Unemployment Numbers Improving Across Most Of The Local Area

January 25, 2014

The latest job numbers released Friday show the unemployment level sliding downward in most of the  North Escambia area — as Florida’s unemployment rate also dropped to the lowest level in over five years.

Escambia County’s unemployment fell from 6.2 percent in November to 5.9 percent in December.  There were 8,92 people reported unemployed  during the period. One year ago, unemployment in Escambia County was 7.89 percent.

Santa Rosa County unemployment fell from 5.4 to 5.1  percent from  November to December. Santa Rosa County had a total of  3,787 persons still unemployed. The year-ago unemployment rate in Santa Rosa County was 7.1 percent.

In Escambia County, Alabama, unemployment inched upwards from7.0 percent in November  to 7.1 percent in December. That represented 976  people unemployed in the county during the month.

Florida’s unemployment mark fell to 6.2 percent in December, down from 6.4 percent in November, according to the state Department of Economic Opportunity. Out of a workforce of 9.4 million, there were an estimated 584,000 jobless people in December, 18,000 fewer than in November.

The state also reported that Florida added 14,100 jobs in December, a 0.2 percent increase from November, of which the majority were private sector positions.

“Once again we continue to distance ourselves from the national unemployment rate and create opportunities for Florida families,” Gov. Rick Scott said in a prepared statement.

The national unemployment mark stands at 6.7 percent.

Alabama’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, at 6.1percent in December, was down from November’s rate of .2 percent and was below the year-ago rate of 6.8 percent.

The jobless numbers released by Florida and Alabama do not include persons that have given up on finding a job and are no longer reported as unemployed.

Medical Marijuana Initiative Gets Needed Signatures For Ballot

January 25, 2014

Medical marijuana proponents cleared a major hurdle Friday by surpassing the number of signatures required to make it on the November ballot.

But it’s still up in the air whether voters will get to choose if they want Florida to join 20 other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing medical marijuana.

The Florida Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments about the ballot initiative last month, will have final say as it decides whether the proposal meets constitutional requirements and does not mislead voters.

With 710,508 validated signatures statewide — 27, 359 more than the required 683,149 — and reaching signature requirements in the bare minimum of 14 congressional districts, People United for Medical Marijuana beat a Feb. 1 deadline for submitting petitions to the state.

“We are absolutely thrilled about reaching the required number of signatures. This is a historic day for Florida. Hopefully, Floridians will not only get a chance to vote on medical marijuana this fall but will pass it and bring relief to the thousands of Floridians that are desperately asking for it,” said Ben Pollara, campaign manager for United for Care, the group working for People United for Medical Marijuana.

The push for the medical marijuana initiative is being led by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist’s boss, Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan. Morgan and his law firm have contributed at least $2.7 million, including nearly $1 million in loans last month, to the effort. But that’s just a drop in the bucket. Pollara estimates that, if the initiative makes it onto the ballot, the campaign could cost at least $10 million. Like all other constitutional proposals, the amendment would need at least 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Republicans as well as law enforcement and parts of the business community have lined up against the proposal. Gov. Rick Scott and legislative leaders oppose letting doctors prescribe pot, and Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawyer argued against the proposal before the high court last month.

Many of the justices’ questions focused on the difference between the ballot summary’s reference to “debilitating diseases,” which would appear before voters, and the amendment language which says doctors could write pot prescriptions for a “debilitating medical condition.”

Solicitor General Allen Winsor, representing opponents, argued that the ballot title and summary that would appear on the ballot could deceive voters about the scope of the amendment. Winsor argued that the ballot language is misleading because it wrongly leads voters to believe that fewer people could get access to pot when doctors instead would have much more liberty to determine who qualifies.

But former House Speaker Jon Mills, a constitutional lawyer who authored the proposed amendment and argued on its behalf before the court, said the proposal was written to give doctors the ability to make the best decision for their patients.

Scott has repeatedly said he does not want to make pot legal because of the risks of abuse.

But on Friday, the governor toned down his message, saying he would defer to voters.

“I have a great deal of empathy for people battling difficult diseases and I understand arguments in favor of this initiative. But, having seen the terrible affects of alcohol and drug abuse first-hand, I cannot endorse sending Florida down this path and I would personally vote against it. No matter my personal beliefs, however, a ballot initiative would be up to the voters to decide,” Scott said in an e-mailed statement.

Jenn Meale, a spokeswoman for Bondi, said the attorney general’s office is waiting for a ruling from the Supreme Court on the ballot language and would refrain from commenting Friday.

Morgan insists he was inspired by his own family’s suffering. He said medical marijuana eased the excruciating pain and discomfort his father experienced as a result of emphysema and esophageal cancer.

But some critics have questioned Morgan’s true motives. Putting the pot question on the November ballot where his friend and fellow Democrat Crist might also appear may help the former governor. Polls have shown widespread support for the proposal, but the support is even higher among younger voters. Medical marijuana could help drive those voters, who might otherwise stay home in a non-presidential election, to the polls.

The strategy is similar to what Republicans used in previous years with proposals banning gay marriage, said Florida Atlantic University political science professor Kevin Wagner. Wagner said that could also be why Republicans like Bondi are fighting the initiative in court.

“It’s a political play in which neither side cares about who wins but what’s on the ballot,” Wagner said.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Firefighters Respond To Smoke In Ernest Ward Gym

January 25, 2014

Multiple Escambia Fire Rescue Stations were dispatched to the smell of smoke in the Ernest Ward Middle School gym Friday night.

The smoke was reported at 9:14 p.m., shortly after hundreds of people had departed a beauty pageant in the gym. Firefighters traced the smoke to a pulley on a heating system fan motor. There was no damage reported.

NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

Sleet And Snow, Florida Style (With Photos)

January 25, 2014

A small sleet accumulation on a car off Pine Forest Road, from Susie White.

Residents across the area  reported sleet and even a little snow on Friday.

If you have sleet or snow photos, email them to news@northescambia.com. Don’t forget your name and the location where the photo was taken.

Sleet in the “Car City” area of Pensacola.

Sleet accumulation on a deck in Cottage Hill, from Kristi Smith.

Sleet at the University of West Florida, from Rachel Howard.

Clouds over Cottage Hill, from Kristi Smith.

A few snowflakes? on a car in Atmore, from Chance Hawthorne.

Road Crews Work To Sand Bridges, Urge Caution

January 25, 2014

Escambia County’s Roads and Bridges Division worked late into the night to sand bridges and any other potential slick spots across the North Escambia area just in case there was any frozen precipitation.

Even without any ice, officials advised that the bridges could be slippery and dangerous at high speeds from the sand. They advised residents to slow down and use caution on the bridges the next few days.

Pictured top: Sand along  Quintette Road and the bridges Saturday morning. NorthEscambia.com  photo by Kristi Smith, click to enlarge.

Residents Celebrate Arbor Day, Receive Free Trees

January 25, 2014

Escambia County Extension hosted Arbor Day celebration and tree giveaway event Friday morning at the Molino Community Center.

Residents were able to obtain a free mayhaw or willow oak tree in a one gallon container. They first attended a 10 minute tree-based educational session that included expert advice on site selection, proper planting, watering, and general care and maintenance.

Pictured top and below: Free trees during an Arbor Day celebration in Molino Friday morning . Pictured inset: Extension Agent Libbie Johnson explains proper tree planting. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge

Remembering George Touart

January 25, 2014

Flags across Escambia County are at half staff on this Saturday as the county’s residents and leaders mark the death of Escambia County Interim Administrator George Touart. He passed away early Friday morning with his family at his side. Touart had been on sick leave since December 26 due to complications from his battle with cancer. He was 65.

He recently announced his retirement, which was to have been effective February 3.

“I would like to thank the Board of County Commissioners for the opportunity to serve the citizens of Escambia County,”  said Touart in his retirement letter. He was named interim administrator December 1, 2012.

In the retirement letter, Tourt said he was proud of accomplishments that included the transition of the Escambia County Jail and the library system, the four-cent gas tax for mass transit and a three percent across the board employee pay raise.

Previously, Touart served as county administrator for almost six years before he retired he 2007.

Born and raised in Pensacola, Touart graduated from Pensacola High School in 1966 and was very proud to call Escambia County home.

A longtime businessman with more than 25 years experience in management, Touart owned multiple successful companies and served in numerous leadership roles in local government; including Pascagoula city councilman, public information officer for the Mississippi State High Department and county administrator of Madison County, Mississippi.

Touart belonged to the Perdido Bay United Methodist Church and was a member of many community and civic organizations throughout the years, including Five Flags Rotary, Irish Politician’s Club, Moss Point Young Men’s Business Club, the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Escambia County and Baptist Hospital Board of Directors.

Touart is survived by his parents Clyde and Mary Touart, wife Barbara, sons Mathew and Jacob Touart and daughters Amber Howard and Christy McDonald, as well as numerous grandchildren.

Flags at county facilities are being flown at half-staff in memory of Mr. Touart.

The BOCC is currently in the process of hiring a new  permanent administrator from a short list of five candidates that did not include Touart. Although he applied for the job, the board had voted to exclude him from the final selection process.

Pictured top: The American flag flies at half staff Friday at the Molino offices of the Escambia County tax collector and property appraiser. Northescambia.com photo, click to enlarge.

Car Burns At Credit Union Drive Thru

January 24, 2014

A car in the drive-thru line at Gulf Winds Credit Union in Atmore burned Friday afternoon. There were no reports of any injuries, and no reports of damage to the building. The driver believes the fire was associated with the rear window defroster.  Reader submitted photos by Kayla Brewer and Carla Spears for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Interim County Administrator George Touart Passes Away

January 24, 2014

Escambia County Interim Administrator George Touart passed away early Friday morning with his family at his side.  Touart had been on sick leave since December 26 due to complications from his battle with cancer. He was 65.

He recently announced his retirement, which was to have been effective February 3.

“I would like to thank the Board of County Commissioners for the opportunity to serve the citizens of Escambia County,”  said Touart in his retirement letter. H was named interim administrator December 1, 2012.

In the retirement letter, Tourt said he was proud of accomplishments that included the transition of the Escambia County Jail and the library system, the four-cent gas tax for mass transit and a three percent across the board employee pay raise.

Previously, Touart served as county administrator for almost six years before he retired he 2007.

Born and raised in Pensacola, Touart graduated from Pensacola High School in 1966 and was very proud to call Escambia County home.

A longtime businessman with more than 25 years experience in management, Touart owned multiple successful companies and served in numerous leadership roles in local government; including Pascagoula city councilman, public information officer for the Mississippi State High Department and county administrator of Madison County, Mississippi.

Touart belonged to the Perdido Bay United Methodist Church and was a member of many community and civic organizations throughout the years, including Five Flags Rotary, Irish Politician’s Club, Moss Point Young Men’s Business Club, the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, United Way of Escambia County and Baptist Hospital Board of Directors.

Touart is survived by his parents Clyde and Mary Touart, wife Barbara, sons Mathew and Jacob Touart and daughters Amber Howard and Christy McDonald, as well as numerous grandchildren.

Flags at county facilities are being flown at half-staff in memory of Mr. Touart.

The BOCC is currently in the process of hiring a new  permanent administrator from a short list of five candidates that did not include Touart. Although he applied for the job, the board had voted to exclude him from the final selection process.

County Cutting Down Old Oak Trees To Pave Dirt Road

January 24, 2014

One Enon School Road resident is questioning why several oak trees estimated to be over 100 years old are being cut down to pave the road, rather than routing the road around the trees.

But Escambia County says they were given the right of way by a property owner on the side of the road with the trees, and they don’t have any right of way to go around the trees.

The dirt Enon School Road is about a mile and a half long between Highway 97A and South Pineville Road in a remote area of the county near the Perdido River about 10 miles south of Walnut Hill.  The road is sparsely populated, but is home to the Enon Country Manor, a 25-bed assisted living facility.

Pictured top and below: Workers cut down several oak trees in Enon Thursday afternoon.  Escambia County was given the right of way to needed to pave Enon School Road on the side of the road with the pictured oak trees. The trees are being cut down for the paving project becuase the county does not have right of way to go around the trees. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

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