Johnson Guns for Gunther, At-large Seats

By Jeremy Morrison
larry johnson fred guntherIt looks like Pensacola City Councilman Larry B. Johnson will be throwing a couple of suggestions on the table this afternoon during council’s Committee of the Whole meeting. In addition to his push to downsize the city’s legislative body, he’s also likely to ask that Fred Gunther be removed from the Community Maritime Park Associates Board of Trustees.

The councilman has been publicly making his case for cutting two seats off of council for the past couple of weeks. It’s a move he suggested last summer as well, though the matter was cut from the council’s agenda before the body could discuss it.

“This is not a new idea,” Johnson said this morning, adding that he didn’t think the matter would be scuttled today. “I don’t think that the president will pull it off the agenda this time.”

The councilman is suggesting that the two at-large seats—which represent the entire city, as opposed to a single district—be cut. This would bring the legislative body to seven members.

“I think we just don’t need the two at-large,” Johnson said, adding that those seats had also been questioned by the Charter Review Commission. “I believe there was a heated discussion about it.”

The councilman said he did not feel the city-wide council seats were needed under Pensacola’s new form of government.

“Doesn’t the mayor represent the entire city?” Johnson said. “We have changed our form of government and the way we do business.”

If the city council is receptive to such a concept—with the seats being dropped when current terms expired—the matter would go before city voters during the upcoming special election for the District 2 seat in the Florida House left vacant by the late Rep. Clay Ford.

“The citizens themselves, at the ballot box, will have an opportunity to vote this up or down,” Johnson said.

The councilman’s other aim—Fred Gunther’s removal from the CMPA board—comes after Gunther pitched an alternative proposal for the Community Maritime Park’s parcel one as the CMPA was looking at an offer for that property from Beck Property Company.

“I’m considering asking the council to remove Fred Gunther from the CMPA board. We must remove any skepticism, any doubt associated with this board,” Johnson said. “I do think he was over the line, he didn’t handle it properly.”

The councilman said that it appeared Gunther was offering a “mirrored” offer as the one Beck had put on the table—after hearing that proposal two days prior in a committee meeting—and simply “bumped the number up some.”

“It just doesn’t seem to meet the smell test for me,” Johnson said, describing Gunther’s actions as moving “to the head of the line.”

The councilman—who also sits on the CMPA board—is concerned that such actions don’t reflect well on the park board or the process of leasing park parcels. He also noted that Gunther was a vocal critic of the YMCA’s recent try for parcel eight.

“Somebody said to me over the weekend, ‘did he have somebody else for parcel eight?’” Johnson said. “I think that suspicion is out there.”

Gunther said he plans to attend this afternoon’s meeting and relay his position to council.

“I have not violated any ethics code or governing documents of the CMPA,” Gunther said this morning. “I look forward to today’s Committee of the Whole meeting so I’ll finally be given the opportunity to defend myself against these allegations.”

The city council meets for its COW this afternoon at 3:15 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.