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Friday July 25th 2014

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Outtakes: Destruction of Trust


By Rick Outzen, IN Publisher

The Pensacola City Charter is based on truth. The public and the city council have to rely on the veracity of the executive branch of its municipal government.

When government officials lie and hide documents from the public, then the ability to properly govern falters. The council can’t vote on the budget and policy decisions without all the information. The public can’t weigh on issues unless it knows the truth.

Ashton Hayward professed to believe in these basic principles when he ran for mayor in 2010. He proclaimed that he wanted to restore trust in government. Unfortunately, we have seen little from him and his administration that instills trust.

His spokesman, Derek Cosson, posted anonymous comments on my blog during city office hours from late August 2012 to the end of January 2013. The comments were pro-Hayward and attacked council members and the Pensacola police. When our paper confronted him, he emphatically declared that he would never do it.

A week later City Administrator Bill Reynolds said Cosson did do it, and told council members, off the record, that it was at the instruction of former Chief of Staff John Asmar. Another lie, but somehow the allegation let Cosson off the hook.

Then we have The Zimmerman Agency debacle. Reynolds and Cosson conspired to deny public record requests from Diane Mack, Joe Vinson, Councilwoman Maren DeWeese and this paper regarding the new logos and other work done by the Tallahassee-based agency.

The most glaring denial concerned a June 28 request from Mack for the new logos. City emails show that Cosson had the new logo, all the enterprises had approved their new logos, the new airport monument sign had been installed and the new logo had been given to the ECUA executive director. Still Cosson and Reynolds told Mack that the city didn’t have possession of the logos.

Sometimes the lies are small.

In September 2012, the paper made Reynolds a loser for hiring Zimmerman. He replied that he didn’t guide the selection process and had only been involved with the firm for a couple months. The city emails state Reynolds was involved directly with Zimmerman once Hayward selected the firm in November 2011.

Or the “binder” that the city administrator claimed last month to have that would shock the council with its incriminating evidence that the ad firm hadn’t done its job. It took three weeks for the “binder” to be delivered to our paper.

Trust in city government has not just been weakened by these actions. It has been shattered. And sadly we don’t expect the lying and hiding of records to stop anytime soon.