Pensacola, Florida
Monday May 28th 2018

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Outtakes—Dodgeball at City Hall

By Rick Outzen

Over the past eight years, the most photogenic mayor in the city’s history has dealt with the public and media like he’s playing dodgeball.

Mayor Ashton Hayward has become so proficient at dipping, ducking and diving while repeating hollow catch words like “momentum” and “optimism” that he has an earned a Five Ds certificate from dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan.

However, the public is losing out. Hayward has gone from a high-profile politician that once walked Palafox asking people for input and returning the phone calls of reporters to communicating only through written announcements and posts on social media.

When he is cornered on camera by the media like he was last week and forced to answer questions about city operations, his replies are such an incoherent mess that it’s clear the announcements and social media posts were written by someone other than Hayward.

The sad part is Hayward didn’t start out afraid to face the citizens. In his first budget message, he pledged to create a “Citizens First” culture in Pensacola City Hall. He bragged, “…I have made engagement of the citizens a top priority through my ‘Taking City Hall to the Citizens’ town hall meetings.”

The town hall meetings remained his strategy to “strengthen relationships with neighborhoods” for the next two fiscal years. However, Hayward abruptly stopped holding them in December 2013.

Since then, city hall has become more detached. In FY 2016 and FY 2017, Hayward set transparency as a goal and said the public would be “able to fully access city services and participate in local government.” Instead, the city council cut its regular meetings and reduced the public’s opportunity to voice concerns to once a month.

Transparency was eliminated as a goal for this fiscal year. The mayor’s biweekly digital newsletter, “Upwords,” was discontinued in November 2017. His communications department attempted a YouTube podcast, “The Upside,” but that effort was halted in February.

Poor communication and the lack of transparency turned what should have been a successful week for Mayor Hayward into another misfire. The Galvez Day celebration was the bright spot with the unveiling of the General Galvez monument. However, that headline was drowned out by the recycling debacle and the groundbreaking for the community center without a contractor.

The mayor’s office hid from the citizens the decision not to process recyclables for seven months. The budget for the Bayview Community Center has nearly doubled, and city officials aren’t even sure the public likes the final design.

Had Hayward stayed connected with the citizens, these miscues could have been avoided. Instead, he learned that even the best dodgeball players occasionally get beaned.