Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday January 23rd 2019

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Outtakes—Congeniality

By Rick Outzen

The Escambia County Board of County Commissioners at its first regular meeting displayed a level of congeniality that has been missing for some time. Too often, watching a county commission meeting has been like viewing lost episodes of “Jersey Shore,” with board members berating and belittling the audience and each other.

Of course, it’s difficult to build a positive atmosphere when two commissioners have actively campaigned to help their colleague’s opponents get elected or when a commissioner can’t get past a vote he lost and takes to social media to let known his displeasure with his fellow commissioners.

The county commission is composed of five people with five different backgrounds, five different life experiences and five different approaches to governance. The commissioners represent five different districts with various needs and challenges.

It’s illogical to think they will always agree, but it’s not unreasonable to expect them to work toward an agreement. Not all votes will be 5-0. Some will be 4-1, and others will be 3-2. However, once the decision is made, the expectation is the board will move on to the next issue without animosity or resentment.

The late state Rep. Clay Ford and I served together on the Gulf Breeze City Council for 14 years. We didn’t always agree on every issue, but neither of us could remember what the disagreements concerned. We moved on to the next item on the agenda. We often joked to be a good council member you needed to act as if your emotions about an issue were like an Etch A Sketch that you erased after the final vote.

On Dec. 6, Commissioner Robert Bender, the newest member to the board, gave the vice chairman title to Commissioner Steven Barry. Bender will serve as vice chairman under Barry and will be the chairman in 2020-21. The commissioners agreed to return to rotating the chairmanship by order of districts in November 2021.

“It’s only fair that (Barry) have this opportunity since he was so kind to my predecessor,” Bender said. “Two months ago, I didn’t even think about it (being vice chairman).”

Bender was under no obligation to swap the vice chairmanship, but he wanted to honor Barry’s 2013 decision that swapped the vice chairmanship with former Commissioner Grover Robinson. The decision allowed Robinson to avoid having to juggle appointments as Florida Association of Counties’ president and Escambia County chairman at the same time the following year.

Bender’s decision was also a good one for county residents. He will have a little more time to get acclimated to the board and learn from watching commission chairs Barry and Lumon May. It also sets the proper congenial tone for the board.

Let’s hope it lasts beyond the holiday season.