Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward held a town hall meeting at the Lucia M. Tryon Branch Library in District 2 on Tuesday, May 28. The meeting was the 18th in the “Taking City Hall to the Citizens” series of town hall meetings Hayward started in 2011. However, it was only the second town hall meeting that he has had since the first of the year.
District 2 City Councilwoman Sherri Meyers was also at the meeting along with city staff members.
Hayward answered questions about his recent homeless ordinances, offered no solutions for helping these citizens and instead asked the town hall attendees to offer solutions. A management technique reminiscent of the BP Barbies during the BP Oil Spill.
Ian Roof and Roger Montague voiced their concerns with the recent approval of several controversial ordinances that ban “camping” and using public restrooms for shaving, bathing or sleeping. Roof, a member of the Food Not Bombs organization, said the ordinances criminalize homelessness and offer no solutions for homeless people. He said he would like to see the law repealed until more shelters are built.
“We want to help the homeless,” Hayward responded. “We encourage – and I’m more than willing to listen to – any kind of other kind of opportunities that you think that we need to help implement concerning homelessness.”
Montague said he thinks the financial impact of the ordinances is just one problem of many.
“My concern is specifically will this form a catch-22 for our taxpayers where there’s not enough shelters, homeless people end up in jail and taxpayers end up footing the bill?” he asked.
“We’re already footing the bill,” Hayward said. “That’s part of paying taxes – helping people who can’t help themselves.”
Hayward said he will continue working with the mayor’s office to come up with a solution that benefits homeless people as well as taxpayers and businesses.
After the meeting, Roof and Montague said they would continue to fight the ordinances.
Montague said the bans on using public restrooms to bathe, shave and wash clothes make it extremely difficult for homeless people to find jobs or take care of any basic hygienic needs.
“The government is criminalizing people for being at really one of the worst states possible in western civilization,” he said. “That’s not helping them and that’s not helping our city or way of life.
The mayor also described the Community Maritime Park that he helped complete, and which his Neighborhood Services department has run for over year, as a deal that he walked into. He said that he would come up with some solutions to make it break-even within 12 months.
A resident took to the podium to discuss his concerns about the Pensacola Maritime Park. The man said Pensacola residents have been “duped” with regards to the park. He said he envisioned a “beautiful waterfront facility” where “shoppers, diners, tourists, visiting friends and citizens can go for a day’s activities – a Pensacola showcase.”
Instead, he said, he sees a “for-profit baseball stadium and a parking lot.”
“Now I read in the paper we owe for the facility that’s placed here for paying customers. Maybe you can explain why we always get the short end of the stick when there are high finances involved?” he asked Hayward.
“You’re correct,” Hayward said. “I don’t want to make excuses but myself and Councilwoman Myers, we walked into this deal and you’re right. I envisioned shops, a marina and us not getting our brains beaten in by Destin or Gulf Shores or Fairhope. I mean I could start making a list.”
A recent financial report claims that a $400,000 subsidy is needed to keep the Community Maritime Park running. The Community Maritime Park Associates Board also owes the Community Redevelopment Agency $500,000 for the work needed to complete the amphitheater.
To get things back on track, Hayward said the city needs to get stadium naming rights and start leasing the property in the park.
“We all know what we’re up against,” he said. “But I think we’ll be able to bring some solutions to the table in the next 12 months that we’ll be able to break even down there.”
The Mayor appears to be ready to hand over bus benches to the county for maintenance and upkeep.
When the lack of city benches and covered waiting areas at bus stops was also brought to the mayor’s attention, the city administrator chimed in.
City Administrator Bill Reynolds said the city is considering turning the bus benches over to the county which has more funding and can “bring them up to par.”
“Essentially, we do have a contract with Martin Mency and they’re failing terribly,” he said. “We’re looking at (terminating) the contract because frankly we’re going to find another solution.”
Hayward ended the meeting by describing a city with a promising future.
“We can enjoy our community and we can grow it,” he said. “And we can do the right thing and get people jobs. We can retain our young people.”
Hayward said he will continue to be approachable and listen to his constituents.