On Monday, June 16 the Pensacola City Council held a workshop on possible city charter amendments that could be placed before the voters during the 2014 election cycle. Last year, when the mayor wanted to get rid of the at-large seats, the city council agreed to place such an amendment on the ballot during the special election to fill the State House seat of Clay Ford. This time, the “seventh floor” was silent about the issues discussed by the council.
However, on the afternoon of Thursday, June 19, Council Executive Lila Cox was fired. Before the council could debate the issue or even post the position for others to apply, Mayor Hayward named her replacement–something he and his prior senior leaders assured the council on several occasions that he would never do.
For two years, the city council was told that the mayor would hire whoever they decided upon. The only thing the mayor did was set the salary range for the position.
Did something happen at the charter workshop that provoked the mayor to suddenly remove Cox? I had one of writers review the video of the meeting. These are his notes. They are rough, but give you an idea of what was discussed.
City Charter Workshop Notes 6-16-14
In addition to the City Council were Ken Smalls and Lynn Tipton – Florida League of Cities
The charter workshop included 19 items on it that were covered during a two (2) hour span. Because it was a workshop the council could not take any formal action.
Council supported mainly having its own staff, attorney, financial controls and the recall of mayor.
“It’s not like we have to rewrite whole charter and put it out there. Those are things we need to do immediately and get done” – Sherri Myers
The meeting was called for the discussion of possible council initiated Charter Amendments for 2014 election cycle. Individual council members were asked to share with the Council Executive aspects of the City Charter that might be amended by Council action. This was done ahead of the workshop to allow FLC and Council staff an opportunity to research the issues and options prior to the workshop. The following list represents issues raised by Council Members with common issues.
(NOTE: I numbered them and bolded them in order that they discussed them from the agenda. The ones not highlighted/numbered they didn’t really go into it.)
1-Hiring of Council staff –
Lynn Tipton of the Florida League of Cities pointed them to language from both the Tampa and Jackonsville charters that give the council the ability to hire staff and oversee staff.
Pensacola City Council President Jewel Cannada-Wynn – “I don’t want it left up to the executive branch whether or not we have staff. Who’s in control of council staff? We do not want staff to be put into the middle of political shenanigans. Their role is to be liaison between the executive and the legislative branch. I think we would clear up things in the future. We need people to do grunt work.”
Wynn said the council has to have the opportunity to hire contract, temporary or interns.
Megan Pratt – She expressed skepticism that a charter amendment would pass a vote by the citizens asking for the council to have its own support staff. “Council staff is one of the main questions people have asked me a lot. Is this going to increase the bureaucracy of government? They are going to see this as growing government. The likelihood of passing is low. No. 1 thing we need is staff for council. It’s critical to our effectiveness.”
She blamed the mayor’s interpretation of the charter as preventing council from having its own staff to boss around. “Other attorneys would read it differently. We’re listed as an office of the city. Does the mayor supervise us? Another attorney who read this (the charter) would see it as giving the council ability to have staff—staff who know they don’t have to serve two masters.”
“If we had legal support we could find a way to have council staff. It has been a frustration for a long time.”
Sherri Myers took issue with Pratt’s assessment about the public not supporting the council having its own staff. – “There is nothing in the charter that prohibits council from having its own staff. The problem is the legal advice that’s been given from the mayor’s attorney. I think it’s an implied power (in the current charter). To me this is a no-brainer. So many people respond in disbelief when I tell them we do not have our own, independent staff. I think support for it would be overwhelming. It’s really sad we have to have a meeting today over things that should be obvious.”
Myers said it’s an implied power and that if the Mayor vetoed it, the council would have the six votes to override his veto.
“This is a charter clarification that would have the unanimous support of the public.” She said she has drafted every ordinance she has submitted and called that an “outrage.” “We have no one to support us draft ordinances or resolutions.”
Charles Bare – said he’s talked to lots of citizens door-to-door. “I think we could easily sell this to the public.”
“I do think we need some specificity” on what staff they needed. Said they can’t act as a true Legislative body right now without staff. “If we do nothing else, this is one that we need to pass.”
3-Council hiring/having access to attorney –
It was pointed out that the city attorney already must answer to legal charter that Pensacola already has in place and give legal advice to the council in addition to the mayor.
Lynn Tipton – Jacksonville charter indicates within the office of general council it can create a legislative council may be engaged at any time. Jacksonville has had both at different times. Basically, one that supports both mayor/city and council separately.
Charles Bare – “This would be very beneficial to the council.” He would want to do it by contract.
Sherri Meyers – Said the Mayor has entered into 56 contracts with attorneys. Said she thinks Council could do this by ordinance. “The simplest and quickest way is for us to do it by ordinance and see where we can go with that. I see hiring an attorney and staff as one ordinance.”
Megan Pratt – “Ultimately, think the charter is a framework and we’re putting in the furniture and painting the walls.”
“We do have those powers. We just need to decide we have those powers and try stuff.”
Jewel Cannada-Wynn – “I do feel this is a charter issue and needs to have the teeth of our community through an amendment.”
PC Wu – pointed out St. Petersburg charter allows council to appoint own attorney. “I think this gets close to what folks are talking about.”
7. -Change date for commencement of term of office
Lynn Tipton says no month of year that doesn’t have swearing in of city councils among 410 municipalities.
Some take up to 3 months and some next day after election to take office.
Charles Bare – Council actually sets it, makes more sense. Of all things we have to address seems trivial to me. I would support changing it in charter so more vague.
2-Council’s role in oversight of budget
PC Wu – “I think the first thing in this process is take personalities out of this. The second thing is look 10 or 20 years down the road when we are all long gone. The reason I have concern is the ruling that we got from an outside attorney that the Mayor did not have to council for any input or advice prior to making budgetary decisions.” He said, for example, the Council did not have input into the airport concessions.
“Everything in my mind revolves around checks and balances.”
Megan Pratt – She kind of admits the council has asked meekly and given the Mayor more power than the charter provides and failed to take the power the council has. “I believe the charter does grant us that and we need to take that power (oversight of budget). But there are times that the mayor had done questionable things, such as his interpretation of veto and disregarding council policy on contracting.”
“The council has to decide if the council wants a role. If we do then we need to act like it.”
“If we decide we don’t want to put any furniture in, then shame on us.”
Sherri Myers – “Everything that’s bothering us goes back to we do not have independent council and council that’s experienced in municipal regard.”
8. -Reduce Council to 5 members
FL of Cities said Pensacola was 2nd largest when it had 10 council members. Largest was 11 from Jacksonville. Among cities comparing to Hialeah (226,500 pop) 7 on council and mayor – nonvoting, Bradenton (50,000) 5 councils and mayor non voting; St. Petersburg (246,000) 5 and mayor. Plantation (85,000) 5 with 4 plus mayor who votes. The issue of at-large vs. single-member vs. blended. True at-large common in smaller cities. Most popular everyone runs in a district, only mayor is true at-large.
Charles Bare – I look size of city look size of county. If chopped ours down to 5 would have about 7,500 voters per district. Think moving this to at-large even better. But dropping down to 5, it’s a little less cumbersome. So that’s what I’m supporting.
Megan Pratt – We come from 9 different lives maybe not as diverse as the communities we serve. Reducing size of council reduces number of voices that goes into improving the city. I will consistently oppose this.
Larry Johnson – I think we’re too big. Look other city councils, we’re huge. We’re 52,000 city of Pensacola is just too big. I would support it. Think devil’s in details. I think should come from district and be voted on by that district.
Andy Terhaar – Just like fact have districts and have person that works hard for that district, not that they work hard for the whole city. I could support that.
Sherri Myers said 5 council members is good number for size of the city but doesn’t support being elected at-large.
Jewel Cannada-Wynn – Not support reduction to 5.
PC Wu – Several minority districts have been carved out. I would be interested to see that before I could support. Santa Rosa County – I can see the necessity for at-large.
5. -Mayor should be subject to recall
Megan Pratt – “I know that’s something was promised to citizens. There’s some merit to making Mayor subject to same way we are.” Pratt said to Johnson that the recall be put in for mayor or remove it for council members.
Sherri Myers – “If council is subject to recall, think public would support mayor being subject to recall.”
Myers think it was just an oversight that it wasn’t spelled out specifically in the charter.
Charles Bare – Need something in Charter that says he or she needs be subject to recall. “This is key issue that needs to be in there.”
Larry Johnson – “I don’t feel compelled to do this. We have the election box. Not happy with what he’s doing vote him out of office.”
6. -Mayor shall enforce ordinances and resolutions
Lynn Tipton – ordinances and resolutions. Resolutions are shorter and not as permanent. Both carry weight of law. Resolution may even be ceremonial. Some cities use resolutions to do budgets. But weight of law is behind both.
Sherri Myers says mayor’s attorney has “so muddied” the waters that the charter needs clarification. “To have a situation where Mayor says he doesn’t have to enforce resolutions is non-sensical to me.”
Pensacola adopts budget by resolution and the Mayor doesn’t have to enforce resolutions.
Staff (blond lady) – mayor has ability to veto resolutions.
Charles Bare – “Let the public know how many things are passed by resolution that are not enforceable by the Mayor they would find that disturbing.”
“The problem is the mayor has the ability to veto resolutions. But doesn’t have the ability to enforce it.”
Megan Pratt – He has the power to enforce resolutions but not the duty…
Change powers and duties for Mayor and Council to duties
– PC Wu – “My only concern is too much power concentrated in one person’s hands.”
Megan Pratt – “If do break this out. We do have to have a city clerk it’s not optional. Do have to have a budget it’s not optional. May be beneficial to spell out what’s not optional.”
Sherri Myers – “Would be better to separate duties out from powers. Think some things need be separated out as duties and some things separated out as powers. We certainly believed the Mayor had the duty to attend council meetings. Something needs be clarified. Under current charter believe he does need to be there.”
Charles Bare – Veto is power…Only one that sticks out to me. The rest duties applies to them.
Make the Mayor a member of Council
Transfer the power to organize the government from the Mayor to the Council
4. Add language to allow Council to establish financial controls and fix salaries of elected officials
Charles Bare – Hialeah government would give us more financial controls. He doesn’t think its implied in charter. “This would help us with a lot of our issues.”
PC Wu – “Either there’s oversight or there is no oversight. Does the public want oversight? If not, fine.”
“I want to make sure the public knows what it’s getting and they’re fine.”
Lynn Tipton – Jacksonville charter spells out financial controls.
Add Council power to appoint a City Council staff
Add Council power to increase or decrease the mayor’s budget or any line item by supermajority vote
Add language to limit Mayor’s salary to not more than 5 times the salary of a Council member
Review Believe in a Better Pensacola (Charter Campaign Literature)
Clean up Code of Ordinances and Council Policies – not an issue for charter discussion
Identify what can be accomplished through ordinances versus Charter amendment
-Council members may make inquiry of City staff when made in good faith
-Appointment of boards and commissions
Megan Pratt – mayor has taken that power not his. Mayor needs all advice he can get might be nice to help him.