However, faith in that system began to crumble over the past decade. The city manager format became better known for maintaining status quo rather than progress. Study after study was commissioned to figure out what to do with the Port of Pensacola, poverty on the west side of Pensacola, public libraries, downtown and the waterfront. Study after study went unheeded.
Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis pulled back the veneer covering up the multitude of problems plaguing the city and the citizens were no longer willing to hide their frustrations. The first Quality of Life Survey by the Better Pensacola Forum revealed that only 20 percent of the city was happy with the direction of Pensacola.
The city manager was seen more as a caretaker than innovator. Stronger leadership that was more accountable to the voters was what many felt was needed. In 2009, voters passed a charter placing an elected mayor as the city’s CEO—independent of the city council.
Ashton Hayward was elected the first strong mayor and began to shape the position after he was sworn in January 2011. Those employees who didn’t buy into his priorities and leadership were asked to move on, including the old city manager.
Mayor Hayward took full advantage of his “honeymoon” to push through the city council most of his programs, such as building two community centers, demolishing the old Blount Middle School and funding a disparity study.
This past year has been the tough sophomore year. With every step forward, there is always pushback. And as one deals with the pushback, there are even more who come forward to second-guess not only the way the controversy is handled, but also the initial step forward.
There is a lot of comfort in doing nothing. Pensacola always likes the promise of progress, more than the hard work of achieving it. More people will line up here to throw rocks than defend decisions.
So now we have the Urban Redevelopment Advisory Committee report. Will it sit on a shelf or actually be taken seriously by the mayor and the city council? Hard decisions need to be made, but is there the political courage to act?
If not, then why did we fight so hard for a new city charter?