By Stephanie Sharp—-
Two extra rows of seats had to be added in the meeting room of the Tryon Branch Library for last night’s Town Hall Meeting with Mayor Ashton Hayward. The mayor stood at the front of the room, flanked on either side by seven city officials. These officials included Chief of Police Chip Simmons and Councilwoman Sherri Myers, among others.
Mayor Hayward began the meeting speaking to the goals of the city: job creation, business innovation, and identity amplification. He stressed the importance of keeping the momentum that Pensacola has gained since his term began. These town hall meetings are one way to do that, according to Hayward.
By taking City Hall to the citizens, Hayward intends to keep the taxpayers involved in the growth of their city. By welcoming new retailers, improving the airport and nurturing neighborhoods, the mayor plans to make Pensacola a business-friendly city. The kind of city that, he says, that can compete with the rest of the state and nation.
“If we were the first settlement, we need to be the first in everything.”
As rousing as the mayor’s opening was, his audience’s concerns were focused closer to home. They were concerned with road improvements, city services and code enforcement.
Residents expressed alarm in regards to the lack of sidewalks and dangerous speeding on Dunmire Street, Burgess Road, and Olive Road. School children on Olive Road walk to their bus stop in ditches, explained one concerned citizen. Mayor Hayward arranged to meet with him Tuesday morning to get a firsthand look at the situation so that he could begin the process of remedying the situation.
Along with the need for sidewalks, there was concern about drivers speeding in residential areas. Chief Simmons assured the citizens that since the police department had seen a drop in violent crime, they are now focusing more energy to the abundant speeding that happens on city streets. He urged citizens to get in contact with the police department via Facebook, where they now post traffic patrol updates and can report back to citizens on the number of tickets issues for their area.
With the abundance of natural gas in our area, one resident said he was still waiting for the price to drop. Don Suarez, director of energy service of Pensacola, explained that the pricing system the city uses for its natural gas is meant to equalize prices, avoiding extreme highs and lows.
When it comes to natural gas, Pensacola is ahead of the national curve with three natural gas stations. Fleet vehicles will be the first to utilize the alternative fuel and the city is attracting attention from national companies (think UPS) because of our natural resources.
“Natural gas is here to stay,” said Suarez.
Former Councilwoman Diane Mack addressed the panel as a citizen in regards to residential zoning concerns. There is a growing trend of unrelated adults living in a residence together, and current city codes prohibit long term leases with this situation. Mack expressed her concern for neighborhood stability with the growing trend of renting instead of owning a home.
Another resident suggested that there needs to be an alternative for low-income housing in the city. Her idea was to turn from code enforcement to code evolvement that changes with the population’s needs.
One audience member had a suggestion for the proposed hatchery in Pensacola and the BP project money: “Think cobia.”
The population was decimated by the spill–only 20 cobia have been caught this season so far. A cobia hatchery would “actually restore something” that the spill took from the coast.
“BP money is going to come down and it’s going to be a game-changer,” said Hayward.
The concerns expressed at the District 2 town hall meeting were relatively simple: Take care of the residents who are already in the city and in turn, foster the kind of growth that Mayor Hayward is championing for the city’s future.
The mayor sounded proactive and positive, accepting that the priorities for District 2 residents were improvements and solutions in District 2. He stated that taking care of the neighborhoods is an important part of the process of making Pensacola great, and he is eager to get that process going at full speed.
“This is a town that has been idle for too long.”