Guidelines

I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.








Monday, January 22, 2018

Laws and Regulatory Language Can be Changed, Amended, or Modified--If we Have the Will to Do It!



Whether we are talking about what is allowed in terms of spending bed-tax revenues, how public sector advocacy associations are funded with public dollars, or what regulations control access/egress to public highway rest areas----Sometimes when we are trying to get things done we run into a regulatory or legislative brick wall.  That's when, if the issue is important enough, logical enough, and supported enough-- you work to have the particularly troubling rule, regulation, or law amended, modified, revised, or repealed.  

Because laws and regulatory language can be changed, amended, or modified.

Let's explore three examples/Issues/problems that have been solved or that could have been solved if appropriate language changes were sought or were achieved.  Accessing public rest areas, extracting a percentage of bed tax revenue for public safety, and changing the law regarding how public organization dues are funded.  Let's look at all three.

BLOWING UP A FLORIDA TAXPAYER FUNDED MONOPOLY

I was involved personally in a very relevant example of this over the span of two years from 2014-2016.  Florida law at that time did not permit individual school board members from pulling their individual share of high-priced dues membership money from the then "only" professional organization for school board members, the Florida School Boards Association.  The dues ran about $22,000.00 per year per 5 member school board, a price that many of us felt was exorbitant.  For a number of good reasons, with persistence, lots of hard work, and the formation of a coalition for change-- the relevant statutes were changed two years later in 2016 to allow individual board members to fund their choice of support organizations individually and/or to withhold the money altogether to re-direct these resources back to the classrooms of local districts.  Nobody gave us a shot of getting this changed, but a small group of us worked hard, spent lots of time in Tallahassee, and we got it accomplished and blew up a publicly funded monopoly, thereby injecting consumer choice into what was up to  that time an 85 year monopoly within this niche advocacy business.

CHANGING BED TAX ALLOWABLE USE LAW

Another law was being modified in that same 2016 timeframe over in Tallahassee--having to do with a different issue--focused on allowable uses of the tourist development tax for counties and municipalities.

Okaloosa, Walton, and Bay Counties to our east each have a significant tourist and spring break footprint in their respective counties yearly--and this tourism industry was costing the citizens of these counties an inordinate share of their financial resources for the public safety necessary to support these visitors and tourists.  So a group of lawmakers, led by Rep. Brad Drake, sought to

Friday, January 19, 2018

What Could the New Beulah/9-Mile Road/NFCU Traffic Solution Look Like?



The project to add an outlet for NFCU personnel to exit their premises in the afternoon via an access point through the welcome center is dead.  This is extremely disappointing because that option was the smartest, most economical, most practical, and could have been done quickly.  But Federal bureaucrats killed that idea. 

The next initiative to address this issue and overall congestion on 9-mile road, the one that is gaining steam right now,  is an elevated overpass on 9-Mile Road concept.

This will allow NFCU employees to exit via two dedicated left-turn lanes coming out of Navy Federal Way under 9-mile road headed eastbound, while simultaneously allowing the free flow of traffic on 9-mile road east and west above.

The first several conceptual drawings I saw of this plan did not take into account the access to 9-Mile road from several adjacent developments on the north and south side of 9-Mile road.

This latest drawing does a better job of taking  these other property owners' interests into account, and appears to be something that could work.

While my initial concerns about this plan were significant and several are still valid ($68 Million Dollar Cost, 4-6 years to complete, continued disruption to existing traffic on 9-Mile road for Beulah  residents, noise above the sound barriers for residents along the south side of 9-Mile road in Nature Trail)--this latest drawing is a significant improvement over previous renditions.

I still believe we need to ensure that before we go full speed ahead with this, all affected area

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Federal Officials Have Said "NO!" to the Back Exit through the Welcome Center for NFCU Employees

On a conference call today with 15 officials from the Federal Highway Administration, Office of the Secretary of  Transportation, Florida Department of Transportation, Escambia County, Representatives from Congressman Matt Gaetz's office, and Navy Federal Credit Union personnel--Federal Authorities said, emphatically, that the back exit through the Florida Welcome Center is not,  never has been, and never would be considered as a means of easing traffic for Beulah, 9-Mile Road, and NFCU employees.

I appreciated the opportunity to be on this call, and I appreciated the candor expressed by the participants.  I think a lot of confusion is and was created by the "Option 1" of the four OST options floated as potential solutions to NFCU's traffic issues in Beulah.  A lot of the reasoning for the back exit not being allowed was also expressed in the below email I received on the 17th.  Apparently----the back exit out of the visitor's center was never, ever going to be considered no matter what.  I only wonder why, if it was never, ever going to be seriously considered, Navy Federal and the County were made to jump through so many hoops in the hope of having this back exit at the Welcome Center approved?  I mean, why all the work toward this if the real answer always was simply "You can request to build a brand new Interchange adjacent to the welcome center west of exit 5 with a new overpass and brand new collector and distributor lanes on the north and the south of Interstate 10 between the Visitor's Center and Exit 5, complete with brand new east and westbound access to the interstate"  I mean--if that really was what was being presented, that was a non-solution from go.

We are already well on the way to constructing a new Interchange at Beulah Road--everyone knows that and that is the most important project in District 1 right now. ( And the County for that matter).  I think it is for this reason that in these documents the County and NFCU enacted---the solution was never characterized as a brand new "interchange" --the solution was characterized as a brand new  "Access Point."  Be that as it may--if this is indeed the final word, we must now take a step back and re evaluate the remaining options and be very deliberate in our due-diligence going forward.  A knee-jerk rush to a new potential solution for expediency's sake could be very problematic, and therefore I am going to study any new proposal upside down and backward, front to back, head to toe, to ensure it passes the smell test and that it is equitable to all nearby neighbors and developers impacted, and that it makes fiscal sense in light of the taxpayer dollars that are being invested right now with  the 4-lane project on 9-Mile Road and the Beulah Interchange project that is well underway just 2 miles West of this area....

For now, based upon the conference call and the below email--it does indeed appear as if the back exit through the welcome center is dead.


On 1370 WCOA This Morning..



Many topics of interest will be discussed...

1..Forest Creek Apartment Purchase with FEMA grant money

2. Communications to the public in times of emergency (like yesterday's weather event)

3.  Eminent Domain in Cantonment

4.  Water issue at the jail yesterday and how it was solved

5.  What is happening with the back exit (through the welcome center) proposal for easing NFCU traffic on 9 mile road.

You can hear the interview in its entirety here

Monday, January 15, 2018

Getting to the Best Solution Part III: What's a Hobson's Choice?

"You can pick any horse in the barn, as long as you select this one" Thomas Hobson (1544-1631)

A Hobson's choice is a false choice.  It is an illusion of choice with only one real choice being offered.

The term Hobson's choice is derived from the legend of  stable owner Thomas Hobson of Cambridge, England, from the 16th century.

Hobson was known far and wide as the stable owner that had 40 stalls; he had a large selection of horses from which purchasers could compare and choose.

Once prospective buyers came to Hobson's stable, however, the "choice" was actually limited to the horse in the stall nearest the door to the stable.  "You can choose between any horse in the stable, so long as you select this one!" Hobson would exclaim.  So the  assortment of possible choices really, in actuality, never existed.  Thus the term "Hobson's choice" was born.

So when I am looking at a list of potential solutions for rapid deployment to address acute and pressing traffic issues locally on 9-mile road that have been listed as FEDERAL DOT options for local selection and implementation--I see a sort of Hobson's Choice scenario developing.  Here are the four options (and my interpretation of what they really mean):

  1. Navy Federal Credit Union would donate Navy Federal Drive to become a public road.  Connect this road with a new I-10 interstate access.  This option may require a collector/distributor lane with the eastbound traffic from the welcome center and the Nine Mile Road interchange. (translation--no egress out of the welcome center will ever be permitted by the feds ever, no matter what, we do not have a decider at the federal level who will look at this as a rational option--no matter what.  Although this option kind of sounds like that, and this option is intentionally, vaguely worded to kind of sound like it might allow a back exit out of the welcome center---- this is not that. No way, never. This is actually a no to the back exit out of the welcome center and a "yes" to a 9-10 year project to build a brand new I-10 interchange between the visitors center and exit 5, complete with a new westbound access, overpass over the freeway, and service access roads on both sides of the freeway, east and west, and oh, by the way, this would be incredibly expensive and would jeopardize the most important project in Escambia County right now, the Beulah Interchange at I-10 at Isaccs Lane.  Not a realistic option)

  1. Constructing a new roadway between the West End of the NFCU facility and Frank Reeder Road, and constructing a new interchange with I-10 at the Beulah Road area. The construction of the new roadway will provide NFCU access to the new I-10 interchange through Frank Reeder Road and Beulah Road.  This will provide NFCU access to the west, north, west and east in the area.(translation--you can build a brand new interchange where you are already planning to build one in the next 7 years--but you can't just do a temporary eastbound onramp only for now-- to help alleviate the congestion for NFCU employees trying to get out--nope the full interchange would have to be built simultaneously....so no, this is not really an option to help us in the short run...)

  1. Constructing a left exit flyover from Navy Federal Way onto Nine Mile Road to improve access from NFCU to the Nine Mile Road and I-10 existing interchange.(translation-at a cost of nearly $70 Million dollars,  a minimum of 48 months of ADDITIONAL planning and construction,  more traffic delays and congestion for years to come at the critical 1/2 mile west of 9-mile road leading to the I-10 exit 5 onramp,  tremendous challenges to south of 9-mile road property developers desperately seeking access points on 9-mile road, and to residential neighbors [Nature Trail] that will now be looking at a 25' high overpass over their recently constructed 15' noise barrier walls---this is the Hobson's Choice. 

Getting to the Best Solution Part II: Could Yes really mean NO?



I am working to find the very best solution to an acute traffic issue that is building in my district.

Folks have worked very hard to help ameliorate the traffic caused by the rapid growth in Beulah and by the growth of the workforce at Navy Federal Credit Union's rapidly-expanding campus in Beulah.

The four lane project for 9-mile road is well underway, with completion expected in mid 2019.

The Beulah beltway project is moving forward, but this option is 7-10 years away.

Meanwhile, we are grateful for the growth, we are very fortunate for NFCU coming here and bringing jobs, and we understand that a moderate amount of traffic is to be expected when so much is going on in one constrained geographic area.

It is for this reason that I am especially disappointed to hear that a common-sense, low-cost, and quick-turnaround [relatively speaking] measure to provide egress out of the Florida welcome center for NFCU's afternoon shift change, a project that I was told had been blessed at Federal DOT as one of four local projects to help with traffic, has now been scuttled.

Federal officials with which I have spoken have pointed to Florida Department of Transportation as

Getting to the Best Solution, Part I: Who Said "NO?"



Sometimes getting to the best solution to a complex problem is agonizing and tedious.  Sometimes it is excruciating and exasperating.  We are dealing with just such a complex issue, a traffic issue, right now in District 1.

When I heard late last month that suddenly the common-sense initiative to allow egress out of Navy Federal Credit Union's north end property, via a new access to I-10 through the Florida welcome center, was rejected--I naturally wanted to know why.  Several people intimately familiar with this project told me point blank:  It's the FEDS.  It is Federal Highway.

So late last month I wrote this blog post that subsequently made its way onto another site and a  TV story came out and a newspaper article about this issue was published in the PNJ on January 4th.  The statement was simple--we need a decider, at the Federal Level, who can look at this issue and make the smart call to alleviate the tremendous traffic issue currently happening in my district affecting residents of Beulah and employees of Navy Federal Credit Union.  And the PNJ article said the FEDS had approved of the back exit plan!

But now I have learned something interesting...Someone has once again said no--even though I now have proof The FEDS said Yes!  So now I ask---Who said NO?!?

According to Congressman Matt Gaetz's office--four specific options have been cleared by Federal Department of Transportation for implementation locally by the Florida Department of Transportation to address this issue.  His office has communicated to me that they do not want to be seen as favoring one solution over others--but rather wanted to help accommodate the locally chosen solution of the four by obtaining clearance from FED DOT, in advance, of any one or more of the following four options which are all still approved at the FED DOT level as of January 2018 per an email of which I am now in receipt.  The current, Federally approved (OST, DOT) list of potential solutions are the following:


1.     Navy Federal Credit Union would donate Navy Federal Drive to become a public road.  Connect this road with a new I-10 interstate access.  This option may require a collector/distributor lane with the eastbound traffic from the welcome center and the Nine Mile Road interchange.

2.     Constructing a new roadway between the West End of the NFCU facility and Frank Reeder Road, and constructing a new interchange with I-10 at the Beulah Road area. The construction of the new roadway will provide NFCU access to the new I-10 interchange through Frank Reeder Road and Beulah Road.  This will provide NFCU access to the west, north, west and east in the area.
3.     Constructing a left exit flyover from Navy Federal Way onto Nine Mile Road to improve access from NFCU to the Nine Mile Road and I-10 existing interchange.
4.     Intersection operational improvements along Nine Mile Road (i.e. signal timing, roundabouts, turn lanes) and making general improvements to the on and off ramps at the Nine Mile Road and I-10 existing interchange to meet vehicular demand.




Obviously--option 1 is the least disruptive (to current 9-mile road traffic), most fiscally sound, most expeditious, and most practical approach to solving the issue and disbursing traffic between two exits.

Friday, January 12, 2018

LETF Approval Process Going forward--Problem Solved and Case Closed

Between what the sheriff's office unilaterally did with making requests directly on our BCC agenda, and what the commissioners discussed and accepted yesterday at the COW--it looks as if a new and workable LETF process has been born!

At Thursday's Committee of the Whole meeting, a brief discussion on the Law Enforcement Trust Fund approval/disbursement process was placed on the agenda by administrator Jack Brown.

The brief discussion focused on the process:  Administrator Brown stated that the way the sheriff submitted his requests for the last regular meeting could be folded into the new process going forward, and this met with support from the majority of the  commissioners.  I know I certainly support this method because it more closely comports with the statutes and it allows us to vote on expenditures before they are made--not after the fact as has been the previous method.

Commissioner Robinson advocated for us submitting an application to the Sheriff for LET funds to be utilized to offset School Resource Officer program costs--which would save money from the Sheriff's general fund budget.  This also appeared to meet with support from a majority of the board.  (Although I think the likelihood of the Sheriff approving this is not high...if he chose to do this--he could do this already without anyone asking)

Commissioner May wanted to see us submit requests to the Sheriff for BCC identified youth development programs--and this met with unanimous support from the BCC.

We also decided to have the corrections department submit an application to the sheriff for funding for Drug Patches to be worn by offenders who are sentenced to wear these by judges in our circuit.
(Funding has been running low for these effective, cost-saving devices)

So, to summarize, it appears as though the Sheriff's change in process combined with what commissioners have decided = problem solved and case closed on this matter--as the process will apparently go forward as follows:

The Sheriff ,via his CFO Henrique Dias, will place any requests for LETF disbursal (that his internal ECSO process has already green-lighted) on the BCC agenda of their choice for our consideration

A Visit to the Panhandle From our Friends and Neighbors to the North

Canadian Consul General for Florida Ms. Susan Harper visited Elected Officials, Business Leaders, and Economic Development personnel in Pensacola on Wednesday Evening


Yesterday evening a dinner at Skopelo's was arranged for local elected officials, business leaders, economic development professionals, and special guests from Canada.

Consul General for Miami Susan Harper, together with Mr. Laurent Morel-a-l'Huissier, an attache from the Miami office made the trip up north to the Florida panhandle; Ms. Harper, the highest ranking Canadian Diplomat in Florida, and Mr. a-l'Huisseir, her business and politics officer, joined this group for dinner and a chat about several interesting topics.

Welcoming Ms. Harper to Escambia County were Mayor Ashton Hayward, Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole, Scott Luth from Florida West, and myself.  We each were given the opportunity to address the assembled group and to welcome Ms. Harper.

Ms. Harper has a long and celebrated career in the Canadian Foreign Service, her biography is an impressive read.  She began the evening's discussion session over dinner, after introductions of all the attendees were made, with a general overview of the relationship between Canada and Florida.

Canada and Florida enjoy a relationship that is flourishing--with nearly 300 businesses in the state that are owned by Canadians or subsidiaries of  Canadian companies.  Florida and Canada do nearly $8 Billion a year in trade-much of it tourism and real estate purchases and transactions between Canadian "Snow Birds" and Florida residents.  And Canada currently has 70 Canadian Military personnel (10 percent of all Canadian Military in the U.S.) at duty stations throughout  Florida.  Ms. Harper has the job of working to assist Canadians in Florida with issues they run across while here, and an ancillary duty of the Consul General is to assist with forming trade relationships between Floridians and Canadians.  This particular trip to the Florida panhandle was just such a trade discussion session.

The primary topic of the evening was NAFTA.  The conversation among the business leaders and Ms. Harper centered on this trade agreement that has been discussed in the media recently--with some discussion by President Trump of renegotiating the deal.  (NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, was initiated by President George H.W. Bush and eventually passed and implemented by President Bill Clinton in 1994.)  The conversation at the table was about the effect of NAFTA on business.  Several attendees shared that the initial impact on rural communities in the south was extremely negative-with many communities losing jobs.  Several manufacturers in the room expressed support for the agreement as it has opened markets for their products and increased sales.  Generally, most of the attendees agreed that once the long view was taken, there was no doubt that overall NAFTA has been good for business.

All sides agreed, however, that the negativity associated with NAFTA appears to be directed at and

Monday, January 8, 2018

Funding for Drug Patches

Drug patches are deemed an effective deterrent to relapses by offenders.  How will we ensure the funding for these patches remains stable?


Drug patches keep folks on probation off of drugs--they work.

Unfortunately-the funding for the patches is drying up locally and several judges have asked that we fund the purchase of these patches going forward.

from a judge's recent correspondence 

"I was recently informed that the County would be unable to further fund drug patches for sentenced state probationers. Although I do believe that the patches are very cost effective, based upon observation and defendant testimony, I understand County budget constraints.  The patches help probationers maintain their sobriety, avoiding future incarceration , family break down, and job loss..There is a problem presented with probationers who were already sentenced with the drug patch as a condition, usually a temporary condition.  If the County could find a way to at least fund those already sentenced, which I believe are a half dozen or so, it would be greatly appreciated. Otherwise we will need to amend those sentences to make other provisions."

I even recently received a recording of an offender in court who successfully completed his probation for a cocaine charge--and he wholeheartedly endorsed a continuation of the program.

I have asked for cost details regarding this patch --and if no funding can be secured I am willing to fund the purchase of patches from my discretionary account so that judges continue to have this option in their sentencing tool kit.

from staff :

"the patches Corrections is providing in-house are $39.50 per patch.  The patches are good for 10-14 days (depending on the conditions in which the patch is worn). Our current cost of incarceration (for FY17 taking into account out of county housing) is $71.80/day."

At today's committee of the whole, we will discuss this and potential funding options for this going forward--to include making an application from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund to pay for these patches.

Governor's Office Sends Letter re: Sheriff's Appeal of BCC Budget Allocation

First correspondence from Tallahassee regarding the budget impasse has been received by the BCC


Friday afternoon the BCC, via County Attorney Alison Rogers, received our first written correspondence from Governor Rick Scott's office regarding ECSO's appeal of the BCC's budget allocation  for 2017-2018.

The important takeaways from the letter are that the BCC was correct in that we followed the  procedures in 30.49 Florida Statutes with respect to how we answered the initial appeal.

More importantly --we were correct with respect to how we did not send more information to the Governor in response to the ECSO's unsolicited response to our only response to ECSO's initial appeal. 

The letter from the Governor's office appears to confirm that this unsolicited second submission from ECSO to the Governor does not comport with the process--and both sides are advised to  "..refrain

Friday, January 5, 2018

Who Spilled the Beans?

Unfortunately, it appears as if someone with inside knowledge of a recent Economic Development Negotiation has disclosed confidential information (potentially confidential per 288.075 Fl. statutes) about the company in question....Who spilled the beans?


Who spilled the beans and broke confidentiality as it pertains to "Project Fisher?"

More importantly, why do this?

The item was discussed at length yesterday and last night, and the board thoughtfully considered this item and then subsequently voted for a compromise offer to make to this potential Escambia County Employer.  It is time to move on, and hopefully we can get this company to locate here with the concomitant 35 jobs, capital improvements, and potential future growth.

But now someone (a public official or employee with intimate knowledge) has clouded the future of this entire endeavor by exposing the name of the company to someone else ( a private citizen not subject to the scrutiny of 288.075), who then subsequently posted the name of this company online, along with the flagship product this company manufactures.

The company more than likely watched the lengthy debate last night, and more than likely they'll be made aware of this breach.

I hope this does not affect this potential deal for Escambia County jobs.....but it very well might kill it. (I hope not--because the majority of the BCC supported this endeavor and we support ones that are similar to this!)

Reaching out through economic development initiatives for qualified, targeted industries helps to diversify our employer base and is a sound strategy for importing jobs and dollars into a community.

But confidentiality is crucial to this work---as cities and counties throughout the nation are in an ongoing, intense, pitched battle for these jobs, companies,  and investments.

Confidentiality is vital, and that is why the legislature created section 288.075 to delineate these confidentiality periods and to define what information is to be exempt during negotiations and for how long such information must be protected from eventual release to the public--because eventually, after the negotiations are complete, all of this information becomes a public record.  This section of Florida law also describes the penalties for violations.  Anyone that is proved to have violated this section is subject to sanctions as described in

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

No Opinion Coming from Attorney General's Office on Escambia's LETF Process



This is discouraging....

                We have been waiting with great anticipation for the Attorney General's Office to provide an opinion on several aspects of our local process for distribution of proceeds from the County's Law Enforcement Trust Fund.

                There have been embarrassing articles and cartoons about this subject locally 
               
                We have had citizen complaints about the process that have resulted in the State Attorney's Office weighing in on the process-- and I've been asked by constituents whether or not some recipients of these funds were actually even eligible under 932.7055 Fl. Statutes. 

                We voted to request this opinion from the AG as a board-- because we needed the answer to improve our process and to insure we are acting within the boundaries of the law in light of this letter from the State Attorney's office locally.  We were being proactive.

                So back on October 16th, County Attorney Alison Rogers sent this letter to Attorney General Pam Bondi's office seeking the opinion--with specific questions.

               The questions in the letter were ones many of us had asked;  we were all anticipating that the answer to these questions would help us improve our process for approval of expenditures from this fund.

                In particular, these portions of the request letter to AG were of tremendous significance:


"1)  May the Board of County Commissioners appropriate the total revenue available to the Sheriff for expenditures from the LETF on an annual basis and delegate approval authority for the Sheriff's specific expenditure requests to the COC or must the Board appropriate LETF proceeds for each expenditure?

2)  May the Board of County Commissioners transfer LETF proceeds to the Sheriff's general revenue account as reimbursement for LETF expenditures the Sheriff previously disbursed or must the Board authorize each requested expenditure before the funds are disbursed?

3) Is it within the Board's discretion to scrutinize funding requests from outside agencies that the Sheriff has certified are in compliance with the requirements of the statute when the agency's program bears no apparent relationship to any purpose for which funds may be authorized under the statute?


4)  Is the Sheriff authorized to use LETF proceeds to fund the purchase of advertising media for the purpose of marketing the Sheriff's Office and promoting crime prevention strategies, drug prevention programs, or other law enforcement purposes?"


But instead of receiving an opinion (that many thought would be coming soon given the length of time since the initial request was made) Today we were told that no opinion would be provided.  This email, below, was the explanation.  It is back to square one again.....