Pensacola, Florida
Sunday June 24th 2018

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An Odd Meeting at Fricker

By Sammi Sontag

Pensacola City Councilwoman Jewel Cannada-Wynn held an atypical town hall meeting for her District 7 on May 31 at the Fricker Resource Center. The meeting wasn’t advertised on the city’s website, and the media wasn’t sent an announcement.

Cannada-Wynn told the attendees that she usually hosted “intimate meetings” with neighborhoods within her district, but she felt an open forum welcoming all created more transparency between the city and its constituents about current pressing topics.

“Well, every time I have these meetings, I think to myself, ‘How can I make things work around here?’ What can I do to make everyone happy and just make things work,” Cannada-Wynn said. “I sent out 450 postcards about the meeting tonight. I usually only get about 20 people in these meetings, so for more than 30 to show up, that’s progress.”

District 7 has 4,488 registered voters, according to the Escambia Supervisor of Elections’ office. The postcards covered roughly 10 percent of her constituents.

The town hall crowd was a mix of regular attendees with a sprinkle of new faces, she said.  There were a handful of political figures in the audience as well, which Cannada-Wynn said was nice and refreshing.

Before she took questions from the audience, the councilwoman talked about the city of Pensacola’s FY 2019 budget and how to revitalize parts of District 7.

Over the past years, the west side of Pensacola has been one of the busiest for new home construction.  A Door Properties last month held an open house for its The Junction at West Hill development in the Belmont-DeVilliers district. The units start at $221,000. D.R. Horton has demolished the Hallmark Elementary School and is building townhomes that will start at $274,500.

ParsCo will begin this summer construction of 30 residences on the former W. A. Blount Junior High School site. The project had been delayed a year while the city worked out how to make some of the units affordable for law enforcement, firefighters, teachers and other workers. Each unit was originally projected to cost around $199,000.

On the economic development front, the councilwoman has been a bigger supporter of the fish hatchery proposed for Bruce Beach, which is in her district. The Gulf Coast Marine Fisheries Hatchery and Enhancement Center will employ 10 people and lease the waterfront site for $50 a year. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection canceled the request for bids to construct the facility until a lawsuit regarding the validity of the lease is resolved.

At an April town hall hosted by Commissioner Lumon May, Cannada-Wynn reaffirmed her support for the hatchery. She said it wasn’t costing the taxpayers anything.

In regards to the FY 2019 budget, she said, “The city receives about $213-$229 million for the annual budget, but we share that with everything in Pensacola, so places like the airport or parks have a cut of that sum. That means by the end, the actual amount is closer to $55 million left for seven districts.”

She continued to explain how that is a very small sum of money, and it’s hard, but not impossible, to rejuvenate an area with such few dollars. She was optimistic about making active changes but refused to give exact details about specific projects such as the affordable housing program in District 7.

Last year, Cannada-Wynn tried to get about a dozen projects added to the Local Option Sales Tax budget, including improved lighting, sidewalks and security cameras in blighted communities and adding a second floor with educational facilities to the Fricker Center.

In July 2017, she proposed that $1.5 million in the LOST IV funding plan intended to renovate Legion Field by 2027 to be moved to an earlier date. She also asked $1 million in the LOST IV funds to support housing initiatives and homeownership programs.

Thanks to her effort, Legion Field is projected to receive $1.2 million next year. The Fricker Center will receive $300,000 in the current budget but nothing for a second-floor addition.  However, she didn’t bring up those specific projects at the town hall.

Cannada-Wynn opened the floor to community issues halfway through the meeting.  She placed baskets at the back of the room numbered one through seven and asked the attendees to write their concerns on a card and put them in the buckets. The first bucket was to contain top concern and the seventh bucket their least important issue.

She then pulled the cards from the buckets and addressed certain issues. By then, a majority of the audience had left, and only about 15 people remained. Only the issues in the first and second buckets were discussed.

“It’s hard to please everyone,” Cannada-Wynn told Inweekly after the meeting. “We don’t have extra dollars, but my goal is to make it (development) happen.”

One constituent suggested the district add more street lighting. Others pushed to build more sidewalks, but the majority liked the idea of development within neighborhoods, meaning creating more affordable housing, tearing down and rebuilding dilapidated homes/buildings and making use of empty lots.

“We are aware we need more affordable housing in that area (district 7),” Cannada-Wynn said.

However, she offered no specific plans for more affordable housing in District 7.

“We do have some housing issues, and we’re making a plan for it,” she said.  “But right at the moment, there are ‘x’ number of dollars that goes into that (project). I can’t give you a clear picture right now, so I’ll refer you to Helen Gibson who serves with the CRA.”

A heated exchange arose when the new Bayview Community Center was brought up. A handful of attendees did not want to see the center completed. Instead, they want an immediate end to construction and reallocation of funds from the multimillion-dollar center.

“We are the constituents, and we’re the priority when comes to these issues,” said Gloria Horning, who is vice president of the Tanyard Neighborhood Association.

Cannada-Wynn avoided any further the questions, comments and concerns regarding the Bayview Community Center, insisting that any further remarks should be taken up with her in a private meeting or with the mayor.

“I think Bayview will be nice, and I am not going to be put in a political issue with whether or not we should have it,” she told the group. “When I talk to the mayor about my issues, (the Bayview Community Center) will be one of them, but I’m not going to be put to this position now.”

Cannada-Wynn ended the meeting with an open invitation to future city council meetings.

“We (the city and civilians) need to talk,” she told Inweekly. “Transparency between us is a good way to make sure everyone is as happy as possible.”

At least one attendee wasn’t happy with the councilwoman’s responses. Dan Lindemann, owner of A & J Mugs and a District 7 resident, wrote Inweekly, “I went to the meeting and learned that my councilwoman does not care what we want and that she will vote the way she wants.”

He added, “That’s what she said. I wish I was kidding.”