Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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The Buzz 9/28/17

Community Code of Ethics Former Florida Senate President Don Gaetz discussed ethics in government with community leaders today during an Advocacy Lunch and Learn sponsored by the Studer Community Institute.

During his tenure, Gaetz passed 38 provisions that strengthened ethics laws for elected officials and those working in state, county and city government. However, he said that passing stricter ethics laws is like playing “Whack A Mole.”

“One thing that unfortunately is real in politics is that you can always find some bad person who can think of new bad ways to do bad things,” Gaetz explained.

He suggested that a Community Code of Ethics determined by the citizens, not the politicians, may be the best way to rein in corruption in government.

Gaetz said, “Some communities have said, ‘We’re not going to wait around for the State Legislature to define what we consider to be appropriate conduct in local public office.  Instead, what we are going to do is have our own community code of ethics.’”

The citizens can state in the code what is acceptable and unacceptable and what the consequences should be if there is grievously unacceptable behavior.

When asked about what areas should be touched on in a Community Code of Ethics, Gaetz said there needed to be a focus on how to deal with conflicts of interest, public disclosures of possible conflicts, and the use of public resources for private gain or grudges.

He suggested the City of Pensacola should look at how it handles attorneys and lawsuits. Currently, the mayor of Pensacola unilaterally determines who he will sue, the attorneys he will hire, and what lawsuit he will defend against. He has not taken all of the lawsuit settlement agreements to the Pensacola City Council for approval.

Gaetz recommended the city take a “thoughtful wait and see” approach regarding litigation. He said that when he was the Superintendent of Schools in Okaloosa County, he would not commit to filing a lawsuit or defending against one without first taking the matter to the school board for a public discussion and vote.

A Simple Matter The fee simple title on Pensacola Beach isn’t as diabolical and evil as some want the public and Sen. Bill Nelson to believe, according to Congressman Matt Gaetz and County Commissioner Grover Robinson.

“There continues to be misinformation, largely amplified by the Pensacola News Journal, indicating that this is somehow a private takeover of the beach,” Gaetz told Inweekly. “That is not true. There’s not a single speck of sand on Pensacola Beach or Navarre Beach that the public is currently able to use that they would not be able to use after we pass this bill. ”

Commissioner Robinson argued that claims the public will lose access just aren’t factual.

“Let me ask you—how public it is if you just want to walk into somebody’s house on the beach,” he said. “They’ll call the sheriff, they’ll come pick me up, and they’ll take you in. It’s not public because it is privately leased to a homeowner.”

He continued, “Going to fee simple is not changing anything on that. The stuff that is public—the sidewalks, the access roads, the parking lot, the beach, the conservation areas and the things we love about the beach that are the area between the dunes and the Gulf and all the different parts around it all the things that are that are really truly public—I’ve made sure in this language that that is kept that way in Escambia County and it is that way into perpetuity.”

He pointed out that currently, the Board of County Commissioners could lease those public areas by a 3-2 vote. The fee simple law prevents that from ever happening.

Robinson said, “The things that are in preservation and conservation would be that way into perpetuity.”

More City Sidewalks At the final hearing on the FY 2018 budget, City Administrator Eric Olson told the Pensacola City Council that the administration was working on a prioritized list for sidewalks.

“I think it’s reasonable to say that we’ll have that at the beginning of the new year,” said Olson. “What we are trying to do is de-politicize the process so that everybody has an open, fair, transparent way of identifying what the city’s needs are, and then we can address how much money you want to put towards it.”

His comments came after Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn tried to amend the budget to allocate $2.5 million for sidewalks. Council President Brian Spencer opposed her amendment.

“I will not support a $2.5 million figure,” said Spencer.  “I think we have again an opportunity to more comprehensively address what is necessary to make the sidewalks that could be more than just more pavement and address the pedestrian and cycling experience. In concept, I am a big proponent and supporter of creating safer, non-vehicular pathways.”

Olson explained the process that will create two sidewalk lists.

“The first step in that is the planning division is creating a series of criteria based on the American Planning Association’s best industry and best practices,” said Olson. “So we’ll have two lists. One is ‘Here are our existing maintenance needs’ and the second list is ‘This is our new construction needs.’ And then the plan was to take whatever funding the council appropriates on an annual basis and we just attack both of those lists.”

The majority of the council agreed to wait for Olson’s lists to be presented before allocating additional funds for sidewalks, other than the $1.6 million appropriated for Burgess Road. Cannada-Wynn’s amendment failed 3-4.

Praise for Myers Councilwoman Sherri Myers succeeded in getting in the FY 2018 $1.6 million for sidewalks and drainage on Burgess Road. She received praise from the citizens and her fellow council members for her efforts.

Rev. John Phillips, organizing president of the neighborhood association that includes the road, pointed out to the council that he first brought the traffic issue to them in April 2011.

“One of the problems in our neighborhood that has a long history is the condition of Burgess Road from Davis Highway to Sanders Street, which is in the city, and from Sanders Street to Lanier Street, which is in the county,” said Rev. Phillips. “Burgess Road, east of Davis Highway, is a very narrow, dangerous stretch of roadway. It has no curbs, no gutters, no sidewalks, and the deep ditches and driveways along most of the length make pedestrian and bicycle traffic impossible. Neither school children nor adults can walk along Burgess Road safely.”

He said that he challenged Mayor Ashton Hayward and other city leaders to walk the road.

“No one apparently had the courage to do so, except Councilmember Sherri Myers, who has gone house-to-house along the entire length from Davis to Lanier,” he told the council.

Councilman P.C. Wu said the Myers deserved the credit for getting the funds to improve Burgess Road.

“She has fought tirelessly for this project for years and years and years,” Wu said to Rev. Phillips. “I appreciate you coming down, but before we move on, I want to make sure that Sherri Myers got the credit she deserves on this particular vote.”

Even Councilman Larry Johnson, a frequent critic of Myers, complimented her perseverance. When Myers was running for re-election in 2014, Johnson tried to have her investigated by the council and removed from office, claiming that she was harassing city staff, derisive and disruptive. He got nowhere with his allegations, but he did contribute to her opponent’s campaign.

“I would like to say also to Ms. Myers, she deserves all the credit,” said Johnson. “She’s fought for this. I congratulate her on this happening. I’m getting dirty looks from her right now, but I am sincere in that. I just want to tell her that congratulations, and I will be voting for this tonight.”

Remembering Evers Rep. Jayer Williamson (R-Pace) has filed a bill to name a 13-mile stretch of State Road 4, a highway that cuts through the Blackwater River State Forest in the Panhandle, after the late former Sen. Greg Evers.

Under Williamson’s proposal (HB 171), State Road 4 would be designated the “Senator Greg Evers Memorial Highway” between Munson Highway and State Road 189 in Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties. Evers, 62, died Aug. 21 in a single-vehicle accident near his home in Okaloosa County.

Evers, a Republican, served nine years in the Florida House before his election to the Senate in 2010. Evers left his Senate seat last year to make a bid for the U.S. House but lost the Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. Williamson’s bill is filed for the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January.

2035 Airport Master Plan The Pensacola International Airport has begun preparing for increased use projected there by 2035. Dan Flynn, the airport director, told seven Pensacola area residents on the advisory committee Thursday night at the airport conference room that he wanted to get consensus on the proposed changes.

“We will come up with an amalgamation of what you see here,” Flynn told the local citizens, which included Scott Luth, FloridaWest CEO, and Steve Hayes, Visit Pensacola president. “We want to address any concerns as early as we can. I do appreciate your input.”

One of the immediate projects will be extending the south runway to 8,000 feet. Already, flights to Denver must operate under weight restrictions to take off, meaning fewer passengers per plane. Plus, it will give the Pensacola airport more ability to handle aircraft in bad weather situations, which includes the extremely hot summer days.

Extending the terminal is another top priority. Flynn said a benefit of the expansion will be allowing 757-size commercial airliners at all 10 gates.

Going up to five lanes for drop-off and pick-up will eliminate the center median, eliminate the first crosswalk, keep the center crosswalk as is and cut off the entrance to the parking garage in the last, or third crosswalk.

Additionally, airport staff considered adding surface parking, rather than building a more expensive six-story parking garage but found it “ugly” and said it “limits development of the airport a considerable extent.”

The last major airport expansion took place between 2007 and 2011. The public will have a chance to weigh in on the master plan that will be posted online within the week on the airport website, flypensacola.com. The city council is expected to vote on a final airport master plan in March 2018.

The next advisory committee meeting will be scheduled sometime in October.

Passenger Growth Speaking of airports, the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport had another phenomenal month for passenger growth. In August 2017, the airport in Okaloosa County had 41,776 more passengers than it did in August 2016 – a 47-percent jump. The Pensacola International Airport had 12,748 more passengers, 8.9 percent.

Overall, Pensacola still handles more passengers than Destin-Fort Walton Beach, 155,851 to 130,878 in August, but that gap continues to narrow.

Year-to-date, Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport has handled 200,015 more passengers compared to the first eight months of 2016 – a 32.5-percent increase. Pensacola has had 61,670 more passengers, for a 5.7-percent jump.

From January-August 2017, the Pensacola International Airport has handled 1,143,804 passengers, while the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport has had 814,919 passengers.

Mark Your Calendar On Sept. 28, UWF President Martha Saunders will give the annual State of the University address, highlighting the institution’s accomplishments and looking ahead at plans for the 2017-18 academic year at 1:30 p.m. in University Commons Auditorium, Bldg. 22, 11000 University Parkway.

On Sept. 28, CareerSource Escarosa, Escambia County and Pensacola State College will host the 2017 Fall Job Fair from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Brownsville Community Center, 3200 West Desoto St.  This no-cost event is open to the public. Job seekers are urged to dress professionally and bring plenty of resumes.  For more details, visit careersourceescarosa.com.

On Oct. 3, Escambia County hosts free job readiness workshops to provide job seekers with information and training to enhance their chances of being work-ready when the right job comes along.  It will take place at 10:30 a.m. at the Brownsville Community Resource Center, 3200 W. De Soto St. To register for a workshop, call 595-3130 or email Carla Jones at csjones@myescambia.com. For more information, visit myescambia.com/jobready.