Johnson Predicts ‘Tough’ Budget Season

The Pensacola City Council offered a glimpse last night of what upcoming budget workshops might look like. Council members signaled to Mayor Ashton Hayward that it could be a rough ride.

Councilman Larry B. Johnson questioned why the mayor needed both an administrator and a chief of staff. He asked City Administrator Bill Reynolds what exactly Chief of Staff John Asmar’s job description is.

“He does much as I do, what the mayor determines he should do,” Reynolds said.

Johnson replied that he “might have a hard time voting for the budget this time” if more specific job descriptions were not available. Councilwoman Sheri Myers agreed, adding that she’d like to see an organizational chart.

Today, Johnson elaborated on his question regarding Reynolds and Asmar. The councilman said that with the city’s expected $1 million deficit, the board needed to search out areas for potential cuts.

“I just think we need to take a look at consolidating those two positions,” Johnson said.

The councilman had also brought up the issue during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting. At that point he also requested job descriptions and an organizational chart.

“Because I feel like a real dumb— … a real dumb person when I see people on the street and I can’t explain who’s responsible for what,” Johnson said.

Council Vice Chairman Ronald Townsend—acting as chair during that meeting—told Johnson that he felt they were “treading on tedious territory” but thought it would be reasonable to get the job descriptions. Councilwoman Maren DeWeese said the conversation might be better had at a later date.

“I hate to air this out, Mr. Asmar’s not here,” the councilwoman said.

During last night’s meeting, council members looked ahead to upcoming budget workshops. Councilwoman Megan Pratt suggested taking a look at the city’s marketing contract—“One advertising representative told me that when he saw that number he fell out of his chair.”—and Johnson inquired about the board’s ability to adjust line items in the budget.

“We need to ask if this is going to be a charade,” Pratt said of the upcoming budget sessions. “If our budget is meaningless, why waste our time?”

Council members also said the workshops would be an appropriate place to explore larger issues. Myers told the council that she thought they needed to address the “great imbalance of power.” Chairman Hall said the council should use the opportunity to get its post-charter growing pains worked out.

“I think the mayor’s past his growing pains,” Hall said. “I think he’s pretty much figured out what he wants to do.”

Councilwoman DeWeese suggested that some of the board’s questions might could be addressed during the upcoming annual audit. She referred them to the ‘performance audit’ portion of the annual exercise.

“All the things we’ve had questions about for the last year can be handled under the performance audit,” she said.

While some members of council have consistently requested clarification about separation of power and charter-specific issues, Johnson has traditionally been supportive of Hayward. Today, the councilman said that he didn’t view his recent concerns as indicative of a departure—“It’s not a matter if I’m on anyone’s bench or not, I’m on the taxpayers’ bench.”—but rather the beginning of a “tough” budget season.

“From the sense I got last night,” Johnson said, “I think the budget hearings are going to be very interesting.”