Pensacola, Florida
Sunday June 24th 2018

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The Buzz 5/24/18

New Bay Center Stalls Jay Patel tried to get the Escambia Board of County Commissioners to sign a letter of intent between the county and his Pensacola Arena Development Partners to build a new civic center. The board passed because too many details were still unanswered—details that are needed to analyze Patel’s proposal accurately.

Last October, Patel pitched his plan to the Escambia County Commission to create a public-private partnership for $65 million to build a 6,500-seat arena and field house. The multi-purpose facility, which would also host conventions, meetings, entertainment and other large events, was to be built on either the former 19-acre ECUA Main Street Wastewater site owned by Pensacola entrepreneur Quint Studer, Port of Pensacola or on the existing Pensacola Bay Center location.

The funding would come from Triumph Gulf Coast ($25 million), federal new market tax credits grant ($20 million) and the investment group ($20 million).

Since then, the Port is no longer on the table, and the Bay Center and former ECUA sites no longer qualify for federal new market tax credits. Commissioners Steven Barry and Grover Robinson were not open to discussing the letter until Patel announced the location for the new arena.

Patel told the commission that his group has identified two locations north of downtown and would announce them within the next month.

The board didn’t close the door on Patel’s project, but it won’t stay open much longer without more details.

Gulf Power Sold NextEra Energy has reached definitive agreements with the Southern Company to acquire Gulf Power, Florida City Gas and the entities holding Southern Power’s interests in Plant Oleander and Plant Stanton. The purchase price is approximately $6.475 billion. Net of debt, this reflects an equity value of roughly $5.075 billion.

“This sale provides Southern Company the opportunity to deliver great value to our organization, bolster our financial profile and continue to build the future of energy as one of America’s premier energy companies,” said Thomas A. Fanning, chairman, president and CEO of Southern Company, in a press announcement issued Monday.

“These Florida businesses are being sold at a price that provides substantial value to our stockholders while entrusting the customers of these exceptional franchises to a high-quality utility company that has a well-established presence in the state.”

Completion of each of these transactions is conditioned upon, among other things, the expiration or termination of any applicable waiting period under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act of 1976. The Gulf Power and Plant Oleander and Plant Stanton transactions also will require approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Federal Communications Commission. The target completion for the sales of Gulf Power and Southern Power’s interests in Plant Stanton and Plant Oleander is the first half of 2019. The Florida City Gas transaction’s target completion is third quarter 2018.

“These transactions will provide meaningful benefits for the state of Florida and Gulf Power and Florida City Gas customers, as well as NextEra Energy shareholders,” Jim Robo, chairman and chief executive officer of NextEra Energy, said in a prepared statement. “Importantly, these transactions are consistent with our long-standing, disciplined approach of maintaining the strength of our balance sheet and credit ratings, both of which are among the strongest in the industry.”

More LET Funds Handed Out The Escambia Board of County Commissioners last Thursday approved Sheriff David Morgan’s request to distribute $18,000 of its State Law Enforcement Trust Fund.

The Washington High School Quarterback Club received $500 for a banner to be displayed at the school’s stadium that will discourage illegal drug use. The American Cancer Society got $5,000 for the Pensacola Cattle Baron’s Ball.  The J.M. Tate High School FFA Foundation received $7,500 for its Drug Prevention and Education program for its members. The sheriff’s office will also have its logo displayed in the FFA arena. Florida House, Washington D.C., got $5,000 to support the Florida House, the state embassy of Florida on Capitol Hill.

ME Sues Counties District 1 Medical Examiner Dr. Andrea Minyard last week filed a complaint for declaratory judgment to block Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties from auditing her financial records.

The counties had started an audit of Gulf Coast Autopsy Physicians, Minyard’s physicians group. She didn’t dispute her financial records are public records, but she asked the court to rule if the right to documents demonstrating compliance with the contracts with the counties does not include the right to audit all of her financial records.

She also asked the court to a determine her rights as to “the manner that she charges for professional fees, whether certain expenses fall under her professional fees or her salary related and administrative expenses category, whether monies paid as part of her professional fees cease to be public funds once paid to her, and what records of her are public records as opposed to private records.”

Okaloosa County had also requested records of the location of autopsies performed by the District 1 office on its behalf from 2016 to the present. Earlier this month, Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley complained to the county commissioners that the medical examiner had not conducted an autopsy in the county since 2014. The Okaloosa County Commission unanimously agreed not to endorse Minyard’s pending reappointment as the medical examiner. Her current term expires July 1.

While the county commissions in the panhandle can state whether they support Minyard, the Medical Examiners Commission, which oversees the medical examiners across Florida, will be the group that recommends to Gov. Rick Scott whether should be reappointed or be replaced.

Bondi Sues Big Pharma Attorney General Pam Bondi last week filed an action in state court against some of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors for their role in the national opioid crisis—Purdue Pharma L.P., Endo Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Cephalon, Inc. and Allergan plc and related companies and opioid distributors AmerisourceBergen Drug Corporation, Cardinal Health, Inc., McKesson Corporation and Mallinckrodt LLC and related company.

“We are in the midst of a national opioid crisis claiming 175 lives a day nationally and 15 lives a day in Florida, and I will not tolerate anyone profiting from the pain and suffering of Floridians,” said Attorney General Bondi. “The complaint I filed today seeks to hold some of the nation’s largest opioid manufacturers and distributors responsible for their role in this crisis and seeks payment for the pain and destruction their actions have caused Florida and its citizens.”

The opioid manufacturers allegedly used a campaign of misrepresentations and omissions about the use of opioids to doctors and consumers to increase prescriptions and opioid use, including false statements about the addictive nature of opioids and omissions of the severe risks posed by taking opioids. The opioid distributors allegedly shipped inordinately high volumes of opioids to customers in Florida and failed to report these suspicious orders of opioids, thereby fueling widespread diversion of opioids throughout the state.

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that the opioid manufacturers used front organizations and key opinion leaders to promote false messages about opioids. This conduct was particularly abhorrent because the front organizations and key opinion leaders appeared to be neutral advocates for the use of opioids to treat chronic pain but were actually paid mouthpieces of the manufacturers.

The distributors failed in their duties under Florida law to stop the suspiciously high orders of opioids they received. Instead, the distributors placed profit over safety and continued filling the suspicious opioid orders.

In the complaint filed in Pasco County Circuit Court, the Attorney General’s Office alleged that the defendants’ actions violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and the Florida RICO Act and violated common law public nuisance and negligence. The complaint seeks damages, injunctive relief, restitution and civil penalties for the defendants’ conduct.

Bayview Cost Jump In early 2016, Mayor Ashton Hayward borrowed money to begin construction of a new Bayview Community Center and Fire Station No. 3. The city has been paying interest on the loan for two years. According to the council’s budget analyst, Butch Hansen, the interest costs for the Local Option Sales Tax loan for the center are budgeted at a total cost of $1,489,246 over 10 years.

If Mayor Hayward can convince the city council to approve his $9.59 million budget for the center and boathouse, Hansen told Councilwoman Sherri Myer, “…the total price for the project will be well over $11 million with a relatively small contingency of 3% included.”

Polls on Amendments An Inweekly/Political Matrix statewide poll of 1,002 likely voters conducted on May 13 found that an overwhelming 75.2 percent support limiting the terms of school board members to eight years, while 13.8 percent oppose term limits and 11 percent are undecided.

However, proposed amendments regarding voting rights for felons, two-thirds requirement for tax increases and off-shore drilling didn’t have the necessary 60 percent needed to be added to the Florida Constitution.

Amendment 4, which restores the right to vote for most people with prior felony convictions upon completion of their sentences, garnered 51.4 percent support, while 13.8 percent opposed the amendment and 19.7 percent are undecided.

Amendment 5 requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature to impose or increase a tax or fee. Only 40.5 said they support the initiative, while 33.4 percent oppose it and 26 percent are undecided.

The Constitutional Revision Commission’s amendment to ban offshore oil and gas drilling garnered support from 48.1 percent, while 37.5 percent opposed it and 14.9 percent are undecided.

RALLY 2018 Schedule WSRE’s “RALLY 2018” candidate forums for upcoming primary and general elections in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties have been scheduled for Aug. 20-22 and Oct. 29-30, respectively. Each broadcast will air live on WSRE starting at 7 p.m.

Races will include U.S. Congressional District 1; Florida Senate District 2; Florida House Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4; County Commissioner Districts 2 and 4 (Escambia, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa); School Board Districts 1, 2 and 3 (Escambia); School Board Districts 1, 2 and 5 (Santa Rosa and Okaloosa); and City of Pensacola Mayor.

To participate, individuals running for these offices must demonstrate that they satisfy the candidate forum criteria posted online at wsre.org/rally. Candidates must demonstrate satisfaction of the criteria by emailing Kasey Jones at wsreadmin@wsre.org on or before the following deadlines: 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 12, for the primary election broadcast; 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12, for the general election broadcast.

“RALLY 2018” is produced by WSRE in cooperation with the League of Women Voters of Okaloosa & Walton Counties and the League of Women Voters of the Pensacola Bay Area to give viewers an unbiased look at the candidates running for public office and an opportunity to hear their responses to questions on current issues. Mollye Barrows is the producer of “RALLY 2018” and will co-host the programs with WUWF’s Sandra Averhart.

An election cycle tradition in Northwest Florida, “RALLY” candidate forums have been provided as a public service of WSRE since the 1970s. Visit wsre.org/rally to learn more.

Make a Splash Kick off summer by making a splash for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida (RMH) at Destin’s largest waterpark on the Emerald Coast. RMH will host VIP Day from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, June 3 at Big Kahuna’s, 1007 U.S. 98, Destin, Fla.

Tickets are $35 per ticket or $130 for four tickets and include water park admission and lunch. Tickets are available for purchase online at rmhc-nwfl.org/community-events. In case of bad weather, tickets are redeemable throughout the 2018 summer season. However, lunch is only included on Sunday, June 3.

All of the proceeds from VIP Day at Big Kahuna’s go to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida, which provides a home-away-from-home for families of children receiving critical medical treatment. For more information, email events@rmhc-nwfl.org.

Call to Artists The Great Gulfcoast Arts Festival is accepting submissions to its 2018 poster design competition through August 3. The winning artist receives a $1,000 cash award. The winning design will be featured on posters, T-shirts and other GGAF promotional items for the festival. Posters have become a regional collector’s item.

GGAF is one of the best-regarded, most popular arts festivals in the United States. The three-day juried art show draws more than 200 of the nation’s best painters, potters, sculptors, jewelers, graphic artists, craftsmen and other artists. This year’s event is Nov. 2, 3 and 4 in Seville Square and Bartram Park in downtown Pensacola.

Competing artists can find the complete list of rules and requirements at ggaf.org/poster. Entries need to be mailed or delivered to Duncan McCall Advertising, 4400 Bayou Boulevard, Suite 11, Pensacola, Florida 32503. For more information, visit ggaf.org.

Mark Your Calendars Escambia County Democrats will go door-to-door to talk with neighbors about how important it is to vote in the 2018 elections. They will meet 9 a.m. Saturday, May 26 at the Democratic office, located at 722 N. V St. They need escort drivers to follow behind walkers as well as those willing to walk, too. For more information and to RSVP, visit their Facebook page.

Lakeview Center will present a free viewing of the documentary “Paper Tigers.” The community is invited to attend and learn how to become a trauma-informed care community for at-risk youth. The viewing will be 2:30-4:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 30 at 1110 W. Lakeview Ave. Register at bit.ly/papertigersdocumentaryviewing.

VT Mobile Aerospace Engineering has begun sending out invitations to the Grand Opening Celebration for its maintenance, repair and overhaul hangar at the Pensacola International Airport. The invitation-only event will be held 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Friday, June 8 at 2701 Langley Ave.