Strong mayors make things happen. They listen, seek counsel and take action. They are visionaries who promote their cities to the outside world. When people think of strong mayors, names like Joe Riley and Mike Dow come to mind.
Joe Riley has been the mayor of Charleston, S.C. since 1975. During his nine terms in office, Charleston, a Southern city with a past almost as historic as Pensacola’s, has experienced a remarkable revitalization of its historic downtown business district, seen the creation and growth of Spoleto Festival U.S.A., built a beautiful Waterfront Park and experienced unprecedented growth in size and population.
Mike Dow was the mayor of Mobile, Ala. from 1989-2005. As leader of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce, he helped develop a 15-year plan for the redevelopment of downtown Mobile, which was called “The String of Pearls.” As mayor, he executed that plan and placed the city on its current course.
Ashton Hayward is a strong mayor. He has the potential and drive to surpass the accomplishments of both Riley and Dow. Since he was sworn into office in January, the Pensacola mayor hasn’t stopped promoting, pushing and pulling his city into the forefront of the Gulf region.
Armed with his 20 Solutions for 2011 agenda, Hayward had made significant progress in creating jobs, restoring trust, taking action and improving neighborhoods–the five main categories for his solutions. He is accountable for the city government’s performance, and he has worked hard his first 100 days in office to set the course for the remainder of his four-year term.
Hayward realizes that as the city’s first strong mayor, he is defining the new role for the mayor and how it interacts with the city council, city employees, county, state and federal governments and the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and the business community. The expectations are high, and the 42-year-old is working hard to meet and exceed them.
CREATE JOBS: HUBBS-SEAWORLD
There is no better example of the impact of a strong mayor on creating jobs and attracting new businesses to Pensacola than the recent announcement of Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute wanting to locate a large fish hatchery and marine research facility here.
When visiting Washington, D.C. to lobby for help with the recovery from the BP Oil Spill, Hayward had dinner with a childhood friend who works for The Furman Group, a consulting group that advises clients involved in the development and financing of water, sanitation, energy and transportation projects.
“I met Hal Furman, the founder and chairman, who served in the Reagan administration,” Mayor Hayward told the IN over coffee at The Leisure Club on a Saturday morning. “Hal serves on the executive committee of Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute. He told me that Hubbs was interested in building a facility on the Gulf Coast. I jumped right on it, realizing how huge it would be for our community.”
Two weeks ago, Hayward got a phone call telling him that Pensacola was their top choice for the new facility and asking him to come to Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute’s headquarters at Perez Cove on Mission Bay, Calif. He met one-on-one with Don Kent, president of the institute.
“This would be their fourth facility. Besides Mission Bay, they have a fish hatchery in Carlsbad, Calif. and a research institute in Melbourne, Fla.,” said Hayward. “They are into aquaculture technology and production and want to break ground in Pensacola this year.”
According to its website, the Leon Raymond Hubbard Jr. Marine Fish Hatchery in Carlsbad is a 22,000-square-foot hatchery that is capable of producing over 350,000 juvenile white sea bass annually. The Pensacola facility will focus on developing hatcheries for several marine species. Hubbs-Sea World is looking to build it either at the Port of Pensacola or near the Community Maritime Park.
Hayward said the facility will create about 80 jobs when it is fully operational. “Don Kent said that courses can be established at Pensacola State College to train locals to work at the hatchery,” he told the IN. “There will be nothing like it in our area.”
GETTING AFTER IT
Mayor Hayward said that his city expects him “to get out there, get after it”–which is what he has done the past three months.
The City’s natural gas utility, Energy Services of Pensacola, is the largest such utility in Florida. The City buys its natural gas from BP North America and that contract to buy $30 million of gas was set to expire on March 31.
“I met with BP North America’s top officials to negotiate the new contract,” said Hayward. “I told them that we need to help our community, and I expect them to go above and beyond in giving back to this community that was hurt so badly by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. I expect them to invest in Pensacola and help us promote our city.”
In reviewing the city’s financial reports, he noticed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency still owed the city $1 million for debris clean up after hurricanes Ivan and Dennis. “I’m meeting with those guys to resolve it,” said Hayward. “There’s a lot this city can do with a million dollars.”
The mayor has hired what he calls the “dream team” to file a claim for lost tax revenue against BP and other companies associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The team includes two Pensacola firms, Beggs & Lane and Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Rafferty & Proctor, plus the New York firm of Weitz & Luxenberg, Tallahassee-based Hinkle & Foran, the Orlando law firm Morgan & Morgan, and Dallas-based Baron & Budd. “I have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize our claims and make sure we are well represented in the claims process,” said Hayward. “We don’t have the political clout of the state of Florida and other states. These are the best firms in the country in dealing with this process.”
Hayward got the Pensacola City Council to approve hiring Beggs & Lane to handle the city’s lawsuits over the construction of the airport expansion and the renovation of the Saenger Theatre. “The City was using a Tallahassee firm,” he said. “I felt we would be better served using locals.”
His management team has begun talks with Escambia County on the first steps toward functional consolidation–fire training facilities and first responder communications. As part of the 2012 budget, Hayward will begin the process of streamlining city government and eliminating duplication of services.
Hayward is putting out a Request for Proposal for a local company to lease office space on the third floor of city hall. The floor has been vacant for years. A defense contractor has expressed interest in the space.
This week, the mayor is meeting with the owner of a company that designs the animated games for slot machines. He wants to convince him to relocate to the city’s new technology park south of the Pensacola Civic Center. “He can put it anywhere,” said the mayor. “We need those high-paying, technical jobs here.”
MARITIME PARK BACK ON TRACK
City voters passed in September 2006 the referendum for the maritime park to be built on Pensacola Bay across from city hall. Five years and tens of millions of dollars later, the park is still not completed.
“I had lunch two weeks ago with Rob Burton, the CEO of Hoar Construction,” said Hayward. Hoar Construction is the Birmingham-based construction company that is majority shareholder of Magi Construction, which is building the maritime park. “We need to finish this project on time and be ready for Double-A baseball next spring.”
Hayward got the necessary commitments from Burton to fast-track the project and eliminate the layers between the city and the construction company. His staff has met with Baskerville-Donovan, the project engineers, Hatch Mott MacDonald, owner’s representative, and Hoar to discuss value engineering. One proposal recommended by Hayward that the city council recently passed was a reconfiguration of the retention pond at the park’s East entrance, which will save the city $500,000.
Quint Studer, owner of the Cincinnati Reds Double-A affiliate that will play in the multi-use stadium at the park, gives Hayward high marks. “Ashton has stepped in and gotten this project back on track,” said Studer. “He has shown the value of a strong mayor.”
PUTTING CITIZENS FIRST
Hayward held on April 11 his first “Take City Hall to the Citizens” meeting at the Gull Point Recreation Center. Jobs, code enforcement, consolidation and water quality were some of the topics discussed.
“The first meeting was a huge success,” said the mayor. “I heard their concerns and ideas, answered their questions and even challenged them to get involved. We want to give power and resources back to the neighborhoods.”
The mayor believes that the beautification of A Street has spurred individuals and companies to volunteer to help. Hayward had the City Council approve in March $256,000 for landscaping and streetscaping projects along A Street. “The west side has been neglected for years,” said the mayor. “Now we have businesses volunteering to help landscape other areas.”
Hayward pointed to the funding of community centers for Woodland Heights that was approved last month and for the Legion Field area in the 2012 budget as two other initiatives to help revitalize the west side of Pensacola. He has requested from each city council member a project list for the 2012 budget.
“Our neighborhoods are vital to our success,” said Hayward.
TIGHT BUDGET TIMES
One of Hayward’s first executive orders was to remove more city vehicles from the take-home pool. That order went into effect March 1.
“In this tough economy, when businesses and families are struggling to get by, and we are striving to grow our city and invest in things that create jobs or make our city more attractive and livable, it’s just not right for the taxpayers to be footing the bill for anyone’s free ride unless it’s absolutely a part of delivering services to the taxpayers,” said Mayor Hayward when he issued the order. The order eliminated 22 city-sponsored vehicles for certain employees at a total weekly mileage reduction of 2,562 miles.
As promised in his 20 Solutions for 2011, Hayward has published on the new city website monthly, line-item financial statements along with explanations for any significant variances from budget projections.
He has instructed every department to provide a list of cuts to the 2012 budget at the 3 percent, 5 percent, 7 percent and 9 percent levels. Each department had held budget meetings with the mayor and staff to justify their needs. Hayward hopes to propose a property tax cut of 0.25 mils with his upcoming budget.
The only major staff change has been the retirement of City Attorney Rusty Wells that was effective April 15. Hayward hasn’t begun the search process for a replacement but plans to propose this month the hiring of Jim Messer on an interim basis.
Messer worked as the chief litigation attorney for the Escambia County Attorney’s Office from 1993-2001. He worked at the Levin Papantonio law firm for four years before establishing an independent practice. He currently lives and practices in Birmingham, Ala. Hayward has proposed an eight-month contract with Messer that would pay the attorney $10,000 per month.
Hayward scoffed at any accusations that he is showing favoritism in hiring his legal advisors. “I’ve hired Beggs & Lane, where my opponent’s son is a partner,” he said. “Messer cost me a lot of money when he shot down a zoning change over which he served as the magistrate. I’m hiring the best firms and people for the jobs at hand.”
The mayor has also hired John Asmar as his chief of staff. Asmar is a Pensacola trial attorney who grew up here. Before earning his law degree, Asmar had extensive city and county government administration experience, which included time with both the City of Pensacola and Escambia County. He has served as City Manager for the City of Homestead, Deputy City Manager of North Miami Beach, and Administrator for Planning and Development Services for the City of Clearwater.
“The Chief of Staff needs to be someone who gets things done,” said Hayward. “Asmar understands my agenda and is working hard to help me implement it. He brings vast knowledge and experience to the table.”
Hayward said that the search for a city administrator has gone well. “We have five finalists, two of which are women, which will start visiting the city and meeting the city council later this month.”
Hayward is pleased with his first 100 days. He enjoys the challenge. He and his staff are completing the budget and will have it ready to deliver to the Pensacola City Council next month. The mayor is presenting a State of the City address to accompany that presentation. In that address, he will lay out and explain his plans for the upcoming year.
“The citizens have said they want someone to step up and make things happen for Pensacola, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” said Mayor Hayward. “It’s not easy challenging the status quo, but that’s my job, and I’m going to keep pushing forward.”
20 SOLUTIONS FOR 2011 STATUS REPORT
★ Give local businesses the opportunity to compete and to win city contracts for construction and services, so we can create and save jobs for our neighbors and our families.
★ Enhance the quality of our workforce through training and education programs, so our young people and workers obtain the education and skills they need to be competitive in a global economy.
★ Establish a united front with the city, county and all non-governmental groups that are dedicated to regional and national economic development to maximize our ability to recruit jobs, investment and talent to our area.
***Between the oil spill recovery and the Boeing Tanker campaign, there were new city-county/regional relationships formed that are going to pay off in the future. Mayor is currently working with Congressman Miller and Joe Bonner from Alabama on specific issues that benefit the entire area.***
★ Determine the highest and best use for the Main Street wastewater treatment plant site and look at ways to attract outside capital and investment from the private sector to fulfill that use.
★ Develop policies for using the dozens of acres of vacant, surplus city-owned property and surplus buildings to recruit new businesses to the city and to assist existing businesses in expanding, so we don’t continue losing jobs to other cities.
***The Mayor’s office has been meeting with the Chamber to develop a published, online list of properties that can be marketed to prospective employers. Then, we just have to sell them.***
★ Cultivate a “Citizens First” culture at City Hall. Obtain feedback from surveys, comment cards and city staff to ensure the best customer service possible and responsive government.
*** The City has comment cards, but the Mayor plans to do more on this point. While not a huge cost-savings, the decision to remove more fleet vehicles from the take-home pool was a Citizens-First initiative, because it sent the wrong message that the City was giving very good benefits and take-home cars while local businesses and families were scraping by.***
★ Produce monthly, line-item financial statements that will be posted online for the public to view, along with explanations for any significant variances from budget projections.
★ Implement a code of ethics for all city employees and department heads that set standards for behavior and professionalism, and institutes strict transparency requirements to prevent even the appearance of conflicting relationships between decision-makers and those doing business with the city.
★ Make city information more readily available and easy to understand by including in city budgets, resolutions, ordinances and other documents a “public summary” that outlines in clear, everyday language the impact of actions taken.
★ Eliminate local government duplication and cut wasteful spending by collaborating and/or consolidating with other government entities on services, such as purchasing, human resources and technology.
***The Mayor’s Office has explored the first steps of some small functional consolidation, including fire training facilities and first responder communications, between the city and the county. As part of the 2012 budget, the Mayor will begin the process of streamlining city government and eliminating duplicating services.***
★ Create discretionary funds for each council district that allows them to address community needs without bureaucratic red tape. The funds would be subject to approval by the Chief Financial Officer or Mayor.
***As part of the 2012 budget process, the Mayor requested a project list from each member of the council. While not a “discretionary fund,” this will give council members an opportunity to have specific neighborhood projects addressed as part of the budget.***
★ Develop a cost reduction incentive plan for city employees who find ways to cut the budget, allowing them to share in the benefits of the first-year savings.
★ Evaluate the city pension plan so we can continue the current level of essential services that we all expect for policing, firefighting, emergency response, garbage pickup, etc.
***The Council has led the way in changing the investment policy for our City, which is going to help improve our return on cash investments. This is separate from pensions, but it is consistent with the intent of this goal, which is to secure our long-term financial health. Regarding pensions, the Mayor is waiting to see what the state-level pension reform efforts do, as well as collective bargaining discussions with the new AFSCME union, before undertaking any specific local policies. New employees are being placed into the defined contribution plan in the pension plan.***
★ Prioritize the city’s spending of revenues, moving from the current budgetary approach, to a “near-zero-based” budgetary approach, requiring all budget allocations to undergo a justification process.
***The Mayor has instructed every department to provide a list of cuts to the 2012 budget–3 percent, 5 percent, 7 percent and 9 percent, and each department will have a budget meeting with the Mayor and staff to justify those needs. This is as close to a “near-zero-base” as possible in dealing with a largely service-driven budget. In addition, the Mayor is examining personnel vacancies for cost savings and reorganization.***
★ Find new ways to generate non-tax revenue to address critical needs in our city, such as creating a “Grant Specialist,” funded from secured grants, whose sole responsibility is pursuing outside funding from government and private foundations to ease the burden on taxpayers.
***Mayor is working diligently to secure funds from D.C. and Tallahassee. There are some operational issues about a “Grants Specialist” that need to be worked out, but the position is still being explored.***
★ Transition our Port of Pensacola from an aggregate and cement-driven enterprise to one that hosts more downtown friendly, light industrial shipping and mixed-use commercial development.
***The Mayor’s Port Advisory Committee is tasked with exactly this.***
★ Promote mixed-income housing by developing incentives for redevelopment and for the creation of affordable living opportunities throughout neighborhoods within the city limits.
★ Use the approximately $1 million tree fund–paid for by new construction–in the city to improve existing streets with narrower lanes, wider sidewalks or bike lanes, trees and beautification, and other enhancements to accommodate better walking, bicycling and vehicle travel.
***DONE. A Street improvements among others. Also, roundabouts on Main and Clubbs—A Street as the western entrance to the CMP.***
★ Transition the city’s fleet to Natural Gas Vehicles to help reduce greenhouse gases and urban pollution, and the dependence on foreign oil. Because the city owns and operates Energy Services of Pensacola, the use of NGVs will be a potential business opportunity.
***First CNG vehicle is purchased and delivery expected any day. ESP is currently installing the fuel station for the vehicle.***
★ Green our city and protect our environment by ensuring that new, city-owned construction is LEED-certified and create tax incentives for private developers that adhere to sustainable development standards.
***Mayor will be addressing this as part of a broader city code and development plan workup.***