Pensacola, Florida
Monday September 24th 2018

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The Buzz 9/13/18

Settling Claims Last Thursday, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners approved a settlement payment of $850,000, with the county to pay $107,500 of that amount as its insurance deductibles, to the Estate of Rodney J. Berry in exchange for the execution of a general release and hold harmless agreement.

Three years ago, Inweekly reported on the death of Rodney Jamal Berry, an Escambia County Jail inmate (Inweekly, “Jail Deaths Require Scrutiny,” 12/3/15). The article led to a restructuring of medical services at the facility. Escambia County Director of Corrections Michael Tidwell was terminated the day after the article was published.

In May 2015, Berry, who was a pretrial detainee, began complaining of vomiting and diarrhea. The correction officers and his fellow inmates tried to get medical help for him, but the infirmary staff 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.

An autopsy was performed. The medical examiner ruled the cause of Berry’s death was coronary atherosclerosis. Berry’s death was among a series of five jail deaths that occurred between Nov. 1, 2014, and Nov. 15, 2015.

The attorneys for Berry’s family contended that the symptoms being shown by Berry were the result of the side effects of prescribed medicines which were indicators of a life-threatening health condition requiring emergency treatment at a hospital. They sued the county, alleging counts for negligence under Florida law as well as counts for deliberate indifference to the federal civil rights of Mr. Berry to receive adequate and appropriate medical treatment while in the care, custody and control of the jail.

The board also approved settling for $175,000 the discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation claims filed by former firefighter Amanda Phillips against Escambia County Fire Rescue with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The EEOC is requiring that the county institute training of all fire department employees, including supervisory and management employees, in prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. County policies must include more specific references to those persons with job titles to whom a complaint can be made and how an investigation of a complaint would proceed.  The EEOC specifically required that a complaint need not be in writing but could be verbal to start an investigation. The training and amended policies must be in place within 60 days of the county administrator executing this agreement and shall remain in effect for two years from that date.

Commissioner Lumon May voted for the settlements but wanted assurances from County Administrator Jack Brown that he had dealt with those whose actions created the legal liabilities.

“We’re selling millions of dollars of discrimination suits,” said Commissioner May. “I know that Jack’s doing some internal action items, but when we’re spending public dollars and we’re voting for millions of dollars for discrimination and sexual harassment. I think that it’s critical that we bring that to the public forum.”

Brown offered to brief the board on the training that has been conducted and the policies that the board had already approved.

“I didn’t want you to call a person’s name, but there has to be a culprit of liability in terms of the actions that happened,” said May. “We’re settling a million dollars because somebody did something wrong, and that’s as candid as I can be.”

Brown responded, “What I can tell you is that several people were let go over this issue.”

Police Get Raises Nearly three months after Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward announced he had reached agreements to the Police union, he was presenting the tentative agreements to the Pensacola City Council for approval at its Sept. 13 meeting.

In his budget statement, the mayor said, “Negotiations with the three different police unions have reached a tentative three-year agreement, which includes a 10 percent pay increase for police officers and a 3 percent pay increase for police sergeants and police lieutenants in Fiscal Year 2019.”

However, Mayor Hayward didn’t give all the details. The police officers and sergeants will receive an additional 8 percent increase spread over the following two fiscal years. Lieutenants will receive an additional 6 percent annually spread over the same period. Lt. Erik Goss, Lt. James Reese and Lt. Matthew Cloverdale will have their salaries increased to $80,275.73 on Oct. 1.

UWF Adds Cybersecurity Degree The University of West Florida has added a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity this fall, enhancing its nationally designated program, making it the first university in Florida to offer a degree with a Center for Academic Excellence designation from the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security.

UWF previously offered a Bachelor of Science in Computing and Information Sciences with a specialization in Cybersecurity. In its first year in 2015, 21 students pursued the cybersecurity specialization. Now, approximately 180 students have declared cybersecurity as their major, making it one of the fastest growing programs at UWF.

“This is another significant step taken by the college in its role as a leader in cybersecurity education,” said Dr. Jaromy Kuhl, interim dean of the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering. “To offer a B.S. in Cybersecurity, especially one with the Center for Academic Excellence designation, ensures we will produce talented cybersecurity professionals to fill the critical workforce shortage.”

The bachelor’s degree program in cybersecurity, housed in the Hal Marcus College of Science and Engineering, will emphasize secure computer programming and foundational knowledge, skills and abilities for cybersecurity. The program will create new synergies for students and faculty across UWF to engage in research and prepare students to become future cybersecurity leaders. Faculty and students from various departments will be able to collaborate on joint projects to solve complex security problems that leverage individual expertise.

“UWF’s bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity addresses the nation’s growing need for graduates with cybersecurity skills that can build secure systems, protect data assets and defend against network and system attack,” said Dr. Thomas Reichherzer, chair of the Department of Computer Science. “The degree program will allow students to launch their careers as cyber professionals.”

For more information, visit uwf.edu/cyberdegree.

Calling Local Artists ArtFields has put out a call for submissions from artists from Florida and eleven other states. More than $140,000 is up for grabs in prize money, including an award for the best work from each state.

ArtFields started in 2013 and is the brainchild of Lake City, S.C., native and philanthropist Darla Moore. Its goal is to honor Southeastern artists with nearly two weeks’ worth of celebration and competition in the heart of Lake City. To date, ArtFields has awarded nearly $700,000 in prize money, helped launch the careers of artists and ultimately led to Lake City’s transformation into a burgeoning arts mecca. Moore has been named one of Garden & Gun’s most inspiring Southern women.

From April 26-May 4, the ArtFields event transforms the small South Carolina town into a gallery for up to 400 pieces of art, exhibiting artwork in professional gallery spaces and private shops, restaurants and other locales. Among ArtFields’ roughly 20,000 yearly attendees are gallery owners, museum curators and directors, arts educators, art critics and writers, students and locals. Most events are free and open to the public.

ArtFields will accept submissions through Nov. 5. For more details, visit artfieldssc.org.

New State Parks Website The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has redesigned the Florida State Parks website, floridastateparks.org. The new website promotes the Florida Park Service, providing visitors with detailed information about all 175 state parks, trails and historic sites.

“Florida is home to the best state parks in the nation,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a press release. “Our award-winning state park service not only provides world-class recreation for Florida’s residents and visitors but also protects our natural treasures for generations to come.”

The enhanced site improves user experience with its mobile responsiveness and site search tool, and it features more photos and a trip tuner, making it easier for visitors to plan their trips to state parks. The Florida Park Service provides accessibility and outstanding customer service to all visitors, ensuring they have a memorable experience.

“We’re so excited for the launch of the new Florida State Parks website and how well it interprets what our parks staff do every day to manage our state’s natural resources,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein. “Our award-winning state parks provide many unique recreational and educational opportunities for all who visit. By creating this new platform, DEP is dedicated to providing visitors with a one-of-a-kind park experience.”

The website also features a new marketing logo for Florida State Parks. The new logo features the Florida panther, which symbolizes the Florida Park Service’s role in protection and conservation while representing the wild, Real Florida found within Florida State Parks.

“Floridastateparks.org is a place where people can learn about Florida’s special places and prized properties,” said Eric Draper, director of Florida State Parks. “This new design recognizes state park transformative experiences, which in Florida can be as different as swimming in a first magnitude spring or walking on one of the world’s best beaches. People make our parks, and this new website features our great park staff, volunteers and friends.”

App Challenge Congressman Matt Gaetz recently announced the 2018 Congressional App Challenge (CAC), a competition for students in middle and high school. The CAC accepts computer programs (or apps) written in any programming language and for any platform, including desktop, web, mobile, Raspberry Pi and others.

“I am pleased to be hosting the App Challenge again,” Rep. Gaetz said. “STEM, computer and coding skills are extremely valuable in today’s data-driven world, and students who develop these skills are preparing themselves well for the jobs of the future. It was inspiring last year to see so much talent from within the district, and I look forward to another successful App Challenge this year.”

Congress created the CAC to highlight that STEM and computer-based skills are essential for economic growth and innovation. By some estimates, the U.S. may be short by as many as a million programmers by 2020.

The competition is open to all students, regardless of coding experience, who meet the eligibility requirements. Students are eligible to participate as individuals or in teams of up to four members. At least one student on the team must be a resident of and attend school in Florida’s 1st Congressional District.

The Challenge is currently accepting submissions. Students are encouraged to register online by Sept. 10 before submitting their apps. Students can register at congressionalappchallenge.us. The submission deadline is Oct. 15.

The culminating event for the competition will take place at the 2018 Congressional App Challenge and STEM/Cybersecurity Expo at 1-4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27, at the University of West Florida, 11000 University Parkway.

Students will present their app video demos to the panel of judges. Industry informational tables will be set up throughout the expo for attendees to visit. The awards program ceremony, where the winners will be announced, will take place later in the afternoon. The winning apps will be eligible to be featured in the U.S. Capitol, on house.gov, and on the Congressional App Challenge website.

Mark Your Calendar Experts from the UF/IFAS Extension Santa Rosa County will offer a class on having your own backyard chickens at 10 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 14, at the UF/IFAS Santa Rosa County Extension Office, 6263 Dogwood Dr., Milton. This class is free to attend without pre-registration.

Brownsville Northwest Neighborhood Cleanup is scheduled for 7 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 19. Only residents in the designated cleanup area can participate in the neighborhood cleanup. Items left at the curb outside of the cleanup area won’t be collected. The general cleanup area is south of W. Fairfield Drive and W. Avery St., north and east of Mobile Highway and west of North Z St. For more details, visit myescambia.com/cleanup.

The Escambia County Purchasing Department and the Gulf Coast African American Chamber of Commerce are hosting a Small Business and Veterans Expo 6-8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 19, at Brownsville Community Center, 3200 W. De Soto St. For details, visit gcaacc.info.