Escambia County, where too often a press release passes for leadership.
On Tuesday, Rick Outzen at inweekly posted a 2012 letter from Sheriff David Morgan to then interim-county administrator Larry Newsom outlining his concerns about rebuilding the areas of the Central Booking and Detention Center after a major rain event flooded the facility.
The Pensacola News Journal also wrote about Morgan’s letter and the prescient concerns he expressed then.
The county public information office responded by email sent out at the close of the business day.
Eight paragraphs. After nearly a full daylight news cycle in the age of social media. Eight paragraphs highlighted by the notation that the county’s insurance carrier was OK with the plan and do more would have cost you, the taxpayer, more.
The repairs called for in the scope of work of the work, estimated at $2.7 million mention nothing specific about flood mitigation. The email statement says the county included improvements that, had they been completed, would have mitigated the threat of flooding.
But we’ll never know.
Because the pumps meant for the basement weren’t installed by the April 2014 deluge -- almost two years after the last flood event and nearly seven and a half months after the contract was given to A.E. New Jr. in August of 2013.
Because the property for additional retention ponds near the jail had been bought, but not constructed yet.
What we do know is that water got into Central Booking during the rains of April 29-30. And that there was a gas leak, which caused an explosion that killed two inmates, paralyzed a corrections officer and injured 184 people. And the State Fire Marshal and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are investigating the blast.
What’s the tab now, fellow taxpayers?
And yet, in the face of all those things that we know, the county’s response is bland, detached and at times, seemingly deliberately obtuse.
On the night of the incident, when the families of people with loved ones in the jail were sent from Point A to Point B only to be told nothing about the how their sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, family and friends were.
Frustrated family members, unable to get information from the “information line” beat a line to their county commissioner, a reporter or TV camera crew to try to get someone to pay attention to them.
As reports surfaced from those who had been in the jail that the smell of gas had been in the air at least a day before the explosion, the county gave the bland response that no written complaints about the smell of gas were logged.
Which leaves the smell of something else in the air, friends.
When the Escambia County Commission voted to assume leadership of the troubled jail, some on the dias assured the public they could do a fine job, thank you, of managing the facility.
You could fairly see the feathers fluff of those who thought they’d found the catbird seat, scoring this political win from Morgan, who clashed often and publicly with former County Administrator George Touart and Commissioners.
Since then, the signs have not been promising. Emails such as yesterday’s come out of the county public information office without the name of human being attached.
Not Gordon Pike, who is in charge of the corrections department. Not Larry Newsom, acting county administrator.
The county’s most visible face of response in the jail disaster has been Commissioner Lumon May, who was the lone no vote last June in taking over the jail from the sheriff. People started showing up at his house that night asking for help, and he tried to give it.
The jail’s recent history is checkered. It includes a Justice Department investigation that demands reforms the county has yet to respond to in a meaningful way beyond, “that will cost a lot of money.”
A theme that, coincidentally, you will see repeated in yesterday’s email.
The residents of this county -- behind bars and on the outside -- deserve better