PANDORA’S BOX Last week, we published an article on the Envision Escarosa debacle (Independent News, “United We Fail,” Oct. 7). I believe the failure of community leaders to embrace the goals and benchmarks of the final report from that process set the stage for the floundering of the past 10 years.
Hundreds of people spent hours on a vision for the two-county area and a document that was intended to set our course for the first two decades of the 21st century. The debates were lively and not all of the issues surfaced fit the wish list of those running it. Because of this, there was no follow-up. Instead, Envision Escarosa was hidden away in the basement of the John C. Pace Library at the University of West Florida. The hope was that it would fade away from the public consciousness.
Big mistake. The Chamber leaders never understood what they had done. The issues of the environment, education, poverty and racial diversity couldn’t be so easily dismissed by city, county and chamber officials. They had asked the public for their opinions and thereby had opened a Pandora’s box that couldn’t be closed. Their dismissal of the report triggered an erosion of confidence and trust that would plague the chambers and local governments for most of the next decade.
Environmental issues would stay at the forefront. Two special grand juries were convened on environmental issues. Conoco-Phillips would be sued over polluting the city water supply and settled for over $70 million. The City would establish a stormwater utility, the Main Street Sewage Treatment Plant would be relocated to the middle of the county, and curbside recycling would become available throughout the county.
Race would also remain an issue. It would take two more years for the Pensacola City Council to rename part of Alcaniz Street for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The City of Pensacola would spend much of the decade studying racial economic disparity, but make little progress. The U.S. Department of Justice would launch an investigation into Sheriff Ron McNesby’s administration because of reports of Taser abuse and three jail deaths.
Envision Escarosa did set key benchmarks for education, income and poverty to be reached by 2020. We aren’t close to meeting any of them, which shouldn’t be a surprise since none of our leaders have referred to them in 12 years.
Escambia County ranks 52 out of 75 Florida public school districts for high school graduation rate. The 2009 median earning for workers in Pensacola MSA was $23,539, which is 17 percent less than the national average. The 1990 Census indicated that 17 percent of individuals in Escambia lived in poverty. The 2009 estimates showed that percentage has jumped to 18.9 percent.
The Envision Escarosa needs to be revisited. The key benchmarks should be reexamined and we should discuss how we can reach them. The Pensacola Chamber, Escambia County, City of Pensacola, Escambia County School Board and Emerald Coast Utilities Authority need to figure out how each can contribute to them. United Way has tried to pick up the ball, but the governments need to participate, too.
The problems of 1998 are still with us, and won’t go away simply by hiding them in a library basement.