The Buzz 3/3/16
Failure to Communicate, Again Pensacola Councilwoman Sherri Myers told Inweekly that City Administrator Eric Olson had no idea that city residents had any damage from the Tuesday tornado until she called the mayor’s office on Wednesday morning.
“Mr. Olson told me that city hall hadn’t gotten any phone calls,” Myers told Inweekly. She had visited the Dunmire area, which is in the city, and saw the devastation.
Former Council President Maren Deweese reported on her blog that Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward went on 1620 NewsRadio Wednesday morning and said the only damage in the City of Pensacola was minor with some trees down.
In fairness to the mayor, that is what his staff had told him.
On Tuesday night after the tornado had passed through northeast Pensacola, the Pensacola Police Department sent out a report to the Pensacola City Council and Mayor Hayward at 9:19 p.m. that stated the city had “minimal storm damage.”
Council President Charles Bare talked about the PPD report Wednesday afternoon on “Pensacola Speaks.”
“We get a press release saying there was minimal storm damage, but I went out for a couple hours today with Sherri Myers and our council executive (Don Kraher), to look for myself in Dunmire Woods off of 9th Avenue, and also in Eau Claire Estates. Both of those had major damage. Lots of roof damage, lots of trees down.”
Sources at the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center shared that City Administrator Olson did show up for about an hour on Tuesday but left soon afterwards. The city appeared to have communication issues with city police and fire chains of command.
Councilwoman Myers told Inweekly she was worried about the city’s ability to handle a major storm event. The mayor’s office has placed both its fire chief and deputy fire chief on administrative leave. The city administrator, public information officer and police chief have held their positions for less than a year.
“We need better communications,” said Myer. “I worry whether we could handle a major event like a hurricane.”
Something Smells Melanie Nichols, president of the North Hill Preservation Association, has made a public records request of Emerald Coast Utility Authority Executive Director Steve Sorrells.
The request was made on the Friday morning after a packed ECUA board meeting. Mayor Ashton Hayward, Councilman Brian Spencer and North Hill residents were in attendance.
“We still haven’t gotten any of the public records that we have requested on the project,” Nichols told Inweekly. “I have extended my public records request to find out what happened to that lift station during the April 2014 flood, because staff keeps referring to something almost catastrophic occurring to our lift station due to the flood but won’t give us any details.”
She added, “It makes me wonder if this location for the Moreno Lift Station should be re-thought and re-engineered versus putting Band-Aid tanks on the site.”
Nichols requested the following information from ECUA:
1. A copy of the video from the Feb. 25 meeting of the ECUA Board
2. A copy of the staff’s presentation to you yesterday about the tank project
3. A copy of the video from the May 2014 ECUA Board Meeting
4. A copy of the full agenda packet, and staff presentations from the May 2014 ECUA Board Meeting
5. A map showing the pipeline from the Government Street Lift Station to the Warrington emergency tank location showing the locations for any/all lift stations necessary for this pipeline.
Sunshine Law Training Goes Online Exceptions to Florida’s Sunshine Law have increased from 250 to more than 1,000, and it has Barbara Peterson upset.
The Florida Legislature makes its own rules, and Gov. Rick Scott blatantly disregards them. Scott has cost state taxpayers $1.3 million in lawsuits fighting against their rights to open access to the governor’s public records.
“That’s wrong,” said Barbara Peterson, The First Amendment Foundation president for 25 years. “’I’m picking on (Gov. Scott), because he has a bad open records performance.”
Peterson and Betsy Daley, a Florida Commission on Ethics senior attorney, provided a three-hour seminar on state ethics for government officials and the Sunshine Law that regulates open government. Held Friday at the Sanders Community Center, the seminar was attended by about 60 people, including Mayor Ashton Hayward and several other council members and city employees.
Beginning March 1, Florida officials and citizens will be able to earn “Sunshine Law” certificates online. The First Amendment Foundation is joining The Poynter Institute to provide the training that counts toward continuing education credits. Peterson said she did all the voice-overs for the new interactive class.
The two organizations announced their merger in December. Besides opening an office at Poynter in St. Petersburg, the groups plan to publish a digital version of the 2016 Government-in-the-Sunshine manual, Peterson said.
Florida is one of a handful of states that has both a constitutional and statutory right to the records and meetings of its government. Florida’s first open meetings law was passed in 1905. Today’s Sunshine Law was enacted in 1968.
Peterson said that the Foundation’s hotline has grown from 203 calls in its first year to 150-plus calls per month today.
Although Peterson advises public officials to simply avoid any conversation of public business outside of meetings, she said, “Sunshine Law can be really difficult.”
Hayward thanked Peterson for her talk about Sunshine Law that included many examples of governments and public officials trying to circumvent it. “Thanks for helping us out as always,” the Pensacola mayor said. “And separating fact from fiction.”
Daley said ethics laws can become just as confusing as open records, pointing out the Ethics Commission issues thousands of advisory opinions each year. “I hope none of you has to face a complaint,” she said. Innocence or guilt “always depends on the facts of each individual case.”
Kicked Off K Drive The mayor’s office has added to its list of restriction placed on the Pensacola City Council. Earlier this year, City Administrator Eric Olson announced that council members could no longer move freely in city hall. Most recently, he kicked them off the city server’s shared drive, known as the “K drive.”
Council President Charles Bare told Inweekly that he was stunned by the ever-growing restrictions that have begun to interfere with the council members’ ability to do their jobs.
“What’s been advised to me is just do a public records request that continues to renew itself so I can always have access to (K drive),” said Bare. “I can’t even fathom the idea of doing that. This is information that the governing body should have access to.”
Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward told WEAR TV that he would not act on the council resolution passed at its Feb. 11 meeting that gave its members access to all floors of City Hall. He cited his reason for limiting access as security issues and his wanting to keep council members separate from city staff so all can focus on their day-to-day work.
Bare told Inweekly that he disagreed with the perception that council members are trying to influence city staff. The 2010 city charter prohibits the council from interfering with the administration.
“If we’re trying to influence a staff member to do something that’s one thing, and we need to deal with that, but for me not to be able to ask a question of a staff member that a citizen can, that makes my job very difficult,” he said.
The shared drive was placed where city staff could place information for council members to review. Council members could store documents for later access. All the information is a public record.
“It’s just another thing that just seems to really not be productive for us,” said the council president, “and they’re trying to make us less productive, I think is what it is.”
Beer Can Ban Beginning Tuesday, March 1, Escambia County’s Ordinance 2015-52 restricting open containers in public areas of the commercial district of Pensacola Beach toke effect.
Residents and visitors are to not consume or possess any alcoholic beverages in an open container in the public areas within the beach’s commercial district like sidewalks, boardwalks, roads and parking lots. It is permissible to have an open container on the sandy portions of the beach, except the family area of Casino Beach just west of the Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier.
The commercial district of Pensacola Beach is generally considered the area from the Bob Sikes Bridge south to the Casino Beach Bandstand, and from the first residence on the west to Avendia 10 on the east.
Signs have been placed in the commercial district and beach goers are encouraged to ask lifeguards and law enforcement questions about the new policy. A special permitting process is available through the SRIA for events seeking an exemption to the open container restrictions.
In December, the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners adopted an ordinance creating Volume 1, Chapter 6, Article 1, Sec. 6-4. Starting March 1, it is unlawful for any person to consume any alcoholic beverage or possess any alcoholic beverage in an open container on or upon any public parking lot, street, roadway, sidewalk, boardwalk, alleyway, paved or unpaved right-of-way, park, playground, recreational facility, or other public area within the commercial district of Pensacola Beach. See the complete ordinance here. Violators shall be subject to arrest and prosecution.
Ball in Bowling’s Court City Attorney Lysia Bowling is expected to render an opinion about Feb. 11 resolution that City Administrator Eric Olson has said is “non-binding.”
Mayor Hayward has the power to veto any council resolution. However, he must do it within five days. He did not exercise a veto for council resolution granting the council the right to move about city hall without an escort.
By declaring the resolution non-binding, Olson wishes to avoid upgrading the council’s access. Council President Charles Bare hand delivered a request to Bowling asking that she determine if the mayor’s office can decide which resolutions are binding
“I asked her to give us a legal opinion on whether the mayor could ignore a resolution, and if that was the case, if he could, then how does that affect things we pass by resolution,” said Bare. “Things like the budget, which is passed by a resolution. Does that not bind him?”
He believed that the City Council would eventually need to get a legal opinion from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, but he needs Bowling’s opinion first.
He said, “I felt like it was a necessary step. I don’t know what she’ll do with it. I don’t know if she’ll send it to an outside law firm, which she’s done to me before, and it costs the city money. I don’t like that.”
Bare added, “We do a lot of things through resolution. We do things related to storm water, agreements with over governmental entities. I don’t understand how you can have the right to veto something that doesn’t bind you. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”
HR Report Missing The city attorney has another report that she committed to deliver to the City Council. At the Feb. 11 meeting, Bowling promised to produce a report on how the Human Resources appeal process works. As of our publication deadline, she had not released it.
Bare is prepared to ask council to approve an official inquiry into the HR process regarding the fire chief and deputy fire chief who placed on paid administrative leave in early February.
“I believe that the administration has not followed through on a promise they made to the legislature to have the personnel board to protect non-bargaining union employees,” said the council president. “I think that, combined with the way these two employees have been treated, is going to be the subject of my inquiry.”
He continued, “It’s bigger than just the two names. They are victims, I think, in this, but it’s more about ensuring that people feel like they have a safe place to work.”
When asked about the work environment inside city government, Bare said, “It’s toxic right now. I would not recommend anyone go to work for the city at this point, because you don’t know when that HR manual’s going to change.”
Corrections Accredited Escambia County Corrections was recently reaccredited for the fourth time by the Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission at the Accreditation Conference in St. Augustine.
Commander Selina Barnes, Sgt. Walter Jefferis, Lt. Jason Walker, Accreditation Manager Wanda White and Financial Manager Whitney Lucas went to St. Augustine to sit for the accreditation inquiry. Corrections met 243 standards established by the Florida Corrections Accreditation Commission.
Accreditation is the certification by an independent reviewing authority that an entity has met specific requirements and prescribed standards. These standards are recognized as best practices in the corrections community. They exceed the standards established through the Florida Model Jail Standards. Reaccreditation requires maintaining these standards for three years.
Chamber Endorses RESTORE Projects The Greater Pensacola Chamber has endorsed three projects for Resources, Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies (RESTORE).
“Our policy committee and board of directors vetted the projects submitted by the community and determined that these three proposals will have the greatest impact on job creation and workforce development for Escambia County,” stated Greater Pensacola Chamber Chairman Gary Bembry.
The following projects are currently being ranked by the RESTORE Advisory Committee and will eventually be considered for funding by the Escambia County Commission:
Port of Pensacola Berth 6 (Project 50): Berth 6 is one of only five deepwater berths at the port. Closure of Berth 6 has reduced operational capability of the port by 20 percent, reducing productivity and the ability to accommodate multiple vessel calls. This infrastructure project will restore Port Pensacola to fully-operational status, directly benefiting the economy and workforce of the City of Pensacola, Escambia County, and the entire Gulf Region.
OLF-8 Commerce Park (Project 26): The OLF-8 project provides an opportunity to improve our local military aviation training assets with a new, state-of-the-art Navy and Marine Corps rotary-wing training advantage that will help protect our military commands from additional rounds of BRAC. Converting the old OLF-8 training course into a commerce center will allow Escambia County to solicit and secure private sector investment. The Chamber endorsement is for the county commission to fund the OLF-8 Master Plan for $650,000.
Project AIMS (Project 104): Phase One will expand overall training opportunities for 400 participants seeking to attain economic self-sufficiency. One hundred of these participants will be eligible, low-income individuals from targeted areas who will receive additional supportive services. All participants will receive the education and training necessary to enter and advance in high skill, wage and demand AIMS/STEM professions.
Bembry said, “We ask our county commission to fund these projects to create jobs, diversify our local economy and help train our workforce.”