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The Buzz 7/5/12

Bill of Health With Americans on the edge of their seats, the U.S. Supreme Court finally broke the suspense in late June and upheld—kind of, sort of—President Barack Obama’s health care reform law. The Affordable Care Act has been bitterly contested by Republicans and is considered the primary piece of legislation of Obama’s presidency.

The legislation was upheld by the court on a 5-4 vote, with Chief Justice John Roberts making an uncharacteristic leap to join the bench’s four more liberal justices. The court quasi-dodged the individual mandate aspect of the legislation—the most controversial aspect—by allowing that citizens could be required to purchase health insurance, or else pay a penalty, if such a purchase is framed as a tax. Obama had previously stated the individual mandate was not a tax.

Reactions from the Right were predictably enraged, while the Left loudly celebrated the victory handed down by the court. Reactions in the Sunshine State were fairly indicative of the national response to the ruling.

“A lot of us feel the health-care law wasn’t perfect. But it was needed,” U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) said in a statement. “Our system was broken and we had to do something. Insurance companies were refusing to cover people or dropping those who got sick. So, we passed legislation to prevent insurers from running roughshod over people. And today, the Supreme Court upheld most of these reforms.”

Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL), had a different take: “The Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold the individual mandate in Obamacare is a monumental obstruction of personal freedom and liberty. It is a tragedy for patients and health professionals across the nation and a major setback for our free-market system … we will explore every legislative option to repeal and replace this flawed law.”

Although the Supreme Court upheld the legislation, the justices ruled that the federal government could not force states to expand Medicaid programs. Critics immediately pounced on what is sure to become the new battleground in the country’s debate over reforming the current health care system.

In Florida, where legal challenges to the legislation originated, state Attorney General Pam Bondi hinted at the possibility of scuttling the health care law if November elections realize a Republican victory.

“The American people will have their say in November,” Bondi said in a statement. “And I am confident that they will join me in rejecting a law that is so harmful to individual liberty, to our economy, and to the welfare of our people.”

In the wake of the health care ruling, President Obama said the court’s decision is a victory for the ever-expanding number of uninsured Americans.

“They’ve reaffirmed a fundamental principle that here in America—in the wealthiest nation on Earth—no illness or accident should lead to any family’s financial ruin,” Obama said.

Council Executive Search 3.0 The search has entered another phase. With two candidates over the past year having declined the position, the Pensacola City Council decided June 28 to look to an outside agency in its continued search for a council executive.

“Like a Landrum,” Council President Sam Hall told the board.

Hall said that after meeting with City Administrator Bill Reynolds, he thought an employment agency might be a reasonable option. The outside agency, he said, would probably land the council with an acceptable executive.

“But, if for some reason, it doesn’t work out,” Hall continued, “the one nice thing about Landrum is they’ll send you somebody else.”

Other council members had concerns about how the city charter addressed such a move, or if the board should turn to the next candidate on an already existing list. There were also questions raised about who exactly—the city council or the mayor—the eventual employee would answer to.

“Who fires that person?” Councilwoman Sherri Myers asked.

The matter of who the executive would answer to—as well as the deeper charter-related issues that subject drifts into—arose repeatedly throughout the meeting. Several council members insisted the employee answer to the legislative body.

The city administrator would later stress that, ultimately, the council executive would answer to the executive branch. He told council members that Mayor Ashton Hayward’s office preferred not to make the charter an issue.

“But if it becomes a charter issue and a charter question,” Reynolds continued, “then it becomes the mayor’s responsibility to make you understand … I just don’t want this to get bogged down in the issue of the charter.”

Abandoning the hiring process—ditching an existing raked list—concerned several council members. Councilman P.C. Wu questioned the board’s ability to legally go with Hall’s Landrum-suggestion—“for us to say, ‘we think this would be nice,’ to wave a magic wand …”

Councilman Jerralds suggested the board was not pursuing the next candidate in line on the ranking system because she is black; he also said that might have been the reason the board’s original choice did not end up taking the job.

“Then the question really becomes does it have to do with the race of Scotty Davis, or the number two?” Jerralds asked.

The racial concerns were shared by Councilman Ronald Townsend, who referred to Hall’s Landrum-suggestion as “totally ridiculous” and said the council should stick with the ranked list created during a May 24 meeting instead of “coming up with some different kind of hogwash.” The councilman told the board members they were shying away from an already selected minority candidate.

“We all know this is an African-American female,” he said. “And we have an opportunity to hire her.”

The councilman would soon walk out of the meeting, which ran for barely more than an hour. Jerralds would later leave, and then return. Councilmen Brian Spencer and Larry Johnson were never in attendance.

The council eventually voted 5-1, with Jerralds dissenting, to bring Landrum into the mix. The board added a caveat to the motion, hinging the move on a consultation of previous meeting minutes—if it’s found the board decided to follow-through with the current list of candidates, the council will return to the ranked list.

Upon the suggestion that the minutes be consulted, Reynolds cautioned that such an agreement would have to have been officially contained within the official motion.

“The body needs to understand,” he said, “that a discussion is not a promise.”