Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday November 22nd 2017

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The Buzz 4/20/17

Gilligan’s Island When asked for an update on the legislation regarding the distribution of Triumph Gulf Coast Funds, State Sen. Doug Broxson said, “It feels like it’s ‘Gilligan’s Island.’ It was just a three-hour tour, and now we’ve been stuck in here for almost six months.”

He explained, “What’s so sad is that we had a very simple process that was set up for the Triumph Gulf Coast. It simply said, ‘As soon as the settlement was completed, the money would be transferred to Triumph.’ Now, through a legal procedure, it ended up in the general fund.”

Broxson complained that the Florida House is trying to dictate how the Northwest Florida counties most impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill can spend their share of monies from the state’s settlement with the British oil giant. The Panhandle is set to receive $300 million once the state legislature and governor can agree on the distribution process.

According to the Republican senator, the Florida Senate’s approach has been: “So look, we’ve got something that should already be in law. It came over to you last year. Why don’t we transfer the money?”

He said, “It just continued to warp into this concept that really became very complicated.”

The latest wrinkle is allowing the county commissioners to weigh-in on the decisions about which projects get funding. Each county can present projects totaling five percent of the funds ($15 million each), which will get funded if they meet the criteria set by the Triumph board.

Broxson explained the smallest counties, Franklin, Gulf, and Wakulla, would probably have difficulty coming up with a regional project.

“Their possibility of them getting a big project was remote,” he said. “The idea was to look, if they can present a project to Triumph, Triumph has the money. We will let them choose what project if it qualifies for building the economy. We’ll give them a percentage.”

What Broxson would like to see is for several counties to pool their percentages into larger projects that benefit more than one county, such as Navy Federal Credit Union.

The approach of House Speaker Richard Corcoran has been to prohibit any of the Triumph dollars going to economic incentives, something that Broxson and Gov. Rick Scott believe are essential for job growth and diversifying the Panhandle’s economy.

“Governor Scott is very passionate about the Panhandle,” said Broxson. “He’s been over here probably 30 times since he’s been governor. He knows that we’re in fierce competition with the other states, particularly Alabama. He is committed to growing jobs through stimulating companies to come here.”

The state senator wants to eliminate any restrictions on the funds and to allow the Triumph board to decide the criteria.

“I think we need to redo this whole thing, reestablish what’s right and wrong, and try to get them to do the right thing and push that money over to Triumph,” said Broxson. “Let us get started with doing what we’re supposed to do.”

He said the debate in Tallahassee over economic incentives has hurt the state’s recruitment of businesses to come to Florida.

“The message has been heard around the country,” said Broxson. “All these recruiters of companies are seeing a decline in people interested in Florida because they know they can get a better deal in other states. This has infuriated Rick Scott.”

He said that he was uncertain how Gov. Scott will react if the final bill passed doesn’t allow economic incentives.

Broxson said, “I don’t know exactly what the governor’s going to do. I think he’s very disappointed that this is going to be restricted dollars. He is the governor. We’ll see what happens.”

VT MAE Update On April 10, Dave Penzone, the consultant hired by Mayor Ashton Hayward to oversee the VT MAE project at the Pensacola International Airport, updated the Pensacola City Council on the progress of the $45-million construction project.

FAA certification has been received for the airport project. There has been no objection to any of the construction activity, except for some changes that needed to be made because of modifications of building’s configuration, with respect to the antennas and the localizers.

The construction schedule is three weeks behind schedule, but Greenhut Construction is optimistic that it can bring the project back on schedule, according to Penzone.

“So at the moment, it’s behind, but I think there is a belief, particularly with the pre-engineered metal building programming that we will pick up those three weeks,” he told the council at its agenda review.  “Of course, a lot of this is dependent upon weather, or any circumstances that are always in any major construction project like this.”

The construction costs remain with the original budgeted amounts. Any cost increases are being offset by savings in other areas.

Penzone said, “Spending is happening as projected about $3-$4 million a month as the project is moving forward.”

Scott Luth and his team at FloridaWest, the county’s economic development authority, have met with VT MAE officials about workforce development.

Penzone explained their timeline: “July is the recruitment for the Leadership Team. In August, offers will be extended for the Leadership Team. In November, the Leadership Team will be recruiting about 150 employees to be on the ground and train when the facility opens in 2018. In January of 2018, VT MAE will be commencing training of the staff in Mobile, and the expected opening is the Spring of 2018.”

The consultant said VT MAE has committed to hiring 400 employees at the facility, and the company’s president and its board are excited about the project.

“I think that bodes well for the City of Pensacola because as you know if this project is successful there’s always the opportunity for Phase 2,” said Penzone. “There’s always the opportunity for expanding sort of the footprint here in Pensacola.”

Galvez Symposium The University of West Florida Historic Trust, in association with the Pensacola Heritage Foundation, is hosting a Symposium on the Governor of Louisiana and Viceroy of New Spain Bernardo de Gálvez to on Friday, April 28, from 9:30 a.m.-3 p.m. at the Museum of Commerce, 201 East Zaragoza St.

The Gálvez Symposium, which is free and open to the public, coincides with Pensacola’s efforts to honor the Spanish statesman and general with a monument. Because of the renewed interest in this American hero who delivered West Florida from the British in 1781, symposia in his honor have become a unique way to recognize his role in American independence.

Dueling Veto Opinions At the special meeting on April 10, City Attorney Lysia Bowling told the city council that Mayor Ashton Hayward’s veto of the council action to hire a budget analyst was legal under the charter.

“I looked at that very precise language in the ballot proposition that was posed to the citizens,” said Bowling.

The referendum passed 10,575-9,865 on Nov. 4, 2014. The city attorney said, “Nowhere in it did I find any limitation on the issue of mayoral veto or anything to preclude the mayor from exercising veto authority with regard to what was asked of the voters.”

Mayor Hayward opposed the referendum, but he did not veto the ordinance authorizing the post, its duties and pay range when it was passed last August.

Attorney Ed Fleming reviewed the mayor’s veto. He saw the issue as the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Fleming determined that the mayor had “no authority to obstruct the City Council’s effort to implement the duly enacted ordinance.”

On April 10, Bowling tried to minimize the impact of the mayor’s veto. She said, “When the mayor wishes to express disagreement with an action of council, he expresses that disagreement through veto power, but ultimately, City Council, you are the decision makers on every action that you take as a quorum.”

Bowling said, “You are the ultimate authority on your decisions, and you do that through the override process.”

Mayor Hayward discussed his veto on News Radio 1620. His decision was based on his belief that position wasn’t needed, regardless of the citizens’ vote in 2014.

“I was not really for the referendum at all to add more staff, and I think the voters overwhelmingly support a new form of government,” said the mayor. “From the executive standpoint, it’s my expression, if I don’t agree with something, to veto something.”

Pensacola residents did support the “strong mayor” form of government in 2009 with 7,762 votes for a new city charter. However, 2,813 more people voted for the 2014 referendum that authorized the council to hire its own staff.

On the radio, the mayor echoed the city attorney’s opinion, “On the referendum for this council staff, it didn’t say the mayor can’t veto these things.”

However, Mayor Hayward said that he “completely” supports the council’s decision to override his veto of hiring a budget analyst.

“Obviously, this new analyst will work with our team,” he said, “and (we will) do whatever we can do to make sure they get the budget they want, and most importantly, the voters and the citizens get what they want.”

Power of Service Gulf Power recognized Northwest Florida Community Outreach, HYPE, and Currie House–Lutheran Services for their contributions and commitment to the community during the Power of Service Awards on April 11.

Northwest Florida Community Outreach provides educational seminars, basic needs support and social gatherings, such as Drug Awareness and Anti-Bullying seminars, Farm Share food giveaway, providing the homeless with “Care Bags” that include toiletries and food, senior neighbor breakfasts and bingo, and an annual school supply fundraiser.

Helping Youth in Pensacola Endure (HYPE) provides focuses on Pensacola high school students and provides tutoring, mentoring and other enrichment programs including financial planning, resume writing, job interview etiquette, and drug and violence prevention to help them reach their full potential.

The Currie House, organized under Lutheran Services, is a safe place for youth and teens in need of shelter, security, and counseling due to conflict within their household. For the last 26 years, the Currie House has provided services to individuals and families to improve communication skills with the goal of keeping families together.

“These organizations change lives for the better, which ultimately change our entire community for the better,” said Gulf Power Vice President of Customer Service and Sales Wendell Smith.

Since the inception of the award program in 2012 to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of service, Gulf Power has recognized 43 organizations in Northwest Florida and awarded more than $107,000.

A Place for Conversations Quint and Rishy Studer announced last week their intent to buy the SunTrust Building at 220 West Garden Street. Their goal is to create a community-oriented space where citizens can gather, share ideas, and solve issues.

“We’re all about improving the quality of life for our community like many people are,” Quint Studer told Inweekly. “One of the things that we feel has been missing in this community is a place to go to have these conversations, a place to go to have problems solved, learn about things.”

In 2015, the Studers proposed to build the UWF Center for Entrepreneurship and conference center at the Community Maritime Park, only to have Mayor Ashton Hayward rejected the lease approved by the CMPA board.

SunTrust Bank vacated the building last fall. The building boasts a large first-floor atrium that could be used as a social area and cafe, as well as a large office suite that could accommodate concerts, lectures, and conference breakout sessions. The outdoor plaza could host community gatherings, musical events and small festivals.

Would a conference fit in the first-floor area? Studer said, “This footprint at SunTrust is bigger.”

While the deal is expected to close within the next 60 days, Studers plan to seek ideas from the community on how to best use the space.

He said, “We certainly want to get input on space use, what would make sense, how it looks because when we’ve asked the community for help, we’ve never been disappointed.”