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.








Wednesday, December 12, 2018

How $92 Million Was Given Away, and Nobody is Held to Account, Part II

Fixing the beach lease renewal process will help stem the subsidies from Escambia County Taxpayers for expensive properties on Pensacola Beach...


As we explained in Part I, the SRIA renegotiated two large condominium leases in 2016 that will result in $92 Million in unrealized income for Escambia County taxpayers over the term of those leases.

Congratulations to the individual owners of these condominiums for being on the positive side of such a favorable deal!  Good on ya!

But Escambia County and the SRIA are the losers here, because this creates a situation where millions and millions of dollars have been left on the table.  And taxpayers of Escambia County are and will be the losers.

Right behind these two 2016 condo complex renewals will come many more.  If we don't modernize the fees and standardize this process, just imagine how much revenue will be left "on the table" when these condos come in for renewal-----if we leave the rates unsustainably low as was the case with Beach Club and Emerald Isle??

That's why the disastrous method utilized currently to "renegotiate" these leases must be standardized and fixed on today's market rates.  Otherwise, Escambia County taxpayers will continue to absorb the subsidies that are being given to beach property owners via overly generous lease renewals.

How, you ask, does this affect Escambia County taxpayers?

Here's how.

Many of the services provided on Pensacola Beach are subsidized by Escambia County.  The less the SRIA takes in via leases, the more the county will have to pay (subsidize).  It is inversely proportional.

Here are some current examples:

Above:  A comparison of taxes paid by beach properties compared to mainland properties


Public Works and roads crews for Pensacola Beach  $2.5 Million Dollar subsidy from Escambia County Taxpayers

Via De Luna resurfacing?  $1.3 Million yearly paid for from County Funds.

Sheriff's Law Enforcement Services?  Subsidized more than $50,000.00 per year by Escambia taxpayers.

So we have to fix the lease renewal process going forward, we must.  This is the only way to insure everyone is paying a proportional amount for the services received.

This is an important issue I will stay-on until it is fixed.


How $92 Million Was Given Away, and Nobody is Held to Account, Part I

Two (2) ill-conceived lease renewals at Pensacola Beach in 2016 will cost Escambia County Taxpayers more than $92 Million in un-realized revenue over the course of these particular lease terms.  This should not have happened, and it should never happen again.


In 2016 a lot was going on.

There was a campaign going on, and it was drawing lots of attention.

There were local campaigns, and folks were pre-occupied with a lot of stuff.

I had my hands full with my own campaign for BCC in 2016.  I was busy.  We all were busy. I wasn't on the Board of County Commissioners yet.

Amid this backdrop, two very important things happened that will cost Escambia County Taxpayers a TON of money going forward...  How much, you ask?   How about this.  Get Ready.

$92,100,096.

This is a tremendous sum of money and the taxpayers should not have been subjected to this steep a loss---but the deal is done, it happened, and there is no going back and unwinding it.

This is what we lost..... But how did this happen??

Two condominium complexes on Pensacola Beach "Re-Negotiated" new 99 year leases at ridiculously LOW per year, per unit lease fee rates for their respective Gulf-Front properties in 2016.

The immediate impact is the lease fees for these properties are significantly less than what similar properties in Perdido Key are paying.  When one looks at the delta between what similar properties in Perdido Key pay and what these two complexes in Pensacola Beach will pay--it is inconceivable to the average person....how could this have been allowed to happen?  How?

There's a huge delta between Pensacola Beach property tax payments and what similar properties in Perdido key, above, pay.


Because we don't have a time machine and we cannot go back after the fact and "unwind" these deals-the only thing we can and should do going forward is to learn from our mistake. We should never, ever allow the taxpayers to be treated so badly.  Ever.

So how do we fix this going forward?  Here is what I propose....

From now on, ANY new lease with SRIA, any renegotiated lease, should be required to be either

A.  Perpetually renewing, which courts have determined will pay ad valorem taxes on property and improvements

or

B. Renegotiable at 99 year increments--which will preclude ad-valorem taxation.  But such leases will, and should, however, pay a MARKET RATE lease fee to SRIA for the land portion of the property, complete with escalation clauses worked into the renewal to insure the lease fees keep pace with inflation.

It has to be one or the other, this is only fair.  It can never again be a re-negotiable lease with a lease fee that is at the 1946 level.  This is nothing but a ripoff.  So we have to fix it by allowing the lessee to pick between two options as I have listed above.

If we do this, we will never, ever, again be taken to the cleaners like we were with the Beach Club and Emerald Isle Condo lease renewals in 2016.

We will fix this, it is time, and it is fair.

Competition on a Level Playing Field is Good and it is Fair

Our Local New Car automotive dealerships give a significant boost to our local economy yearly--as is illustrated above.  Is it too much to ask to help insure they are treated fairly? 


The issue of "Pop-Up" Car Sales has been a concern that the Escambia County Commission has dealt with before.  But nothing was done.  The proverbial can got kicked last time this issue came around.

The problem continues.

And this time we will solve it.

We have a situation where our "brick and mortar," well-established dealerships have to compete with out of town firms that come to Pensacola, set up tents in parking lots at University Mall or the Fairgrounds, and try their level-best to undercut our locally-owned, well-established car dealerships.

They often times send flyers out in advance, flyers that lead some to believe they have actually "Won" something.  Once these unsuspecting locals show up, they are pressured to buy a car.  A certain percentage of these persons can be "qualified" for a loan (albeit at high rates)--and the "contest " where someone thought they won a prize becomes a situation where an unsuspecting local is sold a vehicle at an inflated price with not fallback protection if the car falls apart or breaks down.

NOPE--these guys are long-gone by the time the problems start.  And folks get stuck with lemons in many cases--with NO RECOURSE.

The Free Market Capitalists might not like it-----but the bottom line is fairly simple;  regulations are necessary, and they are good.  And regulations are fair and they actually foster competition if they are done properly.

We will craft an ordinance that will be fair to all car salesmen---local and out-of-town.  But there will be built-in safeguards to protect consumers and to insure warranties offered are actually backed up, and that all sales of cars are done via licensed dealers who compete on a LEVEL PLAYING FIELD.

Once we do this, I think we will see less and less of the circus tent, pop-up car sales.

And this will be good for consumers, and this will be good for folks locally.

This should have been an easy win, something easy to fix a few years ago.  We will fix it right this time, though.

Speakers at Public Forum: Is there a Potential Compromise?

I have developed what I feel may be a good compromise on the issue of speakers at our meetings sharing minutes.  I will present it tomorrow and we will see if it garners support....


I relinquished the chairmanship of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners last month, and a lot has happened in the short period of time since I handed the gavel to my counterpart in District 3.

We brought in a new member to our board, Robert Bender from District 1.

We began a new policy--which I think is outstanding and I strongly support--where we will start doing one of our two monthly meetings during the day and combine it with what was previously an "agenda review" meeting held during the day. 

This change will allow us to be more efficient, and will free-up staff to concentrate on doing their day-in, day-out jobs in the afternoons following this new, daytime meeting.  (Under our previous format, we did two monthly review meetings where we reviewed the material prior to that night's regular meeting.  Then, we would do  a second meeting the same date, except at night, where the same topics would be covered.  And our entire compliment of senior staff was expected, and were, present at both meetings.  It was what we always did but it was inefficient.  Kudos to Chairman May for making this very good change) 

Under Chairman May's new initiative, the second meeting of the month will be during the day, and will be a combination of what was previously a day review and a night meeting.

And this is a great idea I strongly support.

But one thing has changed that I think still might need some minor tweaking.......

The Public Forum speaker's rules have also been changed abruptly...

We previously would allow speakers who did not wish to speak the opportunity to "cede" minutes to another speaker who wanted to speak on the same topic.   And some speakers would get multiple citizens to "cede" minutes to them so that they could expound on a topic beyond the simple 3 minute time limit.

The newly imposed rule disallows this prior practice.  Everyone can and will be heard, but nobody can "give" minutes to their fellow speakers.  That's the new rule
While I believe this new protocol has it's attractive qualities---I do think there are some issues which require more time to describe.

I also think there are some folks who do not like to speak publicly.  This policy effectively boxes them out.

So here is where I think a compromise may be appropriate--because there is nothing wrong with a person compromising, as long as that person is not compromising his/her integrity or going against a core value/belief.

I believe it is fair, and also efficient, to allow a LIMITED amount of sharing of minutes at public forum. 

The CONs of the current Policy:

--If we tell folks they can no longer "share" minutes, this all but guarantees that more speakers will speak now, and they will more than likely read scripted speeches and take the maximum time.

--folks that are afraid of public speaking may stop attending out of frustration

--fewer will not simply "wave in support"--but rather speak for their full allocation of time to make a point about their anger over the new policy.  This may make meetings go longer

A SUGGESTED COMPROMISE  (Below is my suggested compromise that I will bring up tomorrow)

1.  Allow for sharing of minutes on a limited basis
2.  Speakers who want to speak receive the full 3 Minutes.
3.  Speakers who want to cede time to another citizen can either speak for 3 Minutes themselves or  if they so choose, they may cede a maximum of 1 minute.
4.  No more than "5" speakers can cede time to any one person, and any person receiving minutes ceded from other citizens may only receive a total of 5 minutes of ceded time.
5. No individual speaker can speak for more than 8 minutes total

I believe if we can massage the current policy, we can still be efficient and simultaneously we can keep alive a long-running practice that encourages citizen input.  In short, I think we can achieve a win-win compromise.

I'll suggest this as a compromise tomorrow, we shall see how it is received by my peers.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Tomorrow We Begin the Process of Hiring a New Administrator...What Should the Salary Be?

Peer counties we selected to survey for salary levels are shown above...The average administrator in this survey group is paid in excess of $200,000 yearly.


InWeekly did a piece on this topic last week, and Sunday the PNJ made this a feature article in the local section.

Tomorrow we will begin the process of searching for, selecting, and offering a contract to Jack Brown's replacement.  We will be getting a new County Administrator.

The staff has put together a thorough agenda chock-full of information for tomorrow's special workshop on this topic--for those interested in reviewing this information, it is here

For my part it will be simple.  When we whittle it down to the short list of very well-qualified candidates, I will sit down and speak with each candidate individually, face to face.  I'll want to know about their track record in solving intricate, complex issues.  I'll want to hear about big successes these candidates have achieved.  I'll want to discuss their view on providing leadership and guidance to the board.  These will be essential to my eventual selection, because I am looking for someone who will bring solutions and plans.  It is not good enough to wait and hope that the board will know enough to be able to tackle every job;  this is what we pay the administrator for.  And we will pay them well, because we need a good one.

Tomorrow will be an interesting meeting!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

How Did Escambia County Get to Single Member Elected Districts for County Commissioners?

This subject came up the other night at the County Commission Meeting.  Several speakers asked the following question:

How come individual commissioners are only voted in by citizens that live within their individual commissioners' districts?  How come the entire county can't vote for every district commissioner, like it is done in Santa Rosa County (and all the other counties in America)?

As was discussed in the meeting, this is because of a 1970's era lawsuit that was successful and that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

This screenshot of an article from the 1984 Pensacola Journal lays out the chronology of how this practice came to be locally...Interesting......



How Bogus, BS Lawsuits foster Disdain for Lawyers and the Law, Part II

Was it, and is it, "ethical" for lawyers to team up with plaintiffs to sue small business owners, Counties, Cities, and others, en masse, making fortunes for themselves and their plaintiffs---under the guise of providing greater access for disabled individuals?  I say the answer is NO!


The Americans with Disabilities Act, Discrimination, The Unruh Civil Rights Act, The Unfair Business Practices Act, and Accessibility to Public Places.


In 2002 I had just opened my third and fourth businesses, respectively, when I was hit with my first lawsuit as a small business owner. I was leveraged and I was vulnerable so the timing of the lawsuit, at that point in my life, could not have been worse.  The suit itself was ridiculous--it was bogus.

A disabled person, confined to a wheelchair, a person who lived in the San Francisco Bay area--500 miles away from one of my establishments in the southern California City of La Mesa-- "suddenly" felt the need to come down  and have a beer at my place.  At least that's what he claimed, anyway.

But the truth of the matter was his complaint was bogus, the basis was bogus, and it was part of a scheme to make money under the guise of expanding "access" for persons with disabilities.

This was a serial litigant that had an attorney filing cases on his behalf and they were all making money at the expense of small businesses statewide.

Now, nobody would ever argue with expanding access to public accommodations for folks with disabilities.  The problem was--I was never given a chance to fix the problem before I was sued and hit with demand letter. .    Nope.  Like that pop-song by Drake --it went 0 to 100 real quick.

Conveniently, if I agreed to play along, the suit would be dropped, the lawyer for the plaintiff would be paid, the plaintiff would be paid, and everyone would be happy....eventually I had to hire my own attorney, threaten to sue my own insurance company (Lloyds of London) to compel them to kick in

How Bogus, BS Lawsuits foster Disdain for Lawyers and the Law, Part I

Bogus lawsuits fueled by greed lead to negative perceptions of lawyers
The County has recently been hit with a B.S., BOGUS Lawsuit.  It is infuriating on several levels, and it gave me a moment of Deja-Vu as I read the complaint.  I've seen these before.  More on that in Part II.

These sorts of complaints, these baseless, bogus suits happen frequently and they create a negative perception of lawyers and the law.  I have personal experience with these as a small business owner, a school board member, and now as a county commissioner.  And I have discussed these sorts of things, at length, with my brother (who himself is a lawyer).

Because my brother is a lawyer and now he is a judge, I have had a long running "shtick" that I use on the unsuspecting and the ones that know me--when the subject of lawsuits, lawyers, and the law invariably comes up.  "I HATE all lawyers, except for one."  People that know my brother typically chuckle.  Of course it isn't true, it is a gross exaggeration.  But there is a tinge of truth there, no question about it....

My new "shtick" I use since my brother became a judge goes like this....  Someone says something, in passing, akin to---"Hey Jeff, I saw your brother the other day..."--which is not an infrequent comment I hear---to which I quickly reply with one of the following three variations "I hope the sentence he handed you was fair" or "I apologize for his horrible conduct" or "I hope you ended up on the right side of the verdict." [Insert sound of a rimshot]

It's all in good fun-----until it's not.

You see--when you are served papers--when you are sued personally or in your capacity as a business owner, when the allegations are bogus--It becomes serious very quickly. Most folks may never

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Read The FDOT Project Manager's Written Update on 9-Mile Road Widening Project in Beulah.....

Work on the project to widen 9-Mile Road from two to four lanes through Beulah has slowed to a crawl.  The FDOT project manager has provided a written explanation of the reasons for this....


The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is the entity that is managing the project to widen 9-Mile Road.  This project's completion date has slipped, the work has slowed, and I have been contacted by numerous frustrated residents in Beulah that feel as though the work on this  project to 4-lane the section from Beulah Road to the Interstate has all but been abandoned....From one recent email:

" The 200 meter section from the new bridge to the I-10 ramp has not been worked on. The road from the entrance to Nature Trail to the new bridge appears to be pretty much completed. Why has nothing further been completed?  The small area, once completed, will alleviate traffic problems. The short 100 meters of road under I-10 was torn up but never repaired. So, a two lane section has been rendered useless to a single lane traffic heading east..The primary sections of the U.S.’s interstate system were built in about 35 years. And, that was begun in the 50’s.  I am not very impressed with today’s competence that cannot build and finish a 1-2 mile stretch of road in Escambia County in two years.  Frankly, all involved should be embarrassed."

The FDOT project manager, to her credit, immediately responded to a request I made for an update on this project.  Below is her email update on this portion of the project, specifically:

"Thank you for your interest in the Nine Mile Road widening project. Work is currently focused at the tie-ins near the connection between Leisure Lakes RV Park and Beulah Road. Crews are concentrating on completing the exposed portions of the work in an effort to minimize potential erosion. The project has received a substantial amount of rain over the last several months and this has impacted the ability of the project team to productively work on the roadway embankment, subgrade and limerock base. The rains have also impacted the ability to grade the ditches and place the concrete ditch pavement. Regrettably, it seems every time the crews grade the ditch, adverse weather conditions cause a delay.

On the other end of the project limits, near the I-10 interchange, the team recently received approval of the final design from FDOT for the driveway at Spectrum Systems (3410 Nine Mile Road). Crews have worked to relocate the water mains and water service in this area. It is critical to get this driveway constructed so the new stormwater retention pond and associated drainage can be completed. Once this is accomplished, crews will be able to return to work widening the remaining

Saturday, December 1, 2018

First Official BCC - NFCU Meeting on Future of OLF 8 Held This Week

NFCU has created very preliminary draft renderings of how they conceptualize their development of 100 acres of OLF 8;  the BCC has said we will sell  NFCU 100 acres in exchange for a Market Price and the creation of 300 additional jobs...


The Escambia Board of County Commissioners has given clear direction to staff:

--Begin the process of negotiations with NFCU regarding their written offer to purchase 100 acres of our soon-to-be acquired OLF 8 field in Beulah.

--Begin discussions with NFCU regarding their written and verbal offer to pay for a Master Plan for this property based upon the parameters specified in our unanimously approved RFP for selection of a firm to implement this plan.

(The county unanimously approved a compromise draft document that will guide the development of the plan for the field, a document that maintains the focus on creating jobs, keeping the county in the running for a $30 Million Dollar grant to create a minimum of 1000 good jobs, and adding some amenities while FULLY considering the needs of the Beulah Community in this development)

So Thursday of this week the first kickoff meeting between staff and NFCU was held in Beulah at the NFCU campus.

Now, this was a very preliminary meeting, as we do not yet own the property. 

(The property will transfer to the county in the next several months when some final paperwork is concluded.  In late February or early March of  2019-- there will be two (2) ceremonies memorializing this profound land transfer deal between Escambia County and the US Navy--one will be held at Whiting Field's newly constructed OLF X in Santa Rosa County, and then one will be held at OLF 8 in Beulah on the same day.)

At this Thursday meeting representing NFCU were Kara Cardona, Kimberly Adderholt, and a representative from the NFCU General Counsel's office.  For the county, it was acting administrator Amy Lovoy, Assistant County Attorney Matt Coughlin, and from the county attorney's office, Meredith Crawford.

Topics of discussion, according to folks that were in the meeting with whom I have spoken, included forming a selection committee to rank planning firms for the master plan, and the make-up of this committee.  Additionally, the 100 acre portion of the field that NFCU wants was also discussed, however price, terms, and other issues have yet to be ironed out.  This will require appraisals of the portion of the field that NFCU has expressed a desire to acquire.  (NFCU has created and circulated some initial, preliminary renderings indicating how they envision utilizing the field--as indicated by the draft rendering above).  At this meeting Thursday, county staff asked NFCU if they were prepared to make a formal, written offer via a purchase offer document for the 100 acres--as this has yet to happen.  They did not do so at this meeting.

The other important discussion centered around insuring a planning process where no one party (neither NFCU nor the County nor any particular citizen) exerts undue influence.  As a way to prevent this, an initial concept discussed was for the County and NFCU to jointly fund and hire a