Sunshine Daydream The state has determined that there is insufficient evidence supporting Pensacola City Councilwoman’s Sherri Myers’ accusations of Sunshine Law violation against Mayor Ashton Hayward.
“We have determined that there is no evidence that the mayor acted as a conduit to convey information between any council members,” wrote Chief Assistant State Attorney Gregory A. Marcille in a Dec. 11 letter to Myers.
The opinion from the Office of the State Attorney, First Judicial Circuit of Florida was in response to Myers’ complaint regarding a Sept. 26 press conference where the mayor was joined by three city councilmen and a councilman-elect. She laid out her position in a statement the following day.
“The mayor held a press conference designed to garner support for his veto of an item in the council’s budget,” Myers wrote, also pointing out that none of the three women on council were in attendance.
Hayward’s press conference was held a day before the city council was to make a decision regarding a mayoral veto of its budget amendment targeting $220,000 of marketing funds. Answering questions from the media, the mayor said he felt “like we will pass the veto.”
During the press conference, Hayward addressed council-mayoral relations—“I want to take the high road and hope others will choose to do so as well”—and said he wanted to “build consensus.” When Councilman John Jerralds was asked if he now agreed with the mayor regarding the marketing funds, Hayward said the councilmen would need to speak with the press individually due to Sunshine Law concerns. While Jerralds quickly ducked out a side door following the press conference, councilmen P.C. Wu and Brian Spencer, as well as councilman-elect Andy Terhaar spoke individually with members of the press.
Myers learned of the press conference from a television news reporter as she entered Pensacola City Hall for a meeting of the Environmental Review Board.
“I wasn’t invited to the press conference,” the councilwoman said at the time, suggesting the possibility of Sunshine violations.
In its opinion this month, the Office of the State Attorney informed Myers that the mayor and each attending council member had been interviewed. Press coverage of the event was also reviewed.
“Each council member testified that they never discussed their position regarding the pending veto vote either with the mayor or any other council member,” Marcille wrote.
It appears something big is happening at the Pensacola International Airport. While city of Pensacola officials have been tight-lipped, discussions during recent public forums point to an economic development project at the city-owned facility.
During a Dec. 13 Pensacola City Council meeting City Administrator Bill Reynolds noted that Mayor Ashton Hayward was not present to congratulate the University of West Florida’s championship girls’ soccer team because he was in a meeting with “some very important people from outside the city.”
Earlier in the week, the airport project was briefly discussed by regional elected officials sitting as the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization in Milton. Members of the Pensacola City Council and Escambia County Commission, as well as officials from Santa Rosa County, talked about project priorities at the facility as well as funding over the next few years for Air Commerce Park Phase I.
“It’s 450 jobs initially, phase two and three takes it up to a thousand,” Escambia County Commission Chairman Gene Valentino told his peers on the Florida-Alabama TPO. “So, the impact is geometric.”
When asked about specifics, Pensacola spokesman Derek Cosson had no answers.
“I don’t know what project to which you are referring,” Cosson said in an email.