Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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The Buzz 10/19/17

Hayward and the Statue NewsRadio 1620 earlier this month tried to get Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward to say what his current plan was for the Confederate monument in Lee Square. Two months have passed since Mayor Hayward announced he wanted to move the statue dedicated to the Confederate dead.

The city’s “Transparent Pensacola” page still states the mayor wants the monument moved. However, he wouldn’t confirm that was still his position while on the radio. Now the mayor says he wants the community to put the statue in proper context and have a public discussion on the issue.

The mayor brought up with NewsRadio host Andrew McKay a conversation he had with a lady on Oct. 3.

“Andrew, yesterday I was driving home from Destin and Fort Walton and I spoke to a lady about it—you know people see me on TV they talk to me. She knew who I was. And we had a very good dialogue and conversation about it. She talked about history and talked about the different subject matters that go with Civil War so it was very interesting to hear her perspective.”

He added, “But, as we talked about it before I think, you know the city has one monument. It’s very controversial on both sides and we greatly respect that.”

The mayor said he wanted Council Executive Don Kraher to do something but he didn’t complete the thought. Instead, he jumped back to context, education and conversation.

“I do think that we need to put them in better context and really educate the community about it because that conversation really was a positive that came out of this whole thing—discussing what really happened and the position everyone was in,” he said.

When pressed that it sounded like he still favored moving it, but the mayor wouldn’t commit.

“I think the most important thing, Andrew, is what we discussed and to put it in the right context. You know whether we move it or don’t move it. I think the public opinion is very important as we said it was from the very get-go,” said Hayward.

“I want to make that very clear we’re not going to do anything without public input. You know there’s something on the books that talks about that when you talk about all our monuments in the city you know you can’t just have historical markers moved. So I think it’s important to have that discussion.”

When McKay tried to summarize the mayor’s position as being “you want to talk with people and get more consensus around the choice,” Hayward said he knows his city.

He said, “You know what I’m saying is that I am everywhere in the community. And I’ve had both sides say: ‘you know, Mayor, why don’t we put this in the right context;’ ‘Mayor, that was a great conversation that came out of St. John’s Cemetery;’ ‘Mayor, the Veterans Memorial Park is a place.’”

He continued, “I think we need to be intelligent on what we do… the best place might be to leave it right there. The best thing might be to move it, but I do think putting it in the right context the way it was talked about–no matter if it’s Charlottesville, Pensacola, Florida and Richmond, Virginia. Where we do [move it] needs to have some educational components around that.”

Cyber Gulf Coast Last Friday, FloridaWest, University of West Florida and cybersecurity educators and professionals unveiled the Cybersecurity Strategic Plan for Pensacola at the UWF Commons Conference Center.

The plan consists of short-term and long-term goals and strategies for building a thriving cybersecurity workforce, strengthening partnerships to enhance innovation and economic development, enhance technology infrastructure and market the Pensacola region as “Live Coastal. Work  Cyber.”

Zach Jenkins, UWF Haas Center director, spoke at the unveiling and said Northwest Florida is one of seven metropolitan statistical areas nationally with a “very strong concentration for cybersecurity.”

Cybersecurity strengths and assets for Northwest Florida include military, infrastructure, business and living, public sector organizations, private sector organizations, education and training.

The cyber strategic plan cited UWF as a cybersecurity research leader in Florida and credited its students and faculty members for being engaged in a diverse array of cybersecurity projects. One of those projects is the Florida Cyber Range that debuted Tuesday at the ITEN WIRED Summit. The UWF Center for Cybersecurity partnered with Metova CyberCENTS to create the simulator to provide advanced training and testing solutions through cybersecurity exercises, competitions, conferences, operations and research.

Metova CyberCENTS President Bill Dunn, who serves on the cybersecurity advisory committee, said worldwide spending on cybersecurity is expected to surpass $1 trillion and cybercrime damages are expected to total $6 trillion by 2021.

“Folks, to me, that sounds like an opportunity,” Dunn said.

Patel Plan Strayed In an email on the eve of the Oct. 5 commission meeting, hotelier Julian MacQueen reminded the Escambia Board of the County Commissioners of his concerns about Jay Patel’s proposal to build a new arena and field house and have the county sign a 30-year lease and guarantee to pay any operational losses.

The founder of Innisfree Hotels took time from his record-setting flight around the world to point out that Patel and his Pensacola Area Development Partners have little or no risk on the $65-$100 development.

“In my opinion, (Shortfall Guarantee) becomes the guarantee for debt and equity payments, (after the hotel fixed lease payment) ultimately pushing the underwriting of the full faith and competence to the county,” wrote MacQueen. “Good for equity raising but not the deal we were brought in the beginning.”

MacQueen’s email had an attachment – “PADP (Pensacola Area Development Partners) Letter of Intent (LOI) Review and comments, by Julian” dated Aug. 22. The details that MacQueen outlined are nearly identical to what Patel presented on Oct. 5.

He said that the deal was a good one for Hunt, the Texas company putting up the money.

“In its totality, the agreement is one that I would propose if I were in the position of Hunt. The risk as it is structured in the LOI, is low for Hunt and almost risk free for the PADP,” MacQueen told the commissioners.

“It is clearly designed for cities and public facilities that have a dire need to reestablish their infrastructure and bring life back into a derelict area or simply an area that is looking for the expertise of a collection of companies that have been successful in public-private facilities”

The hotelier said he had been initially attracted to the project because he hoped it would broaden our market and attract more sports tourism especially for areas other than the beach hotels. He pointed out that arenas, convention centers and convention hotels are not moneymakers and are highly subsidized.

“Since 98 percent of all Convention Centers are not profitable (see the most recent legacy of the Okaloosa Convention facility), the concept is that the community will benefit in quality of life and a spin-off to the tax base will be created in second-hand revenue through related businesses, like hotels, retail, and restaurants,” he wrote.

“While I do believe that government has a responsibility to subsidize public/private ventures, we need to be focused on where the biggest benefit is for our size community and its natural attributes.”

MacQueen believed that Patel’s proposal “strayed away” from this original intent of the sports tourism complex proposed by Pensacola Sports.

“This project is simply too big and the likelihood of a city and county of our size supplementing the Shortfall combined with the Lease Payment to the County is too great,” he wrote. “…I feel the likelihood of a successful outcome is small if not impossible under the current LOI and scope.”

MacQueen recommended, “If we were to come back to our original intent and propose a reasonable sized Sports Facility, even with the huge financial commitment in our competitive set from Foley and Panama City to this sports market, I feel we could do something for our county that would make us all proud and not be saddled with version 2.0 of the existing civic center for decades to come.”

Bros Stick Together When the Pensacola City Council held a special meeting on Sept. 20, the audience heckled Councilman Larry Johnson when he got up to leave the meeting early.

A citizen shouted a reference to the councilman’s popular bar, The Azalea, “See you at the Z tonight!”

Johnson said, “This is what we have to endure with North Hill—every time.” He sat back down for a few minutes but then got up again, slamming the door as he left.

Council members getting upset isn’t new and rarely do snide remarks make it into print, but PNJ reporter Jim Little caught the exchange on his phone and the newspaper put up on its website.

Two days later, Mayor Ashton Hayward fired off a letter to Council President Brian Spencer. The mayor said he had reviewed the video of the meeting and talked with City Administrator Eric Olson. He expressed his displease with the tone of the discussion and disparaging remarks Spencer allowed the public to make.

However, Mayor Hayward said he was defending City Attorney Lysia Bowling and made no mention of Johnson’s exchange at the meeting.

Councilwoman Sherri Myers sent Hayward an email asking for details on how Bowling was disparaged but received no reply. She placed on the Oct. 12 agenda a vote of confidence for how Spencer chaired the meeting.

Inweekly reviewed the video of the two-hour special meeting and found no insults hurled in Bowling’s direction by the council or public. The city attorney answered questions but never appeared offended.

When confidence vote came up at the agenda review, Councilman Johnson was the only one to speak in defense of the mayor’s letter.

Calling the confidence vote a “circus item,” Johnson argued the mayor was exercising his First Amendment right and asked for City Attorney Lysia Bowling to render an opinion on the matter.

“If I could, Mr. President, ask the city attorney if she would render an opinion on if the mayor has First Amendment rights…” said Johnson. “When you talk about people having First Amendment rights, doesn’t that pass on to all people, even the mayor? I mean to me, he would have a First Amendment right to express himself, so this circus item can move forward to Thursday night, but I believe he has a right to… and whoever the mayor is, to express themselves, too.”

Bowling appeared to be little perplexed as to what Johnson was requesting.

“I would say that there’s a First Amendment right to speak,” said the city attorney. “I don’t see that it was a direction of council, but I could look at it more carefully if you wish. I understand the issue that you’re speaking of. I don’t think there’s a charter violation just from looking at the language.”

Johnson said that he thought the confidence vote was a waste of time since the council president’s last meeting would be in November.

“I think it is a poor use of our time, so on a First Amendment… you know, you can’t have it both ways,” he said. “Either he has a First Amendment right to express himself along with everyone else or not, so I just think we could be spending our time with something more important than this right here. Thank you.”

Myers countered that the confidence vote had nothing to do with free speech.

“Nobody’s saying anybody doesn’t have the right to speak, but the council, we also have the right to express our views,” she said. “And the mayor, I would love for him to start attending council meetings. He can certainly show up and express himself, and he can also sign up for three minutes and express himself however he wants to do it…”

Myers continued, “First Amendment doesn’t even factor in here. Nobody is restricting anybody’s freedom of speech.”

The council approved the vote of confidence at its Oct. 12 meeting by a 6-1 vote. Johnson was the sole vote against it.

He said to Spencer about his vote, “It has nothing to do with a vote of confidence for you, but I do believe in First Amendment rights and I believe that everyone has those.”