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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Participation Trophy Redux.....

People seem to agree that awarding trophies for all "participants" in children's' athletic leagues is a no-no. They make serious videos about this on social media and they throw the trophies away! It's funny how the same people expect participation trophies for school discipline and school academic work though--and somehow this dichotomy is perfectly acceptable. A former counterpart of mine on the school board summed up his philosophy very succinctly on the subject of earning grades versus  being given marks that were not earned.  His comments were given in a meeting we had in April of 2015:  "It's all about being honest and true with those kids.  It's not 10-year old baseball where everybody gets a trophy.  You earn it. And it needs to always be that way." 

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with a recently retired middle school teacher.  This teacher taught for many years at an Escambia County District 1 Middle School which I won't name.

I have known this teacher for a number of years and can say with confidence that this person is a straight-shooter, a retired military officer, and what this person says is true--this person would not lie about something having to do with the schools-or anything else for that matter so far as I can tell.

As we talked some politics and current events, the subject of teaching came up. Invariably the topic of school discipline came up. Yes, this teacher lamented the lax discipline and the torn up referrals.  This teacher didn't care for that.  And then I segued into an area of special interest that I pursued when I was on the school board.  "No Zero Grading"  (If you want the history of this, you can read what I wrote on this subject a few years back here, here, here, here, here and here.)

My opinion on this in a Nutshell:  No Zero grading is a horrible, terrible construct that coddles students and forces teachers to give grades to students that are not earned.  And the system rewards students who are lazy, while simultaneously punishing students that work hard and try their best.  Nobody gets less than a 50% ever, no matter what, even if work is not completed.  It artificially inflates student grades, allowing students to earn passing grades where these same students, based upon their actual work and mastery of the subject, would fail in truly rigorous systems like the ones you and I and most of us went to when we were in school.

(So I'm glad when I read about teachers and entire school districts that push back against this scheme...)

Like the dumbing-down of discipline expectations and punishments that was rampant in the schools locally and nationally to produce "better and lower suspension numbers"--this is the dumbing-down of .academic rigor and expectations.  It's lazy.  It's feckless.  It short-changes students. It's modern day social promotion.  It's dishonest.   And most importantly--- it does not prepare students for the realities of life and the real world.

"Yeah, that was a standard expectation at the school---I thought everyone knew this?" was the reaction I got when I told this teacher this surprised me.  "I never liked it, I was never comfortable with it--but we were expected to do it.  And at the end of the quarter and  semester, the principal would put pressure on us to move these students' grades up" this teacher continued. "If I had 150 students and 15 or 20 were failing, I was  put on the spot because of it--even though the students were getting the grade they earned"  this person continued.  "I did not like it and again--I never felt comfortable with it but it was what we were expected to do" this individual continued.

I left the school board in late 2016 after serving 10 years.  I brought this "No Zero" grading issue up in early 2015 when I got wind of it-------and the board was told "This is NOT happening in this district"

So it is somewhat infuriating, but not entirely surprising, to hear this teacher say that it is and was happening, as a standard practice,  up through last year when this teacher retired.  

In 2015--when I got a whiff of this happening without the board's approval (and in contravention to the school board's grading scale and policy), I brought the issue to a meeting and the board and the superintendent discussed this.

My District 2 Counterpart on the school board at that time, Gerald Boone, made one of the most profound speeches I ever remember hearing him give --and it was on this subject.  It was short, but as usual he was spot on. As a 35 year teacher, he didn't seem to support giving students grades for work they did not do. His powerful, three- minute statement on this subject starts at 54:50 of the first video section of this meeting People should watch this

And the superintendent at that time assured us this was not happening in this district.  He even

Monday, January 14, 2019

What are the Current Impacts, Locally, of the Federal Government Shutdown?

As the shutdown approaches 25 days, some folks have felt no impact.  Some have felt moderate impacts.  Some are massively impacted because they are not getting a paycheck and they are furloughed.  Our lobbyist in Washington DC put together this list of impacts late last week (Jan. 10th):

"Subject:          Impact of the Government Shutdown

...the continuing impacts of the shutdown are detailed below:

With no funding for the Department of Homeland Security, immigration officials and border patrol officers are among those furloughed or working without pay. While judges and clerks are home, asylum cases are continuing to pile on to an already backlogged system, reaching over 1 million on the docket. Neither are companies able to utilize the E-Verify system to ensure they are hiring documented works, as the service are unavailable until the funding crisis is resolved. This issue means many companies, such as manufacturing firms who hire primarily immigrants, are scrambling to find workers.

Meanwhile, unpaid agents are taking in more than 2,000 migrants per day, many of them families and children, and have nowhere to detain them. This has led to the undocumented immigrants being released into border cities. There are also many asylum seekers coming to the border crossing with influenza, bronchitis, and other infectious diseases. Two children have already died in U.S Border Control and Protection custody, leading to extreme tension and concern over welfare.

Of the 245,000 employees at DHS, only about 14% will be paid. 179.000 will work unpaid, while 

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Stay the Course to a Better Solution

I believe we did the homework and the four of us made the right decision.

Just because the cartoon guy didn't do his homework, does not mean the four commissioners did not do ours.  I met with the engineering staff on this project particularly several months ago.  It was fraught with issues. I met individually with multiple residents that were opposed. I listened intensely at the forum, and I made the right decision that I stand by. Not 1 resident showed up to support it this project. Like I said in the meeting, this plan was not ready for prime time, it needed to be massaged so that the residents could get behind it.  I believe we as a board made the right choice, even if one of the commissioners and the cartoonist disagree.  We stay the course for the right plan and carry on.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Private Development Group offers Escambia County $18 Million for 530 Acres of OLF 8

We haven't even taken title to this property (OLF 8 in Beulah) yet from the Navy.

And already Navy Federal Credit Union has offered us $4.2 Million for 100 acres.

Today, a private development partnership has sent a written letter of intent to purchase the remaining 530 acres (the portion NFCU is not purchasing) for $18 Million.

This is intriguing, and this would put us firmly in the "black" ($4.7 Million to the good) on this property if we move both of these offers forward and convert these offers into sales.

In order to complete the transactions, our attorney has clearly articulated that we would have an obligation to surplus any property and offer it for purchase to the highest bidder before simply acting on an unsolicited offer from an outside group.  Obviously we will follow the law with respect to whatever we end up doing with this property.

It is intriguing.  I'm certain this issue will be discussed this week when the board meets.  I look forward to these discussions.  See the LOI we received below:

Fixing the Fire Service Budgeting in Escambia County

Is there a way to more intelligently budget for the fire service in Escambia County?  Answer--yes...

The budgeting for fire service in Escambia County is being discussed this week.

I met with the Fire Chief and Director of the Emergency Services yesterday afternoon.

Currently, we fund fire services with an MSBU that every dwelling in the county pays, it is $125 per unit in the unincorporated areas of the county.  And this generates the money necessary to pay the 300+  county firefighters (160 are volunteers) and pay expenses associated with the department's operations.

But this amount of money generated is not keeping up with costs.  So here is where the rubber meets the road in answering the following question:

How do we adequately fund this service while not simply raising tax rates on property owners?

I believe the answer requires a few initial steps and some creativity--but I believe we can do it.  Here's how:

1-----Have the fire service (and EMS) only utilize Local Option Sales Taxes going forward for equipment purchases (equipment that qualifies under the LOST referendum) to free up

When the Gulf Power Tree-Trimmers Come by Your Property...

I had a call from a concerned Beulah resident. She is and has been concerned about the way Gulf Power's (Now Next Energytree-trimming crews are cutting down trees and leaving stumps. She gave me some great information back from the contractor that I'm sharing now.

Obviously, branches and tree limbs must be cleared away from power lines to protect against outages--but there are some consequences of this activity.

According to this resident, the following is applicable to the tree-cutting process this current contractor is using.  from her email:

"they have two different trimming processes in Beulah. 

With vegetation easement - Two years ago, Gulf Power tried to get property owners to sign "vegetation easements" and some did.  If the property owners signed, then Gulf Power has the right to go in 15' from their property line to "manage" vegetation.  The crew foreman will talk with the property owner before starting work, he said.  The foreman will tell them if he plans to take down a tree entirely, and the property owner should say they want the stump ground at that time.  If the property owner does not bring it up, it is not done (though they have gone back months later when customers complained). 

Without vegetation easement -  Gulf Power can cut overhanging branches at the property line.  The foreman will knock on your door and discuss what they plan to do before they start (not sure what happens if you are not there).  Sometimes, it would be better to cut the branch within the property line so that it will heal better, and the foreman will sometimes ask permission to do that.  Or the property owner can give permission to cut down a tree entirely if they want to.

So it essentially comes down to what residents have agreed to and what they insist on when the work is done"

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

They Really, Really, Really Do NOT want us to #OpenOurBeach......

Condo Owners near the County's 330 foot parcel of Beachfront property love to use our beach as their own "private" beach.  They even advertise it!  Now that we're going to #OpenOurBeach--a group of condo owners are going to court to try to stop us.  They like it the way it is, because it is a comfortable status quo for them.

First, the folks that never wanted us to do what we voted to do (namely, to open our 330 foot Gulf-Front parcel in Perdido Key for habitat conservation AND Public Beach Access) intentionally perpetuated a comfortable status quo where no action was taken on our land at the beach.  The parcel just sat there.  No habitat fencing, no signage describing the sensitivity of the area, no "no trespassing" signs or "keep out" signs cautioning beach goers not to venture into the dunes.  Nope. Only a "No Trespassing" and "Private Property" sign at the road, along with a locked, fenced gate to keep folks from parking there. And no public beach access.  For four years.

This pleased some special interest developers and a number of nearby condominium owners who really wanted no development at all on that site while the condo owners enjoyed unfettered access to what had become their own "private beach."

It was great for those that already "had theirs" but it was untenable for the county taxpayers, the OWNERS of that parcel who, by this purposeful inaction, were being kept OUT of accessing this prime Gulf-front land.

Every excuse in the book was being put forward--but none of it withstood even the slightest bit of scrutiny. Some people said it was all "political"--but they were wrong.  It isn't political, it was never political, it's about doing what is right.  And so shortly thereafter ----the BCC's Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to grant a conditional use permit for public beach access at this location after the BCC voted to put funding forward to #OpenOurBeach.

So now come the lawyers of the Condo Owners, trying to get the Circuit Court to overturn the BCC and BOA decision to #OpenOurBeach.  They have filed this document hoping to slow down our work to #OpenOurBeach.  What a shame, how disappointing.

But it's not surprising to those of us who've followed this. Because these special interests really, really, really don't want you and I going out there and using "their" beach.  It's shameless.

But we will fix it and we will throw a massive beach party this year, this summer, when we #OpenOurBeach.

For those that are just now tuning in to this mess--if you want the full backstory--just hit the #OpenOurBeach hashtag in this blog's search bar (or on my commissioner's facebook page) and you will get it all.

Navy Federal Credit Union Makes a Formal Offer of $4.2 Million for 100 Acres of OLF 8

NFCU has offered the Escambia BCC $4.2 Million for 100 acres of OLF 8.  Not mentioned are the 300 jobs and the offer to Master Plan the site....

UPDATE--12:00-  I just received a call from NFCU leadership;  although the 300 additional jobs issue does not appear in the written offer to purchase the land from the BCC--that pledge of an additional 300 jobs as additional consideration for the 100 acres still stands, and language to this effect will be worked into any finalized deal made with the county to purchase this land, according to NFCU's interim President of Greater Pensacola Operations Kara Cardona.


Navy Credit Union has made a formal, written offer to purchase 100 acres of the County's soon-to-be acquired 636 acre site in Beulah known as OLF 8.  The offer was made on December 19th, just as everyone (myself included) was focusing on holiday plans, travel, and family.

This offer was not entirely surprising, though.

Two months back-- NFCU sent a letter expressing interest in 100 acres for the purpose of providing additional parking for their employees, a recreation field, and other amenities which would allow them to also add an additional 300 jobs (over and above the 10,000 they are already slated to add under previous agreements).

I responded directly to NFCU when that offer was made.  I reiterated the importance of the jobs creation aspect of this land and our Triumph Gulf Coast application.

As I read through the newest offer, I see the 300 jobs created language is not present in the terms.

This is problematic.

The 300 jobs are of CRITICAL importance.

In order to receive as much as $30 Million dollars from Triumph Gulf Coast (which will help fund regional stormwater infrastructure and offset the county's $17.5 Million dollar acquisition costs associated with OLF 8)--a minimum of at least 1,000 good wage-paying jobs must be created with