Jeremy's Notebook

Council’s CMPA Divide

May 7, 2013

jim messerPensacola City Attorney Jim Messer seemed unclear on exactly what City Councilman Brian Spencer was wanting of him during last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

“They’re are certain grounds to remove trustees,” Messer told the councilman. “In order to establish a process or deviate from’em, the Community Maritime Park Associates is going to have to amend their bylaws.”

Spencer had requested that the attorney provide a legal memorandum outlining a process by which council could remove the sitting CMPA board, and replace trustees with either themselves or their appointees. It was a continuation of an ongoing discussion concerning the composition of the CMPA board, which oversees the Community Maritime Park.

“I guess my question is, what’s the reason behind this?” asked Councilman Gerald Wingate. “We’re not getting the answers we want from the CMPA is the reason we want to replace them? We’re not satisfied with what they’re doing? What’s the reason?”

Spencer noted recent issues concerning the CMPA— “certainly, it’s no secret that Mr. Gunther has been the headliner, stealing a lot of ink lately”—and said that council members had needed to engage in “spirited, lengthy discussions, as though we were sitting as the CMPA.”brian spencer

Over the last few months, questions have arisen as interested parties—first the YMCA, then Beck Property Company—have sought parcels at the Community Maritime Park. Both Spencer and Councilman Larry B. Johnson have pushed for reassessing the CMPA’s composition.

While several members seemed up for engaging Messer in an academic legal exercise, they also voiced concern about the impacts of the direction Spencer was laying out. Members raised concerns about cutting loose trustees who have put in countless volunteer hours and about how much control council actually held over the CMPA due to the involved New Market Tax Credits. Council President P.C. Wu warned members to “be careful what you wish for,” noting how many hours of service were required of CMPA trustees.

Ultimately, council was split 4-4 on requesting a memorandum from Messer. Councilpersons Sherri Myers, Andy Terhaar, Wu and Spencer were in favor, while Charles Bare, Megan Pratt, Vice President Jewell Cannada-Wynn and Wingate were opposed. Councilman Johnson was absent for the vote.

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  • joe May 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    One would think that Mr. Spencer could at least get his question answered. Also why do they have to have a vote on getting an opinion from Atty Messer? Could they not ask their friend the Mayor to request Messer to research the issue?
    As far as the abolishing the CMPA, I believe that some others , on this blog, have represented the CMPA is necessary to maintain the requirements for the $10Mil plus New Market tax credits money. My memory is Mr. Hawthorne weighed in on this weeks ago. An area where he seems to have some expertise.

  • CJ Lewis May 7, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    The solution not mentioned last night that might solve Councilman Spencer’s problem is for the City Council to only appoint City Council members to the CMPA Board of Trustees. That course of action avoids having to hurt anyone’s delicate feelings by removing Trustees no matter how their failures have hurt the City of Pensacola.

    What is the CMPA’s record? The CMPA has had possession of the land since May 28, 2009 but has not hired a new Master Developer, has not marketed the parcels to a national audience, has no attorney, has no financial advisor and refuses to hire its own Executive Director relying on Ed Spears who works for Mayor Hayward and is quick to tell CMPA Trustees where his loyalties lie. The CMPA is mired in debt of its own making.

    The CMPA is not an intrumentality of the City, a dependent special district of the City or a City board, authority or commission. The CMPA is not a public agency or advisory body. CMPA Trustees are not public officers or public servants. When I recently asked a City Council member if the CMPA is really subject to Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws, I was told that the CMPA has voluntarily made itself so, something Spears told me years ago, meaning that it can make itself not subject if it wants.

    City Council members often say they are too busy serving on a variety of other non-profit boards where people bow and scrape before them. If they dropped all of those outside duties save any mandated by State law, they would have time to guide the biggest economic development project in the history of the City. In truth, most City Council members like having the CMPA Board of Trustees in place because it gives them other people to blame at election time.

    Last night, the City’s Finance Division Administrator Dick Barker briefed the City Council that the CMPA’s finances are so bad taxpayers will have to subsidize it $400,000 during Fiscal Year 2014. A better question Spencer should have asked the City Attorney is what would happen if the CMPA did not get a $400,000 CRA welfare payment and had to declare bankruptcy.

    If the CMPA simply ceased to exist, with all of its assets and liabilities assumed by the City of Pensacola, what would happen? Would the City lose the New Market Tax Credits? If so, exactly why? Mismanaged non-profits do and should fail. It seems a good question to at least have the City Attorney ask the City’s special bond counsel in West Palm Beach.