MISSED OPPORTUNITIES Mayor Ashton Hayward was proclaimed by the daily newspaper as its “Person of the Year.” Indeed, Hayward has given the City of Pensacola a new vitality and focus. The media and public were inundated in 2011 with press releases of his accomplishments and photos of him riding buses, garbage trucks and natural gas cars.
What we didn’t hear from Mayor Hayward was his take on the shooting of Robert Donson by a Pensacola police officer.
Donson was shot during what appears to have been a botched ID check at the crowded Tom Ann Buddy’s. The shooting happened a little over two years after another policeman ran over another young African-American man who was riding his bike a few blocks west of Buddy’s.
Two incidents in the same area tied to the Pensacola Police Department deserve the action of the mayor. The west side of his city is crime-ridden and suffering from generations of discrimination and poverty. It is encircled with clubs like Buddy’s that feed on the poor.
One local who lives a couple of blocks from the bar and package store told me that about everyone in his neighborhood has a relative who has been either shot or killed at or near Buddy’s. Yet, prior city administrations ignored the west side.
Yes, there were studies, consultants and town hall meetings, but nothing was really done. In 2007, the Pensacola City Council approved a development plan for the area and a Community Redevelopment Agency district. However, since property values never increased, the CRA has no funds.
The west side voted overwhelmingly for the local option tax for capital improvements to the school district. A new elementary school was to be built on Cervantes to help spur economic development. Instead the district bought the old Gulf Power headquarters on Pace Boulevard and built the Global Learning Academy in a valley next to the “Pace Palace.”
When Hayward was sworn in this time last year, he promised to focus on the west side. He got the city council to approve two community centers for minority areas. He appointed a West Side Advisory Council. He landscaped A Street.
He did nothing about Buddy’s.
The shooting could have been Hayward’s chance to speak out for the need to redevelop west Pensacola, to increase scrutiny on code enforcement and to revisit the PPD protocols for such shootings. His constituents should have heard from him.
Instead, we heard nothing. An opportunity to lead was lost and the luster of his recent honor was somewhat tarnished.