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Thursday July 31st 2014

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Bare Calls for Investigations

barePensacola City Councilman Charles Bare has placed several items on this afternoon’s agenda that are aimed at the mayor’s office. Two are budgetary in nature, and one entertains an investigation into the “situation on the 7th floor.”

The councilman is requesting that the city council investigate the expenditures, over the course of three fiscal years, of Local Option Sales Tax/Penny for Progress funds for renovations to city hall, specifically to Mayor Ashton Hayward’s offices. Bare specifically cites “more than $5,000 for furniture for the 7th floor reception area.”

In a related request, Bare is also asking council to place a $50,000 limit on the amount of money the mayor is allowed to move from one area of the budget to another without council approval. He contends that Hayward used his “current authority to realign dollars for City Hall improvements.”

Finally, the councilman is asking for a discussion on some issues recently highlighted by a State Attorney investigation. Earlier this month, State Attorney Bill Eddins brought non-criminal public records charges against now-fired City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Press Secretary Derek Cosson, and also revealed a World of Beer encounter during which Reynolds handed off sensitive employee information pertaining to former Chief of Staff John Asmar to former city councilwoman Maren DeWeese.

Bare is requesting the council consider hiring an outside attorney to conduct an investigation “into allegations and accusations within the city administration relating to the relationship between the former Chief of Staff, the former City Administrator and other employees.”

“Over the past few months the situation on the 7th floor has been a source of rumors and allegations,” Bare states in the agenda memorandum.

The councilman provides a copy of an email from Asmar’s attorney, Eric Stevenson. The letter, which the attorney emailed to all council members, takes issue with the subject of Reynolds’ leak—an harassment claim against the chief of staff—and argues that members of the city administration were intent on damaging Asmar’s reputation.

“The Mayor and his staff have painted John a villain, and the Mayor and his staff repeatedly have attacked John publicly and privately,” Stevenson’s letter states. “In my opinion, these actions were taken for the ‘protection’ of the perpetrators in question, for their own personal benefit and professional status, and to disparage the characters of any in opposing including John. Their actions also damaged the character of other innocent employees involved in this matter.”

Bare also points out the former chief of staff—whose attorney states “has every intention of clearing his name”—has made a claim to have documents and other information that show illegal activity within the city administration.

“The City Council has a duty to investigate activity within our government for the protection of citizens as well as employees,” Bare states in the memorandum.

In addition to Councilman Bare’s request pertaining to the mayor’s office, council has plenty of other issues slated for today. The council is set to tackle appointments to the Downtown Improvement Board and Environmental Advisory Board; consider a tentative 2014 millage rate of 4.2895; appoint a designee, as per a request from the Community Maritime Park Associates board, to “join in discussions with representatives from Northwest Florida Professional Baseball, regarding various outstanding issues identified in the Oliver Report and elsewhere”; approve the library interlocal with Escambia County; consider the Airport Land Use Plan; and conduct a public hearing on the Maritime Redevelopment District.

Today’s meeting is also a first. Whereas city council previously held Committee of the Whole meetings to discuss items slated for the regular Thursday-night council meeting, the body recently revised its rules and procedures and will now convene on Mondays for an ‘agenda conference.‘ The agenda conference is held “for the limited purpose of understanding the intent of the item and not to decide whether to approve it.”

The council’s agenda conference begins at 3:30 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.