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The Buzz 6/27/13

CITY’S FINANCIAL CRISIS At its June 20 agenda workshop, Escambia County Commissioner Steven Barry asked about how the city and county were going to handle a $1.4 million shortfall in the library system’s budget while rolling back the county’s millage rate to offset for the taxpayers the impact of the new library tax.  His concern was that county might be subsidizing the City of Pensacola’s share of the deficit.

That discussion led to Interim County Administrator George Touart openly talking about the financial crisis of Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward that City Administrator Bill Reynolds shared with him during their discussions of the library.

“It has been well advertised through the city and through Mr. Reynold’s conversations that he and I have had at our level,” Touart said. “The city is in a real financial situation this year. Even if they wanted to pay, they didn’t have the money to pay.”

Maybe Mayor Hayward will explain the “real financial situation” in his promised State of the City address—the date and time of which has yet to be set.

Meanwhile, Touart told the Escambia County Commission that if the $1.4 million isn’t handled by the city and the county he would be coming back to the board with recommendations to cut hours and staff, as Mayor Hayward did earlier this year when the library system was under his control.

FLINGING INSULTS Interim County Administrator George Touart made clear his disdain for Sheriff David Morgan when the sheriff addressed the Board of County Commissioners at its June 20 agenda workshop.

Several times he addressed the sheriff as “David,” ignoring his title. When Sheriff Morgan sat down, Touart threw out one last barb about the possibility of the sheriff appealing his budget to Governor Rick Scott.

“I think it’s really appalling that the governor is even mentioned,” said Touart. “That’s the sheriff’s decision. If y’all want to go to Tallahassee, hit the interstate and take a right.”

ONE MORE TURNAROUND Escambia Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas still is struggling with how to educate the minority students that comprise half of his district’s enrollment.

Last week Thomas announced a turnaround plan for Lincoln Park Elementary that entails transforming the school to a pre-k-through-second-grade facility.

Thomas’ past turnaround efforts have failed horribly. In 2009, he fired the teachers and administration at Warrington Middle School and proclaimed the school would become the top middle school not only in Escambia County, but also in the state.

Millions of dollars later the school has fallen further behind. Only one of four of its eighth graders passed the 2013 Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) reading test. Half of them only scored a one, the lowest score possible, on the mathematics portion of the FCAT. Only 28 percent passed the FCAT science test.

RECORD SET The Independent News has confirmed that Matt Schmidt is still the interim fire chief for the city of Pensacola. The city website doesn’t list him as interim in his profile, but the Mayor’s Press Secretary Derek Cosson confirmed that he has not been presented to the city council for confirmation.

Schmidt has held the interim role since 2010 when Russell Beaty resigned as fire chief to take a job working for the emergency management chief at the Walton County Sheriff’s Office.

Schmidt has been the interim fire chief for nearly three years—a record for the Hayward administration, maybe even the city.

SEVENTH FLOOR GOES DARK AGAIN Last week Pensacola City Hall was without Mayor Ashton Hayward, City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Finance Director Richard Barker. Hayward was in New York, Reynolds in Orlando. Barker needed time off before he has to sell the mayor’s 2014 budget to the city council.

City Attorney Jim Messer was asked to hang around city hall, just in case something bad happened. Nothing did, and city staff celebrated the absences.