Mayor Hayward recently noted “a dead downtown means a dead city.” He linked downtown Pensacola to the success and spirit of the greater community.
Not too long ago, the downtown area was empty to the point of being spooky and sported a smelly sewage plant that haunted any hopes of better days. By the time Hayward arrived at city hall, downtown was experiencing a renaissance—a renaissance that the mayor has to figure out how to sustain.
Downtown is alive with restaurants and shops. There’s the new Maritime Park and Blue Wahoos. It has its first national chain bar—World of Beer. Other restaurants and bars are set to open in 2013. While Hayward did step in to complete the Maritime Park, he has had little to do with downtown’s growth.
This past year, Hayward assembled his Urban Redevelopment Advisory Committee to help him formulate a vision for downtown. The committee issued in early November a report containing a range of suggestions. Hayward took a month to thank the committee for its work and has yet to say what he plans to do with the report.
One area of concern within the downtown area is the Community Redevelopment Agency. The special taxing district—governed by the Pensacola City Council—is running out of money. Soon, decisions will need to be made at Pensacola City Hall regarding financial commitments related to debts associated with the nice, new ballpark across the street, the removal of the stinky sewage plant next door and loans to construct the Downtown Technology Park.
Hayward has stressed the need to increase the number of residences downtown in order to increase the ad valorem revenue for the city and CRA. While businesses will continue to open along Palafox, it looks like residents are looking for some movement on the affordable housing front before moving into the heart of the city.
In January 2011, when he announced his proposed code of ethics, Mayor Hayward said he was looking forward to making Pensacola “the most open, transparent, and honest local government in the country.”
Perhaps the closest Hayward has come to attaining such a goal are his regularly scheduled town hall meetings. During the neighborhood forums, the public may ask the mayor anything they wish. His responses are in-the-moment, unfiltered and, usually, fairly candid.
On other fronts, Hayward has proven increasingly less than transparent. He has shown a fondness for press handlers, managed news and spin.
There is no shortage of glowing press releases and photos of ribbon-cuttings. Access to answers held within city hall, however, are sometimes difficult to come by.
The mayor’s preference for the managed image—rather than the authentic, or transparent—can perhaps best be illustrated through his relationship with the Zimmerman Agency. In July, Hayward announced the city had entered into a hefty marketing contract with the agency, which would be polishing up Pensacola and selling her to the outside world.
While the move—complete with a new logo and rebranding effort—raised eyebrows all over town, Hayward stressed the importance of image. Such a sentiment speaks to an overall philosophy: create an image, control the image, sell the image.
But reality in the city is rarely polished, and that seems to be where Hayward’s transparency aspirations have hit a snag.
Over the last few months, Hayward has become increasingly less transparent, less open. He has forbid his staff from speaking with the press. Transparency appears to be gasping for air behind the Iron Curtain of Hayward’s Public Information Office.
In November, the mayor quietly brought aboard Tamara Fountain, a sixty-grand-a-year consultant who describes herself as a “communications strategist.” The addition speaks for itself.
As for having “the most open, transparent, and honest local government in the country”… for the sake of the rest of the country, let’s hope that’s not the case.