Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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The Buzz 6/2/16 (revised 6/3/16)

Adding Work Component Quint and Rishy Studer are building another office building in downtown Pensacola. They are submitting designs to the city’s Architectural Review Board today for a 57,000 square foot, $14.3 million office building at the southeast corner of Jefferson and Intendencia streets, near the YMCA that is under construction. They already have a pre-lease agreement with the Clark Partington law firm.

Andrew Rothfeder, president of Studer Properties, said the new building is the last piece of the whole mix-use development of the Pensacola News Journal site that the Studers purchased in late 2013.

“We knew originally when we bought the site we needed residential downtown badly and some density, true urban neighborhood,” he said. “That project’s now under construction.”

Since the Community Maritime Park opened in 2012, the Studers built One Maritime Place at the park, which cost $16.5 million and houses his old company, Studer Group, Emcare and Moore, Hill & Westmoreland law firm. Earlier this month, they have begun site preparation for their $50-million apartment complex on Romana and Jefferson streets.

With the downtown YMCA and the apartment project progressing, Rothfeder said they began looking for other real estate demands in downtown Pensacola.

“We consider ourselves community developers, which means we’re responding to what the market tells us it needs to keep growing the community, growing the tax space, creating jobs,” he said.

Rothfeder said, “The market was saying to us, ‘We need more new Class A office space.’ The project we did at Maritime Place was the first real office building that had been built downtown in probably 30 years. It filled very quickly, and we knew we had pent up demands for more of it.”

He connected the new building with Studer Property’s theme of developing projects that tie together the live-work-and-play aspects of the community.

“You have all the pieces there, you’ve got the ‘live’ with the apartments, you’ve got the ‘play’ with all the supporting retail services, the health aspect at the YMCA,” said Rothferder.  “All the pieces were there, and the only thing that was missing was the ‘work’ and so that’s the last piece.”

When the new office building is completed, the total new downtown construction by the Studers since 2013 will be almost $81 million.

The Death of Independent Review During the 2013 Legislative Session, HB 4053 was introduced to repeal the Civil Service Act. State Rep. Clay Ford sponsored the legislation. The bill’s summary analysis states the replacement policy for the Civil Service Board gave “broader rights to the employees, including an administrative appeal process for non-disciplinary complaints, mediation before disciplinary appeals, merit-based employment and promotions, the prohibition of nepotism, and an outlined method for lay-offs.”

Furthermore, Mayor Hayward committed to the establishment of an Independent Personnel Board. Like the old Civil Service Board, the new board would handle minimum qualification changes and hear disciplinary appeals from city employees not otherwise protected by collective bargaining contracts.

The Independent Personnel Board would be composed of three members: one appointed by Mayor Hayward, one by employees and a third selected by the other two members.

The bill passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott on June 28, 2013. The city employees were notified of the repeal. The Human Resources manual was updated in December to include the Independent Personnel Board, and employees were told the board election would be held has soon as practical.

In January 2014, Sherrer Kuchera retired as the city’s Human Resources Administrator. Ed Sisson was hired one month later to replace her.

For the next 20 months, no elections were held for the Independent Personnel Board. Then an employee asked to appeal a disciplinary action. On Oct. 19, 2015, Sisson emailed employees asking for nominations for the Independent Personnel Board and stating the election would be Dec. 1. Two nominations were received: former City Councilwoman Maren DeWeese and Kurt Larson.

Despite having two qualified nominations, Sisson told his bosses that there was a lack of overall employee response, according to attorney Russell Van Sickle’s report on the Pensacola fire chiefs. Former City Council President Maren Deweese reported on her blog that Sisson stated in a senior management meeting that there “was a nominee for the Personnel Board that we all know we can’t have that individual be on the board. We can’t let that happen.”

In late November, Sisson began to rewrite the HR appeal process, deleting the board and establishing a new three-step appeals process that included the department directors, Sisson and City Administrator Eric Olson. Under the new process, the decision of the City Administrator would be final.

Inweekly asked for emails to confirm who approved Sisson’s changes to the HR manual. There were none. There was no email indicating Mayor Hayward authorized the changes or the delegation of his disciplinary authority to Sisson and Olson.

City employees weren’t told of the new appeal process. Instead, they were told the disciplinary matter had been resolved, and the election wasn’t necessary.  The revised HR manual was never sent to the city employees and was finally uploaded to the city’s website the afternoon of Feb. 2, a few hours after the fire chiefs had been placed on paid administrative leave.

Van Sickle’s report did not address the change in the appeal process. City officials provided an analysis and timeline of the decision to remove the previously existing disciplinary process that Van Sickle included for informational purposes.

The analysis concluded, “The intentions conveyed by the City Administration to the local legislative delegation during the process of repealing the Civil Service Special Act were not executed and should not be interpreted to mean the Mayor would appoint an independent board and delegate all of his Charter authority regarding employment to that board.” (See note)

The analysis didn’t state who made that conclusion.

Missing from the city’s analysis were any interviews with Kuchera or former Chief of Staff John Asmar, who worked on the repeal of the Civil Service Act with the city employees and lawmakers. There was no mention that city employees were told four years ago that they would have an independent appeal board so they would support the Civil Service repeal effort. There also was no explanation for why the Independent Personnel Board was added to the HR manual in 2013 if the mayor didn’t intend to abide by his commitment.

Mayor Hayward and Sisson have declined several interview requests from Inweekly.

Note: An earlier version had attributed the conclusion regarding the commitment for Independent Personnel Board to attorney Russell Van Sickle. The conclusion was made by unidentified city officials.

Local Professor Advises Early Steps Gov. Rick Scott has appointed UWF assistant professor Dr. Sara Evans to the Florida Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants and Toddlers, a statewide agency that assists and advises the Early Steps program.

Early Steps serves families of infants and toddlers who have developmental delays by providing individualized family support plans. Early intervention helps caregivers develop the skills to help their children learn and grow.

Evans, an assistant professor in the UWF Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, has studied childhood behavior since she began graduate school in 2005.

“This knowledge informs my ability to serve on this council,” Evans said. “I am also the parent of a child with Down syndrome who has been receiving services through the Pensacola Early Steps office for almost three years. I can provide a unique perspective as someone who has very recently worked with a local office in Florida.”