Escambia County Politics

New Kids on the Block

December 11, 2012

Escambia County’s two new commissioners are forgoing any honeymoon. From the get-go, their voices have become pivotal in weighty conversations.

During their initial meeting last week, commissioners Lumon May (District 3) and Steven Barry (District 5) entered into discussions concerning both the hiring of Interim County Administrator George Touart and the structure of the county’s RESTORE Act advisory committee. Both of those issues will be discussed again in the Committee of the Whole.

Last week, commissioners began discussing the possibility of readdressing the RESTORE advisory panel, which the commission is devising to vet proposed uses for the money coming into Escambia via Clean Water Act fines stemming from BP’s 2010 oil spill. Neither Barry, nor May had any input into the advisory panel specifics.

“I’m surely interested by any opportunity to have some input,” May said Monday.

Last week, other commissioners wanted to add more seats to the committee, or change particulars in project criteria.

Barry said Monday that he’d like to look at the make-up of the committee.

“Who’s to say who is an expert,” he said of seats designated for experts if fields such as development. “Who’s to say who’s an expert in economic development?”

Barry said he didn’t feel the current outline for the yet-to-be formed committee was quite right. He suggested that perhaps the members of the panel should be appointed by the commissioners—“similar to like we make Island Authority appointments”—and said he did not agree with Commissioner Grover Robinson’s suggestion to add more members.

On the issue of Touart, who was brought back recently as interim administrator, both of the new commissioners seemed eager to move forward, and much less so to address the controversy surrounding Touart’s hiring.

Last week, a group of residents attending a public forum requested that the commissioners release Touart from his position. No one took them up on that.

“For something different [than Touart’s hiring] to happen it would take myself and my fellow new commissioner to come in and terminate an agreement with someone I have never worked with,” Barry said. “That’s not the way I want to begin.”

The District 5 commissioner said he thought three or four months seemed about the right length of time for an administrator search. Robinson had previously proposed an April deadline.

“I’m less concerned about having that line in the sand and more concerned about starting the ball rolling,” Barry said.

May also declined to continue discussing Touart’s return, also choosing to focus on finding a permanent administrator. He repeated his suggestion from last week to form a blue ribbon task force of citizens to help in the selection of an administrator.

“That’s something that’s very important to me,” May said.

The Escambia County Commission meets for its COW meeting Tuesday, 9 a.m. at the county’s downtown complex—the newly named Ernie Lee Magaha Governmental Complex.

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  • RT December 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Newly elected officials always have at least two challenges: (1) clean up (or somehow otherwise live with) the mess left by predecessors, (2) set a new course with clear objectives for the future. In the instant case, these are two really big challenges. Let us hope the new kids on the block don’t get sucked into the maelstrom of GOB slime.

  • George Hawthorne December 12, 2012 at 10:41 am

    I agree with the positions of May and Barry. They both have taken the position that Touart is there and let’s work with him and get things done. George Touart is knowlegable of politics and the issues of County governance. Also, George Touart is not crazy and he knows that EVERYTHING he does is going to be under the microscope and would be mistaken to act otherwise. The man is trying to do a job, make his pension and serve the County.

    I have great confidence in Lumon May’s ability to recognize a problem and take a stand to correct it. I am beginning to know Mr. Barry and he impresses me with his analytical skills and independence. Grover is going to be steady and do the right thing. Gene has a plan and I am willing to see it develop. Wilson needs to “relax” a bit and don’t take things personally and understand that constituents have an opinion and see if there is any validity to their concerns, recognizing that his past actions do appear to serve a select group of his friends and supporters.

    Wilson is in a position where he may not have the votes for his agenda with the loss of Kevin White and under such realities he runs the risk of being ostrisized on key votes that helps his District … as a District 1 resident that concerns me.

  • Whoopee December 11, 2012 at 10:27 am

    Hmmm – they both took a flyer on the Touart issue and stated that they would like to have input on the Restore Committee process. Nothing earth shattering here. Let’s hope they get their bearings in a hurry because Touart is a master at keeping at least 1 step ahead of the commissioners.

  • CJ Lewis December 11, 2012 at 7:55 am

    Yes, the path of political least resistance for Barry and May may be to pretend they have no idea what happened in the Tourat scandal days before they joined the Commission and no power to now do anything about it. In saying and doing nothing they passively ratify the recent dishonest decision to throw an innocent Randy Oliver over the side to hire George Tourat to supposedly right a supposed wrong done to Tourat in 2007 when he unwisely resigned from office claiming he could no longer do the job. Only perfect politicians turn a blind eye to such injustice.

    An interim County Administrator is already in place (Larry Newsom) and a new County Administrator (the not very “old” County Administrator Randy Oliver) remains a phone call away. To judge by comments reported in the press, Barry and May too often speak in cryptic riddles. They need to quickly get their thoughts together to acquire the plain spoken style of Grover Robinson IV who seems to find it easier to speak in blunt terms not pulling his punches. Escambia County would be a rocking place if we had five Grover IVs on the County Commission.