Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pensacola's Maritime 'Pork': The Inside Story

A 2800-plus word interview with retired U.S. District judge Lacy Collier, who served for three years as volunteer chairman of the Maritime Park planning commission, appears above the fold in today's News Journal. ["Judge Speaks on Maritime Park Process"] Three things caught our eye.
  1. Collier remains crabby and disdainful as ever over public input into the project. It may be some sort of a legal thing with him. "The Sunshine Law," he says, is "the most disastrous thing ever to come down the pike in terms of getting things done." Then he adds:
    It's like the lawsuit (against the board regarding the question of whether the public had a right to speak at CMPA meetings). Anybody who can understand the English language knows the Sunshine Law does not say anything about (public) participation at a meeting.
    Which misses the point, of course. Whether compelled by law or not, are there any serious arguments against listening to the public's views about a planned public park on public land which needed voters' approval and would be financed with public finds? Pettifoggery over what the law compels hardly is an answer. But as Collier, himself, says by now "that's just a sidelight."

  2. Far more convincing is Collier's candid take that, "Unfortunately, the City Council has gone along with making this park, in my opinion, a commercial park and not a people's park."
    If you go back to the original (concept), you see limited commercial (on the north end of the project).
    * * *
    I don't care if there's never a (commercial) development on the property — because that was not the thing. We want people to have a restaurant to go to, and such things as that, but that was never, ever a primary goal in my mind for this project.
    It's pretty clear over-commercialization of the Maritime Park is why Judge Collier resigned as chairman of the commission: "I was unwilling to lead into a commercial park," he says, "and I certainly wasn't willing to follow into a commercial park, so that means get out of the way."

  3. Finally, after 'sitting down' with him 'on several occasions' the judge developed a deep distrust in his "gut" for Jack Scott Davison. [corrected by reader] Davison is the private developer to whom the city has given the construction contract.
    One of the first things he told me was that the museum property needed to be "his," that it was the prime property on the site and was wasted on the museum. That to me was totally the wrong attitude; that was one of the three legs of the park and all of a sudden (he didn't want it).
    * * *
    And, of course, we hired (consultant) Owen Beitsch, paid him nearly 50 grand, and his recommendation was for the other (bidder). I put a great deal of faith in that.
Collier makes it crystal clear, too, that he is very skeptical about Davison and his ever-shifting corporate 'partners' and bond guarantors. The net worth of the individuals heading these companies, he points out, means nothing. The question is whether their corporate entities can get bonded. That should take a few hours, or days at worst. Instead, it's taken months -- and still no bond.

Running alongside the extended interview is a PNJ editorial that strikes a plaintive, very nearly desperate, tone ["The Same Old Pensacola?"]:
The Community Maritime Park is not about a baseball stadium, an amphitheater or a museum. It is not about New Market Tax Credits, bonds, developer funding, the MAGI Group, MPDP, retail stores, parking lots or the tents of the homeless.

It is not about Mike Wiggins, Jim Reeves, Mort O'Sullivan, Quint Studer, Lacey Collier, Collier Merrill, Ed Spears or the assortment of lawyers involved. It isn't even about the project's patriarchs: the late Vince Whibbs, mayor of Pensacola, the late Adm. Jack Fetterman.

Not now it isn't. It's about getting it done.
At bottom, the newspaper sobs, it doesn't matter if the park is good, or bad, or too commercial, or too non-commercial. Something has to be built or it will be evidence it's "the same Pensacola."

Odd, that. This is the very attitude -- 'It doesn't matter if it's terrible, just build it' -- that we always thought was "the same old Pensacola."
minor edit 4-13 am


Anonymous said...

Ya think the Journal was talking about your Front Page blog?

"Some no doubt thought it fitting, rather than ironic, that on the day Mayor Wiggins' call for a possible city takeover of the park was spread across the PNJ's front page, the same front page carried the story of a county commissioner who has been ordered to face a grand jury."

Anonymous said...

Who is "Jack Davidson"? Do you mean "Scott Davison"?

C.J. Lewis said...

In the public's Sunshine Law lawsuit the plaintiffs are just asking the court to clarify what the Florida Supreme Court when it wrote the public has "a right to be present and to be heard" during public meetings. So far the four judges who have ruled on the case all assure us that being heard doesn't imply a right to speak.

However, from the very start in September 2006 the council could have required the CMPA to use the same public speaking rules as itself and all other boards, authorities and commissions. This past Thursday Councilwoman DeWeese was the first to ever press the issue and the council agreed that the public should be allowed to comment on agenda items during CMPA meetings. After 3.5 years this did happen for the first time on Friday at the CMPA meeting. Of course, it's a pretty moot exercise given that the CMPA approved the final site plan and budget at that same meeting.

Anonymous said...

Still not quite right. Scott Davison -- no second 'd.'