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Tuesday September 16th 2014

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The Long and Y-ending Road

city councilAfter another marathon session—after Voltaire and a Chinese proverb—the Pensacola City Council is no closer to landing the YMCA at the Community Maritime Park.

“What you’re watching is democracy in action,” Council President P.C. Wu told his board.

For hours the council mud wrestled in a tub of glue. They bemoaned the process: said it wasn’t followed, until it was, at which point the results were apparently unpalatable.

“What did Voltaire say?” Councilman Larry B. Johnson said, looking to the French philosopher for direction. “Voltaire said—and I’m gonna read this, bare with me—‘Perfection is the enemy of progress. Perfection is the enemy of progress.’”

Councilman Brian Spencer had paraphrased that notion earlier in the meeting.

“I don’t like how we got here, but we are here today,” he said, asking his fellow council members if they were intent on ensuring that the process is “so perfect that nothing is ever accomplished or completed.”

In a separate meeting yesterday, the YMCA board formalized its decision to walk away from the negotiating table. The move followed the organization’s appearance last week before the Community Maritime Park Associates board.

Wu said someone had asked him if he was “angry” about the CMPA vote, which essentially directed the Y away from parcel 8 at the Community Maritime Park.

“I said, ‘I’m not happy, but that’s different from being angry,’” Wu explained.

The council president described the process—which included private meetings between the YMCA, Mayor Ashton Hayward and CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill, as well as two appearances before council—as an “end run” around the CMPA. He said council, which punted a proposed lease back to the CMPA, shouldn’t be upset with the park board’s decision.

“If they’re not telling us what we like, we can’t get angry because we asked them what they think,” Wu said.

Mayor Hayward, in attendance at the COW, warned council that it risked missing out on further progress—naming past lost opportunities—that “this hiccup, right or wrong, could put us in the same quagmire.”

“Let’s get past this stuff and move on,” the mayor said.

In a self-described “rah-rah speech,” Hayward said the city was in the “beginning of a renaissance,” that “people are starting to pay attention to Pensacola.” He referred to economic development efforts as his “number-one focus,” and relayed a recent discussion with a business prospect that said he “doesn’t want to be on the front page of your newspaper with horns.”

“Leaders lead, they don’t divide,” the mayor told the council.

Councilman Spencer referred to Hayward’s comments as “one of those wake-up calls.”

“The mayor just reminded us of some casualties. He reminded us to keep the eye on the ball,” the councilman said. “I don’t want to lose focus on the ball, which is the Y.”

Spencer proposed that a task force be formed—consisting of representatives of the council, the CMPA, and the administration—to negotiate a lease with the YMCA. He said such a move was not meant to circumvent the CMPA, but rather to “streamline the process.”

While most of the council seemed to want to “reengage”—or “push the reset button”—only Spencer and Johnson had the appetite to initiate the task force. That motion failed on a 2-7 vote.

Wu said he appreciated Spencer’s “intent,” but that he felt such a move would circumvent the CMPA board.

“You may be unhappy,” the president told Spencer, “but I hope you won’t become angry.”

In the end, council reluctantly agreed with City Attorney Jim Messer—“I would offer up the opinion that the process seems to be working just fine at this point”—and voted 7-2, with Council persons Sherri Myers and Charles Bare dissenting, to have Wu approach the Y in an effort to bring the organization back to the negotiating table.

The board directed Messer to report back in 10 days with his opinion on how property at the CMP should be leased. Council also discussed scheduling a workshop to study the matter, and hinted at reassessing the configuration of the CMPA board.