Pensacola likes to play it safe. We study, hire consultants, study some more, hire new consultants and by the time we’re ready to deal with a problem, it has either disappeared or grown to such colossal proportions that we decide not to confront it. Instead, we move to the next problem to study. The Port of Pensacola, pensions, poverty, job creation and minority inclusion are such issues that are now in at least their second decade of discussion.
There are times I believe Pensacola’s problems with problem-solving and execution are genetic, part of the DNA of the community. One of my favorite stories is how the British fort in Mobile asked for help from Pensacola to repel an anticipated attack during the American Revolutionary War by the Spanish Governor Bernardo de Galvez.
The British troops in Pensacola spent weeks preparing for the trek to Mobile, only to arrive in time to see the Spanish capture the city. They returned to Pensacola without engaging in the conflict. The City of Pensacola would fall to the Spanish months later. That inability to take decisive action may have set a course for the city that we’re still trying to overcome over 200 years later.
With the election of our first strong mayor that was to change. I still believe Mayor Ashton Hayward can get the job done. However, I don’t have the patience to wait 200 years.
Conventional wisdom is that the city’s problems didn’t develop overnight, so it’s unreasonable to expect to solve them overnight. I also hear city government is complicated, and it’s like turning a cruise ship, which has to be done slowly and deliberately.
At his swearing in, Hayward appeared to be taking that advice. He made no bold statements at the ceremony on Jan. 10. He announced no concrete initiatives at the press conference that followed. All I walked away with from his speech and press conference was “The greatest challenge is to change our culture. We need a ‘Can Do’ attitude and to believe we can win locally, regionally and nationally. We need to brand ourselves.”
Okay, but what about the Port of Pensacola, the West Side Plan, rolling back the millage and reducing the size of government? How does changing culture make a difference to a 6 year old that wants more than a storefront library, who would like to have a library like the Tyron branch in east Pensacola? How does branding find a job for the college graduate who has returned to Pensacola to be near his family? How does any of that reduce the tax burden on the elderly who live on fixed incomes?
They can’t wait 200 years. They can’t wait four years and, in some cases, not even four months. So please forgive me if I don’t buy into the cliché statements and platitudes, if my impatience offends or my desire for change sometimes overwhelms my common sense.
We didn’t change the city government for more of the same.