Leadership in Pensacola is in transition, a shift that began years ago. The Escambia County Commission elections of 2006 and 2008 put three new commissioners in office. Pensacola has a new mayor, Ashton Hayward, and only three councilmen that were elected prior to 2006.
In an area that repeatedly returns its politicians to office without much opposition, we have several people who have held their positions less than three terms, like Sheriff David Morgan, State Attorney Bill Eddins, Supervisor of Elections David Stafford, Public Defender James Owens, Gulf Breeze Mayor Beverly Zimmern and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.
Escambia County has a new county administrator, Randy Oliver. The President/CEO of the Pensacola Bay Chamber of Commerce, Jim Hizer, is coming up on his one-year anniversary. Andrea Farage was recently named to head United Way of Escambia County, and Mayor Hayward has begun interviewing for the new city administrator.
In the private sector, new names and faces are heading our largest corporations. Laura Kaiser is at Sacred Heart, replacing Patrick Madden. Susan Story has moved on to head the Southern Company, and Mark Crosswhite is her successor. And we see offspring popping up in key positions in family-owned businesses across the community.
Below the executive suite, there is another layer of men and women ready to take the reins–people who have the education, people who have the right skill sets, people who care about their careers, families and community. They aren’t politicians. Their parents aren’t wealthy. They aren’t necessarily well-connected. They are looking for their chance and advice that will help propel them to greater success.
When he was interviewed for this week’s cover story, Mayor Ashton Hayward shared a story about when he came to Pensacola wanting to start his development company.
“When I moved to Pensacola, I reached out to the powerbrokers,” said Hayward, “They all wanted to be my friend, but they didn’t want to help because they wanted to keep everything for themselves. I thought that was a shallow way to look at how to grow this city.”
I’ve heard similar stories from other young professionals–right before they moved to Atlanta, Birmingham or New Orleans. Pensacola hasn’t always been the most welcoming community. If you move here with money, the doors are opened and dozens will help you spend it. Otherwise, take a seat and wait your turn.
Mentors are needed here, people who can help open doors and avoid miscues. We’ve lost some of our greatest ones: M.J. Menge, Vince Whibbs Sr., Theophilus May, Lane Gilchrist and Adm. Jack Fetterman. It’s time we fill the huge shoes they left behind. The focus needs to change from what we can keep for ourselves to what we can give to others.
I try to do my part, advising, listening and offering advice with no personal gain in mind. It’s done without fanfare. There’s no official program or agenda that’s followed. Sometimes it’s appreciated. Other times, my directness and candor get me in trouble, but my honesty is the best gift I have to offer. This is how my dad, my mentor, did it. It’s the only way I know how.
I challenge you to do the same.