The homeless and panhandling have been problems for Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward since he took office. Several times, he attempted ordinances to deal with them. Each time he and other city officials have walked away with political black-eyes.
In May 2017, the mayor pushed through the city council another set of anti-panhandling ordinances, over the objections of the American Civil Liberties Union, Councilwoman Sherri Myers and this newspaper. The mayor privately told his supporters that he was willing to fight for ordinances. City Attorney Lysia Bowling defended them during the council deliberations.
The ACLU almost immediately filed a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the laws. The mayor caved in, and the council rescinded them in September. According to ACLU attorney Benjamin Stevenson, the mayor paid the ACLU’s legal fees of about $10,000 as part of the settlement agreement.
When interviewed last summer, Stevenson said the council’s decisions have baffled him. The ACLU warned the city before it voted for the ordinance that it would be struck down.
“They could have saved a lot of time and effort,” he said. “We told them there were constitutional problems.”