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Tuesday October 21st 2014

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On Sale:

Hammering It Out with 4-H

After an informational meeting last night, youth in Escambia County’s 4-H program are heading toward a vote next week over the sale of the group’s Langley-Bell property.

“It’s going okay,” said 4-H Council President Devin Bell this morning. “We’re trying to get some things written up and agreed to.”

Next week, the 4-H Council—a body consisting of youth club members—will decide whether or not to sell 240 acres of land to Navy Federal Credit Union, which hopes to expand on the property. The organization is being offered $3.6 million from Navy Fed and Escambia County is kicking in $1.5 million toward a new facility to be used for 4-H purposes and other county uses on a 23-acre parcel of property neighboring the existing Escambia County Extension Office, a University of Florida-related entity which operates 4-H.

Last night, the extension office held an informational meeting.

“We’re trying to just clarify to the youth what they will be voting on,” said Keith Diem, associate dean and state 4-H program leader with the University of Florida/IFAS Extension.

Diem attended the meeting last night. He took a break from driving through an Interstate-10 rainstorm en route back to Gainesville today and spoke about his Pensacola visit.

“We learned a little bit last night that added clarity to the document,” Diem said.

Specifically, the ideas presented by a group calling itself Friends of 4-H entered into the official conversation. The group voices concerns that have been expressed before—namely, that the 4-Hers are not getting a fair trade and not being listened to.

“I’m familiar with them,” said Bell. “I support some of the things they’re doing.”

Friends of 4-H have presented an alternative to the offer currently on the table. The group has proposed, among other thing, using the money from the Navy Fed sale to purchase the Bayer Crop Science Facility, a 250-acre piece of property in Molino.

In the agreement currently being drawn up for the 4-H Council to vote on, language is being include so that the Friends of 4-H thread is explored if the sale is approved. The final decision—to accept the existing offer of pursue other alternatives—would be determined by the UF/IFAS Extension. The 4-H Council makes only a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on weather to sell.

Bell said that the youths’ involvement post-sale has been a sticking point among some 4-H members. He said the detail could make or break the sale-vote.

“I think that can have a lot of influence,” Bell said.

Diem said that the agreement being written will include provisions—should the 4-H Council approve the sale—for an advisory board to look into alternatives to the current option—“and there will be various people on the board, including 4-H youth.”

“That is absolutely going to happen,” Diem said.

In an email last week to Whitney Fike, a former 4-H member and co-founder of Friends of 4-H, Diem clarified that the youth would only be determining if the land was to be sold, not the details to follow. He said the 4-H youth had been subjected to “undue pressure” as a result of their responsibility in the process and cautioned Fike from adding stress by burdening the 4-H members with the pressure of deciding post-sale details.

“Those options will, more appropriately, be in the hands of the adults after the youth vote,” Diem wrote.

Driving back from Pensacola today, Diem said that the concerns he heard expressed during his visit will be addressed in the memorandum being drafted for the 4-H Council to vote on. The agreement should be ready for review by tomorrow.

Bell said he’s waiting to see the document. He said the process is rolling along and that he’s hoping the youth are accommodated.

“It’s been kind of a pain to get the document written up, but other than that—” the 4-H Council President said before pausing to pivot a final thought. “—they say they’re going to keep us involved.”