In 2012, some politically powerful people in North Florida secured the services of then Senator Don Gaetz to help them control 1.5 billion of funds that BP was expected to pay for the carnage to the Gulf Coast caused by the BP oil spill. The concern of these behind the scenes power brokers was that they did not want our elected officials to have any control over these funds. So Senator Gaetz introduced legislation to set up a corporation that would have all money funneled through it. When he set it up he named five political friends to the board of directors. Three are from his home base of Destin, Florida. One lives in Santa Rosa County and one resides in Bay County. None are from Pensacola or even Escambia County. These five will control 1.5 billion dollars. They will not be accountable to the taxpayers or the voters. Did anyone ever see an application for a position on this board of directors? The answer of course is no. This was done long before most of us had any idea about the feverish effort that was undertaken to get control of the settlement money that would come later.
The Speaker of the Florida House of Representative, Mr. Richard Corcoran, has expressed concern about accountability of the disbursement of this very substantial amount of money. He is right. This money should be awarded to the counties impacted and the municipalities within those counties on a block grant population basis. Doing it on the basis of population with direct payments made to the counties and cities would assure that the money will be spent not based on what a committee of people outside our community want but based on what our elected officials decide is best. But more importantly elected officials are accountable to the voters. The fact that this transformative award of money has been sidetracked through the Gaetz created Triumph Corporation is hardly a triumph for the taxpayers. We will never know the names of the people who got Don Gaetz to do it, but we have a hunch. We do know this was all in process well before the Pam Bondi 1.5 billion dollar settlement was even reached.
Had this board been established to be fairly inclusive and without potential conflicts of interest it would have looked entirely different than it does now. If Mr. Gaetz wanted to assure transparency he could have selected Andy Marlette of the PNJ for the board. If he wanted people who have a history of doing great things for the community he could have added the president of the league of women voters or the president of Impact 100 to his board. If he truly wanted inclusion, he could have selected members from the minority community. There are countless other fine people who would have volunteered to help oversee the proper and fair use of this money.
Mayor Hayward of Pensacola has called for block grants to the cities and counties and he is right to do so. Having a fishing village like Destin controlling a majority of this board is a short tail wagging a big dog. Pensacola is the largest City and Escambia is the largest county of the eight counties and the cities within them. Our communities should receive our fair share of this 1.5 Billion dollars settlement and we need our elected officials to control the money. Our legislative delegation should be demanding this dismantling of this Triumph Corporation before they get their hands on the money. This is once in decade’s infusion of money that may never happen again and it is so important to the future of our communities.