Escambia County Politics

Why question Visit Pensacola? Because the public has been left out of the process

November 21, 2013

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More than likely Visit Pensacola, Inc. –the new non-profit formed by the hotel industry to be laser-focused on tourism — will be approved today to be in charge of the county’s $5-$6 million of tourism tax revenue.

The public has only had two days to review the documents that its organizers presented at the Nov. 19 committee of the whole for the Escambia County Commission. However, public input is not what the hotel industry and apparently certain members of the county commission want–which is disturbing to me.

The public has been seen more as an hindrance on this issue than as the ones who are supposed to be served by the county commission.

Democracy can be messy. The debates can be protracted. People might question the proposal and ask for changes in public forum.

I get all that, but the public should not be excluded, particularly with so much money at stake.

The entire process of moving tourism control out from under the Greater Pensacola Chamber and into a separate organization has been done to stifle debate and review. As Commissioner Lumon May has said, no one has questioned the move, only the landing.

The irony is the public and media’s questioning of the original bylaws presented in September has gotten the county a stronger and more inclusive final document. Those original documents were convoluted and filled with errors and holes–yet the county commission also passed them. The organizers took the comments and incorporated most of them in the bylaws that the county commission saw this week.

Who is to say the public couldn’t improve them even further, if given an week or two to review them?

The Escambia County Commission will set a precedent today that public input isn’t important to its deliberations and decisions, when it votes on Visit Pensacola.

The message will be that those with money, influence and personal access to the commissioners can rush their pet projects for approval with limited exposure to the public.

Our democratic process will suffer.

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