Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday October 1st 2014

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Outtakes: Simple Rules

by Rick Outzen…

SIMPLE RULES City computers are for city business. It’s an official city policy. City email accounts are to be used for “the efficient conduct of City business,” as per the City of Pensacola’s employee manual. The use of computers and the email system for personal reasons is discouraged and only deemed permissible occasionally.

These are simple, straightforward rules for all employees to follow. That’s unless you are the city attorney.

Councilwoman Maren DeWeese made a broad public record request of the city clerk for all the emails of Mayor Mike Wiggins, City Manager Al Coby and City Attorney Rusty Wells concerning the negotiations with BP over its staging area in Bayou Chico. She was handed a massive dump of Wells’ emails, including personal emails making fun of the city council while he was serving as their legal counsel at a meeting.

Wells wrote Sherry Morris, the city’s planning services administrator, “We need to provide barf bags.” A minute later he added, “I want to hurt someone for making me sit through this freakin’ presentation.” It gets worse. Wells also wrote, “YOU at least, are in the comfort of your own officeall I have is this crappy notebook computer with No Access To Porn!”

DeWeese had two choices: ignore them and know the city attorney has little respect for city leaders and their presentations or confront Coby and Wells about these clear violations of city policies. She took the more difficult route and met with Coby and Wells.

What she got from Wells was an apology in an emailwhich is kind of ironic. Of course, DeWeese wasn’t satisfied. The mother of three was offended that a member of the Florida Bar and one of the highest paid employees in the city would think so little of his employers. She was compelled out of a sense of honor and duty to bring the matter before the entire council, especially since Coby and Wells weren’t going to do much about it.

Her reception was less than supportive. Diane Mack, Sam Hall and P.C. Wu came to Wells’ defense. Larry Johnson seconded DeWeese’s motion to fire the city attorney. John Jerralds, Ronald Townsend and Jewel Cannada-Wynn didn’t want to discuss the matter at the meeting. Mayor Wiggins wanted permission to do his own investigation and prevailed by a 6-4 vote. It’s difficult from Megan Pratt’s statements to determine whether she wanted Wells or DeWeese investigated.

None of the council members wanted to take three minutes to read the very brief string of emails. The majority was anxious to avoid this difficult discussion.

When DeWeese asked that Wells be suspended while the mayor investigated the emails, Wiggins rebuffed her, so she got up and sat in the audience rather than be at the same table as an attorney she believed had dissed her and her colleagues.

Melodramatic? Yes, but also a very principled decision. She’s hardheaded about right and wrong.

The Pensacola City Council and the two mayoral candidates, Mike Wiggins and Diane Mack, will not be able to avoid this issue without a major rewrite of the city’s policy manuals. However, they will try.

These are simple rules, folks.