At the end of his monthly report to the City Council at its Agenda Review on Jan. 9, Chief Alexander, the highest-ranking African-American in Mayor Ashton Hayward’s administration and the city’s first black police chief, gave a long list of achievements during his eighteen months leading the police department. He brought up what he referred to as “some confusion” over his contract and “whether I knew what I signed when I became the chief of police.”
Alexander said, “Back when, in 2012, I entered into the DROP (Deferred Retirement Option Program) program. I entered into the DROP program based on the information I had at that time. Now, had I known that I would be considered for the position of chief of police, that might have changed my decision to go into the DROP program.”
He said that he knew that when he was appointed chief that his contract to serve as police chief ended when he completed DROP, which is in May.
Councilman Larry Johnson asked the police chief what were his plans.
“Well, I would like to be able to continue what we have begun with the city,” said Chief Alexander. “I believe we’ve made a lot of accomplishments since I’ve been in the office, and there’s been a lot of concern from the public as to whether I would be willing to stay. And the answer is yes, I would be.”
He added, “So, I’d like to see the city grow. I’d like to see some of the problems that historically we’ve had to deal with be resolved, and that we’d be able to work together as a community to move forward. I intend to live in the city, and I would hope that my grandkids will be able to come and live in the city and enjoy the benefits of me working for the city for 30-plus years.”
Until last week, the City of Pensacola had a section on its “Transparent Pensacola” page regarding the Chief David Alexander’s DROP that stated that he would retire when he completed the program in May. That statement has been removed from the website.
Shot Across the Bow Last week Sens. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, George Gainer, R-Panama City, and Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee filed a measure (SB 364) that clarified that $300 million of the BP settlement. The money will be disbursed to Triumph Gulf Coast, an independent board established by the legislature in 2011, for projects in the eight Gulf Coast counties impacted by the BP Oil Spill.
“Nearly seven years after the spill began, on a daily basis, we are still hearing from constituents whose families and businesses were drastically impacted,” Montford said in a press release. “This legislation affirms our longstanding commitment to keep these critical funds in Northwest Florida to provide for the ongoing economic recovery of our region.”
The bill may change the discussion of how the BP funds are appropriated. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has established the House Select Committee on Triumph Gulf Coast that plans to designate the money for infrastructure and education projects that help entire communities. The process for determining those projects has not been decided.
Sen. Broxson would like Triumph Gulf Coast to make those decisions, rather than a group of lawmakers.
“I’ve read Triumph legislation that now is law,” said Broxson on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks.
“It is a beautifully written piece of legislation. It has four audits in there. It has all kinds of accountability.
It’s in the sunshine,” he said. “If people don’t do right, they go to jail. It also requires a report to be given to the president of the Senate, the Speaker, and the governor twice a year. There’s just not any way to not be transparent.”
Update on First Phase of Olive Road Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson remembers seeing students trudging through the ditches along Olive Road to get to Ferry Pass Middle School.
“I thought, ‘This is ridiculous,’” the District 4 commissioner told about 60 residents at a Town Hall meeting on Jan. 10.
By early February 2018, the west end of Olive Road up to the school will be a three-lane road with sidewalks for students to walk on and bike paths.
Robinson initiated the $5.4 million Phase I project about 10 years ago. Phase II of the project on the eastern end of Olive Road from Ferry Pass to Scenic Highway is scheduled to begin at the end of 2017. As part of that work, Johnson Avenue will be realigned at Winding Lane and be rerouted to Olive Road with a traffic light installed across from Harbour Square.
Several residents complained about the length of time the project was taking on the 2.3-mile stretch. Robinson and county engineers explained that to remove stormwater from the flood-prone area contractors have had to put in much larger drainage pipes.
“I know it’s not as fast as you want or I want but we’re working on it as fast as we can,” Robinson said.
In addition, Robinson said a stormwater pond adjacent to Dreamland Skate Center will have a walkway around it and a bench near a large heritage oak tree on the east side of the pond.
“We want it to become a water amenity,” Robinson said. “We have to stop turning them into fenced in ponds. It is beautiful back in there.”
Robinson also reported that the state plans to replant mature trees at the Scenic Highway and Interstate 10 on and off ramps, so it will “look like a nice forest again.”
DEP Writes Up City Project The Florida Department of Environmental Protection found a long list of deficiencies at the City of Pensacola Government Street Stormwater Project. Many of them were ones the City of Pensacola has known for weeks and refused to have its contractor remedy.
DEP conducted a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) inspection of the construction on Thursday, Jan. 5. The inspection came the day after Mayor Ashton Hayward discussed the project on News Radio 1620.
He told host Andrew McKay, “DEP permitted this project, so there’s a lot of finger pointing, and not a lot of facts, Andrew, but most importantly, we’re on top of it every single day.”
The DEP inspection uncovered several violations that the Hayward Administration was not “on top of.”
Emerald Coastkeeper Laurie Murphy told Inweekly that she had become frustrated with how the City would not enforce its ordinances and the stormwater plan for the project. She contacted DEP after listening to the mayor on the radio.
“He went on the morning radio show saying that there was finger pointing and basically thought things were either being embellished or was hearsay,” said Murphy. “At that point I had to make a judgment call to contact the gentleman who signed the original permit and report this to the FDEP, because they are the arresting authority. They can actually levy the fines and make sure that they do the job.”
DEP found several violations.
“They actually backed up all of the violations that I found, and because they were actually allowed on the property on the other side of the silk fence, they actually noted additional violations,” she said.
The state investigators found hydraulic fluid leaking on the ground from water pumps, plus many of the issues that Murphy had listed for the city a month ago.
“I am very glad that I did contact the DEP,” said Murphy. “I think the only thing that I feel that I should have done better was I shouldn’t have waited as long.”
No Public Questions At the Agenda Review on Jan. 9, the Parks & Recreation director, Brian Cooper, gave a report on his department to the Pensacola City Council. However, council members were not permitted to ask any questions of the director, even though the city has budgeted over $9.6 million on Culture & Recreation for FY 2017.
“The purpose is not to open the floor for a long discussion or a bunch of questions,” said City Administrator Eric Olson. “The purpose is to give council members an update on the programs, the projects that these departments are taking care of every day, seeing how our money is spent, really.”
He added, “It’s just important, again, that you hear from all of our directors. With that I’m going to turn it over to Mr. Cooper, again reminding anybody that if you have detailed questions about a program, please get with me afterward and I’ll be happy to set up a meeting with Mr. Cooper, with myself, or both, to go over those.”
Fortunately, other governmental agencies don’t have the same policy to isolate its elected officials.
On Jan. 12, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners had a four-hour Committee of the Whole meeting where commissioners questioned county staff on a wide range of topics, from criminal justice reform to the sector plan. The commissioners and public benefited from hearing the answers in a public meeting.