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Monday September 1st 2014

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Doughnuts with Council

It was an early morning for the Pensacola City Council. Councilman Charles Bare brought hot doughnuts, but there was barely a chance to eat them before the meeting ended.

A few minutes into this morning’s 12-hour notice special meeting, council members began questioning some things. They had questions about the mayor’s appointee to Escambia County’s RESTORE Act committee and questions about why they were even there so early in the morning.

“I want to get this done with,” Councilwoman Megan Pratt told the city attorney, “but I don’t want to get jerked around having meetings that were not appropriate.”

Last night, the city council decided to hold off on its decision regarding Mayor Ashton Hayward’s decision to appoint David Penzone to the county’s RESTORE advisory committee. The city gets one seat on the nine-member committee, the mayor must select the seat and the council must approve the selection by Jan. 31.

When the city council decided to schedule a Committee of the Whole meeting early next week, City Administrator Bill Reynolds told them that the mayor would be calling the special meeting for 8 a.m. this morning.

“In my opinion, this meeting was properly called by the mayor’s designee, Mr. Reynolds,” City Attorney Jim Messer told the council this morning.

Hayward had sent Messer with a message for the council. The attorney explained that there were no requirements for Penzone to live within the city limits. He also clarified Penzone’s employment status with the city—appointing a city employee to the RESTORE committee would eliminate Pensacola from receiving any of the Clean Water Act bounty.

“In my opinion, Mr. Penzone is a vendor-consultant,” Messer said. “He’s not a contract employee of the city.”

But Messer wasn’t explaining Penzone-specifics anymore. Now he was debating rules and procedure with Pratt.

“I don’t want to play parliamentary games,” the councilwoman said, “but I do want to make sure what were doing conforms to our rules.”

Specifically, Pratt was iffy on the mayor’s—or Reynold’s—ability to convene a special committee of the whole meeting. She had a copy of the council’s rules and procedures.

Messer said a legal opinion would require study. He offered a “working hypothesis” instead.

“Now we’re playing legal jeopardy with the city attorney,” he said.

Reynolds said that the city charter was “the document that controls this issue.” But council members said it was “an issue that really does need to be addressed” and “a very frustrating situation” and “inappropriate and probably illegal.”

Pratt threw it to Council President P.C. Wu. She wanted to know if he thought the mayor had the power to call a special COW meeting.

“As Mr. Messer has said on previous occasions,” Wu said, “thank you for the sticky lollipop.”

The president said he thought the city council—regardless if in COW form, or at a convening of the council—was still the city council. Regardless of the technicalities the council was gathered and could conduct business.

“You may not like my opinion, but I’m giving you my opinion,” Wu said. “We’re for the purpose, regardless of what you call us. We’re not the county commission, we’re not the ECUA.”

Messer then read from his copy of the rules, noting that the mayor, or deputy mayor, had the authority to call a special meeting. The attorney’s copy didn’t match Pratt’s version.

“I downloaded my rules and procedures from the internet, and, uh, your’s aren’t the same as mine,” Pratt said, adding that her copy contained “no mention of the mayor.”

The city clerk clarified that the copy downloaded from the internet was the correct version.

“The fact that our city attorney doesn’t know what our rules and procedures are is kind of staggering to me,” Bare said. “I’m just kind of shaking my head because I can’t believe we’re in this situation and our attorney doesn’t even know what the rules are.”

The councilman said he thought Wu should call a special council meeting early next week. He thought this morning’s meeting was unlawfully called.

Wu protested, but in the end council voted 5-2 to adjourn. Wu and Terhaar dissented, while Councilman Brian Spencer and Councilwoman Jewel Canada-Wynn were absent.

Following the meeting Reynolds sent an email to council members. It included a Jan. 19 email from Hayward notifying the administrator that Penzone was his selection and outlining his RESTORE thoughts—among them was the concept of a three-person committee, to include a council member, to work with the mayoral appointee.

“Unfortunately, I was unable to talk to you about the below ideas from Mayor Hayward this morning,” he wrote. “As you can see, his intent was to fully involve council in the RESTORE process …”

The administrator noted that the city was on tight calendar, needing to meet the county’s Jan. 31 deadline.

Prior to the council taking up the appointee issue last night, Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson shared some of his thoughts on the issue via email with a citizen.

“The BCC in no way wants to be involved in the city’s political mess,” he wrote.

Robinson is the commissioner who suggested that the mayor make the selection and the city council approve the selection. He thought it was a compromise.

“The problem is we needed a name and it was clear both executive and legislative branches of the city wanted to have say in that individual,” the commissioner wrote. “We were left with needing a name and only having an argument. In fact, the BCC went to great lengths not to choose any side. Since no one seemed to know who controlled this, I offered a suggestion from our federal government, the executive branch appoints and legislative confirms.”