Jeremy's Notebook

Johnson Guns for Gunther, At-large Seats

April 22, 2013

larry johnson fred guntherIt looks like Pensacola City Councilman Larry B. Johnson will be throwing a couple of suggestions on the table this afternoon during council’s Committee of the Whole meeting. In addition to his push to downsize the city’s legislative body, he’s also likely to ask that Fred Gunther be removed from the Community Maritime Park Associates Board of Trustees.

The councilman has been publicly making his case for cutting two seats off of council for the past couple of weeks. It’s a move he suggested last summer as well, though the matter was cut from the council’s agenda before the body could discuss it.

“This is not a new idea,” Johnson said this morning, adding that he didn’t think the matter would be scuttled today. “I don’t think that the president will pull it off the agenda this time.”

The councilman is suggesting that the two at-large seats—which represent the entire city, as opposed to a single district—be cut. This would bring the legislative body to seven members.

“I think we just don’t need the two at-large,” Johnson said, adding that those seats had also been questioned by the Charter Review Commission. “I believe there was a heated discussion about it.”

The councilman said he did not feel the city-wide council seats were needed under Pensacola’s new form of government.

“Doesn’t the mayor represent the entire city?” Johnson said. “We have changed our form of government and the way we do business.”

If the city council is receptive to such a concept—with the seats being dropped when current terms expired—the matter would go before city voters during the upcoming special election for the District 2 seat in the Florida House left vacant by the late Rep. Clay Ford.

“The citizens themselves, at the ballot box, will have an opportunity to vote this up or down,” Johnson said.

The councilman’s other aim—Fred Gunther’s removal from the CMPA board—comes after Gunther pitched an alternative proposal for the Community Maritime Park’s parcel one as the CMPA was looking at an offer for that property from Beck Property Company.

“I’m considering asking the council to remove Fred Gunther from the CMPA board. We must remove any skepticism, any doubt associated with this board,” Johnson said. “I do think he was over the line, he didn’t handle it properly.”

The councilman said that it appeared Gunther was offering a “mirrored” offer as the one Beck had put on the table—after hearing that proposal two days prior in a committee meeting—and simply “bumped the number up some.”

“It just doesn’t seem to meet the smell test for me,” Johnson said, describing Gunther’s actions as moving “to the head of the line.”

The councilman—who also sits on the CMPA board—is concerned that such actions don’t reflect well on the park board or the process of leasing park parcels. He also noted that Gunther was a vocal critic of the YMCA’s recent try for parcel eight.

“Somebody said to me over the weekend, ‘did he have somebody else for parcel eight?’” Johnson said. “I think that suspicion is out there.”

Gunther said he plans to attend this afternoon’s meeting and relay his position to council.

“I have not violated any ethics code or governing documents of the CMPA,” Gunther said this morning. “I look forward to today’s Committee of the Whole meeting so I’ll finally be given the opportunity to defend myself against these allegations.”

The city council meets for its COW this afternoon at 3:15 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.

You Might Also Like

  • Greg May 2, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    So let me get this straight…
    1. Gunther sees that the Beck deal is a loser for the city, so he votes against it in the straw vote
    2. He is able to secure an offer more beneficial to the City
    3.. Acting in good faith and without violating any law, he recuses himself
    4. The CMPA rejects that offer and goes with the lower one
    5. Larry Johnson cries foul over Gunther’s handling of the matter because it doesn’t “doesn’t seem to meet the smell test”
    Follow the money trail here…I’m now more interested in knowing whether or not Larry Johnson or the others who want Gunther gone, are being forthright about their relationships with Beck…
    The CMPA and the City would do themselves a huge favor by simply getting out of Fred Gunther’s way. He is always the smartest guy in the room. They should be thankful he loves Pensacola and only wants to make it a great place to live. Petty, weak minded, and short sighted people have run that city for too long, and that is the reason most of the area is in decay. It is sad for those of us who grew up there and have no real incentive to return.

  • George Hawthorne April 24, 2013 at 9:39 am


    I don’t think it should “drive the bus,” however, I do think that the alternatives being presented to eliminating the at-large council seats that include redistricting definitely create an “environment” to dilute minority representation.

    My concern is that any redistricting effort will “open the door” for the litigation on this “minority representation” issue.

    My hope is that we can move to an environment of mutual cooperation instead of racial division in order to tackle the real socio-economics issues and economic disparities that plague our great community (i.e., crime, poverty, education, economic development, workforce development, MWBE procurement inclusion) and avoid a “fight” that would serve to divide us along racial lines.

  • SAM April 23, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    I may be wrong.

    But, I am pretty sure I am right.

    That court order is no longer in affect, owing the past wrongs have been amended for.

    That said, if future electoral mechanisms deliberately try to prevent certain minority groups from having a fair shot of election, as it seems to have occured here in the past, then the courts may intervene again.

    I do not see that happening.

  • George Hawthorne April 23, 2013 at 5:04 pm


    I fully agree with your post, unfortunately sometimes implementation of the “ideological” goals necessitate the intradiction of judicial “influence” in the process. However, on that point I know I am preaching to the choir as you are a very astute lawyer who, much better than I, understands that principle.

  • Bruce Partington April 23, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    That’s not exactly what I was suggesting. For 226 years, this country, and its states, counties and municipalities have been governed on the fundamental idea of being a representative democracy, and so it is (or should be) unremarkable to suggest that the governing body of a community be fairly representative of the community itself.

  • joe April 23, 2013 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks George,

    Considered, but should it drive the bus?

    Litigation means minority representation is “legally mandated”? I understand its your area of expertise and perhaps your bread and butter but does it seem prudent to make community-based decisions based on minority representation? Everyone has a vote and a voice.

    I do understand the fear that the angry, old white man mentality is going to try and minimize minority representation by re-drawing voting districts and perhaps it has happened in the past but I don’t think its as prevalent as the media likes to report.

  • George Hawthorne April 23, 2013 at 3:53 pm


    The reality is that minority representation must be considered as Pensacola is already under a Justice department consent order based upon litigation from constituents who raised the issue of a lack of minority representation with the US Justice Department. Based upon that reality, I would submit that consideration of minority representation is not only “politically correct” but also legally mandated.

  • 1 2