Underhill sued over FB comments (update)

Editor’s note: County Attorney Alison Rogers emailed me this: “…the BCC recently voted to totally repeal the County Commissioner Technology policy, so it is no longer in effect.  I don’t have the meeting date offhand, but it was within the last couple of months.”

Escambia County Commissioner Doug Underhill is being sued over disparaging comments made on Facebook, according to PNJ reporter Jim Little.

The suit began with a thread created on the Facebook group Escambia Citizens Watch yet again attacking the aircraft maintenance repair and overhaul facility at the Pensacola International Airport, one of the commissioner’s favorite “red meat” topics. This time he was going after them for recruiting workers.

Political consultant Scott Miller –who worked on Commissioner Gene Valentino’s 2014 campaign in which Underhill defeated the incumbent in the GOP primary–challenged Underhill’s attack on ST Engineering.

As exchanges often go with the commissioner, the barbs got personal with Underhill:

Miller has filed a libel suit against Underhill, and according to the PNJ, the commissioner expects the taxpayers to pay his legal bills.

See Editor’s Note above. The quotes however explain Commissioner Underhill’s belief for the need for Facebook to communicate.

The county has a social media policy that Underhill and fellow Commissioner Jeff Bergosh have chosen to violate.

In 2017, Commissioner Underhill told Inweekly, “I refuse to be censored. I will not follow the county’s social media policy. The county doesn’t have authority over how I connect with my constituents.”

Underhill defended his use of Facebook because of the “very heavy number of absentee voters in my district.” He explained, “The only way they know what we’re doing is through social media. They know where their commissioner really stands. It gives them the opportunity to engage in the dialog.”

However, neither Underhill nor Bergosh did anything to change the social media policy while they chaired the county commission. Instead they have chosen to ignore it.

Underhill’s use of Escambia Citizens Watch does appear to be a work around violating the policy. From the policy manual:

“However, a commissioner may post a story forum comment or response on a blog on a site maintained by another person or media outlet regarding County business so long as the commissioner posts the comment or response using the commissioner’s actual name and the commissioner does not post a comment or response when another commissioner has already posted on that specific article or issue. A copy of any such posting shall be retained by the County. “

So the questions are:

  1. Will the commissioners agree to pay for Underhill’s legal defense?
  2. Underhill makes a serious allegation against former Interim County Administrator Larry Newsom, who left the county because Jack Brown was hired in 2014, not him, for the job. If Underhill has evidence of corruption, the evidence should be presented to the state attorney, right? Or be discussed a commission workshop in public so all can hear it – not just a Facebook group, right?
  3. Why would a commissioner attack a business for hiring people?
  4. He questioned why a ST would need to recruit if the jobs were in high demand. Has Underhill attacked Navy Federal Credit Union, Sacred Heart, Baptist and West Florida Hospital for recruiting workers – even though their jobs are also in high demand?
  5. Last month, CareerSource Escarosa partnered with Pensacola State College to host the 2019 Summer Job Fair. Job-seekers had the opportunity to network with over 50 employers seeking to fill positions in healthcare, communications, education, transportation, manufacturing, restaurants, hospitality, correctional, IT/cybersecurity, construction, banking, and aerospace industries. Does Underhill want those job fairs to be discontinued?
  6. If a commissioner choses to follow only the policies he likes, why have a policy manual at all? See Editor’s Note.