Pensacola, Florida
Monday June 26th 2017


Selling The Vision


The punch and cookies made it comfortable enough to loosen your tie. A spread of fruit and macaroons kept it classy.

Pensacola City Halls second floor was abuzz Monday, Aug. 8 as people gathered upstairs after hearing Mayor Ashton Haywards first State of the City address. A few people casually guarded their optimism, but most were enthusiastic about the mayors vision and his first budget.

Today we have the opportunityand the responsibilityto take a bold step towards a better future for our citizens, said Mayor Hayward in his address after he delivered his proposed budget to the council, by creating economic opportunity, improving our neighborhoods, cleaning up our environment, restoring citizen confidence in city government and taking decisive action to move our city forward.

He told the audience of nearly 150 city employees and supporters, We can take these bold steps, because this is not just a budget that I am presenting to you. Its a plan, a statement of our priorities, and a covenant with our citizens.

Councilman Ronald Townsend, who chaired the special Pensacola City Council meeting in the absence of Council President Maren Deweese and Vice President P.C. Wu, nursed a cup of coffee at the reception. After the mayors 20-minute address, Townsend had invited the audience to come to the citys budget hearings the following week and enjoy the squabbling and the wrangling.

Ashton has a vision, Townsend said, taking another sip of coffee before predicting compromise and a meeting of the minds.

The word vision gets thrown around a lot when it comes to Hayward. That could be because Hayward is the first mayoras Pensacola recently transitioned to a strong-mayor form of government, as opposed to its traditional city manager-council modelwith any power to implement his vision.

The higher you go in City Hall, the better the view gets. From the seventh floor of city hall, you can see the Maritime Park rising from the dirt as the waterfront wraps around a warm, sun-drenched downtown. This is where Mayor Haywards team maps out how to execute Haywards plans for Pensacola.

Were just the conduit, John Asmar, the mayors chief of staff, said later in the day, settling back in his chair. He was flanked by the city finance director Dick Barker and the mayors public information director Travis Peterson.

The conduit to which Asmar is referring might be considered the mayors team, his proposed budget or the structural changes contained therein. But what travels through this conduit is much more intangible.

What travels through this conduit is Haywards promise of a better dayhis promise of a shining city that prospers, hits home runs and most importantly creates jobs for its citizens. Its as much an attitude as anything else.

Back at the post-address reception, Derek Cosson, creator of Progressive Pensacola, a website that covered Pensacola city politics for the past five years until it shut down in June, could barely contain his optimism. He had yet to get a look at Haywards proposed budgetno one hadbut was nonetheless enthusiastically supportive of the young mayor.

Ive just been excited about the direction hes moving in, Cosson said.

Several members on the city council were also encouraged by Haywards address.

Councilwoman Sherri Myers called the mayors address very inspiring, while fellow council member Brian Spencer said the speech was laced with realism and optimism.

I totally support it, Councilman Larry Johnson said of the overall plan laid out in the address.

But there are also reservations. The mayor is throwing some pretty big fish onto the table, and the city council is accustomed to eating chicken. Councilman John Jerralds predicts there will be growing pains.

One of the major changes that may cause pain with the council is Haywards proposed creation of two new offices with corresponding cabinet positions. The idea, according to Peterson, is to reorganize around the leadership style of the mayor.

According to the mayors proposal, an Office of Economic Opportunities and Sustainability will be created to develop the citys prospects and foster economic growth. The office will oversee the citys Housing, Inspections and Planning departments.

A Department of Neighborhood Services is also being proposed. This new department will oversee the Library, the Parks and Recreation Department and Neighborhoods. This department would be charged with reaching out to specific areas to assess the needs of different neighborhoods.

Im totally ecstatic, Director of Parks and Recreation Dave Flaherty said of the plan to more directly engage residents.

The mayor is also proposing an increase in stormwater rates. He argues that rates were set over a decade ago and need to be adjusted to reflect current needs. Hayward has pointed to increased environmental strain on local waterways and the need to remediate them.

According to Al Garza, Pensacolas director of Public Works, the fee would increase from $52.80 to $68.43 per average household. Last year the council rejected an increase, and stormwater measures continued to drain a reserve fund.

You cant live that way, said Garza.

These, of course, are just highlights. The mayors proposed budget is a collection of numbers that fill a three-ring binder a few inches thick.

The city council will wade through all aspects of the proposed budget this week as they continue to get comfortable with sharing power with a mayor. The mayor, it seems, is already fairly comfortable with the arrangement.

A half hour before his State of the City address, Hayward excitedly lapped the City Hall gallery. He flashed million-dollar smiles and shook every hand he could find.

Some early arrivals to the address got a hug from the mayor. He seemed to want to personally welcome everyone to his big day, his visions official unveiling.

A woman entered the back of the meeting hall and surveyed the room. The mayor rushed to greet her.

Which side is the supporters side? she asked.

All yall are my people, Hayward laughed.

In his vision, thats true. In real life, theres sure to be some push back.