The relationship between the Escambia County Board of Commissioners and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office has been a major point of concern in recent meetings, and the July 11 BCC agenda review session and regular meeting were no exception.
In fact, just the day before, at the BCC’s Committee of the Whole budget review workshop, the board and Sheriff David Morgan could not come to an agreement over use of $2.5 million currently in the sheriff’s office internal services fund.
Sheriff Morgan said some of the money was needed for his employees’ leave pay but that he would return the remaining money to the county. The BCC disagreed and said the sheriff was only legally required to pay employees FLSA leave pay that would amount to around $200,000. The rest of the money, the board said, should be returned to the county.
This inability to come to an amicable agreement led some commissioners to fear the money would all be gone by the date of the jail’s official transfer to the county on Oct. 1. Amy Lovoy, Escambia County director of management and budget services, even went so far as to say that, without an agreement between the two parties and factoring in the fund’s current rate of decrease, “there will be no money left in that fund” by Oct. 1.
Commissioner Grover Robinson submitted two motions that aimed to preserve the $2.5 million. The first requested that the board rescind any prior authorization allowing the use of any internal services funds by constitutional officers and disallow their use, and the second recommended that the board rescind any policy that provides for leave cash-outs when an employee transfers between departments or county employers unless specifically required by law. The board unanimously approved both motions.
The problem for the BCC is that it doesn’t control the budget of the sheriff once he has received the funds. The internal service fund has accrued from past budgets and has been earmarked for a single purpose. The transfer motion appears just as powerless since the BCC doesn’t control the sheriff’s employees either.
Gerald Champagne, the attorney for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, has sent County Attorney Alison Perdue a letter concerning the issue.
He asked, “…is it appropriate for that I, as General Counsel, advise the Sheriff to release a fund that is dedicated to payment of leave balances without assurance that the Sheriff is no longer at risk that employees may file a claim for non-payment of leave balances?”
Champagne wrote that the ECSO will release and transfer the fund if the county assumes liability for such leave balances—not just jail employees, but all deputies and civilian staff.
Let the Sun Shine IN
State Attorney Bill Eddins has determined that the Greater Pensacola Chamber must abide by the state’s Sunshine Law. Since both the city of Pensacola and Escambia County have contracted with the chamber to provide economic development services, Eddins recommended that the chamber consider training for both employees and board members in fulfilling its obligations under the law.
IN Publisher Rick Outzen has agreed to chair the task force that will help the organization comply with the Sunshine and public records laws. He has asked for help from Barbara Peterson, president of Florida First Amendment Foundation, who is also helping Mayor Ashton Hayward with his public records issues (Independent News, “The Upside of Corruption,” July 4).
Big Bucks, Big Daddy Gaetz
Senate President Don Gaetz is the wealthiest Florida State Senator. The senate president lists his net worth at $26.2 million, according to newly filed disclosure forms.
A co-founder of VITAS Healthcare, Gaetz reported having $6.5 million in securities, $8.4 million in bank accounts, and $10.4 million in real estate, including properties in Seaside, Seagrove Beach, Panama City, Santa Rosa Beach, Destin, Georgia, Wisconsin, and New York City. Gaetz also lists loans of $50,000 (secured) and $24,807 (personal) to his son, State Rep. Matt Gaetz.