Escambia County

The facts about 2007 ouster of George Touart

November 5, 2012

History tends to be rewritten by politicians to fit their current agendas. What really happened in August and September of 2007 when George Touart stepped down as the Escambia County administrator?

Touart’s job came under question after the PNJ reporter Michael Stewart reported on the county administrator’s business relationships in connect with a purchase of land on Bauer Road for a sports complex for southwest Escambia County.

The newspaper reported that Touart had not reported to the commissioners his business dealings with Neal Nash whose family owned the property and Ronald Swaine, the chairman of the county’s planning board and owner of Swaine and Co. Inc., the development company representing the sellers in the land deal.

Touart, Nash and Swaine had a contract to purchase a condominium in Panama City. Touart had an interest in at least four lots in Nature Trail, a Beulah subdivision in Escambia County being developed by John S. Carr Co. and Swaine and Co. Touart and Nash owned a 1996 30-foot Grady White boat together.

The IN thought the land deal was a good one for the county despite the lack of disclosure by Touart. However, we felt it was critical to Touart’s employment future and the credibility of county government that he make full disclosure of all his business dealings since he was hired as the county administrator.

We suggested that he provide the commission and the public his personal income tax returns, records of all real estate transactions, financial reports of all businesses that he owned fully or in partnership with others, a list of all the clients of those businesses, list of trips that he had taken with people and businesses that do business with the county and records of who paid for the trips.

At its August 22, 2007 meeting, the county commission—which was Mike Whitehead, Gene Valentino, Marie Young, Grover Robinson and Kevin White—voted to delay the closing on the 271 acres and reprimanded Touart. The board would later cancel the deal, order a new appraisal and then eventually buy the land.

A week later, the daily newspaper uncovered more of Touart’s business dealings. His employee leasing company, Global Employment Services Inc., had done business with a major county contractor, RW Beck. RW Beck had done more than $28 million of work in the county since 2001. Also in 2005, Touart was an investor with Bill Dickson (then a county commissioner) and Dickson’s brother in a Mississippi Gulf Coast project being developed by Allen Levin.

The public outcry for Touart’s termination was at a fever pitch when the county commission met in early September 2007. The IN later learned that Board chairman Kevin White had instructed County Attorney Janet Lander to approach Touart about retiring. According to Lander, when she discussed it with him, Touart said he would talk with Grover Robinson and Mike Whitehead. Lander would tell Young and Valentino.

Young and Valentino said they were agreeable to the idea. Valentino said he still preferred the one-week suspension. Grover said he met with Touart and Lander.

At the Sept. 6, 2007 board meeting, Touart jumped the gun, before the commission could vote on anything, and resigned. The board accepted his resignation without voting on any severance package that would have kept Touart employed to April 2008 so that he would have been vested in the Florida Retirement System.

What followed was a big debate over whether Touart had resigned, retired or was fired. He lobbied to stay on the county’s payroll for the necessary six months. Escambia County Commissioners Kevin White, Marie Young and Gene Valentino voted to only pay Touart for his ninety days and his leave. Mike Whitehead and Grover Robinson had wanted to let Touart use his leave to reach state retirement.

In October 2009, we interviewed Touart after he filed to run for Valentino’s commission seat. He talked about had happened.

“I couldn’t sleep. Every day I was being called a crook. I’d never been in this position before. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t work.

“I would go in restaurants and felt people were thinking I was a crook, so I made a decision. The board came to me and offered me one heck of a retirement package, which they later rescinded, as you know. Janet Lander presented their offer, in writing, to me.

“I talked to my lawyer and he said, ‘George, the press is never going to leave you alone. You’re innocent, but the perception in the press is you’re not.’ So I retired.

“I would have had six years in. As we all know now, they rescinded their offer.”

I asked what went wrong with his retirement and his deal with the board.

“I announced my retirement and the press went nuts with it. The press got a hold of that package and again I’m on the front page. It’s amazing. Go back and look: ‘Golden Parachute Given to Touart.’ I’m paying for it but it’s a golden parachute.

“The board called a special meeting and on a 3-2 vote rescinded it. Only Robinson and Whitehead supported me. The other three voted against me. The political pressure on them was tremendous. I understand it, which was why I got out of the way for the good of this county. The toughest thing I ever have done.”

Touart admitted that he had some responsibility for his downfall.

“Rick, the only thing I underestimated–and I paid for it–was the perception of the general public. Public perception is something no politician can avoid. You’ve got to always be mindful of it. And you’ve got to live with it every day.

“When you recommend something to the board, you have to be mindful of the public perception.”

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  • jeeperman November 6, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Hey Wilson!
    When are you going to comply with county code and do something about that pile of asphalt grindings on Nine Mile Road ?
    Oh that right, your the BOCC Chairman now so you do not have to abide by county code ?

  • Jacqueline November 6, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    No, the county made them grade the sides so they were stable but that is all they did.
    It looks like an abandoned retention pond and has some water in it when it rains but it never looked like a real recreational pond.
    There has been no activity as far as a house or anything. Remains unfenced.

    Who builds a vacation home 5 minutes form your road paving headquarters anyway, lol?
    It was convenient access for his dump trucks and Touart et al’s obfuscation allowed Cody Rawson to extract quite a bit of clay in the time that the county took to finally do something about it.

    These guys crack me up with their worries about public perception! If they would just do their thinking *before* they did their deeds it might be more effective.

  • jeeperman November 6, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Whatever happened with that borrow pit, I mean “catfish pond” property ?
    Did Cody Rawson leave it as dug or did he complete the pond and build a house like he claimed the project was for ?

  • Jacqueline November 6, 2012 at 2:08 am

    I don’t know … his only problem was public perception? He has done nothing wrong???! If after all that time of reflection, that is his only revelation, than I think we are in trouble, no matter how short his stay as administrator is.

    There were so many things that were never fully reported by the press or investigated but the outcry from the public was great because smelly details after smelly details where being told by so many but the frustrated citizens could never get anyone to fully look into it all. (Good luck on getting an Ethics charge taken seriously here!)

    Independent News knew about Touart’s involvement with Roads Inc. and the clay pit early on because you sent a reporter out here, who kept assuring us that the story would break “in the next issue” for month after month. It never did. Only after over a year did we finally get some media to pay attention. IN posted the first pictures of the supposed “pond” and WEAR picked up on the story allowing the public to see what a con job that it was.

    Touart has a way of trying to rewrite his history. Consider this version of the story,

    with these opposing comments by Valentino:

    ” ‘I consider the reestablishment of George Touart a moral victory knowing fully well in my heart he has done nothing wrong in this county,’ Valentino said on Thursday. That’s a far cry from past statements he’s made about the once and future administrator.”

    ” ‘I don’t know why George Touart was not prosecuted for a felony when they had [him] on tape admitting to a crime,’ Valentino told the Pensacola News Journal when the recording’s existence was revealed.”

    And how does Touart explain this stuff:

    “Touart seemed to suggest that he would help Valentino get the athletics land deal back on track in exchange for his support.

    ‘If I can get that retirement and the damn thing’s done — and Gene, we didn’t have this conversation — I’ll go to Neal Nash and get the ballpark,’ Touart said. ”

    Is that just public perception? Or is it back room deals that the public is sick of?

    What is the big deal here anyway??? Why is it such a moral travesty if after only five years of work, Touart doesn’t receive a state pension for life? How many regular employers in the private sector give such benefits to employees after just 5 years of work?
    Is he that destitute that he was depending on that 5 year employment span to support him or his family?
    I’m sorry if the man is sick and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
    But bottom line is Touart himself resigned to avoid further scrutiny and we all know it. He made a strategic move to cut his employment short and we were glad to see him go.
    Just say, No, Commissioners!

  • wayne November 5, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Sorry, friends

  • wayne November 5, 2012 at 8:07 pm

    Sounds like what is going on in city hall with Ashton and his friens, business partners, etc.

  • rachel terry November 5, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Really did not know where to post my comments, under Larkin, Gallery Night, or URAC because of the common denominator, John Asmar. Where should i start? I guess this is as good a venue as the other two.

    In all three you make your argument using Asmar’s modus operandi which is to advance “yours and his” positive points by tearing someone else down.

    By the way, I am still waiting for that damning video of PPDs Gestapo-like tactics you so eagerly promised last week.

    Not holding my breath.



  • RTDavis November 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    If he avoided restaurants before–being paranoid about being called a crook–does he imagine that the memory of folks is so porous that he can dine now and in the future without being paranoid? You know what? He is probably correct.