Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers is suing Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. The councilwoman’s attorney, Alistair McKenzie, reported that the suit was filed this afternoon.
Myers is suing Hayward over a memorandum the mayor sent out to city council members last month. The May 15 memorandum informed the council that members were not permitted to speak with city staff; communications between council members and city staff would need to go through the mayor’s office.
Hayward’s memorandum stated that “to improve efficiency of City operations … all future communications and dealings between the individual City Council members and City employees be done through the Mayor.”
“I will deal with your individual requests and recommendations in a timely fashion and, if necessary, set up a meeting with the appropriate department head or supervisor to discuss them,” Hayward wrote. “Further, all public records requests that you may have, should be forwarded to the City Clerk for action.”
Myers has asserted that such action by the mayor is not permitted under the city’s charter. She sought private counsel after—as she explained during a May 24 council meeting—City Attorney Jim Messer opted not to offer his opinion on the matter.
“Based on talking to private counsel, I believe I made the right decision,” she told her fellow council members.
McKenzie, the councilwoman’s attorney, wrote to Mayor Hayward on May 23 to request that he publicly retract the memorandum.
“Your actions taken in the memorandum at issue are illegal and improper as you lack the power to prevent council members from communicating with city employees,” the attorney wrote. “Furthermore, your actions taken in the memorandum are in violation of the explicit commands of the City of Pensacola Charter, are violative of the separation of powers doctrine, and interfere with the ability of council members to perform their duties in their official capacities as representatives of the citizens of Pensacola.”
The portion of the city charter used by the mayor to justify the directive is Section 4.04 (b) Interference with Administration, which reads: “Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations made in good faith, the City Council or Council Members shall deal with the City officers and employees, who are subject to the direction and supervision of the Mayor, solely through the Mayor. Neither the City Council nor Council Members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately. It is the express intent of this Charter that recommendations for improvement of municipal governmental operations by individual Council Members be made solely to and through the Mayor.”
In the lawsuit, McKenzie argues that while the charter forbids council members from directing city staff, it implicitly states that council members may make informational inquiries.
During the May 24 city council meeting, Councilwoman Megan Pratt said that she also felt council members had a right to request information from city staff.
“We need information,” Pratt said. “We get calls from our citizens and we have to be able to defend our decisions.”
Pratt also noted that the city attorney, Messer, had indicated previously that contentions between the board and the mayor might best be settled in court.
“Our only ultimate recourse is the courts,” she said. “I hope we don’t end up there, but we’re still working it out.”
Now, it looks as if this particular point of contention will, indeed, end up in court. McKenzie filed the Complaint for Writ of Quo Warranto today.