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Wednesday July 23rd 2014

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Neighborhoods & Public Safety

Mayor Hayward has repeatedly said that for the city to succeed it must invest in its neighborhoods. He has done that, but the rise in crime within the city limits may undermine his efforts.

In his first two years, he reconstructed Main Street in front of the Maritime Park, completed the new Admiral Mason Park and made landscape improvements on A Street and Bayfront Parkway.

Using Community Development Block Grant funds, Hayward partnered with Escambia County to buy and demolish the former W.A. Blount Junior High School on C Street, which had been largely vacant since 1982. The school district owns other closed schools and offices inside the city limit that have been vacated for years.

In the FY 2013 budget, the mayor has $1.46 million to resurface city streets and another $350,000 for new sidewalks. Construction of the Woodland Heights and Legion Field neighborhood resource centers, a $6 million dollar investment, will begin.

The mayor got the city council to approve stricter code enforcement laws and create a Special Magistrate to handle code enforcement cases quicker. In the first nine months of 2012, 256 cases were handled—more than double the number in prior years.

Sanitation Services implemented the Neighborhood Cleanup program to provide a cleanup to each city neighborhood once per year. During the past two years, 617 tons of waste has been collected.

Sanitation had operating income before depreciation of $145,001 for FY 2011—an improvement over the prior year’s loss of $38,778. After depreciation, Sanitation lost $130,976.

Crime has plagued the city for much of 2011 and 2012. Shootings have become a common experience. Seven homicides have been committed inside the city limits. According to PPD, 21 residential burglaries were reported within the city limits from Nov. 27 to Dec. 7 alone. Two suspects were arrested. One was shot while trying to flee the scene.

In 2011, the city had two homicides, 28 rapes and 251 aggravated assaults. The city’s crime rate was 28 percent higher than Escambia County’s and 63 percent higher than the state average.

In July 2012, Police Chief Simmons held a press conference to announce plans to saturate city neighborhoods with uniformed officers after three drive-by shootings over a few days. Mayor Hayward attended the conference. That was the last one held on crime in the city. The impact on shootings was short-lived.

Personnel

Mayor Hayward has cut in his first two budgets the city staff by 30 positions, saving $1,021,700. He hired Bill Reynolds as Pensacola’s first city administrator and Jim Messer, or more accurately his law firm, as the city attorney. Hayward named Chip Simmons the police chief.

Hayward’s city hall has a very different look. The only department head holdovers are Dick Barker (Finance), Matt Schmitt (Fire), Ericka Burnett (City Clerk), Clyde Mathis (Port), Jerry Moore (Sanitation), Derrick Owens (Engineering) and Don Suarez (ESP).

The former assistant city administrator and community development director positions now function as Chief of Staff John Asmar and Chief of Economic Opportunities and Sustainability Clark Merritt, respectively, within the mayor’s office. Helen Gibson was transferred from Community Development to the mayor’s office as his chief of neighborhoods.

Community Development, Parks & Recreation and Public Works were consolidated into two separate departments, Neighborhood Services (Brian Cooper) and Public Works and Facilities (Owens). Airport policing was placed under Police Chief Simmons, eliminating the airport police captain position.

Further shifts will occur in FY 2013. The Zoning/Housing Code Enforcement function within the Planning Division has been realigned under the Sanitation Code Enforcement function so that citizens will have a single point of contact for all code-related complaints. Within Engineering Services, three positions within the survey crew have been moved to Public Works and Facilities as the surveying function will be contracted with outside vendors.

During his campaign, Hayward promised to add more firefighters. In FY 2013, three new professional firefighter positions will be added and six fire captain positions and three fire lieutenant positions will be converted to professional firefighters.

Hayward also promised to establish an Office of Diversity “to ensure everyone has an opportunity to do business with the city.” He has apparently dropped that name for the more conservatively acceptable “Office of Community Outreach,” naming Rev. LuTimothy May as its director.

Though the percentage of African-American employees has increased slightly under Hayward, from 22.5 percent to 24.3 percent of the city’s workforce, there are no black department heads. Prior to his tenure, the top five highest paid black city employees—that included the city manager and community development director—earned $478,081 combined. As of Nov. 30, Hayward’s top five African-American employees combined made $356,511 annually.

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