Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday October 21st 2014

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Outtakes—A Tiger Retires

Last week George Touart sent the Escambia County Commission his resignation letter. He isn’t well and said his body could no longer keep up with demands of being the county administrator.

The epistle signaled the end of an era in Escambia County. The era (2002-07, 2012-14) was filled with accomplishments, controversies and epic battles with the Independent News. In 2006, he did everything he could to shut me down. Five years later, I tried to stop his return to county government.

Neither of us was successful. Thank goodness.

The Touart family is part of Pensacola’s history. In 1823, George F. Touart was the first night captain of the Pensacola Police Department. George’s father was also a Pensacola policeman whose beat was Palafox Street.

These connections made him effective as an administrator when he moved back to the area in 2002 after 34 years in Mississippi. During that time, George had been elected to the Pascagoula City Council, served as the chief of staff to a state highway commissioner and was the county administrator of Jackson and Madison counties.

George knew politics. He understood county governments. He knew how to accomplish things. For me, the question always was for whom was he trying to get things done.

I was the thorn in George’s side. In the early days of the paper, I was more like a splinter, but, as the paper grew in popularity and influence, he could no longer ignore our questions and criticisms.

At the height of his powers, George was a force of nature, cutting through red tape during Hurricane Ivan recovery and delivering on commitments to the commissioners, developers and his buddies. At times corners were cut and we were there pointing out the gray areas of some of his actions.

When he popped back on the scene in October of 2012, I fought hard against his return because I saw it as a step backwards. I worried about hidden agendas. I challenged his efforts to take control of the Escambia County Jail, fearing for the safety of the corrections officers and the lives of the inmates.

However, as the summer faded, I began to see how effective he had become. George and I talked a great deal during the fall and winter months. Even though I saw his body begin to deteriorate, I also saw his love for this community. Respect changed into admiration.

None of us are all good or bad. George proves that point better than most. I will miss the battles and I will miss the conversations we’ve had these past months.