Does Size Matter?

While some members expressed concerns about cutting two seats from the Pensacola City Council, most were inclined to follow Councilman Larry B. Johnson’s lead.

“Our council is too big, we need to shrink council,” Johnson told his fellow members at last night’s Committee of the Whole meeting.

Johnson is proposing cutting the board’s two at-large seats as terms expire. The council voted 5-3 to move forward with such a discussion, which will include two public hearings, the first of which will be Thursday. Voters would get a chance to weigh in during the special District 2 election in June.

“I don’t take this personally, this is not about me. This is my opinion about what is good government for our city,” said Councilwoman Megan Pratt, who holds one of the at-large seats. “I have people say, ‘the council should be smaller.’ My question is alway, ‘why?’—how does having fewer people making a decision benefit the public?”

Pratt was joined by Councilman Charles Bare—the other at-large seat—and Vice President Jewel Cannada-Wynn in opposing the idea. Cannada-Wynn said the council had larger priorities, and wondered how lopping off the seats would impact the minority community. Bare, a proponent of downsizing, suggested keeping the at-large seats and dropping the number of districted seats to five.

Concerns were also raised about the timeframe. Cannada-Wynn said the public would not be given enough time to have input, Pratt agreed and said that special elections produced reliably low voter turnouts and that the District 2 seat—reliably Republican—would likely be decided in May’s primary.

Councilwoman Sherri Myers noted that the Charter Review Commission had already discussed the matter—“the issue was really vetted”—and had leaned toward a smaller body.

“However, due to political pressure the Charter Review Commission changed its mind,” Myers said, recalling one member needing to “hold my nose” on that issue. “They did it because they were afraid that the charter effort might not pass.”

Councilman Andy Terhaar said he thought a smaller council would make the body “more accountable.” President P.C. Wu said he supported the concept, but questioned the timeframe. Councilman Brian Spencer was also on board, but preferred to soften the dialogue— “I’d like to use the term ‘phasing out’ instead of ‘eliminating.’”

Former councilwoman Diane Mack also talked about the Charter Review Commission process. She recalled that members of the African-American community had pushed for the commission to go with a nine-member council.

“They’re the ones that came and pleaded,” Mack said, adding that she didn’t think that the minority community would have time to digest the possibility of a smaller council by June’s special election. “—they’re not the political junkies in this community.”

Also during yesterday’s COW, Spencer targeted the composition of the Community Maritime Park Associates Board of Trustees. Johnson agreed, saying he would like to see that board downsized as well.

The CMPA issue was slated for the council’s next COW. CMPA board member Fred Gunther will have to wait until then to publicly defend himself.

Gunther has faced sharp criticism—and calls to step down—since bringing the CMPA a counteroffer for a parcel of property at the Community Maritime Park. He presented the offer from his “client,” after having already heard a proposal from Beck Property Company for the same parcel.

The CMPA member appeared before city council yesterday—saying he had prepared some remarks for them—but was denied the opportunity to speak.

“At this stage that’s not pertinent to the motion on the floor,” Wu told him.

Earlier in the day, Johnson had said he was considering calling for Gunther’s removal. After the COW meeting, the councilman said it seemed more appropriate to address it during the upcoming discussion regarding the CMPA’s composition.

“I didn’t know that Spencer was going to make that motion,” Johnson said, “and when he did, I thought ‘that’s an opportunity to address that.’”

The Pensacola City Council will meet for its regular meeting Thursday, at 5:30 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.