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Mayor: New Police Chief, COVID-19 Numbers, Bridge Update

Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

A lawman comes home. Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson announced the city’s new police chief during his weekly news conference at City Hall. Add to that the COVID numbers, the Bay Bridge and ferry service.

“With a tentative start date of June 14th, it’s going to be Chief Eric Randall,” said the mayor. “Eric is the individual who’s from Pensacola, who’s been in Newport News [VA], working there as an assistant chief.”

Randall was selected from three finalists. Robinson said the question boiled down to who was the right fit. Randall, he added, made an impression on the rank-and-file officers, as he did in his interviews.

“He may not have been as polished as some of the people, but what I liked is that he had heart; and you can’t teach heart and you can’t teach passion – he had those things,” Robinson said. “He also was the biggest leader in figuring out how to use technology, to make it better for us to be able to police, to make it safer for our police and safer for our citizens.”

And, according to the mayor using the phrase “implicit bias, it didn’t hurt that Randall is a Pensacola native.

“And that’s towards people who are from Northwest Florida,” said Robinson. “I think at the end of the day, I probably felt more comfortable in a lot of ways, just all the things that were there. We had three really close candidates and came down to very small margins about how you felt and different ones. But at the end of the day I think he was the right choice for us.”

Randall’s nomination goes before the City Council later this month. Elsewhere, the weekly COVID-19 count hospitalizations continue to remain under 30, with positivity rates around five to six percent. Robinson points to the past year-plus, where people had to make adjustments in their lives. With the lower numbers and the vaccines, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate.

“I fear that sometimes our policies are preventing people from going and getting the shots, which is what we need them to do; and certainly in talking with the hospitals, that’s the biggest way we can continue to keep pushing things down.”

In an update on the Pensacola Bay Bridge, the mayor said contractors continue the work on repairs to damage from Hurricane Sally last September, with the targeted reopening date still set for May 31. Meanwhile, traffic to Gulf Breeze is flowing via the Garcon Point Bridge.

“It is expected that this will be a two-lane opening, followed shortly by a four-lane shortly after that,” the mayor said. “All of the jurisdictions in our area sent a letter to the governor, asking him to please, make sure to keep the tolls from being collected until we can get the four-lane back open. Because two lanes is going to be nice, but it’s still going to put a significant amount of traffic on a two-lane road coming to Pensacola.”

Completion of the entire bridge remains next January. And ferry service between downtown Pensacola, Fort Pickens and Pensacola Beach appears on the rebound. That’s the word in an email from Port of Pensacola Director Amy Miller to City Hall.

“One of the ferries has showed up at the Port of Pensacola – I don’t know whether it’s Pelican Perch or Turtle Runner,” said Robinson. “My understanding is that they have to pass a Coast Guard inspection; when they get that done, they get refitted. I hate to make any promises, but they were trying to shoot for this weekend being open.”

More information on the 2021 cruise schedule is available at www.pensacolabaycruise.com.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.