Pensacola, Florida
Saturday August 24th 2019

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The Buzz 7/18/19

Broxson Files Chappie Bill State Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze) has submitted legislation to name the new Pensacola Bay Bridge, the “General Daniel ‘Chappie’ James Jr. Bridge.”

Senator Broxson stated, “General James is an American hero. He represents the true spirit of the Panhandle and our values. I look forward to presenting this bill to my colleagues in Tallahassee next session and sharing with them the story of ‘Chappie’ James.”

Born and raised in Pensacola, Daniel “Chappie” James became one of the most decorated fighter pilots in U.S. Air Force history and the first African American to hold the rank of four-star general. Senator Broxson continued, “This new bridge will stand as a memorial to our native son and a truly great American, General Daniel ‘Chappie’ James.”

Westside Town Hall Three of the region’s elected officials held court in Escambia High School’s library last week for the Westside Town Hall. During the nearly two-hour affair, residents were able to hear reports from and bring their concerns to State Rep. Alex Andrade and the District 2 representatives for the school board, Paul Fetsko and the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, Lois Benson.

On the education front, Fetsko talked about the district’s new elementary school that is slated for the intersection of Sorrento Road and Blue Angel Parkway. It will essentially replace Pleasant Grove Elementary and should be completed by 2021.

Pleasant Grove, he said, is currently over capacity. The school will be shut down once the new facility is completed. The new school will also be taking on about 100 students each from Helen Caro School and Blue Angels Elementary, which are both currently at capacity.

ECUA board member Lois Benson began by relaying the ECUA’s recent loss of both its attorney and executive director. The agency just brought on a new attorney and is in the process of searching for a new director, expecting to have someone by the fall.

“I believe it will go seamlessly,” Benson said.

Benson also spoke about the continued work of the ECUA to transfer area residents off of septic tanks and onto sewer. She mentioned specifically areas near Navy Boulevard, Brownsville and Navy Point.

“We’re not just giving sewer to these neighborhoods; we’re protecting our environment,” Benson said. “Because no matter how well septic tanks function, and some of them function very well, contaminants leech into the ground and ultimately into our waterways.”

So far during her tenure on the board, Benson said, ECUA has taken 2,600 septic tanks offline. Next year, she hopes to get state funding to put toward transitioning from septic to sewer, which she said cost about $2,000 per tank.

Evolving Pot Landscape The Florida A&M University and the Medical Marijuana Education and Research Initiative last week held a community forum about marijuana and its medicinal use. During each of its community forums, FAMU gathers information from locales around the state in an effort to better understand how Florida’s changing marijuana laws are impacting communities. The research project will wrap up in June 2020, and the information gathered could be used to inform future public policy.

“What we are hoping to do this evening is give information and get information,” explained Dr. Monica Hayes, deputy director of MMERI.

The panel assembled for the local forum at the Brownsville Community Center consisted of Dr. Michelle Beasley, of Medical Marijuana Treatment Clinics of Florida; Dr. David Brannon, of Cantonment Family Medicine; Thuy Do, a pharmacist with CVS Pharmacy; Lonnie Wesley, III, pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church; Pensacola Police Chief Tommi Lyter; and Escambia County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Chip Simmons.

Some forum attendees were interested in hearing about marijuana’s medical use, but mostly, people were concerned about how the state’s evolving legalities regarding marijuana would play out on the ground level. They wanted to be sure they wouldn’t find themselves in legal trouble for using medical marijuana.

“These two are really important,” Hayes had said in introducing Simmons and Lyter, “because as you know, Florida says one thing and the federal government says something different.”

Both law enforcement officials stressed that medical marijuana was far from full legalization. Chief Lyter said, “I think it’s important for the public to understand that medical marijuana is legal under very narrow circumstances. We’re still making arrests for violating medical marijuana laws.”

In order to legally use marijuana, a person must possess a state card identifying them as a patient with a prescription. To avoid any legal issues, they need to carry this card with them and also make sure that their cannabis is purchased from an approved distribution facility and contained in the required opaque white container.

“If you’re going to have marijuana, you’ve got to follow the rules.” Chief Deputy Simmons said. “Follow the rules, do it as prescribed, and you don’t have anything to worry about.”

Simmons and Lyter explained that a person may still get into trouble even if they have their medical bonafides in order. Driving while impaired on medical marijuana, for example, is viewed the same as driving drunk.

Unlike alcohol, Chief Lyter explained that there is not currently a scientifically ascertainable threshold identifying marijuana intoxication. This is left up to the officer on the scene and based on their assessment of an individual.

“It’s your driving pattern, field sobriety exercises, that kind of stuff. There’s not a threshold number for it,” Lyter said.

Attendees also had questions about how the use of the drug would play out when it came to the workplace. Could an employer still fire them, for example, if cannabis showed up in a drug test?

While it is currently up to the individual employer how to handle the issue, some fields do not tolerate the use of medical marijuana at all. Law enforcement, for instance, does not allow for it.

“We cannot use medical marijuana, any police in the state of Florida, because it is a violation of federal law and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will decertify you,” Lyter said.

The issue of employers not tolerating the use of cannabis, Dr. Brannon said, has caused some of his patients to change jobs. He said he’s hopeful that employers will increasingly warm up to the concept of medical marijuana.

“I’ve got patients changing their career because their health has improved so much. They’re just quitting their jobs as a teacher or whatever,” he said. “But it’s slowly changing.”

Two-Way Talk Stretches of Davis Highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive that currently run one direction could have a two-way future. The city’s Eastside Redevelopment Board voted last week to give the go-ahead on a feasibility study for changing the streets to run both directions.

The mayor has pushed the concept of changing Davis and MLK—which run parallel to I-110—for a while, contending that the move will make the streets safer and also facilitate a more pedestrian-friendly neighborhood. Though he is a proponent of the change, Robinson has said that ultimately, it’s up to the surrounding community.

“I’m not trying to force anything,” Robinson said Wednesday. “I’m looking to execute whatever the neighborhood wants.”

Tommy White, who lives in the area, was initially skeptical of the notion.

“Who came up with this glorious idea?” he asked during the Eastside board meeting. “I live, work and play in that area every day. It’s running pretty smoothly now.”

Community Redevelopment Area administrator Helen Gibson explained that two-way streets have been found to be safer routes with slower traffic. She said, “That was a connected, very livable neighborhood.”

White eventually warmed to the concept of two-way streets, and other neighborhood residents already appeared to be on board. Clarence Stokes said, “A one-way street is like a four-way on Davis Highway. When you’re going down a one-way street, it’s like a drag way.”

Fred Young, III, a member of the Eastside board, talked about how he served as a pastor for a church located on Davis and had often witnessed cars unknowingly driving the wrong way down the street. He said, “Thanks be to God that we haven’t had an accident right there.”

The Eastside Redevelopment Board had already recommended the two-waying of Davis be included in the Complete Streets portion of the 2020 Community Redevelopment Agency Eastside Community Redevelopment Area Work Plan. Last week, the board added MLK to that two-way plan and also approved an offer from the Florida Department of Transportation to conduct a survey of the roads to ensure that a two-way scenario would work.

Robinson said that FDOT did not appear to have a preference on whether the streets remained the same or changed to two-way. Like the city, he said, they’ll defer to the community.

“They’re agnostic as well,” Robinson said. “They’re like, ‘Hey, if it’s what the people want, we’ll do it.’”

Residents will have a while to consider the prospects of two-way streets. FDOT won’t have a survey completed until February.

City Budget Workshops A draft of the $245 million fiscal year 2020 budget for the City of Pensacola is now available online, cityofpensacola.com, along with a Budget in Brief informational guide for citizens.

Two city council budget workshops have been scheduled for Council to review the proposed budget—1-5 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, and 9 a.m. Thursday, July 25. Both workshops will be held in the Hagler/Mason Conference Room, City Hall, 222 W. Main St., second floor .

The proposed budget includes no millage rate increase, a pay plan to address pay inequities and an estimated $104.2 million in Local Option Sales Tax revenue to cover Pensacola Police and Pensacola Fire vehicles, upgrades and refurbishments to parks, community centers and facilities and citywide ADA improvements, energy conservation and efficiency improvements.

Two public hearings to adopt the budget are tentatively set for Wednesday, Sept. 11, and Wednesday, Sept. 18, at 5:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

DIB Applications Mayor Grover Robinson is accepting applications to expand the pool of candidates for appointment to the Downtown Improvement Board. There is currently one vacancy on the board. Applicants who previously applied this year will be reconsidered for appointment and do not need to put in a new application. The deadline to submit an application is Wednesday, July 24, at 5 p.m.

To qualify for appointment to the DIB, prospective members must own property within the DIB district, subject to ad valorem taxation, or be a lessee required by lease to pay taxes on the property. City of Pensacola or Escambia County officers or employees are not eligible to serve as voting members on the DIB. View a PDF of the DIB District boundaries by visiting the City of Pensacola’s online document center.

Members are appointed by the mayor and are approved by the city council. This appointment will be made to fill an unexpired term, which runs until June 30, 2020. Those who are interested in serving on the DIB will need to fill out an online application. Forms are available at cityofpensacola.com.

State of the City The Greater Pensacola Chamber will host a State of the City luncheon at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at the Pensacola Yacht Club, 1897 Cypress St.

Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson and Assistant City Administrator Kerrith Fiddler will discuss the business climate and what plans the city has for Pensacola’s local business community.

The event is a fundraiser for the chamber. Table sponsorships are available. Individual tickets are $25 for member, $50 non-member. Check out pensacolachamber.com.

The last State of the City address was made by former Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward in October 2013 at the Saenger Theatre. The event was open to the public at no charge.

Pensacola Can Move your nonprofit organization or community project into high gear with “The Nonprofit Accelerator”—an event that helps groups work smarter to maximize their impact. Topics covered include fundraising, collaborating, measuring impact, managing funds and more.

Participants will hear from a number of local leaders in the world of nonprofit organizations and community impact. Presenters include Robin Reshard, Kukua Institute; Cathy Brown, The Fundraising School; Tom Hutchings, Pensacola CAN; and Michelle Salzman, Salz Studios. Brigette Brooks, Impact 100 president, will deliver a special lunch presentation.

The event is from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, July 28, at Studer Community Institute Building, 220 W. Garden St. Event registration is $20 and includes lunch.  To register, visit Eventbrite and search for “The Nonprofit Accelerator.”

Mark Your Calendars The Escambia Democratic Party invites you to  its “BLUE BASH” Fun & Fundraiser Event from 6-9 on p.m. Friday, July 19, at the Pensacola Socialdesk, 3695 N. L St. Tickets are only $25 and can be purchased at actblue.com/donate/escbluebash.

Baptist Health Care will host a blood drive from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on Monday, July 22, in the Baptist Hospital Heritage Room, 1000 W. Moreno St.

Donors must be age 16 or older, weigh at least 110 pounds and be feeling well that day. Photo identification is required. All donors will receive a gift.

District 1 Commissioner Jeff Bergosh hosts the next Coffee with the Commissioner from 6:30-7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 24, at McDonald’s, 5 S. Blue Angel Parkway.