Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 22nd 2014

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Surveying the Field

In an effort to help readers better familiarize themselves with local candidates on the November ballot, the IN sent surveys to the political hopefuls. The candidates were asked about issues pertaining to their specific races. It’s a free shot, with a 50-word-per-answer limit. Some candidates chose to respond to the survey, while others opted out. Enjoy, then vote.

Tax Collector
Janet Holley (I), D
Mike Whitehead, R


Janet Holley, age 61, Escambia County Tax Collector

What has been your biggest accomplishment as the tax collector?
Holley:  Developing a trained, professional staff to provide the very best customer service to our citizens. Using technology and innovations to enable the public to choose how they want to conduct their tax collector business whether it be over the phone, online, in person, or through the mail
What are the challenges that you see ahead for the office of tax collector?
Holley:  How to balance the level of service we provide with the cost of providing that service. The Florida Legislature transferred all driver license services to tax collectors. We are providing better service than the state, yet we have increased our volume of work by an additional 100,000 transactions annually.
Your opponent has criticized you for holding the tax collector and also receiving a pension from the Florida Retirement System. What is your response to this criticism?
Holley:  The tax collector’s salary is set by the Legislature and is paid to anyone holding this position. My pension was earned entering the FRS DROP program after 25 years as a staff member and six years as tax collector. The law allows elected officials to serve and collect a pension.

Mike Whitehead, age 57, medical uniforms (retail and wholesale), early childhood education/childcare
You served three terms as county commissioner. What was your biggest accomplishment?
Whitehead:  The thousands of good paying jobs brought to Escambia County during my tenure. Most recently, Navy Federal Credit Union.  Maintaining the lowest property tax rate in Escambia County history through tightly controlled budgeting.  Working with ECUA to relocate Main Street Sewer Plant.
What are the challenges that you see ahead for the office of tax collector?
Whitehead:  Implementing technology to allow taxpayers to do business electronically.  Working with Florida legislature to remedy the driver license debacle, which will cost taxpayers $1 million this year. Working with the commissioners to eliminate the costly ($400,000) leases on W Street and Navy Boulevard.
When you lost your seat in 2008, you were criticized for your heavy-handed approach to your job. Were the criticisms fair and have you changed your leadership style?
Whitehead:  2008 was a difficult year for local government due to the economy.  Demands for government resources were at an all time high. It took strong leadership to maintain tax rates and meet budget needs. It’s easy during good times but tough times require leadership to stand and do what’s right.

Escambia County Property Appraiser
Chris Jones, (I), D
Charles M. Green IV, R

Chris Jones, age 54, Escambia County Property Appraiser
What has been the most difficult challenge as property appraiser?
Jones:  Our community suffered three devastating hurricanes, the B.P. Oil Spill, and the most volatile real estate market in my lifetime. We were able to meet each of these challenges for our citizens through experience, knowledge, and proven leadership.
What are the challenges that you see ahead for the office of property appraiser?
Jones:  Hundreds of years experience will be lost due to staff retirement; therefore, training and mentoring younger staff members will be a priority. Citizens expect a high level of competence from their property appraiser and staff. Experience has become extremely evident with the recent down turn in our real estate market.
What can we expect from your office if you are elected to another term?
Jones:  We have cut the budget over 30 percent and will continue to find ways to be prudent with taxpayer dollars. I will continue to use my expertise to keep assessments as low as possible. The delivery of the best possible customer service citizens have come to expect and deserve.

Charles M. Green IV, age 33, program manager
Why do you believe Escambia County needs a new property appraiser?
Green:  Short answer: budget
What experience do you have that you believe will make you a good property appraiser?
Green:  Making changes from day one without a full understanding of the operation is not the most efficient way to affect positive changes. I will spend most of my time in the first few months talking to homeowners, groups, and commercial property managers to find out what is creating roadblocks to progress.
What are the challenges that you see ahead for the office of property appraiser?
Green:  The largest issue I see facing this office over the next few years is the voluntary retirement of many of the current employees, which hold hundreds of years of appraisal and county specific information between them.

Escambia County Sheriff
David Morgan, (I), R
Mindy Lynn Pare, write-in, no response

David Morgan, age 59, Escambia County Sheriff
What has been the most difficult challenge as sheriff?
Morgan:  Managing public safety in an era of diminishing budgets (our current budget is at 2006 levels), while providing a safe and secure environment for our families and businesses.
What happened to your gang task force?
Morgan:  It is still in place, although the numbers have diminished. We initially formed the task force with six full time officers, four ECSO employees and two from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Due to budget constraints both FDLE agents have been reassigned.
What can we expect from the sheriff’s office if you are elected to a second term?
Morgan:  A continued emphasis on: professionalizing the ECSO through continuing education; forming additional Neighborhood Watch programs (we now have approximately 100); joint operations with our federal agencies (gun violence, drugs).

Escambia County Superintendent of Schools
Malcolm Thomas, (I), R, no response
Claudia Brown-Curry, D

Claudia Brown-Curry, age 56, educator
Why do you believe Escambia County needs a new school superintendent?
Brown-Curry:  It’s time for us to move beyond the injustice, intimidation, exclusion and arrogance that has paralyzed our school district as reflected in the ratings. The superintendent of schools must lead with diversity that reflects the needs as well as the potential of all students.
Minorities make up half of the student population. Yet eight out of 10 teachers and principals are white. How do you plan to hire more minorities?
Brown-Curry:  There are many qualified minority teachers in the district and/or the region. My suspicions tell me that I will not have to look much further than the applications that are currently on file. Should I need to craft an outreach plan, I will do so at that time.
What you are the challenges that you see ahead for the school district?
Brown-Curry:  Regaining the trust and commitment of current employees. Second, coming to the table as a black female and connecting with the business community in a new way that is fair, honest, unbiased, productive and amenable to the education and economic growth of Escambia County.

Escambia County Commission, District 1
Wilson Robertson, (I), R
Bobby Spencer, NPA

Wilson Robertson, age 72, Escambia County Commissioner, District 1
You have been elected to the county commission in three different decades. Why should you serve a fourth term?
Robertson:  I served eight years in District 5 in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  I need a second term in District 1 to complete some of the projects we have underway.
What do you believe will be the best use of the RESTORE funds?
Robertson:  The county commissioners are going to appoint a seven-member panel to help us rank the projects. The Board will have the final approval. The projects need to stimulate the economy and create jobs.
What you are the challenges that you see ahead for the county?
Robertson:  Balancing the budget without cutting the level of services. The county is going to continue receiving less revenue due to lower property values.

Bobby Spencer, age 57, historian/construction worker
Why would you be a good county commissioner?
Spencer:  The job is full time and that is how I plan to work it. I have no side interests so the office will get my undivided attention. I will not be abstaining from votes so the people I represent will get 100 percent representation.
What do you believe will be the best use of the RESTORE funds?
Spencer:  Most of the restore funds have defined ways the money has to be spent, but those that can be spent at the county’s discretion should be used to promote manufacturing.  We need to diversify our economy to better serve our citizens that do not benefit from our robust tourist trade.
What you are the challenges that you see ahead for the county?
Spencer:  The biggest challenge is to move this county from the bottom of the economic ladder. It has to be done in order to improve poverty, drop out, and crime rates that are inherent in communities that suffer from depressed economic conditions.

Escambia County Commissioner, District 3
Tiffany Washington, R
Lumon May, D
John R. Johnson, NPA, no response
Hugh G. King Sr., NPA, no response
Derek L. Stromas, write-in, no response

Lumon May, Age 42, certified general contractor, co-owner of Mays Construction
Why would you be a good county commissioner?
I have lived my entire life in District 3. My parents taught me that we could change the world, if we could change our neighborhood. I’ve devoted the past 25 years to helping our youth though the Southern Youth Sports Association. I know this district and want to improve it.
What do you believe will be the best use of the RESTORE funds?
We need to improve our infrastructure—streets, bridges and drainage—that will improve our neighborhoods and our environment. Creating jobs is also vital. In our urban core, we have to improve schools, insure city and county services are equitable and attract retail, such as grocery stores, and jobs those areas.
What you are the challenges that you see ahead for the county?
Finding the funds to provide the core services of public safety, mass transit and libraries while also funding economic development that will grow our economy and create jobs. All our neighborhoods needed to be safe and our resources applied fairly throughout the county

Tiffany Washington, age 41, certified mediator
Why would you be a good county commissioner?
Washington:  I am passionate about improving conditions within my district. I know the issues that present as “challenges,” and I recognize the sources of pride. I am prepared to represent constituents and protect their interests. I have the “head” (business acumen and integrity) and the “heart” (compassion and ability to relate to constituents) to serve effectively in this capacity.
What do you believe will be the best use of the RESTORE funds?
Washington:  The county’s infrastructure must be improved. Specifically, upgrades in the areas of: education, law enforcement, public works and the environment are needed. I would also like to increase, or improve existing, programs intended to assist the un(under)employed, the elderly and the “working-poor.”
What you are the challenges that you see ahead for the county?
Washington:  Attracting and retaining entities that will be able to provide jobs that will pay a meaningful living wage. Revitalizing areas of deficit without further disenfranchising or displacing residents. Crime prevention and reporting. Finding creative and viable solutions to deal with child offenders. Ensuring that education is geared toward employment.

Escambia County Commission, District 5
Steven Barry, R
Packy Mitchell, NPA, no response

Steven Barry, age 37, certified financial planner
Why would you be a good county commissioner?
Barry:  I aspire to be the most effective commissioner to ever serve the taxpayers of Escambia County. Being a CFP®, I possess the financial knowledge and the experience to serve our citizens well. Also, I understand and I embrace the fiduciary relationship between a BCC member and the taxpayer’s dollars.
What do you believe will be the best use of the RESTORE funds?
Barry:  The RESTORE funds are a once in a lifetime opportunity to impact the future generations of taxpayers in Escambia County. I prefer capital-intensive projects, ideally tied to future stream of county revenue from the projects. The funds should not be used to cover normal operating budget shortfalls.
What you are the challenges that you see ahead for the county?
Barry:  The greatest upcoming challenge we face is a fiscal one. Dollars from the state and federal governments will continue to be reduced annually. Therefore, stimulating the growth of our economic base by quality job creation is the only way to increase county revenue—without raising taxes or fees.

ECUA, District 1
Elizabeth Susan Campbell, (I), NPA
Vicki H. Campbell, R

Elizabeth Susan Campbell, age 55, occupational therapist, certified teacher (ESE and middle school science)
Why would you be a good ECUA board member?
Elizabeth Campbell:  My four years on the board. I have a broad base of life experience, the ability to look at issues from different perspectives and to consider not only the short term, but long term impacts. I am representative of most of the middle class voters that live in District One.
ECUA has implemented eight rate hikes over the last 12 years. What is your position on further rate hikes?
Elizabeth Campbell:  That’s not completely true. Sanitation rates have gone down five percent since I took office. No matter who gets elected, water/wastewater rate hikes will happen due to the EPA consent decree. Anybody who tells you different is pulling the wool over your eyes.
What are the challenges that you see ahead for ECUA?
Elizabeth Campbell:  Lowering operating costs to reduce the size of rate hikes as opposed to cutting back on upgrading our water/wastewater systems. Waste-to-Energy partnerships with private firms can accomplish that goal. The challenge will be to convince the BOCC that they can find a revenue stream to replace the landfill.

Vicki H. Campbell, age 54, Vice President, Perdido Title & Abstract, Inc., Agency Consultant, Westcor Land Title Insurance Company
Why would you be a good ECUA board member?
Vicki Campbell:  I will work toward: Trimming fat within ECUA before putting hands out to ratepayers again; solutions to perception of our water quality; expanding recycling; maintaining safe levels of fluoride; making smart economic decisions on ECUA owned lands like the downtown treatment plant site; quality of services; transparency of issues.
ECUA has implemented eight rate hikes over the last 12 years. What is your position on further rate hikes?
Vicki Campbell:  The most important ECUA issue is rates: In a tough economy families struggle. Water, sewer and sanitation are not discretionary services. We have an obligation to keep them as low as possible. Utility rates impact our ability to attract jobs and industry, and economic development is vital to Escambia County.
What are the challenges that you see ahead for ECUA?
Vicki Campbell:  Ironically, the second most important issue makes the first issue more difficult to achieve. Our aged infrastructure is in need of repair and DEP has mandated repair. Given these two competing goals, it’s imperative to get ECUA’s own house in order by trimming the fat, revisiting benefits and streamlining operations.

Pensacola City Council, District 5, non-partisan
John Jerralds, (I), no response
Gerald C. Wingate

Gerald Wingate, age 66, realtor
How can the city council work more effectively with the Mayor?
Wingate:  Our city government should have a vision for Pensacola and goals that support the achievement of the vision. The city council and mayor should be working together to achieve the goals. There should be better communications, and planning jointly to move Pensacola forward is necessary.
What can the city council do to help create more jobs, particularly for the African-American community?
Wingate:  The city council should support efforts to get more businesses to locate in Pensacola. There are incentives that can be provided to attract businesses. Tax incentives, surplus land and support of training programs provided by local educational institutions. The council should support the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce and the Mayor’s office.
What are the challenges that you see ahead for the city?
Wingate:  The first challenge is economic development. The people of Escambia County need jobs. Escambia County is one of the poorest counties in the state. The leadership in the city and county owe it to citizens to work hard to improve this situation. Safe communities are desired by our citizens. Community Watches and law enforcement with new strategies of engagement with the community will help.

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