Santa Trades Sleigh For Fire Truck (With Photo Gallery)

December 21, 2014

Santa traded in his sleigh Saturday for a big red fire truck as he visit many boys and girls in neighborhoods across North Escambia. was along for the ride as Santa rode along with the McDavid Station of Escambia Fire Rescue, visiting with dozens of children, listening carefully to those last minute wish lists. Along the way, Santa stopped off to see a Christian Home community woman who is battling cancer; she had a special gift of cookies for Santa and the firemen.

For a photo gallery from the McDavid/Christian Home area, click here.

Pictured: Santa Claus rode along with the McDavid Station of Escambia Fire Rescue Saturday morning as he visited the McDavid and Christian Home communities. photos, click to enlarge.

Byrneville Tree Farm Recognized

December 21, 2014

Paina Farms in the Byrneville area was recently recognized for high quality land management. Farm owner Don Bush received both a Forest Stewardship certification and a Tree Farm certification.

The original farm acreage has been in the family for more than 50 years and this was not the first time management on this property was recognized. Bush’s parents received a conservation award in 1980.

After hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, much of the timber on the property had to be salvaged and replanted. In his efforts to restore the property to a healthy and productive forest, Bush has participated in several assistance programs through the Florida Forest Service and the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service. He also has kept a schedule of prescribed burning in areas of longleaf pine and treats invasive species such as cogongrass. During hunting season, he has guided hunts on the property.

Certified landowners are honored with a sign displaying their status. Both programs have newsletters, tours and workshops for their landowners. The Stewardship program assists landowners in acquiring a management plan with a timeline for practices that can be followed to attain certification. The Tree Farm program is now also third party certified, allowing wood from these properties to be sold as “green” wood. Both programs are designed to promote sustainable land management, incorporating all components of the forest.

For more information on certification under either program, contact Escambia County Forester Cathy Hardin at (850) 587-5123 or email

Northview Grad McCall Makes History As A UWF Football First Signee

December 20, 2014

A Northview High School graduate made history Friday as one of the first two student athletes to sign with the new University of West Florida football team during the NCAA midyear transfer signing period.

Northview’s Blake McCall, an offensive lineman, will transfer to UWF from Jackson State. Tyler Henderson, a safety from Crestview, will join the program after starting his college career at Florida Atlantic.

The UWF football team will play its first season in 2016. The program will add more commitments on February 4, 2015, the NCAA signing day for football. All football student-athletes enrolled at UWF during the 2015-16 academic year will redshirt that season.

Both McCall and Henderson, who were teammates at Davidson Middle School in Crestview, have enrolled at UWF for the 2015 spring semester. They will both have three years of athletic eligibility when the Argonauts begin play in 2016.

“It’s important to us that both of these student-athletes are local here in the 850 area code,” said UWF head coach Pete Shinnick. “We’re looking for young men that will be the best fit for our program from this area. They have to meet the marks that we’re looking for, and both Blake and Tyler do that.”

McCall, 6-3 and 300 pounds, helped lead Northview to an 11-3 overall record and a 4-0 district record as a senior. Northview averaged 42.9 points per game and took the Florida Class 1A state championship with a 42-21 win over Trenton High School during his senior year. McCall was a three-year starter and played all five positions in the offensive line. In 2013, he redshirted during his freshman year at Division I Jackson State. And during the 2014 season, he saw playing time as a redshirt freshman at Jackson State. On the offensive line, McCall helped lead the team to 25.8 points and 376.1 total yards per game.

At Crestview High, Henderson earned his first team all-area honors in both football and baseball. In 2013, he redshirted his freshman year at Division I Florida Atlantic and earned a spot on the Conference USA Honor Roll.

US Supreme Court Rules: Same-Sex Marriages Begin January 6 In Florida

December 20, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Friday night for same-sex marriages to begin January 6 in Florida. The court rejected a plea from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to maintain a judge’s stay to keep the same-sex marriages from happening.

The stay was issued in August by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle who said that Florida’s 2008 ban is unconstitutional. The stay was issued to give Florida time to appeal. That stay will expire at midnight on January 5.

Bondi asked the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where the appeal of the decision is pending, to extend the stay for the duration of the appeal. When the 11th Circuit denied that request, the state filed an application for a stay extension at the U.S. Supreme Court. Friday’s decision by the court rejected the request.

“Tonight, the United States Supreme Court denied the State’s request for a stay in the case before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Regardless of the ruling it has always been our goal to have uniformity throughout Florida until the final resolution of the numerous challenges to the voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has now spoken, and the stay will end on January 5,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement released Friday night.

“This is a thrilling day for all Florida families. As we explained to the Court, every day that the ban remains in place, couples are suffering real harms. We are grateful that the Court recognized that, and that as a result, those days are finally coming to an end,” ACLU of Florida staff attorney Daniel Tilley said.

“Now that the last-ditch efforts of Governor Scott and Pam Bondi to delay implementation of Judge Hinkle’s ruling have failed, we turn our focus to marriage equality coming to Florida. The nation’s highest court has now given its blessing to marriage going forward in Florida. Those who were waiting for the Supreme Court to weigh in have gotten exactly what they asked for. We expect public officials in all of Florida’s 67 counties to understand the significance of this development and look forward to full implementation of Judge Hinkle’s decision across our state,” Tilly continued.

The order from the Supreme Court was short, saying only, “The application for stay presented to Justice Thomas and by him referred to the Court is denied. Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas would grant the application”.

Unemployment Rate Steady In Escambia County, Falls In Santa Rosa

December 20, 2014

The latest job numbers released Friday show the unemployment level decreasing or holding steady in the  North Escambia area.

Escambia County’s unemployment rate held steady at 5.8 percent from October to November.  There were 8,030 people reported unemployed  during the period. One year ago, unemployment in Escambia County was 6.6 percent.

Santa Rosa County unemployment decreased,  from 5.3  to 5.1 percent from October to November. Santa Rosa County had a total of  3,797 persons still unemployed. The year-ago unemployment rate in Santa Rosa County was 5.7 percent.

In Escambia County, Alabama, unemployment decreased  from 7.3 percent in October to 6.8 percent in November. That represented 936  people unemployed in the county during the month. One year ago, the unemployment rate in Escambia County, Alabama, was 7.2 percent.

Florida’s jobless mark was 5.8 percent in November, down 0.2 percentage point from the October rate of 6.0 percent and down 0.7 percentage point from 6.5 percent one year ago.  The state’s November rate was the lowest since May 2008 when it was 5.7 percent. Florida unemployment rate has been less than or equal to the national rate for 15 of the last 19 months.

Alabama’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, at 6.0 percent in November, was down from October’s rate of 6.3 percent and was below the year-ago rate of 6.2 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.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

Century Talks Business Climate, Business Challenge

December 19, 2014

Big changes are in store for the business climate in Century as the town works to implement an economic development plan authored by the University of West Florida’s Haas Center.

Thursday afternoon, the Haas Center’s Brice Harris met in a workshop setting with the Century town council, recommending future actions the council should take toward their business goals.

A first step centers around the town’s “Habitat for Opportunity Building”, a former school on Pond Street. The complex was redeveloped into a possible business incubator several years ago, but has remained empty.

Harris recommended that the council start be changing the awkward “Habitat for Opportunity Building” name to something along the lines of the “Century Business Center”.  Individual classrooms, each with a door to the outside, will be improved into office space.

One space, Harris suggested, could be rented to the winner of the upcoming Century Business Challenge for a reduced rate of $1 per year as part of the winner’s prize that will also include $25,000 in startup cash from Quint and Rishy Studer. Details on that contest will be forthcoming in January.

Another office space would be used by an Americorp volunteer working for the town and by the Haas Center, and another office could be shared by community non-profits providing regular services such as the United Way or Northwest Florida Legal Services.

“I think it’s the beginning of a new year 2015, and it’s great thing for Century,” council member Sandra McMurray Jackson said.

“We are ready, willing and able to cooperate,” Century Mayor Freddie McCall said.

The council and Harris also discussed a redesign and upgrades for the town’s website, which was described by McCall as “a poor website”.  The website work would possibly be performed by an Americorps volunteer.

Century’s current website was developed by an area marketing firm in 2012 for $5,950, part of a $11,450 package that also included a five year comprehensive marketing strategy. Also at the workshop Thursday, the council and Harris discussed transportation improvements, and even new signage at the town’s limits.

Any action items discussed at Thursday’s workshop must be approved by the council during an upcoming regular meeting.

Pictured top: Century Economic Development Coordinator Allison Tyler listens as Brice Harris of the Haas Center addresses the Century Town Council Thursday afternoon. Pictured inset: Council member Gary Riley listens to the discussion. Pictured bottom: A portion of Century’s Habitat for Opportunity complex. photos, click to enlarge.

State Rep. Clay Ingram Named President, CEO Of Pensacola Chamber

December 19, 2014

The Greater Pensacola Chamber board of directors voted Thursday to elected Clay Ingram as the chamber’s new president and CEO. . Ingram, who was unanimously voted by the Board to oversee all operational aspects of the Chamber, will begin his new role on January 5.

“Clay brings energy, leadership, a unique perspective and highly developed skillsets important to this role and our organization. We are thrilled to have him serve as the Chamber’s next president and CEO,” said Carol Carlan, chair of the Greater Pensacola Chamber board of directors. “His understanding of small business development, finance and the importance of regional partnerships will be a tremendous asset that will allow us to continue serving the Northwest Florida business community.”

Ingram currently serves as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing the 1st District – which includes most of Escambia County – and previously, the state’s 2nd District from 2010 to 2012. He was recently named chair of the Transportation and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee, where he is responsible for crafting a $12 billion budget for several agencies, including the Department of Transportation, Department of State, Department of Economic Opportunity, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and Department of Military Affairs. Ingram also serves on the Florida Defense Support Task Force and the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

“Over the course of this year, the Chamber has repositioned itself to create a better business climate in the Greater Pensacola Region,” said Ingram. “I am excited to lead a team that is dedicated to maintaining economic prosperity and a better quality of life for those that choose to live and do business in this community.”

Prior to being elected to the legislature, Ingram worked in sales, real estate and served as a teacher in the Escambia County School District, where he taught courses in the Exceptional Student Education Department at Tate High School.

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead the Chamber, and I couldn’t be more proud of what this organization has accomplished over the past year and a half,” said former Pensacola mayor and current chamber president and CEO Jerry Maygarden. “In addition to serving as the executive director for the Pensacola Chamber Foundation, I will continue to serve as an advisor to both Clay and the board for as long as I am needed.”

A Pensacola native, Ingram is a graduate of Tate High School and Florida State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in general communication, with a minor in political science. An active member of the community, he is a member of St. Luke United Methodist Church, the Cantonment Rotary Club, Century Chamber of Commerce and serves as a board member for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida and the Florida State University Alumni Association. Clay and his wife Leslie  have two daughters, Madilyn and Lydia.