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Sunday December 17th 2017

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The Buzz 8/24/17

Underhill and ‘Vagina Hats’ Escambia Commission chairman Doug Underhill created a social media stir when he asked one of his critics whether she was “one of those people walking around wearing a vagina hat and screaming in the streets.”

Underhill had taken to Facebook to respond to the Aug. 14 Transit Town Hall, where 430 people spoke out in favor of Emerald Coast Transit Authority. He described ECAT as one of the “sacred cows of government handouts.” He said the attendees at that town hall were merely fighting “hard to keep their seat at the trough.”

When his statements were challenged, the commission chairman replied, “Twelve out of 22 bus routes run 10 or fewer riders per hour. The $13M system only collects $1M in revenue. It is funded with a gas tax that was levied on the people without their consent.”

When Jacquita Stokes-Dykes fired back with “Lies! ” the District 2 county commissioner said he was stating “hard cold facts” from the Escambia County Mass Transit Advisory Committee report.

“You scream, ‘Lies!!’ Are you one of those people walking around wearing a vagina hat and screaming in the streets?” he asked Stokes-Dykes. “Is it really that hard to have a conversation with someone who disagrees with you?”

Over the weekend men and women came to the defense of the African-American female.  They commented on Facebook that they were offended that a county commissioner would make such a statement.

Inweekly contacted Stokes-Dykes, who said Underhill’s comment shocked and disappointed her.

“I felt it was very inappropriate and a bit sexist,” she said. “We all elect officials into office with the understanding that they will carry class and have an unbiased opinion even if the person doesn’t agree with them.”

Underhill appeared to miss the point of the criticism.

“All of the crap you see going on here. Nothing but tactics designed to make me stop going after the liberal sacred cow of public transportation,” he wrote on Facebook.

He argued that the county should fire First Transit, the company that runs the bus service.

Underhill wrote, “Many of our routes are wasteful. The management team needs to be fired. It is a government service that should be done by government employees.  That’s what we should be talking about, not vagina hats.”

As more people questioned whether it was Commissioner Underhill who made the “vagina hat” comment, he responded that he was using “the exact term used in our mainstream press for the actions of liberals in the marches against Trump.”

“Yep, that is me, and I standby every word of it,” he wrote. “Liberals, sheesh. They can wear offensive costumes in public and expect respect, but if someone calls it what it is, you flip out.”

But was Stokes-Dykes ever screaming in the streets wearing a “vagina hat” costume?

No.

2018 Governor’s Race Ryan Wiggins, the owner of the political media consulting firm Full Contact Strategies, shared her views on the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial campaigns with Inweekly publisher Rick Outzen on “Pensacola Speaks.”

Wiggins is worried about the crowded field on the Republican side.

“I think that there’s some polling that needs to come out and maybe clear the field a little bit,” she said. “It’s getting a little heavy, and that’s not always the greatest thing for any Republican candidate because what we end up doing is tearing each other up in a primary and making it easier for the Democrats when it comes time for the general (election).”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is the early frontrunner for the GOP nomination. State Senator Jack Latvala announced his candidacy two weeks ago, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran is also expected to enter the race. Other Republicans who have filed are David A. Adams, Don Baldauf, Timothy M. Devine, Usha Jain, Bruce F. Nathan, Angel Luis Rivera and Bob White.

Another heavyweight eyeing the race is Congressman Ron DeSantis from the Jacksonville area. Wiggins said he would either run for governor or attorney general.

“Right now, it’s the Wild Wild West as far as the rumor mill around Tallahassee where he’s going to run for what and why and when and all that,” she said. “DeSantis will be running for something statewide.”

Wiggins believes former Congresswoman Gwen Graham will win the Democratic nomination. She said, “She is a priority candidate for the DNC (Democratic National Committee). They see her as a shining star and a rising star.”

She continued, “She’s seen as a huge threat to Republicans because she’s not overly polarizing. That’s really scary for Republicans.”

She said that the Democrats on a national level see Graham as a potential future presidential candidate.

“They are going to try to convince other candidates to kind of back off because she is viewed as a star and they don’t want to see her get knocked around in a primary,” said Wiggins. “She’s a real threat when it comes to the gubernatorial race.”

Quote of the Week “Until our country stops ignoring what happened to a race of people that provided 244 years of free labor, race, and racism will continue to provide the controversial, emotional and disunity that politicians relish in.” –Howard King, secretary of Pensacola Biracial Committee, 1963-65.

Transit Town Hall Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1395 had a huge turnout for its town hall at Pensacola State College. The headcount was 430 bus riders, drivers and those who believe that mass transit is critical to the growth of the community. Of those attendees, about one of five was from the district of Commissioner Doug Underhill, who has targeted the bus system for cuts.

The first 30 minutes of the town hall held in the WSRE Amos Performance Studio were broadcast live on News Talk 1370 WCOA’s “Pensacola Speaks.” The event opened with a brief panel discussion regarding the importance of ECAT.

The panel included Rev. H.K. Matthews, Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, Pensacola Councilwoman Sherri Myers, community activist Ellison Bennett, attorney Scott Remington, and pastors Larry Watson, Jr. of Englewood Baptist Church, Lonnie Wesley of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church and LuTimothy May of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

Commissioner May said he was there to show his support for those who depend on mass transit. To avoid any appearance of violating the Florida Sunshine Law, he did not discuss any of Commissioner Underhill’s proposals and went to sit in the audience to hear from the public. Commissioner Steven Barry also attended the event as a member of the audience.

“We’re here tonight for the transit drivers, but really for the transit riders,” Rev. H.K. Matthews said. “Because real people rely on this system to get them where they need to go.”

The citizens who spoke out at the town hall came from a variety of backgrounds. Many had used the ECAT system for years to attend college, get to work, buy groceries and make it to doctors’ appointments. Representatives from the Pace Center for Girls, Pensacola State College, and Escambia Community Clinics talked about how vital the bus service is to their clients, students, and patients.

Bus rider Joy Hall said she takes the 6 a.m. bus to the first of her two jobs. She walks six blocks to her bus stop and waits anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes for the bus to come, hoping she’ll make it to work on time.

Regardless of the weather, Hall’s routine continues. Some days she walks in the rain, others in hail and most in the blistering heat, but it’s the only mode of transportation she has. And then, in the evening, she does it all over again, waiting for the bus to take her home after a long days work.

“I’ll take the first bus in the morning and the last bus at night,” she told Inweekly. “And there have been plenty of times I’ve missed the last bus at night and had to call a friend to pick me up from work.”

She added, “So for people who don’t have the ability to drive, this bus system is everything.”

Downtown Pioneer Writes Inweekly received an email from Julia Gomez, the owner of Margarita’s Downtown, one of the top lunch spots a decade ago. Part of Hopjacks is on the spot where Margarita’s was located.

“I would just like to take the opportunity to congratulate Rick and all his staff on the awesome job of producing a very informative paper,” Gomez wrote. “I am very busy, but I read the Inweekly from front to back. Thanks for perseverance.”

Panhandling Reboot Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and the City Council have tried to boot panhandlers out of downtown for years without success.

The council is scheduled at its Sept. 14 regular meeting to repeal its latest effort once and for all. They passed on May 11 an ordinance, sponsored by Council President Brian Spencer and Mayor Hayward that banned panhandling in the “Downtown Visitors District.” When the ACLU filed a lawsuit questioning its constitutionality, Mayor Hayward and Police Chief Tommi Lyter suspended its enforcement.

ACLU attorney Benjamin Stevenson said the council’s decisions have baffled him. The ACLU warned the city before it voted the ordinance that it would be struck down.

“They could have saved a lot of time and effort,” he said. “We told them there were constitutional problems. We’re hopeful they’ll repeal it.”

Pensacola joins Washington, D.C., Houston and Oklahoma City in constitutional challenges to its laws. Already, cities in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and Massachusetts have had their panhandling ordinances struck down by federal judges, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Plus, other cities, repealed laws on their books or halted plans to enact them after the U.S. Supreme Court decision two years ago.

The Wall Street Journal cited a National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty study that looked at 187 cities in 2016 and found that 27 percent enacted broad bans on panhandling, while 61 percent passed bans in certain public areas like Pensacola did. Overall, citywide bans increased 43 percent since 2006.

Instead of “Band-Aid” laws outlawing panhandling, Stevenson and others have recommended Pensacola and other cities should invest in more impactful programs that address homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse.

Stevenson said the ACLU and Pensacola are negotiating a settlement to reimburse the nonpartisan organization committed to fighting egregious civil liberties violations.

“We’re working on a settlement with the city,” he said. “This is the first case (in Florida) that we’ve done in the last few years.”

Moody Visits Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody stopped by the Inweekly offices as part of her visit to Northwest Florida.

She shared that her background as an attorney, prosecutor and judge has given her necessary experience to serve as the attorney general.

“My experience has prepared me for the office,” she said.

Moody resigned as a Hillsborough Circuit Judge to run. Her family has a long judicial history. Her late grandfather was a circuit judge and served in the Florida Legislature. Her father is a federal judge.

When she was elected to the bench in 2006, the thirty-one-year old was the youngest judge in the state at the time. Before then, she was a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville.

She earned bachelor’s, masters and law degrees from the University of Florida. She was President of Florida Blue Key. While serving as Student Representative to the state Board of Regents, she met local Collier Merrill who introduced her last week to local leaders, including State Attorney Bill Eddins and Sheriff David Morgan.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has endorsed Moody, who raised more than $600,000 during the first month of her campaign. She probably walked from Pensacola with more campaign checks.

To learn more about her campaign, visit electashleymoody.com.

Lawsuit on Jail Death The family of the late Rodney J. Berry has filed a lawsuit against Escambia County, former Corrections Director Michael Tidwell, and two jail infirmary employees. Berry’s death was one of six deaths that happened in the Escambia County Jail over a year period. (Inweekly, “Jail Deaths Require Scrutiny,” 12/3/15)

Berry died on May 27, 2015. He had been awaiting trial for two car burglaries in motel parking lots on Pace Boulevard. In each incident, he stole tools, and other property valued less than $100.

Records that Inweekly obtained showed that correction officers and his fellow inmates tried to get medical help for Berry, but the infirmary would only place him on a sick call list for later in the day. He died having vomited and defecated on himself repeatedly for nearly seven hours.

The lawsuit, filed by the Stevenson & Klotz law firm on behalf of Berry’s family, has civil rights claims for failure to provide adequate medical treatment and implement and/or enforce policies to prevent Berry’s death, as well as claims of violation of due process and medical negligence.

Mark Your Calendar On Friday, Aug. 25, Pensacola Network hosts its monthly Get Connected session. Guest speaker is Henry Hawkins, “Mayor of Cantonment,” on “Small Town-Big Opportunities.” The event is free and open to the public. It will be held at 321 N. DeVilliers St. from 5-8 p.m.

On Monday, Aug. 28, ParsCo will host a town hall on its housing development on the former Blount school site. The event is open to the public and will be held at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 625 N. D St., starting at 5:30 p.m.

One More Buzz Item A recent study found that women prefer the body odor of men who ate a lot of fruits and vegetables, whereas men who ate a lot of refined carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, gave off a smell that was less appealing. Time to hit the salad bar and skip the croutons.