Pensacola, Florida
Sunday October 21st 2018


Outtakes—Another Unforced Error

By Rick Outzen

When Inweekly endorsed the proposed city charter in 2009, we never envisioned that people would have so much trouble interpreting and implementing the document. After all, attorney Crystal Spencer and the Charter Review Commission spent 18 months holding public hearings, listening to experts and the community, and debating its sections.

The new charter was based on the premise that an elected mayor with executive powers would be better than the hired city managers who ran the City of Pensacola since 1931. The mayor would be more accountable to the voters. He would have a vested interest in Pensacola, living in the community that he served.

The success of the new strong mayor hinged on the leadership of the person elected, his experienced, competent management team, his negotiation skills with the city council, and his ability to communicate with city residents.

In the perfect world, the city council would never need a council executive, attorney or budget analyst. The mayor and his management team would come to council meetings, provide requested documents, and answer questions from council members. Governance would be a partnership with the council.

The mayor would hold town hall meetings and hear directly in person from citizens. His staff would be accessible to media to explain decisions and answer questions. He would hold press conferences and field questions.

Unfortunately, accountability is nearly impossible without accessibility. Instead of getting better at governing in his second term, city operations have become even more dysfunctional. Mayor Ashton Hayward communicates primarily through press releases, social media posts that others do for him, and YouTube videos. The town hall meetings stopped in December 2013. The regular press conferences stopped the next month.

Department heads make presentations to council, but members often have been told they can’t ask questions in the public meetings. The mayor even refused to let the council ask Fire Chief David Allen any questions during his confirmation hearing. Can you imagine the same happening with the hearing for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch?

Mayor Hayward’s veto of the budget analyst was yet another sign of city hall’s dysfunction. He did little to explain his decision. He didn’t attend the meeting when the council made its decision to hire its analyst. He didn’t show up for the special meeting on the council’s override. The council took unprecedented action and unanimously overrode the veto.

And what’s sad is this little melodrama was another unforced error that could have been avoided if he paid more attention to the city charter, had strong lines of communications with all the council members, and personally engaged the media and his constituents.

Did Mayor Hayward and his leadership team learned anything from this?