Pensacola, Florida
Saturday March 23rd 2019

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The Buzz 12/13/18

Styrofoam-Free City Hall? Pensacola may be taking a small, simple, somewhat symbolic step onto a greener path. Members of the city’s Environmental Advisory Board unanimously passed a motion last Thursday to request the Pensacola City Hall be cleared of the plastic bottles of water and Styrofoam cups ever present at public meetings.

The board decided to request after discussing how best to implement recommendations in a recent report from the city’s Climate Mitigation and Adaptation Task Force.

“It’s just food for thought that we start right here at city hall,” said EAB member Kyle Kopytchak.

Kopytchak had thrown the notion out a bit earlier in the meeting, too, after recalling fellow board member Dr. Gloria Horning having mentioned it.

“We can start right here and come up with an idea to remove the plastics and the Styrofoam from city hall and have an alternative, and the environmental board doesn’t need to be guilty as we speak of colluding at the same time,” he told Mayor Grover Robinson, who was attending the meeting.

The mayor seemed open to the idea.

“We’ve got some good Pensacola mugs so that we can put those out,” Robinson suggested as an alternative to the Styrofoam cups near the coffeemaker.

Pensacola City Council Executive Don Kraher told the board he felt sure he’d be able to find a council member willing to sponsor the motion and bring it before the council. Three members of the city council—President Andy Terhaar, as well as Sherri Myers and Ann Hill—were in attendance at the meeting.

Neil Richards, EAB chairman, had welcomed the notable attendees earlier. He seemed particularly glad to see the mayor in attendance.

“We’ve never had a mayor (here) as long as I’ve been on the board,” Richards said, “so this is groundbreaking. I truly appreciate it, and I’m excited for the future.”

Robinson told the board he looked forward to seeing how aspects of their work could be incorporated into the city’s operations.

“I’m very excited to see how this gets incorporated,” the mayor said. “Seeing what you’ve done here as a group is very exciting, and we have real opportunities to position ourselves and be much better and really deal with restoration.”

Robinson then fielded questions from the EAB, diving into discussions about things like the need for breakwaters, the city’s tree fund, water quality and the possibility of using Three Mile Bridge rubble as an artificial reef, as well as the erosion and restoration of seagrass.

The mayor also told the group that he appreciated living in a city that had the initiative to form a municipal board dedicated to environmental concerns.

“The fact that we have a committee like yourselves,” Robinson said, “I think that says a lot about who we are as a community.”

Local Up for GOP Chair Escambia County GOP state committeeman Jeremy Evans has made the short list to be the next chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, according to news reports. Governor-elect Ron DeSantis will be picking his nominee for the post.

Congressman Matt Gaetz is handling the interviews. The other two candidates that Gaetz has reportedly interviewed are Palm Beach County Republican Chairman Michael Barnett and Leon County Republican Chairman Evan Power.

RPOF rules require a candidate to be either a county chair or county state committeeman or committeewoman. Evans is the state committeeman for Escambia County.

However, the governor’s choice hasn’t always won the chairmanship. In 2015, Governor Rick Scott’s candidate wasn’t elected, and the governor stopped raising money for the state party.

Toxic Climate One of Mayor Grover Robinson’s first actions was to survey all city employees and ask for their insights into the city’s strengths and weaknesses. Employees were also asked to list any questions they have for the new mayor and make suggestions on what he should focus during his first six months in office.

Employees were allowed to reply anonymously but were asked to state in which department they worked. Not all employees listed their departments, but 58 of the 2,723 responses were from the Pensacola Police Department—21 percent.

Several police officers were concerned about pay and health insurance. One PPD employee wrote, “Health insurance for single coverage is great. Family coverage is expensive. Rates for retirees are ridiculous.”

Another wrote, “In the police department, our employees, especially civilians, are not paid a competitive wage. When we try to hire or promote employees, we are often met with roadblocks from HR, who often seems to try and get the most out of people for the least amount of money.”

He added, “It is difficult to hire quality workers at most of the current salaries. There does not seem to be a ‘let’s take care of our employees’ attitude from the Human Resources department.”

Problems with the new employee evaluation system were also cited, “The employee evaluation system that the city implemented a few years ago is not suited for the police department. It is like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.”

Police vehicles and training were seen as areas needed for improvement. It was stated that officers are driving cars on daily patrol that are 8 to 10 years old.

“These vehicles are often driven in stressful conditions, and pushing an 8-year-old car to its limit is not safe,” wrote an officer. “Our LOST allocation has not changed in over a decade even though costs of vehicles has increased. Especially with the new equipment, we have to build into the car such as in-car cameras and body cameras, computers, etc.”

With a young police force, more training is needed, cited several officers. The police station was said to be in poor shape, “I know we just had an expansion, but the layout and design are poor. And there are a lot of areas that are wasted space.”

Chief Human Resources Officer Ed Sisson came under fire from the Pensacola Police Department respondents. It was asserted that Sisson had brought a split between the police and the city. One officer described the climate at city hall as “toxic.”

The officer wrote, “Human Resources has really done a lot to damage morale among the police department. Please take a special interest in overseeing their actions. Everyone else at city hall is always wonderful. It just seems Human Resources would rather think about how to hurt people rather than what they can do to help the city and its employees.”

Legislative Delegation Meets Members of Escambia County’s state legislative delegation will hold a public hearing 5:30-7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 17, at the Pensacola State College Jean and Paul Performance Studio, 1000 College Blvd.

Delegation members will consider local bills, hear presentations from government entities and take public testimony on proposals for the 2018 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature. Any member of the public is welcomed to attend. The Escambia County Legislative Delegation consists of Senator Doug Broxson, Representative Mike Hill and Representative Alex Andrade.

To request an appearance form to be placed on the meeting agenda, individuals should contact Senator Doug Broxson’s office at 595-1036 or email brown.kevin@flsenate.gov no later than 5 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 13.

Legal Costs Under Review During his second term, Mayor Ashton Hayward’s administration spent over $5.4 million on 40 different law firms, according to the latest quarterly report for FY 2018 that CFO Dick Barker presented to the Pensacola City Council on Monday, Dec. 10. Mayor Hayward spent another $2.2 million on his legal department for the period Oct. 1, 2015-Sept. 30, 2018. The combined total for city legal expenses was $7,714,777.

No wonder that his successor, Grover Robinson, has his hands full determining how to manage the city legal expenses better. At his Monday, Dec. 3, press conference, he talked about asking the Tallahassee firm Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson to review the city’s legal situation and offer recommendations on how to create a complete legal department.

“My goal is to hire a good city attorney and allow them to put in a legal process,” said Mayor Robinson. “We have a variety of things going on here the city would like to get control of.”

Top Teachers Escambia County School District’s Community Involvement Office has announced the District’s the five finalists for Teachers of the Year. These teachers were interviewed in front of selection committee, and each of the top five will be observed by the committee during a classroom visit in January.

The winner will receive recognition at the Golden Apple Dinner, held at New World Landing on Feb. 1, 2019.

The finalists are Austin Courson of Tate High School, Danielle Fryman of Brown Barge Middle School, Caleb Lovely of Warrington Middle School School, Erica Minchew of Kingsfield Elementary School and Alanna Rohling of Lincoln Park Primary School.

Wading Into the Math During its second engagement, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson’s transition team delved into the city’s financials.

“Today, we’re gonna provide about a 30,000-foot level review, if you like, of the finances,” prefaced Bruce Vredenburg, the team member charged with assessing the city’s financial and budgetary particulars.

City Finance Director Dick Barker provided a walkthrough overview. He outlined the city’s nearly $240 million budget and explained that each year’s General Fund weighs in at around $53 to $54 million.

Some key takeaways include the fact that the city is just now edging above its 2007 property tax-peak, bringing in a projected $15,459,000 in 2019, as well as how dependent Pensacola’s budget is on the weather: with the city owning its own natural gas company, and reaping the benefits of utility fees, it fares better when people need more air conditioning and heat.

“I like cold winters, and I like hot summers,” Barker said.

Christian Wagley, who’s overseeing environmental concerns for the transition team, asked if the city had thought about what it would do when people began using less fuel sources like natural gas and began using cleaner forms of energy.

“We’re going to see some things like natural gas go away over time,” Wagley noted.

Barker said he considered natural gas to be a clean source of energy and stressed the city was heavily invested in its success.

“That is going to be hard to replace,” Barker said of the energy company’s impact to the budget.

The mayoral transition team is working through the end of March to assess various aspects of the city government and provide Robinson with recommendations about how the city can best serve its citizens. To learn more about the team, visit transitionpensacola.com.

Special Adoption Rates
The Escambia County Animal Shelter is offering a special reduced adoption fee of $50 for all dogs and puppies and $20 for all cats and kittens during December. Adoption fees include spay or neutering services, microchip, heartworm test and the initial vaccinations, including rabies vaccinations.

Escambia County residents will be required to purchase a license at the time of adoption. The license is an additional $11 over the adoption fees and is paid separately.  The Escambia County Animal Shelter is located at 200 W. Fairfield Drive and is open noon-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

MoMS Visits Milton
Main Street Milton has been selected to host “Hometown Teams,” a Smithsonian Institute “Museum on Main Street” exhibit. The Smithsonian Institute also awarded Main Street Milton $5,000 to provide programming to enhance the exhibit experience. Selected through a competitive process administered by the Florida Humanities Council, the exhibit and associated events will be held at the Main Street Event Center in 2019.

Museum on Main Street is a Smithsonian Institute outreach program that engages small-town audiences. In partnership with the State of Florida Humanities Council, the program brings traveling exhibitions, educational resources and programming to small towns across Florida. Since 1994, MoMS has visited over 1,400 communities nationwide with a median population of 8,000.

Cool Idea for 50th
Sacred Heart wants to hear from patients who were treated at Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in 1969. From broken bones to birth complications and appendectomies to asthma, countless area residents have been impacted by Northwest Florida’s only children’s hospital.

On April 1, 2019, Sacred Heart will celebrate the 50th anniversary since the opening of the Children’s Hospital by opening the new four-story Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart. As part of the festivities, Sacred Heart wishes to honor the Children’s Hospital’s earliest patients. Stories may be featured on social media or highlighted at grand opening events.

To submit a photo or story for potential inclusion in the Children’s Hospital’s grand opening festivities, please e-mail sacredheart@ascension.org. Before your account is used, a Sacred Heart representative will contact you to clarify details and answer questions.

Mark Your Calendar
The City of Pensacola Parks and Recreation is teaming up with Keep Pensacola Beautiful for a park cleanup 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, at the Bruce Beach Natural Area, 601 W. Main St. Grabbers and buckets will be proved. Volunteers are encouraged to bring thick work gloves if they have them. An adult must accompany volunteers under the age of 18. For more information, visit playpensacola.com.