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Outtakes 7/14/11

HOT POTATO The Pensacola City Council president has called for a special workshop on the morning of Wednesday, July 20. The “hot topics” that she wishes to discuss outside of the Committee of the Whole meeting that will be held two days earlier are the scope of the disparity study, the contract for which has already been signed by Mayor Hayward, and a city charter “checkup.”

The only other council member to add items to the agenda is Sherri Myers. Some of the items that she wants to discuss are how items are placed on the council’s agendas, returning to the committee system, hiring an attorney for the council and the duties of the council president.

The one topic no council member wants on that workshop agenda is the one that most of their constituents want to see happen–reducing the number of council members.

The Pensacola City Council is too big. The city has a little more than 50,000 residents, but has nine council members. As of June 30, Pensacola only has 36,589 registered voters, so we have one council member for every 4,065 voters.

We could cut the number of council members to seven if we would eliminate the two at-large members. The seven members are elected by defined districts and are held accountable by the voters in those districts. The seven focus on serving the needs of their districts.

The at-large districts aren’t accountable to anyone but their contributors. They serve the power brokers and those wanting influence over the hoi polloi. They don’t hold town hall meetings and rarely reach out beyond their circle of friends.

The Pensacola Charter Review Commission voted in June 2009 to cut the at-large seats. Only seven single-member districts were presented in the original draft sent to the Pensacola City Council.

However, that draft couldn’t get on a ballot without the approval of the 2009 edition of the Pensacola City Council.

The at-large council members, Diane Mack and Megan Pratt, weren’t too happy. Lois Benson, a former Council member, present ECUA board member and mother of Pratt, said she would not support the charter if her little girl was ousted. Sam Hall, who now holds one of the at-large seats, called passing the charter “an impossibility” due to the at-large issue.

He was right. With Councilmen P.C. Wu and John Jerralds already stating that they opposed a strong mayor, the new charter was doomed to never make it to the voters unless the Charter Commission relented. The two at-large members were added back and the city council approved putting the revised charter on the ballot.

Now, 18 months later, everyone is kicking themselves for not being more firm on the issue. The Pensacola City Council needs to be reduced. Someone needs to have the guts to add it to the workshop agenda so the elected body can discuss something the voters really want to see happen.

They can do it now or wait for it to be an election issue in 2012.

rick@inweekly.net