GROWING PAINS Watching the Pensacola City Council adapt to the new city charter has been painful. For nearly 80 years, city government was run by a staff that answered to a council that had ballooned by 2009 to 10 members, including the mayor.
Frustrated by the lack of decisive action and accountable leadership, the citizens voted in 2009 for a strong mayor form of government, which placed the executive powers in the hands of an elected mayor.
Councilmen P.C. Wu, John Jerralds and Ronald Townsend weren’t supporters of the new charter. Councilwoman Megan Pratt straddled the fence and never really announced a position. So you have at least four out of the nine council members who started the year with doubts about the new system.
The first big issue, one that never really caught the attention of the other media, was the council agenda. Council President Maren DeWeese adopted the same format that former City Manager Al Coby and his predecessor used. She reviewed all items presented by Mayor Ashton Hayward and unilaterally decided whether she would recommend them to the city council or place them on the agenda as discussion items.
The new city charter is silent on how the agendas should be done. The council’s Rules and Procedures states “all agendas are prepared by the President of City Council in collaboration with the Mayor.” There was no rule, procedure or law that gave the council president the power to restrict the Mayor’s recommendations or prejudge them prior to submittal to the other council members, but that became the process that she adopted.
Initially, there was no conflict because Mayor Hayward was focused on reorganizing city hall. However, when he recommended in April hiring Jim Messer as the interim city attorney, the agendas and the council president’s handling of them became issues. The vote on Messer was delayed a month before he was approved.
Since then, the council president has reworked her agenda process. Beginning in July, Hayward’s recommendations will be presented to the entire city council under “Mayor Communications” in the agenda without recommendations from the council president.
Another conflict that recently arose was over the architectural and engineering design proposals for the approved Woodland Heights Community Resource Center. Councilman John Jerralds tried to hijack the approval process and helped form a committee to review the proposals that would steer the center to where he wants it placed in his district.
Last Thursday, June 30, Mayor Hayward threw out all the proposals. He sent a letter to the architectural and engineering firms that bid thanking them for bidding but rejecting all proposals because “City staff failed to follow City policy, which requires professional service or selection committee members to be appointed by the Mayor.”
I’m sure Jerralds isn’t too happy, but the charter vests that power with the mayor, not individual council members. This issue will surely come back during the discussions on the 2011-12 city budget.
Since the new charter divides the city government into executive and legislative branches, such disagreements should be expected. It will take time to iron out all the kinks, but we are still light years ahead of where we were two years ago.