Our Summer Of Discontent The local political scene usually slows down to a crawl during the hot, humid days of summer. The only exceptions are the occasional tropical storms and hurricanes that pop up. Otherwise, we welcome the tourists, rake in the money and take a break from political discord.
The summer of 2013 was different. One institution after another made headlines and the impact of those events are still rippling through the community.
The Greater Pensacola Chamber let go of its CEO Jim Hizer and found itself in trouble for its executive committee making the decision behind closed doors and without seeking input from its full board. The State Attorney’s Office weighed and determined that the chamber had to move its operations under the state’s Sunshine Law because of the funds it receives from Escambia County and the City of Pensacola.
Former Mayor Jerry Maygarden agreed to serve as interim CEO. Within three weeks of taking the position, his incoming chairman, John Hutchinson, and seven other board members resigned and the county commission appeared ready to strip the chamber of control over economic development and tourism. Maygarden’s reward was to have “interim” dropped from his title.
The State Attorney’s Office also slapped Mayor Ashton Hayward on the wrist for his administration’s failures in handling public records. His top advisors, City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Press Secretary Derek Cosson, were charged with non-criminal infractions regarding the city’s new logos. Hayward fired Reynolds for delivering sensitive personnel records to the mayor’s opponent in next year’s election.
Two blocks away at the Ernie Lee Magaha County Complex, George Touart failed to garner the votes to drop “interim” from his job title as the county’s administrator. The county has found itself at odds with Sheriff David Morgan over the county jail and with Emerald Coast Utilities Authority over its recycling.
Sheriff Morgan made national headlines when deputies shot an unarmed man in his driveway and two dogs under a bed. The man and one of the dogs lived. Morgan won the award for the most front-page articles and editorials written about him in the daily newspaper over the summer.
Then the daily newspaper had layoffs. Publisher Kevin Doyle and Executive Editor Dick Schneider announced their retirements. Managing Editor Ginny Graybiel, who had run the newsroom for the past five years, and columnist Shannon Nickinson were laid off. In two days, the editorial leadership was changed completely.
How our local governments, chamber and daily newspaper handle these “storms” will be the measure of their flexibility and durability.