Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 17th 2018

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The Buzz 2/22/18

Beyond Serious Last Friday, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan called a press conference to discuss the Parkland, Fla. school shooting and how his office was handling a “rash” of social media posts threatening similar violence in Escambia County.

He said individuals had posted messages on Facebook that they were going to shoot up Escambia High School, Pine Forest High School and Pensacola State College.

“Our officers took that information, worked it for several hours through the night, and managed to identify Mr. Gabriel Brooks Harvell,” said the sheriff. “We found that there was also an outstanding warrant for Mr. Harvell for stalking, and so he was taken into custody.”

Sheriff Morgan added, “In Escambia County, we are going to take any insinuation or threat involving our school system and our children beyond serious. If you are stupid enough—and I use that word ‘stupid’—to be engaged in this sort of communication, you can expect the full weight of the Escambia Sheriff’s office to be visited upon you.”

The Pensacola Police had received information from a parent of a Workman Middle School student that another student on social media shared an image that alluded to school shootings. Its investigation led to the arrest of a 13-year-old male for disruption of a school function.

Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said his agency was working closely with the sheriff’s office, as well as the city of Pensacola, providing any legal advice or assistance they may need to investigate any of these possible allegations if they come forward.

“As part of this, anybody that is arrested will be treated very seriously,” he said. “We will charge anybody who is charged as an adult, with the most serious offenses that are available, and we’ll prosecute vigorously and seek the maximum punishment that’s available.”

School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas that the Parkland shooting was “unacceptable.”

“What has happened in our school the last couple of weeks, we’ve had more weapons found this school year than we’ve found in a couple of years—that’s unacceptable,” he said. “If you bring a weapon to school, you’re going to face the most serious consequences that I can issue as superintendent, and I will be referring those students to law enforcement. School is not a place for a student to bring a weapon.”

The superintendent asked parents to help keep guns out of the public schools. He said, “If you have guns in your home, make sure your child does not have the combination to the safe. If they know the combination, change it. If they know where the key is hidden, re-hide the key. And if you think your students do not have access to weapons, you need to verify that.”

Thomas continued, “There is so much chatter on social media. I have to believe that if the good parents in our community saw what their students were posting in pictures and what they were putting in print, they would be alarmed. Get involved with your student. I’m calling on the entire community.  If you see something, say something.”

He said that he would revisit the district’s security protocol, pointing out a security analysis had been done and a plan created in 2013 after the shooting at the Shady Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

“I’m not going to get into details here because I don’t want to publicize all the things we’re going to add to enhance school security, but you can know that we see this is as an urgent matter,” said Thomas. “We have been making progress by hardening our schools. Many more schools are hardened today than they were five years ago. We know we still have work to do.”

He added, “There are other things we can do on a short-term basis that can begin to happen next week. We will be assembling all of our leadership team in the next few days, where we will begin to outline what we will begin to do that’s on that short-term basis and explain how we all work together to make our campuses as safe as possible.”

Gun at Ransom On Feb. 13, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office arrested a Ransom Middle School student for allegedly bringing a loaded Sterling 25 automatic pistol to school. Ashton B. Ferguson-Resmondo, age 13, faces charges of possession of a concealed weapon, brandishing a firearm on school grounds and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, which are third-degree felonies.

Based on an anonymous tip, the school resource officer intercepted the student on the bus ramp as he was leaving school. Ferguson-Resmondo was escorted off the bus. He had the pistol in the waistband of his pants. A search of his backpack found three prescription pills and a razor knife.

According to the arrest report, Ferguson-Resmondo on the previous day had turned over two pocketknives and two 25 auto-rounds of ammunition to a teacher under the district’s Safe Harbor policy.

The Safe Harbor policy states in the Student Handbook: “If a student who is in possession of an item of contraband (such as a pocket knife, drugs, etc.) voluntarily surrenders the item as soon as he/she realizes that it is in his/her possession to a responsible staff member, then the student may be eligible for mitigation, in whole or part, of the penalty for possessing the item as appropriate under the circumstances. To qualify for this provision, such surrender must occur prior to the beginning of any investigation or search that might uncover the item.”

LeaP Nominations The Pensacola Chamber Foundation is accepting nominations for the Leadership Pensacola (LeaP) Class of 2019. The deadline to submit is Friday, March 2. Self-nominations are accepted. To submit a nomination, visit pensacolachamber.com/nominations.html.

LeaP aims to develop community-minded leaders during its 10-month program. LeaP is designed to help participants acquire an understanding of the issues facing the Pensacola area and to gain the leadership skills necessary to resolve them. Candidates sought come from a cross-section of the community—people from different political, career, educational, social and cultural backgrounds.

Individuals accepted into LeaP will participate in daylong retreats, educational seminars, and a community project for which the class uses its resources and talents to enhance the Greater Pensacola region.  For additional information about LeaP, contact Caitlin Okrzesik, Leadership Pensacola Program Specialist, at cokrzesik@pensacolachamber.com.

Convention Center Analysis A new study shows that a convention/conference center in combination with an indoor sports facility could generate as much as $90 million revenue for the local economy and create 560-660 jobs.

Crossroads Consulting Services LLC, which previously conducted a study on the demand for a new sports facility, recently released its additional analysis of whether Pensacola would also benefit from adding a multi-use meeting and convention center.

Susan Sieger, president of Crossroads Consulting, said, “The question is if we’re going to go through with (indoor sports facility) as a community, is there an opportunity to look at the meeting side and does it make sense to combine these two assets?”

Since conventions and conferences generate the most economical and fiscal benefits, the Tampa-based consultants analyzed whether there is a demand for such a meeting facility in Escambia County.

Sieger said the Pensacola Bay Center is a good facility for some things, but that conventions and conferences are not its strength. “It is more a core entertainment facility for things like hockey, concerts and family shows. Back in the day when it was built that was exactly the model you went for. Now that’s not the case anymore.”

Results showed that if Pensacola built a space with an adjacent hotel, 61 percent of respondents said they would either definitely or most likely come here for a convention or meeting if the space was available. However, without the adjacent lodging, the positive responses went down to 39 percent.

Sieger said there is somewhat of a lack of understanding or knowledge of Pensacola to the broader convention of business. “One thing we found is if we get them here they don’t want to leave. The percentage of repeat business is very high; it’s getting them here.”

Proximity to hotel, cost and value, and proximity to entertainment and restaurants were the top three most important factors for meeting organizers. Two-thirds said they were not willing to meet in multiple facilities.

The conference center also must be located with a convention-quality hotel, be within walking distance of downtown, have a campus-like setting, notable facility entrances, sound barriers and kitchen and catering abilities.

The convention/conference center needs to have at least 65,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, 17,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 10,000 sq. ft. of banquet space.

Sieger said this facility would help bring new events, activities and new economics to this market.

Allegiant expands in Okaloosa Last week, Gov. Rick Scott announced that Allegiant Travel Company has chosen to establish a new, two-aircraft base with year-round routes at Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS). The aircraft base will create 65 new jobs and bring an anticipated $418 million in tourism revenue to the area over the next five years.

Allegiant is investing more than $49 million to establish the year-round base, which will house two Airbus aircraft. The new Destin base will also allow Allegiant to offer new routes to five cities. Allegiant currently supports more than 25,000 Florida jobs and generates nearly $3 billion in annual economic impact in the state.

“Today’s announcement is a great reminder of how our tourism industry supports Florida business and communities and creates new opportunities for our families,” said Gov. Scott. “I look forward to seeing Allegiant’s success in Destin and across the state as we continue to welcome families from all across the world to Florida.”

Allegiant’s service in Destin-Fort Walton Beach began with six routes in 2016 and expanded to 16 cities in 2017. The new Destin base will become the airline’s 14th year-round aircraft base.
Allegiant plans to immediately begin hiring pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians and ground personnel to support operations. Positions are expected to offer average salaries more than double the area’s average wage.

“We are excited to continue our growth in Florida’s Emerald Coast by establishing a full-time base at Destin-Fort Walton Beach,” said Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr., Allegiant’s chairman and CEO, said. “The base will not only afford many more options when it comes to adding routes and expanding service but will also give us the opportunity to contribute even more to the community and the state’s economy.”

The five new routes will operate twice weekly and expand on the service Allegiant currently operates to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, bringing the total number of Allegiant routes to VPS to 21.

The new flights will bring nearly 25,000 additional visitors to the area. New seasonal service includes flights from Bentonville, Ark., Concord, N.C., Lexington, Ky., Evansville, Ind. and Raleigh/Durham, N.C. Flight days, times and the lowest fares can be found at AllegiantAir.com.

Mark Your Calendars News-Talk 1370 WCOA hosts a Broadcast Town Hall Meeting on Friday, Feb. 23 from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Studer Community Institute Building at the corner of Spring and Garden streets. The town hall is free to the public and doors will open at 4:15 p.m.

“Shore Stories,” a film series to build public opposition to the federal government’s plans to expand offshore drilling to the coast of Florida, will be presented on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m., at Waterboyz, 380 N. Ninth Ave. The six short films, curated by Working Films and allied organizations, highlight the growing grassroots movement building across the U.S., as well as stories from past oil and gas exploration-including the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.

District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh has scheduled a Coffee with the Commissioner for Tuesday, Feb. 27 at the McDonald’s located at 5 S. Blue Angel Pkwy. Residents can stop by anytime between 6:30-7:30 a.m. with any concerns they would like to discuss with Commissioner Bergosh.

The University of West Florida and the Pensacola Jewish Federation will host Dr. David Meola as he presents “Mirror of Competing Claims: Exclusionary Violence and Jewish Equality in the German States,” on Tuesday, Feb. 27 at the UWF Center for Fine and Performing Arts, Building 82. The reception and lecture are free and open to the public, with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and the lecture at 6 p.m. Tickets are not required, but seating is limited.