What happened at ‘Group for a Better Government’ meetings

Inweekly received today emails on the meetings of  the “roughly 20-member group” that is pushing for a county charter study – going by the name,”Group for a Better Government.”  The daily newspaper had been copied on all of them, giving them exclusive insight into the discussions until now.

For citizens to want to examining changing government is a healthy discussion.  People also should know how the “sausage” was made in coming up with the proposal before the board.

At the first group meeting in May,  John Peacock presented two ideas for the group’s mission:

1) Develop a platform and find good candidates to run or

2) Change the form of government to an elected County Executive.

The meeting came after Peacock had written a viewpoint in the daily newspaper calling for an elected County Executive: “Want to Save Escambia County?

When they met again in June, the group agreed their mission was a combination of both ideas.

People were given assignments:

Rusty Branch, Dave Murzin – PAC Formation: “Responsible for researching process and costs associated with PAC formation.  Probably $ needed. Start to develop a possible list of donors.”

Jerry Maygarden, Ken Bell, Ed Fleming – Charter Draft Development: “Responsible for drafting a preliminary skeleton/outline of a charter to start educating the public.”

Dickie Appleyard, Myra Van Hoose, John Peacock – Activate Community/Marketing: “Responsible for developing a preliminary plan for public education/marketing.”

Vicki Campbell, JC Tellefson, Al McMillan, Deb Corbin – Talent Search: “Responsible for finding additional talent to build and diversify the group as well as individuals potentially interested in running for office. ”

Also: “The recommendation was made by Jerry Maygarden that the County should hire or appoint an independent body to apportion/redistrict the County to keep politics out of this.  I will work with Jerry to determine the best way for us to pursue that recommendation. ”  

Peacock wrote the commissioners about it three days after the meeting:  John Peacock letter.

The group met again in July.  Several individuals agreed to approach county commissioners to get a charter formation commission on the agenda.  Why? “This would clearly be the easiest and bypass the need for a petition drive. ”

The group decided to form a 501(c)4 instead of a PAC because “the general consensus was the 501c4 provided the the most amount of flexibility for our efforts.”

Other items the group felt equally strong about were

1) Developing a political platform in which to engage possible candidates

2) Developing position papers to advocate for “functional consolidation” and other ideas to improve government.  Example, increase Mayor salary to attract more candidates.

3) Continuing to identify quality individuals to run

4) Continue to identify individuals to help with our group

The August meeting had in attendance– John Peacock, Rusty Branch, Brian Wyer, Ken Bell, Butch Hansen, Dave Murzin, Dickie Appleyard, and JC Tellefson.

The following items were discussed.

– Formation of 501c4.  Mark Herron, attorney in Tallahassee, agreed to do  formation documents and some initial reporting will be between $4-5000.  Peacock would check with Ed Fleming to see if there is a lower cost alternative.

– “BOCC Chairman Bender has agreed to put a discussion of county government on the agenda for the Committee of the Whole meeting on 10/14.  We discussed a variety of ways of gathering community sentiment around this item and ultimately garnering support for the effort.   The ask for this meeting will be to form a commission/committee to study forms of government that may be more appropriate for Escambia County and report back.”


– Dickie is going to reach out to local media (PNJ, Cat country, WearTv) to get a sense of support. (Inweekly, WCOA, NorthEscambia.com weren’t listed)

– Rusty is going to identify those individuals with relationships to members of the BOCC

– Brian Wyer is going to indentifying community leaders that we can approach for support. Brian also recommended doing virtual town halls to educate citizens about the “why”

Peacock was scheduled to speak via zoom to the League of Women Voters on 9/9. He added, “PYP will either be involved in that meeting or we will plan another meeting to garner support.”

The emails reveal little about the 9/20 meeting: “I apologize for the tardiness of the recap from the 9/20 meeting.  GREAT Meeting!  Helped to formulate a plan for the request we plan to make at the 11/9 BOCC COW meeting.  I am working on the Escambia County Charter Study Commission document and plan to have that for your review next week.  We can discuss and revise at the 10/18 meeting.”


7 thoughts on “What happened at ‘Group for a Better Government’ meetings

  1. Melissa,
    The names were made public by WEAR and an image posted when someone gave the confidential complaint to Chorus Nylander and they published a photo of the cover letter in March of 2019. Was she feigning ignorance, ignorant or lying?

    Speculation of course. but perhaps she was pretending she was coming in neutral without a preconceived outcome or bias and just wanted to shut you up and get you out of the way.

    Looking back, I wonder if the Group for Better Government sent her in to destroy rather than improve the county government.

    With Gilley naming Maygarden to help, and him being on the group to end the county government, to me that lends a bit of credence to the theory, (reality)

    Another Fox in the Hen House.

  2. Anon 4:50, I provided Ms. Gilley with the names of the five original complaints over the phone. She thanked me a few days later and said they had been so far hidden she had to go to the Clerk’s office to obtain them. Afterwards, she stated that she was ignorant of what complaints I was referencing, both publicly and privately. That’s when I knew I had made a horrible mistake in judgment. :(

    Anon 6:38, David Bear forgot to mention how Doug came about his contracting license to begin with. Now those are some interesting documents.

  3. Three of the county commisioners just reelected are doing just fine. The misinformation coming from different corners has been damaging and now seeing this list of names is an eye opener. Bender is doing fine unless these people have sunk their talons too far into him.
    I’m going to add a quote in case you missed it of what the problem on the Board of County Commissioners is and has been. From a public statement made by David Bear to Douglas Underhill on Escambia Citizen Watch facebook today:
    “David M. Bear
    Douglas Underhill Your unfettered bullying and defaming of citizens and county staff are coming to an end. People are taking a stand and many complaints have been and more are being filed. Your public censure made no secret of how the rest of the BOCC feels about you and how they intend to discipline you in the future.
    The findings of probable cause for your ethics law violations have revealed how you’ve had your wallet open for quid pro quo gifts that you’ve refused to disclose. Your intentional lack of transparency, evidenced by refusing to disclose the personal gifts you received from lobbyists and other citizens, is the definition of corruption and a violation of the law. The Florida Commission on Ethics and DOAH will both have the opportunity soon to tell you what they think about this activity.
    Refusing to fulfill public record requests continues to show the pattern of your corruption and disdain for the rules and laws you swore to uphold. What other military officer do you know who admittedly violates citizen’s 1st Amendment rights? You don’t like when people confront your corruption and lies so you block them and hide their comments so you can try to maintain that appearance of martyrdom you try to portray. You’ve already been told by the court you can’t continue to use your official position as both a sword and a shield. The state and federal courts see right through your disinformation and aren’t going to be happy to see you continuing it.
    Would you like to discuss all of the illegal construction you’ve done at your house without proper permits and other necessary documentation? Didn’t you file a claim with NFIP for substantial damage to your home due to the flood on April 29, 2004, which put you in excess of FEMA’s 50% rule? You told everybody you received a $72k payment for the roughly $109k assessed value of your home (66% damage to value). Although you fail to agree that payment is fair, you’re still obligated to comply with FEMA rules, Escambia County Municipal Codes, and State of Florida Building Codes. Living in a special flood district has many additional requirements for repairing substantial damage caused by floods, more requirements than other areas of the county. As a former licensed contractor, certainly you don’t claim ignorant of this. Here is a list of your obligations to repair the damage in 2014: 1. Complete and sign construction permit applications, 2. Provide an official elevation certificate, 3. Complete a damage repair worksheet, 4. Complete property owner’s damage affidavit, 5. Complete contractor damage affidavit, 6. Provide a pre-flood appraised market value of the structure from a licensed appraiser, 7. Approved permits, 8. Inspection reports for construction (erection, alteration, demolition, and moving of buildings and structures), and 9. All documentation granting exemptions under the county municode Section 14-53 for improvements, if any exemptions were granted and all variance documentation as described in the county municode Section 14-79. If all of those things were completed and provided, the county would have issued inspections and a certificate of occupancy, but none of those things have been done and there is inspection report and no certificate of occupancy for the construction repairs made for the damage caused by the 2004 flooding. The building official filed a notice of determination that work needed to be conducted constituting substantial improvement and/or repair of substantial damage and yet you built the house back out of compliance with the FEMA 50% rule, Escambia County Municipal Codes, and State of Florida Building Codes. In 2020, you received another letter of determination of substantial damage and an SBA loan to make the repairs, but you have yet to apply for permits to make these repairs to bring your house into compliance with the FEMA 50% rule, Escambia County Municipal Codes, and State of Florida Building Codes. Why do you think these rules apply to everyone else but not you? Didn’t you still maintain your contractor’s license in 2014 when you made all of those repairs without permits (is that a felony??)? I can’t wait to hear what DBPR and FEMA think about all of that. Certainly, the county building inspector will inspect your work and require compliance.
    Want to discuss your misuse of a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization to inure to your own special private gain? Accepting donations of jet skis, trailers, and parts are reportable assets. Promising to raffle a couple of jet skis is a reportable liability. Holding spring training camps at your house and charging $50/person/day registration fees to participate during the 13-day camp is reportable revenue. Sponsorships are also reportable revenue. Paying trainers to participate is a reportable expense. Purchasing equipment and parts to repair jet skis is a reportable expense. Using revenue for any use is a reportable expense. Shall I go on about the reporting obligations of a tax-exempt organization to the IRS and how the IRS feels about individuals who use a tax-exempt organization to inure to their own special private gain (I could guess it’s probably the same thing the Ethics Commission thinks about it, or worse since this is criminal)? I’m looking forward to hearing what the IRS will think about that.
    Privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” When you filed for bankruptcy, you received immunity to protect your interests against the interests of your lenders (including your own children’s education funds, as you’ve mentioned on multiple occasions). You defame people and hide behind the shield of your office to be immune from the consequences of your actions. Your actions are privilege, by definition. I’ve never tried to command the actions of any politicians, and it’s unfortunate for your claim that there is no one else to corroborate it with first-person experience.
    For someone who has been proven to be privileged and continually violates the law, I think you’re in no position to point any fingers. Do you?”

  4. Yes what Melissa said, ( I don’t know quite as much but I know from watching court cases, public posts and news article, I’m not familiar with all the debris hauling claims, I wasn’t paying attention to that) But I’ve found her to be accurate and willing to put it out there.

    But just as an observer of the county;
    There is so much more detail and the fault can also laid at Jack Brown’s feet with the hiring of the past medical director. Much of that has been covered on Bergosh Blog recently.

    Four of the commissioners gave Administrator free rein and time, — they were not acting as chief executive officers, so that statement can’t stand Mr. Lewis. If anyone interfered, out of his wheelhouse, it was Underhill.– starting back with Lavoy and Weaver in 2019.

    The BCC let Gilley go, because, “It was not a good fit” It was not retaliatory.
    They were kind, and decisive and probably really can’t discuss litigation brought on by Edler but the false narrative must be countered.

    Note so far three of the paramedic’s cases have been essentially dismissed.

  5. “the real problem in Escambia County is “not” its form of government. The problem is that the commissioners need to go to commissioner school.”

    Mr. Lewis, the real problem in Downtown Charterland is not just their form of committee work. The problem is that the participants need to consult some Cliff’s Notes on the County.

    There aren’t many people on the lists Rick made public yesterday that would seem to have much knowledge of what has actually transpired per County business as of late; in fact, one of the through-lines for participation seems to be an indifference to keeping tabs on some basic realities about the last couple of years.

    Worse still, the handful of committee members and cc’d set who would have concrete information are some of the same people who had a big hand in making a mess of things. (Which the BOCC is now straightening out, a process that will necessitate some time. It takes a lot longer to recover and rebuild functionality than it does to dismantle it.)

    Your post was very helpful in providing detailed information about the way-back machine, which I always appreciate. But per usual, some of the content is glaring in its inaccuracy. For anyone who follows the meetings, it’s clear that you haven’t watched them for a long time. And your counter-factuals seem to be gleaned entirely from the malicious disinformation streams courtesy of the bought and paid for PNJ.

    Redistricting/Charter/Consolidation aside, in regard to your opinion of the commissioners, I’ll say simply that it would be fair to hold off judgement until they have had a chance to correct for an administration that was actively and unethically working at cross purposes against them for the benefit of special interests, perhaps including the folks desirous of replacing an appointed administrator with an Executive Mayor.

    We are in total agreement that the BOCC should have beaten down their Southern Gentlemen compulsion and terminated the previous administrator for cause, making public all of the screaming administrative failures that were spiraling the County into full-on chaos. In my opinion, it was a grave tactical error they did not do so. Since they didn’t, having had a closer view of all of this than I ever would have wished my advocacy for transparency and due process would end up affording me, I’ll again issue a necessary corrective to your praise for Ms. Gilley’s performance. The following is a short list of the numerous administrative debacles I addressed personally, and repeatedly, at the podium.

    –Jerry Maygarden was hired without prior knowledge of the Board, the Board and the public was informed he was working for one dollar, but his salary was quietly increased to $37,000 for a few months’ consultancy
    –2 well-compensated Assistant Administrators were hired and 2 existing Directors were elevated to create 2 “Deputy” Administrator roles with accompanying raises
    –A new “Ethics and Compliance” office quickly burgeoned to at least a quarter of a million dollars in staffing, including one of the DOH investigators brought in to this office before the DOH investigations on County staff were even complete
    –Blue Arbor temporary staffing costs skyrocketed


    –During executive proxy during two states of emergency that were unnecessarily protracted, numerous sole-source contracts–including expensive and perhaps unnecessary consultancies–were made without prior consent of the Board
    –The bids of a number of small vendors were refused on wood chip removal because they did not have County licenses, but one large company was allowed to obtain a County license retroactively and then awarded the entire contract
    –A connected company was allowed the sole contract on the dump, with some reports claiming it was all happening at a single site
    –Multiple expensive software and technology changes were represented as crucial for operations and efficiencies, some of which were incompatible with other systems, and at least one of which then had to be replaced, with a result of zero efficiencies obtained and at great cost to the taxpayers
    –A large national consulting firm was contracted to advise on the purchase of government software, but was not asked to produce a standard report on government transparency
    –A large sewer expansion project that was not on an emergency timeline was allowed to obtain a contract with no competition, without BOCC knowledge, and with the back-up narrative disclosing multiple procurement irregularities left off the agenda; the Board was inaccurately informed in a public meeting that they hadn’t voted on the contract yet, reluctance was shown to their demand to put it back out for bid, and additional information was then added to the original backup that placed the blame for the re-bid on citizen input


    –The intentional hiding of the existence of five toxic workplace complaints that never received due process during the previous administration continued, while the Board was inaccurately informed that the Administrator was unaware of the complaints (I provided her with all five names, three of whom were later arrested), and multiple public misstatements were made that the complaints had received due process.
    –One of the arrested first responders was terminated with no due process or notice (who learned of her dismissal through the PNJ)
    –Administration actively participated with HR in another gross failure of due process on a separate complaint that resulted in a 200K settlement against the County
    –Many veteran members of staff were serially targeted for dismissal or forced resignation/retirement (including the Procurement Director), some of them failing to complete their short tenures to full retirement as a result
    –Multiple people were placed under pressure, with no prior knowledge, to make the decision to resign or be terminated before they left the room
    –Employees coined the term “Fire Me Friday”
    –A middle manager was relieved of duty for the reason of an eliminated position, with someone else quickly hired back into that position
    –Termination letters sent late or to the wrong addresses on multiple occasions
    –A questionable investigation was initiated on an alleged “listening device” in the antechamber of the administrative office after the administrator was overheard yelling about leaks from her office; searches of commissioners’ offices conducted
    –An “investigation” was initiated on an employee alleging the employee had stolen Medicare funds it was not possible for the employee to steal; the investigation was dropped under pressure a few days later, citing error
    –The last two years have been the lowest point of morale that veteran members of staff have ever witnessed at the County


    –Administration refused to meet directly with key roles in Public Safety and covered for the Medical Director’s toxic workplace and targeting employees
    –The DOH, FDLE, and SAO were provided a playbook of cherry picked documentation and pre-orchestrated narratives during investigations
    –The Board was repeatedly provided with inaccurate information about EMS staffing and concrete plans to address it
    –Gross workplace fraternization in flagrant defiance of County policy was ignored, impacting morale, reporting structure, and hiring/firing/advancement decisions
    –Failure to act on concrete evidence of payroll, procurement, and conflict of interest problems in Fire Administration
    –A commissioner to was allowed to protect EMS staff without the proper certification to obtain it with no repercussions
    –The Fire Chief position was not adequately advertised, and instead things were set in motion for a preferred hire; as a result a second search from scratch was necessary
    –An out-and-out refusal by Administration to implement basic covid strategies to keep County employees and the citizens they serve safe had dire consequences; nonetheless administration continued to refuse to make the proper PPE widely available.
    –Failure to address serious concerns with medical and testing inadequacies and basic human rights at the jail, road camp, work release, and juvenile detention center.
    –A thick stack of QAs on ambulance calls was allowed to gather dust on Dr. Edler’s desk


    –2 years of labor negotiations with the ATU ground to a halt, resulting in the need for an official impasse to be filed by Administration
    –10M in funds lobbied for by the ATU to keep ECAT staff and riders safe during the pandemic were horded while ECAT staff went with no PPE, in an attempt to instead use the funds to close a budgetary shortfall
    –Failure to obtain much-needed new equipment including buses and maintenance specialty tools.
    –Refusal to provide the required uniform allowances for the entirety of previous Admin’s tenure, forcing some bus drivers to wash their clothes every night
    –The need to restructure bus routes was ignored
    –The Paratransit system received insufficient oversight, resulting in numerous unfair labor practice charges that are currently pending
    –The HR department targeted multiple senior employees at ECAT for termination and forced resignations
    –The ECAT building suffered gross deterioration
    –Unfair treatment of Union President Michael Lowery produced an award in his favor under arbitration for a 1-day suspension with all fees paid by the County and a dropped 3-day suspension arbitration; his termination arbitration is still pending.


    –Multiple bureaucratic layers were used to buffer communication and afford plausible deniability, with statements on numerous occasions that Administration had no prior knowledge of issues brought publicly to the board
    –The administrative office refused to communicate with the County Attorney’s office on multiple and important legal matters
    –Intentional leaks of sensitive information to various media outlets were overseen and/or covered up
    –There was no answer provided to how a commissioner’s sensitive information had been made public through a public records request
    –The public records request system was centralized under Administration to track all requests, resulting in the failure of a large percentage of records being adequately fulfilled
    –The Board was consistently provided with inaccurate information in response to their queries about important matters of business during meetings
    Again, this is a not by any means a complete recounting, but simply a list off the top of my head on the matters that I had to confront during my advocacy. If you have any questions about the items I have listed, I will be happy to go into more detail.

  6. Bottom line They want to consolidate, be able to raise property taxes DOUBLE what the county can. The max at the county is 10mil. This lets them charge 20 mil.
    Show up at the BOCC and tell them that’s what they want to do and ask to form a Committee to do that OCT 14. RIGHT!!!! Is Bender actually going to put that on the agenda for Thursday? Well they got the eyes on them now. I bet they can’t even get a petition.

    Dream ON.


    Chapter 200

    View Entire Chapter
    200.141 Millage following consolidation of city and county functions.—Those cities or counties which now or hereafter provide both municipal and county services as authorized under ss. 9-11 and 24 of Art. VIII of the State Constitution of 1885, as preserved by s. (6)(e), Art. VIII of the State Constitution of 1968, shall have the right to levy for county, district and municipal purposes a millage up to 20 mills on the dollar of assessed valuation under this section. For each increase in the county millage above 10 mills which is attributable to an assumption of municipal services by a county having home rule, or for each increase in the municipal millage above 10 mills which is attributable to an assumption of county services by a city having home rule, there shall be a decrease in the millage levied by each and every municipality which has a service or services assumed by the county, or by the county which has a service or services assumed by the city. Such decrease shall be equal to the cost of that service or services assumed, so that an amount equal to that cost shall be eliminated from the budget of the county or city giving up the performance of such service or services.

  7. As noted in an earlier report, I was one of only two appointees that the city was allowed to make to the 25-member Escambia County Consolidation Study Commission that met from June 2009 to January 2010 when it unlawfully abolished itself out of existence. I was one of four members to vote NO opposed to our ridiculous plan. Three of the four who voted NO were city residents. Before the local state legislative delegation meeting, State Representative Clay Ford asked me to come see him. I did. We discussed the plan and he asked me to explain why I had voted NO. He was horrified. He asked me to give him a brief summary of the plan. I went home, wrote it up and came back to see him. He read it and then called to say that he would be voting NO at that evening’s meeting. Then, one of the five members didn’t show up. I was later told that he was told not to come. The four members present seemed to be going to vote 3 NO and 1 YES. Ford decided to vote YES creating a 2-2 tie. He later told me that he didn’t want to get anyone mad at him. I know all of the gory details of the work of our commission except for the out-of-the-sunshine meetings that very obviously were being held behind closed doors. After our work was done, I printed out all of the commission’s written records on heavy bond paper and deposited them with Escambia County recommending that they deposit them in the UWF Library should anyone ever want to review them. In my role as the commission’s Secretary, I created audio recordings of all of our meetings and still have them. I also uploaded them to a website that the Hass Center created for us at the direction of Dr. Rick Harper our Vice Chairman. Derek Cosson birddogged us and identified an error in my meeting minutes when we did something dumb. I had to listen to the tape 20 times but, finally, in slow motion, I could hear what Cosson had heard. Opps. I notified the commission members but they had already abolished us out of existence. Pat Crawford with UWF was able to televise many of our meetings. In sum, UWF should have a lot of records about our 2009/2010 commission. As I understand this effort, the Peacock Plan is to create a “County Executive” form of government as described in Section 125.84(1), Florida Statutes. However, there are two other forms of county charter government described in Section 125.84. That said, the real problem in Escambia County is “not” its form of government. The problem is that the commissioners need to go to commissioner school. They simply do not know what a commissioner does. They interfere repeatedly with the County Administrator to include the recent firing of Janice Gilley when she refused to act like the commission’s barking dog saying whatever they wanted her to say on the annuity issue. I would not have voted to hire Gilley based on her lack of prior executive experience but the truth is that she actually did a pretty good job for two years. When Commissioner Steven Barry said that he didn’t want to air dirty laundry about Gilley’s firing I think he was talking about “his” dirty laundry. Many years ago, Commissioner Gene Valentino once best described the problem to include him as part of the problem. He said that county government was hard when you had five Chief Executive Officers. Actually, under state law, Escambia County only has one Chief Executive Officer and that is the County Administrator. There are probably going to be two new commissioners on the BOCC in November 2022 so maybe we should hold off and see how that turns out. I know first hand that one of the commissioners has actually asked someone to run against one of the commissioners up for election in 2022 so that should be interesting too. It’s like a little nest of vipers. In 2008, John Peacock invited me to lunch telling me that he had been a Nuclear Power Submarine Officer in the Navy. He told me how he was manipulating the Pensacola Charter Review Commission Chairwoman Crystal Spencer and how the people backing the future county consolidated government effort – described by him as “important area businessmen – e.g. the downtown crowd) – would back Peacock’s bid to be the Strong County Mayor. Heaven help us if that happens.

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