Charter Review looks at term limits

by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly

The Pensacola Charter Review Commission waded into the city’s charter last week, carving out some territory they intend to focus on at a matter-of-fact pace. With a few groundwork meetings behind them, this was the commission’s first into-the-weeds foray, and they wasted no time tackling some meaty terrain.

One of the most substantial discussions during the charter review commission’s April 6 meeting concerned the term limits of the city’s mayor. Currently, the mayor may serve three consecutive four-year terms, and members appear to be leaning toward curtailing this.

“The current mayor has said publicly and before this commission that he thought two terms were enough,” said Antonio Bruni.

Bruni provided other commission members with a copy of the charter, including potential revisions, deletions, and additions curated from other municipal charters and other sources, such as Mayor Grover Robinson’s suggestion regarding term limits.

Former Pensacola mayor and commission member Mike Wiggins said he supported limiting a mayor’s run. He recounted a recent radio interview where he was asked why the city wouldn’t want to emulate Charleston, South Carolina, where the city’s mayor served for decades: “I said, ‘I don’t really think that’s what we’re looking for here in Pensacola.”

In addition to limiting the number of terms a mayor may serve, members also discussed removing the word ‘consecutive’ from this charter provision, thus capping a mayor’s service at two years. This would mean an individual couldn’t serve additional terms following a period out of office.

“Do we want to prevent that in the charter?” asked Chairman Samuel Horton, suggesting a scenario in which a returning mayor seeks another term.

Ultimately, members decided to seek additional information before making a final decision on this issue.

“It’s worth a good discussion,” said commission member Jack Zoesch.

Another notable topic of discussion included the potential for a recurring utility feasibility study. Citing such provisions in other municipal charters, such as the city of Hialeah’s charter, Bruni suggested that it might be prudent to build such an automatic assessment into the city’s charter.

“It’s not something that this is the first time anyone’s ever thought of this; it happens in other charters; they make this consideration,” Bruni said.

Pointing to recent discussions amongst members of the Pensacola City Council concerning conducting a feasibility study to explore to the potential for establishing a municipal utility, Bruni contended that the city would be better served if such a study were a given.

“The reason I wanted it here was to take the politics out of it,” he said, pointing to the sometimes contentious conversations surrounding the subject as of late.

Wiggins disagreed, saying he was “a little concerned” about mandating such a thing.

“I just question — and, please, I need some help on whether that should be included in the charter,” he said.

Though the commission decided to postpone a decision on this front as well, Chairman Horton did indicate he was supportive.

“From my perspective, this charter is to organize the city and protect the citizens. And it seems like that is something that would protect the citizens,” the chairman said.

Another item of discussion regarded making the mayor a member of the city council. This would have the effect of disallowing the mayor from talking to city council members about city business outside the confines of a public meeting due to the state’s Sunshine law, which requires an elected body to hold discussions publicly.

No one on the review commission seem to think that it was a good idea to place the mayor on city council.

“This is an idea that we should not even consider,” Wiggins said.

Sunshine Remind

Prior to getting down to business reviewing the charter during the April 6 meeting, Chairman Horton made comments referencing a recent Sunshine slip-up. He said he

“I was contacted just before this meeting came, by a commission member, saying she could not be here and saying that she wanted some things considered by the committee,” Horton told members. “Well, I didn’t take the call.”

The chairman said he sent a message to the member reminding her that he couldn’t discuss commission business outside of a meeting. Though he did not mention the member by name, Vice Chair Clorissti Shoemo — absent for the meeting — appears to be the only female sitting on the charter review commission.

“We may think the law is too burdensome, but whatever we may think about it, that’s the law that we have to abide by,” Horton said.

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1 thought on “Charter Review looks at term limits

  1. On Charleston: When asked why he wouldn’t want Pensacola to be more like Charleston, Mike Wiggins says, “I said, I don’t really think that’s what we were looking for here in Pensacola.” I love Charleston. When I go on vacation there, I get up at sunrise and walk for an hour or two around the battery watching the city come alive. Charleston is huge (135 square miles) and most residents do not live the “Southern Living” magazine lifestyle but it’s still a nice place. Pensacola has had Charleston-envy since the early 2000s. Even mayoral candidate D.C. Reeves mentioned Charleston during an Inweekly candidate story. One of the best discussions about Pensacola becoming Charleston was written by Earle Bowden in the News Journal on August 21, 2010. The first sentence reads, “Pensacola’s strong mayor advocates should see in Charleston’s Joseph P. Riley, Jr. a strong role model for Pensacola’s plunge into a major City Hall transformation and the old city into a new, dynamic municipal era.” The start of “Rileymania” really begins when he spoke at IHMC on June 10, 2004. Carl Wernicke wrote about it on June 20, 2004, “Charleston mayor shows what matters.” I think we can all agree that Ashton Hayward and Grover Robinson cannot hold a candle to Joe Riley. I suspect that I am the only person in Pensacola who researched the Charleston government to include reading its city code and learned that Riley has described it as “Empowered Citizens, Accountable Mayor, Strong Council.” We have none of the three. The Charter Review Commission should take some field trips to Charleston, Orlando (that has a government organized much like Charleston), Hialeah (the baseline for much of the charter) and other cities. Make it a one-week field trip. Maybe Julian McQueen will lend his HondaJet that can take five passengers at a time. Let the media tag along. Drive to Mobile that was discussed as a model. Explore how that mayor and council interact in Mobile that gives much less discretion to its municipalities on how they operate. In Mobile, the mayor sits below, facing and looking up at the council. Drive up to Century and attend a council meeting – a bit like watching an episode of Green Acres – and see how Escambia County’s other Mayor-Council government operates. Review its charter and city code to see how it differs from Pensacola. Century has a Mayor-Strong Council form of government. One thing also to consider when deciding if the mayor should be full-time or part-time “or” on or off the council – both options allowed in either form of government – is that if the mayor is full-time then the only people who can be the mayor are the wealthy, retired, unemployed, underemployed or those who will agree to operate under the guidance of a political patron. If the mayor were part-time, that opens up field of candidates to all citizens to include some of the city’s more visionary leaders like Patrick Elebash whose grandfather was once the mayor.

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