Jeremy's Notebook

Does Size Matter?

April 23, 2013

While some members expressed concerns about cutting two seats from the Pensacola City Council, most were inclined to follow Councilman Larry B. Johnson’s lead.

“Our council is too big, we need to shrink council,” Johnson told his fellow members at last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Johnson is proposing cutting the board’s two at-large seats as terms expire. The council voted 5-3 to move forward with such a discussion, which will include two public hearings, the first of which will be Thursday. Voters would get a chance to weigh in during the special District 2 election in June.

“I don’t take this personally, this is not about me. This is my opinion about what is good government for our city,” said Councilwoman Megan Pratt, who holds one of the at-large seats. “I have people say, ‘the council should be smaller.’ My question is alway, ‘why?’—how does having fewer people making a decision benefit the public?”

Pratt was joined by Councilman Charles Bare—the other at-large seat—and Vice President Jewel Cannada-Wynn in opposing the idea. Cannada-Wynn said the council had larger priorities, and wondered how lopping off the seats would impact the minority community. Bare, a proponent of downsizing, suggested keeping the at-large seats and dropping the number of districted seats to five.

Concerns were also raised about the timeframe. Cannada-Wynn said the public would not be given enough time to have input, Pratt agreed and said that special elections produced reliably low voter turnouts and that the District 2 seat—reliably Republican—would likely be decided in May’s primary.

Councilwoman Sherri Myers noted that the Charter Review Commission had already discussed the matter—“the issue was really vetted”—and had leaned toward a smaller body.

“However, due to political pressure the Charter Review Commission changed its mind,” Myers said, recalling one member needing to “hold my nose” on that issue. “They did it because they were afraid that the charter effort might not pass.”

Councilman Andy Terhaar said he thought a smaller council would make the body “more accountable.” President P.C. Wu said he supported the concept, but questioned the timeframe. Councilman Brian Spencer was also on board, but preferred to soften the dialogue— “I’d like to use the term ‘phasing out’ instead of ‘eliminating.’”

Former councilwoman Diane Mack also talked about the Charter Review Commission process. She recalled that members of the African-American community had pushed for the commission to go with a nine-member council.

“They’re the ones that came and pleaded,” Mack said, adding that she didn’t think that the minority community would have time to digest the possibility of a smaller council by June’s special election. “—they’re not the political junkies in this community.”

Also during yesterday’s COW, Spencer targeted the composition of the Community Maritime Park Associates Board of Trustees. Johnson agreed, saying he would like to see that board downsized as well.

The CMPA issue was slated for the council’s next COW. CMPA board member Fred Gunther will have to wait until then to publicly defend himself.

Gunther has faced sharp criticism—and calls to step down—since bringing the CMPA a counteroffer for a parcel of property at the Community Maritime Park. He presented the offer from his “client,” after having already heard a proposal from Beck Property Company for the same parcel.

The CMPA member appeared before city council yesterday—saying he had prepared some remarks for them—but was denied the opportunity to speak.

“At this stage that’s not pertinent to the motion on the floor,” Wu told him.

Earlier in the day, Johnson had said he was considering calling for Gunther’s removal. After the COW meeting, the councilman said it seemed more appropriate to address it during the upcoming discussion regarding the CMPA’s composition.

“I didn’t know that Spencer was going to make that motion,” Johnson said, “and when he did, I thought ‘that’s an opportunity to address that.’”

The Pensacola City Council will meet for its regular meeting Thursday, at 5:30 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.

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  • George Hawthorne April 24, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Time out,

    Such a statement is ridiculous and shows a clear lack of understanding of diversity issues.

    There are no “duly elected” representitives of the African-American community no more than there are “duly elected” representatives of the non-African American community.

    However, for you to even present such a posts shows your lack of knowledge and/or inherent biases regarding the African-American community.

    The African-American community is not some “monolithic” group that lacks an ability to be individual “thinkers” that require some “leader” to tell our community how to act, think and/or vote because we don’t have the God given sense to make judgements and decisions based upon our individual thoughts and interests.

    Do the non-African-American cast of “usual suspects” represent YOU?

    Additionally, your personal “biases” are further revealed in your “inference” that any African-American that speaks out in favor of an interest in their community is characterized as a “handful of usual suspects jockeying for position in the race for their 15 minutes of fame.”

    I guess in your “world” I would considered on of the “usual suspects.” Just the phrase sugests that such a person is “committing a crime” by “advocating” for their community.

    I guess you should take the advice suggested by your posted name and take a “Time Out.”

  • George Hawthorne April 24, 2013 at 11:54 am


    Regarding the position of African-American’s “interests” in the issue of a council reduction by eliminating at-large council members is a VERY easy “call” for those individuals that are aware of the facts regarding this issue. Any A-A that would not support this proposition is being mislead or trying to mislead by some “agenda” that is not in the interest of the minority representation on City Council. Let me explain clearly and without “spin.”

    Fact 1: In an “at-large” council member city-wide election the at-large seats are elected by an electorate that is a majority of non-minorities electorate in the City.

    Fact 2: Also, currently we have 2 minority councilpersons that were elected from “minority” majority voter controlled districts. So currently, these council people make up 2/9th of the votes on council and 2/5ths of a majority to pass legislation.

    Fact 3: However, in a re-configured council, these council people would be 2/7ths of the council and 2/4ths (1/2) of the number needed to pass legislation. Clearly, such reduction of at-large council members increases the “power” of these minority council people.

    Fact 4: Based upon the current districting that has 2 minority majority-electorate districts (and the assumption that the minority majority-electorate would continue to maintain its minority representation) any redistributing may dilute these minority majority-electorate districts and therefore their reduce ability to elect minority representation.

    Fact 5: Furthermore, any at-large elections have not provided a minority representative as evidenced by history.

    Based soley on these facts it is clear that the “interests” of African-American voters and council people are better served by supporting the efforts under this amendment.

    This is one time that the interests of A-A and the “seemingly” interests of the majority of Pensacola’s citizens are clearly aligned and African-Americans should not be “utilized by” and “drawn into” a small group of people that are interested in preserving the “power” afforded them by at-large council people presence on the Council.

  • time out April 24, 2013 at 9:01 am

    will the duly elected representative for Pensacola’s African American community please stand up? This ought to be a real hoot as the handful of usual suspects jockey for position in the race for their 15 minutes of fame…..

  • CJ Lewis April 24, 2013 at 8:11 am

    The proposed Charter amendment question could more broadly read, “Shall the City of Pensacola amend its current Charter to provide for the elimination of two (2) at-large City Council seats upon the completion of the current terms, or upon a vacancy being created in each office, that will reduce the number of Council members from the current (9) members to seven (7) members?” This change would ensure that if Megan Pratt or Charles Bare leave the Council prior to the end of their full term of office, Pratt in 2014 and Bare in 2016, the Council does not need to exercise the Charter’s Section 4.02.(b) to appoint a replacement to complete the term. As an administrative comment, someone needs to proofread the proposed changes in the Charter redacting the extraneous punctuation marks.

    Lumon May’s profound public silence on this issue of great public importance is deafening. At the top of page 69 of the Charter Review Commission’s (CRC) August 19, 2009 meeting minutes, Chairwoman Crystal Spencer is quoted, “I have received an E-mail from, I believe it was Lumen May – I should have printed it – who indicated he supported the at-large. The overwhelming African-American comments, I won’t say the community, but those who have spoken at this workshop, as well as at the Committee of the Whole, seem to support the at-large, as did it seem from our City Council members.” As far as I know, Spencer did not share May’s e-mail with the public. Now that May is holding down a single-member seat on the Escambia County Commission, his views on at-large representation may have changed. Escambia County might function much better if its Commissioners were elected at-large with district residency requirements as done in more progressive Santa Rosa County and most of Florida.

    Back in 2009, Georgia Blackmon and Rita Jones also supported at-large representation. On the other hand, the CRC’s two African-American members Floyd Armstrong and Sam Horton both voted against enlarging the Council back to nine members. They did not want at-large Council members at all. Horton’s counterpoint to the African-American activists pressing for at-large representatives is best captured in this August 19 comment, “I need to really say something for the record. Georgia Blackmon does not represent the black community. She doesn’t speak for the black community. She’s never stood for election. She’s come up here and said that the black community wants this. It’s just not so. That’s her opinion and a few of her friends.” It will be interesting to see who from the city’s African-American community shows up Thursday night to advocate for or against at-large representation.

  • Supersize me April 23, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Looks like Megan is about to witness the sunset of her political career much to Mama’s dismay. Yes she is bright which works great in a science lab but not so much in the oxygen deprived environment of Council chambers. Let’s get this done and move on down the road.

  • Mike April 23, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Am I the only person that sees Pratt as the only/most reasonable council member? Of the few meetings I’ve watched online, I was embarrassed for our city by the end of them. Bare can go quickly for all I care; and take Myers with him…. there, we’ve just reduced to 5

  • New day April 23, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Come on Jewel – get with the program. Your argument is weak. You failed to get the job done during your prior stint on Council. Of course Bare and Pratt object – shoul they not recuse themselves from voting on this matter?

  • CJ Lewis April 23, 2013 at 11:37 am

    The Council is missing an unexpected and free opportunity to ask voters to approve the biggest deliberate flaw in the Charter. Early on, the Charter Review Commission adopted language directly from the Hialeah Charter granting our Council a power and duty, “To determine, consistent with this Charter, the organization of the City government and the power and duties assigned to the various departments.” For no rational reason, the CRC reassigned this legislative power from the Council to the Mayor. In Hialeah, this power is exercised by the legislative branch. Almost all of the Council’s problems are because of this intentional flaw. Just imagine if President Obama had the unrestricted power to both recommend to Congress the organization of the Federal government “and” could also approve his own recommendations in secret. This is what now happens in a dysfunctional City Hall. This is a very easy fix the Council is unable or unwilling to recommend that voters approve. If voters were asked to restore a key legislative power to the legislative branch of their city government, they would overwhelmingly vote YES.

  • Leroy Carter April 23, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I do not have an issue with downsizing the council. However if it goes to 7 members it should include 2 at large seats. The remaining 5 seats should be redistricted. Redistricting might not be that easy since some council members would have to run against each other.