Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 16th 2014

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The Buzz 8/14/14

Mayoral Omission The latest figures show the city’s new food concessions vendor at the Pensacola International Airport had lower sales revenue in the second quarter of 2014 than its predecessor for the same period last year.

OHM Concessions Group, with only temporary facilities in place at the airport, had sales of $696,098 for the months April—June. For the same three months in 2013, Varona Enterprises had $707,748 in sales. The decline might have been worse, but the airport had its best second quarter for passengers since 2011.

Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward gave OHM, who offered to bring to the airport Chick-fil-A, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Corona Beach House and Surf City Squeeze, the food concessions contract after a lengthy political battle with the Pensacola City Council.

The contract was first brought to the council in September 2013. When the Creative Food Group, which had The Fish House, Varona’s, Bagelheads and Pensacola Bay Brewery in its stable, mounted opposition at the meeting, Councilman Larry Johnson made a motion to table the item.

Prior to the council meeting, Johnson had warned Collier Merrill, co-owner of the The Fish House, not to “let the little fish get in the way of the big fish.”

The food concessions agreement languished for four months because Hayward refused to put it back on the council agenda, even though the Varona Enterprise contract was set to expire on March 31, 2014.

Merrill learned in November what Councilman Johnson’s “big fish” warning meant. The city of Pensacola sent his company a default notice, which was subsequently leaked to the daily newspaper, demanding millions of dollars for what the city said was due in back lease payments or the city would evict the popular restaurant from the Pitt Slip property.

In January, the Pensacola City Council deadlocked on the OHM contract, 4-4, despite intense lobbying by the mayor’s office and attorney Bob Kerrigan, who represents the city in the lawsuit filed by The Fish House regarding the default notice.

In March, 10 days before the city’s agreement with Varona was set to expire, Mayor Hayward signed a food concessions contract with OHM, declaring that he did not need council approval. The long delays in making a decision and the lacking of planning for the transition probably contributed to the airport’s loss of food revenue the past three months.

Last month, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward gave an update on the food concessions at the airport. Chick-fil-A and the pre-security Einstein Bros. will open by Sept. 30, with the post-security food court opening the following month.

He boasted, “With only temporary facilities in place, our new concessionaire is already performing well, with May sales outpacing the previous vendor’s sales the same month last year.”

The mayor did not tell the public that May was the only month that OHM outperformed Varona Enterprises and that it was the second highest month for passengers in six years. April sales were down nearly $20,000 and June sales were down $3,800.

Should Pensacola voters care? According to the mayor, they should.

“This is critical—the more non-airline revenue we can generate, the less our airport will have to charge airlines,” Hayward said in the July press release, “which in turn allows us to better compete for new air service and hopefully leads to lower ticket prices.”

Editor’s note: Collier Merrill owns less than five-percent of Inweekly, and, by contract, is not allowed input in the editorial content of the newspaper.

New Frontier: Offshore Fracking The energy analysts are reporting that the new frontier for oil and gas exploration will be offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to grow more than 10 percent by 2015.

Fracking is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to create small fractures in the deep-rock formations in order to release natural gas and petroleum. The water flowing back from fracked wells is processed on large oil platforms near the well and then dumped overboard into the Gulf of Mexico.

An indication of how serious BP, Chevron and other oil companies are taking the potential growth in offshore fracking is the increase in fracking ships. Bloomberg News reported recently that oil service companies have increased the global fleet of fracking ships by 31 percent since 2007, according to a survey by Offshore Magazine, creating a market almost as large as Russia’s onshore industry.

To date, no studies have been done by the Environmental Protection Agency or any research group on the impact of offshore fracking.

Yikes, what could possibly go wrong?

Perdido Beach Mayor to Present on Climate Change On Wednesday, Aug. 20, Mayor Patsy Parker of Perdido Beach, Ala. will give a presentation titled “Preparing Our Communities for Climate Change” in an event hosted by 350 Pensacola.

In November 2013, Parker was selected as a member of President Obama’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The task force, comprising state, local, and tribal leaders from throughout the U.S., is tasked with advising the Administration on how the federal government can help communities prepare for the impacts of climate change.

“Mayor Parker has been proactive in her own unique community and was recognized for her efforts,” explained Elaine Sargent, director of 350 Pensacola. “We hope that Mayor Parker’s presentation will be well attended by public officials as well as concerned citizens, and that she will inspire our Mayor and City Council to undertake local planning efforts to meet the challenge of climate change.”

As a group focused on climate action locally, 350 Pensacola is the local chapter of 350.org, a global movement working in over 188 countries to raise awareness of and promote solutions to climate change.

350 Pensacola recently began calling for the establishment of a climate change task force for the city of Pensacola. With the support of Pensacola City Council member Sherri Myers, the group hopes the city council will again consider a resolution to form the task force at its August 25 Agenda Conference. During the first discussion of the resolution at a July agenda conference, council members expressed a desire to gather more information before hearing the issue at a regular council meeting.

“The time is right for this, with our community feeling the distresses associated with the severe June 2012 and April 2014 floods. Further delay on addressing the issue of climate change is really not an option,” Sargent stated.

At the presentation on Aug. 20, Mayor Parker will share her experience as an elected official, and will discuss her own community’s work to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate as well as her membership on the President’s task force.

The presentation begins at 7 p.m. at Bayview Senior Resource Center, 2000 E. Lloyd Street and is free and open to the public. For more information, call 572-7230 or visit facebook.com/350pensacola.

Fire Pension Agreement Extinguished Inweekly has heard that a proposed collective bargaining agreement for the Pensacola firefighters union has stalled yet again. The firefighters are the only city union that does not have a contract with the city of Pensacola. The union has been in negotiations for nearly three years with Mayor Ashton Hayward.

In July, we were told that a tentative deal had been struck. “It is most definitely a give-and-take for both sides,” shared one firefighter. “Not a big win for us or them, but a fare deal for both.”

Then this past week, Inweekly was told the mayor had made several “eleventh-hour” changes before the firefighters voted on the new contract. One source posted on ricksblog.biz that the city changed 23 out of 52 articles, putting the negotiations “back on square one.”

The other longstanding issue with the Pensacola Fire Department is the mayor nominating a permanent fire chief. Matt Schmitt has been the interim chief since 2010.