“We are happy to be at the point we are at right now,” YMCA Chairman of the Board Steve Williams told the CMPA Audit and Operations Committee.
While Williams was happy to be where he was, the CMPA committee members had questions about exactly how he arrived there. By some accounts, he had traveled what Pensacola City Councilwoman Sherri Myers was calling an “extremely irregular and suspect” path.
By the time the Y representatives appeared before the CMPA committee, they had a proposed lease for a prime piece of waterfront real estate—parcel 8—at the Community Maritime Park that had been approved—in concept—during a pair of contentious meetings of the city council. Prior to that, in December, they had met with Mayor Ashton Hayward and CMPA Chairman Collier Merrill to get the conversation started.
Members of the city council, as well as members of the CMPA committee, were critical of this route. They contended that the lease should have been crafted by the YMCA and the CMPA before ever going to the city council.
“May I speak?” Merrill approached the committee yesterday.
“Sure,” said Operations and Audit Committee Chairman John Merting. “I’ve never known you to be shy in that regard.”
Questions had been raised about the appropriateness of Merrill and Hayward meeting privately with the Y. Myers was crying Sunshine violations—“I think you all need to read your Florida in the Sunshine manual”—charging that the CMPA had not authorized its chairman to negotiate terms of a lease.
Merrill told the committee that his intent was not to circumvent the CMPA.
“It’s always to get something to bring back to the board,” he explained. “I’ve never been authorized to approve or disapprove.”
John Daniel, the YMCA’s attorney, told the committee his clients wanted a “chance to negotiate the lease.”
“And we understand the CMPA is where we are to do that,” he said.
When questioned by city council, the Y informed that city officials had instructed them to first work with City Attorney Jim Messer. The city attorney worked through seven or eight drafts with the Y.
“We received some direction,” Williams reiterated to the committee, “and we took the direction we received.”
CMPA member Jim Reeves suggested that a copy of the interlocal agreement between the city and the CMPA be distributed to ensure that everyone was clear on each entity’s appropriate role in the process. Daniel assured the committee that the Y didn’t “have a dog in that fight.”
“Anywhere in that lease that says ‘city’ or ‘CMPA,’ we don’t care—” he said.
“But if you were on the CMPA board you would,” Reeves interjected.
The audit and operations committee also dug into various aspects of the proposed lease—hitting on concerns such as parking limitations and project placement—but it was predetermined that the group would take no action beyond discussion. Merrill had requested that the YMCA first be given the opportunity to appear before the full CMPA board.
“Y’all can do what you want to, Mr. Chairman,” Merrill had begun the conversation, “but that’s something I want to take up on Wednesday.”
The full CMPA board meets tomorrow, 1:30 p.m., at Pensacola City Hall.