By Sean Boone
For the first time in Pensacola’s history, voters will decide on a sole leader of their government. Last year’s charter revision brought new expectations for a city that for so long has underachieved, and paved the way for one man or woman to be the administrator of a $200-million budget and nearly 800 employees.
At a time in which economic prosperity and morale is at rock bottom, there are several high points that should be embraced by our new mayor.
The $70 million Community Maritime Park has broken ground, new businesses and attractions are popping up downtown, the Port has finally shown signs of life, and the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce has just recruited a reputable new president.
We are now left at a crossroad of leadership. Who has the vision, determination and drive to take our city from where we are and move us to where we hope to be? Who has the ability to walk a tightrope with other officials to get things done? And most importantly, who believes in our future?
This year’s race comes down to four candidates: Chares Bare, Ashton Hayward, Diane Mack and Mike Wiggins. The IN sat down with each this week for a detailed interview to get a glimpse of who they are, why they are running, and what they feel is essential to being the city’s inaugural strong mayor.
Charles Bare, 39, Owner of Catalyst Technology
Charles Bare describes himself as a person “who can work in any environment” and has a broad range of experiences and education that backs up his leadership potential. But more importantly for Bare, he says he knows how government works.
“I lobbied in state government and worked under (then State Rep.) Jeff Miller,” he says. “I know how to get the money at the state level. Nobody really intimidates me.”
Bare moved to the area in 1988 to attend The University of West Florida. He earned his bachelor’s degree in legal administration and a master’s degree in public administration before leaving the area for a few years to work for the U.S. Department of Education in Atlanta. He later served time in Iraq as part of the Military Reserves and today owns his own technology business.
When asked if he thought his young age played a negative part in his campaign, Bare said he felt in some ways it has probably helped him out.
“I’m kind of in touch with the young parents and young professionals I think. We have a lot of younger people who are leaving our city.”
He says he is running for mayor because he feels he simply could “do a better job” than the other candidates and feels the role as the strong mayor should not just focus on the future of Pensacola, but the region in general.
“My focus is more regional than my opponents’. I think we need to have an economic development council…regionally that moves away from the Chamber. We also need to see what educational institutions are seeing a demand for. Our K-12 schools need to have more people come out with a specific skill, like what is happening at West Florida Technical Institute.”
Bare also believes the city needs to find ways to address the funding issue for the City’s fire and police departments as well as the Community Maritime Park, a project he says needs a better economic plan to pay off its bonds.
“We are going to have a huge debt to deal with, but I don’t think a lot of people realize that what’s going in there is not going to repay that debt. We need to create a plan for economic development to pay for it, because the ballpark in its current plan is not going to do that.
“Not a lot of people are going up (to UWF) right now to see a b-aseball game,” he adds. “It’s going to be tough competing with places such as The Wharf (in Orange Beach).”
Bare also believes in an economic development overhaul, stating that the city’s plan should model that of Santa Rosa County’s economic development council — Team Santa Rosa.
“If we get the right cooperation on the county side and that council does an assessment of what job skills we have here, I believe we can retain the people that are here. We must look beyond high-tech jobs that the Chamber has been looking at for some time. As a city, we have to provide tax incentives and work with the county on growth.”
Bare says he’s also in favor of citizen-led government and of making sure the public is aware of advisory councils and boards they can serve on by posting the information on the city’s website. He is also in favor of creating an environmental consultant position on city staff.
“We need someone in this role because everything we do in the city has an effect on the environment. The person would be working with the EPA or DEP on public works projects.”
Port of Pensacola: “I believe they need some assistance in marketing. For example, they’ve got the frozen chicken (shipped by Northwest Florida Cold Storage) going to Cuba, and it looks like they will move shipments to Russia soon, but the problem is the shipment comes in for five days and then there is a lag (with no business coming in or out). Until the long-term leases expire at the port, we’ve got to make the best use of what is out there.”
Pension Funding: “I would like to pursue putting people on the Florida Retirement System and bargaining for that (through the fire and police unions). I don’t think there is any quick answer anywhere. It’s over $80 million here, but Jacksonville is over $1 billion. What I want to avoid is a tax increase to cover pensions…when you throw the Maritime Park debt on top of the pensions, you’re faced with a lot of increased cost for the city. That’s the more pressing issue…how much debt can we handle?”
Raises: “I prefer performance-based raises. I’m sure we have people at the city that aren’t pulling their weight…I’m sure it will be the job of whoever is my department head to make sure they are performing. Fire and police we have cut to the bone, and I’m more concerned with keeping people than giving raises. We may have to reduce some services, but I think public services are the most important thing to fund.”
Ashton Hayward, 41, Co-Owner of Pair & Hayward Properties
For roughly a decade, Ashton Hayward worked as a successful financial advisor in New York City before heading back home to Pensacola to raise a family and give back to the community.
“I always wanted to move to New York…I felt like that if you can move to a city of 8 million and compete and be successful, that’s going to help you apply those things to your job or next experience.”
Hayward graduated from Florida State University in the fall of 1993 with a political science degree and quickly landed a job with AT&T Mobility — and later, The Financial Times, both in New York City. Today he owns a real estate company that he runs with his wife.
He says he’s always been a leader and “been able to deliver” on his promises, and felt it was time that Pensacola saw some new direction.
“When it came time to change our form of government, I got out in front of people. I firmly believe that this is the time for Pensacola to be a game changer. I looked hard at the mayor’s race and who is going to run, and I felt like I had the experience, leadership and the energy to make a change.
“I think two of the most critical things for being a mayor is consensus building and building relationships…and you have to know how to go out and get it…and I do,” he adds.
Although he has no prior political experience, Hayward says he’s had plenty of experience in the corporate world, which he says operates in similar fashion.
“I think first and foremost everything you do in life is politics…it’s always negotiations and relationships and what your next moves are going to be. I hear that question and I know what we have down there now is broken. I don’t have the experience in government, but I’ve worked for corporations. I think the mayor is a CEO. When you look at a CEO you have someone out building relationships and census.”
He believes that before Pensacola can progress it must first implement a plan to grow the city — an idea that must start by creating a sustainable economy.
“You have to ask the question of ‘how are we going to implement a strong plan?’ to grow our city from a land standpoint and from a performance standpoint, whether it’s adding bike lanes, venues downtown, access to the waterfront or more performing arts.”
Hayward says an economic plan must be put in place that works with nearby counties and local universities. He notes that a successful downtown that includes pedestrian-friendly areas and waterfront access, such as the Community Maritime Park, is vital to that growth.
“I see the Maritime Park as a huge economic drive for our city. Seven years ago, I said in an interview that I’d bring in a land planner and turn this land into a world-class development. Fast forward to now, the voters voted…I’m 150 percent behind it. I think people want to see progress.
“If our downtown is successful, we will have a successful city,” he adds. I think we’ve willfully chosen to be poor. We have over 80 acres downtown that we haven’t developed…our core downtown…have we truly put a plan in place? The answer is no.”
Port of Pensacola: “It is a great subject for the city…a lot of our leadership in the past created long-term leases that probably shouldn’t have been signed, but it is the identity of the city. We have to figure out what we want to do with this port. Are we going to be a mixed-use port or a boutique port? Are we going to move things around? We need to put a citizen’s advisory committee around it to figure that out.”
Pension Funding: “I think Tax Watch is going to be able to help us with that. I currently have two Ph.D students from Harvard looking at our pensions. Right now it’s the 800-pound gorilla for us, and the whole world for that matter.”
Non-Profits: “You have to look at it and have a plan and make sure it makes sense to fund. When you go to borrow money you have to have a business plan. I think there is a critical role for non-profits, arts and social services, but you need to have a plan.”
Chamber Involvement in Economic Development: “I’m going to have a working relationship with Jim Hizer each week…that’s the role of the mayor. The government doesn’t create jobs, but it’s there to break down the barriers to make it easier. The Sunshine (state laws) are difficult to grow under, which is why Team Santa Rosa is having problems.”
Green Efficiency: “We need to use renewables and solar power, and convert all of our vehicles to natural gas…we own the gas company, so it makes fiscal sense. Also, any time our city embarks on any construction projects they need to be LEED certified.
Mike Wiggins, 64, Current Mayor and Owner of Wiggins Lawn Spray Services
Mike Wiggins is no stranger to the Pensacola community and has spent the last 15 years serving in City government. Wiggins also makes it no secret that he’s “very energetic” and a person who holds a “great love for the city.”
The current mayor graduated in 1967 from Florida State University with a finance degree before being drafted into the Navy. After being decommissioned, he came back to his hometown to help run the family business — a lawn care service that he owns and operates today.
Wiggins says his years of serving on City Council and as mayor and being a successful businessman make him the candidate most capable of being the inaugural strong mayor.
“My years on Council have let me go through many budget cycles. I know the staff and how things operate. It is not a training program. It is not a job I think of for those who don’t have experience.”
As for advancing the City once he is elected, he believes job creation to be the most important step.
“We need different strategies to do this. The first is recruiting; We’re going to have to work with our economic partner, the Chamber. It makes sense for us to brace that economic development model we have in place…letting the mayor work with Jim Hizer to recruit new businesses. I think we also need ad valorem tax breaks, surplus lands to build and advancement of the tech park.
“We’re up against Alabama and others and we need reasons for businesses to come to Pensacola…80 percent of jobs come from existing businesses,” he adds.
Wiggins describes the Community Maritime Park as a “linchpin” for economic development and a key in expanding the Belmont DeVilliers District and other downtown neighborhoods.
“It’s everything…having access to the water…that’s huge. It is not about a park or a stadium, it’s a fork in the road. If we take the other fork in the road and let private build around it, it’s a linchpin for economic development. I think it will bring in private investors that we never even thought of.”
In response to remarks that he has been in the local political spectrum too long, Wiggins says he has no regrets about his time helping the community.
“I don’t apologize for those years. I’ve spoken out on the issues I’ve believed in. I’ve helped many residents in small ways and some in very big ways. Things are going to happen very, very quickly…and you’ve got to hit the ground running. My experience…it’s absolutely important.”
Charter Opposition: “I did have issues with the charter, and I am still upset with the amount of petitions that go to a referendum, like the ones going against the maritime park now. I believe there needs to be more. While being the mayor I’ve been a different mayor than a lot of people thought I’d be…not just kissing babies and cutting ribbons…I’ve done everything under this charter to be an effective mayor. Maybe I didn’t see certain things early on but I believe with my knowledge I can make a huge difference for Pensacola. It’s not about the charter government. It’s about the person sitting in the office. I am going to make it work.”
Pension Funding: “We need to put all newcomers on FRS…and so far we’ve done that. You can’t do that with the fire because if you put all the young firemen in the system you lose all the money coming from the state. I think we need to negotiate with the union and the state to try to loosen up some rules. I really think the strong mayor should be at the head of table in union negotiations…we’ve already made some headway with this. We balanced the budget with the pension issue, and that’s not easy to do.”
Chamber Involvement In Economic Development: “Why not? We can do it ourselves. We can try to do it ourselves, but I think if the City tried to create its own (economic council) I think it would be counterproductive. We put money in the Chamber and the County puts money in the Chamber, which together you can afford a Hizer. You have to think about this region…if you get people to move here regionally, you are going to get people.
Diane Mack, 63, Current Councilmember and Owner of Diane Mack Advertising, Inc.
Since taking long-term Councilmember Jack Nobles’ seat in 2009, Diane Mack has created a reputation at City Hall for holding nothing back when it comes to issues that are important to her. The Polish-born immigrant calls herself an “outsider” in Pensacola politics and says she feels the city needs her leadership to progress.
“There were certain personalities running…they don’t have the vision or are getting their ideas from the good ole’ Pensacolians, which is not all bad, but it’s not coming from the heart.”
At times she’s been called controversial and divisive on Council. She says the City needs someone who will stick their nose out for them.
“This city needs a feisty mayor, anyway. The people who have mostly been worried about that are those who have kind of gotten their way over the years, and I think they still want to get their way.”
Mack grew up in Virginia and went to Virginia Commonwealth University and earned a history degree in 1968. She moved to Pensacola in 1980 and a year later opened her own advertising firm.
She says she got involved with politics after being involved with fellow Councilmember Sam Hall’s campaign in 2006. From there, she has extensively studied the ins and outs of local government.
Mack currently has the most elaborate and ballsy campaign goals of any of the mayoral candidates — promising such things as increasing the city’s population to 60,000 and increasing the current per capita income by 5 percent.
“Not to toot my own horn, but I believe I’m the smartest of the bunch…I have the sharpest mind, and I’m better informed on the level of what makes cities successful…I seriously doubt others have looked at the literature…city management and the elements that make cities successful.
“Frankly, whoever goes in there cannot just depend on a finance director to review the budget…it’s every complex. I’ve been a student of the city budget for three and a half years, and even the current mayor I don’t believe has studied it like I have.”
Mack says the first thing she’ll do when taking office is to create an operational audit to create a more fiscally efficient city government.
“In big organizations too often we assume we have the most efficient techniques. I will bring in a commission and outside consultant that looks at workload and services provided. The last time we did this was an audit in 1988 for the annexation (of the Cordova Mall area).”
Mack’s other two top priorities include “carving a role” for the mayor in economic development and evaluating the infrastructure needs in city neighborhoods. Her vision for the waterfront downtown is to use the CRA’s plan for development, which calls for private residential zoning in many areas such as the site of the Main Street Sewage Plant, which is expected to move by the end of the year.
“The master plan for the CRA has great vision, and I am wholeheartedly behind it. I don’t need to recreate the wheel when experts have done it for us.
The Port of Pensacola: “I was delighted that my off-the-wall idea (to sell the port) generated a plan. I was pleased with the plan that the port staff came up with, and I’m delighted we have a plan that is capable of succeeding. I am delighted to see offshore-inland is there, and the success it has brought has gained my support. All I ever wanted to do is move in a direction where the port was not a hole we poured money down.”
Administration: “My first week as mayor I will meet with department heads and lay out my plan as mayor. I will give everyone the chance and benefit of the doubt and six months to support my vision and leadership plan and will honor the contribution of the lowest employees to the city.”
Chamber Involvement In Economic Development: “Until the oil spill we just gave (the Chamber) the money and sat back. With the oil spill and realization that even the City of Pensacola needs to get away from the dependence on tourism, we have really begun to question the dollars we have given them. I believe we need to work together as a partnership.”