New Kids on the Block

Escambia County’s two new commissioners are forgoing any honeymoon. From the get-go, their voices have become pivotal in weighty conversations.

During their initial meeting last week, commissioners Lumon May (District 3) and Steven Barry (District 5) entered into discussions concerning both the hiring of Interim County Administrator George Touart and the structure of the county’s RESTORE Act advisory committee. Both of those issues will be discussed again in the Committee of the Whole.

Last week, commissioners began discussing the possibility of readdressing the RESTORE advisory panel, which the commission is devising to vet proposed uses for the money coming into Escambia via Clean Water Act fines stemming from BP’s 2010 oil spill. Neither Barry, nor May had any input into the advisory panel specifics.

“I’m surely interested by any opportunity to have some input,” May said Monday.

Last week, other commissioners wanted to add more seats to the committee, or change particulars in project criteria.

Barry said Monday that he’d like to look at the make-up of the committee.

“Who’s to say who is an expert,” he said of seats designated for experts if fields such as development. “Who’s to say who’s an expert in economic development?”

Barry said he didn’t feel the current outline for the yet-to-be formed committee was quite right. He suggested that perhaps the members of the panel should be appointed by the commissioners—“similar to like we make Island Authority appointments”—and said he did not agree with Commissioner Grover Robinson’s suggestion to add more members.

On the issue of Touart, who was brought back recently as interim administrator, both of the new commissioners seemed eager to move forward, and much less so to address the controversy surrounding Touart’s hiring.

Last week, a group of residents attending a public forum requested that the commissioners release Touart from his position. No one took them up on that.

“For something different [than Touart’s hiring] to happen it would take myself and my fellow new commissioner to come in and terminate an agreement with someone I have never worked with,” Barry said. “That’s not the way I want to begin.”

The District 5 commissioner said he thought three or four months seemed about the right length of time for an administrator search. Robinson had previously proposed an April deadline.

“I’m less concerned about having that line in the sand and more concerned about starting the ball rolling,” Barry said.

May also declined to continue discussing Touart’s return, also choosing to focus on finding a permanent administrator. He repeated his suggestion from last week to form a blue ribbon task force of citizens to help in the selection of an administrator.

“That’s something that’s very important to me,” May said.

The Escambia County Commission meets for its COW meeting Tuesday, 9 a.m. at the county’s downtown complex—the newly named Ernie Lee Magaha Governmental Complex.