The weirdest moment in last night’s Pensacola City Council meeting? That was probably when “the last living descendent of Abraham Lincoln” presented a young Boy Scout with a decorative plate to hang on the wall.
The most surreal moment? That was undoubtedly when City Administrator Bill Reynolds revealed that Public Information Officer Derek Cosson had indeed conducted a sort of guerilla-propaganda campaign out of the seventh floor of Pensacola City Hall.
“We took a hard look at that and determined, yes, in fact, it was an employee that made those particular posts,” Reynolds told council members.
Last week, Independent News publisher Rick Outzen raised concerns about numerous, politically-slanted comments being logged to his blog from an IP address at city hall. The comments were made under various names and consistently boosted Mayor Ashton Hayward while bashing entities such as the city council and Pensacola Police. The IP address associated with all of the comments was the same as Cosson’s, as well as anyone else using city hall’s wi-fi.
Cosson denied logging the comments. On Monday, city council members indicated they wanted to dig into the issue, requesting technical information they thought might reveal the source of the blog comments.
During the council’s Thursday night meeting, Reynolds beat them to the punch. He said Cosson had been met with and that a letter of reprimand had been placed in his file.
“Frankly, the punishment that was dealt out would have been much greater,” Reynolds said, before explaining to council that Cosson had acted at the behest of a superior.
The administrator did not elaborate on who had directed Cosson to conduct such activity, other than to say it was an employee no longer with the city. He also noted that this fact put the PIO in a “difficult” position.
“Regardless, it was in error,” Reynolds said. “He recognizes that.”
The administrator said that the city would be enacting a policy which would not allow such activity.
On the Bus
Also last night, the city council formalized an earlier decision to dedicate the city’s portion of a 4-cent gas tax recently passed by the Escambia County Commission to fund the Escambia County Area Transit system. When initially passed, county officials indicated the tax would be a dedicated funding source for the mass transit system; the city administration, however, was apparently considering using its portion of the tax to fund economic development efforts at the Pensacola International Airport.
During its Committee of the Whole meeting Monday, the council voted 8-1 to fund mass transit with the gas tax. This was despite Reynolds relaying that the city was currently in discussions with the county over the issue—he said a proposed interlocal agreement would be forthcoming.
Prior to discussing the gas tax last night, Council President P.C. Wu asked Reynolds if an interlocal had been hammered out.
“It is clear council believes that having the facts in front of them is not warranted,” the administrator said. “At this point, I think the damage has been done.”
Council members stressed that their decision to fund ECAT should not be read as a comment on the city’s aspirations of luring a Singapore-based aerospace company to the airport in hopes of generating jobs—the so-called ‘Project Stallion.’ Councilman Larry B. Johnson said that he had been contacted by a constituent that said the move would send a direct, negative message to the aerospace company.
“That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Johnson said. “I hope the aerospace company, if they’re listening tonight, knows that we want this.”
Johnson, as well as other council members, said that a vibrant mass transit system is valuable when trying to attract companies interested in relocating.
“I think they look at many things in a community,” he said. “I think mass transit is probably an issue they look at, too.”
Similar to Monday night, the public gallery was filled with ECAT supporters and employees. The self-described descendant of Abraham Lincoln—who refused to offer his name—said the former U.S. president would be proud of the decision to dedicate the gas tax to mass transit.
In a vote mirroring Monday’s COW vote—8-1, with Wu dissenting—the council formalized the decision to fund ECAT. An interlocal between the city and county must eventually spell out the specifics of the arrangement.
Figuring Out Zimmerman
The city council also discussed the city’s now-terminated relationship with the Tallahassee-based marketing firm the Zimmerman Agency. Councilman Charles Bare requested that the relationship be placed on a future COW agenda for further discussion.
“I just think we ought to have an opportunity to discuss this in our public forum,” Bare said.
Reynolds alluded to Zimmerman’s troubles in Okaloosa County—where the firm is wrapped up in an investigation into the spending of public dollars—and connected that to the city’s decision to scrap the agency’s contract.
“As council is aware, this is a larger issue here, in regards to investigations by law enforcement agencies,” the administrator said. “The city reserves the right to take action based on those investigations and I’ll leave it at that.”
The increase in violent crime was another topic of discussion during last night’s council meeting. The council decided to schedule a special meeting devoted entirely to discussing the issue.
“I think this issue is an ideal issue to have a special workshop,” said Councilwoman Megan Pratt. “This issue is too big to cram into the small box of a Monday.”
Several members of the public implored the council to address the issue. One man said the city’s economic development efforts would not be successful until the area’s “big violent problems” were addressed.
“If you bring your money here,” Wendell Savage said, addressing potential visitors and business-prospects, “somebody’s gonna rob’em for that money and kill’em.”