The Pensacola City Council formalized their approval last night of locating a new YMCA at the Maritime Park—in concept, with lease details to be worked out—but not before a conversation about how the deal came before them.
“I agree, I think, with almost everyone up here,” Councilwoman Megan Pratt said, “we had a really flawed process.”
Council was particularly interested in how the YMCA lease came before them prior to being present to the Community Maritime Park Associates board. It was a continuation—albeit, a deeper dive—of the three-hour conversation council had earlier in the week during its Committee of the Whole.
“I just had a question about how the lease was developed,” Councilman Charles Wingate said.
“I’ll chime in briefly,” said City Attorney Jim Messer. “I’m not aware of the process of how it got to my office, maybe someone else has some information on that, I don’t.”
“Does that do it for you, councilman?” asked Council President P.C. Wu.
Wingate wan’t satisfied.
“Councilman Wingate,” Mayor Ashton Hayward said, “the process is the city council approves leases or the sale of real property, that’s why we’re discussing it.”
Wingate still wasn’t satisfied. He said the process, in this instance, had been “backwards.”
“Maybe I’ll take a shot at straightening this out, Councilman Wingate, because I think I understand what you’re driving at,” Messer said. “I don’t believe anyone is taking the position that the CMPA doesn’t have the right to negotiate terms and conditions of the lease and bring it to us, don’t misunderstand me, I think they do have that right, my point is, in this particular case, for whatever reason I have no knowledge about, and probably wouldn’t understand if I did, they didn’t, and so it was brought to the city … no one on the CMPA held up their hand and said, ‘hey, here we are, we want to do this’ … now, how it got to my office I can’t help you out with, but no one’s saying they don’t play a role. My position is they didn’t choose or weren’t able or didn’t want or whatever to play a role, so somebody had to do it. Is that a little clearer?”
“No, it’s not any clearer,” Wingate said, asking the attorney to “name somebody that was responsible for doing this.”
“Councilman, I’m gonna continue trying to answer your question because you deserve an answer,” Messer said. “I don’t want to throw Mr. Reynolds under the bus because honestly there’s probably seven or eight leases every two weeks that come through my office, but I suppose if you were going to put me under oath to testify I’d say probably Mr. Reynolds said, you know, ‘we’ve got a lease coming up at the CMPA, go take a look at it and I did, but I honestly can’t, it just doesn’t work that way, it just, I can’t identify a specific person, I’m guessing he probably did, we talk about leases and contracts every day and —”
Following Messer’s explanation, the council heard from Ann Hill, a member of the CMPA board. She relayed how the YMCA had made a presentation at a committee meeting, but that CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill had told the board there would be no action taken at that time.
Hill said she had expected to see the issue come back to the CMPA, but that she then read in the newspaper that the matter was on the council’s COW agenda.
“That was the first I heard that we had been taken out of the equation,” Hill told the council.
John Daniels, the YMCA’s attorney, also addressed the council last night. He said the organization thought it was following the correct process as per the city.
“We made inquiry—‘what’s the process, who do we start with?’” the attorney said.
Daniels also mapped out a timeline for the council. He said the YMCA conferred with Mayor Hayward and Chairman Merrill in early December.
“We discussed how to bring this lease to both boards, the council and the CMPA, and the conclusion was, we were told, bring it to the city, work through Mr. Messer …”
Daniels said that he had worked through “seven or eight drafts” of the lease with Messer, before requesting that the matter be placed on the COW agenda. The attorney disputed earlier characterizations that the lease was “flawed or incomplete.”
“It was a complete, well-drafted, well-thought out proposal to the city council,” Daniels said.
Councilman Charles Bare later clarified the bottom line with the YMCA attorney.
“Who exactly told you to take this to the city first?” he asked.
“Chairman Merrill and the mayor,” Daniels said.
Process aside, the council again approved the concept of a Maritime Y, this time by a 6-3 vote, with councilpersons Bare, Myers and Vice President Jewell Cannada-Wynn dissenting.
The Messer part of the discussion begins about the 25:45 mark: