The white community is excited about Mayor Ashton Hayward’s first initiative for 2013—eliminating the two at-large members on the Pensacola City Council. The African-American community? Not so much.
For the record, this newspaper advocated reducing the size of the council as early as 2001 when the city elected its first mayor in half a century. However, it is bothersome that such an important decision is being rushed without the mayor and other proponents for the reduction ever asking for input from the black community before it was put on the council agenda.
The mayor met with a small group of influential white leaders at the trendy 5 ½ Bar earlier this year and asked for their help to eliminate the council seats, but he never brought it up to his West Side Advisory Committee, which he established in January 2009 to advise him issues impacting the African-American community.
Last month, the Mayor held a town hall meeting in District 7, which is represented by Jewel Cannada-Wynn. He didn’t mention his initiative or ask for that district’s input either.
Councilman Larry Johnson, who represents probably the most affluent district in the city, presented the referendum to eliminate the at-large seats to the council in April.
When he was considering whether to run for House District 2, Johnson solicited the support of several African-American leaders. Not once did he ask for their opinions on eliminating the at-large seats. It would have been the proper time to get input.
Councilman Brian Spencer, another supporter for reducing the size of the council, holds a council seat that has been held by African-Americans for more than a decade. District 6 is almost equally divided demographically with 2,564 whites, 2,473 blacks and 282 other.
Spencer was elected with support from the African-American community because of his promises to listen to them. He occasionally attends services in black community. He never asked for input from African-American part of his district before he endorsed the eliminating the two seats.
The council leadership says that they will treat the African-American neighborhoods the same as their own districts. Yet Hayward, Johnson and Spencer did not asked for input from the African-American neighborhoods before they made the decision to push the charter amendment.
The decision was made in backrooms and bars without them. Can African-American community trust them to listen to them if the at-large council seats are eliminated?