Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 21st 2014

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Buzz 7.25.13


Time to End It
The discussion took over an hour and a half, but the Escambia County Commission passed a motion at its Committee of Whole meeting on July 18 that made it clear that Interim County Administrator George Touart will not be hired as the full-time administrator.

For months, a small band of Touart supporters had been lobbying for him to first get a three-year contract. Then, when that got little support, they reduced the request to a one-year contract. Commissioner Wilson Robertson was the first to broach the subject under the guise of saving the county the expense in interviewing the other four finalists.

“I would like to see if there is consensus here, and save this county $50,000,” said Commissioner Robertson, “to consider giving Mr. Touart a one-year contract.”

Robertson’s suggestion went flat. Other than Commissioner Chairman Gene Valentino, none of the other commissioners had the appetite to offer the job to Touart, who told the board that he would like that contract to begin Oct. 1, which would have actually given him 15 more months.

For the past month, Robertson and Valentino had made it clear in commission meetings and workshops that Touart was their choice, before their county’s selection committee had even culled the applicants’ resumes down to five finalists. Touart was even allowed to openly campaign for the job during those meetings.

Commissioner Steven Barry wasn’t going to cave into their shenanigans, he objected to Valentino’s continuous lobbying for Touart.

“You can talk and talk and sometimes you’re not going to get your way,” Barry told the chairman before he made a motion that Touart be removed from the applicant pool, which would have made the interim county administrator not eligible for the post.

“In nine months, I’m dealing with increasing issues,” said Barry of Touart’s job performance. “We haven’t come to the conclusion of anything. We haven’t settled any issues. I don’t see that as being tremendously effective.”

Commissioner Lumon May was upset over the lack of diversity in those applicants that made the final cut. The commission had foregone the cost of a search firm and had let the Human Resources director handle the process. He argued that the process should be reopened and that Touart should set a date for his retirement.

Commissioner Grover Robinson offered a substitute motion that the process would be reopened with the goal of hiring a new county administrator by Dec. 1, but no later than Feb. 28, 2014. Touart would not be allowed to apply for the position.

Touart tried to get the motion changed so that his last day would be Feb. 28, 2014, but got little sympathy. Commissioner Robertson chastised his younger colleagues, taunting them that they would never be able to hire a new administrator. Barry, Robinson and May refused to submit to the pressure.

In the end, the motion carried 3-2, with Robertson and Valentino voting against it. It will come before the county commission for a final vote on Thursday, July 25.

Transparency Task Force
The task force to help the Greater Pensacola Chamber comply with Florida’s Sunshine Law has been announced. IN publisher Rick Outzen will chair the committee and will be joined by Kevin Doyle, publisher of the Pensacola News Journal. Debra Little, assistant general counsel for the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, John Griffing, president of NAI Halford and president of the Pensacola chamber from 1992-1997 and Michelle Rushing, vice president of Sales & Marketing for Plaza Properties and a founding member of Pensacola Young Professionals.

The areas that the committee will examine include which meetings fall under the law, record and email retention, timely fulfillment of record requests and training for employees and volunteers.

ARC Gateway Gets Audience
Governor Rick Scott and Florida Senate President Don Gaetz met on July 17 with leaders from ARC Gateway at a breakfast hosted by Lewis and Belle Bear and Collier Merrill. The governor wanted to hear directly from the organization that helps adults and children in our community with developmental disabilities.

The primary focus was on the Governor’s efforts to reduce the longstanding waitlist of those seeking help for Agency for Persons with Disabilities. Agency Director Barbara Palmer talked about the initiative to reduce the list, estimated to be about 900 people in our area alone and 22,000 statewide, now that the state budget has a surplus.

She read a letter from one worker who is helping people that are now eligible for the state programs. The waiver specialist wrote about how much the services meant to her clients and how overcome with emotion one mother was to learn of the care that her child would now receive.

“We live in a cynical world,” said Palmer, “but we are making a difference for people who waited years for services.”

She stated that they have already taken 754 people—many of the most needy—off the waitlist and expect to take care of more than 1,000 by the end of the year.

Commission Showdown
The Independent News, its publisher and his blog, ricksblog.biz, were under attack at the July 18 Committee of Whole meeting of the Escambia County Commission. Chairman Gene Valentino was especially upset about being named a “loser” in the paper’s “Winners & Losers” column.

“Mr. Outzen, wherever you are, get your butt in here,” said Valentino. He added that this paper and the blog were hurting the county’s chances with Airbus, the French company building an aircraft manufacturing plant in Mobile, Ala.

“I hold at your doorstep the responsibility to make us look good, not bad, in the eyes of the public and those around the world considering bringing jobs here,” the commissioner said.

When Outzen walked into the commission chambers and sat on the front row, Valentino said the board was too busy to hear from him.

“There will be no comments from the public,” said Valentino. “I understand you would like to speak; I’m trying to stay on the agenda.”

Auditors Find Only 65 BP Gift Cards Unaccounted For

Since March, the CPA firm Saltmarsh, Cleaveland & Gund has investigated BP gift card program administrated by the Greater Pensacola Chamber. Yesterday the accountants gave their preliminary report to the chamber’s board of directors.

Of the 6,060 cards, total value $518,500, distributed by the chamber, only 65 cards, value $4,000, have not been accounted for. The accountants aren’t sure whether those cards were activated and used.

“It is gratifying that external auditors have determined that more than 99 percent of the American Express gift cards that were distributed by the Greater Pensacola Chamber have been accounted for and were used for their intended purpose,” Chamber President & CEO Jim Hizer said in a press release.

The BP gift cards were distributed by the Pensacola Visitor Information Center, Pensacola Beach Chamber and the Perdido Key Chamber to encourage tourists to return to the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Of the 4,845 cards the VIC and PBC distributed only 45 cards had documentation that was unreadable or missing.