The interpretation of the Pensacola City Charter continues to be like deciphering the Dead Sea Scrolls for city officials.
At the special meeting on April 10, City Attorney Lysia Bowling told the city council that Mayor Ashton Hayward’s veto of the council action to hire a budget analyst was legal under the charter.
“I looked at that very precise language in the ballot proposition that was posed to the citizens,” said Bowling.
The referendum, which passed 10,575-9,865 on Nov. 4, 2014, read as follows:
“Shall the City of Pensacola amend its current Charter to provide the City Council with the authority to hire its own staff independent of the Mayor’s authority to hire all City officers and employees?”
Bowling said, “Nowhere in it did I find any limitation on the issue of mayoral veto or anything to preclude the mayor from exercising veto authority with regard to what was asked of the voters.”
The veto clause of the charter states the mayor cannot veto an emergency ordinance as defined in Florida Statutes; those ordinances adopted as a result of quasi-judicial proceedings that were mandated by law; and ordinances proposing Charter amendments to be place on the ballot.
Mayor Hayward opposed the referendum, but he did not veto the ordinance authorizing the post, its duties and pay range when it was passed last August.
Attorney Ed Fleming reviewed the mayor’s veto. He saw the issue as the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Fleming determined that the mayor had “no authority to obstruct the City Council’s effort to implement the duly-enacted ordinance.”
On Monday, April 10, Bowling tried to minimize the impact of the mayor’s veto. She said, “When the mayor wishes to express disagreement with an action of council, he expresses that disagreement through veto power, but ultimately, City Council, you are the decision makers on every action that you take as a quorum.”
Bowling said, “You are the ultimate authority on your decisions, and you do that through the override process.”
Mayor Hayward discussed his veto on News Radio 1620. His decision was based on his belief that position wasn’t needed, regardless of the citizens’ vote in 2014.
“I was not really for the referendum at all to add more staff, and I think the voters overwhelmingly support a new form of government,” said the mayor. “From the executive standpoint, it’s my expression, if I don’t agree with something, to veto something.”
He echoed the city attorney’s opinion, “There’s three things in the charter that says I cannot veto and then the others are that I can veto. On the referendum for this council staff it didn’t say the mayor can’t veto these things.”
However, Mayor Hayward said that he “completely” supports the council decision to override his veto of hiring a budget analyst.
“Obviously, this new analyst will work with our team,” he said, “and (we will) do whatever we can do to make sure they get the budget they want, and most importantly, the voters and the citizens get what they want.”
Note: More Pensacola citizens voted for the 2014 referendum, 10,575, than voted in favor of the “strong mayor” form of government in 2009, 7,762.