Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 30th 2014

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Rant & Rave 3/10/11

THANK YOU I wanted to thank you so much for such an incredible article (Independent News, “Outtakes: Keeping Dreams Alive,” March 3). I was surprised during a busy lunch crowd today when a woman told me, “I saw this article and came here for lunch.”

It’s truly amazing to see this wonderful community coming to the aid of a local business such as mine. I never dreamed it would generate such a positive and powerful response and, as I tell my customers, it’s God working through people. And you my friend, are one of those people. I thank you so much. And my 35 employees thank you, too.

It took me almost 50 years to finally get it–our mission on earth is to help those in need, and to be kind and compassionate to your fellow man (and woman). I agree with you wholeheartedly that we really need to support our local businesses. We do not have the deep pockets these large corporations have, and cannot survive any long-term recession or the effects of a natural disaster.

So I don’t just talk the talk, I frequent local, family-owned businesses and try to avoid the big chain retailers. Again, your article was a blessing and I had lots of people compliment it already. I’m sure there’s more of that to come. Thank you, take care and God Bless.
—Jerry Mistretta, Owner, Jerry’s Cajun Café, Pensacola

PRIORITIES MISPLACED Pensacola’s Westside and Westside neighborhoods are hugely in need of improvement in many areas, whereas current City resources to fund those improvements are limited. It should therefore be obvious that, in such circumstances, the first improvements should be those which may have the greatest economic impact for the area. Sadly, the initiative announced by Mayor Hayward does not meet this vital objective.

The Mayor has proposed planting trees and making sidewalk improvements along A Street between Main and Maxwell Streets and is asking the City Council to approve an expenditure of $256,000 for that purpose. The Council Committee of the Whole will consider the Mayor’s request during its meeting on Monday, March 7.

Although the project is a worthy one, it is in the fourth tier of priorities identified in the “West Side Neighborhoods Plan” prepared several years ago at substantial cost by expert and highly paid planning consultants.
Here’s what the plan recommends:

The Concept Plan identifies a hierarchy of four primary corridor types within the neighborhood that could potentially act as catalysts for the redevelopment of the West Side Neighborhoods…The proposed corridor types are:
1. Neighborhood Street: Cervantes Street
2. Commercial Corridor: Pace Boulevard
3. Mixed Boulevard Setting: Garden Street
4. Residential Streets
A Street falls under priority #4, residential streets.
Reading further, we are given the objective and action strategies for each corridor type. Compare the objectives for Cervantes Street and A Street.

Cervantes Street—Objective
Transform the functional and visual character of Cervantes as the primary Neighborhood Street Corridor and neighborhood center that will stimulate quality development in the West Side Neighborhood. Capitalize on the corridor’s location and economic development opportunities to integrate the neighborhoods at a scale that is pedestrian friendly and compatible with the neighborhood.

Residential Streets—Objective
Maintain and improve the residential character of the neighborhoods. Enhance the community’s sense of place and identity by establishing higher quality architectural design standards in the residential areas.

While both are worthy objectives, in these times, economic development-related improvements are far more likely to produce job opportunities than “sense of place” improvements.
This morning I drove the length of A Street from Maxwell to Main and could see the potential for a beautiful corridor with Pensacola High School at its northern terminus and Joe Patti’s Seafood at its southern end. But a catalyst for economic development in the near term? No.

Why would the Mayor propose A Street as a first improvement for the Westside?  Because most of the project’s cost, $150,000, would come from a readily available funding source, the Tree Trust Fund. Because there has been pressure from many, including my dear friends in the Belmont-Devilliers Neighborhood Association, to beautify A Street. Because the Mayor needs to show quickly that he is fulfilling campaign promises. None of these justifies doing the right thing at the wrong time.

Even though $256,000 might be just a drop in the bucket toward the transformation of Cervantes Street, it would be a beginning—and a desperately needed one. I hope the Mayor and the City Council will think deeply about this matter before embarking in the wrong direction.

If you would like to review the entire West Side Neighborhoods Plan, click on this link: pensacolacitygov.com/internet/upload/PDFs/CommunityDevelopment/West_Side_Plan.pdf.
—Diane Mack, Pensacola

RESTORING CITIZEN CONTROL Signs abound of citizen dissatisfaction with their local and state governments. Look at the recent Sunshine State poll. Almost half of Floridians say their state is worse off than five years ago. Sixty-five percent say it will get worse or stay the same in the next five years. And 21 percent are seriously considering leaving the state.

Seventy-one percent think their government leaders do the right thing only some of the time or never do the right thing, and only 23-33 percent of Floridians think their government does a good or excellent job. Yet we have elections every year, two years, or four years. We’ve tried term limits for state politicians and some local governments, and we’re about to try Fair Districts at the state level, but that’s likely not enough either.

What can bring government decisions back in line with people’s needs and desires? Back in the early 1900s, when Americans faced similar concentrations of corporate and economic power, reformers managed to expose and remove political machines and bosses. The parallel today is the division between the Insiders and the rest of us.

A century ago, reformers sought to enable the citizenry to rule more directly, and thus they developed political safeguards–Initiative, Referendum and Recall. These three safeguards of citizen control have since been adopted, in various models, in about 25 states, including Florida. Yet existing safeguards have not gone far enough to give citizens a way to counteract undue money and insider control. What are needed are the following Constitutional Amendment initiatives:

(1) A “Legislative Initiative” at the state level and then, similarly, “Legislative Initiative” for all local governments. Only in this way can citizen voices be truly heard: citizens can petition and put a proposed law on the ballot for their fellow citizens to decide.
(2) Create expanded “Referendum powers” for all local governments. Citizens need a mechanism to be able to effectively challenge decisions by their elected officials.
(3) Enable citizens to Recall elected officials more easily. Astonishingly, there are various officials to whom recall does not currently apply, and it needs to. And, for all officials, though the percentage of signatures necessary to accomplish Recall needs to remain somewhat substantial, the primary reasons why you can recall an elected official need to be loosened. It’s simply too difficult to make Recall fit the usual “misfeasance, malfeasance, etc.” categories. I’ve had citizens gather signatures from 15 percent of registered voters within 30 days, only to have a court say they couldn’t make their issues properly fit the Recall definition. If citizens are outraged enough at a decision that their elected official makes, they should be able to try to remove them right away. We should also lengthen somewhat the time frame within which the signatures can be gathered, to make it possible to use Recall.
Some would say that I haven’t mentioned one obvious reform that would help citizens curb the influence of Big Money. It’s called “Clean Elections/Public Financing.”   For example, we’ve just seen the grassroots Florida Hometown Democracy crushed by Big Money, and the same could well happen to a proposed ban on Offshore Oil Drilling.  Unfortunately, unless and until the U.S. Supreme Court has its makeup changed to overrule the recent Citizens United and older Buckley decisions, or unless a federal constitutional amendment is enacted to overrule those decisions—decisions that have both unleashed unlimited Big-Money influence on our politicians, the Supreme Court is currently composed to eviscerate any “Clean Elections/Public Financing” reforms.

It’s important to note that Initiative, Referendum and Recall themselves are content-neutral and can be utilized by any citizen or organization. Enactment of the above reforms will go a long way toward restoring the power of the citizenry, curbing the influence of insiders, and moving Florida towards a better place than where it is currently headed.
—John Hedrick, chair of Panhandle Citizens Coalition and President of People’s Transit Organization, Tallahassee

A WISE INVESTMENT The New York Times recently featured significant articles highlighting the important role of non-formal civilian education and training contributing to the nonviolent toppling of dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt. In our peace-building work, we have found that such significant nonviolent political transformations are not likely to occur without the essential education and training of everyday citizens in the knowledge and skills of peacemaking, mediation and negotiation, conflict transformation, and nonviolent resistance.

This is why we believe the Feb. 18 vote in the US House of Representatives in favor of amendment 100 to HR 1 (246 to 182–largely along partisan lines) that will eliminate all federal funding for the U.S. Institute on Peace (USIP) is a tremendous mistake.

The U.S. Institute of Peace was established in 1984 to provide “analysis, training and tools that prevent and end conflicts, promote[s] stability and professionalize[s] the field of peace-building.” In its 26-plus years, USIP has been a key leader in the peace-building field, sponsoring critical research and education and providing training to governments and civil society organizations around the world. Their work has had an impact in nearly every area of the world, and as an independent organization they have been able to reach individuals and governments that traditional channels cannot.

Recently, the International Institute on Peace Education, with which we are affiliated, received a small grant to support the establishment of community-based peace education teacher training networks in Colombia, India, Peru, the Philippines, Tanzania and Ukraine. These training opportunities for formal and non-formal educators in the knowledge and skills to overcome local manifestations of violence ranging from gender-based violence to child soldiers.
Our own stories don’t begin to demonstrate USIP’s impact. In response to the pending budget cuts, General David Petraeus, Lt. General Robert Caslen, Admiral G. Roughead, and George Shultz all wrote letters of support indicating the significant contributions USIP has made to their efforts and keeping U.S. troops alive in the field. USIP has conducted peace-building and stabilization efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, permitting U.S. military operations to proceed with significantly reduced violent interactions. Their conflict analysis and training in Sudan and the Niger Delta has provided the U.S. government with critical policy perspectives. USIP convened the Iraq Study Group and the Genocide Prevention Task Force that produced constructive recommendations for the prevention of armed and violent conflict and cost-effective and life-saving alternatives to military interventions.

Amendment 100 was proposed by Representatives Weiner (D-NY) and Chaffetz (R-Utah) who declared the USIP a “waste of taxpayer money.” We believe the opposite to be true: in the realm of international peace and security funding the $34 million congress provided the USIP in 2010 is a clear bargain. That’s only .00006 percent of the $533.7 billion U.S. Military budget for the same year. The ounce of prevention the USIP provides saves the U.S. taxpayer billions in military expenses, not to mention priceless human lives lost to violent conflict.
–Betty Reardon and Tony Jenkins, International Institute on Peace Education, Columbia University