The issues of crime, jobs, neighborhood decay, education and training dominated the town hall meeting sponsored by Escambia County Commission Chairman Lumon May of District 3. The Brownsville Assembly of God Reception Hall located at 3100 West Desoto Street was packed to a standing room only crowd of residents. The panelists included Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward, Sheriff David Morgan, Escambia School District Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, Businessman, community developer and health consultant Quint Studer, Escambia County Elections Supervisor David Stafford, U.S. District Judge Casey Rodgers, Pastor LuTimothy May of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, and Pastor Lonnie Wesley of Little Rock Missionary Baptist Church.
Some of the seventy three questions from the audience were received in writing and read to the panelists for their responses while several persons with questions were invited up to the podium. An example of comments from the panel was Quint Studer providing an example of a private business making a strong commitment to hire local workforce talent and the role low-income communities can play in collaborations to revitalize a city. Commissioner May provided comments throughout the event before and after audience questions to share the programs and services being provided by his office through county staff to make a difference.
An example of questions from the audience is provided by Walter Wallace, President of the Woodland Heights Neighborhood Association, who came to the podium and addressed his question of vacant and decaying school buildings throughout the county to Superintendent Thomas. However, the superintendent was prepared with a list of the school buildings being purchased by for-profit and non-profit developers. Josh Womack, President of the Cantonment Improvement Committee, also addressed Thomas concerning vacant facilities in the north county community.
Womack stated that his organization had previously requested of the school district in August of 2012 to utilize the historic Ransom School as a resource center. However, in Thomas’s response to Walter Wallace he stated that the Ransom Middle School site was to become a school bus depot. Womack stated, “The biggest need we have in our community is a resource center.” During his comments he stated that he was very surprised to hear the superintendent planned for school a bus depot at the site. Womack went on to articulate that, “From Nine Mile Road all the way up to Century there is nothing for our kids to do so they have to come to Pensacola.”
Thomas said that he would check with his staff and research the request made by the Cantonment group. Womack further stated that there are two schools (Molino Elementary School and Barineau Elementary Park School) in the north end were both converted to resource centers and Cantonment should have an equal opportunity to be granted a facility, also. Commissioner May offered his assistance to the Cantonment group in working with their County Commissioner Steven Barry to achieve the goals and objectives of the grass-roots organization for redevelopment activities in their community.
The sheriff and the superintendent were very direct in their comments on the need for more parent involvement in the interaction with their children. The sheriff also stated that compared to 1995, violent crime in Escambia County is down and that to solve some of the unsolved crimes that the community needs to come forward with the information to have the criminal arrested. Commissioner May countered with his belief that with all of the challenges in the low-income and poverty riddled neighborhoods that parents need the help of the larger community to assist in working and caring for our youth.
Katrina Ramos, a member of the Dream Defenders in Tallahassee and now a member of the Escambia County Youth Justice Coalition, asked the Sherriff about the use of Civil Citations to lower the ranking of the county as having the highest number of arrest of students contributing to the “School to Prison Pipeline”. The sheriff stated his commitment to Civil Citations, but stated that many students do not qualify for the program because of their frequency of offences and the way the program is designed. Keyontay Humphries, a facilitator of the Youth Justice Coalition organizational activities stated that “concrete solutions and policy changes are need to change the incarceration rates of students in Escambia County.” She and Ramos felt the sheriff never really answered the question related to the incarceration rate of students and felt “he cherry-picked” raw stats to reflect a distorted view on the status of his support for the Civil Citation program.
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For more information, contact Commissioner May’s office at (850) 595-4930.