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Santa Rosa Commissioners Chip In $554K For School Officers

Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office
Deputy Matt Robinson, a Santa Rosa County School Resource Officer, in 2019

Santa Rosa County commissioners on Tuesday approved spending $554,000 to help fund a portion of the salaries of school resource officers in county schools. The vote was 3-1. Commission Chairman Dave Piech was absent.

The county’s amount is 17% of the salaries for the nearly three dozen school officers. It would cover the time the deputies are not in school during summer vacation but working other duties for the Sheriff’s Office.

District 3 Commissioner James Calkins, who opposed the payment, said he would rather have armed faculty and staff in schools, rather than school resource officers. He said Sheriff Bob Johnson and School Board should join The Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program that trains school personnel to respond immediately to a school shooting on campus. The state department of education said the program was established in 2018 through the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

“In its initial report, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission found that having Guardians in schools is the best way to ensure highly trained personnel are in place to respond immediately in the event of a school shooting,” the department’s website explained.

“Guardians are armed personnel who aid in the prevention or abatement of active assailant incidents on school premises,” the state website said. “They are either school employees who volunteer to serve in addition to official job duties or personnel hired for the specific purpose of serving as a school guardian. Guardians must pass psychological and drug screenings, and successfully complete a minimum of 144 hours of training.

Calkins said Santa Rosa is the only county in the Panhandle that does not participate in the program. He said he’d like the payment made with a recommendation from commissioners that the county joins the Guardian program. Forty-three counties in the state are members.

Before the vote, Calkins went on a tangent criticizing the School Board for not being in the program. His comments included that county schools are teaching Critical Race Theory.

Santa Rosa County
Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole

District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole, filling in for Chairman Dave Piech of District 4, said he would not support Calkins’ recommendation. Cole, who said he didn’t want “strings attached” to the payment, said, “I think it’s only fair that we pick up our share.” He added that in the past, the county was asked to pay as much as 25% of the resource officers’ salaries.

In other action, the board:

  • Repealed and strengthened the county noise ordinance. The enforcement includes deputies and code enforcement officers being equipped with decibel meters to show offenders they are exceeding allowable noise levels. After a warning, offenders face a $100 fine. An offender could be fined $150 for specific violations, including excessively loud vehicles. For residential property, noise should not exceed 70 decibels from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and 60 decibels – a normal conversation between two people – between 9:01 p.m. and 6:59 a.m. The decibel meters, which cost between $3,000 and $3,500, will be used to show the offender they are too noisy. There are exemptions for farm equipment, emergency equipment, and generators being run during a power outage. To read the new ordinance, click here. Commissioner James Calkins’ request to exempt Navarre Beach from the ordinance was rebuffed by his colleagues. Calkins said that area was “a different animal” because of the number of tourists and weddings that take place there.
  • Recommended that county staff work Gulf Power Co., to get lighting at Giddens Lane at Chumuckla Highway and at the entrance to Benny Russell Park on West Spencer Field in Pace. The goal is to improve safety on the roads and for pedestrians. In a related matter, commissioners denied a request to spend $50,000 to install a speed table to slow traffic on the following roads: Rowell Road, Watkins Street and, Jernigan Road; and to install two-speed tables each on Dean Drive, Adams Road and Chipper Lane. District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker pushed for the calming devices, citing pedestrian safety in those areas. Other commissioners said it would begin a series of requests throughout the county to install the speed tables.
  • Approved an agreement with Lewis Funeral Homes Inc. for indigent cremation and removal services. Those services cost the county between $50,000 and $60,000 annually, County Administrator Dan Schebler told commissioners.
Tom Ninestine is the managing editor at WUWF. He began August 1, 2019. Tom is a native of Geneva, New York, and a 1983 graduate of King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he studied journalism and political science. During a 29-year career in newspapers he worked for the Finger Lakes Times in his hometown; The Daily Item in Sunbury, Pennsylvania; and the Pensacola News Journal from 1998-2016.