Before wading fully into his Monday morning presser, Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson used the occasion to wish a city resident happy birthday. Francis Johnson is celebrating her 100th birthday this week.
“How are you doing today?” the mayor asked Johnson.
“I’m doing pretty good,” she replied.
“I understand that you’re coming up on a big birthday?” Robinson said.
“Yes. I was born January 29, 1920,” Johnson told him.
Johnson, joined by members of her family, was presented with a plaque and a bouquet of flowers. Mayor Robinson noted how he too would celebrate a big birthday soon, as he was turning 50 this year.
“I’ve worked all my life to get to half your age,” the mayor said.
Johnson’s daughter told the mayor that her mother had told the family that he use to be her lawyer when she owned a paint store: “She was the first black person in Pensacola to own a paint store.”
The mayor clarified that it must have been his grandfather, Grover Robinson, Jr: “Before the Civil Rights era he had many African American clients, one of the few attorneys in town that would do that.”
Last week, Cedric Alexander, a retired law enforcement professional, began the training sessions that the city contracted with him to conduct with the Pensacola Police Department. Mayor Robinson said Monday that the training was going well so far.
“They’ve been very impressed and I think they’re learning a lot,” he said.
Robinson noted that his first budget increased the police department’s training — “we more than doubled training” — and that he anticipated Alexander’s tenure being instructive.
“We’re very excited about what he brings,” Robinson said. “He’s done a little bit of everything. Seen it, came up from a beat cop over in Leon County. So, he’s experienced sort of everything within the realm of policing and he’s well knowledgable, well versed.”
Alexander — who retired to the local area and has also been selected to fill a vacant ECUA seat — was brought on board to facilitate various types of training with the department following an even last July during which an officer fatally shot a man; a grand jury’s findings also eventually recommended additional training for the department.
Robinson said Monday that he was not sure how long Alexander would be working with the police department.
“Each phase could be different, but he’s not just teaching one thing. And eventually we’d like him to kind of try to help pull together some ideas for that citizens group that we could work with,” the mayor said. “I don’t have a definitive date of when he’ll be done, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s still working under contract six months from now. Not on the same thing the entire six months, but we probably will have different things to engage with him on over that period.”
The citizen’s group the mayor mentioned is a concept suggested by community group Dream Defenders in the wake of the July shooting of Tymar Crawford. The group is meant to have some oversight, or in some way offer advice or recommendations — the group has yet to be fully defined — to the police department. Robinson said he wasn’t sure when the city would put such a group together, but that the concept had been mentioned to Alexander and that it was “one of the things we wanted to get to” with the consultant.
“I think it’s going to happen,” the mayor said, “but I don’t have anything at this particular time and I think he’s focused right now on doing training with the police force.”
East Hill Stormwater Oasis?
The city has plans to expand the stormwater pond at the intersection of 12th Avenue and Cross Street. The expansion involved the purchase of four pieces of property in the area and is being funded by the state through a Department of Emergency Management hazard mitigation grant.
“As you know 12th Avenue floods terribly up and down that area,” said Derrik Owens, director of public works and facilities.
The stormwater pond expansion, however, will not get the treatment of stormwater management projects in the downtown core, where sites have been transformed into attractive parks with a useful water feature.
“There are going to be some improvements, with landscaping and things like that, the fencing, but no it’s not going be the level we’re use to seeing in the downtown wet ponds,” Owens said.
The reason that this project in East Hill will not feature such improvements, Owens explained, is because it is meant to be a dry pond — only capturing water during heavy rain events — instead of a full time wet pond.
“Unfortunately,” Owens said, “the pond was meant to be deep and dry — not wet like the ponds that we have downtown — to maximize the amount of water that goes into them, and thus minimize the flooding for that entire neighborhood.”
Both Escambia County and the city of Pensacola have experience a recent uptick in gun violence. Recent incidents in the city include the shooting of a Dollar General store clerk and a rolling shootout that involved a car crash into a McDonald’s parking lot.
Mayor Robinson said that the city’s police department was focused on tackling the issue, assuring citizens that it was a priority the city was taking seriously.
“We are on top of trying to do the best we can,” the mayor said. “We are engaged in this challenge and we will find a way to rise to to address it.”
On Monday evening, Mayor Robinson is joining Escambia County Administrator Janice Gilley at a CivicCon event at the Saenger Theater. Each will outline their respective visions for the upcoming year.
Mayor Robinson said that his remarks would consist of “a slight look back on the past year,” but “mainly a look forward to the things we want to do.”
“I tend to think the priorities fall under three things: public safety, economic, and improved amenities,” Robinson said. “I think those are three things that we’re going to be focused on at city and pushing forward in the next year.”