City Budget: Welcome to the Neighborhood

by Jeremy Morrison –

Mayor Ashton Hayward outlined his vision for Pensacola’s future this week via his first State of the City address. One of the key points of his agenda focuses on neighborhoods.

The Mayor is proposing reorganizing city structure by creating a Department of Neighborhood Services, which will oversee the libraries, Parks and Recreation Department, and Neighborhoods and Economic Development. The departments would answer to the new City Administrator. Chief of Neighborhoods — a cabinet level position has been created as a policy-making position and an agency/departmental coordinating position, according to Travis Peterson,Hayward’s public information officer.

According to John Asmar, the Mayor’s chief of staff, this reorganization would better allow the city to serve its various neighborhoods. The move would also consolidate like-services between the departments.

Changes would include moving some day to day operations — such as mowing grass — to the Public Works department, and utilizing libraries for various community functions, such as continuing education classes. Community centers would also expand their scope, offering services a specific area seems to want or need. Director of Parks and Recreation Dave Flaherty said new services could range from periodical blood pressure tests for residents to poetry groups.

“I’m totally ecstatic,” Flaherty said of the proposed reorganization and resulting changes.

The Mayor’s goal, explained Asmar, is to engage neighborhoods and work with them to better suit their individual needs. He points to the area around Bayview Park — which has a senior center, and more recently, a dog park — as an example.

“If the demographic in that area is 30 to 50 with two small children, maybe we shouldn’t have a senior center,” Asmar said, theorizing about possible changes at the East Hill-area community center. “Maybe we should have an after-school day car center.”

According to the Mayor’s office, the reorganization would allow for better communication between Pensacola residents and their government, as well as a more efficient use of city resources.

“I think these changes will bring added value to the citizens,” said Peterson..

If the Mayor’s proposals take effect, Helen Gibson is slated for the Chief of Neighborhoods job. She currently holds the title of Neighborhood Coordinator within the city’s Neighborhood and Economic Development department. Gibson could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Peterson said the specifics of the proposed reorganization — such as what positions might be consolidated or how specifically the city will tap into the pulse of individual neighborhoods — are still being hammered out. The City Council will undoubtedly dive into to during next week’s budget hearings.