One day before the Pensacola City Council is to consider its reaction to his veto, Mayor Ashton Hayward called a press conference to discuss the troubled relationship between the city’s executive and legislative branches.
“As you know, we haven’t always agreed,” Hayward said to the assembled media in a seventh floor conference room at Pensacola City Hall.
Standing with Hayward were city councilmen Brian Spencer, John Jerralds, P.C. Wu and councilman-elect Andy Terhaar. They stood in front of a screen featuring multiple images of the city’s new logo.
The mayor thanked the councilmen and Terhaar for “standing with me and the city charter.” He also said that he was aware of various concerns from some members of city council.
“I have listened to the concerns of the city council,” Hayward said. “I want to build consensus between council and the mayor’s office.”
The city council and the mayor have been at odds for some time, with the landscape growing progressively bitter and cold. Hayward has contended that the council is hampering his vision and ability to lead in the newly-minted strong mayor position. Members of city council have taken issue with the mayor’s management style, a number of decisions he has made—such as entering into a marketing contract that yielded the new logo—and the fact that he does not attend council meetings. Councilwoman Maren DeWeese has also raised questions regarding Hayward’s business relationships and the possibility of conflicts of interest.
Today, the mayor said he would start attending “important council meetings,” defining ‘important‘ as an occasion the council would be discussing something the administration felt was important. He also said his office would be giving the board regular reports “to make sure council feels included.”
Hayward also said today that some members of council had been “manufacturing controversy.” He requested that they “get past petty arguments.”
“I want to take the high road and I hope others will choose to do so as well,” he told the press.
During a question and answer session following his statement, the mayor said that he felt his veto to council’s budget amendment would withstand Thursday’s city council meeting.
“I feel like we will pass the veto,” Hayward said.
The mayor vetoed an amendment which removed $220,000 from marketing budgets and into the council’s budget, to be used to hire its staff and legal counsel. It will take six council members to override the veto.
Council’s amendment passed on a 5-3 vote, with Spencer, Wu and President Sam Hall dissenting. Councilman Jerralds—along with four other council members—favored moving the marketing funds, and Council Vice President Ronald Townsend was absent for the vote.
Hall, Townsend and DeWeese, as well as councilpersons Sherri Myers, Megan Pratt and Larry B. Johnson, were not in attendance at the mayor’s press conference.
“Obviously, it’s 2:30, and people have things to do,” Hayward said when asked about their absence.
Townsend—pegged as the crucial vote, if everyone holds their original position—has not revealed which way he’ll go on the veto vote. Jerralds originally voted to amend the budget, but also stood beside the mayor at his press conference.
When Jerralds was asked if he now agreed with the mayor regarding the importance of the marketing funds, Hayward said the councilmen would need to speak with the press individually due to Sunshine Law issues.
When the press conference concluded, Jerralds quickly excited through a side door. City Administrator Bill Reynolds said the councilman had another engagement and wasn’t available for questions.
Out in the hallway, television news crews huddled with their respective councilmen. Terhaar leaned up against the wall and spoke about the recent drama surrounding the city government. The soon-to-be councilman—he will take take DeWeese’s seat, as she has dropped out of the District 3 race and filed to run for mayor in 2014—has been attending meetings recently.
“It’s a little intimidating going to the meetings and seeing how the process is right now,” he said.
Terhaar said he thought there should be better communication between the council and the mayor. He said he understood the new form of government and strong-mayor position, and also that he felt Hayward could count on his support on most issues.
When asked how he would have voted regarding the marketing budget amendment, Terhaar said he would have probably supported the mayor. At the same time, he expressed reservations about the price tag of the city’s new marketing contract with the Zimmerman Agency in Tallahassee.
“I know nothing about advertising, but it seems like a decent amount of money, maybe a little too much,” Terhaar said, wondering if the job might have been able to be done locally. “It’d been nice to keep some of those dollars here—but I support him.”
Terhaar did not learn of the afternoon press conference until earlier in the day.
“They called me today and said, ‘hey, we’re having a press conference with the mayor, can you be here?’” he said.
Councilman Wu also did not know about the press conference until hours before. He said he was hearing the mayor’s plans—to attend some meetings and offer reports—for the first time.
“As a matter of fact, I did not know until he said it a few minutes ago,” Wu explained.
The councilman—who stood with the mayor, one time alone, on both council amendments to the budget—said he appreciated Hayward’s message.
“Basically, I’m pleased that he talked about coming to some of the council meetings,” Wu said.
Councilman Spencer also said he welcomed the mayor at the meetings. He said he had not spoken with the mayor about his presence at the council meetings and had only recently heard Hayward intended to attend.
When asked how it was determined that the three councilmen and Terhaar would stand with the mayor during the press conference, Spencer said he felt Hayward had reached out to those that support his budget.
“I think the mayor connected with council members that supported his veto,” Spencer said. “I was invited this morning.”
Spencer referred to the “negative” tone in the relationship between council and the mayor. He said the problem “seems to be a trend that has reached a new height.”
While Spencer did not vote to remove the mayor’s marketing money, he did vote on the council’s second amendment defunding the equivalent of the mayor’s chief of staff’s salary. Several members had expressed concerns over Chief of Staff John Asmar, and the ‘vendor’ nature of his contract. The board voted 7-1 to transfer $120,000 out of the mayor’s professional services budget and into a police training fund; that amendment was not vetoed.
Down in the lobby of city hall, Councilwoman Myers was arriving for a meeting of the Environmental Review Board. She was just becoming aware of the press conference upstairs.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Myers said. “I just learned from this young lady here.”
Myers said she wasn’t sure the press conference was appropriate in the context of Thursday’s council meeting and pending decision on the mayor’s veto. She also noted that certain council members were at the event, while others were not.
“I wasn’t invited to the press conference,” the councilwoman said, noting that none of the women on the board had attended.
Myers has described Thursday’s veto vote as “the most important issue you will ever be asked to vote on.” Today she said she hopes council members do “the right thing” and not “bend to inappropriate political pressure.”