For the first time in the past six years, Pensacola had a relatively uneventful summer–no hurricanes, park or city charter referendums, sensational murder cases or oil spills. However, the year wasn’t without controversy, thanks to our clueless elected officials.
The Pensacola City Council whined, hollered and threw temper tantrums over the new strong mayor form of government. The nine-member board was stuck with Match.com remorse. It was as if they had only an online relationship with the concept and didn’t like it when they finally saw it in action. Meetings and workshops drug on for hours, city staffers were attacked and humiliated and in the end the mayor won nearly every vote. It must be how the Democrats feel in the Florida Legislature.
Two blocks east, the Escambia County Commission operated out of the limelight most of the year until the leaves began to turn. Tourism and horse marketing got the commissioners in trouble with the daily newspaper that wanted to reclaim the title of “Best Watchdog.”
Superintendent Malcolm Thomas managed to alienate Sheriff David Morgan, Mayor Ashton Hayward and most of the African-American community. Sex on campus, student violence and abandoned schools refused to go away as issues.
And then there were the odd stories of wannabe vampires, tree killers and Occupy Pensacola. Needless to say, the IN had more than its share of nominees for Winners and Losers for 2011. Let us know who you think we missed.
10. JOHN DOSH Escambia County’s Emergency Management Chief was honored in May by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet for being awarded the Chad Reed Emergency Manager of the Year award, one of the state’s highest honors in his field. Dosh was recognized for his dedication and leadership during the 2010 BP oil spill crisis. For his dedication and leadership in the field of emergency management, Dosh received
this prestigious award during ceremonies held at the State Capitol in Tallahassee. After serving in the United States Navy, Dosh began his career as a public servant by gaining employment as a 911-dispatcher in Escambia County. He became a part of the Emergency Management team in 1994.
9. BISHOP JOHN RICARD Pope Benedict XVI granted in March the retirement of the Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ, Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee. In addition to serving as the shepherd for the diocese’s nearly 65,000 Catholics, Ricard, age 71, served in national and international roles within the Catholic Church. He traveled on frequent peace-building missions abroad, notably to Bosnia, North Korea and Africa, as the president and later a board member of Catholic Relief Services from 1995 to 2002. Ricard was named the Bishop Emeritus of Pensacola-Tallahassee, and now resides at St. Joseph Seminary in Washington, D.C.
8. JOE SCARBOROUGH Pensacola’s native son returned in October to his hometown to help raise funds for the Pensacola State College Annual Fund. Scarborough is Pensacola’s biggest cheerleader, continually mentioning the city on his MSNBC show “Morning Joe” and finding time to spotlight area leaders like Quint Studer, Collier Merrill and Mayor Ashton Hayward. During the BP spill last year, he broadcast from here to help draw attention to Northwest Florida’s rapidly shrinking summer tourist season. The former congressman’s name was frequently mentioned throughout the year as a possible Republican candidate for either president or the U.S. Senate.
7. JULIAN & KIM MACQUEEN A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence had been on life support. School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas was ready to pull the plug on the inner-city school because of its rough first year. Dixon was poised to become another predominately African-American public school shutdown by Thomas. Instead, Rev. Lutimothy May and others reorganized the school. The Innisfree Hotels founder and CEO Julian MacQueen joined his wife Kim, who serves on the school’s board, in adopting the school that is trying to improve the education of inner-city students that Escambia’s public school system had failed. Over 30 Innisfree employees participated in the announcement to the students in September. Thomas backed down and gave the school a reprieve.
6. LARRY STRAIN The executive director of the UWF Small Business Development Center was named in September the Florida Star of the Year by Florida Small Business Development Center Network. The award is for the employees whose contributions were exemplary for new program development, innovative special projects, client impact and/or overall Network performance. Last year, Strain quickly mobilized resources to assist businesses impacted by the BP/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. As primary liaison with Florida First Capital Finance Corporation, he led the organization of the Florida Emergency Bridge Loan Program. He was personally responsible for 163 bridge loans worth $4.3 million resulting in more than 1,700 jobs.
5. DON GAETZ Escambia County has two state senators, neither of which resides in the county. Gaetz, the senator from Niceville, was designated in a special ceremony in Tallahassee in September the Florida Senate President for 2013-14. When he accepted the election by his peers, Gaetz set as two of his goals– training in higher education on the skills needed by industries moving to the state and making Florida a “safe harbor” for business to expand. Gaetz has chaired the state’s redistricting process this past year, which has put him in a nice position to build support for his initiatives. The last Northwest Florida politician to be elected senate president was W. D. Childers, 1981-82. Area leaders honored Gaetz this past summer for his efforts to get $30 million in BP fines and settlement funds appropriated over three years to help the eight counties most impacted by the BP disaster.
4. TATE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT & HIS MOM We never reported their names so as to protect them from any retribution, but their courage in stepping forward and reporting in March the sexual battery in a Tate High School classroom places them on this list. The boy saw a female classmate forced to perform in oral sex during class. School officials blamed the victim and suspended her. It was the mother’s persistence that led to an investigation by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office and the arrest of a suspect. The school’s botched handling of the incident and failure to timely and properly report the crime hurt the prosecution of the case. Later, the School District did its own investigation of itself and, after the insisting the investigator rewrite his report, declared it did nothing wrong. The girl was forced to complete her suspension, despite the arrest.
3. COLLIER MERRILL Few volunteers have served through more difficult tenures. As chairman of the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Merrill dealt with the rebuilding of the local economy after the BP disaster, launching a new economic development program, Vision 2015, and controversies over how the chamber handles tourism marketing. As the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Community Maritime Park Associates, he dealt with the aftermath of the firing of master developer Scott Davison and the Maritime Park Development Partners and the controversy over baseball team co-owner Quint Studer’s pledges to the park. His quiet, firm leadership helped the community navigate through all the controversies and continue to move forward.
2. SCOTTY DAVIS He may be the smartest person to ever visit Pensacola. Davis was the Pensacola City Council’s pick for its council executive after a melodramatic five-month search that was filled with several false starts and misunderstandings on the power of the council to hire anyone. Davis, the head of the Department of Community Services for the City of Florence, South Carolina, was picked from a field of over 40 applicants, but after watching the video of several council meetings and reflecting on what he was told during the course of his interviews with council members, he withdrew from the position. According to City Administrator Bill Reynolds, who spoke with Davis over the phone, the winning applicant had been told during his one-on-one interviews by several council members that they were going to try and have the starting salary increased, which did not happen. Davis wasn’t willing to take a $10,000 pay cut and had reservations in taking a position that was not well defined and had been described differently by the council members.
1. ASHTON HAYWARD Pensacola’s first strong mayor was slow to start, preferring to get his bearings, evaluate city personnel and gain an understanding of how to implement his platform. City staff that didn’t get with his ambitious initiatives were let go. New faces came on board and the city has had one of its most active years in decades. New libraries and community resource centers are moving forward. The west side of Pensacola that has been neglected for decades is getting the attention that it deserves. Hayward has hired able administrators and focused on selling Pensacola to the rest of the nation and attracting jobs to Pensacola. Optimism in the city is at an all-time high and the expectations for the next year are very positive with the opening of the Community Maritime Park.
10. HARVEY ALMORN UPDYKE, JR. The Dadeville, Ala. man was arrested in February for poisoning two heritage oak trees at Toomer’s Corner, a symbol of tradition in Auburn, Ala. Updyke grew up in the Milton area and had only lived in Dadeville about six months before his arrest. ESPN reported that Updyke, an Alabama fan, has a daughter named Crimson and a son named Bear. Police have said neither offspring was involved in the crime. Updyke’s attorney, Everett Wess, asked for the trial to be moved to Birmingham, Huntsville or Mobile, believing his client wouldn’t have a fair trial in Lee County. Of course, Updike and his wife have worn crimson shirts to the hearings, which didn’t help.
9. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS The Navy cancelled the scheduled visits of the USS Iwo Jima and USS Lawrence because the Pensacola Pass was only 32 feet deep. The two ships were to visit Pensacola in May and June as part of the yearlong celebration of the Centennial of Naval Aviation. The Army Corps of Engineers requested a dredging permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection in April 2009, but the project was delayed by the BP oil spill, according to their spokesman. Simply, the Corps dropped the ball forcing the chamber to host the ships in Mobile instead. The ship visits would have been nice boosts to the local economy. Maybe the chamber should file a BP claim.
8. MIKE HARIDOPOLOS The Florida Senate Rules Committee voted in February unanimously to admonish one of its own, Senate President Mike Haridopolos (R-Merritt Island) for failing to record a $400,000 home in 2004 and not disclosing the source of a $120,000 payment to his consulting firm. The mistakes occurred between 2004 and 2008. Haridopolos said he thought he did not have to report the home purchase until the following year. The lawmaker is also behind the effort to fast-track gambling legislation that would establish destination casinos in the state. Watch the money trail, folks.
7. JOSEPHINE SMITH The self-proclaimed vampire woman was arrested in September in St. Petersburg after allegedly attacking an elderly man, who was in a motorized wheelchair, outside of a vacant Hooters restaurant. The couple met at a nearby gas station, where the man invited the woman to hang out with him outside of a vacant Hooters until her ride came to pick her up. He fell asleep in his motorized wheelchair and when he awoke the “vampire,” a Pensacola resident, was biting him. Responding officers found a half-naked Smith covered in blood at the restaurant. She reportedly told officers she had no idea what happened. Our “News of the Weird” column may have to add a special section just for Pensacola people.
6. WILSON ROBERTSON The Escambia County Commissioner for District 1 got himself in a pickle over using his influence to get Forrest Gibbs the marketing director job at the county’s Equestrian Center. Gibbs beat out 64 applicants and got the position at a salary much higher than advertised. Once the incident came to light, the Board of County Commissioners demanded Gibbs be fired and asked for several agencies to investigate the matter. Two refused to render an opinion and the state attorney’s office found no criminal wrongdoing. However, this has brought greater scrutiny to how the commissioners wield their power and influence in the county’s hiring.
5. JOHN WYCHE In October 2004, John Wyche paid the Escambia County School District $64,000 for the former Kirksey Elementary School on North D Street in downtown Pensacola. Three years later, Wyche sold the property for $160,000 to the Escambia County Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization of which he was executive director. That same year he ran for the Democratic nomination in a special election for House District 3. Wyche was the director of the Life Skills Center charter school for underprivileged children, which closed in 2008, and was the political darling of the “old guard” of African-American leadership. In 2010, he was convicted on charges of racketeering and mishandling of more than $750,000 in state education money for his charter school to sustain the failing Maison de Ville apartment complex. This past March, Wyche was sentenced to more than six years in state prison
4. SCOTT DAVISON For three years, he was the toast of Pensacola. African-Americans and minorities loved the master developer of the Community Maritime Park because he promised to make the Covenant with the Community a reality. Big bucks were doled out to consultants for pretty drawings and “pony and balloons” presentations. In the end, it was all sizzle and no steak. After a series of investigative reports in the IN and the daily newspaper, the CMPA board dumped Davison and his Maritime Park Development Partners as the park developer. Since then, the CMPA has won nearly ever court battle with Davison and MPDP. Don’t cry for Davison, he paid himself handsomely while he had the contract.
3. JEFF BERGOSH The Escambia School Board member says he supports charter schools, just not A.A. Dixon. Bergosh didn’t care that the students had been low performers in his school before they enrolled in Dixon. He refused to acknowledge that the school had completely changed leadership and that locals had taken over the governance of the school that was started by Ronald Renna of Clearwater, Fla. What he didn’t count on was the white community, many of them Republicans, supporting the school getting a second chance. But Bergosh has stopped there. His latest cause is to inject more red tape into how law enforcement can investigate crime on public school campuses. Why? Because his child got in trouble with authorities for a school prank that led to a classmate being hauled off to the emergency room.
2. VEOLIA TRANSPORTATION The French company manages Escambia County Area Transit. Its workers staged a one-day strike over working conditions and unfair labor practices. Local union officials said that their members have filed a record number of grievances this past year that range from trying to fire workers on maternity leave to not paying for holidays. Escambia County isn’t the only trouble spot for Veolia. Workers in Phoenix are reportedly headed for a strike after 15 months of negotiations failed to yield a new contract with the union. The ECAT workers are some of the lowest paid transportation workers in the state.
1. GREG EVERS The lawmaker intervened with the Department of Transportation to help Bill Salter Advertising get the permits to clear 2,094 state-owned trees without having to mitigate the damage. Mitigation could have been planting other trees, making payments to a state trust fund or a combination of the two. Later, when Evers was running for the Senate, the National Rifle Association used Salter billboards in Northwest Florida to endorse him. In September, a federal judge in Miami recently blocked enforcement of a gun law that prohibited doctors from asking patients whether they had guns in the home. State Sen. Greg Evers had championed the bill for the NRA. Recently a grand jury launched an investigation into the billboard controversy. Evers has a good chance of being on this list next year.
HONORABLE MENTIONS – WINNERS
Lewis Bear, Jr.
Dr. Judy Bense
Rev. Lutimothy May
Dr. Ed Meadows
Sheriff David Morgan
Commissioner Grover Robinson
Councilman P.C. Wu
Supervisor of Elections David Stafford
Rev. Lonnie Wesley
Mayor Beverly Zimmern
DISHONORABLE MENTIONS – LOSERS
Santa Rosa Island Authority
Gov. Rick Scott
TEAM Santa Rosa