County-City Friction

After Escambia County Commissioner Steven Barry raised concerns during this morning’s agenda review session about ongoing dialogue with the city of Pensacola—over ECAT and, more specifically, library operations—Interim County Administrator George Touart laid out the landscape for the board.

“I’ll just shell the corn for you,” Touart told Barry.

The administrator explained that discussions with the city regarding ECAT and the West Florida Public Library System were not going well. Specifically, the handoff of library operations was proving difficult. There were also problems finalizing the mass transit deal.

“We all thought it was done,” said Commissioner Chairman Gene Valentino. “Didn’t the city council approve it?”

Commissioner Wilson Robertson said the county had taken the “political heat” on both the ECAT and library issues—in both instances, taxes were levied to support operations—and that the city was proving an uncooperative partner.

“May ain’t gonna like this—but maybe he can help put the heat on the mayor—but cut off every route in the city of Pensacola,” Robertson said, suggesting cutting city bus routes.

Valentino instructed Touart to relay the county’s “strong” position.

“It’s not the city council guys,” Touart clarified for the board. “Please don’t blame the city council.”

“It’s the city administrator that has heartburn with this, for whatever reason,” said County  Attorney Alison Rogers, referring to the ECAT issue.

Touart explained that the administrator was making increasingly controversial changes to proposed agreements. He said that each time the county thought an acceptable offer was in play, “it comes back with another statement, ‘we want more control, we want more control.’”

“The first couple of times it was more innocuous things,” Rogers added, “Now it’s just one thing after the other.”

The board suggested that Commissioner Lumon May approach Mayor Ashton Hayward.

“Because, Mr. City Administrator is working for the mayor, so we know where his marching orders are coming from,” Valentino said.

Touart also detailed several issues the county currently had with the city’s position on the library system. He said the city wanted the county to purchase furniture currently in city-owned library buildings—County Numbers Cruncher Amy Lavoy said the city was asking $650,000 for the furniture—and also wanted the county to foot the bill for future maintenance and improvements.

“That is not the handshake I had with the mayor on the library,” Valentino said.

Touart also said the city was asking that the county pay rent.

“They want us to pay what?” Valentino asked. “Did you say rent?”

Valentino suggested the city should deed the property to the county if it expected to handoff maintenance-and-improvement responsibilities.

“Now, that’s acceptable,” Barry said.

A request for comment from the city of Pensacola has not been immediately granted.