Around the State- Northwest- July 2001
The governor's efforts to cut state government hit home in Leon County.
By Julie S. Bettinger
Conversations around Tallahassee water coolers have been a bit strained since lawmakers passed Gov. Jeb Bush's "Service First" program, which makes firing state workers easier, and as plans to cut government employment 25% began kicking in. State workers have even set up an anonymous internet forum to vent, www.whoseflorida.com (a play on the state's MyFlorida.com), complete with a "government insult of the week contest."
The state's 2001 budget trims 4,200 government jobs, and new laws affect personnel procedures. About 16,000 employees will be moved from "career service" to "select exempt" status, making it easier for managers to reassign or fire them. The law also eliminates seniority-based "bumping" during layoffs.
Business leaders and some county politicians are worried as well -- about 30% of Leon County workers are employed by the government, and a study showed the state had already eliminated 500 full-time positions in the county before passing the new laws. Mike Pate, publisher of the Tallahassee Democrat, wrote a pointed editorial titled, "Jeb doesn't seem to care about the Capital City."
"If the largest industry in Miami, Bradenton or Oviedo were threatened, the governor's top staff would be falling all over themselves trying to figure out how to help that community recover," Pate wrote, referring to the home towns of the governor and Senate and House leaders.
A delegation from Tallahassee's Chamber and Economic Development Council has met with the governor to request assistance. Chamber and EDC President Sue Dick says the group asked Bush to consider five proposals, with price tags from $5 million to $50 million each, that would minimize the impact of job cuts.
Bush's response? In a letter to the editor, he wrote: "Local economic impact of our proposals will likely be minimal. Most of the reductions that have occurred or that we have proposed will be achieved through elimination of currently vacant positions or through attrition."
So far, the cuts have been partly offset by aggressive hiring at Florida State University (244 new full-time positions) and Florida A&M University (51 new jobs), which is predicted to continue. Still, Dick says the ripple effect is what most concerns county leaders -- impacts on vendors for the state, families of the state workers who lose their jobs, and even retailers.
"It is definitely going to change the overall dynamics of our community," she says.
Julie Bettinger can be reached by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jade East Towers
DESTIN -- Condominium owners at Jade East Towers won an $18.5-million settlement from Jade East Towers Developers and Sovran Construction Co.
The 18-story, 88-unit oceanfront condominium project was declared unsafe and failed to comply with minimum codes. Both the engineer and designer on the project lost their licenses as a result, and Sovran no longer does business in Florida.
In the News
Fort Walton Beach -- A Tupelo, Miss.-based company that provides filters to screen out pornography on the internet is planning to open an operation in the Uptown Station shopping center. Bsafe Online is expected to hire 150 employees initially and could receive tax refunds valued at $600,000. The average salary of $35,467 is well over Okaloosa County's average of $21,837.
Madison -- Madison County Commissioners recently approved an Interchange Master Plan to govern growth at the county's four interchanges on I-10. The plan covers infrastructure options and land acquisition to promote and direct future growth.
Marianna -- Metal Products Co., a subsidiary of Southeastern Tool and Die, plans to open a facility in the Marianna Industrial Park, creating 40 jobs. Metal Products makes components for the Trane factory near Panama City.
The Chipola Regional Workforce Development Board recently opened a 12,500-sq.-ft. One-Stop Career Center in Marianna. The office offers free career counseling, resume assistance and job/employer matchmaking for those looking for work. The office, with computers, fax machines, copiers and telephones, also assists companies seeking employees. Other regional One Stop Career Centers are in Blountstown and Chipley.
Panama City -- Coast Operations Institute in Panama City and the Gulf Coast Alliance for Technology Transfer in Fort Walton Beach are planning to develop a "SeaHub" offshore that would use barges to transfer goods from deep draft ships to Florida ports that can't accommodate the larger ships.
Panhandle -- Florida Rep. Bev Kilmer (R-Marianna) is organizing a Florida Rural Caucus, which will comprise 28 House members who represent rural counties -- many of them in northwest Florida. Her goal is to unite lobbying efforts that affect rural counties.
Pensacola -- One of Pensacola's largest and fastest-growing employers, Network Telephone, laid off more than one-fourth of its workforce, including 70 employees in Pensacola. Company executives blame Lucent Technologies, which stopped producing switching systems Network Telephone needed.
A task force of business leaders has proposed getting rid of the downtown wastewater treatment plant, which is part of the city's waterfront. The Escambia County Stormwater/Wetlands Action Team wants to extend the local option sales tax for 20 years to correct stormwater pollution problems and build a replacement for the sewer plant. Each day, the plant discharges 15 million gallons of treated wastewater into Pensacola Bay.
Seaside -- The town of Seaside has named a new CEO. Rick Severance served as a consultant to Seaside for four years through his former employer, Ernst & Young. In previous positions, he managed development and operations for Hyatt and Marriott resorts.