History of federal probe of Ashton Hayward

On Aug. 26, 2014, Interim City Administrator Dick Barker notified the Pensacola City Council by email that the U.S. District Attorney was investigating the city and that staff members were being questioned.

The Hayward administration had a very different look three years ago. City Administrator Colleen Castille had announced her resignation. CFO Barker had been named her interim replacement. Initiatives Coordination Eric Olson was promoted to assistant city administrator, and Communications Director Tamara Fountain was promoted to the newly created position of Chief Operations Officer.

Hayward was running for a second term. He hired Tim Baker and Data Targeting of Gainesville, Fla. to consult on his campaign.

Inweekly obtained through a public record request the subpoena that the city had received on Aug. 15, 2014. The subpoena requested city documents be presented to a federal grand jury scheduled to convene on Sept. 3 in Tallahassee. Individual subpoenas had also been issued to city staff but Fountain did not make those readily available.

The records requested concerned the Main Street Rehabilitation Project; the city’s investments; agreements with Jerry Pate Design; the city’s insurance broker; and the expenses of former Chief of Staff John Asmar and Mayor Hayward, including requests for reimbursement for travel.

In a written statement issued when the subpoena surfaced publicly, Mayor Hayward said, “As Mayor, I have worked to promote a culture of openness and transparency at City Hall. I am aware of the subpoenas which have been issued this week to several City employees, and I have instructed staff to immediately make available to the City Council and public any and all documents which we can legally release.”

He added, “Furthermore, I have asked employees to fully comply with this process as it moves forward, and my administration will make any new information available to the public as quickly as possible. Everything we do on behalf of citizens is rightfully open to review and scrutiny, and I look forward to a swift and satisfactory resolution to this inquiry.”

Mayor Hayward turned down three interview requests from Inweekly, but did speak with News Journal reporter Rob Johnson on Friday, Aug. 29.

He said the federal investigation concerned allegations of bribery. He acknowledged that “he had awarded city contracts to a friend, Jerry Pate, without competitive bids, but he asserted that no wrongdoing has occurred as a federal bribery investigation looms.”

He said the federal bribery investigation that involved city officials, some of his financial records and Pate was a distraction that saddened him.

Councilwoman Sherri Myers requested from then-City Attorney Jim Messer copies of the federal subpoenas.

Messer replied, “My office has no involvement in this matter. My understanding is that attorneys at Beggs and Lane are handling the matter. This office has no documents or information relating to the matter.” See City attorney out of the loop on federal investigation.

Inweekly requested copies of the subpoenas sent to city employees and to be allowed to review the documents gathered to comply with the federal subpoena that the mayor’s office has released to the media.

The city initially refused to release the information: “The City of Pensacola has been advised by the Florida Attorney General’s office that in accordance with F.S. 119.071(2)(c)1. and F.S.905.24, these records are exempt from the disclosure requirements of Ch. 119 F.S. as long as they are part of an “active” criminal investigation or intelligence gathering operation being conducted by the Grand Jury.”

Inweekly went to the State Attorney’s Office for help. On Sept. 13, 2014, Chief Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille called to say that the city of Pensacola would fulfill our public record requests.

Here are the records:

City Papers: Main Street Project Vol. 1

City Papers: Main Street Project Vol. 2

City Papers: Main Street Project Vol. 3

City Papers: Travel expenses

City Papers: Investments

City Papers: Insurance Broker

After that, we heard very little from the mayor about the federal grand jury until yesterday.

In written statement sent to the News Journal, Mayor Hayward said, “Three years ago my administration was investigated. That case has now been closed. There was no finding of wrongdoing – there was no wrongdoing. A person in public office will inevitably face accusations from time to time. It is unfortunate when this happens, and I am pleased that the matter has been resolved.”