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The Buzz 8/30/12

NPA Versus Party Candidates
Write-in candidate for Escambia County Clerk of Courts John Misiak has withdrawn from the race. Misiak, who lives in Santa Rosa County, was believed to be on the ballot to close the GOP primary to Democratic and independent voters.

“I wish to inform you that I withdraw as a candidate for the Clerk of the Circuit Court, Escambia County. Thank you for your and your staff’s help and professionalism,” Misiak wrote in a letter to the Supervisor of Elections.

This means Pam Childers can take down her campaign signs and focus on her transition to the position.

No No-Party-Affiliation (NPA) or Write-in candidate has ever won a race in Escambia County.  Mindy Lynn Pare, who is on the ballot for Sheriff, hasn’t raised any money since she filed. County Commission, District 1 candidate Bobby Spencer has donated $2,000 to his account and appears to have little traction.

County Commission, District 3 has two NPA candidates. Former city councilman Hugh King has spent nearly all of his $7,188 in cash contributions. He was the first in the race and the first to get his campaign signs out, most of which are now faded. Dooley Johnson has raised $775 and spent $685. Johnson was defeated in 2008 by incumbent Marie Young, 17,751 to 1,257.

With the Obama campaign gearing up in Escambia County, it’s doubtful the heavy Democratic district will vote for either of them. Lumon May won all the District 3 precincts in the August 14 Democratic primary, garnering 69 percent of the vote.

There may be two exceptions—Packy Mitchell in County Commission, District 5 and Elizabeth Campbell who is the incumbent for ECUA District 1 seat. Mitchell is well known in District 5 and has raised over $12,700. Campbell was an unknown that upset Logan Fink in 2008 GOP primary. This time she has dropped her party affiliation. Campbell has only raised $770, but has name recognition.

Taking the Rabbit Out of the Pot
During its Thursday, August 23 meeting, the Pensacola City Council tackled Quint Studer’s Maritime Park lease, which is one step closer to closure, but still hasn’t been consummated.

The Studers have been working since May on a lease deal with the city and Community Maritime Park Associates for a parcel upon which they can construct a $12 million office building. The deal became hung up on parking issues and the CMPA’s budgetary realities.

Councilman Larry Johnson was appointed by the Pensacola City Council to help with the negotiations, and, after two public meetings, an agreement was reached. The CMPA board approved the proposal that had 75 percent of the lease fees flow to the CMPA instead of the city, and that caused problems for city.

City Attorney Jim Messer advised the council to remove the provision in the lease that the fees went to the CMPA. He said that the same objective could be reached, but that the proposed language would endanger $10 million worth of New Market Tax Credits. He advised the council to approve the agreement without that provision because the issue was “too complex to solve in 48 hours and negotiate in public.”

“The objective is going to be accomplished, but it’s going to take time,” Messer said. “It’s not as simple as turning happy to glad, you’re dealing with a tax code.”

City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Finance Director Dick Barker also advised the council to remove the provision. Barker said he would advise the mayor not to sign off on an agreement that dedicated 75 percent of Studer’s lease fee to the CMPA. He said he could arrive at the same ends through different means.

“I commit to work on that without committing to calling it anything other than a certain sum of money that the city wants to get to the CMPA,” Barker said, also adding that the CMPA did not have a deficit. “There’s a shortfall in their budget, but there is not a deficit at this time.”

While officials appeared to agree that the issue was between the city and the CMPA, Scott Remington, Studer’s attorney, disagreed. He told the council that the agreement was a three-way deal and that he didn’t know of “a silver bullet that takes us out of that conversation completely.” The attorney suggested the council leave the provision in, possibly tweaking the language after the fact.

“If the goal is to make rabbit stew, I hate to take the rabbit out of the pot,” Remington told the board. “You’ve got the rabbit, grab it.”

The council eventually voted to remove the provision, stipulating that the city would find a way to provide the CMPA with the equivalent of 75 percent of Studer’s lease fee, which is annually about 8 percent of the property’s appraised value.

“It might just be easier to pull it with the supreme promise that we find that language somewhere else,” suggested Councilwoman Megan Pratt before the vote.

Raindrops Keep Falling
The Pensacola City Council also adopted a stormwater assessment resolution last night—a vote that must be taken annually in order to collect stormwater assessment fees. Last year, the council approved, at the mayor’s recommendation, an increase to the annual assessment from $52.80 to $68.43. No increase was proposed for FY 2013.

During the meeting’s public forum, resident Dolores Curry requested that the city provide her with a list of projects for which the money had been used.

“I would like to see a breakdown of where all this money is going,” Curry said.

Though seven of the nine council members have served since 2008 and approved all the stormwater projects, several council members requested the list as well. Councilwoman Sherri Myers, one of the two first-term members, said her constituents would appreciate the information.

“Especially in light of the situation of Burgess Road,” she said. “That hardly has a stormwater system.”

The city has invested more than $25 million toward the completion of 38 major stormwater enhancement projects. The Hayward administration made stormwater projects a priority, with six projects completed or underway for FY 2011, seven more in FY 2012, and nine projects planned for FY 2013.

The FY 2013 budget that the Mayor Ashton Hayward presented in June to the council recommended additional investment of $2.3 million stormwater operations. According to his budget message, these projects represent a total investment of more than $12.9 million.

The FY 2013 Stormwater Utility Fund budget is $2,656,100, which is $145,500 greater than the fiscal year 2012 budgeted level. This includes an increase to operating revenues of $48,200 and a $97,300 drawdown of fund balance.

Major projects planned include stormwater enhancements in the amount of $450,000 at DeSoto Street at Bayou Texar, $244,200 at Baywoods Gulley, $245,000 at Davis Highway at Valley Drive and $120,000 at Northmoor Court at Carpenter’s Creek. The Airport Stormwater Retention Pond Modification will be funded at $300,000 and Drainage Improvements at “L” & Zarragossa streets are budgeted at $335,000. A budget of $200,000 for the Carpenter Creek and Brent Lane project has also been provided and $85,000 is provided for NPDES Permit Monitoring.

This budget and list of projects were presented in July to the city council during its two budget workshops. The council made no amendments, but they may do so during the September budget hearings. If Myers wishes to redirect the funds to her district and Burgess Road, then she will have an opportunity to do so, if she can get four more votes. The mayor can veto the amendment, if he desires.

Possible Restore Fight Brewing
Councilman Larry Johnson also raised at the August 23 meeting the issue of RESTORE Act money. He noted that Escambia County would soon form an advisory board to handle the allocation of funds derived from Clean Water Act fines imposed on BP. Johnson moved that the council name Councilwoman Maren DeWeese as the city’s representative on the county’s RESTORE committee. The motion was approved unanimously.

To date, the Escambia County Commission hasn’t had any joint meetings with the city council over the RESTORE funds, although county staff has met with Mayor Hayward.

Escambia County Commission has the sole vote in how the Restore funds are spent in the county. The RESTORE Act will send 80 percent of the eventual total of the Clean Water Act fines collected from BP to the Gulf Coast.  Florida has designated 75 percent of its share to go toward counties most impacted by the spill.

At its last meeting, which was also August 23, Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson told the board that he thought some of the RESTORE Act money heading to Escambia should be used for road work in the north of the county.

“I don’t think you could find a better economic development than that infrastructure up there,” Robertson said.

In September, the county commission will be further considering criteria for spending RESTORE money. The board will be putting together a committee to explore the issue. It’s uncertain if that is the committee upon which the Pensacola City Council wants Deweese to serve.

The council vote could be seen as a preemptive strike to be sure they are included in the process. The strategy worked in the Studer/CMPA lease negotiations when Johnson was appointed by the council to be its representative, but Johnson was also a CMPA board member. This new appointment will be interesting to watch as it plays out, as will how much the county commission wants to get caught up in the mayor-council power struggles.