After the Escambia County Commissioners voted 4-1 to transfer the Escambia County Jail to their control, Interim Escambia County Administrator George Touart seemed stunned that Commissioner Lumon May, the sole African-American on the board, voted against Touart taking over the facility that is facing a possible lawsuit should the commission fail to correct the safety and constitutional rights violations discovered by the U.S. Department of Justice.
After all, Touart promised the commissioners that he could avoid any increase in taxes and that he could run the jail better than Sheriff David Morgan. He had met with his pal former Sheriff Ron McNesby and his jail director Dennis Williams, and they told him he could do it.
It didn’t matter that it was McNesby and Williams’ operation of the jail that led to the DOJ investigation. It didn’t matter that three men died in the jail when it was under their control. It didn’t matter that Touart could give the commissioners no specifics on how he could run the jail cheaper than Morgan and still satisfy DOJ.
No, the interim county administrator said the magic words, “No tax increase.”
So after the June 20 county commission meeting, Touart couldn’t believe that Commissioner May was upset. He told May that he should be happy because “I’m putting one of your people” in charge of the jail. Touart was referring to Gordon Pike, the African-American in charge of the county’s Corrections Department.
Stop and pause and reread those two words before you continue with this column. Let the full implication sink in.
George Touart runs Escambia County government, and he has just assumed control of its jail. This is truly Touart’s mindset.
Lumon May’s district is the most diverse in the county—black, white, young, old. Though African-American, he represents his entire district. Yes, he is a proud family man, who grew up in Pensacola— just as Touart has. And yes, he is black.
George Touart’s people aren’t just the white citizens. He represents the African-Americans too—at least in theory. But we know that he doesn’t. Touart is from a monochrome world that sees everything in only two colors, white and black. White people, and commissioners, he takes care of. Black people, and one commissioner, he appeases.
I’m proud to consider myself one of Lumon May’s people, as are thousands of others working and living in Escambia County, which, I guess, means I’m not one of George Touart’s people.