Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Outtakes—Nothing to Fear

By Rick Outzen

The inaugural town hall of Inweekly’s Listening Tour went off without a hitch. Over 50 people came and shared their concerns at the meeting held at the historic Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.

County commissioners Lumon May and Grover Robinson and council members Jewel Cannada-Wynn, Sherri Myers and Gerald Wingate joined the residents. Police Chief Tommi Lyter, Council Executive Don Kraher, Assistant City Administrator Keith Wilkins and Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart also listened to the locals.

Our polling had shown that over 70-percent of city residents wanted town meetings in their city districts. I wanted to test the results and see what would happen if we asked people to share. Antioch’s pastor, Dr. Tyler Hardeman, made his church available for our experiment.

Antioch, an offshoot of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola, was organized in May 1886. It has been a cornerstone of the black community for 131 years, parenting other local churches like Greater Little Rock Baptist Church and Mars Hill Baptist Church. It was the perfect place to listen to the community.

People spoke on issues, such as the playground in Morris Court, traffic control, and public safety. Many talked with passion and commitment about making their neighborhoods better. They also shared what they liked about the city that they loved.

Councilwoman Cannada-Wynn shared for the first time her hopes for Morris Court and that new playground equipment would be installed later this month. Councilman Wingate discussed the need for neighborhoods in Districts 5 and 7 to organize and develop a wish list for their areas. He said the better-organized neighborhoods get the attention of the mayor’s office and council.

Chief Lyter talked about his outreach initiative. He and his command staff plan to walk the neighborhoods on the west side of Pensacola, knock on doors and introduce themselves to the residents.

Assistant City Administrator Wilkins talked about the improvements being made at the Corrine Jones and Bill Gregory parks. He responded to several of the comments made and encouraged the residents to utilize the city’s 3-1-1 service.

A funny thing happened. No one bashed the mayor, city council, police or city staff. People shared ideas without shouting or threats. They stayed after the meeting to talk longer. The public officials had face-to-face discussions with the citizens they serve.

Maybe the officials will go to Pensacola City Hall and tell Mayor Hayward about their experiences. The citizens miss having meaningful interactions with him. And maybe he will resurrect his successful “Taking City Hall to the Citizens” town halls.

There is nothing to fear, Ashton.