Pensacola, Florida
Monday September 16th 2019

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The Buzz 5/16/19

Chewing on Public Safety After digging into Escambia County’s Public Safety Department, ombudsman Janice Kilgore found an atmosphere where it appears poor leadership and communication may have led to the current state investigation into the county’s Emergency Medical Services.

“I’m hoping that this gives you a little glimmer of some of the things that need to be tackled,” Kilgore told the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners last Thursday. “They’re not going to be easy; they’re going to cost some money. But if you want to have the best public safety department in the area, you get what you pay for.”

Kilgore retired as Public Safety director in 2008 and has spent the last decade with Navy Federal Credit Union. After revelations last month that the EMS was under investigation by the Florida Department of Health for issues such as falsifying documents, and as numerous top-level administration officials resigned, Kilgore was appointed to look into matters within the department.

Although Kilgore largely avoided any issues that might concern the state investigation, she did tell commissioners—when pressed by Chairman Lumon May to get into the “meat” of the issue and discuss the “elephant in the room”—that some issues coming to light recently, such as a possible need for better training of EMS personnel, were due to poor communication within the department, particularly “some of the friction” between Medical Director Rayme Edler and the staff.

“There was no one getting in the middle of it and ironing those things out,” Kilgore said, telling the commission that former EMS Chief Steve White and Edler “didn’t hit it off from the beginning” and that had led to a breakdown within the department.

Kilgore said that White instituted an environment where employees were “afraid to engage outside of that chain of command” and did not communicate as a result with Edler.

“In the past, they had worked with medical directors,” Kilgore said, adding that communication with the medical director is essential to perform job duties properly and that the lack of communication had led to issues such as EMS not receiving training since October.

Kilgore also relayed to commissioners an environment of unrest within Public Safety. She said that there was discontent among personnel with upper-level management—such as the medical director or EMS chief—but that the sentiments were not consistent.

“It is a split bag,” Kilgore said. “It’s just kind of all over the gamut, so no, everybody wasn’t out swinging the hatchet at one individual.”

Since beginning her work looking into the department on April 17, and after speaking with around 50 individuals, the ombudsman reported that the department needed improved training and better upkeep of both fleet and properties and that employees were concerned about pay and funding issues.

“It’s not something that occurred overnight, by any means,” Kilgore said. “And quite frankly, it’s not something that’s going to be corrected overnight.”

Kilgore pointed to the department’s fleet of vehicles for fire services and EMS, saying that much of the fleet should be soon aging out but was still in use. Nine of the county’s ambulances, for example, have more than 250,000 miles on them.

“Some of them were built in the ‘90s,” Kilgore said.

Insofar as pay issues, Kilgore pointed to the fact that Escambia has relatively low rates compared to surrounding entities and that the rates have remained relatively unchanged over the past 10 years. While pay for paramedics looks to have risen a few dollars since 2008, from $13 to $16 an hour, an EMT or dispatcher is still looking at around 12 bucks an hour, though Kilgore noted that the rate was closer to $10 in many cases.

Outgoing Interim Administrator Amy Lovoy asked the commissioners if they would like Kilgore to continue her work, but several commissioners appeared to be disappointed that Kilgore hadn’t turned in a written report.

Chairman Lumon May requested she write up a representation of her findings so that the commissioners and incoming County Administrator Janice Gilley can digest them, so they could “just review it and chew on it and hand that off to Mrs. Gilley when she gets here.”

Veterans, By the Numbers Most people are aware that there’s a considerable military presence and corresponding veteran population in Northwest Florida, but now that population’s particulars have been broken down into digestible data points in a recently released study by the University of West Florida’s Haas Center.

In the study, unveiled earlier this month at the Haas Center’s downtown Pensacola offices, the region’s veteran population is explored in several key areas, such as population numbers, skillsets and economic impact.

A lot of military personnel come to Northwest Florida to train at one of the multiple military bases stretching from Pensacola to Panama City. A lot of them choose to settle down in the area as well.

The region is home to 98,000 veterans. Many of those are veterans who spent time in the Middle East wars (more than two-thirds), while there are also a good many Vietnam-era veterans (making up much of the remaining third). Veterans from the Korean War (4.9 percent) and World War II (1.2 percent) are also represented.

This large pool of veterans makes the Northwest Florida area home to the second most military retirees. There are more than 34,000 military retirees; 54 percent are from the Air Force, while 30 percent are from the Navy, 12 percent from the Army and 4 percent from the Marines.

These military retirees, drawing government pensions, have a considerable economic impact in the region. Combined, retired military brings $84.4 million monthly in Department of Defense income to the area.

The total veteran population is split between the region, with 57,000 living in the Pensacola area. Pensacola’s veteran community makes up 15 percent of the total adult population. Most of that population is white (85 percent) and male (females stand at 14 percent), and 27 percent of that population has a disability.

A large percentage of the region’s veterans are also older, with about two-thirds aged 55 or older. More than 17 percent are 75 or older. The study sites a Veterans Affairs’ estimate that the total number of veterans nationally is expected to decline from 20 million in 2017 to around 13 million by 2037.

When looking at education levels, the Haas Center study finds that veterans in the region lag behind their non-veteran counterparts in obtaining high school diplomas, though they surpass them at the collegiate level—whereas 35.3 percent of the civilian population has obtained some form of college degree, 43 percent of the veteran population has done the same.

The study also found that local veterans tend to earn more than their civilian counterparts. In the Pensacola metro area, for example, the median income for a veteran is around $43,000 annually, while a non-veteran earns a median income of almost $25,000.

The veteran community also experiences poverty at a lower rate (3.6 percent compared to 12.9 percent) and unemployment at a lower rate (2.9 percent to 5.7 percent) than the local civilian population.

Many veterans in the area work in fields that utilize skills learned during their time in the military. They work in administration and management positions, as well as in occupations heavy on math, computer and technical skills. The healthcare industry also attracts many veterans.

The Haas Center study also reports that many local veterans own their own business, with more than 7,000 veteran-owned businesses calling Northwest Florida home. That represents 13 percent of the area’s businesses and nearly 10,000 employees, according to the study. For more information on the study, visit haas.uwf.edu.

Soccer on Langley Discussions between the city and the YMCA of Northwest Florida on a potential land-and-services swap continue to progress, Mayor Grover Robinson said at his May 6 weekly press conference. The city is looking at changing the zoning at its Vickery Center at the Roger Scott Athletic Complex to accommodate the Y relocating to the site and constructing a new facility.

“We’ll be ready probably in June to have something come forward to council and the public,” Robinson said, explaining that the issue would first come before the city’s planning board so that the zoning could be dealt with.

Brain Cooper, the Parks and Recreation director, said that the bones of the discussion between the city and the YMCA have remained the same—the YMCA is looking to relocated from its Langley Avenue property, likely over to a site neighboring the Vickery Center on Summit Avenue, and the city intends to use the Langley space, along with property at Hitzman Park, to create a complex of soccer fields to accommodate the sport’s steadily rising participation numbers.

Cooper said that the Y would likely initially lease space in the Vickery Center to continue providing services like after-school care and summer camps, then later construct a new facility next door.

“The idea, the concept is that they will build a facility in the future,” Cooper said. “It’s not gonna happen tomorrow.”

Cooper said that he’s hoping the city’s soccer complex on Langley will be completed in early 2020.

Mayor Pieces Together Team At the press conference, Mayor Robinson also confirmed Amy Lovoy, former budget director and interim administrator for Escambia County, has accepted his assistant finance director position.

“We’re excited to have her over here. She did a great job for the county. She’s really good at budgeting. She understands it and knows it,” Robinson said, describing Lovoy as “more than capable.”

Lovoy will begin work for the city beginning in June. Robinson intends for Lovoy to take on an “apprenticeship” role, with the expectation that she will take the reins from Chief Financial Officer Dick Barker sometime in the next three years.

“What we’ll really be looking for Amy to do is really figure out how to work with Dick, to learn what’s here and to eventually be the person who can replace Dick,” the mayor said.

City Administrator Chris Holley is narrowing down the list of eight prospective candidates for the assistant administrator position.

“In the next week or so,” Holley said, explaining that the mayor will then take a look at the three finalists.

Another key position the city has been trying to fill, someone to oversee Complete Streets efforts to make the city more pedestrian-friendly, remains open, with the search still ongoing.

“It’s open, and we’re still looking for people,” Mayor Robinson said. “It’s open, and we’re looking for good people to apply.”

The mayor also spoke about the potential for getting another Escambia County alumnus over to city hall. While he said that he has yet to speak to Assistant County Administrator Matt Coughlin—who has announced his resignation—about returning to his old haunts at the Pensacola International Airport, he left the door wide open for the possibility.

The mayor noted that Holley was currently working to retain Dan Flynn as director at the airport and that Coughlin could come into play in such an equation.

“Dan said he needed some help out there, and the idea was to get somebody out there, so we will be doing that. If Matt decides to apply, or something else, that will be a decision that he ultimately has to make, and we will have to evaluate,” Robinson said, acknowledging that Flynn and Coughlin have a “good relationship” and that Coughlin “was in that role before.”

Name the Bridge The Pensacola Bay Bridge Naming Committee is seeking suggestions from the public to name the new bridge linking Escambia and Santa Rosa counties via U.S. Highway 98. Individuals can propose a name through the close of business Monday, June 3. The committee will review the suggestions and put forward a name for public input at meetings proposed for Tuesday, June 11, and Wednesday, June 12, with the final recommendation coming to the Escambia County Board of Commissioners as soon as Thursday, July 11.

To propose a name, please send one suggestion to namethebridge@myescambia.com. Only one name per email address will be accepted. BTW, we’ve already suggested “Sally.”

Mark Your Calendars The Marine Aviation “Memorial Placement Ceremony” will take place at Veterans Memorial Park of Pensacola 6:45 p.m. Friday, May 17.  They will commemorate 311 fallen Marines and other service members who have sacrificed their lives while serving with Marine Corps aviation units and pay tribute to their families who bear the burden of the loss of their loved ones.

State Rep. Alex Andrade will partner with Brownsville Assembly of God to host a Farmshare 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, May 18, at 3100 W. Desoto St. Farmshare is a nationally-recognized organization that provides fresh produce at no charge to individuals and families facing hunger. One bag per family will be distributed on a first come, first served basis.

The City of Pensacola invites you to a ribbon cutting celebration at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21, for the new playground at Parker Circle Park, 601 Parker Circle.

The Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization will hold a public workshop at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 22, at Pensacola City Hall, 222 W. Main St.

Gulf Coast Minority Chamber of Commerce, City of Pensacola, Escambia County and Emerald Coast Utilities Authority will host a free workshop designed for businesses to establish a working relationship with local government at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22, Hagler-Mason Conference Room, City Hall, 2nd Floor, 222 W. Main St.

Accessory Dwelling Units: Building Codes and Utilities workshop will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22, at Pensacola Public Library, 239 N. Spring St. Presenters include Tim Tolbert, chief of Building Services for Escambia County; Jonathan Bilby, administrator of Inspection Services for the City of Pensacola;  Mike Hamlin, Utility Development manager, Emerald Coast Utilities Authority; and Jeff Hatch of Gulf Power Co. For more information, email christian@sustainabletownconcepts.com.