Jeremy's Notebook

Valentino Vents

March 7, 2013

valentinoEscambia County Commission Chairman Gene Valentino learned about the mess over at the chamber of commerce a few days ago.

“I’m a little disappointed with the whole thing,” he said this morning. “I don’t wish any ill will to the chamber, but boy, am I disappointed.”

The commission chairman learned about the problem from the head of the Greater Pensacola Chamber.

“Jim Hizer pulls me aside and says, ‘hey, can I talk to you?,’” Valentino recalled. “He said, ‘we’ve got a problem and I don’t know what to do about it.’”

Apparently, there are issues with the chamber’s BP-financed gift card program. While chamber officials are keeping quiet until a meeting scheduled for tomorrow, Valentino relays that the organization was missing about $170,000 worth of cards.

In 2011, the county commission chipped in $2.4 million of BP grant money to be used for the gift-card program. The cards were used as incentives for tourists.

During a meeting on Tuesday, with Interim Country Administrator George Touart, Escambia Clerk of Court Pam Childers, as well as county legal and financial staff, Hizer informed Valentino that the chamber had been able to wrap its arms around some of the issue and was now missing half as much.

“We sat down and we heard Jim’s story,” Valentino said. “Now, they’re down to $80,000 in cards.”

But the chairman said the chamber head was unable to say where the recovered cards had gone. And there was still an $80,000 problem.

“At which time I immediately looked at the county clerk and said, ‘we’re freezing all assets except for economic development,’” Valentino said.

The chairman said that Childers, working with the chamber’s firm, Saltmash, Cleaveland & Gund, was now looking into— “we’re not calling this an investigation, we’re calling it an audit”—the matter.

“So, that investigation, excuse me, audit, is underway,” Valentino said, adding that the commission expected a report “ASAP.”

“Five commissioners are not happy at all,” he said.

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  • joe March 14, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    It is scary to know this same cast of characters are about to get a windfall of how many 10s of millions of BP funds!?

    Grover, speak up and tell us what’s really going on or is it plainly lack of accountablity? No one else in the know will inform the citizens.

  • Perdido=Lost March 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    GV and the Perdido Chamber of Commerce are like two heads of the same beast. The “We Are Perdido Key” Facebook Page shows some of GV’s emails where he does what the Chamber privately lobbied for (Perdido Key Beach name change) while the Chamber publicly denies it.
    Do you have the ability to get a commissioner to do your bidding while hiding in the shadows? Nope, gotta be in the club!

  • Layla March 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Again another debacle – public dollars gone, stolen, wasted and no oversight. The BP money came to the County. The County is accountable to the citizens for how it was managed. Same with the bed tax, if the County is going to collect it they should be held accountable for how is is spent. Correct me if I am wrong, but where else does anyone know of the Chamber of Commerce, an industry service organization which exists solely to promote it’s member’s for profit businesses – funded by public tax dollars? Why are all these Chambers of Commerce (another question – why more than one?) not self supporting?

  • L.Laird March 7, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Citizens of P-cola & County continue to fund the Chamber of Commerce, which in reality is just an extension of the GOOD OLD BOYS CLUB OF ESCAMBIA. They have brainwashed us citizens to believe that the Chamber is really doing a good job looking out for us poor folks. In fact, they use our Tax Dollars$$$ to pay themselves huge $$$ salary’s and so far has produce NOTHING…other than funding Pensacola Beach Hotel owners with hundreds of thousands of $$$ worth of free PR money. Plus now Chamber can’t figure out where a few $80.000 or so tickets went. When is the average citizen going to demand that the City/County tax payers is NO LONGER GOING TO FUND THE CHAMER AND IT’S BUSINEES OWNERS WITH OUR MONEY. We get nothing from it, so why should we continue to help the GOB to continue to RIP US OFF???

  • jeeperman March 7, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Is Valentino a member of the business owners club known as the Chamber?

    About the funds………..just wait a few more days and they will have figured out some creative accounting and the “problem” will be solved.
    That same creative accounting will be applied to the millions that are about to start flowing into the county coffers via the BP to government payoff.

    • Rick Outzen March 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm

      I am on the chamber board –along with the other major media, PNJ and WEAR TV 3. I assure you that I will be at the meeting tomorrow and will not let this get whitewashed. This is a serious matter.