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Wednesday July 30th 2014

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On the County’s Plate

During its morning work session, the Escambia County Commission’s discussion ranged from boxing regulations to development regulations, from library funding to preparing to battle it out with the state over RESTORE money. One item on tonight’s agenda that was not discussed was the county administrator’s position.

Boxing Day

Looking over one of the first issues on tonight’s agenda, commissioners had questions about Pensacola Boxing Academy owner Larry Downs, Jr. addressing the board. Downs  is addressing the board regarding amateur boxing rules and the Florida State Boxing Commission’s intent to implement mandatory testing from HIV and hepatitis.

“Why is he coming to us?” asked Commissioner Kevin White.

“Well, because he asked to come to you,” said County Attorney Alison Rogers.

Commissioner Grover Robinson noted that he had received “it seems like over a thousand emails over the last 12 months” from Downs regarding the issue.
“It’s crazy,” he said.

Rogers noted that the county commission did not have any authority over such a matter—“you really cannot get involved in it”—but Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson said he knew Downs and requested that the board accept his communication.

LDC and Philosophy

Rules over which the county commission does have some authority are ones pertaining to development. Commissioners decided to postpone today’s public hearing concerning changes to the county’s Land Development Code and instead move the issue to its next Committee of the Whole meeting.

The commission is considering amending the county’s code by “divesting the Escambia County Board of Adjustment of jurisdiction over appeals of administrative decisions regarding building permits issued by the Escambia County building inspections department.” The county’s planning board has recommended against the change.

Currently, a county administrative decision appeals is handled by the board of adjustment. The change would require appeals to be handled in the judicial system.

“They would basically be on their own,” Rogers explained to commissioners. “They would not be able to come to the county, they would have to fight it our in circuit court.”

Commissioner Grover Robinson questioned if such a move might make it unduly difficult —and costly—for a citizen to appeal a county development decision. Robertson and Vice Chairman Gene Valentino said that not changing the LDC would send the wrong signal to businesses looking to relocate to the area.

“That’s going to cause industry jobs not to come here,” Robertson said.

Valentino said that the “last thing we need is frivolous objections” delaying development. He suggested slating the issue for discussion—“I wanna get it right”—at the next COW meeting.

“We’re talking about a policy that radically changes the scope of authority vested in the Board of Adjustments,” Valentino said.

Rogers explained after the meeting that the LDC change would only pertain to appeals of building permits granted by the county. The procedure for appealing other administrative decisions, or appealing a decision during the Development Review Committee process would remain the same. She said former county administrator Randy Oliver had suggested amending the LDC.

Commissioner White noted in the work session that an appeal of a building permit was rare. Rogers later said the same.

As for Robertson and Valentino framing the change as possibly important for economic development, to create a developer-friendly atmosphere, the attorney said that perspective was more “philosophical.”

“That’s a bigger philosophical question I don’t know the answer to,” Rogers said. “Philosophically, is this another layer of bureaucracy that allows people to harass or delay development?”

The commissioners decided this morning to discuss drawing up a set of criteria that an appeal would need to meet during the COW meeting.

“If you let somebody sixty miles away say ‘I don’t like that odor coming down here,’ you’ll never get development in here,” said Robertson.

Money on the Books

Also during the morning work session, the commission revisited the issue of funding for Northwest Florida Regional Library system. After the city of Pensacola reduced hours in response to the county’s reduced funding for the system, commissioners recently decided to further reduce the county’s funding in order to put the money towards restoring the reduced hours at county branches.

Robinson said that the county should pay for its October share of the library funding, then decide further action when the commission takes up the overall issue soon. Other commissioners disagreed, with the chairman saying the commission should “make sure they know we’re serious” and “not getting cold feet.”

Let me ask you this,” Robertson said, “when they stopped funding mass transit, did they stop funding it a little bit at a time?”

Valentino noted that he had a Nov. 5 meeting scheduled with the county attorney, the city attorney and Mayor Ashton Hayward to discuss the interlocal agreement concerning the library. He said the county should get out of the agreement, which he termed  as “nothing short of confusion.”

RESTORE Lobby

Commissioner Robertson also told his fellow commissioners this morning that the county may need to hire someone to lobby on its behalf in Tallahassee for RESTORE money.

“Right now, I feel good,” he said. “But if something should change, if it were to get political, I just think we need to be prepared.”

Robinson is currently negotiating with the state over a dispute the governor has with a group of counties about certain pots of the RESTORE funds.

Mr. Economic Development

Commission Chairman Robertson also took the opportunity this morning to name Valentino as the board’s official representative on matters pertaining to economic development.

“He’s been doing that lately,” Robertson said, “but he’s going to be our official representative, so we don’t get running off in different directions.”

Valentino recently traveled to Germany in an effort to market Escambia County to outside businesses looking to relocate. He will become commission chairman this month.