Pensacola, Florida
Saturday March 23rd 2019

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The Buzz 12/20/18

Beach Lease Fees Examined At the Committee of the Whole last week, Escambia County District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh made a presentation showing the Beach Club Towers and Emerald Isle condominium owners on Pensacola Beach received a sweetheart deal during renegotiations of lease fees in 2016.

The 128 units at Beach Club pay the Santa Rosa Island Authority $23,593.78 annually in lease fees, which equals $184.33 per condo, Bergosh reported. Meanwhile, another slide showed the 128-unit Emerald Isle pays $65,610.44 or $512.58 per unit annually.

Doing the math, it adds up to $92 million in lost revenue over the term of the condominiums’ leases, Bergosh pointed out.

“This is borderline scandalous,” Bergosh said. “I don’t want to be taken to the cleaners.”

For years, Pensacola Beach residents and Escambia County officials have fought over paying the equivalent of property taxes that landowners on the mainland do. The federal government deeded the property to the county in 1947 and forbid ownership by residents. The county set up 99-year leases subject to automatic renewal and with low annual fees to attract investment and development to the beach’s white sands.

District 5 Commissioner Steven Barry said the county commission should look at requiring any condominium lease fee renegotiations in the future go through the board first. Barry stated it might take “20 years realistically” to make island residents pay their fair share of revenues to the county just like property owners on the mainland do. He added, “Right now, there is nothing we can do but complain.”

District 4 Commissioner Robert Bender, whose district includes Pensacola Beach, said he would work to align beach and mainland assessments. He said, “I knew what I signed up for in the campaign, and I’m willing to tackle it.”

Transition Timelines Set At its Dec. 13 meeting, Mayor Grover Robinson’s transition team staff laid out a detailed timeline counting down to completion in March. Members marked their calendars for these key dates: public meetings have to be wrapped by Jan. 25, with draft reports due Jan. 31 and final reports due by Feb. 21.

Chair Quint Studer asked team members to particularly focus in their reports on issues that Robinson could immediately and feasibly address.

“We want to find things that we can truly implement effectively,” agreed Robinson, “and will make city government better.”

The mayor’s transition team—tasked with assessing various areas of the city government and its relationship to the community—has been at work a few weeks now. And as members began detailing their work in their specific areas of assignment, it became apparent that there were instances of overlap occurring. That must have already been obvious, though, as the topic was on the day’s slated agenda.

Specifically, the group has found that multiple team members—each assigned areas like governance, environment and education—will be digging into the same material, such as health-related input or public safety statistics.

To address this issue, members decided to schedule topical meetings covering common areas of crossover. Meetings will address issues such as education, health, walkability and public safety. Additionally, the team’s staff said it intended to begin building time into the group’s regular meetings to address specific topics in order to solicit feedback on that issue specifically.

During the meeting, transition team members detailed the work they have conducted thus far in their respective fields of focus, as well as their plans moving forward. The transition team also discussed the two of projects before the Triumph Gulf Coast board.

The Triumph board recently issued the city a deadline extension to secure the funding match for a grant that would expand ST Engineering at the airport but was less than enthusiastic about a second project to develop a marine technology research center at the port.

Studer requested that team member Julie Sheppard, who works with the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, outline the marine research project that the Triumph board passed on. The project—being put forward by IHMC, the city, Escambia County and the University of West Florida—proposes creating a research center focused on marine innovations.

“Our proposal was a way to try to create high wage jobs in an industry that doesn’t really exist here,” Sheppard said, “to put Pensacola on the map as a place that we do that kind of work.”

Both Sheppard and Mayor Robinson said that the $50 million project, which is seeking to get $15 million in Triumph funding, needed to be reframed to the Triumph board, stressing that its research-based jobs should be seen as valuable and potentially having ramifications with exponentially bigger payoffs.

Sheppard said she thought the project could potentially make it back before the Triumph board for their consideration on the other side of the New Year.

“The proposal is very much alive,” Sheppard said. “I think that we’re very much on the table.”

PEDC Revisions At a special meeting last week, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners approved a series of revisions to how Pensacola-Escambia Promotion and Development Commission (PEDC) operates.

If the Pensacola City Council agrees with the revisions, the changes will be sent to the Florida Legislature to amend the state statute concerning the commission, which is a partnership between county, city and the business community to attract economic development. The current statute was last rewritten in July 1989.

The revisions would allow people to serve on its nine-member board if they have major business interests in Escambia County, even if they live outside the county. Another major change concerns who can appoint board members. The current statute has the Pensacola Chamber, which no longer manages economic development, and the defunct Committee of 100 appointing members.

Under the revisions, FloridaWest, the county’s economic development authority, would appoint two private-sector board members, and an elected Town of Century official would be eligible to serve on the PEDC. Other changes simply modernize outdated information and make clarifications.

The revisions were approved, 4-1, by the Escambia County Commission with District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill voting against the revisions.

Underhill opposed the changes to the state-created PEDC because it had “catastrophic fails,” including allowing residents who live outside Escambia County to serve.

The PEDC currently receives $550,000 in funding from Escambia County and $300,000 from Pensacola.

Maddox Indicted During the governor’s race, Republicans attacked the Democratic nominee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, regarding a federal investigation in the capital city. President Trump even tweeted that Gillum was a “thief.”

Last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida announced two indictments out its investigation of the city of Tallahassee. Gillum, who repeatedly told the media that he wasn’t the target of the investigation, was not indicted.

Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox and Tallahassee political consultant Janice Paige Carter-Smith were indicted in a 44-count indictment for conspiring to operate a racketeering enterprise that engaged in acts of bank fraud, extortion, honest services fraud and bribery.

Maddox and Carter-Smith are also charged with substantive counts of bank fraud, false statements to financial institutions, extortion, honest services fraud, use of interstate facilities in furtherance of bribery, false statements to federal officers, conspiracy to interfere with the lawful function of the IRS and filing false tax returns.

Maddox and Carter-Smith allegedly conspired to operate two companies, Governance, Inc. and Governance Services, LLC, as one entity they referred to as “Governance.” Per the indictment, Governance was part of a racketeering enterprise that extorted money and accepted bribes from Governance clients under color of Maddox’s office and through fear of the economic harm that Maddox could inflict in his position as an influential city commissioner.

The Long Goodbye Former Mayor Ashton Hayward had a parting gift for Pensacola residents—high-glossy, trifold mailers listing the highlights of his political career. Homes began receiving the mailer on Friday, Dec. 4—10 days after Mayor Grover Robinson was sworn into office.

The flyer focused on economy, taxes & finance, infrastructure, projects and awards.

“Before I came into office, we were never focused on growing, and that was why we were getting beat out by other places,” wrote Hayward.

At his Monday, Dec. 10, press conference, Mayor Robinson said he was surprised when the direct mailer began showing up in residents’ mailboxes.

“We were totally unaware of it,” he told reporters. The mailer was created by Emagination Unlimited, which has handled the airport’s marketing during most of Hayward’s tenure, at the total cost of $12,595.

The ad agency’s invoice for 22,700 brochures was dated Sunday, Dec. 2, and will be charged against the budget of the mayor’s office.

UWF Milestone The University of West Florida last weekend celebrated a significant milestone at the Fall 2018 Commencement, awarding the 100,000th degree since the institution opened in 1967. President Martha Saunders conferred 1,777 degrees upon graduates from five academic colleges and the Graduate School, resulting in a total of 100,305 degrees conferred in the institution’s history.

Marine Aviation Monument VMAQ Monument Foundation has partnered with the National Naval Aviation Museum to become the future home of its monument to be sculpted by Sandra Van Zandt. The monument will preserve and promote the legacy, history and accomplishments of the Marines who have flown and maintained the EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft for more than 40 years

“The National Naval Aviation Museum is excited to host the VMAQ Memorial monument on our campus. We look forward to honoring the great legacy of the USMC EA-6B community with yet another of Sandra Van Zandt’s quality sculptures,” said Capt. Sterling Gilliam, USN (ret) NNAM director.

Van Zandt has ties to the National Naval Aviation Museum, as well. She sculpted The Spirit of Naval Aviation, which has been prominently displayed in the museum’s atrium since 1996. For the VMAQ Monument Foundation project, Van Zandt has been commissioned to create three bronze statues representing the Marines who served in the Marine Prowler community—a pilot, an ECMO and an aviation maintenance Marine as they are preparing to launch a flight.

“We see our monument as a continuation of the aviation story Sandra began with her sculpture in 1993,” said Wayne Qualkinbush, chairman of the foundation board. “None of the stories and sacrifices by the people represented in these sculptures should ever be forgotten.”

Van Zandt was excited to take on this project. She said, “It only takes one generation to forget about history. I think of myself as creating a platform for preserving history and helping people remember. These men and women have done so much for our country, and they should be applauded for it and remembered as heroes.”

Film Industry Report Florida TaxWatch’s latest research report on Florida’s film and television industry recommends that incentives for the industry should be considered as a part of Florida’s overall economic development strategy.

“Economic development has been a longtime focus of the Sunshine State,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Florida’s business-friendly tax climate, good weather and beaches have their advantages; however, state policymakers should strongly consider a sound, fiscally-responsible incentive program to help grow targeted industries such as film and television production.”

Direct film and television industry jobs generated $53 billion in wages nationwide in 2016, with average salaries 42 percent higher than the national average. There were nearly 342,000 jobs in the core business of producing, marketing, manufacturing and distributing motion pictures and television shows.

In 2017, there were more than 4,400 established businesses in Florida’s film and entertainment industry, employing more than 26,000 Floridians. With the advent of digital technology and the ability to view content through any number of platforms, job creation and revenue could increase for state and local governments.

Attendance Record Inweekly asked for the attendance records of the Pensacola City Council from Oct. 1, 2017, through Nov. 8, 2018. Over that period, the council had 56 meetings, which included agenda reviews, CRA, monthly regular meetings, special meetings and workshops.

The overall attendance average percentage was 83.9, with regular (96.9 percent) and special meetings (88.1 percent) having the highest attendance percentages. Workshops (54.3 percent) and Community Redevelopment Agency meetings (79.8 percent) had the poorest attendance.

Council President Gerald Wingate had the best attendance percentage (94.6 percent), followed by District 7 Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn (91.1 percent). Councilmen Larry Johnson and Andy Terhaar had the most absences, 19 and 12 respectively.

Of the 28 agenda reviews and regular council meetings, several council members either arrived late or departed early. Council President Wingate never arrived late or departed early.

Council Executive Don Kraher pointed out to Inweekly, “Within the indication of being late or leaving early, this relates to after the meeting was called to order and prior to the meeting being adjourned, regardless of the amount of time elapsing after or prior. For example, if the meeting was called to order at 3:38 p.m. and a member arrived at 3:45 p.m., there would be an indicator of Late. Equally, absences, late arrivals and early departures are noted without regard for the reasons and circumstances surrounding the absence, late arrival or early departure.”