Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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The Buzz 9/8/16

Helipad Safety The Escambia Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 on Sept. 1 to implement a safety stand-down of the helipad that sits atop the Perdido Key Fire Station. Commissioner Doug Underhill asked for the stand-down after discovering county facilities staff had not performed annual inspections of the helipad.

“Aviation is one of the most dangerous businesses in the world,” Commissioner Underhill told his fellow commissioners. “However, good business practices in aviation have made modern aviation as safe a form of travel as any other. So as long as you’re engaging in aviation, using the best business practices of the industry, you are able to mitigate most of the risk associated with it.”

The Perdido Key Fire Station was built for $5.7 million and opened in September 2013.  The facility also houses the Perdido Key Chamber of Commerce, a visitor’s information center and community center.

According to Underhill, the landing pad was not registered with the Florida Department of Transportation. He said, “(By) doing so we were able to avoid a lot of the inspections and procedures that are normally associated with a helipad for the purpose of safety. In doing so, we also avoided getting data that could be very useful in a real safety assessment.”

Underhill said that there was no evidence of having had a single foreign object debris (FOD) walk down of the pad until last week. He described the walk down as “the very most basic form of safety with regard to aviation that is done daily at every aviation facility in the Navy and most in the civilian sector.” The procedure ensures no debris is on the pad that could hinder a takeoff or landing.

“Finally, there is no record of any annual structural inspections of the facility whatsoever,” said Underhill. “This stand down will not in any way put any citizens at risk. It will not change emergency services at all while we do the details that are necessary to make sure that the helicopter pad does not induce risk to the county that we are aware of.”

In an email sent to his supporters, Commissioner Underhill explained that only half of the emergency flights off Perdido Key originate from this rooftop helipad.

“Helicopter extractions occur safely and routinely from prepared and unprepared ground sites around the County,” he wrote.

He explained that he wanted to avoid another facilities disaster like the jail explosion in April 2014.

“Politics has caused us to gloss over the issue, and no ‘root cause analysis’ has been done or will be done,” said Underhill.  “I fear that we are no more serious today about managing our assets and our risk than we were when the jail blew up.  I am asking the hard questions on this issue because I cannot tolerate a preventable catastrophe like the jail explosion.”

Mayor Hayward’s Payouts When she announced her resignation in August 2014, City Administrator Colleen Castille made it sound like it was the natural end to a one-year commitment.

Through a public request, Inweekly has discovered her resignation and that of Chief Operations Officer Tamara Fountain came with hefty payouts. Each time Mayor Ashton Hayward changed his senior leadership the cost to taxpayers climbed.

In the summer of 2014, Castille’s two-page resignation letter began, “As I approach the end of my commitment for a year of service…”

And after listing the accomplishments during her 12 months, she ended her letter: “I am honored to have worked with you, Mayor Hayward, and thankful for the opportunity to work with the fine team of professionals on the Seventh Floor to implement these many accomplishments.”

Mayor Hayward praised Castille’s performance and publicly thanked the city administrator for her friendship. Fountain told WUWF the transition was planned and would have no impact on Hayward’s re-election campaign.

What Mayor Hayward and Fountain failed to mention was the mayor had agreed for the taxpayers to pay Castille a $50,000 severance check for her resignation from a job that paid her $130,000 annually. In return, Castille signed a General Release Agreement with a clause that she and the mayor agreed to not disparage the other to a third party.

The transition plan was expensive. Eric Olson was promoted to Assistant City Administrator with a salary of $100,006. CFO Dick Barker was named interim City Administrator, and Fountain was made Chief Operations Officer. Both were paid an additional $700 bi-weekly, which annualized out to be $18,200 each.

The city administrator job function went from $130,000 a year to an annual cost of $136,406.

In March 2015, Olson was named City Administrator with an annual salary of $133,016, Fountain and Barker lost their stipends, but Fountain’s salary was increased from $100,006 to $114,982. Vernon Stewart was brought on to handle the public information duties.

The cost of city administrator function jumped from $136,406 to $247,998 (Olson’s and Fountain’s salaries).

In July 2015, Fountain got in trouble when her qualifications and education came under scrutiny.

WEAR TV reporter Amber Southward interviewed Mayor Hayward about the qualifications of his Chief Operations Officer. He said, “She’s very qualified, having an undergrad from Florida State and an MBA from the University of West Florida, so she understands government.”

Fountain that night sent Southard an email: “There is a bunch of stuff wrong in the story. I just watched the story. I am not a CFO. My salary is wrong. My time with responsibilities is wrong. Schools.”

Fountain demanded the story be taken off the air. She shut down her Facebook page, and the city refused to release her personnel file. When they finally did, the folder had no resume or education information. The resume would later be delivered, but it had little prior work experience listed.

On Monday, Aug. 10, 2015, the mayor’s office announced Fountain had resigned “in order to pursue other opportunities.”

According to the public records, Inweekly received last week, Fountain was also given a sizable severance package that was negotiated with the help of the Beggs & Lane law firm. Fountain’s package included 20 weeks severance and 128 Personal Time Off hours. The rate was based on the March 2015 pay increase. The Form PF-1002 showed the total payout was $54,002.

Total severance payouts for these two positions in the mayor’s office was $104,002.

After Fountain resigned, Barker was given a new stipend, equal to 10 percent of his salary, to oversee the Port of Pensacola, Pensacola Energy and Pensacola International Airport- total cost $12,314 annually. Later in the year, Keith Wilkins was hired as Assistant City Administrator, salary $119,995.

The cost of the city administrator function increased again from $247,998 to $265,325, more than doubling since Castille did the job.

Get Started Pensacola Get Started Pensacola allows local entrepreneurs to pitch their idea or product to a panel of judges for their chance to win a prize package worth over $20,000. Local entrepreneurs, startups and small business owners interested in presenting their business plan or idea can now sign up at coxblue.com/getstartedpensacola. Get Started Pensacola will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 2, at 5:30 p.m. at the Pensacola Little Theatre.

As part of the ongoing Get Started business series, local entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch their business idea to a panel of judges consisting of successful entrepreneurs and distinguished experts such as Quint Studer and Peter Nowak. All contestants and event attendees will receive valuable advice from the judges at the conclusion of each pitch.

Get Started is teaming with the 2016 EntreCon event to offer outstanding advice and guidance to local business owners. Entrepreneurs will have the opportunity for face-to-face interaction with potential investors while entering them into the alumni network of former Get Started competitors and winners. Pitches take place in front of a live audience, providing entrepreneurs additional exposure for their business idea.

Local entrepreneurs interested in competing in Get Started can sign up at coxblue.com/getstartedpensacola, where they must provide a 250-word description of the idea or business plan to be pitched. Applications will close Friday, Oct. 7.  Entrants will be notified by Oct. 12, 2016, if they have been selected as a finalist. The five finalists will receive coaching sessions courtesy of the Small Business Development Center at the University of West Florida in advance of the competition to prepare.

In 2015, Get Started held more than 18 pitch events across the country and awarded more than $250,000 in cash and prizes to local entrepreneurs.