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COVER STORY | Vol. 8, No. 20, May 29, 2008
(Power List 2008)

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Power List 2008

by Jennifer Waters

The Pensacola Area's Top 50 Most Influential and Powerful


This year's list of the Top 50 most influential and powerful people in the area was determined by surveying the 2007 group. Of the 50 ballots mailed to last year's Top 50, 42 responded. In addition, other knowledgeable insiders who are deeply involved in the community were consulted.

1. Collier Merrill
Developer Merrill Land Co.; restaurant owner of The Fish House, Atlas Oyster House and Jackson's

2. Quint Studer
Owner of Studer Group and Pensacola Pelicans; author

3. Jim Reeves
Attorney and developer; co-founder McGuire's Irish Politicians Club; former state representative and Pensacola City Councilman

4. Fred Levin
Trial attorney and founder Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor

5. Buzz Ritchie
CEO Gulf Coast Community Bank; past chairman Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce; former state representative

6. Susan Story
President and CEO Gulf Power Co.

7. J. Mort O'Sullivan III
Managing partner O'Sullivan Creel

8. Lewis Bear Jr.
President Lewis Bear Co.

9. Lacey Collier
U.S. District Court judge; chairman Community Maritime Park Associates

10. Mike Papantonio
Trial attorney with Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor; host of "Ring of Fire Radio"; co-founder of and Emerald Coastkeepers

11. Garrett Walton
Attorney and developer; major supporter of Gov. Charlie Crist

12. Jim Cronley
Partner and general contractor Terhaar & Cronley

13. Bob Kerrigan
Trial attorney and founder Kerrigan, Estess, Rankin, McLeod and Thompson

14. Joe Scarborough
Host MSNBC "Morning Joe"; former U.S. congressman; author

15. Eric Nickelsen

16. Patrick Madden
President and CEO Sacred Heart Health System

17. Ken Ford
Founder and director Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition

18. Fred Donovan
CEO Baskerville-Donovan Engineering

19. Al Stubblefield
President and CEO Baptist Health Care Corporation; author

20. Ted Ciano
Owner Ted Ciano's Used Car Center

21. Kevin Doyle
Publisher Pensacola News Journal

22. Dick Baker
Developer; board member Community Maritime Park Associates

23. Dick Appleyard
President Appleyard Agency; vice president/marketing Sacred Heart Health System

24. DeeDee Ritchie
Real estate broker; former state representative; newspaper columnist

25. Miller Caldwell Jr.
Architect Caldwell Associates Architects

26. Evon Emerson
President and CEO Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce

27. Ellis Bullock III
President E.W. Bullock Associates

28. Neal Nash

29. Bobby Switzer
Vice president operations Lamar Advertising

30. Debbie Ritchie
Director of operations Studer Group; co-founder of Impact 100; former state representative

31. Nancy Fetterman
Honorary chairman for the Vice Admiral John H. Fetterman State of Florida Maritime Museum and Research Center

32. Tom Bonfield
City manager for city of Pensacola

33. Jerry Maygarden
President Baptist Health Care Foundation; owner J. L. Maygarden Co.; former majority leader Florida House; former Pensacola mayor and councilman

34. Bob McLaughlin
Escambia County administrator  

35. John Griffing
President NAI Halford; chairman TEAM Santa Rosa; president Northwest Florida Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP)

36. Ray Russenberger
Marina owner and developer; co-founder of Network Telephone

37. Charles Carlan
Branch manager Hatch Mott MacDonald

38. Ted Traylor
Pastor Olive Baptist Church

39. Steve Sorrell
Executive director Emerald Coast Utility Authority

40. Lawrence Schill
Attorney Merill Land Co.

41. Brian Spencer
Architect Spencer Maxwell Bullock Architects

42. Tommy Tait
Northwest Florida president Whitney National Bank

43. David Peaden
Executive director Home Builders Association of West Florida

44. Buck Lee
General manager Santa Rosa Island Authority; former county commissioner Escambia and Santa Rosa counties

45. Cody Rawson
Road contractor Roads Inc.; developer

46. Bill Greenhut
President Greenhut Constructions

47. Bill Pullum

48. M. Blaise Adams
President First Gulf Bank

49. John Carr

50. John Peacock
Investment representative Edward Jones; SRIA board member


One thing is new this year. The 2008 Power List separates out the elected officials since so much of their power comes solely from their elected positions.

1. Ray Sansom (R) Fort Walton Beach, Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives
2. Don Gaetz (R) Niceville, Florida Senate Chairman Education Pre-K-12 Committee
3. Jeff Miller (R) Chumuckla, U.S. Congressman
4. Lois Benson (R) ECUA board member
5. Ernie Lee Magaha (R) Escambia County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller
6. Ron McNesby (R) Escambia County Sheriff
7. Jack Nobles (R) Pensacola City Council member
8. Mike Whitehead (R) Escambia County Commission chairman
9. Greg Brown (R) Santa Rosa County Property Appraiser
10. Don Salter (R) Santa Rosa County Commissioner
11. Marie Young (D) Escambia County Commissioner
12. Gene Valentino (R) Escambia County Commissioner
13. Grover Robinson IV (R) Escambia County Commissioner
14. Gordon Goodin (R) Santa Rosa County Commissioner
15. Ed Gray III (R) Santa Rosa County School Board
16. John Fogg (R) Pensacola Mayor
17. Dave Murzin (R) Pensacola, Florida House of Representatives; vice chairman Health Care Appropriations Committee
18. John Jerralds (D) Pensacola City Council deputy mayor
19. Clay Ford (R) Gulf Breeze, Florida House of Representatives; vice chairman Committee on Postsecondary Education
20. Jewel Cannada-Wynn (D) Pensacola City Council member

No. 1 Collier Merrill

Developer and restaurateur works behind the scenes for college, maritime park, downtown improvement and political candidates and causes.

Collier Merrill didn't believe he would be named Pensacola's most powerful person.

There are a lot of people he admires who are involved in and do things in the community, he adds.

"I was very surprised when Rick told me I was No. 1."

Last year, Merrill was ranked No. 7, and Fred Levin took the top post.

So how does Merrill, a 47-year-old businessman and community leader, define power and influence?

"It's the ability to get things done," he says.

With his brothers, Will and Burney, Merrill co-owns Merrill Land Company, a real estate development and holding firm, The Fish House, Atlas Oyster House and Jackson's Restaurant in Pensacola.

And Merrill speaks proudly of the history that surrounds two of the professional spaces downtown, his 10-story office building and Jackson's Restaurant.

The Merrill brothers bought Seville Tower at Palafox and Government streets about 10 years ago. In 1909, when the structure was completed, it was the tallest building in the state of Florida.

In 1978, Seville Tower was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

And then there's Plaza Ferdinand VII Park in between the office building and Jackson's, where Gen. Andrew Jackson was sworn in as the first Territorial Governor.

In 1821, Jackson declared to citizens that the land was Florida Territory and Pensacola would be the capital of the west half of the territory.

"Literally, 20 steps out the front door" of the restaurant is where Jackson signed the treaty, notes Merrill, who adds that they're considering that history, while now tweaking the restaurant's menu.

The businessman says if he wanted to live in a place like Miami, he would.

"I love Pensacola for what it is, and it's slowly moving in the right direction on things we want," he says.

The developer was recently named chairman of a UWF committee that will choose the university's new president.

An interim president will serve for one year, beginning in mid-June, and a new president will be chosen by June 2009, Merrill reports.

"We don't want to be in a rush for it," he says. "We want to choose the right person."

As the founding chairman of the UWF Board of Trustees, Merrill has been involved with the university for years.

Merrill has "helped shape the direction of the university in many key ways," says John Cavanaugh, outgoing UWF president.

"From providing me and many others a way to meet and connect with community leaders, to being a staunch proponent of projects to advance the city and region, Collier (Merrill) is always there to give his support," Cavanaugh says.

Although Merrill can often be seen on the Fish House Deck late at night-wearing a suit and tie-the single businessman says there are times when he does dress down and wear blue jeans.

Merrill describes his favorite dish at The Fish House as "blackened anything-blackened whatever the fish of the day is. And I eat a lot of it, too. You can tell," he says jokingly.

To be sure, the developer has clear ideas for the future of Pensacola's downtown, where he resides at the city's southernmost point.

Merrill wants, for instance, downtown businesses to be open at night, after the area's employees have gone home.

Merrill Land Company owns a stretch of office space on Palafox, which includes the new hair salon "Style." Merrill says he asked the owner to stay open until 8 p.m.

"You need to have things that are open after 5 p.m. at night to get people, you know, moving around," he explains.

Merrill also says he would like to see UWF students taking classes and living downtown in dorm-like structures.

Regarding Merrill's overall vision for the area, he says: "We've got to continue with the growth that we're having-developing the downtown-but we've got to do it in a way that 100 years from now people will be talking about how great it is."

Within the next five years, Merrill says he would like to see the continued development of the Community Maritime Park and baseball stadium. He also hopes downtown will have more businesses and walking traffic, like on a Gallery Night.

"We can, hopefully, get to the point where every weekend is like that," Merrill says.

The businessman also says he uses any statewide political influence "he may or may not have" for the good of the area.

"We all owe him a major debt of gratitude for all he has done to make Pensacola a better place to be," Cavanaugh says.

Merrill serves on the Community Maritime Park Associates board of trustees and the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

In addition, the businessman is one of 28 members of United Way of Escambia County's Tocqueville Society-the agency's premier level of donors who give a minimum of $10,000 annually.

The Tocqueville members may not be people who are going to volunteer in a soup kitchen, Merrill says, "but they want to give money back, which is good, too."

Merrill, of course, receives financial and other requests from all sorts of people on a regular basis. Recently, three servers asked him to help them with jobs and an internship, Merrill says.

"I'm always calling people-trying to help people," he says. "I enjoy that."

Merrill also cites the old adage: Influence is kind of like money in the bank-the more you use, the less you have.

"So you've got to be somewhat careful and pick your battles," he says.

Politically, though, a person does not have to be an "out-front" figure, Merrill says.

"M.J. Menge (the late Pensacola attorney) said a long time ago that it's much better to be the kingmaker than the king."

No. 2 Quint Studer

Quint Studer doesn't consider himself to be a powerful and influential person, he says.

"I see myself as somebody who tries to be helpful," he says.

Studer was No. 8 on the Independent News "Power List" last year.

He is the founder of Studer Group, a healthcare consulting firm, and he owns the Pensacola Pelicans minor league baseball team. The publication Modern Healthcare named the consultant one of the "Top 100 Most Powerful People." His latest book, "Results That Last," is on Wall Street Journal's bestsellers list.

The 56-year-old Studer says his current projects include the formation of a community advisory board that would sponsor a yearly survey of Pensacola area residents.

Now, data on local issues is "all anecdotal," Studer says. "And it's not measured."

Studer helped spearhead the $70 million public-private development of the Community Maritime Park, and he serves on the board of directors for the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce and the Autism Society of the Panhandle.

Studer Group has also sponsored the BLAB-TV show "Pensacola: A Proud Past, A Better Tomorrow." The local community affairs program has offered information from guests on the environment, housing, education and jobs.

"If (people) don't see the facts, then how can they make good decisions?" Studer says. "You have to be transparent enough to give them information."

No. 3 Jim Reeves

Attorney and developer Jim Reeves was No. 4 on last year's Independent News "Power List."

The 69-year-old Reeves served three terms in the state House and three terms as a member of the Pensacola City Council.

During his time in the Florida House, Reeves helped create the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board.

Now, though, the attorney is excited about his work as chairman of the statewide board for PRIDE, Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises Inc. PRIDE provides industries and vocational training in prisons. The group also offers aftercare services once inmates are released.

"What we're trying to do is make sure they don't come back to prison," Reeves says.

He wants the program implemented locally at the Santa Rosa County and Century state prisons.

Reeves is also a member of the Charter Review Commission; past president and chairman of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties, or NAIOP; and chairman of the McGuire's Irish Politicians Club.

The attorney is also on the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition board of directors and past president of the Gulf Breeze Rotary.

Reeves also works behind the scenes to get appointments of Northwest Florida citizens to state posts by Florida's governor.

No. 4 Fred Levin

Fred Levin indicates his time of true power and influence has passed.

"In my situation, I think it's all downhill," he says. "I was Number 1 (on the list) last year."

The 71-year-old, flamboyant and outspoken Pensacola trial attorney had the University of Florida law school named after him in 1998. As a trial attorney, he has won more than 25 jury verdicts in excess of $1 million. His biggest achievement, though, is helping rewrite legislation in 1993 that lead to a $13.2 billion dollar settlement by the tobacco industry with the State of Florida.

Levin has attended cocktail parties with former President Bill Clinton, former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, U2's Bono, and David Rockefeller.

The United Nations even made Levin a chief in the Republic of Ghana.

"At that point, I was traveling in high cotton...I guess, I was probably at the height of influence," he recalls.

Now, Levin says he is focused on making amends to his family for the harms he caused while "traveling."

Most days, Levin meets buddies after work at Intermission or The Global Grill to have a drink and "BS each other about the old days," he says. Levin's drink was Crown Royal when he smoked cigarettes, which was more than five years ago, he says.

Now, he enjoys a glass of red wine before he goes home to enjoy reality shows, such as "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars."

No. 5 Buzz Ritchie

Buzz Ritchie has moved up. He was No. 11 on last year's Power List.

But he doesn't buy it.

"No way. I'm not even the most powerful or influential person in my own home," says Ritchie, Gulf Coast Community Bank CEO.

Ritchie is a former state representative and House minority leader and past chairman of the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

The bank executive says of all that he's accomplished, he's most proud of his children and stepdaughters.

"Watching them grow and succeed is a real thrill," he says.

Ritchie's numerous community involvements include working with the Pensacola Children's Chorus, Pensacola Opera, the United Way of Escambia County, the YMCA and Rebuild Northwest Florida.

What's his next big challenge?

"Hopefully, something as amazing and constructive as IMPACT 100, which my wife, Debbie, helped to start a few years ago," he says.

IMPACT 100 is a women's philanthropic group whose members each give $1,000 annually. The group uses the funds to provide grants to local organizations.

Ritchie consider Pensacola's greatest assets to be its citizens.

"The people here are so friendly, caring and giving," he says. "(Hurricanes) Ivan and Dennis taught us a lot about the character of Pensacola."

No. 1 Elected Official - Ray Sansom

State Rep. Ray Sansom becomes one of the most powerful lawmakers in Tallahassee when he takes over as the House Speaker.

But the Destin Republican remains as humble and as soft-spoken as ever.

"I never really think like that," Sansom says about being the boss in the capital. "I hope that we can use the influence of my position to benefit Northwest Florida."

The 45-year-old Sansom becomes the first Okaloosa County lawmaker in history to become speaker when he is sworn in Nov. 18.

Sansom cites Pensacola's natural beauty, downtown, Pensacola Junior College and University of West Florida as some of the city's biggest assets.

What is he most grateful for?

"That my family's still intact," he says. "(Public office) can take its toll on your family."

Sansom has a wife, Tricia, and three children.

First elected to the House in 2002, Sansom has been involved with the American Heart Association, UWF, and the YMCA Corporate Board. Previously, he served as an Okaloosa County commissioner from 1992 to 2000.

In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, running and swimming.

As a legislator, Sansom says his mission plain and simple is to make Northwest Florida a better place to live and work.

"That's my goal," Sansom says. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

<click here to check out last year's Power List>