Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)

As Escambia County officials begin determining what went wrong with a tourism-incentive gift card program funded primarily through BP funds following the 2010 oil spill, Florida Senate President Don Gaetz has questioned the prudence of placing more spill money—in the form of RESTORE Act dollars—in the hands of local officials. Escambia County Commission Chairman Gene Valentino described any attempts to redirect such funds as “unfair and unkind.”

Recently, the Greater Pensacola Chamber alerted the county that an undetermined amount of prepaid gift cards—primarily purchased with BP money that flowed from the county level—were missing. Escambia County Clerk of Court Pam Childers has begun an audit in an effort to determine specifics.

The mess at the Chamber follows revelations last year about the misuse of BP funds—involving a Porsche, a yacht and a suicide—in Okaloosa County. Gaetz tied the events together and said state lawmakers would have to “think twice” about how much BP money should be entrusted at the local level.

“I don’t choose to be painted with the same brush on this issue as he tried to do with Okaloosa’s experience,” Valentino said during last week’s Committee of the Whole meeting. “We stand apart and this was an entirely different circumstance and we are very good stewards of our money and I would hope that the state legislature does not use this as a strategy or a ploy to try to circumvent the real harm that could come from this event, and that’s a diminution of our authority over the RESTORE Act dollars that are coming our way. That would be unfair and unkind if our state legislature tries to prune back any authority we’ve been vested under the federal actin our management of the allocation of the RESTORE Act dollars.”

Also during last week’s COW, commissioner’s learned that funds beyond those provided by BP had been used to purchase gift cards. This fiscal year, apparently $140,000—coming from the county to the Tourism Development Council to the chamber of commerce—was spent on the prepaid cards.