On Jan. 31, Mayor Ashton Hayward sent out a press release announcing his letter that asked the Emerald Coast Utility Authority for the Right of First Refusal on the utility’s property that once was home to the Main Street Sewage Treatment plant. Read Jan. 29 letter.
During his 2012 State of the City address, Mayor Hayward announced that he was looking at buying the land.
“Ownership of this key site will provide the city with the opportunity to incentivize high-quality future redevelopment,” said the mayor in June 2012.
The Right of First Refusal wasn’t exactly a fulfillment of his promise to the citizens, but it was a step in that direction.
The Jan. 31 release of his letter to ECUA was timed to offset the bad press about his botched nomination of David Penzone to the county’s RESTORE Advisory Committee.
The glow didn’t last long. In less than a month, Hayward backed out of the deal.
On Monday, June 10, we asked both the City of Pensacola and ECUA for any emails on communications between the mayor, City Administrator Bill Reynolds and ECUA Executive Director Stephen Sorrell. It was a test to see which government entity would fulfill the public record request first.
We learned that 22 days after the grand announcement Mayor Hayward rescinded the request. The letter wasn’t received by Sorrell until March 4.
Meanwhile, Sorrell, not knowing that Hayward had backed out of his request, presented the Jan. 29 letter to his board on Feb. 28. Late that afternoon, he sent an email to Hayward saying that ECUA board approved:
- Giving the City a Right of First Refusal for seven months
- Setting 72-hour response time to exercise that right
- Asking for $5,000 to bind the deal.
Hayward did not respond. Sorrell had to email him again on March 4, “Mayor, how do you want me to proceed?”
Reynolds responded with Hayward’s Feb. 22 letter: “Please see the attached which withdraws the City’s interest in the property.”
Here are the pdfs: Hayward transmittal.
BTW The City sent me this email at 3:56 p.m.. Thursday, June 13:
The email search is complete. The harvested email will be made available to the Mayor and Mr. Reynolds for their review. Once the email has been reviewed and burned to a disc, I will contact you.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
I will keep you posted on how long it takes Reynolds and Mayor to review the emails and release them to our paper.