Mayor Ashton Hayward, the city of Pensacola’s first elected strong mayor, did that for his first three years of office. From 2009-2013, the mayor brought his leadership team to all seven city districts, faced the citizens and listened to their concerns at his “Taking City Hall to the Citizens” town hall meetings. This year, he has not held one such meeting.
In April, Mayor Hayward was a special guest of Escambia County Commission Chairman Lumon May at his forum to discuss public education, crime and job creation in his district, but he was on the stage with Sheriff David Morgan, Superintendent of Education Malcolm Thomas, businessman Quint Studer, Supervisor of Election David Stafford, Rev. Lonnie D. Wesley, III and others. The city was not the focus of the forum.
Strong mayors also meet with the media to discuss, defend and explain positions, policies and decisions. They do not only reply to questions via spokespersons and emails. Mayor Todd Strange of Montgomery, Alabama meets weekly with the media. Like the town hall meetings, Mayor Hayward initially said he wanted to follow Strange’s example and created his “Morning with the Mayor” program.
Last October, Hayward explained why he wanted to meet the media every week.
“The media obviously always has opinions, reports the news objectively, and I’m sure that they want to know what’s going on in city hall and my ideas and opinions,” Hayward told local reporters at his “Morning” session. “I try to make myself better, whether that’s talking to other mayors, the citizens or you guys.”
And the mayor is right. Talking with the media can make him a better leader and mayor. The media also can better understand his decisions and programs. He can better hone his communication skills through the give and take that occurs in press conferences, forums and “Mornings” sessions.
Unfortunately Hayward has not followed through with his commitment to hold his “Morning” sessions on a weekly basis. In the 36 weeks that have passed since the first session, the mayor has only held three meetings with the media. The last one was at the end of January before the ice storm.
Strong mayors are supposed to be up to the challenge of facing the public and the media. They are supposed to be able to defend and explain their programs and decisions. Strong mayors are supposed to be accountable.
Town halls meetings and press conferences are essential to accountability.