.

We had several folks that were interested in talking about the sheriff's budget and subsequent appeal, so we discussed that topic in depth.  We also had four individuals from the same neighborhood that wanted to talk about chronic storm-water issues in their community.  We will be turning this issue over to the public works department this morning.

Another attendee discussed the issues with security at the Pensacola Interstate Fair--and an "anonymous" complaint that led to the dismissal of a private security firm comprised of former police and military members due to a paperwork glitch.  We had a very interesting discussion on this topic--apparently there will be more information coming soon on how that whole evolution took place.

Then we got to the Pensacola Beach issue and the matter of the leases and taxes.  Most of those in attendance preferred to keep the situation the way it is rather than going with the bill that is currently in the U.S. Senate--however the main issue that most of the attendees wanted to keep in the forefront is the issue of accessibility to the beach by residents;  the fear is that if this bill passes, much of the areas set-aside for public use might be developed, leading to less access by the citizens.

One attendee that is/was very familiar with government contracts and contracting had significant reservations about the proposed project to replace the Bay Center with a new development...He and I had a thorough discussion on this topic.

Other topics discussed included the following:

---Triumph Gulf Coast Projects
---Restore Act Projects
---Beulah Beltway Project
---OLF8/OLFX Land Swap

We also had several folks come by that simply wanted to observe and listen to the meeting, without asking any questions in particular.

As is becoming the usual, this meeting produced good information for me and a great discussion for all in attendance--and I can't wait for next month's coffee--which we will live-stream in it's entirety (now that we know how to do it  :)  ).

Stay tuned!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Why Shade Meetings are Wholly Appropriate in Some Circumstances

Playing Blind Man's Bluff with Millions of Dollars at Stake is neither intelligent nor fiscally responsible....

.....If it is current litigation or an administrative proceeding with the potential for litigation---- and strategy must be formulated---a shade meeting is wholly appropriate for a body subject to the Florida Sunshine Law.  As a matter of fact, over my 10 year tenure on the school board we had dozens and dozens of these meetings.  Executive sessions are delineated in statute and in this particular case (Sheriff's Budget Appeal) we are on solid legal ground so far as I have been told by our County Attorney.

I understand that the Sheriff would like us to hold this meeting in public so that our thoughts, impressions, and strategies can be recorded and scrutinized--however with the potential of this proceeding going to the District Court of Appeals once the Governor rules on it (if in the unlikely event it goes that far) It would be ludicrous for us to even contemplate this course of action.

For those that feel this is somehow not appropriate or incorrect--please remember these proceedings have serious consequences and potentially as much as $2.7 Million Dollars are at stake and litigation is a distinct possibility if the Governor rules against us and forces us to raise taxes.  Knowing the BCC has collectively (and individual members individually) a fiduciary responsibility to the County and our funds--it could be argued that to NOT hold this strategy session in the shade would be a blatant, irresponsible disregard for this fiduciary responsibility.

So would the unauthorized release of any strategy, ideas, impressions, or materials generated during this shade session prior to the completion of the entire process and appeals.

And after this whole affair is settled (or sooner), the transcripts of our shade meetings and all associated documents will be made available for scrutiny by the public, so nothing will stay hidden forever.  Everything will come out.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch, we are in a situation not unlike a game of poker at the moment.

Interesting that some folks want us to play with our "hand" exposed on the table like a game of Blind Man's Bluff. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Attachment 13: Time Line of ECSO Raises

This graph, provided by ECSO, shows Entry Deputy Annual Salary has increased 53% and that some sort of salary augmentation has been given to employees in all but 4 of the last 18 years.  

Attachment 13 of the binder containing the documents associated with the ECSO's appeal of their 2017-2018 budget is entitled "Time Line of ECSO Raises."  There is a lot of interesting data that can be gleaned from just this one tab.  As I go through the binder this weekend ahead of Monday morning's strategy meeting of the BCC, I find myself coming back to attachment 13.  What does it show?  There is dissonance between what has been stated and what this document shows.....

----For the period from 2000-2018, Base Pay for deputies has increased roughly 53% from the year 2000 starting pay level

----This equates to an average annual base pay increase of nearly 3% per year to the starting pay for "Entry Deputy"in this time frame

----Some form of pay raise or salary increase has been given to ECSO personnel in all but four (4) of the last 18 years--according to this chart provided by ECSO.

----Although ECSO personnel have stated to me that deputies have gone "7 years without raises" --the graph provided by ECSO does not corroborate that statement..It clearly disputes this assertion.  What seven years?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Beach Lease Taxation: What If All Leases at Pensacola Beach Were Changed to be Automatically Renewing Leases?

What would the tax ramifications for Escambia County be if all leases on the beach were changed, by ordinance of the BCC through the SRIA, to automatically renewing leases?

........we are discussing this right now in our meeting, the overall beach issue as it pertains to leases, etc. I just threw an idea out; not sure if it would be good or bad, but since we know the taxation of beach properties in Santa Rosa County is lawful (I know the Circuit Court Judge that ruled on the Accardo v Brown case, the one that was upheld at the DCA and the Florida Supreme Court) because all leases on the Santa Rosa County portions of Santa Rosa Island renew automatically which is tantamount to "ownership" --But here is the million dollar question: What would happen if the BCC through the SRIA made an ordinance that all leases in Escambia County at the Beach shall now and forevermore in perpetuity be automatically renewing (like the ones in Santa Rosa County). If Escambia did this, we could tax all leaseholders in Escambia County for improvements and for land-- because we know from Accardo this would be legal to do--because leases that automatically renew are for all intents and purposes equivalent to "ownership" for taxation purposes. 

---Not saying such a move would be popular or that it would happen or could happen--but it seems it would put the current strife to an end, legally, once and for all......

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What are the Economic Consequences for the BCC if the Beach Property Tax Decision Stands?

Escambia County is holding $9.8 Million Dollars in escrowed tax proceeds from Beach Leaseholders--and will return this money to taxpayers if the recent ruling from the DCA stands

Some Pensacola Beach Condominium owners were happy with last week's decision from the 1st District Court of Appeals--because the decision sided with their cause;  they will not have to pay ad valorem taxes on the property they lease--only on the improvements made to the leased land--if this decision stands.

The story was covered extensively by the local media.

News outlets have also reported, and I have confirmed with reliable sources, that this decision will be appealed by the property appraiser.

But what are the economic consequences for the BCC's budget  if the beach tax decision stands for Escambia County (Pensacola Beach) lease holders?

I have asked the question of staff and have been told that we (Escambia BCC) have escrowed the funds that were subject to this decision for the last five tax years, 2011-2016, in the event that the monies collected have to be returned to these lease holders.

Currently, the county holds roughly $9.8 Million dollars in reserves for repayment of these tax remittances--if the court upholds the DCA ruling and we are ordered to refund the monies collected.

Although it is difficult to ascertain the exact financial impact the decision would have if it stands--I am told that it would be safe to estimate the reduction in tax collections for the county going forward to be between $1.2-$2.2 Million dollars yearly.....

But everything remains in limbo for the time being and until such time as all the appeals are settled.  And we will keep escrowing these funds as we collect them-- in the event that we have to return them at some point down the line.

R.A.M. Coming to Pensacola December 2-3

What is R.A.M.?

RAM stands for Remote Area Medical.  This effort is coming together with community volunteers, medical professionals, Dentists, Doctors, Optometrists, and Nurses to provide free basic medical, dental, and vision services to the under-served population in Pensacola.

The event locally will be held at my Alma Matter, Pensacola High School, on December 2nd and 3rd.

These events draw thousands of people to communities around the nation; sometimes these folks wait for days to see a doctor, dentist, or optometrist because they are uninsured, underinsured and/or cannot pay for necessary procedures.

I strongly support this effort, and I have asked County Administration to prepare an agenda item for this Thursday's regular board meeting to fund $2500.00 to this effort from my District 1 Discretionary funds.  This money, I'm told, will fund additional security from the Escambia County Sheriff's Department for "dedicated police coverage for this event."

This event is an excellent example of the good that can be done with BCC discretionary funds--because we have them available-- when combined with a worthwhile community effort.

You can learn more about this effort and sign up to volunteer here.

You can watch an ABC Nightline segment about R.A.M. below.

You can watch a short clip from the CBS 60 Minutes segment on R.A.M. below

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fixing the Law Enforcement Trust Fund Expenditure Process Locally, Part III: Asking the Question

The BCC voted to reform our process locally to more of a competitive process like that which is used by Sheriff Scott Israel in Broward County....

The County Commissioners have voted unanimously to ask the Attorney General specific questions about our current process for allocating funds from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund.  There have been numerous complaints about the process, and at the last meeting the commissioners voted not only to ask the AG for an opinion--but the BCC also voted to reform the process to more closely mirror the excellent process utilized in Broward County.  Here (below) is the four page letter that was sent out to the Florida Attorney General today asking for her opinion....

Click READ MORE to see PAGE 3 and 4, BELOW

Beulah Beltway Meeting Redux

The next Beulah Beltway meeting will be well-organized, well managed, and will be much more orderly than the first one..

.....The first meeting on this subject did not go so well.  We're doing it again.

This time, we are having the meeting in a large venue, with air conditioning, an agenda, and an opportunity for citizens to submit specific questions that can be addressed by the assembled staff.

 Q and A information on this project here

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Clause for Outside Agency Funding Agreements Generates Concern

Charitable entities and 501(c)3 organizations that receive funding from the BCC recently received notification like this one above-- about a clause that will be added to their agreements to address a potential BCC contingent liability...

At the conclusion of our budget meeting a few weeks back, when we were discussing the funding of outside agencies, the BCC decided it would be good to have a mechanism in our funding agreements with these agencies to address a contingent liability that may be hanging over our collective heads.

As we have all heard, the Sheriff has stated that he intends to appeal his budget allotment to the Governor--he wants an additional $2.7 Million over what we gave him (his total demand was for an 8% year over year budget increase which we could not afford) The BCC compromised-- and funded his office such that all ECSO employees would get 3% pay increases (the fifth year in a row that his men have been funded by the BCC for 3% raises)--but he still wants additional money.

Although it is unlikely that the Governor would compel the BCC to fully fund the Sheriff's request-we nevertheless need to prepare for any eventuality.

Raising property tax rates on existing property owners in the county is not something I will support, and I doubt the full BCC would raise tax rates to fund any shortfall either.

Therefore, the  BCC added a clause to all agreements that allows the funding to such outside agencies to be cut and pulled back in the event of an adverse financial outcome for the BCC as a result of the Sheriff's appeal.

The discussion that day on the dais made it clear that this (pulling money back from charitable entities and 501 (c) 3 organizations) would only happen as a last ditch effort, if a worst-case scenario came to be.  Alternate funding, or other grant funding, would be sought for these groups in the event an appeal by the Sheriff is upheld by the Governor's administration commission--that was my sense of the conversation that day.  We truly do not want to pull money back from any of these groups.

Be that as it may, we had to let the outside agencies know what was happening, and therefore an email like the one above was sent out to the appropriate contacts at each of the agencies that received the funding from the BCC.  The total amount of the funding for outside, charitable entities and 501(c)3 organizations was just a bit over $1.6 Million.

Is a "Big-Box" Grocery Store and Outparcels Coming to Beulah?

Often before the Development Review Committee is even given an application by a developer, an initial notification of proposed development is run through the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

I was notified recently about a request made of  FDOT by a developer that wishes to build a full-scale, big-box grocery store complete with outparcels, in Beulah.  The location is the southeast corner of the intersection of Beulah Road and 9-Mile road-- a large parcel of land that includes the site of the former "Tavern in the Country" that burned down a few years back.

I'm interested to see what company is coming into Beulah--and hopefully the outparcels (if all is approved) will have some more and better dining options for Beulah residents--so we don't have to drive all the way down Pine Forest to get to a restaurant...

I'll post more about this potential development as more information becomes available.... See the three page pre-application made to FDOT below..

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fixing the Law Enforcement Trust Fund Expenditure Process Locally, Part II

Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County has developed an excellent process for ranking and submitting LETF requests to the Board of County Commissioners in his County.  Escambia County Commissioners want to model our process on this successful model

At the regular meeting of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, October 5th 2017, the board unanimously voted to ask the Florida Attorney General to provide an advisory opinion about our current process for approving expenditures from our Law Enforcement Trust Fund (LETF).  There is continuing concern that the process being utilized does not comport with statute.

the board also voted 3-1 to revise the BCC's process locally for how we approve expenditures to be more like the process is in Broward County.  Sheriff Scott Israel has an excellent process that the board here locally favors.  I was honored that my fellow board members have asked me to lead a committee in implementing an improved process--and I am excited to lead this effort and I look forward to reforming the process in Escambia County--working with the Sheriff.

A couple of important notes are worth mentioning here--some folks have not listened closely and are working from a "low-information" perspective so I need to be clear.

1.  Only the Sheriff can request expenditures from the BCC's LETF.  Only the sheriff can.  The vast majority of of previous expenditures are appropriate.
2.  Only the BCC has the authority to approve or deny such requests. Only the BCC
3.  The BCC voted to improve OUR process for approval of requests
4.  The BCC has neither sought to impose control over the Sheriff's portion of the process ( his internal review leading to a request being made of the BCC ) nor are we telling him how to allocate funds requested from the BCC's LETF--these decisions are his to make.
5.  Citizens have questioned some of the spending, and this led to a complaint to the State Attorney, which necessitated BCC to engage more closely in the process.  Nothing more, nothing less, no politics involved.

Fixing the Law Enforcement Trust Fund Expenditure Process Locally, Part I

10 year look at Escambia County LET expenditures;  Promotions and outside agency charitable donations have gone from 4% of total LET expenditures in 2008 to 96% of total expenditures in 2017.  Is this the best way to spend this money?

At the regular meeting of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, October 5th 2017, the board unanimously voted to ask the Florida Attorney General to provide an advisory opinion about our current process for approving expenditures from our Law Enforcement Trust Fund (LETF).  There is continuing concern that the process being utilized does not comport with statute.

A citizen complained the the state attorney about these expenditures last year, and in response the state attorney wrote a three page opinion encouraging the BCC to engage in the process and to consider approving expenditures before such expenditures are made. From the state attorney memo:

"Section 932.7055(5)(b) provides that funds may be expended only upon appropriation to the Sheriffs Office by the Board of County Commissioners. Section 932.7055(5)(c)1 states that these funds may be used only for school resource officers, crime prevention, safe neighborhood, drug abuse education, or drug prevention programs or such other law enforcement purposes as the Board of County Commissioners deems appropriate. The Attorney General has written on numerous occasions that the governing body of the municipality or county must make the decision whether an expenditure from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund is for an appropriate law enforcement purpose. For these reasons we recommend that Escambia County review the procedures for expenditures from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund and determine if these requests should be individually reviewed and approved by the Board of County Commissioners ."

The unanimous vote to ask for an Attorney General's Opinion (AGO) means that a request will be sent to Attorney General Pam Bondi by the end of this week.

In addition to asking for an AGO, the board also voted 3-1 to revise the BCC's process locally for how we approve expenditures to be more like the process is in Broward County.  Sheriff Scott Israel has an excellent process that the board here locally favors.  I was honored that my fellow board members have asked me to lead a committee in implementing an improved process locally--and I am excited to lead this effort and I look forward to reforming the process locally.