Two More Years

February 19, 2010

The state legislators should table the Consolidation Plan until the proposal is fully discussed by the voters and modifications made to it based on the voters’ input—not based on the demands of constitutional officers, politicians, bureaucrats and special interest groups. Commissioner Wilson Robertson had the right idea – give the commission two more years to fully work out the details. But I would like to add that the Escambia County Commission also should give funding to the consolidation commission so that it can fully study the issues surrounding consolidation.

This plan has been rushed harder than QB Kurt Warner in the NFC Championship game. Compromises have been made and the unintended consequences of some of the sections have not been completely thought out.The Pensacola Charter Commission took nineteen months to draft its final proposal. Over its last six weeks, the Charter Commission had several public forums, that were televised on the web, and the public got to recommend changes to the document and the document was modified.

The Consolidation plan has never been presented in its final form to the public. Never. There was no chance for the public to study the final document, weigh the rewards and risks of the various sections, make recommendations for changes and then have the Escambia County Consolidation Study Commission modify the final plan before it was went to the lawmakers. No chance.

What we have is document written and approved by a very small group of people – who may have the best intentions, but are not representative of the entire community. We have a document that is being rushed to the ballot and we are being told that they will explain it to us later and if we have any problems with it, we can change it after it’s passed.

No, that is not how a decision as important as this should be done. While the Independent News supports consolidation, we can not support this consolidation plan that may do more harm than any of its drafters and supporters ever intended.

The public has been excluded from having their voices heard in the final document and therefore, we believe more time should be given to the study and drafting of the final document before it is placed before the voters. Two years should be enough time.

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  • Mark Clabaugh February 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

    Sheriff Morgan,
    I am not sure why you jump on me other than having the audacity to question you. You are a constituional officer and you are elected. I was under the assumption that I had that right as well as your right to answer. But, I am confused about a few things here and peronally, this could give you a forum to educate us about our misunderstandings.

    You are saying that you never went to a Commission meeting and requested additional funds for the training center of which I believe was 10,000,000? I thought that I could recall seeing you on Channel 98. And whether it is 10,000,00 for rehab or new … it is still 10,000,000 dollars to us tax payers. And the same expenses, etc apply if I am not mistaken. So, with that said wouldn’t the facility you are putting together be “your” expense and therefore another budget item on “your” budget.

    You are right, the property was to be purchased by the county for the purposes of the training center and you are correct the county has 1000’s of acres of land. However, how much of that is compatible with the training facility’s mission? How many would withstand the gun fire and diving range noise? I am not privy to the county’s land inventory, but how many properties were large and remote enough?

    With regard to your driving range, I am aware that the Navy allows you access @ Whiting and possibly NAS now. But, that is not “your” facility and you are at the whim of the Navy. In addition, that relationship could end for one reason or another and you would have to find a new facility. Where would that be?

    With regard to the shooting range, I think that I remember a debate about lead and Perdido River and its environmental effects. Has that been resolved?

    PJC was to run the facility and it was their funds to do so as part of their program which was state and student funded. You say “tax dollars” well, we need to train officers, EMTs, Firemen, etc and a consolidated training facility run by the local college seemed to me logical and economical. Especially when they had the funding to do it.

    I am sorry Sheriff, it just seems to me that giving that money back might not have been as much about the logic of this training center as it was politics and your need to make good on a promise to save money.

    With regard to the Jails, I do have an idea. However, this is huge and would require a great deal of finesse. I have always believed that we jail too many people for petty and minor infractions and I think that I have heard you agree with that in a speech. Some examples, minor VOP infractions, why can’t we make greater use of Community Service? What other punishment options are available that make more sense than locking someone because they were 5 minutes late on curfew.

    Of course, I am not saying there aren’t people who deserve to be locked up … believe me there are. However, I am positive that there are those cases which would be of better use for their infractions than costing us 40% of your budget. Wouldn’t you agree.

    With that being said, how could we get the “judicial” system to play along? What can be done and are you working on such programs? Now that would be encouraging.

    With regard to consolidation, I think that it all should be. However, I do have concerns for towns like Century .. where the feeling might be out of sight out of mind and they not get their fair share. I do have some concerns with parts of it. However, I would not be opposed to having a Sheriff that was responsible for the whole ball of wax the same as I would not be opposed to a Chief of Police. Just that I think that some positions, it is better to take politics out of it.

  • David Morgan February 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Mr. Clabaugh,

    I would suggest that you give serious consideration to getting a ‘new source’ within the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. For as with you last ‘swipe at me,’ you are once again off the mark and espousing incorrect information. But as with most gunslingers, you’ve shot the wrong target.

    Why is the Sheriff’s Office budget so large? Over 40% goes to operating the Escambia County Jail. Which provides incarceration for both the city and the county. Prior to the Lowman Administration, the Board of County Commission ran it. Want to reduce our budget? With a stroke of the pen, it can be reduced by 40%. But someone has to run, it don’t they? So a better ‘criticism’ would be if “I” was not operating it efficiently. You, or any other citizen has access to our budget. Please have a look. We are always open to constructive criticism.

    As for combining the law enforcement services (ECSO/PPD), I have yet to be shown a benefit to the public. From either a cost perspective or services prvovided. We are looking at many areas of ‘functional consolidation.’ Areas of motor pool, communications, training, etc. This will provide savings to the tax payers.

    As for the training facility that I disapproved in the first month of my administration, your information is so incorrect I’m not sure where to start in attempting to correct it. 1)The BOCC and the ECSO each had identified monies totaling approximately $11M for the proposed facility. PJC was to receive approximately $11M in STATE matching funds. However, the construction of the facility was just the begining, the personnel, maintenance, utilities, etc., were on-going expenses to be bourn by the taxpayers. I determined that we could identify adequate work-arounds and not expend that money. 2)The land had not been purchased. One of my first questions was “why are purchasing a new parcel of land when the county already owns thousands of acres?” 3) We have not asked for $10M for a new training facility. We intend to rehab, through prisoner labor, an existing county facility to meet our training needs. 4) We are looking at taking over the existing county range facility – not building a new one. 5) We have an agreement with NAS for the use of old runways for driving ranges- not building one.

    Had you heard my presentation to the BOCC/City Council joint meeting I proposed a modified version of a BRAC to assist in functionally consolidating services.

    But what do I know? “I’m just a media darling.”

    David Morgan, Sheriff
    Escambia County, FL

  • Jake February 19, 2010 at 9:08 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Rick – this whole process reeks of cigar smoke filled back rooms, winks , nods and slaps on the back by the good old boys; the ‘openess’ of the process was belied by the now-public emails, the statements about politicians being ‘under control’, and the reversal of the stance on economic development. If we are to take consolidation seriously then we need a detailed plan that has been subjected to PROLONGED public scrutiny and debate…..

    There is a rumor floating that $250K was amassed in a war chest for advertising by the spin doctors for the ad campaign – if true, one has to wonder from whose pockets it fell, and how those same pockets anticipate re-lining. Any information on this ?

  • Patrick Kozma February 19, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Two years? Do you honestly think that anyone is going work on this plan for two years? What is going to happen is, they will wait until 6 months before the plan is due and rush it to have it prepared for the next election. That is human nature. Put it off until everything around is falling apart and then spend a ton of money to have it completed by a set deadline. Can you tell me of any ammendements that will appear on the ballet in November been thouroughly debated? I don’t recall seeing any debates on the merits of Ammendment 4 Hometown Democracy. This proposal could possible change how business is done in Florida. How is this any different than The Consolidation Plan?

  • CJ Lewis February 19, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    If the consolidation plan gets tangled up in the political gauntlet, or fails to win voter support, we should try a new approach. Escambia All For One boasts on its website: “Our aim is to bring together the diverse elements of our community to research all alternatives–including unification, consolidation, separation, addition, removal or revision of any current governmental system or systems.” That sounds like a great idea. Why didn’t we try this before? That broader mission statement – all alternatives – seems like a much better idea than limiting the choices to only two options: “unification of services” or “consolidated government.” For example, changing the county’s form of government from Commission-Manager to Mayor-Commission with a full-time executive mayor and the same five part-time county commissioners might be a less radical idea most voters can support.

  • Mark Clabaugh February 19, 2010 at 11:52 am

    If I were to lay a bet, it would be that the biggest ticket items are not on there, Sherrif and Fire. The Sheriff’s department chews up over 50% of the entire county budget. I would bet that it is sizable in the city. Furthermore, we have 2 911 whereas if Fire and Police were together it would not matter. I can even go a step further in saying it is possible that had fire been consolidated, Jerry’s Cajun Cafe would have had less damage.

    Then does anyone remember the mess when the County and Clerk were to merge computer systems. The clerks office flipped out, would have nothing to do with it. Then in the end the County had to pay the computer company 1000’s of dollars for that failed deal and it was logical and would save millions.

    I was not there, however, I would assume that decisions were made in the consolidation plan in some cases as to what will fly with the constitutionals and what will not. For example; Media Darling Sheriff Morgan flat out said NO when combining police was mentioned. I have heard this from several people, including a county commissioner.

    IN fact, the ONLY reason Morgan is looking at combining training now is that he gave away $11,000,000 dollars that was already budgeted for a combined Police / fire / emergency management training facility which was to be run by PJC whom I am positive he ticked off. The land was aquired, education services aquired, the whole nine yards. Done Deal 1st Class Turn Key Training Facility.. 1st thing he did was kill it and gave back the money like some hero. Now is in the process of begging the county for another $10,000,000 for another training facility and Lord knows what to operate it each year, which would not include 1/2 of what they had already funded, including driving and shooting ranges. So, really I question his little show downtown. Unfortunately, the county has blown that money on projects so it’s gone. So, what better way than through consolidation.

    Furthermore, who has ever heard of consolidation through attrition? Didn’t you hear Jerrolds, firing employees is a huge problem for politicians. 1.) You do not want to upset the workforce and 2.) No one wants to minimize their kingdom. Therefore, the only way I ever see this happening is when the City and County are bankrupted through their foolish spending and thinking and is forced to do something different.

    They need to do consoliation like BRAC — Get a group of people who are not beholden and chosen based on their profession. Then allow it to go straight to the citizens on an up or down vote. Take the politicians OUT OF IT!!!

  • Bill Davison February 19, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Would really be interested in knowing why Independent News is not for this consolidation plan?
    More details please…….

  • Jeff DeWeese February 19, 2010 at 9:26 am

    I would support a 2 year continuance and funding from both the city and the county.

    This would also allow time for functional consolidation to be vetted and evaluated.

    Sounds like a great way forward.