BANKS WALKS AWAY EMPTY-HANDED Although the Escambia County Commission decided to go with the original recommendation from the Tourist Development Council regarding the distribution of BP tourism funds, the board also hinted at shaking up the council in an effort to better serve the area’s minority community.
The Commission voted 4-1 on Thursday to uphold the TDC’s recommendation—leaving much of BP’s $4.38 million for boosting area tourism to the Pensacola and Perdido Key chambers of commerce, as well as DeLuna Fest—and then suggested that the Council should be restructured and more representative of minorities.
“The structure is terrible,” said Commissioner Gene Valentino. “There’s not one person on that TDC west of Navy Boulevard all the way to the Alabama line.”
Tourist Development Councils throughout Florida must adhere to specific criteria laid out in the state statute. The composition of the nine-member council is governed by that statute.
“We can petition all we want, but this is a state statute,” cautioned Commissioner Grover Robinson. “It will affect every other TDC in the entire state. That responsibility is huge.”
Valentino appeared undeterred. He complained—“This is not the first time this has happened”—about past controversies stemming from the Council; the TDC recently came under some fire for deeming comedian Kathy Griffin, a darling in the gay community, too “polarizing” to bring to the area.
“All I’m saying is if the state doesn’t step up and fix it, we should,” Valentino responded. “We need to step up and give them direction if the state can’t drive the truck.”
This issue grew out of the TDC’s recommendation, and the Commission’s ultimate decision, not to grant funding to any applicants who were viewed as specifically targeting the minority community—specifically, funding was denied to William ‘Cadillac’ Banks.
Banks had applied for $385,685 to pay for a music festival targeting the African-American community locally and beyond. The TDC originally offered up $75,000, but Banks said that would be insufficient and declined the funds.
During a May 19 board meeting, Commissioner Marie Young raised the issue of “perception.” She said the minority community may have a perception that Escambia County government was giving them a raw deal. The issue apparently caught the attention of BP, a company that stresses diversity in their corporate culture.
“I don’t think I’ve seen them in over a year in the Chamber,” Robinson said, noting the oil company’s representatives seated in the back of the room. “So, something must be going on tonight.”
Young’s sentiment that “the same people who always get the money” did not represent the minority community was echoed during this week’s Commission meeting.
“It appears that we are doing business the way that we did it in 1968,” said Pensacola City Councilman John Jerralds, speaking as a member of the public.
Banks told the Commission it was not his intention to ignite a controversy, but rather to bring visitors to Escambia County. “It’s not about black and white. It’s always about the dollars.”
Other speakers raised questions about the TDC’s explanation of the funding guidelines, suggesting there could be a “problematic, potential legal issue.” All but two speakers before the Commission requested that the issue be thrown back to the TDC for reconsideration.
“I pray that you will do what’s right, because the Lord has a way of getting even,” Evangelist Willie Blackwell told the board.
Several members of the Commission made a note that perhaps the issue of “perception”—and even that of equality, to the point of shaking up the TDCs across the state—should be explored. In the end, however, Banks walked away empty-handed.
“If you don’t live on my side of town, it’s probably hard for you to understand,” the concert promoter and legal clerk said after the meeting. “The way black folks look at it, they feel that they should have done something.”
Banks said that he never intended to raise the issue of race, or equal treatment, but recognized that sometimes one issue can morph into another. He went on to say that the county should not conduct business in a way that makes the
minority community feel isolated.
“Next thing you know, you’ve got the NAACP, you’ve got marches,” he said, after explaining his original intentions. “All I was trying to do was put together a concert.”
WEAR TV MELTDOWN The local ABC affiliate is losing its two top investigative reporters. Dan Thomas has been fired, and Greg Neumann has packed his bags to return to Wisconsin.
Thomas told the IN that he was told by station management that he had to sign a contract on Friday, May 27 or he’d be terminated.
“I walked in on Friday ready to sign but wasn’t given the chance—they fired me,” said Thomas. “Apparently the fake Friday deadline was some sort of loyalty test—They said, ‘If you really wanted to be here you would have signed the day after we gave it to you.’”
Neumann is leaving on his own accord. “I have accepted the State Capitol Reporter job at WKOW-ABC-TV in Madison,” he told IN. “I start there in early July. It is an exciting opportunity, but I will miss Pensacola and its people tremendously.”