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.

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.

On The Radio This Morning

It was a double-header this morning, I was on Pensacola Speaks with Jim Sanborn and Don Parker in the 6:30 slot discussing town-hall meetings, the Beulah Interchange, the budget, and the soon-to-be revised process for spending money from the BCC's Law Enforcement Trust Fund.

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

In the 8:30 slot, I was the guest on AM1620's Pensacola Morning News with Andrew McKay.

Topics discussed included the budget, the LET fund process, Town Hall meetings, the Beulah Interchange, and Economic Development.

You can listen to the complete interview here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Town Hall Meeting Tonight, 10-10-2017

District 1 will be conducting a town hall meeting this evening at Myrtle Grove Elementary School.

We will discuss issues of concern with residents of District 1 that live in the central and south-central part of the county.  Additionally, we will be answering citizen's questions on any subject of importance to them and we will be providing updates on the following areas of county-wide concern, to include:

1. Budget
2. Jail
3. Infrastructure/Roadway/Stormwater issues
4. Restore Act/ Blue Angel drainage project
5. Expanding Blue Angel Parkway to a 4 lane road
6. Beach Bill in Congress

Meeting will begin at 6:00 PM at Myrtle Grove Elementary School 6115 Lillian Hwy Pensacola, FL 32506.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Pay Compression, Part I: What is Pay Compression?

All summer long we have heard the issue of Salary Compression and how this is/was a devastating issue that some constitutional offices locally are facing.

If you research the subject, speak to HR professionals, and talk with folks that have actually dealt with the issue--it is a pretty simple issue to define.  Solving the problem is a different matter altogether, though.

But what exactly is Salary Compression?

Salary Compression occurs in one of three workplace circumstances according to Mykkah Herner, compensation expert at PayScale. The hiring official and/or organization that is experiencing this phenomenon should ask themselves these three questions according to his article:

"Am I hiring people in too close to or higher than existing employees in the same role?  Pay compression in this case refers to bringing in new talent at a rate that is near or even above (also called inversion) employees who have much more experience in the role and often much more tenure in the organization.  Sometimes you just have to have that newest brightest talent.  Unfortunately, that can sometimes come at the cost of paying competitively for your existing talent.

Am I paying managers less than those they manage (unless that’s right for the role)?  Pay compression in this case refers to managers being paid at a rate lower than those that they supervise.  This may make sense in some technical roles where the market values the individual technical skills higher than management skills.  In most functional areas, however, it’s challenging to motivate a manager when they are being paid less than those they supervise.  As we move into an era where more millennials are entering management roles, this type of compression is especially troublesome.

Am I paying multiple levels of a job essentially the same thing?  Do you have an Admin Assistant 1, Admin Asst 2, and Admin Asst 3?  If so, are there clear differences between each level of the job?  I’ve worked with many organizations that fail to differentiate the jobs, merely creating multiple levels so they can create a sense of mobility.  While it’s true that millennials, and in fact most other employees as well, like to be promoted, they also want to feel a substantive change to both the nature of the job and the compensation associated with it as well."

I know a little about compression because when I served as a school board member here in Escambia County for a decade, we had a significant issue with salary compression--and we addressed it....

It took time, money, patience, and a willingness to negotiate with the relevant bargaining group (s) and to commit to structured pay increases up and down the pay scale.

It was not an overnight fix.  It took several years.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What is the True Story of Pay Increases over the Last 11 Years? #Factsmatter

  The BCC funded the ECSO for 3% salary increases in 7 of the last 11 years.

During the budget process we all endured recently leading up to our passage of a nearly $456 Million dollar budget on 9-26-2017--there had been many conflicting claims about the frequency of pay increases over the last 11 year period.

Some were saying ECSO deputies had gone 8 years with no pay increases funded by the BCC.

Sheriff Morgan told me the figure was 7 years where ECSO was not funded for pay increases.

Claims were conflicting, and extenuating circumstances, the recession, the oil spill, and other factors have contributed to a period of years where salary increases were not consistent.  How many years back were we going to find a total of 7 years where salary increases were not given?  I needed to know the truth and we need to put some perspective into the discussion.

So I have asked a series of pointed questions recently of our administration and payroll department because credibility counts, and #factsmatter.  The question was simple:

How many years, from 2007 to present, did the BCC fund the ECSO sufficiently such that 3% raises could be given to sheriff's deputies and other employees of the ECSO?

The answer is every year since 2007 with the exception of 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012.

or 7 of 11 years, or Graphically

2007-Money for 3% raise for ECSO funded by BCC*
2008-no raises, BCC or ECSO
2009-no raises, BCC or ECSO
2010-no raises, BCC or ECSO
2011-Money for 3% raise for ECSO funded by BCC*
2012-no raises, BCC or ECSO
2013-Money for 3% raise for ECSO funded by BCC
2014-Money for 3% raise for ECSO funded by BCC
2015-Money for 3% raise for ECSO funded by BCC
2016-Money for 3% raise for ECSO funded by BCC
2017-Money for 3% raise for ECSO funded by BCC

According to staff that have researched this thoroughly (because I have been persistent in my request for accurate, unassailable data) we have funded the ECSO for 3% salary increases in 7 of the last 11 years.  21% in funding pay increases over 11 years.  Not perfect, but not bad considering the

Local Chapter of The Federalist Society Launches in Pensacola with "A" List Speaker

Federalist Society of the Emerald Coast President Gary Bergosh introduces featured speaker Hans von Spakovsky on 10-4-2017 in Pensacola

The Federalist Society has recently expanded, with a brand new chapter opening up locally over the last several months.  The Federalist Society is an organization comprised of Conservative and Libertarian members that believe strongly in individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.  This group, as described in their website"is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.  The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities."  The newly formed chapter--The Federalist Society of the Emerald Coast- was spearheaded by Circuit Court Judge Gary Bergosh and had it's first large-scale meeting last night at the Pensacola Yacht Club.  

Left to right,  Judge and Mrs. Pat Maney, Judge Gary Bergosh, and Justice Ken Bell attend the kickoff of the Federalist Society of the Emerald Coast 10-4-2017

The well-attended meeting featured an address by Mr. Hans von Spakovsky-a nationally renown speaker, former FEC Board member, and current Manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation. 

In attendance at last night's event were county commissioners from multiple Panhandle Counties, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, a dozen current and former Circuit Court Judges, multiple attorneys from the Pensacola area, current and former state legislators, and many other interested citizens.  

Mayor Hayward and Judge Langham, 10-4-2017

Mr. von Spakovsky treated the assembled group to an intriguing discussion about the nationwide problem of illegal immigration, the associated costs to states and local governments, and the specific effects of the issue on Florida's economy.  "According to numbers from two years ago, Florida has approximately 1 Million illegal aliens, a little less than 5% of the population, and the costs associated with maintaining this group in Florida is more than $5 Billion yearly.  Broken down, it is more than $3 Billion for public education expenses, $1.5 Billion for medical costs and a more than $500 Million dollar burden on the state's criminal justice system."  von Spakovsky stated.  He next detailed the problem of America's failure to enforce immigration laws that are already on the books.  According to von Spakovsky, this failure of enforcement has led to the rise of sanctuary cities and more disturbingly, a concentration of criminal aliens in such sanctuary cities.  "The worst part about some jurisdictions' sanctuary policies is that it leads to more protections for non-citizens than for legal citizens!" he mused.  "If you or I are pulled over for a traffic violation, the policeman is going to check our background instantaneously--and if we are wanted in another jurisdiction--we will be held and picked up.  An illegal alien, on the other hand, is not in the system because he is not a citizen- and he will therefore be allowed to go free"

Nicole Ferry, Steve Warrick, Trey Parnham, and Hans von Spakovsky attend The Federalist Society of the Emerald Coast Kickoff 10-4-2017

von Spakovsky spoke for about 45 minutes and finished up with a question and answer session.  One young man in the crowd, who self identified as a millennial, asked about the notion that some young illegal aliens, if allowed to stay, might actually help our nation and themselves by paying into social security and paying taxes to help support the retiring baby boomers.  The answer to the question was swift and stern:  "The problem with the question is that it is not factual.  Surveys have shown a high percentage of these persons are illiterate in English and unskilled.  Over time, they do not add anything to the system, but rather will be a tremendous negative drain on the entitlements of the country because they are uneducated and unskilled.  That is the problem with that rationale" he quipped.

After the event, many of the assembled audience were able to meet and speak with one another, and Mr. von Spakovsky mingled in with the group and posed for pictures with the audience.

I'm looking forward to the next event locally, and the next great speaker!

Read more about Hans von Spakovski here.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Gulf Power's 21st Economic Symposium

Governor Rick Scott addresses attendees at Gulf Power's 21st Economic Symposium on Tuesday, October 3, 2017.

I was fortunate to be able to attend Gulf Power's 21st Economic Symposium over the past several days in Sandestin.  There were numerous highlights to mention over the past several days--to include an address to the group by Florida Governor Rick Scott this morning.


Day 1 began with a welcome from Stan Connally, CEO of Gulf Power.  He gave remarks to the crowd of about 400 regarding the many positive attributes our region has for growing jobs and improving our economy.  He asked that just for a couple of days that we all think regionally, forgetting about the county boundaries that make up NorthWest Florida.

The featured speaker Monday morning was author and speaker Peter Zeihan.  His written works include The Accidental Superpower and  The Absent Superpower.  His speech on the state of the world from an economic/geopolitical standpoint was fascinating.  The crowd was intrigued by his humorous delivery of a serious subject.  The primary take away from Zeihan's speech was that by 2030, due to a number of factors, America will be among the world's most stable nations economically.
Peter Zeihan's projected global security map, circa 2030...America looking good!
 Next up, Florida Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Wilson hosted a round table of NW Florida entrepreneurs, including two paper producers, a software company, and a personal watercraft company. According to Wilson, a recent survey of the NW Florida population revealed that 81% of respondents feel like Florida is headed in the right direction.  "Florida is America's jobs machine, 1 in 10 new jobs in the U.S. today is being created right here in Florida!" Wilson told the crowd.  One of the entrepreneurs on the panel, Corey Cooper, president and CEO of BOTE (a personal watercraft manufacturer)-summed up the story of his company's success. "I am passionate about selling a lifestyle, and being from here and loving the beach it is easy to sell this." he told the group. On employee issues, he was blunt in his assessment "I want people that want to come in and work hard, I want them to work their ass off like I do!" In just 8 years--his company has gone from selling paddle-boards being hand-built one by one in Corey's garage to manufacturing boards currently being sold in more than 100 outlets around the country.

Southern Company CEO Tom Fanning addresses the audience at the 21st Economic Symposium sponsored by Gulf Power.

Later in the afternoon, Southern Company president Tom Fanning treated the crowd to a very eye-opening lecture about energy and energy security in today's marketplace.  Fanning was extremely optimistic on the idea of America now becoming energy independent.  "America, on energy, now has the ability to dominate".  Fanning also decried accounts from a recent book that said America's energy infrastructure is vulnerable to natural disasters and the "there is no contingency plan in the event something catastrophic occurs."  He disputed that in terse fashion.  "That characterization is garbage!"  He described his work in energy and also in government as a member of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.  " I have a top secret clearance due to the nature of the work I do with the Fed, and I won't reveal anything here that I shouldn't, but believe me, the energy industry is constantly preparing to defend against threats and we are prepared"  He went on to discuss the revolution in shale-oil technology and he strongly denounced those who believe that oil under $100.00 a barrel is a bad thing.  "That view is garbage!"

Later in the afternoon, a panel of local education leaders from the NW Florida area described many of the contributions their respective organizations make to the local economy.  UWF's President, Martha Saunders, described the newest UWF initiative, the Innovation Institute.  She also gave a brief PowerPoint presentation describing the amount of money UWF generates (payroll and student spending) and how this money multiplies five-fold through the local economy.


After Breakfast on day two, we had a short introduction to the day by Governor Rick Scott.  His remarks were incredibly brief, but he expressed significant appreciation to Gulf Power for all of their assistance with hurricane recovery and power re-connection in South Florida post-Hurricane Irma.  He also quickly gave the highlights of jobs growth in Florida.  "Florida is creating 20,000 jobs every month, the highest rate in the nation.  We should be creating all the jobs in the U.S. because so many people want to come here to live" he told the enthusiastic audience.  After some brief remarks, he quickly left the stage and the area.

Zach Jenkins, the Director of the Haas Center at UWF, gave an interesting presentation on the economic health of the region as a whole.  Some areas are doing better than others, but as a whole, the average salaries of our MSA are below the average of most others in the U.S.--at just over $48K (including benefits).  According to Jenkins, the low cost of living, the beaches, and the quality of life in our area are intangible benefits local employees receive locally that serve to also keep the salaries lower than other areas.  One of his data slides broke down the economic impact of various segments of the economy that his center tracks, it was interesting to see the breakdown.

Zach Jenkins from UWF's Haas Center showed the group the various selected job sectors in our region and the average salary such segment supports..

The final panel of the afternoon consisted of several site location specialists from around the country.  These folks work for large clients that are looking to expand.  The largest, most important challenge these people mentioned was the quality of employees.  One of the panelist even said some of her client corporations will exclude locations--even locations that offer tax incentives--if the workforce is not perceived to be viable for the company.  Other factors that are important to site selectors are the local economies, the quality of life of such areas, availability of mass-transit, proximity to rail and international airport facilities.  Interestingly, at least two of the panelists said that some communities they contact on behalf of clients looking to relocate actually remove themselves from consideration--by simply not answering the requests for information.

Overall, the day and a half conference was very informative and the speakers chosen were varied and provided lots of good perspective on many big issues in our economy today.  I look forward to next year's symposium!