A review of the video of the Pensacola City Council’s special meeting held on Sept. 20 revealed no disparaging remarks made any of the council members directed toward City Attorney Lysia Bowling as Mayor Ashton Hayward claimed in a letter sent to Council President Brian Spencer.
The two-hour meeting was broken into two parts because the council had to recess for its budget hearing. The legal opinion that Bowling rendered on the ECUA storage tanks being built on North Palafox was handed out to the council. Spencer read it into the records.
Councilwoman Sherri Myers didn’t agree with the opinion but was not disrespectful.
“I’m not really satisfied with the opinion, and not because it reaches a conclusion that I don’t like,” said Myers. “There are a lot of conclusions of law that I don’t like. That doesn’t make it a bad opinion just because I don’t like the outcome of something. but assuming that pursuant to this one Florida statute that ECUA did not have to get permission, per this particular statute, to build the tank, sewage tank, what I would want to know is what other laws apply to this, what other ordinances, what part of the comprehensive plan, what policies of the city?
She continued, “So, I would want the city attorney or somebody to come back and say these are all of the legal issues that apply here and they’ve all been appropriately addressed.”
Bowling responded and did not appear offended by the questions. She explained that ECUA had followed all the city’s rules and regulations.
The attorneys for North Hill and ECUA spoke, as did several citizens. Many read written statements. Only one citizen said she wasn’t surprised that the city attorney ruled in a way she felt was what the mayor wanted – but her tone wasn’t disrespectful and her remarks weren’t disparaging.
Then council recessed temporarily.
When the council reconvened, Council President Brian Spencer said that Bowling’s opinion was an opinion but he did not disrespect the city attorney.
“Don’t forget to use the word ‘opinion’ is belief or judgment,” he said. “There is not always finality with the first opinion. And just today the News Journal Online has announced that the Florida Supreme Court has declined the City of Pensacola’s appeal in the Fish House lawsuit.”
He continued, “There were many different opinions that led to this conclusion after a three-year lawsuit. So yes, we do have the legal opinion that has been provided by our city attorney but that doesn’t stop me from tonight from making a motion.”
Spencer moved to have the construction of the tank stopped until the council voted on the ECUA plan.
“I view the permit as contingently valid. Mr. Mead told us there is a contingency and I think it is our obligation and responsibility to vet that contingency. And that’s why I’m making this motion as it is currently outstanding and because ECUA’s failure to submit the project to us, city council. That’s my motion.”
After Councilman P.C. Wu said he would not support the motion, Councilman Larry Johnson also came out against it, citing Bowling’s opinion and possible legal costs.
“And I will not be supporting the motion also tonight,” Johnson said. “I understand that we have an opinion from our attorney, Ms. Bowling, and I would be supporting that opinion.”
He added, “I believe that you know we talk about attorney fees. I don’t we just kind of segwayed into that tonight. And what I think we’re doing is we’re possibly setting ourselves up for additional legal fees. We have another councilwoman that talks about our legal fees all the time and yet willing to position us to where we’re going to get the lawsuit again and will we incur more legal fees.”
“So I will not be supporting this motion tonight. We talked about legal fees, and I believe that if we move forward with this motion that we are setting yourself up for legal action out of this.”
Spencer’s motion failed. Councilwoman Jewel Canada-Wynn made a motion that the council wait for a judge’s decision regarding the tanks and then hold another special meeting to discuss the issue. That passed. Councilwoman Sherri Myers made motion that the City Attorney get an opinion from the Florida Attorney General. That motion passed, too. The meeting adjourned.
The only time the meeting appeared to get out of hand was an incident between Councilman Johnson and the audience that the PNJ reported earlier and that led to the councilman storming out of the meeting. See video.
It does appear the council president could have handled the exchanges between the audience and his council better, but why did the mayor make his letter about Bowling, not Johnson?
The mayor wrote that he had reviewed the video of the meeting but there was not disrespect shown the city attorney. Check out the video.
Tonight the council will vote whether to show a vote of confidence for its council president.