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Thursday April 24th 2014

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Outtakes—Sucker USA

For a place that is so tough on its leaders and anyone who tries to push this community, it’s amazing how susceptible we are to hucksters, scam artists and out-of-towners looking for “sweetheart” deals.

Show us a slick PowerPoint presentation, tell us how great you are, maybe hand out a few old newspaper articles, hire a few local influentials and we hand over the keys to city, county and anything else you want.

When the Good Lord was passing out his heavenly virtues, he must have decided that it would be a waste of time to hand out the gift of discernment to anyone in Escambia County. We’re all puppies, just waiting for someone to pat our bellies and blindly follow whoever promises to make our lives better.

Scott Davison, founder and CEO of the now-defunct Land Capital Group, was dropped as the developer of the Community Maritime Park when it was revealed that he had misrepresented his development team and his financial capabilities in his original proposal in order to qualify to be the master developer. He also faced with judgments totaling over $10 million for projects in Escambia County, Florida, Texas, and across the country.

Unfortunately, the discovery was not made until millions of dollars had been spent on “soft costs” for the park and for Davison’s “expertise.” Heck, the city of Pensacola even paid $500,000 to Davison’s attorneys for negotiating the developer agreement with the city.

Emerald Coast Utilities Authority has been played twice. In July, the utility had a Texas developer willing to buy its 19 acres on Main Street for $7.6 million. The developer—Aaron Wiese—didn’t come to the meetings, but had some nice drawings and a few newspaper clippings from nearly 10 years ago.  Then we learned he had been arrested on a drunken driving charge. Mr. Wiese quietly slipped back out of town.

Recently we learned that the California-based company that was to build a first-of-its-kind (a clear sign that something is amiss) waste disposal system for the utility has sold its interest in the venture to a newly formed Delaware firm.  Rainbow Environmental Services had promised to convert county trash to a marketable fuel. Yeah, right.

There have been other hucksters and schemes. Reynolds Ready Mix at the Port of Pensacola, Matt Altier at the University of West Florida, and the Aquarium on Main Street are just a few of those that come to mind.

P. T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” He would have loved this place.