On July 26, 2016, Mirza Ahmad gave a presentation to the Panhandle chapter of the Democratic African American Women's Caucus. I am a board member and a member of their endorsement committee. I had heard from multiple sources that told me what stories Ahmad was telling various audiences. Ahmad loves to play upon community desires--like more jobs--with fantasies and outright nonsense. While there are some very weak candidates running for local office in Escambia County, Mirza Ahmad deserves to enter the clown car.
While he is putting a great deal of effort into his political campaign--he practically wears down business owners with his incessant pleading to put his sign on their property just to get rid of him--he really does not know the issues; in fact, he really does not know which office he is running for. At times he is running for county commissioner; then, he is running for Superintendent of Schools; and, then he is running for president of the University of West Florida. With a very weak grasp of American politics, an even weaker grasp of English, he simply throws phrases out to his audience in the hope they impress. If he were trying to parody a county commissioner running for office, he would be a great comedian. Thus, he enters the clown car.
The following is a synopsis of various parts of his presentation, the Question-and-Answer period, and pointed questions I put to him. Immediately below, is the video in its entirety.
As best I can tell, he is running for county commissioner because the "roads are damaged," "schools are shutting down," the economy (?) is down, unemployment, and there have been no improvements in ten years.
Among his goals are to bring more industries here, open schools in District 3, and look out for our childrens' futures. Bringing more jobs to District 3 and improving the future for our children are admirable goals. But, it is the Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Thomas that closed several schools in District 3 while District 3's School Board member Linda Moultrie was sleepwalking throughout her term of office.
According to Ahmad, some of the major issues are abandoned houses in Brownsville and the Wedgewood dump (Rolling Hills). Ahmad told the audience that the county commissioners never tried to shut it down. He declared, "I want to shut down all of that." I shall return to the issue of Wedgewood below.
Among Ahmad's plans, if he is somehow miraculously elected to the Board of County Commissioners, is to bring in industries, establish technical schools so that children can learn technical skills after schools, and improve something that was garbled. He noted 13 schools had shutdown in Escambia County, he wanted more education, and he wanted the University of West Florida to have both a medical and a law school.
It is doubtful that 13 schools have been shutdown. The newspaper has noted that Escambia County School District has 13 schools in the bottom 300 schools in the state. But, even if 13 schools had been shutdown, that is the legal purview of the school district. If he had disagreed with any of the decisions to close the six known schools in District 3, no one remembers Ahmad attending a single school board meeting to register his objections.
Apparently, Ahmad has never stepped inside the school board's conference room that is decorated with the flags of dozens of technical schools (academies) located inside various high schools. Escambia High School where I mentor has five plus a new law enforcement school opening this school year. Thus, it makes no sense to open after-school technical schools when there technical schools already inside the high schools. What District 3 does need is after school programs for elementary and middle school children.
As for UWF opening a medical school and a law school, surely that is something for the university to decide. But, let's get real. According to U.S. News & World Report's ranking of universities, UWF is a Tier 2 school. According to the magazine, the "most popular majors at University of West Florida include: Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse; Health Services/Allied Health/Health Sciences, General; Health and Physical Education/Fitness, General; and Psychology, General." A Tier 2 university specializing in technical occupations is hardly a candidate to open a medical school and a law school. Ahmad is simply throwing out a big dream hoping his listeners will be impressed.
Ahmad was asked to explain his plan for bringing more industries to Escambia County. He really does not have a plan. What he has is an aw-shucks demeanor that industries tried to come here but the county commissioners "did not let them to come." Specifically, Ahmad was speaking about KIA and Hyundai motor car companies wanting to locate in Escambia County.
I cannot find any record that the these two car companies ever tried to come to Escambia County. In November 2011, the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville published an article on how despite Jacksonville having a shovel-ready "'mega-site'" the city and Florida have not been able to attract car manufacturing or airplane manufacturing. Jacksonville has the only "mega-site" in Florida, a designation meaning that it is ready to break ground on a plant and have it in production quickly. The newspaper noted that Florida attracts mid-range manufacturing companies. Two years later, Alabama.com reported that five counties in Alabama (Houston, Henry, Geneva, Coffee and Dale) and five counties in northwest Florida (Jackson, Bay, Washington, Holmes and Walton) were trying to attract an automobile manufacturing plant.
Thus, while attracting a major manufacturing company remains the goal of the Board of County Commissioners, there is no evidence that the county ever turned down the opportunity to locate KIA and Hyundai manufacturing plants here. And, if they had, it was a long time ago and not applicable to the incumbent Lumon May.
With regard to the Wedgewood dump, later (see video at 4:40) in the Q&A session, he claimed that the Wedgewood dump was a violation of federal law and that the "county was supposed to shutdown immediately" after being told of toxicity at the dump. Ahmad claimed that Wedgewood was still open.
If the Rolling Hills Construction and Demolition Recycling Center owned by South Palafox Properties is "open" as Ahmad assures every audience he has addressed in Escambia County, then how does one explain the "Final Order" issued by the Administrative Law Judge on May 15, 2015, that states on page 33: "The Respondent South Palafox Properties, Inc.’s, operating permit (Construction and Demolition Debris Disposal Facility Permit No. 003397-013-SO) is hereby REVOKED."
Does that in any way, shape, or form read like or sound like the Wedgewood dump is still open? It is closed, Ahmad, and the owner has to pay for the cleanup. Duuh. Now, as explained below, there are remediation efforts to cleanup the groundwater contamination. In that technical sense it is still "open," but it is not "open" in the sense that Ahmad meant--that it is still receiving toxic materials.
In fact, the Pensacola News Journal reported on June 8, 2016, that "Judge John Miller released a 24-page document on the ruling. The Circuit Court ordered that South Palafox perform remediation of the groundwater contamination at Rolling Hills landfill, complete full and proper construction of the remedial action system in accordance with the FDEP-approved action plan, and remediate all surface water quality exceedances to regain compliance with the surface-water criteria under the Florida Administrative Code. The company is ordered to comply within 60 days in each instance."
At the 9:09 point of the video, I asked Ahmad which federal law gave the county commissioners legal authority to close the Wedgewood dump "immediately," as he claimed they had a legal obligation to do. Ahmad cited U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Title 42. There is only one small problem with that explanation. While I stated in the video that it governs the Centers for Disease Control, it governs the establishment of the U.S. Public Health Service, under which the CDC operates. But, it provides no legal authority to county commissioners to immediately close a facility.
Title 40 of the CFR, "Protection of Environment," governs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Generally, the EPA establishes federal standards for things like water quality and delegates to the states monitoring and enforcement. Locally, only Citizens Against Toxic Exposure (CATE) have been able to demonstrate, mobilize, and litigate against a Superfund site in Pensacola and receive compensation--though the Environmental Protection Agency refused to allow its landmark decision affect other communities of color.
Thus, while Ahmad tries to impress his audiences using big words like Title 42, he literally has no idea what he is talking about.
We have about 100+ days to the general election in November. No doubt Mirza Ahmad will continue campaigning and spouting concepts and accusations off the top of his head with great conviction. Just remember, just because you believe a fact to be true, does not make the fact true. Ahmad does not know the basic facts regarding Rolling Hills. Ahmad has no idea what laws are applicable to the Rolling Hills dump. He is unqualified for elected office. Ahmad has no idea what the issues are in District 3.
In fact, he does not even know that the Rolling Hills dump had its permit revoked and had been slapped with a remediation order by the court. What Ahmad is trying to gin up with his false claims is community outrage. He is hoping that community outrage and his false claims will paint an ugly picture of incumbent Lumon May. The reality is Ahmad has neither the temperament nor familiarity with basic facts to qualify him for the county board.
The specific Rolling Hills (Wedgewood) results were the result of the agitation of the Wedgewood Homeowners Association, Dr. Gloria Horning of Justice Escambia, other activists like Barbara Albrecht of the Panhandle Watershed Alliance, Melanie Nichols of the North Hills Preservation Association, Mike Lowery of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and Supervisor Lumon May who worked with the activists, and the other county commissioners, as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection which brought the lawsuit against South Palafox Properties.