Wu Juggles Zimmerman, Gas Tax

city councilIt looks like the gas tax and Zimmerman Agency contract will be on the Pensacola City Council’s table next week. The topics didn’t make the agenda, but Council President P.C. Wu said last night he plans to add them.

“To me, the logical thing is, why wouldn’t it be there?” the president said.

During a previous meeting, council members voted to have both items on Monday’s Committee of the Whole agenda. They wanted to discuss the four cent-gas tax established by Escambia County and they wanted to explore the recently terminated relationship between the city and the Zimmerman Agency, a Tallahassee firm contracted to handle Pensacola’s marketing needs.

Earlier Wednesday afternoon, Wu said that the two items would not be discussed. He pointed to City Administrator Bill Reynolds’ stated concern regarding discussing Zimmerman when the city could potentially face a lawsuit from the agency. The president also said there was nothing to discuss about the gas tax because the city administration had yet to put forth any proposal concerning the tax revenues.

Wu stressed that the administration was not involved in the items’ absence, that no one had “called to plead, urge or direct.” Rather, the council executive had suggested not placing the matters on the agenda.

“The only person I talked to was Lyla Cox, and she’s the one that recommended we not pursue those,” Wu said. “I said, ‘ok, I’ll support you.”

Later in the day—“upon reflection”—the president changed his mind.

“Since they voted to have it on there, I’m going to put it on there,” Wu said.

The president said that, although the matter would be on the agenda, he would urge the council to hold off on discussing the Zimmerman contract due to lawsuit concerns. He said council members should take Reynolds up on his offer to meet with them individually on the matter.

“If there is a potential lawsuit,” Wu explained, “it wouldn’t make much sense to put everything on the table when the administration has told you they’ll give you everything they have.”

During the council’s previous discussion, Reynolds told members he would be providing them with supporting documentation—“I think he said two or three binders of information”—to detail troubles with the Zimmerman contract. Though all the information is open record and available to anyone upon request, the city administrator advised against a public discussion.

Where the gas tax is concerned, council voted to discuss the issue after Escambia County Commission Chairman Gene Valentino stated that the city administration had indicated it intended to use the portion of the gas tax collected within the city limits to further economic development efforts at the Pensacola International Airport, as opposed to dedicating it to fund the area’s mass transit system as the county commission intended. Reynolds has since disputed Valentino’s assertion, saying that no decisions have been made regarding the gas tax proceeds.

President Wu, who originally left the gas tax issue off the COW agenda due to the lack of a proposal from Mayor Ashton Hayward—“there’s nothing we can do to force the mayor’s office”—said he did not know if the legislative or executive branch of city government had the authority to determine where the tax proceeds went.

“That’s a good question,” Wu said.