The City Budget process last year was one of the most bizarre of any local government entity in recent memory. The closest comparison is the Escambia County School Board during Superintendent Jim Paul’s first term.
Over 30 days, then-Council President Maren DeWeese and Mayor Ashton Hayward battled over the 2011-12 budget. The days were filled with gnashing of teeth, name-calling, screaming, walk outs, battling memos, power plays, sudden reversals of support and last-minute attempts to change the budget.
Mayor Ashton Hayward delivered his 2011-12 budget to the city council and the community on August 8 in council chambers. The room was packed.
The Pensacola City Council didn’t hold any budget workshops until eight days later. It was clear that the workshops were going to be contentious. The meetings were scheduled to start at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. and tied up city staff for days.
Council President Maren DeWeese had already shown in prior meetings her contempt for Chief of Staff John Asmar. DeWeese was in charge of the workshops and Asmar and the City’s finance director, Dick Barker, were making the budget presentations. She and others had been upset with the hiring of Asmar and City Attorney Jim Messer. The council had badly bungled its own search for an council executive, and there was a behind-in-the-scenes power play being made with the CRA that wouldn’t surface until October.
Several council members weren’t happy with the new form of government and how Hayward was leading. The budget was set to be the showdown for them to flex their muscle…or so they thought.
The workshops were marathon sessions. Few council members stayed for all of them. DeWeese, Megan Pratt and Sherri Myers were the only ones to bring up objections, but they rarely offered alternatives. Few votes were taken.
The first day started at 9 a.m. The first casualties were John Jerralds and Ronald Townsend who didn’t make it past lunch. P.C. Wu and Larry Johnson had to leave around 2:30 p.m. for another meeting. Brian Spencer left for a doctor’s appointment at 3:15 p.m. Though they didn’t have a quorum, the remaining four continued to meet and hold straw polls.
The second workshop wasn’t much better.
ATTEMPT TO BRING ORDER TO THE PROCESS
On August 17, I spoke with Mayor Hayward to get his take on the meetings that seemed to be little more than complaint sessions for DeWeese, Pratt and Myers. The six members had no issues with the budget. With DeWeese in control of the chair and the other members unwilling to challenge her leadership, the meetings were going nowhere.
Hayward said he was open to reviewing any budget changes, but any amendments had to be passed by the majority of the council.
“Our staff has worked hard on this budget,” said Mayor Hayward. “It’s a great budget that is balanced, conservative and consistent with the commitments that we have made to the citizens of Pensacola.”
Hayward also said that city departments have been making presentations to the city council since February and he has repeatedly asked the council members for anything that they wanted included in the budget.
“We received very few written requests from the council,” he said.
“The amendments must be balanced,” said Hayward, meaning any changes to general fund and enterprise fund budgets must zero out —revenue=expenditures.
The next day, he sent a memo to the council confirming what he told me. Read FY 2012 Budget Memo.
LITTLE INPUT BEFORE PRESENTATION
I did do a public record request for any emails from the city council members prior to August 1 that had requests and proposals for the 2011-12 budgets.
The Pensacola City Council had several opportunities to give input to the budget prior to its roll-out. On March 10, 2011, Mayor Hayward sent a memo to the Pensacola City Council asking for their input and requests for the FY 2012 budget.
“I respectfully ask each member of the Council to provide my office with a list of priorities to be considered as part of the upcoming budget,” wrote the mayor.
He asked that they get them to his office by April 7, 2011 so that he could include them in his budget that he optimistically hoped to have ready by June. The budget took much longer to put together. The mayor’s did have separate meetings in early July with each council member to ask one more time for their requests for the budget. Read Hayward request.
Deweese never sent in any priorities or requests prior to August 2011. Through a public record requests, the IN obtained the written budget priorities submitted by the Pensacola City Council members to Mayor Hayward. Only four council members, Ronald Townsend, John Jerralds, Megan Pratt and Sherri Myers, sent a list of priorities to the mayor in March and April.
Townsend focused on Legion Field, Westside Library, code enforcement and the neighborhoods in his district. Jerralds wrote about the equipment at Woodland Heights Park. Pratt wanted a multi-use trail between Bayou Blvd and 12th Ave. Myers presented the mayor with over $3 million in budget requests: Uptown Pensacola marketing ($100,000), Sidewalks on Burgess and Sanders St. ($3 million), Tippin Park ADA upgrade ($100,000) and upgrade all other parks in District 2.
Councilman P.C. Wu sent in his budget requests on July 18. He addressed sidewalks, crosswalks and park equipment.
DEWEESE COUNTERS WITH HER OWN MEMO
After Hayward sent out his August 18 memo, Deweese sent to the Pensacola City Council her own memo on how she wanted the remaining FY 2012 budget process to be conducted—which conflicted, of course, with the mayor’s memo to council.
Deweese’s memo was also sent out August 18, same afternoon as the mayor’s. She asked the council members to send all their requests for clarification and line-item adjustments regarding the budget to Elaine Mager, the council’s administrative assistant, by Friday, August 19, 2011. (The mayor had already told her and the council that he wasn’t going to accept line-item changes with the appropriate offset.)
She wrote that they would then be compiled and sent to Dick Barker, City Finance Director, and Mayor Hayward. (Note: slight to Asmar)
Deweese instructed the council that they have two options:
1. “Include the proposed line item changes in your request as well as corresponding line item adjustments within the budget to offset the requested line item changes.”
2. Schedule a meeting with Mayor Hayward and/or his staff to discuss options for line-item changes.
Read: Deweese memo.
REQUESTS, BUT NO AMENDMENTS
Three council members made requests after the memos were issued, but they didn’t offer balanced amendments. DeWeese focused on Fire Station #3, bringing back Fire Rescue trucks and reconsidering the ESP rate increase. Myers wanted to roll everything back the ESP budget to 2009, and Pratt wanted to address the mayor’s organizational chart.
Mayor Ashton Hayward responded Tuesday afternoon to all the information requests from the City Council members. Not surprisingly, he rejected Council member Sherri Myers’ budget cuts. He did rework some of the organizational charts to meet Council member Megan Pratt’s concerns.
On the more important issues:
Fire Station #3 – Mayor’s response: “Upon receipt of the final study regarding the repairs/rehabilitation necessary at Fire Station #3 the Mayor will review all options available for the the rehabilitation of Fire Station #3.”
Fire Rescue Units – “The Mayor will review the options available during the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2012.”
ESP Rate Increase – “The Mayor continues with his stance that a rate increase is necessary in order to stay within Council’s policy of Enterprise operations remaining self-sustaining.”
Read Hayward Response
COUNCIL AND FIREFIGHTERS BAIL
When the city council held its last budget workshop in late August, the male council members revolted. It was clear the majority supported Hayward’s budget. However, DeWeese, Pratt and Myers weren’t going to let up. Neither Wu or Townsend attended the meeting. Hall, Spencer and Johnson walked out. Even without a quorum, Deweese continued with the workshop.
The death knell to DeWeese’s budget issues came when the Pensacola Professional Firefighters Union pulled its support of her requests for Fire Station # 3 and the Fire Rescue trucks.
On August 31, the Pensacola Professional Firefighters announced its support for Mayor Hayward and his budget as presented to the Pensacola City Council.
“Both the Mayor and his union partners have always been focused upon the safety of both our citizens and our firefighters, within the framework of our limited financial resources. We both agree that while within Federal and State guidelines, staffing is not at optimal levels.
“This issue originated in 2008 during the City’s “30 Month” Budgeting Process in which staffing levels were reduced to meet shrinking fiscal resources. The Pensacola Professional Firefighters support Mayor Hayward’s initial efforts to increase the City’s economic base and we look forward to working with him in the next fiscal year to address firefighting apparatus operation levels and staffing.”
ONE LAST HITCH
The biggest trouble spot that remained was the proposed rate increases for Energy Services of Pensacola. Councilmen Ronald Townsend and P.C. Wu appeared ready to join Deweese, Myers and Pratt on voting against the rate increase.
At the last minute, Spencer moved to table the rate increase. Mayor Hayward took the time to lobby the council and eventually won the support of Townsend to keep the rate hike.
There was one interesting aside. When Spencer had led the walk out of the last budget workshop, Deweese had called him and the others childish. (Several months later other council members would walk out when Rev. Monk was not allowed to speak at a council meeting. DeWeese herself had pulled a similar stunt the prior year when the council refused to fire then-City Attorney Rusty Wells).
Spencer had requested that a discussion item–“Council President’s Role, Responsibilities, Protocol, & Etiquette”– be added to the Committee of the Whole agenda. Deweese refused to add it to the agenda. Spencer had a chance to bring it up under “New Business” but the meeting lasted over five hours and he decided everyone was too tired to discuss it.
On Sept. 8, 2011 —one month after the mayor had presented it— the Pensacola City Council passed his budget without amendments.