April 16 Charter Review Commission meeting notes:
Near the beginning of the meeting, chairperson Crystal Spencer talked about the budget the CRC now has, after herself and consultant William Haraway were in the “hot seat.” There were three motions on the issue during a Committee of the Whole meeting before the matter went to the City Council.
“The (daily) newspaper doesn’t really capture the flavor of the process…” Spencer said. CRC members have indicated they believed, initially, that their budget was a sure thing.
All members were present at Wednesday’s meeting, where the new alternate, James Hinson, introduced himself. Hinson is a local contractor and his father once served as the city engineer, he said.
Next, Haraway clarified comments he made in a previous meeting. “I want to be clear that I am not pushing the strong mayor form of government,” he said. Later, Haraway added of himself and consultant Robert Freedman: “We truly want to be professional and we want to be neutral.”
In keeping with that, and now that there’s a budget, Haraway told members about the plan for upcoming expert speakers and issues to be addressed.
The issues include leadership and term limits.
CRC members said it’s clear from public input there needs to be a central leader and changes made.
On May 7, City Manager Tom Bonfield will address the CRC again, which he had indicated he wanted to do after an e-mail spam problem prevented him from adequately preparing for his first talk, he had said.
Spencer said Bonfield had asked that instead of speaking to the whole CRC he talk to a few or some of the members individually. Neither Haraway nor Spencer thought that was a good idea.
“We wanted this to be a public hearing–a public forum,” Spencer said.
Haraway added that the CRC’s job is not to grade the city manager or council “It’s about positions, not people,” he said.
“The issue is leadership, and what is the relationship between council and administration.”
After Bonfield speaks to the CRC on the state of the city, the speaker at the next meeting on May 28 will be Jim Svara. Svara is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University and the director of the Center for Urban Innovation.
Svara is knowledgeable about council-manager government and city-county management, said Haraway, who called him one of the leading experts on local forms of government. Svara, who Bonfield had also recommended as a speaker, holds a Ph.D. in political science from Yale.
The next speaker will be William Grodnick, the city attorney in Hialeah, Fla., who also drafted its current city charter. Hialeah has a mayor/council form of government. Grodnick has experience, too, with city ordinances and organizational structure, Haraway said. Also, Grodnick will travel to Pensacola and speak for free. He will stay, too, with a brother in Mobile, saving the CRC a substantial amount of money.
To achieve neutrality, Haraway has asked all speakers to stick to the subject of mayoral leadership.
As an aside, Haraway told CRC members that they will need to think in terms of implementing recommendations down the road. The consultant also said the group should formally invite council members to speak.
“Let’s invite them all but P.C. Wu,” said CRC alternate James Reeves.
“He probably wouldn’t come anyway,” Spencer said over the laughter in the room.
Other possible speakers include: Joseph Riley, a strong mayor in Charleston, S.C., Rick Harper, director of the Haas Center at UWF; and David Stafford, Escambia County Supervisor of Elections.
The CRC wants to hear from Stafford because of districting and redistricting issues.
As a university professor, Haraway said he knows the CRC needs to base its decision on data. “It’s contextual.”
The actual work on the charter would begin, perhaps, late this year, after the group has heard from all the speakers. Haraway said that shouldn’t be an issue because their recommendation to the council and a possible referendum won’t happen by the end of the year.
Member Samuel Horton asked why the CRC can’t hear from two or three experts, and contrasting speakers, during each meeting.
Spencer said someone like Mayor Riley, who is apparently a speaker in high demand, would want to talk for an entire hour. Haraway also said it would likely be confusing to hear from and ask questions of multiple speakers with opposing viewpoints.
CRC member Megan Benson Pratt asked if they will hear from representatives from areas similar in size to Pensacola, as Hialeah Charleston are larger.
Most smaller cities have council/manager governments. Hence, the discussion then centered around the status quo in Pensacola versus how things like population growth, are accomplished in bigger cities.
“You can’t put yourself in an elephant’s skin and decide that you’re going to be an elephant,” Horton said. Those issues, like population growth, aren’t related to the form of government, he continued. “This, to me, is becoming like the ‘Big Dig’ up in Boston.
“…There are regulations that prevent Pensacola from becoming bigger.”
Member Floyd Armstrong agreed with Pratt that he wants to see a presentation from an official with a city similar in size to Pensacola. Not to copy its form of government, Armstrong said. Just to see how it works.
Member Robert Holmes said the CRC needs to get the best document they can for Pensacola, but data that will facilitate expansion or consolidation.
Holmes said he his pro consolidation.
Reeves said later consolidation is not part of their charge. Unless the charter reads “Abolish the City of Pensacola.”
Spencer presented the following list of business leaders to ask to speak to the CRC: Ken Ford, Travis Peterson, Blaise Adams, F.E. Booker, and Clark Thompson.
Spencer asked members to propose other people to help diversify the list.
Member DeeDee Ritchie asked that the group hear from groups of citizens who may not be business leaders but have done work on the issues and feel passionately about them.
Ritchie also proposed Ellis Bullock and John Peacock as speakers. Holmes asked if it would be appropriate to ask City Council members to write position papers on how they see different forms of government.
Haraway said that in the role of a political consultant, he would advise council members not to do that.
“If they wanted something different,” Reeves said, “they had the ability to do it without us.”
The City Council will be invited to the CRC’s June 18 meeting.
Member Ed Ranelli said he is in favor of making the speakers more diverse and inviting citizens’ groups. He also asked why they were taking up nearly a whole meeting to schedule speakers.
Spencer said it’s because of the Sunshine Law, which requires members not to serve as conduits outside the open meetings, such as via e-mail. Ritchie said she would like to hear from the League of Women Voters long before a proposed October date. “What they’ve done is absolutely critical to this process,” she said.
Armstrong suggested contacting the African-American Chamber of Commerce for a speaker.
Spencer also suggested a Website as a way to encourage public input. Money for a site is not in the budget, but the chairperson said, perhaps, a company could sponsor it and an escrow account could be set up for anonymous private donations.
Haraway said Mayor John Fogg had indicated the CRC needed to try to secure matching funds, and the escrow would be a way to do that.
Members talk about the logistics of a Website and it being independent from, but piggybacking off of, the city site.
Legal consultant Margaret Stopp said the issue with a private industry backing the Website would be perception. It would need to be a web development company, for instance, and not a business with an obvious agenda.
Spencer said she’ll also get a quote from the PR firm.
The site would be designed to give informational data and for members of the public to share their opinions with the CRC. But Reeves asked about requiring people to identify themselves. “We don’t want any sons of Godzillas,” Reeves said.
The members then voted on offering a link to a new Website from the city site. Holmes dissented, saying he thought they were supposed to be independent. Holmes also said a few meetings back they requested data on the number of unopposed city council members in the last 10 to 12 years. He asked where that is. Haraway said he has the information and will disseminate it.
Audience member Sharon Barnett of the League of Women Voters suggested the CRC members also hear from a local M.D. and someone from the cultural community.
There was also more discussion about district lines, minority representation, and reducing the number of city council members.
Regarding the latter, “It ain’t going to be happy,” Reeves said.
Spencer said they need to keep open minds, especially this early in the process.
“Since I don’t have a vote, it doesn’t matter what my opinion is,” Reeves said.