Over the next two weeks, two new county commissioners and four city council members will be sworn into office—the most new officials, at the same time, on these bodies in over 30 years. The sextet—Lumon May, Steve Barry, Charles Bare, Jewel Cannada-Wynn, Andy Terhaar and Gerald Wingate—will be tested quickly.
Commissioners May and Barry have to deal with the aftermath of the firing of County Administrator Randy Oliver and the hiring of the Keith Richards of county politics, George Touart, as interim county administrator. People aren’t happy with the heavy-handedness of this backroom version of musical chairs.
The pair also has to deal with the wave of new taxes that the commission has approved and may be considering in the future. Mass transit and public libraries have been woefully underfunded for decades.
The lame duck commission has scheduled a public hearing for a four-cent gas tax to fund the Escambia County Area Transit. Commissioner Gene Valentino also wants to create another tax to fund the library system. May and Barry will have to decide whether they support these efforts.
Then there is the estimated $100 million in Restore Act funds, which will be Escambia County’s share of BP fines for the 2010 oil spill. Rumors abound on how these monies will be spent. The new commissioners will have to fight for their districts and learn how to barter with the others.
On the Pensacola City Council, Bare, Cannada-Wynn, Terhaar and Wingate will first have to vote on the new council president. P.C. Wu has the most seniority and seems the logical choice, but Johnson, Pratt and Spencer could walk away with the position, which runs the council meetings and decides the committee appointments.
The city council has struggled for the past two years with deciding its role. It has spent most of the last year in conflict with Mayor Ashton Hayward. Councilwoman Sherri Myers sued the mayor. Johnson has publicly and privately opposed the mayor and attacked his staff. Pratt routinely votes against Hayward’s initiatives.
Will the new council members immediately pick sides? Or will they take time to learn the issues and develop a balanced approach? There is away to discuss issues and solve problems without personal attacks. The incoming council members have a chance to build a consensus with Mayor Hayward—one in which everyone may not always get their way, but the city still moves ahead. Will they?
The next six months will be interesting to watch. The Independent News won’t be lacking for stories.