Jeremy's Notebook

The Big Slim Down

April 26, 2013

johnson pratt bare wingateSeveral members of Pensacola’s African-American community expressed concerns Thursday night as the Pensacola City Council considered cutting its two at-large seats.

“In the African-American community, we have angst about decreasing representation,” said Dr. Marion WIlliams, of Movement for Change.

This was the council’s first public hearing on the downsizing concept, reducing its size from nine to seven members. During Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting the council voted to begin the process, with the intent of placing the matter on the ballot for the June special election scheduled to fill the District 2 House seat left vacant by the late Rep. Clay Ford.

“Dr. Williams, how long have we known each other?” asked Council President P.C. Wu.

“At least 40 years,” Williams replied.

“Keep that in mind when I speak,” Wu told him.

Later—just before the council voted 5-4 to move ahead to the second public hearing—Wu would elaborate. He would explain why he had temporarily returned from the Southern Municipal Leadership Conference in Savannah, Ga. to make the vote.

“I felt this was important enough to be here. Why?” Wu asked. “Ladies and gentleman, I would not have traveled a thousand miles if I thought it was going to hurt minorities.”

The council president said there was “a lot of scare being thrown out there.” He disputed the position that doing away with the body’s at-large seats would decrease minority representation, pointing to the fact that the city has three districted seats rooted in minority-heavy areas of the city, two of which are held by African-Americans.

“Two out of seven is a heck of a lot better than two out of nine, or three out of nine no matter how you slice the pie,” Wu said.

Most of the African-Americans in the room—the two on council and those in the gallery—didn’t seem convinced. They questioned the timing and rationale and said the move would effectively cut two seats viewed as responsive to the black community, as those council members are meant to serve the entire city as opposed to focusing on one district.

“I just want to say, I don’t approve of what we’re trying to do here,” said Councilman Gerald Wingate. “—and I told the mayor earlier this morning, ‘even Jesus had 12 disciples.”

Vice President Jewel Cannada-Wynn contended that the June election would not allow enough time for “adequate citizen input.” She also said that the special election—with its reliably low turnout at the polls—would mean a limited number of voters would be ultimately deciding the matter.

“This issue is too important to allow so few voters to decide what the future of our government looks like,” Cannada-Wynn said.

The council’s two at-large members, who would finish out their terms before the seats were dropped, were also opposed.Councilwoman Megan Pratt didn’t understand why the recent push to drop the seats— “I keep asking myself, what problem are we trying to address?”—and Councilman Charles Bare said he thought the at-large seats “serve a valuable purpose” in the community.

Both council members and the public were interested in a previous federal lawsuit that had resulted in mandated changes to address the minority representation concerns. City Attorney Jim Messer said that the city was no longer under “pre clearance obligations.”

The remainder of city council—Sherri Myers, Andy Terhaar, Brian Spencer, Larry B. Johnson, and Wu—were on board with proceeding to a second public hearing and bringing the issue before the voters.

“The ultimate public input is at the ballot box,” said Johnson, who originally placed the issue on council’s table. “That’s the ultimate.”

If the public comment made during the meeting—consisting of only a handful of people—was any indication of the public sentiment, it was decidedly against. While one person spoke in favor of putting the cuts on the ballot, six spoke in opposition.

Wu ended the discussion by asking council to take personality out of the equation. It was immaterial that he valued Bare’s work ethic and considered Pratt “one of the keenest minds on council.”

“It’s not my decision, all we’re deciding is if it goes on the ballot,” Wu said, before the vote. “I thought this was important enough to come 500 miles, walk in this building, vote and get in the car and drive 500 miles back.”

  • George Hawthorne April 29, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Martin Randall

    I would hope that you would take the time to read my Viewpoint titled At Large does Not Equal Minority Representation and the supporting documentation.

    I respectfully disagree with your position and the evidence shows that At Large seats actually dilute minority representation in a city like Pensacola.

  • Martin Randall April 27, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    This tactic was in the news recently. It seems a number of Deep South jurisdictions are going back to the bad old days and defying federal court mandated standards for fair representation. I was not surpised to hear most of the cases were from Alabama and Missippi, but I never thought Pensacola would try this disgusting move to rob African-Americans of their fair share on the city council.

    Guess what, city leaders? Your precious Pensacola is about to gain national media attention again, this time being portrayed as a racist, cracker, anti-progressive hick town that does not want black people to get a fair deal. All the baseball stadiums and dream parks in the world will not repair the damage once a federal court orders the city to NOT do away with the two at-large seats and the city defies the order.

    The level of racism in this town is really disturbing, its just below the surface and festering. I am continually shocked by the casual comments I hear from colleagues who are native Pensacolians. This is a very sad development.

  • George Hawthorne April 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Dale,

    I don’t take any offense at your comments, you have clearly articulated your position based upon logic and reasining.

    I would never support any effort to reduce the council to 5 districts, because, to do such may have an effect of diluting the minority representation in Districts 5 & 7. However, “minority representation” is not my only objectin to such effort.

    For the record, my interest in “minority representation” is based upon my belief and evidence that there are clear disparities in Pensacola and those disparities have an effect of reducing the quality of life in the City.

    I also know that it will take majority sensitivity and minority inclusion to develop means and method to improve the communities and sectors of our city that are negatively impacting our city and anything that reduces minority representation will serve to further divide this community.

    As far as supporting this proposed council change, I take a “long-view” of the governance in the city. Based upon this perspective, I don’t look at every change, initiative and/or legislative action through the “lens” of the current politicians actions or behavior.

    Accordingly, I believe that if the majority of voters are dissatified with the actions or behavior of the Mayor or certain council people these voters will make the change at the ballot box. However, in the “short-term” these are the officials we are forced to deal with in matters of governance of our city.

    Therefore yes, I support the Mayor and I support ALL council people because they are our elected officials.

    Do I agree with all of there actions?

    No, however, I think it is counter-productive to consistently berate and insult the individuals that have the power to govern and I choose to take the path of direct persuasion, providing alternatives for consideration and private counseling when needed.

    Also, I try to have a dialog with them, because, clearly these are intellegent people and usually intelligent people have logical reasons and ultimate objectives thay are trying to achieve through their actions. Sometimes these people may have flawed reasoning and false assumptions (and sometimes even maladministration)that they have based the actions and behaviors, however, until I have clearly identified the “hiccup” in the thought process it is not productive to assume and blame.

    One thing I know, is that if you are trying to obtain a goal and a person is an integral part of obtaining that goal embarrassing, insulting and/or verbally assaulting them publicly will have the opposite effect in the quest of obtaining a goal.

    Also, I know that everyone has an “agenda” and may accuse others of untrue things if it helps their agenda. I have been on the receiving end of this type of “agenda promotion” and know that time has a way of revealing the truth and I let things play out.

    In short, my position on supporting this elimination is solely based upon the merits of the proposal and I do not get caught up in the “personalities” and” biases” of the elected officials. I believe in the power of the vote and that the democratic process has a way of righting any indiscretions if they have occurred.

    However, until such time, I feel it is in the best interest of the CCity to assist the Mayor and Council to provide us the leadership and actions we desire.

  • Dale Parker April 27, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    George,
    It does not take a rocket scientist to see what is going on downtown. First they have the so called “Strong Mayor” (which is not documented anywhere and if you find in the Charter document “Strong Mayor” – dinner @ Jacksons which is torture for me.

    The entire goal of that move was to change the playing field so that the so called movers and shakers would have 1 person’s palm to grease to get what they want and not 9. Buy themselves a Mayor and the flood gates are open.

    Well, now they are finding that even with a bought Mayor who is morally suspect at best is not getting what they want… the new idea is to reduce the Council to 5. Now, take a look at the 2 council people that would be eliminated, they are not always supportive of the Mayor… look who is pushing it, one of the Mayor’s BFFs, Johnson.

    Now, removing 2 voices that are voices for the entire city… reducing the vote from a 5-4 vote to a 3 to 5 vote reduces the number of palms that need to be greased to get what they want. Subsequently… with Andy Tahaar, Brian Spenser and Johnson all Mayor’s BFFs whom are proxy votes from the Mayor and do not represent their constituents… the fix would be in and the Mayoral Voting Block will be complete.

    George, you might understand (from your perspective) development, chambers, etc as you often point out… but you are either lying to yourself, hiding the fact that this is going on because you too support the Mayor and his shenanigans or you are completely out of touch with reality.

    I am very sorry that I had to depart from my attempt to play nice, however, I just could not continue to allow this charade to continue without voicing my opinion.

  • George Hawthorne April 27, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Dale,

    I really need to again say I am truly impressed with your poosts and comments lately. I really see that your input has been helpful to the public debate recently. Keep it going!

    I agree with you on the point that it has nothing to do with minorities and that is my issue … only! I don’t agree that it is about reducing Mayoral opposition.

    I think people give the Mayor to much credit as the architect of some “Pinky and the Brain” conspiracy to “take over the world.”

    I think that this is an attempt to reduce the size of council in order to provide a more efficient working group.

    I think that most would disagree with the statement that, the Council has not been effective in making timely and responsive decisions.

    I also think that people would agree that there needs to be some reduction to bring the number of council in-line with comparable governance structures for cities our size.

  • George Hawthorne April 27, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Steve,

    The Equal Business Opportunity Program was the most successful minority/women business enterprise procurement program in the history of Pensacola. It was developed and implemented for the construction activities of the Maritime Park.

    There are years of articles and public documents on this effort … including the participants, the numbers and the success.

  • Dale Parker April 27, 2013 at 12:27 am

    This has nothing to do with Minorities, it is about reducing opposition to the Mayor and reducing people’s voices.

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