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Tuesday July 29th 2014

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The Buzz 2/13/14

Council Gives “No Blankets” Ordinance a Second Look At their Thursday, Feb. 13 meeting, the Pensacola City Council will consider repealing a portion of an amendment they passed in May 2013 that generated outcry from those concerned with its impact on homeless individuals.

Councilmember Sherri Myers proposed the amendment, which would remove the provision making it illegal to sleep out-of-doors “atop and/or covered by materials such as a bedroll, cardboard, newspapers”—hence the provision’s “no blankets” nickname—on public property within the city limits. The amendment also clarifies that the law enforcement officer communicating with a homeless individual when enforcing the ordinance must advise that person of the available shelters locally. The ordinance currently does not specify who is responsible for sharing information regarding shelters to those in violation of the ordinance.

Other provisions of the 2013 ordinance that define prohibited “camping” activities on public lands—including bathing in public, cooking over an open flame out-of-doors, and/or sleeping inside of a tent or temporary shelter—will remain in place.

Though he has long been a vocal critic of the ordinance, in light of the recent winter weather, Nathan Monk started a petition to repeal the so-termed “No Blankets for the Homeless Ordinance” on change.org as Winter Storm Leon approached the week of Jan. 26. Support leapt significantly over the last weekend, jumping from 5,000 signatures on Sunday, Feb. 9 to over 8,000 on Monday, Feb. 10. The petition, stories of which circulated online, caught the attention of author Ann Rice, who shared the petition via her Facebook page.

The amendment to repeal the “no blankets” provision also garnered support from what seemed like an unlikely source—Mayor Ashton Hayward. Hayward had originally proposed the ordinances “in an effort to protect the aesthetics, public health, and safety of our community,” but stated via his “Upwords” newsletter on Feb. 7 that he has changed his position, and supports the proposed changes to the ordinance.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about this issue, but it’s time for us to move on and work together toward real solutions to the serious issues surrounding the homeless and less fortunate in our community,” Hayward wrote. Part of the collaborations will be working with Councilmember Larry B. Johnson to bring together “professionals and advocates” in an advisory committee on improving human services, though no timetable was given for its anticipated establishment.

Local to Serve As President of Statewide Environmental Organization Mary Gutierrez, a Pensacola resident and Executive Director of Earth Ethics, Inc., was recently elected president of the Board of Directors of the Florida Association of Environmental Professionals (FAEP).

Founded in 1987, FAEP is an affiliate of the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP), and has eight local chapters throughout the state. FAEP, headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla, is a multidisciplinary professional association of Environmental Professionals from a variety of disciplines that perform environmental work, including biologists, geologists, environmental engineers, environmental attorneys, wetland scientists, botanists, and planners, among others.

Gutierrez holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and a master’s in Public Administration with a concentration in Sustainable Community Development. Through Earth Ethics, Gutierrez coordinates a range of activities and programming primarily concerned with the environment, outreach and education, social issues, and sustainable practices. Gutierrez also serves on the City of Pensacola’s Environmental Advisory Board, and is co-president of the League of Women Voters of the Pensacola Bay Area, and previously served as the Vice President of FAEP.

The Future of 4-H in Escambia County At their Feb. 13 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Escambia County Board of Commission (BOCC), are set to discuss the future of a 4-H facility planned for the county, which many are hoping will result in the county moving forward with construction for a new building for the county’s 4-H students, to be constructed with county LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) funds.

Nick T. Place, the Dean for Extension and Director of the Florida Cooperative Extension Service based at the University of Florida wrote to 4-H at large on Jan. 28 stating, “The future of the 4-H program in Escambia County is at risk.”

The Escambia County Board of Commission (BOCC) withdrew an agenda item at their Jan. 16 meeting that would have awarded the construction contract for a new 4-H facility on Stefani Road. The Langley Bell 4-H Center—which sits on 240 acres that the 4-H County Council sold to Navy Federal Credit Union for $3.6 million—will close in August and without a new facility, the programs “would come to a standstill,” as Place stated.

“It appears that this move by the BOCC was made in support of a small group of individuals purporting to represent the entire 4-H program. This very small interest group is lobbying on behalf of the entire 4-H program, but in fact they do not represent the majority of needs and wants,” Place wrote. “If the entire 4-H community does not speak up, the county commission may move the 4-H center to the north end of the county – away from the center of population.”

On Feb. 7, Commissioner Grover Robinson, in a letter to the press, communicated, “The question is whether to build a building at the current Stefani Road property or invest that money in land and buildings further to the north of our county closer to its agricultural roots.”

Robinson stated that he is hopeful that both sides can work together, and reported that Commissioner Steven Barry plans to bring a proposal to the Feb. 13 COW meeting. “I hope the future of Extension will be that catalyst for us to realize the dollars we can create together is much more than the pennies we have fought over in the past.”