Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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Outtakes—Put Away The Legos

By Rick Outzen

Running a municipality is not easy. As much as some want it to be like playing with a Lego play set where you can arrange the multi-colored pieces in whatever order you like, it’s not.

City and County administrators have special skill sets and understand that municipalities require leaders committed to serving the citizens, elected officials and municipal employees. Laws, rules and policies matter because they build public trust, confidence in the municipal operations, and a sense of cohesiveness and fairness among the staff.

Good municipal administrators learned how to lead their city and county governments by working themselves up the ranks, gaining experience on how various departments operate. It takes time to understand how to deal with a crisis, whether it’s a tornado, hurricane or a man-made disaster.

The best municipal administrators are members of groups like the Florida City and County Management Association and the International City/County Management Association, both of which promote professional local government. The organizations work to create excellence in local governance by developing and fostering professional management through training and standards.

Unfortunately, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward has taken the Lego approach to municipal government, and the miscues have mounted. His current administrator, Eric Olson, hasn’t the skill set, training or experience to run the City of Pensacola. Olson’s first year at the helm proved it.

No experienced city administrator would have called the boss of the president of this town’s most active homeowners association to complain about her using her business email account to contact city staff. A well-trained administrator would have called the president and discussed the matter directly with her.  Good administrators don’t play “gotcha.”

Good administrators run to the site of a natural disaster to find out firsthand what has happened. Instead of driving to where the February tornado touched to down to survey any possible damage inside the city limits, Olson went to work at city hall like any normal workday. Councilwoman Sherri Myers called him to let know about the destruction in Dunmire Woods and Eau Claire Estates.

Good administrators understand the importance of the chain-of-command in his fire and police departments, because public safety is paramount. Letting a human resources director override a chief’s decision is a mistake that a former naval officer like Olson should have understood. Placing the fire chief and deputy chief on leave for over 90 days was unconscionable.

For the good of the city, Mayor Hayward needs to rethink his leadership team and find professional municipal help. It’s time to put away the Lego play set.