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New City Government Takes Control

BEHIND THE SCENES OF COUNCIL PRESIDENT VOTE
by RICK OUTZEN

The Pensacola City Council chambers were packed Jan. 10 for the swearing in of the city’s first strong mayor and the new council. Staff actually opened up the employee breakroom on the second floor to televise the ceremonies for the overflow crowd.

Mayor Mike Wiggins presided over the meetings with dignity and class. The goal was for the city council to hold two meetings–one for the outgoing members and the other to swear in the new council members and elect the council president and vice president and finish in an hour so that Ashton Hayward could be sworn in as the new mayor at noon, per the new charter.

Wiggins joked, “We need to stay on track and on time. However, brevity is not our strong suit.” His prediction held true, because the council didn’t adjourn its second meeting until 12:07 p.m.

HONORING OUTGOING COUNCIL

In the first meeting the outgoing mayor and council members were thanked for their service. Mayor Wiggins praised Councilwoman Diane Mack for her attention to detail and innovative ideas. Mack called her two years on the council an “educational, mind-expanding experience.” She said that she had tried to be a voice for the voiceless and those with little or no power. She gave credit to Councilman Sam Hall for the new charter and changes in government. “The acorn for change was planted by Councilman Sam Hall.”

She ended her comments, “I’ll be seeing you again.”

Mayor Wiggins said that the other outgoing council member, Jewel Cannada-Wynn, had been a great deputy mayor–“no doubt about it.” He praised her for representing the entire city well and for going district to district listening to citizens.

Cannada-Wynn said, “I support my new mayor. We all want the best for this city.” She also asked for the citizens’ support when she seeks another political office (yet to be determined): “I’ll be a public servant.”

It was Deputy Mayor Cannada-Wynn who honored Mayor Wiggins with his plaque and resolution. She joked it was the first and only time she got to hold the gavel and chair a council meeting in her two years as deputy mayor.

Mayor Wiggins said that he had very positive reflections of his time on the council. He said, “Pensacola today is very different from when I came on this board.” He listed among the changes in his tenure: airport, library system, which had a groundbreaking last Friday for the new downtown branch, Community Maritime Park, Tech Park, Sanders Beach Community Center, 100 city parks and community centers, relocation of the Main Street Sewage Plant and the business renaissance of downtown Pensacola.

Wiggins thanked all members of the council upon which he served, city employees and his family and friends. Four of his nine grandchildren were there for the ceremony. He asked them to stand. “They are the reason we do what we do–to make life better for our children and grandchildren,” he told the audience.

Wiggins wished the new mayor success as he moves the city forward. “We are behind you with talents individually and collectively when called upon. The City of Pensacola is in good hands.”

He ended with, “Being the mayor of Pensacola is the best job in the world because I represented the best citizens in the world. May God bless the City of Pensacola.”

Before adjourning his last meeting as mayor, Wiggins also thanked City Manager Al Coby for his long hours on complicated, difficult issues. The first meeting adjourned at 11:33 a.m.
NEW COUNCIL SWORN IN

It took about six minutes to replace the names on the vote tally board and at the seats. The second meeting started at 11:39 a.m. Brian Spencer and Sherri Myers were sworn in, along with the returning council members, Sam Hall, Megan Pratt, PC Wu, Ronald Townsend, Maren DeWeese, Larry Johnson and John Jerralds.

Spencer said, “It is exciting to be on the threshold of opportunity for this city.” He pledged to stand behind the new mayor.

Myers said she was proud to represent District 2, which contains the city’s core business district–“uptown Pensacola.” She paraphrased John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”

“I imagine a Pensacola that is inclusive for all citizens, communities and cultures. I imagine a Pensacola without poverty. I imagine a Pensacola that fairly and equitably distributes wealth and resources. I imagine a Pensacola that is a good steward of the environment and its resources. We can more than imagine with our new form of government. Our imaginations can become realities.”
SURPRISE UPSET FOR PRESIDENCY

Maren DeWeese upset Megan Benson Pratt in a 5-4 vote to become the first Pensacola City Council president. The swing vote wasn’t Ron Townsend, as some predicted, but PC Wu.

Wu told the IN at the City Hall reception after the historic vote that he hadn’t always agreed with DeWeese on council votes, but he admired her passion and commitment to the City.

Significant political moves occurred before the vote. The council members considered DeWeese’s competitors, Jerralds and Hall. Both withdrew their names prior to the vote. Jerralds said that he was more about implementation and was no longer interested in the post. Hall said that he had reached a decision over the weekend at a church leadership retreat to withdraw his name. He apologized to his supporters, but he no longer had a passion for the position.

Hall said that he thought the council president should be an at-large council member and that it should be like a consensus builder, Megan Pratt.

Throughout the holidays and over the weekend, all the council members received phone calls in support of the various candidates. Mayor-elect Ashton Hayward called both Jerralds and Townsend asking them to support DeWeese, whom he believed was more supportive of his agenda. Hall was considered the primary competition.

Megan Pratt’s sudden emergence was a surprise, especially since she had shown little leadership in citywide issues. She had played it safe on two of the biggest issues facing the City of Pensacola in the last two years. She stayed neutral during the 2009 charter vote.

Pratt posted a FAQ article on her blog, but never took a stand. She bowed out completely of the mayor’s race, not posting anything about the election on her blog.

However, she had been an advocate for a strong council to balance the strong mayor. Pratt led the fight for the council to have its own staff, separate from the administration. She also favored the council president being paid more than the other council members. In tight budgetary times, the fiscal conservative didn’t seem to be concerned over the additional costs.

Pratt appeared on Jan. 10 to have pulled the perfect political end run–a move worthy of the backroom politics of the past. It was rumored her surrogates convinced Hall and Jerralds to drop out–a brilliant move, if true. With her election, those worried about Hayward taking the city in a new direction would have had someone in place to block the new mayor and control who got appointed to Pensacola-Escambia Development Council and the regional transportation authority.

Who Pratt and her supporters overlooked was PC Wu, whose district overwhelmingly supported Ashton Hayward (52-48 percent). District 1 has always wanted change. Wu was smart enough to understand that and to realize that Councilwoman Maren DeWeese wouldn’t bring hidden agendas to the position. One thing about DeWeese is she tells you what she thinks. Also, Wu and DeWeese are both big supporters of police and fire.

DeWeese won, thanks to votes from Wu, Johnson, Myers, Spencer and herself. Wu was elected the vice president of the council. The second meeting adjourned at 12:07 p.m.–not bad for the Pensacola City Council.

rick@inweekly.net