As the appointed time for the Pensacola City Council’s special meeting to select its new executive came and went, Councilwoman Megan Pratt began to wonder where the majority of her fellow board members were.
“Wasn’t that a unanimous vote that we meet at five?” she asked.
“We’ve got to have a quorum,” said Councilman Ronald Townsend.
“I’m not gonna say a word,” said City Administrator Bill Reynolds.
Earlier in the week, the city council had arranged for Thursday’s special Committee of the Whole meeting in order to choose between four candidates for the board’s long-sought council executive position. Pratt and Townsend, along with Councilwoman Sheri Myers, were eventually joined by councilmen John Jerralds, Brian Spencer and P.C Wu—but the remaining three council members did not attend the meeting.
Townsend wasn’t happy about the members’ lack of participation.
“This is getting to be almost a fiasco in regards to the actions of the council,” he complained. “I’d use another characterization, but I’m Catholic.”
Before selecting their executive, council members needed to determine the process. They had previously discussed using a rating system, with the top scoring candidate getting the position. After some discussion, the council decided to stick with that method instead of taking a more traditional vote.
City Attorney Jim Messer then informed the board that Councilwoman Maren DeWeese—absent from the meeting—had given him her sealed-ballot vote. The councilwoman had not used the ranking system.
“To add to the confusion, Councilwoman DeWeese voted by secret ballot,” Messer said. “If you rank the candidates, obviously that nullifies her vote.”
Pratt suggested using DeWeese’s vote as a tie-breaker if necessary, but the other members weren’t receptive. They preferred to throw out the councilwoman’s vote entirely.
“The train has left the station and we’re ready to pull out,” Jerralds said.
“That’s like voting in abstention. That can’t be done,” added Myers. “And by the way, Councilwoman DeWeese is the one who suggested that it be done by ranking. She brought that up and we agreed.”
At that point, Wu motioned that the board go ahead with the ranking method. The notion got unanimous support.
“Alright, let’s do it,” said Townsend. “Will somebody lend me a pencil?”
Council members rated the candidates 1 through 4, with their top pick receiving the lowest number. Which ever candidate got the lowest score in total would be the new council executive.
One of the four executive candidates did not show up during the council’s COW meeting earlier in the week. There had since been uncertainty as to her current status; this led to some council members not ranking that candidate, and using a 1 through 3 scale—which threw the math off. To clean up the math the council decided to add eight points to candidate Marinda Spradley’s score.
The winning candidate was Terence Milstead, PhD (11 points)—a professor from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina. The board’s second choice was Warrington Middle School teacher Vanessa Watson (13 points), with Donald Kelly (15 points), a Pensacola city planner, and Spradley (21 points), an office manager in Alabama, rounding it out.
Later, in the city council’s regular meeting, a member of the public scolded the board members who had missed the special session. The entire council was present for the 5:30 p.m. meeting.
“It was quite an important decision being made,” Dottie Dubuisson told the council.