Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday February 20th 2019

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Outtakes—Pensacola Renaissance

By Rick Outzen

Under Mayor Grover Robinson, city government and civic engagement are going through a renaissance as citizens are given unprecedented access with city officials and leaders to discuss how they want their city run.

His predecessor, Ashton Hayward, introduced “Taking City Hall to the Citizens” town halls during his first term. For three years, he held meetings in each city district that let citizens share their concerns directly with the mayor, city council and department heads. The 22 town halls were well attended, and Hayward touted them in his “State of City” addresses and annual budget messages.

Then, he abruptly stopped them in December 2013. A year later, the Pensacola City Council replaced its committee of the whole meetings with agenda reviews that limited public discussion of items and cut its regular meetings to one a month.

Only two council members, Sherri Myers and Jewel Cannada-Wynn, continued to hold town halls. The mayor and the rest of the council showed little interest in the citizens’ views.

Mayor Robinson campaigned on reinstituting the town halls. He has established a transition team that is reviewing all city departments and services in the open. The team will deliver its report in March. By that time, the transition team will have held more public meetings than Hayward’s aborted town hall initiative.

After five years of being shut out of city government, the citizens are responding and relishing the opportunity to be heard. The individual public input meetings on such subjects as walkability, education, environment and economic development have been well attended, and, most importantly, ideas are beginning exchanged. The city officials and the transition team are listening.

We know that when government officials shut out the public, bad things happen. We have recycling programs discontinued while the citizens continue to separate their trash for pickup. We have fights over a fish hatchery and the future of Bruce Beach. We have the budget of a community center nearly double. We have a city administrator attempt to get the president of a neighborhood association fired by her employer. We have a radio tower erected in a conservation district. We see pettiness and self-interest overrule common sense and public service.

Mayor Robinson has attended most of the transition team meetings. He plans to build on their transparency and public input with monthly town halls. His first town hall is 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 24, in the Woodland Heights Community Resource Center, 111 Berkley Drive.

I encourage our readers to attend and let the mayor know your issues and opinions. We need the renaissance of our city government to continue. Your voices will make it happen.