Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday February 19th 2019

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The Buzz 2/14/19

Historic Connection On Friday, Feb. 8, the University of West Florida Historic Trust celebrated the grand opening of Museum Plaza, a new multi-use and educational community space in downtown Pensacola that helps tell the story of Pensacola’s rich history.

“Without the invaluable support of donors and community partners, this all would not have been possible,” said Howard Reddy, vice president for university advancement. “We have created a dynamic community space in the heart of our historic city that preserves and interprets our archaeological treasures and provides a unique platform for learning and engagement.”

The plaza connects the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum, Pensacola Children’s Museum, Voices of Pensacola Multicultural Center and the Historic Pensacola Village.

“The notion of the plaza was to create an urban green space downtown that better ties the eastern part of the historic properties we manage to the Palafox business district, with better lighting, better walkways and to make it more pleasant to look at,” said Rob Overton, executive director for the UWF Historic Trust. “We determined that it could be a focal point for downtown if we livened it up and tied the two parts of the city together.”

The grand opening highlighted Museum Plaza’s interactive early learning playground, Commanding Officers’ Compound, the Rose Garden Storytelling Circle and the Linda Evans Memorial Education Pavilion.

Discovery Square, the interactive early learning playground donated by Quint and Rishy Studer, highlights the industries that played an essential role in the development of Pensacola—timber, fishing, shipping, brick making and transportation. Its design features unique equipment with colorful letters and numbers, encouraging children to explore and learn while playing.

“There’s no greater thing than to give back and to help children learn,” said Quint Studer. “We are pleased to be a part of this and to be able to share this community.”

The plaza is the next phase of development included in the UWF Historic Trust Interpretive Master Plan. Funding for Museum Plaza was provided by the UWF Historic Trust, Quint and Rishy Studer, David and Emily Walby, IMPACT 100, Fiesta of Five Flags and the Florida Division of Historical Resources.

Independent Personnel Board Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson last week committed to establishing an independent personnel board after listening to a presentation at the mayoral transition team meeting.

Two years after he took office, Mayor Ashton Hayward went to the state legislature and asked for the repeal of the city’s Civil Service Board. He won the support of city employees, city council and lawmakers because he committed to creating an Independent Personnel Board.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill in June 2013. The board was added to the city’s HR manual in December 2013. However, even though it was in the HR manual on the city’s website for two years, Hayward never created the Independent Personnel Board.

Hours after Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief Joe Glover were placed on leave on Feb. 2, 2016, a new HR manual was uploaded to the city’s website. The independent board was eliminated, and the chiefs could only appeal their leaves to Chief Human Resources Officer Edward Sisson and City Administrator Eric Olson.

We now know that Sisson made the allegations against the chiefs, and Olson participated in the closed-door meeting where the decision was made to put them on leave. Imagine that your only appeals had to be before the men who placed you on leave.

Mayor Robinson said the county has an independent appeals board, and he will establish one for the city.

Families Struggle United Way of Escambia County last week announced that of 118,702 households in Escambia County, about a third struggle to pay for basic needs such as housing, childcare, food, transportation, health care and technology.

Another 12 percent live below the poverty level, which means nearly half of the county’s households are fighting to provide basic needs. Statewide, 46 percent of households face the same financial challenges.

“There is enormous value in this data,” said United Way of Escambia County President & CEO Laura P. Gilliam. “It really paints an accurate picture of the working families struggling to get by in our community.”

This struggle materializes at a rate of $26.48 per hour—what it takes a household of four in Escambia County to survive with the associated costs of living.

These struggling Floridians are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed or ALICE. They are households earning above the poverty line but not enough to cover the most basic of needs like food and housing. Even in affordable communities, across the board increases in everything from childcare to health care plague a family’s ability to save or buy a home despite holding down a 40-hour-a-week job.

“The people reflected in this study are working and providing direct services in our community every day,” Gilliam stated. “The fact that this population has grown, despite the perceived growth of our community, shows that there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

The cost of basic household needs increased steadily, outpacing the rate of inflation and wage growth. The cost for a family of four in Escambia County to meet basic needs rose 6 percent annually. The costs rose 14 percent annually for a single adult.

For town- and county-level ALICE data or to find county-by-county survival and stability budgets for six family sizes, visit unitedwayalice.org/florida.

Voters Want to Know A recent Inweekly/Political Matrix poll of 444 likely Pensacola City voters conducted found residents overwhelmingly—71.2 percent—want Mayor Grover Robinson to investigate why former Fire Chief Matt Schmitt and Deputy Fire Chief were fired.

On Jan. 29, 2016, City Administrator Eric Olson, his special assistant Rusty Wells, CFO Dick Barker, Chief Human Resources Officer Edward Sisson and Assistant Administrator Keith Wilkins met with Beggs & Lane attorney Russell Van Sickle and Allan Norton & Blue attorney Rob Larkin to come up with a legal scheme that would place the chiefs on administrative leave and conduct an investigation that would undermine the chiefs’ EEOC complaints and give Mayor Ashton Hayward the cover to fire them.

The plan worked, but there was one huge catch. The city couldn’t defend its actions in federal court after Schmitt and Glover filed discrimination lawsuits. The city and its insurance carrier in October 2018 had to settle and pay the former chiefs $575,000. The settlement was made in the waning days of the Hayward administration and hidden from the public until Inweekly reported it last month.

More than 86 percent of the respondents believed Mayor Hayward should have disclosed the settlements.

Ingram’s Farewell On Friday, Feb. 8, Greater Pensacola Chamber CEO Clay Ingram sent out a farewell message to chamber members and supporters. Ingram has been tapped by Gov. Ron DeSantis to lead Volunteer Florida, the state’s agency for volunteerism and national service.

Of his four years leading the chamber, Ingram said, “We created a robust advocacy program to help our members navigate the maze of government red tape, re-energized our monthly events, brought in nationally renowned keynote speakers for our annual meetings and most notably have launched the West Florida Defense Alliance.”

He said that Todd Thomson had been named the chamber’s interim president and CEO.

Crime Down Violent crimes in the city of Pensacola were down during the 2018 calendar year, according to the FDLE. The property crime rate was down 4.2 percent, and the clearance rate of crimes reported to the Pensacola Police Department was up 11.8 percent.

A new statistic being reported by the FDLE is the number of police officers who were assaulted during the same calendar year. In 2018, 41 Pensacola police officers were assaulted while doing their jobs.

Police Chief Tommi Lyter said in a PPD press release that his focus has been to address problem areas and respond immediately. Officers then stay in affected areas no matter how long it may take and when the underlying causes have been addressed.

“Those who choose to commit violent acts on the citizens of Pensacola will be met with a heavy response from the Pensacola Police Department,” said Chief Lyter.

Affordable Beach Town In its fourth annual study, SmartAsset analyzed data to find the most affordable beach towns in America, and Pensacola ranks in the number two spot. It is the first of four Florida beach towns to crack the top 10.

Pensacola ranks second thanks to low home values, affordable housing costs and relatively low property taxes. The median home here is worth just under $156,000, 11th lowest in the study, and the annual property taxes for the average home cost slightly less than $1,200 per year, a top-20 score.

Annexation Conversation While he described it as “incredibly hard and difficult to do,” Mayor Robinson appears game for a conversation about annexation. He said during his weekly press conference last week that cleaning up the city’s jagged boundaries—“better lines, easier to understand”—made sense.

“I mean, if we could get it done, I’d love to have a much squarer city that was easier to understand,” the mayor said.

The reason annexations are difficult, the mayor said, is due to the vote requirement attached to them. He said he plans on discussing that issue with the city’s legal department.

“Unless there are some legal changes, it’s going to be very hard to do annexation,” the mayor said. “But everybody’s been asking about it.”

New Team Broadcaster Chris Garagiola, the grandson of Hall of Fame broadcaster Joe Garagiola Sr., will fill the open seat in the radio booth for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He has served as the team’s assistant broadcaster and media relations trainee for the past two seasons.

Garagiola’s broadcast experience includes the Australian Baseball League, where he served as lead broadcaster and beat writer for the Melbourne Aces, and as the voice of his alma mater Trinity University (TX), where he called football, baseball and men’s and women’s soccer as well as serving as a co-anchor on the university’s news channel. In the baseball off-season, he continues to broadcast Trinity Tigers sports.

Garagiola comes from a distinguished baseball family. His grandfather played nine seasons in the major leagues before embarking on a 58-year broadcasting career, during which he received the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award and the Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. His father, Joe Garagiola Jr., was the original general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks and the architect of their 2001 World Series-winning team. He currently serves as a special advisor to the Diamondbacks president and CEO.

Sound Off The Escambia County School District is seeking input from students, parents, teachers, employees, community members and other stakeholders as work begins to develop on the proposed academic year calendar for the 2023-24 school year.

The committee’s final recommendation for the 2023-24 Academic Year Calendar will be on the agenda for the March 26 Regular School Board Meeting. The survey links, along with two draft proposals, are located on the Escambia County School District website main page at escambiaschools.net. The survey closes Tuesday, Feb. 19.

Carpenter’s Creek Meeting Sherri Myers, Pensacola City Council District 2, is hosting a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, regarding Carpenter’s Creek. The meeting will provide an oral history project and an update on the status of the new Ninth Avenue Bridge, and Escambia County Commissioner Robert Bender, District 4, will give an update on the Carpenter’s Creek Restore Project.

Laurie Murphy, executive director of the Emerald Coastkeepers, will give details of the invasive species removal events. The meeting location is Asbury Place, behind Cokesbury United Methodist Church, 5725 N. 9th Ave.

PACE Awards The Greater Pensacola Chamber will host its 59th annual Pensacola Area Commitment to Excellence (PACE) Awards at 6-10 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front, 12 Via De Luna.

Each year, the chamber presents the PACE Awards to celebrate the best and brightest leaders who have made significant, positive contributions to the Pensacola community. Awards will be presented in the following leadership categories—Business, Community, Advocate, Emerging Education, Professional Leader and the Spirit of Pensacola Award.

The costs are $80 per person or $750 for a table of 10. Limited seating is available. To RSVP, visit pensacolachamber.com/events.

JULEP Seeks Nominations The Junior League of Pensacola invites you to join them at 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on March 8 at the Pensacola Yacht Club to local women in leadership luncheon.

The luncheon will honor four women who will receive a Women’s Empowerment Award. The purpose of these awards is to build up women in the community who display the traits of what it truly means to be a woman leader in the Pensacola community. They are currently taking nominations for the following categories—Woman in Business, Woman in Philanthropy, Woman of Service and Youth Woman in Leadership (ages 16-21).

Nomination details and ticket sales can be found at womenseempowermentpensacola.com. Nominations are due Monday, Feb. 18, and must include the nominee’s headshot, biography and a completed nomination form.

Mark Your Calendar CivicCon: Peter Bazeli, “Market Studies: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” 6-7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, at Sanders Beach Community Center, 913 S. I St. Doors open at 5:30 p.m.

Mayor Grover Robinson will host his second town hall meeting on along with Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn and Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May 5:30-7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18. at Theophalis May Resource Center, 1301 W. Gregory St.

The Haas Center at the University of West Florida and Gulf Coast Minority Chamber will host an informal meeting to present “A Demographic Overview of the Black Community in Pensacola” 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 25, in Studer Community Institute Meeting Room, 220 W. Garden St. To register, visit ow.ly/sN8a30nChjg.