Grand Jury Politics

Ashton and Crisis 101 (additional note added)

August 28, 2014

The city of Pensacola has been subpoenaed to provide certain documents to a federal grand jury next Wednesday, Sept. 3 in Tallahassee (Read more). City employees have also received subpoenas to appear – which employees we have yet to be told.

This is a significant story–how significant we do not know. To find out more details, Inweekly made yesterday a public record request:

From: Richard Outzen
Subject: Public record request
Date: August 27, 2014 at 8:58:11 AM CDT
To: Tamara Fountain , Dick Barker Jr

Inweekly made a public record request for the federal subpoenas issued to city employees – W000462-082714. We would also like to request an interview with the mayor. I understand that he is traveling with Jerry Pate so if he’s not available to press until next week that would be fine.

Thank you

In most places, such a request would have prompted a quick reply, something like:

We are discussing your record request with legal counsel to sure we handle it properly. We will have an announcement and the documents we are allowed to release later today. Mayor Hayward is not on a trip and is in fact at city hall today. However, he will not do any interviews on this matter because …

Such a reply would have been a direct and simple answer- correcting mistaken information while letting the newspaper know what it could expect later. Instead we heard nothing from the mayor, Fountain or Barker.

At 6:35 pm. on Wednesday, the media was sent two emails – a statement from the mayor and the federal subpoena. Since we had no clarification on our original request or any explanation why the mayor was not doing interviews we assumed that it was because he was out-of-town with Jerry Pate.

It wasn’t until a little before noon today that we received notification from the city, via email, the mayor was actually in town yesterday. We immediately deleted the reference to the trip from the post, noting my error and why we corrected it…which is how most media deal with such mistakes.

Crisis 101 – There are two things that need to happen in a crisis situation for government officials:

1) Ascertain all the facts as soon as possible and get them out to the media quickly. If certain facts are not allowed to be released, explain why.

2) Be available to answer questions to explain the facts. You need to tell your story – not in press releases, but in person. It’s why good elected officials hold press conferences.

And two more points: When I made my record request and mentioned a trip with Jerry Pate I had no idea that Pate was part of the federal investigation. However, the city did, which should have motivated them more to correct that information.

Also until the city releases additional information, we don’t why a trip with Jerry Pate would be considered good or bad in light of this investigation. Since the city staff drug its feet on verifying the mayor was in town, it may not be as significant as some may think.

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