PAY ATTENTION The 2012 municipal elections have the potential to be a mid-term test for Mayor Ashton Hayward and the 2010 city charter. There are five city council seats up for election. If the anti-strong mayor crowd seizes control of council, then Hayward could be mired in biweekly power struggles for the remaining two years of his term.
When Hayward took office, the city was optimistic about the full implementation of the new city charter that placed the city government in the hands of the mayor for the first time in 80 years. The older members of the council, P.C. Wu, John Jerralds and Ronald Townsend, had not favored it or Hayward, but appeared willing to comply with the will of the voters.
Megan Pratt had stayed neutral during the charter referendum and the mayoral election, but the others, Maren DeWeese, Brian Spencer, Sam Hall, Larry Johnson and Sherri Myers, had all campaigned for the strong-mayor form of government. DeWeese, Spencer, Hall and Johnson had supported Hayward.
The calm didn’t last long. However, even with DeWeese, Pratt and Myers forming a block against most of Hayward’s initiatives, the mayor got things done with the support of the other six council members. Then came the “Council Spring.”
When Mayor Hayward worked out a deal to have Pen Air Federal Credit Union buy the Thiesen Building and move over 100 jobs downtown, he needed the council to forgive an $80,000 loan to the Downtown Improvement Board that would provide financial support for its new economic development incentive program that offered Pen Air parking for its employees. Johnson defected, Hall accused the mayor’s staff of strong-arm tactics and Hayward appeared to be on the brink of losing his first big vote.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed—after all Pen Air was bringing nearly $5 million in payroll to downtown. The measure passed 8—1, with DeWeese casting the dissenting vote. However, the Pen Air/DIB debate gave us a taste of what could happen to Hayward’s initiatives when one council member switches his/her vote to the opposition.
Wu, DeWeese, Jerralds, Townsend and Hall are up for re-election. Only Wu and DeWeese have pre-filed to run. The qualifying period runs from June 4 to noon, June 8. The primary election is August 14. If run-offs are necessary, they will be November 6.
These elections will either push this city ahead or drag it into endless council debates that will deadlock the city’s progress and unravel the new charter. Pensacola needs to pay attention to its council races, now more than ever.