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

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Progress Report on Intersection Project at Beulah Road and Mobile Hwy

This graph indicates the current status of the project to improve the intersection and add a traffic signal at Mobile Hwy and Beulah Road.

The project to improve the intersection at Beulah Road and Mobile Highway is moving along--albeit not as quickly as anyone wants.  There have been some delays, but the project is moving forward.

As you can see from the most recent progress report, above, the contract is essentially at a 70% completion stage right now, and the anticipated date of final completion is now slated to be March 2, 2019.

This project will be an incredible improvement for this rapidly growing portion of Beulah--and it should not have taken as long as it has to get it done.

But March 2nd will be here before we know it, and the improvement to that intersection will make this stretch of roadway in our community much safer--so I say "better late than never!"

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Lots of Issues Discussed Today at our Coffee With the Commissioner Event

We had a great turnout this morning for our monthly "Coffee with the Commissioner" event.

Many very good topics were discussed, to include:

1.  Traffic, and traffic signalization

2.  Growth, and managing the growth in District 1

3.  Need for more sidewalks and bike paths

4.  Need for builders to build and provide sidewalks when they build new subdivisions

5.  Some neighborhood specific issues

6.  County's road crews and ensuring ROW areas are properly maintained

7.  Beach leases and the Fee-Simple bill

You can watch the facebook live video of the event here

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Return of Fee Simple??

Some folks want us to start the fee simple battle all over again........

The PNJ has a story out on the electronic edition today about the return of the fee simple bill that would allow for private ownership of leased properties at Pensacola Beach.

The Escambia Board of County Commissioners has taken a 5-0 vote to adopt a position on this topic of "no position."

We also passed a preservation ordinance that was the result of a lot of discussions, compromises, and gnashing of teeth.

We then put a non-binding referendum on the ballot-- just a few weeks back--- that passed by an overwhelming majority of Escambia Citizens.

So no, I do not think the fee simple bill is coming back.  That's my guess, that's my observation.

I'm told that Santa Rosa County is pushing hard for a return to the fee simple bill so that property owners in Navarre Beach can get fee simple title to their properties out there.

I don't know how that happens if step one is getting Escambia County to agree.  This will be an interesting conversation going forward.

For my part, I just want to see us get to a point where the lease structure is more equitable for current leaseholders out on the beach,  I want to make sure no more condo complexes get the sweetheart renewal deal the Beach Club recently negotiated (to the detriment of Escambia County as the owner

NW District 1 Advisory Committee Meeting Next Monday

The next meeting of the NW District 1 Advisory Committee will be happening next Monday evening, at 6:00 PM in the cafeteria of Beulah Middle School.

The agenda, backup, and other information has been placed on the MyEscambia website, and can be accessed here.

As is always the case, interested members of the public are encouraged to attend, this meeting is open to the public!

Compromise Draft RFP for OLF 8 Keeps Jobs as the Focus

The Board of County Commissioners held a special meeting last week to work out a request for proposals document  (RFP) for the master-planning of OLF 8 that the Board, Navy Federal Credit Union, and nearby residents could all agree upon.

As I discussed in this blog post last week,  and as I was quoted in the PNJ's piece on this meeting from last week-- I felt the meeting went exceptionally well.

I was happy to see the board maintain jobs and job creation as a primary focus of this project going forward--as evidenced by the language regarding our Triumph Gulf Coast application being left in the final draft that the board unanimously approved at the conclusion of the meeting.

This working draft, which will guide the master planning process going forward (regardless of who pays for this--county or NFCU) is linked here.

I would encourage all who are interested in this project to give this document a read. 

As I said before, nobody gets everything they want in a compromise--but this compromise left the most important aspects of this project intact and as priorities--Jobs and the County's $30 Million Dollar Triumph Gulf Coast Grant---and it is for this reason this draft got my support.

Thursday of this week, the separate discussions between NFCU and the county will begin regarding NFCU's offer to pay for the master planning of the OLF 8 property.

I'll be following these discussions very closely, and reporting on them here on my blog.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Coffee With The Commissioner This Coming Wednesday

We will be having our monthly "Coffee with the Commissioner" event this Wednesday, November 28th at the Hardee's at Pine Forest and Wilde Lake Blvd in District 1.

Stop by and let's talk about how we at the county can better serve you the constituent!

(And this is a casual, informal event; no agenda, no topics off limits)

Hope to see you this Wednesday!

On WCOA's Good Morning Pensacola Today

I'll be the guest later-on this morning on WCOA's top-rated Good Morning Pensacola radio show.

The singular topic of discussion will be OLF 8, jobs, and the County's $30 Million Dollar Triumph Gulf Coast Grant Application--and how all of this ties in with the HUGE victory we had in our recent special meeting by approving a compromise RFP document for this property that:

1.  Still focuses on using this field to create good jobs for the county.

2.  Still focuses on the Triumph Grant.

3.  Allows for the planner to incorporate aspects of Regional Significance into the plan (in order to help us win the Triumph Grant)

4.  Allows for the incorporation of some amenities that have been requested by local Beulah Residents and Navy Federal Credit Union.

This compromise document represents a win-win for Beulah Residents, NFCU, and the citizens county-wide!

Listen to the Podcast Here

Escambia County Wins DOAH Appeal!

This land use battle went back and forth like Forest Gump playing ping pong.....costing private citizens' time, legal fees, county staff time, and all kinds of time at BCC meetings.......

County attorney Alison Rogers and her staff are to be commended. 

They achieved a very nice win  yesterday that ends---unequivocally, unambiguously, once and for all-and rather unceremoniously- a long running and expanding land use argument that essentially began with a disagreement between the county, one citizen, and one property owner that has bounced back and forth at meetings and online like Forest Gump's ping pong balls. (was that a run-on sentence?)

But now all of that is over.   finally. finito!

The county was right and the pro se petitioner in this case was wrong, it's really pretty basic and that's the way this ends..

From the order:

"Contrary to the Petitioner's contention, the MU-S FLU category's primary focus is on a mix of uses in a suburban area. See Findings of Fact Nos. 6-8, above.      Indeed, the FLU element of the Comp Plan expresses a purpose and intent to encourage mixed- use development..Also, the Petitioner's focus on the differences between the MU-S and Mixed-Use Urban (MU-U) FLU categories in the Comp Plan was misplaced. The premise that the HC/LI zoning district implements the MU-U FLU category better than it implements the MU-S FLU category was not the issue to be determined in this proceeding.   Rather, it was whether the Ordinance, as amended by the Remedial Ordinance, amending the HC/LI zoning district in the LDC is consistent with the Comp Plan..All other contentions not specifically discussed have been considered and rejected...Based on the foregoing Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, it is

ORDERED that the Ordinance, as amended by the Remedial Ordinance, amending the HC/LI zoning district in the County LDC, is consistent with the 2030 County Comp Plan."

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Value of a Fair Compromise

Nobody gets everything they want in a compromise, but sometimes compromise is precisely what is needed to move a project forward...

Yesterday's meeting of the Board of County Commissioners produced several significant-albeit nuanced-victories.

The most profound outcome came from our discussion and eventual compromise on OLF 8 (and our jobs project for that location).

This OLF 8 project was conceived, enacted, and funded--from day 1-- as an economic development project to create jobs for all Escambia County residents.

But as we came closer to the point where we would actually acquire this 636 acre Beulah property from the Navy--a growing number of folks wanted us to scrap the jobs aspect of the deal and instead develop the property solely as an amenity for local residents and/or as an "attraction" for visitors and residents of  Beulah.  These folks did not want any additional good, high-paying clean-tech, high-tech jobs to be produced with this land---in direct contrast to the original intent of the project.

That's why, when these folks took the staff's initial RFP draft, they removed mention of the triumph grant, regional economic significance, and other important verbiage.

Staff and I took their version, and I added back the language about adhering to the spirit of our Triumph Gulf Coast grant (which may pay us as much as $30 Million Dollars if we create a minimum of 1000 good-paying jobs on this property) and the regional significance language which is essential if we are to win this grant.

Although I do not support any additional residential units being constructed on this property for many good reasons, my chopped version of the RFP still maintained the language  that "all options should be considered by the master planner in order to bring the highest and best value for the taxpayers with this land."  This included reference to mixed use development and housing---even though I don't support this because I do not feel we need any more.  But I was, and am, attempting a compromise.

So at the meeting, one speaker made some recommendations that were not profound and one of my counterparts made some suggested changes that did not dramatically alter the direction of this document-- and nobody suggested the removal of the reference to job creation on the site--so I agreed to the changes and the full board moved forward to a 5-0 compromise on an RFP document for the master planner that all parties could be happy with.

In a situation like this, with multiple persons and entities involved with various agendas and differing visions for this land---NOBODY is ever going to get everything they want.  Never going to happen.

But it was profound, and significant, that we were able to reach a 5-0 on this contentious subject via this compromise.

Round 2 comes next as the BCC and staff evaluates a proposal from NFCU to pay for a Master Plan for this property.  This next step will be complex, and it may take several months for staff and NFCU to bring something to the board for our action.  But as I have said at several meetings---step one for this project is and always was creating an RFP all stakeholders could live with---one that maintained the focus on jobs and not loosing our $30 Million Dollar triumph grant ----regardless of who it is that will eventually pay for the plan to be produced.

And we completed step one yesterday via a compromise that was fair.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Property Rights, Development, and the Government's Role in Growth

Residential Construction has exploded in Beulah, blowing out our infrastructure.  Now what, allow more--on one of the last big parcels in Beulah, one that the county controls currently?!?

Beulah is growing, it has been for years.  When I came aboard the County Commission, in late 2016 less than two years ago, this phenomenon was already well under way and I knew it coming in.

I get it, and now it is my problem, I inherited it, yes, but now I own it as your county commissioner in this district.

And we all get it.

Developers want to make money.  We all want to make money.

So residential development has blown up in Beulah because it is close to the freeway, close to town, and close to Navy Federal Credit Union.   Land WAS (used to be) affordable-- So it was the perfect location to build, and it created the perfect storm in terms of traffic.

Because the infrastructure has not kept pace with the growth.  Everyone knows this.  I know it because I live here and we here lived here a long time--way before the growth explosion happened.

So now we are at a crossroad.  Infrastructure is planned and under construction around Beulah.  More is Planned.  We will get another interchange within the next 5-8 years.  That's coming.  4-Lanes for 9-Mile Road?  Yes, that's coming late next year. Improvements and traffic signals on Mobile Hwy--check, they're coming.  fixes to north south county roads (Klondike, 8-Mile Creek, Beulah Road)?  In planning right now as we speak.  A modernized fire station, it's coming.  Elementary school?  (needed but not up to us, up to ECSD).  I say all of this to say this:  Typically, infrastructure follows growth--it's just the way it works--otherwise the government builds roads to nowhere, bridges to nowhere, and airports that are not essential.  Growth drives infrastructure unless you live in a High-TAX blue state that charges exorbitant, destructive development fees like Mello-Roos fees in California for instance.  Luckily and thankfully, we're a red state and a red community.  We don't do that here.

Meanwhile, private developers have purchased properties in Beulah that are zoned a certain way, with the intention of developing said properties.  And once these properties are zoned by the county and purchased by private individuals, and once these private individuals jump through the development review hoops to get approval for construction--they have the RIGHT to build what they have planned!

It's called private property rights--and I am a strong supporter of private property rights, within the bounds of zoning by the county, in order to manage growth appropriately.

So now that the growth train has left the station out here--what are the only means by which we can mitigate the impacts of more out-of-control residential growth?

1.  Plan.  I have impaneled a 9-member, BCC sanctioned committee to study this issue and bring a master plan concept forward to the citizens in order to help address this issue going forward.

2.  Look closely at up-zonings.  I have voted against the last three that did not meet the public interest (i.e. they would have exacerbated the current traffic and infrastructure problems in Beulah).  I'll continue to vote against these and PUD's that don't help the situation out here dramatically--unless there is a compelling reason not to do this.

3.  Don't exacerbate the problem with Government-Owned property.  We will soon own OLF 8 in the heart of Beulah and we will decide how it is to be zoned.  Tabula Rasa.  Blank Slate.  If we make solid decisions with how we allow it to be zoned and developed--we can help mitigate the out-of-control growth in residential construction out here that has blown out our infrastructure.  If we're smart.  If we allow more high-impact, high-density, traffic-exacerbating residential construction on this soon-to-be acquired property---then we are only making the problem worse.

I won't vote to make things worse.

"Town Center" coming to Beulah?

Project 52, a new mixed-use development in Beulah directly across the street from NFCU and adjacent (east) of Nature Trail--will have retail, restaurant, and other amenities to include a "Town Center" feature.

I have recently been told about and I have seen conceptual drawings for "Project 52"--a soon-to-be constructed mixed-use development coming to Beulah.

Interestingly-a large component of this development will be a "Town-Center" concept at the northern boundary of the property--directly across the street from the sprawling NFCU campus in Beulah.

And with 9-Mile road having pedestrian and bike friendly sidewalks installed on a two-mile stretch from the interstate to Beulah road as a part of the 4-lane project currently under construction--this creates a very walk-able community.  This is something many have been clamoring, congratulations! you go, voila!  It's coming!

There will be walk-able spaces, retail, restaurant, and a medical office facility--as well as over three hundred residential apartment units--within the footprint of "Project 52".  (This project is directly adjacent to the Nature Trail Subdivision, and adjoining the 68 Ventures mixed-use project [Pathstone] that is directly to the east.)  Pathstone, like Project 52, will contain additional restaurant, retail, and even more housing options---- 982 units total---all built in a walk-able manner complete with sidewalks--directly across the street and within walking distance of NFCU's campus and very near the on-ramp to I-10.

Once both of these properties are built-out and online--the nearby residents and employees of NFCU will have even more of  a walk-able, bikable option for housing, restaurants, retail, and other quality of life amenities very close to where they work....all built and provided by the PRIVATE sector--as these sorts of amenities should be in my opinion.

The Residences at Nature Creek, another nearby residential development, is already well under way with their construction across the street from Pathstone and Project 52, on the north side of 9-Mile road--directly adjacent (east) of the NFCU campus.  This development will have 232 more, new single family homes and apartments once construction is completed--within walking distance of NFCU.

So the million dollar question is this:  With so much residential construction already completed in Beulah, and with so much coming online and under construction near NFCU already--including this new "Town Center" (within walking distance)---And you can see it all in this diagram, here---why in the world would we consider allowing for the development of even more high-impact, traffic-

Friday, November 16, 2018

Escambia County: A Classy Organization that Says Farewell to Departing Members with Class

The County gave Commissioner Robinson a classy, well-attended thank you celebration and send off today--I was honored to present him with a framed proclamation, a plaque, and a gift as our way of expressing the County's appreciation to Grover C. Robinson IV for his 12 years of public service to Escambia County

This afternoon was an occasion to celebrate Grover Robinson's 12 years on the Escambia Board of County Commissioners as the District 4 Representative--and Escambia stepped up for the occasion.

The county staff did a superb job of organizing, planning, and putting on a nice goodbye party for one of our own that will be leaving after giving 12 years of service to this board.  How classy, what a class act Escambia County is! 

Grover was presented with a framed proclamation, a very nice plaque, and a parting gift as well as a nice celebration for friends, family, and other elected officials to attend. 

Appetizers, beverages, and just an opportunity to say "Thank You" to a member that has given a significant portion of his life to this board in public service.  That is the right thing to do.

Other boards locally that do nothing for their departing  members beyond a small plaque should seek to emulate the County's method for honoring elected representatives that are leaving. It's appropriate, and it is classy.

In speaking with staff today, I was told  "Yes, we do this for all of our commissioners that leave the board."  "We provide food and beverages and a nice gift for the commissioner who is leaving--as a respectful gesture of thanks and gratitude."

How refreshing this perspective is compared to other organizations with which I have worked.

What a classy organization full of great people. 

The County gave Commissioner Robinson a classy, well-attended thank you celebration and send off today--I was honored to present him with a framed proclamation, a plaque, and a gift as our way of expressing the County's appreciation to Grover for his 12 years of service to Escambia County

As Grover himself said it today...."We are fortunate in Escambia County that we have the finest citizens working for us!"  He is right!--

I can't say enough great things about this staff...professional, courteous, respectful, knowledgeable,  and timely with information.  What a great place to serve as an elected official.  I am blessed to have the honor of serving here and I am thankful!

And we wish Grover much success in his new role as Mayor of the City of Pensacola as we say good bye to him--he's going to do a great job for the citizens!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

What is the Realistic Timeline for us to #OpenOurBeach ?

This is a rough depiction of what our timeline looks like going forward in our effort to get Perdido Key Beach access #4 open for the general public that paid for it.

Yesterday was a profound day in the quest for Escambia County to #OpenOurBeach that we have owned for nearly 5 years but that we have chained-off from public access.

The Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to grant the county a Conditional Use Permit for the public park and beach access at Perdido Key.

The four hour meeting--complete with lawyers and nearby condo owners fighting hard against the opening of this beach--can be watched here.

Kudos to the citizens that showed up and fought for this public beach access.

But now that we have the Conditional Use Permit--what's next?

According to staff that are extremely knowledgeable on how this process will play out going forward, we could realistically be celebrating Independence Day at this brand new public access park in Perdido Key!

Of course, there is a chance that the nearby condo owners could have their attorneys file suit to try to stop this...I hope they don't.  (they REALLY do not want the general public having access to this beach that they consider their private beach;  they love the comfortable status quo they have enjoyed over the last several years where only THEY get to enjoy this beach...)

But barring anything unusual, and if the BCC identifies the funding source and votes to authorize the spending necessary to complete this project----- this beach should be open for use by ALL ESCAMBIA CITIZENS by the Summer of 2019!

It is going to be awesome when we #OpenOurBeach !!  I will be one of the first ones out there enjoying it when we get it done.  I might even drag a cooler with me :)

More Housing in Beulah---on the OLF 8 Field?????

9 Mile road will be 4-laned in late 2019, and will have 
walkable, bikable sidewalks from the interstate to Beulah Road.  
There are already more than 2,000 new residential units 
under construction or planned within
walking distance of NFCU's campus...why do we need more?

It confounds me, the idea some are putting forth about building MORE housing in the I-10/9-Mile Road area of Beulah, the current epicenter of growth in Escambia County.

More than just wanting more housing where we don't need it, these same folks want it to be high-impact, high-density housing (Condos, Townhomes, and Apartments). Yes-- these same folks want to fill the OLF 8 field we are soon to be acquiring--with more housing!?!

This is a terrible idea for many reasons, not the least of which is we don't need and cannot take any more high-impact, high-density residential out here in Beulah!  And if we fill the OLF 8 we are soon to acquire with a Fancy Mall encircled by condos, townhomes, and apartments--we can kiss our $30 Million Dollar Triumph grant to create jobs good bye.  This would be disastrous.

Folks, I live out here in Beulah and I have owned a home across from the NFCU campus for nearly 15 years.

There has been growth, tremendous growth.  I have lived it.

But the infrastructure of our area simply HAS NOT kept pace with the growth.

It is for this and many other good reasons that I have voted against the last several big residential projects in the Beulah area.  It's because we can't take any more growth in residential until our infrastructure catches up.

We are working the infrastructure projects as quickly as we can, but we are way behind the curve, way behind.

So looking forward to completing a master plan for our soon-to-be-acquired OLF 8 property, (regardless of who pays for it, the county or NFCU) we need to ensure that if I get out-voted and we

leave open the possibility of building more housing on OLF 8--that the planner look at how much is already constructed, under construction, or in the planning pipeline to be constructed already within walking distance to NFCU's campus.  This must be considered.  The planner should also consider the fact that most residents out here in Beulah DO NOT WANT a town of Beulah to be built out here!  They want some amenities, some restaurants, some shops--but the folks that elected me have told me point-blank that they want to retain the rural charm of this area--they don't want it to become a city!

So we come to a big decision point on Monday of next week.  Do we destroy the remaining rural, charming characteristics of Beulah by building towering high-density residential on the OLF 8 field? we listen to the people of this area that have lived here for decades and DO NOT WANT that?

I believe we can achieve a compromise that limits new housing in this already over-crowded space, makes smart decisions about the  development of the OLF 8 (Including adding a minimum of 1000 good jobs on the site to keep us in the running for a $30 Million Dollar Triumph Grant) while

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Newpoint Chapter Comes to a Close….Vindication

People lost their careers and went to jail--just as I correctly predicted when I learned about the Newpoint cover-up in late March of 2015.  This whole fiasco also helped pass the appointed superintendent model locally --a historic silver lining for Escambia that was, in part, born of the Newpoint mess

If you steal from the state, if you steal from students, if you try to cheat the system—eventually it will catch up to you and the wrongs will be righted.

So it is with some satisfaction that now we see another person involved in the Newpoint Charter Schools fiasco get sentenced tojail.  Good—that is a good outcome. Rip off teachers, steal money from kids, you deserve to go to jail so far as I’m concerned.

But that is an outcome that almost didn’t happen…and it happened too late for the taxpayers (the school got bonuses for BOGUS test scores before the whole thing tumbled down on them…) and it happened too late for many students that were subjected to that school and all of its spectacular dysfunction for far too long to keep negative headlines out of the press.

As a staunch school-choice and charter school supporter—it is and was somewhat ironic that I was the board member that received the whistle blower’s complaint and ACTUALLY did something with the information.  If I had not blown this up—my prediction is that Newpoint would still be operating in Escambia County today.  Sad, right?

I won’t rehash how it all went down-but there are a few of us that know the whole truth. For those that want to know the truth about how it went down, and what the Judge meant when he referred to “misfeasance” by public officials in his sentencing yesterday—I’d suggest the following blog posts (here here here here here and here) as a primer.  You'll get the flavor if you read them.

The nefarious conduct at Newpoint was being actively swept under the rug by district staffers at the behest of the superintendent’s office throughout 2014 and into early 2015.  That is a fact, and it is also factual that multiple staff members told me this point blank:  “We were told NOT to tell the school board about all the problems at Newpoint.” (these employees and the Newpoint Whistle Blower were the heroes of this story—they risked their jobs by telling me and doing the right thing)

I made the decision to unilaterally report the misconduct to the State Attorney’s Office, over the strenuous objections of the Superintendent, when I went to his office to confront him about the accusations.  He told me I was wrong.  “You are making a mistake –you  are wrong!” he yelled. 

Here’s the thing, though.  I was right, and he was wrong.  He was a part of the problem and he is

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Leadership Pensacola (LeaP) Spends a Morning with the Board of County Commissioners

LeaP class 2019 spent the morning with the Escambia Board of County Commissioners today

Today the newest Leadership Pensacola class spent the morning with the Escambia Board of County Commissioners. 

Leadership Pensacola (LeaP), is a project of the Greater Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, designed to cultivate and incubate leaders in the community.  From the Pensacola Chamber Website about LeaP:

"Leadership Pensacola (LeaP), a program of the Pensacola Chamber Foundation, aims to develop community-minded leaders during its 10-month-long program. LeaP is designed to help participants acquire an understanding of the issues facing the Pensacola area and to gain the leadership skills necessary to resolve them. Candidates sought come from a cross-section of the community – men and women from different political, career, educational, social and cultural backgrounds. Participants accepted into LeaP are involved in a balanced combination of retreats, day-long seminars and community projects. The program is refined annually by a committed group of LeaP alumni. Area decision-makers offer their time and expertise while tours and interactive exercises are built into each day."

The class of 2019, roughly 40 of them,  heard first from commissioner Lumon May.  He spoke to the group about his reasons for serving on the County Commission, and his thoughts about this service.

I came into the room right after Commissioner May, and my portion of the session was to take questions from the group, describe the day's Committee Meeting, and tell the group a little bit about what the biggest issues of the day would be.

The discussion centered on the complex, lengthy land swap between the U.S. Navy and Escambia County--the OLF 8 issue.  I had the opportunity to give the history of the issue, the current state of the project, and my personal thoughts on the matter--as the chairman of the board and as the representative of the district where OLF 8 sits geographically.

LeaP class 2019 spent the morning with the Escambia Board of County Commissioners today

Several great questions were asked, about OLF8 and even about Public Beach Access on Perdido Key.

After the Q and A, the LeaP class came down to our chambers to sit in on the Board's workshop.

It was good to see so many citizens interested in what we do and how we do it, I enjoyed speaking to this group and I look forward to seeing how this class progresses going forward.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Northwest District 1 Advisory Committee Holds First Regular Meeting in Beulah

The Northwest Section of District 1, which includes Beulah, is illustrated in the map above.  This is the fastest growing area of District 1--and the most impacted by growth.

The nine members of the Northwest District 1 Advisory Committee held their first regular meeting this week in Beulah.  The meeting was held Monday night in the cafeteria of the newly-opened Beulah Middle School.

Joining the group for this meeting were several members of County Staff, myself, and several local residents.

The meeting went well, the discussions were good, and the comments from the public were mostly positive.

Staff and committee members prepare for the first regular meeting of the Northwest District 1 Advisory Committee

The committee hammered out the meeting dates/times for the next four meetings, as well as the location for these meetings.  Committee Vice Chair, Mr. Wilson Taylor, Principal of Beulah Middle School, has graciously offered up his school's cafeteria for these meetings going forward, which the committee felt was a great location.

Staff and committee members hear from residents during the first regular meeting of the Northwest District 1 Advisory Committee

Beulah resident Chester Holland spoke to the committee  "I've lived out here since 1974, and I don't want to lose what we have out here--people out here like it the way it is."

Beulah resident Christine Rogers also weighed in  "I live behind the [OLF 8] helicopter field and I am here tonight because I am concerned and I want to know what is happening.  I also like the fact that you are having the meetings here in a location that I can attend."

Several members of one family attended but indicated they just wanted to observe and listen.

Several committee housekeeping items were handled as well:

--Handouts on Robert's Rules of Order were distributed

--Staff gave a presentation on planning acronyms

--Staff gave a presentation on current area traffic projects and completion timelines

--the agendas for these meetings will be published on the County website, along with backup materials, at least one week before the meetings going forward.

--a public forum section will be on the agenda going forward so citizens can speak

--promotion of the meeting will be done via the county's regular meeting schedule advertisement, along with social media that citizens present said they would post.  Additionally, Kim Adderholt (a committee member that works for NFCU) said she would look into advertising these meetings internally at Navy Federal Credit Union.

the committee set goals for the next four meetings as well.

Next month, at the December 3rd meeting--the committee will hear from staff on the lessons learned from a previous county planning effort, the Perdido Key Master Plan.

At the January 14th meeting--the committee will discuss the work previously completed by the Beulah Community Master Plan citizens.

February's meeting will be a session for synthesizing the initial plans into a working rough draft, and the March meeting--tentatively and hopefully--will be promoted as an opportunity for the general public to come and add their voices for the effort.

Discussion of current area conditions at the first regular meeting of the Northwest District 1 Advisory Committee

This is an aggressive schedule for the next four months, but this committee is comprised of impressive folks who seem genuinely interested in moving forward with plans to make this community better.  I look forward to watching them work and seeing the product of their work come to fruition.

Learn more about Escambia County's NW District 1 Advisory Committee  here, here, and here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

A Tremendous Win for Students, Parents, and Teachers in Escambia County!

We will now allow our elected School Board to hire the best, most qualified superintendent of schools to run our district starting in 2020.  This is a great win for students, parents, teachers, and the school district.  A HUGE night for Escambia County!

The vote has happened.

The voters of Escambia County have spoken.

They have chosen progress over politics.  They have chosen the future over the past.

They have voted to reject the status quo and the old way of operating our schools.

Beginning in 2020, the Escambia County School District will officially join the rest of the country and the civilized world and we will allow our elected school board to hire the best, most qualified Superintendent of Schools from a nationwide search.

We have moved from the backwards, throwback, and abnormal system of ELECTING our superintendents to the more modern and effective method of APPOINTING our superintendent.

No more good ole boy politics, no more nepotism and cronyism.  Bye Bye to that.....

Finally, we can have this official concentrate on educating our students rather than ginning up support for the next election.

This was the biggest, most important issue on the ballot tonight.  This is a HUGE victory for students, parents, and teachers.  This will come as a shock to many people who have stated, point blank, that "This will NEVER happen in Escambia County!"

Well, it just did.  Thank you to everyone who worked to make this happen.

Thanks to Quint Studer, DC Reeves, Michelle Salzman, Walker Wilson, and the Pensacola Young Professionals for their efforts and resources added to this cause.

I am so glad we got this over the line and I am so hopeful for the future of this district now that we have joined 99.5% of the rest of the world by finally, at long last, fixing our broken, dysfunctional, and backwards governance model.

Big night, big win.

Big future!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Vote Yes to Fix a Broken, Backward System.....Vote YES on Tuesday For Escambia Schools!

The school district's enrollment has been declining over time, while the county's population (and neighboring public school districts' populations) have been increasing.  The governance structure is one MAJOR reason why.  This can be fixed on Tuesday with a YES vote for an appointed superintendent

I make no apologies for the tone of the below post.  I write this only because I fear the future course of this district if we do not fix the  underlying structure of this school system.  The current structure is a backwards, broken model.  I'll explain what I mean below, but first, I must say something important:

There is no magic bullet to fix our public school system locally.

Elected or Appointed--whoever the Superintendent is starting in 2020 will not possess a magic wand to fix the system.

But the current system is BROKEN.

How do I know?  Well, let's see: I have three kids that went through the system, I went through this same system, I've traveled and lived all over the country and the world in places that have GREAT public school systems, I have many friends and family members that have gone through this system and/or have had kids in this system or have worked in this system---and I spent 10 years of my life as a School Board Member in this system where all I tried to do was MAKE THE SYSTEM BETTER!

It is challenging on many fronts.  I''ll save space here but would point you to this post that describes the real problems in detail.

So knowing that we have unique challenges locally and that there is no panacea--we next go to the governance structure.

Is it really best to give all the power to one person?  I say NO.  That's why most districts do not give ALL POWER to the superintendent as we do here in Escambia.  What we do here is abnormal.

Sure, those who benefit from the current structure and those that do not understand the inner-workings of this district will say things like:

"The school board has to vote to terminate or hire employees---and they make policy and control the budget"  And sure, as a practical matter that is true--but it is much more complex than that.

Under our current, broken system:  The  board can only vote against a superintendent's employment recommendation for very specific causes as delineated in statute.  Translation--it does not happen.

The board can only create policy "upon the recommendation of the superintendent" which under the current system means simply "if the superintendent wants it and agrees with it"

And with respect to employment decisions:

Whoever the superintendent picks--is the person that fills the position.  Check the record if you don't believe me.

When it comes to termination recommendations--yes, the board has the final say.  But I will say that the superintendent's staff and all employees of the district (over 6,000 full, part-time, and contract employees) are 100% loyal to the superintendent only--as he and he alone approves their year-over-year contract renewals (except for tenured instructional personnel--who are becoming more and more rare since SB 736 was passed in 2011)--and so once a termination decision comes down from the superintendent's office, there is a huge force of loyalists that will lobby for the recommendation.  They don't have any loyalty, and show no deference, whatsoever, to school board members.  Why?  Because under this current structure the board has ZERO power to do anything unless and until the elected superintendent says "yes."  Zero power.

So a lot of employees are terrified to buck the system.

And heaven forbid a board member vote against a superintendent's employee recommendation.  Instant "pariah" status--there it is, you got it.

Look no further than the Coach Benny Washington Vote for proof...

We have MAJOR problems in our district that require a specialist that is fearless to confront.

Here is what we don't need, any more, in Escambia County schools......

--We don't need a system where employees are told NOT to share important information with school board members who are statutorily obligated to "supervise and control" public education.  We don't need any more Newpoint fiascos....

--We don't need a system where the superintendent forces school administrators to sweep SERIOUS

Friday, November 2, 2018

Interlocal Agreement between County and City Approved and Signed by BCC on 11/1/2018

Look below to see the Interlocal agreement between the County and the City regarding ST Engineering Aerospace's forthcoming expansion at Pensacola's Airport.  It is anticipated that Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward will sign this document at an upcoming meeting of the Pensacola City Council  at which point this document will be fully executed.

The county voted 4-1 to approve this document last night, a document which now bears my signature as chairman of the board. 

Doug Underhill was the lone voice of dissent on this item.  He voted "No."

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Ferry Service Blame Game Begins.....

I had the opportunity to meet the Ferry Service Operator and take several rides on the Turtle Runner and Pelican Perch during the first season of the Ferry Service in Pensacola

Folks online are offering their assessments about why the Pensacola Bay Ferry Service provider has discontinued his operations.  Most folks are upset and disappointed.

"I saw that coming" 

"I knew IT"

"It was too expensive!"

"I knew it wouldn't work"

All kinds of reasons were thrown out there--all kinds of opinions online.

I was hoping this service would take off, but according to news reports out recently, the service was upside down to the tune of $300K --- just for this shortened first season.

I met the captain and was able to take several rides.  I had high hopes for this service, especially since we built the dock infrastructure out at quietwater beach boardwalk to accommodate this Ferry Service.

My hope now, going forward, is that another operator will be selected to take over the service.  We will see how that shakes out.

Meanwhile, not everyone was enamored with this operation.  One constituent sent me an email detailing a list of alleged transgressions this operation had committed.  This constituent made some allegations that I will investigate, so that going forward, the next operator of the Ferry will know, up front, about these additional issues.

From the email:

"Mr. Bergosh,

I feel you should be made aware some concerns surrounding the Pensacola Bay Ferry system that is being backed by the National Park Service.
There is significant disapproval from the local small businesses in the Pensacola Beach area in how the Ferry system was being run.
The big picture is that the National Park Service used government funds from the Deepwater Horizon Restitution Fund to build two vessels to be used as a ferry service to benefit the area.  Although the contract was initially put through a legally required bid process, it failed to return any adequate options due to the fact that no one could justify the operating cost well enough to want to run it.  I may have missed a legal loophole somewhere, but the second “round” of bids was never conducted and the Park Service simply hired a concessioner, Gulf Coast Maritime Services, Inc.  The concessioner was running not only a much needed ferry service to Pensacola Beach from Downtown Pensacola, but they also began specialty cruises (dolphin, sunset, and Blue Angel cruises) that are in direct competition with the local businesses in the area. Due to the fact that they didn’t actually have to purchase their vessels outright, they were able to undercut the local ticket prices which is hurting the small businesses. 
In addition to government funded competition against the local businesses, the concessioner did not apply for all the regular approvals and was not paying the required Santa Rosa Island Authority “fees.” These are a basic requirement of all other entities conducting business on the Island.  The Santa Rosa Island Authority has been very strict about other companies not being able to pick up passengers at any location without specific leaseholder signatures and state permission (for publicly used docks such as the Boardwalk). The fact that the National Park Service and its concessioner