While attempts at two different investigations into Mayor Ashton Hayward’s administration failed to gain enough traction, Pensacola City Councilman Charles Bare’s recommendation that the mayoral budgetary authority be curtailed will live to see Thursday’s regular council meeting.
“I would caution the council and the citizens,” said Hayward at today’s agenda review session, “what we’re reading and talking about right now is going to slow government, it’s going to slow government up.”
Councilman Bare is requesting the council consider limiting the mayor’s authority to transfer money between expenditure categories and departments within the city’s budget; he recommends the mayor seek council approval for anything beyond $50,000.
“I think it ensures that we know what is going on in our budget,” Bare told his fellow council members.
Council President P.C. Wu spoke against furthering such conversation. He said the limitations would be “contrary to the will of people,” in a reference to the city’s change in governance. The president eventually requested that the item be removed from this week’s agenda, though that effort failed on a 5-4 vote; Vice President Jewel Cannada-Wynn, council persons Larry Johnson and Brian Spencer and President Wu lost out to council persons Gerald Wingate, Andy Terhaar, Megan Pratt, Sherri Myers and Bare.
The council was less receptive to the possibility of investigating either expenditures of Local Option Sales Tax funds for furniture and renovations to the mayor’s seventh floor offices, or the issues recently touched on in a State Attorney investigation. Bare found his only support, on both issues, in Councilwoman Myers.
“I think the public is going to be looking to the city council to take some sort of affirmative action,” Myers said.
Earlier this month, the State Attorney charged former City Administrator Bill Reynolds and Press Secretary Derek Cosson with non-criminal public records violations. The investigation also revealed that Reynolds had leaked information about an employee complaint pertaining to former Chief of Staff John Asmar to former city councilwoman Maren DeWeese.
Bare urged the council to discuss launching an investigation into possible illegal activities occurring within the city administration.
Rob Larkin, an attorney hired by the city to handle labor issues, recommended against probing such matters. He noted that the State Attorney had already done so and failed to bring charges, that the city administrator had since been fired and that any investigation by council would be “a waste of time.” The attorney also advised that the information involved was confidential and an investigation could reveal sensitive information and result in the council members being held personally liable.
“You would do so on you on prerogative,” Larkin said of the possibility of launching an investigation and any resulting consequences. “And that would be your own personal liability.”
The council had little appetite for such ventures. Cannada-Wynn said that issue had already been dealt with by the mayor and Johnson said delving into such issues would be akin to “putting toothpaste back in the tube” and redundant.
“I don’t want to charge the taxpayers twice for an investigation that’s already been done by the State Attorney,” Johnson said.
Bare’s suggestion to look into Local Option Sales Tax expenditure failed on the same 7-2 divide. Both investigative items were removed from Thursday’s regular meeting agenda.