The Buzz – 2/6/20
The motion asks for the court to reinstate the previously imposed sentence of death for the murder of Byrd and Melanie Billings. This motion is based upon the recent Florida Supreme Court Opinion in State v. Poole. In the Poole decision, the court receded from their previously issued opinion in Hurst. The court had held that a death sentence may be imposed by the judge if a jury has found unanimously that an aggravating circumstance exists.
Prior to 2016, Florida law required that a majority of the jury make a recommendation to the judge on whether to sentence a defendant to die. The judge then issued a final ruling based on that recommendation. At the time, Florida was one of the few states that didn’t require a unanimous jury to impose the death penalty.
In 2016 ruling in the State v. Poole case, the Florida Supreme Court struck down that law. The Florida Legislature then changed state law to mandate a unanimous jury. Last month, the court reversed its position. However, the state law requiring a unanimous jury is still on the books.
City-County Road Show
As part of the first CivicCon event of the year, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson and Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley last week provided updates and projections for the city and county.
Mayor Robinson’s presentation focused on accomplishments, as well as laying out a vision for 2020.
“I think we have so much momentum and things going positive for us,” he said, before introducing the CivicCon crowd to the city’s recently formalized mission statement of providing the “highest quality of life.”
Mayor Robinson went through a series of accomplished or at least embarked-upon goals—established during the transition team process shortly after he took office—including conducting an employee engagement survey and formulate succession plans for key roles within the city.
Other accomplishments touted included improvements to a mile and a half of city sidewalks, replacement of city gas pipes, increased training for police officers and bringing an aviation maintenance-repair-overhaul (MRO) facility to the Pensacola International Airport.
The mayor praised the airport’s successes. He said, “That airport is growing all the time, and every month we see new records set upon new records.”
Robinson also highlighted upcoming municipal efforts and activities. He pointed to a workshop in February where the Pensacola City Council plans to mull the best way to spend $17 million within the downtown urban core, as well as improvements coming to Garden Street. He also discussed a road diet slated for Spring Street and a roundabout to calm traffic on Langley Avenue.
The mayor spoke a bit about the Florida Department of Transportation’s plans to make safety improvements along West Cervantes Street. Local officials have criticized the FDOT plan for cutting off the street grid and its lack of focus on pedestrians.
“It certainly was not perfect,” Robinson said of FDOT’s plans.
But, the mayor continued, he believes that the state is open to discussing a road diet for the area—viewed as a more pedestrian-centric option—just not yet. The problem is, he explained, the road diet concept has yet to be listed in the city’s priorities and submitted to the regional transportation planning agency.
“You’re looking more at seven, eight years,” Robinson said of a realistic timeframe for the road diet plans. “I think that’s going to be too long to tell the people on Cervantes that there’ll be no safety improvements.”
Gilley, on the job as Escambia’s top administration official for about half a year now, began her presentation with a keyword—”place.”
“I can’t emphasize how much place, place, place matters,” she said. “Place is what is connecting us. And that connection is whether you were born here or you’re a newer resident. Whether you were assigned here, dragged here or you chose here, you’re here; this is your place.”
Gilley said that she intended to contribute to this place by focusing on county efforts. To begin with, she’s focusing on “people, policy, process and plans.”
In addition to listing off some county goals—including items like improving customer service and restoring public trust—and county accomplishments, like maintaining infrastructure and workforce development efforts, Gilley also nodded toward the “elephant” in the Saenger. She was brought on board to put out fires, as the county was in the midst of a mass of high-level resignations and a state investigation into its Emergency Medical Services.
“I literally spend six to 10 hours a week reading resumes, and one of the things I find very encouraging is that a lot of people want to come and work in our community,” Gilley said, naming some recently filled positions, like EMS and Emergency Management directors, and also some she’s looking to fill, like assistant county administrator.
The first question from the audience presented to both Robinson and Gilley pertained to the potential for consolidating city and county services.
Robinson said he understood some benefits associated with the concept, but that he doubted there was an appetite for consolidation at the city—“At this particular time, I don’t think politically we’re at that particular space where that’s going to happen. It’s more something you see communities come to when they either have some kind of an ethics scandal or challenging economic times.”
Gilley was more open to the concept—“I don’t think everybody should be afraid of a consolidated service from a theoretical standpoint, or a conversation. I think that it always brings out healthy conversation and dialogue whenever we have it.”
Local Named School Superintendent
Pensacola native and UWF graduate Harrison Peters has been appointed the superintendent of schools for the Providence, R.I., school system.
Peters is the deputy superintendent, chief of schools, for Hillsborough County Public Schools and was passed over the superintendent position last month. He grew up in Pensacola and was raised by his grandmother, who only had a second-grade education.
Peters received his bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of West Florida, his master’s degree in education leadership from Nova Southeastern University and his specialist’s degree in school transformation from the University of South Florida.
He began his teaching career as an elementary school teacher in Apopka, Fla. Since the classroom, he has served in many leadership roles as dean of students, assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent and deputy superintendent. As chief of schools on the Southside of Chicago, Harrison is credited with significantly increasing ACT scores, third-grade reading, math proficiency and graduation rates, according to his LinkedIn page.
As a chief school officer in Houston, he was part of the leadership team that led a majority vote in favor of a $1.9 billion bond, the largest in the history of the state. While in Houston, he was also awarded the “Outstanding Educator” award by Zeta Tau Lambda.
Future Voter Grants
Teaching Tolerance, an initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is funding nonpartisan voter registration projects in areas of the U.S. with long histories of voter suppression. To help encourage voters to register in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, Future Voter grants ranging from $500-$2,000 are being offered to educators in those states. These funds support school community members and students to host voter registration drives at their schools and in their communities.
Award amounts are determined by the size of your school or district population. Funds support the purchase of materials needed to host a nonpartisan voter registration drive such as tents, printing and mailing costs, transportation and promotional materials. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until Sept. 15. For more details, visit tolerance.submittable.com.
On Wednesday, Jan. 22, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida spent the day at Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart with 20 Littles from Pensacola High School for their first day of School to Work.
The School to Work program is a two-year program for high school students that starts when they are juniors and continues until their graduation day. The students are matched with a volunteer mentor employee, also known as a Big. For four hours once a month, the students meet with their mentors, where they get an insight into career path goal-setting, soft skill development and motivation to graduate with the added support of a one-to-one friendship.
“Without someone to consistently help in stressing the importance of education and sharing the do’s and don’ts of this critical transition from high school to the next steps in life, our Littles often get a bit lost,” said Paula Shell, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida. “The School to Work project aligns perfectly with our community’s emphasis on increased high school graduation rates, postsecondary completion rates, and overall employment & prosperity.”
“Joining the School to Work program was something we immediately knew we wanted to get involved in,” said Cat Outzen, Director of Community Relations & Children’s Programs of The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart. “We care for children every day, so being able to take the next step with them and walk them through these critical transition points that will affect their future is overwhelming, and we are so excited to watch each and every one of them grow and succeed.”
To learn more, visit bbbsnwfl.org.
The Pensacola Chamber Foundation has opened the nominations process for the Leadership Pensacola (LeaP) Class of 2021. Nominations will be accepted through Feb. 28.
Started in 1983, LeaP continues to provide the programming that develops the future leaders of Pensacola. A program of the Pensacola Chamber Foundation, LeaP is intended to help participants acquire an understanding of the issues facing our local community and gain the leadership skills necessary to resolve them. Applicants are sought from a variety of business sectors as well as different political, career, educational, social and cultural backgrounds.
“Leadership Pensacola provides our local leaders of today and tomorrow the opportunity to learn about all aspects of our community and the key issues that will shape our future,” said Todd Thomson, President & CEO of the Greater Pensacola Chamber.
Individuals accepted into LeaP will participate in day-long retreats, educational seminars and a community project for which the class uses its resources and talents to enhance the Greater Pensacola region.
To nominate yourself or someone else from the Pensacola community, visit pensacolachamber.com/leadership-pensacola/. The deadline to submit a nomination is Friday, Feb. 28. Following the close of nominations, all nominees will receive an electronic application via email.
For additional information, contact Natalie Ales, Director of Programs and Special Events, at email@example.com.
Sunday’s Child, a Pensacola-area nonprofit which promotes LGBTQ inclusion and equality, held its annual kickoff event on in late January to celebrate the completion of their 2020 membership drive.
For 2020, the organization raised $100,000 among 168 members. Those dollars will be awarded to Pensacola Bay Area nonprofit organizations that place value on diversity, inclusion and equality. Over the past six years, the organization has raised over $536,000. One hundred percent of dollars raised have funded projects that impacted areas such as child welfare, animal welfare, hunger issues, LGBTQ+ issues, health, adults with disabilities and the arts.
“Pensacola and the surrounding area are served by some amazing nonprofit organizations,” said Gary Rhodes, board president of Sunday’s Child. “Our members recognize not only the importance of supporting local nonprofits but also the importance of creating an accepting and inclusive environment for all of our citizens, including our LGBTQ citizens.”
Sunday’s Child will award four grants of $25,000 in June. Letters of intent may be submitted now through Wednesday, Feb. 19. Visit sundayschild.org for more information.
Mark Your Calendar
Escambia County Commission will meet 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6, Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building, 221 S. Palafox. Open forum begins at 4:30 p.m.
A Heart for Life, a community heart health event hosted by the Baptist Heart & Vascular Institute, will be held noon-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, in the center court of Cordova Mall. This family-friendly event will feature fun activities and education for all ages.
Pensacola City Council Agenda Conference will be held at 3:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, Pensacola City Hall, Hagler/Mason Conference Room, 222 W. Main St.
DIB Finance Committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, Bowden Building, Room #2, 120 Church St.
Continuum of Care on Homeless Assistance will meet 1-2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, Opening Doors Northwest Florida, 1020 N. New Warrington Road.
The Florida SBDC’s “The Profitable Marketing System” workshop will be held 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 12, Synovus, 125 W. Romana St. Speaker will be Lance Cook, Online Marketing Agency. Lunch will be provided. Pre-registration is required. Fee is $20. To register, visit sbdc.uwf.edu and click on “Training & Events.”
Escambia County Committee of the Whole will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 13, Ernie Lee Magaha Government Building, 221 S. Palafox.
Pensacola City Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10, Pensacola City Hall, Council Chambers, 222 W. Main St.