Pensacola, Florida
Saturday November 1st 2014

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Outtakes—A Cautionary Tale

The city of Mobile discovered in the months after Mayor Sam Jones left office that the city ran up in 2013 a nearly $16 million deficit. Mobile’s strong mayor and his minions had kept the secret away from the city council, media and voters while Jones was running for a third term.

In Sept. 2012, the external audit’s preliminary findings had shown that as of Sept. 30, 2012, the city of Mobile had a balance of $11,371,036 in its general fund.  When newly elected Mayor Sandy Stimpson began reviewing the city books he found that the general fund was a negative $4,439,607—a $15,810,643 negative swing in one year.

For the past eight years, most cities along the gulf coast admired Mobile and praised Mayor Jones’ leadership.  The string of successes was impressive.  Mobile’s Alabama State Docks had a major expansion and built $26-million cruise terminal for Carnival. German steel giant ThyssenKrupp broke ground in 2010 on a $4.65 billion combined facility in nearby Calvert. Airbus announced in 2012 plans for a $600 million factory at the Brookley Aeroplex.

The city of Mobile had a government center and convention center and had plans to build a maritime museum. Its downtown was going through a renaissance and the mayor was quick to take credit for all of it.

Today, Carnival Cruise Lines has canceled its contract, leaving the city will $1.8 million annual debt payment. ThyssenKrupp has sold its steel plant when it saw demand decline. The maritime museum is two years behind on its construction schedule. As costs balloon, the public is questioning if it will ever support itself.

What happened?

According to Rob Holbert, co-publisher of Lagniappe, south Alabama’s independent newspaper, Sam Jones was a big part of the problem. The mayor was secretive and rarely returned phone calls. In his column “Damn the Torpedoes,” Holbert blasted the mayor, whom he called “Silent Sam.” He accused Jones of treating the state’s open records law “like toilet paper.”

Holbert wrote about Jones, “I’d imagine Genghis Khan had a better relationship with the media than Jones does…Simple questions are met with anger and obfuscation or just ignored forever.”

The Hayward administration appears to be following the Sam Jones media plan, communicating primarily through press releases. The Mornings with the Mayor, which were promised to be weekly, have been sporadic. And public record requests are taking longer to fulfill than under previous administrations.

We are left wondering what is really going on inside Pensacola City Hall. Let’s hope it won’t tale an election to find out the truth like it did in Mobile.