Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday August 20th 2019

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More Efficient BCC Meetings

By Duwayne Escobedo

The newest version of the Escambia County Commission put on a how-to clinic for families on how to talk out difficult issues and remain friends afterward.

In their first regular board meeting together Thursday, the five-member board solved life-work balance for themselves and their staff by trimming their meeting schedule.

Steven Barry, who represents District 5, asked for the vice chairman title from newly elected Robert Bender, who took over District 4 from Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson IV. Bender pondered the request and then graciously gave the title to Barry.

When they learned a contractor the commission hired was for the very first time creating space to dump garbage into at the Perdido Landfill, the commissioners decided to let them finish the landfill project about two and a half months late. The board also planned to recoup an estimated $252,000 cost overrun by seeking damages from the surety bond.

Serving as chairman for the second time since 2013, Chairman Lumon May expressed satisfaction with how the first meeting went. He drew on his first stint as chairman and things he liked about his colleagues’ service as chairman. Overall, the board members seemed to genuinely respect each other’s ideas and opinions as they sorted through problems.

“I’m really big on community engagement and public outreach,” May said. “But we were meeting 14 hours, 16 hours a day. That’s too long. We need time to get things done for our citizens. If we need, we will have town hall meetings.”

Another motivation for fewer meetings and more efficiency for May were his wife, Tammi, daughter, Armoni, and son, L.J.

“At the end of the day, this job can be very taxing on your family,” he said. “I make no apologies for wanting to go see my children. I’ve missed a couple of things for non-productive bickering.”

Thursday night’s meeting ended just after 7 p.m., so May missed his son’s second basketball game of the season.

In the future, May plans to attend a lot more family events and gatherings. The board agreed with him to drop the agenda review meeting the second Thursday of every month. Instead, the public forum is scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m. and lead right into the regular meeting slated for 9 a.m.

District 2 County Commissioner Doug Underhill liked May’s idea.

“I’m for anything we can do to become much more productive,” he said.

The commission members also showed their collegial side at Thursday’s meeting.

Bender, the newest member to the board, gave the vice chairman title to Barry. When Barry serves as chairman in 2019-2020, Bender will be his vice chairman and become the board 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).”

Barry swapped turns with former Commissioner Grover Robinson as chairman. The swap allowed Robinson to avoid having to juggle appointments as Florida Association of Counties president and Escambia County chairman at the same time. It’s not uncommon. Underhill and District 1 commissioner Jeff Bergosh switched so the then newly elected Bergosh could get better acquainted with the commission board.

“I do appreciate the gesture,” Barry said. Bergosh added that Bender’s action was “magnanimous.”

Presented with a company struggling to build a waste disposal site for the first time, commissioners decided to let it complete the $3.7 million project. Originally scheduled to be finished in December, it will be about March before Jones Edmunds gets all the necessary permits for the new dump.

The delays have compounded because of continual problems keeping the groundwater down so it can lay liner to prevent pollutants from seeping into the ground. However, county staff convinced the commissioners to stick with the company because it had strong subcontractors.

“We’ve got to finish this project,” Bergosh said. “We have to approve this change order or everything comes to a screeching halt.”

Bergosh, the past commission chairman, said May ran an impressive meeting and set the tone for respectful relationships among the board members and toward the citizens moving forward.

“I’m really impressed with the way Lumon ran the meeting to try to save us time,” Bergosh said. “He believes as I do. Use all the time you need to get the job done and not a minute more.”