Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tryon Library event at Barnes and Nobles

Get an early start on the holidays or just bring the kids for some Halloween fun this Saturday starting at 11 am at Barnes and Nobles on Airport Blvd. It is all for a good cause: raising money for the new Tryon library.

There will be:
  • storytime by city councilmembers (I'm at noon)
  • Wii sports
  • refreshments
How does it raise money for the library? If you are wearing a special sticker, 10% of the price of your purchase will be donated to the library. An important caveat, though, is that the stickers won't be available at the store--you will need to pick them up at a library before the event. You will also have an opportunity to buy books directly for the library from their wish list.

So stop by the library (any branch) this week to get a sticker (and a good book), then come to Barnes and Nobles on Saturday for some fun and fundraising to support our libraries.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hollice Williams Park Visioning Workshop

The community is invited to a visioning workshop for Hollice Williams Park. That's the park under the Interstate, from Cervantes to Yonge. The workshop will be a chance for the community to weigh in on their hopes for the site. A professional landscape architect and planner will be on hand to hear your thoughts and ideas as plans are developed to fully utilize this park as a community asset for multiple purposes.

This linear park encompasses over 5 acres and currently includes Hunter pool, basketball courts, football uprights, and extensive open space. But with your input, we can make this park even better. This park has lots of potential, but we won't know what you would like to see unless you tell us.

What would you like to see? Bike trails? Exercise trail? Skate Boarding? Jogging? Strollers? Come share your thoughts with your neighbors, landscape architects, and city staff.

The workshop will be held Thursday, October 29, 2009 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Loaves & Fishes, 257 E Lee St.

Hope to see you there.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

West Florida Public Library

With the opening of the new Tryon library, it is a good time to consider the value of the investment in the public library system. Public libraries are invaluable for a community. They are a statement about the importance of an educated population, one that continues learning throughout their lives. Libraries today are also more than just a book repository. They provide resources of all kinds, from travel videos to books on cds, from language tapes to internet access. (When we visit my in-laws, we spend time at the local library for high speed internet access so my husband and I can continue to work on our vacations.) Children's programs expand learning opportunities and create life-long library users.

From last October to this July, for example, our library:
  • circulated 646,000 items
  • responded to 65,500 information requests
  • had 510,000 people using one of the branches
  • had 140,000 people using computers
  • had 9,300 children attend programs
Think about this. If, instead of checking things out from the library, people bought 646,000 paperback novels, it would have consumed about 300 trees. Those books would fill 10 miles of shelves. And they would have cost several million dollars.

Sometimes I hear about the future demise of libraries. As more people gain internet access, they will have greater access to online information and there will be no need for reference desks. Kindles and other electronic books will replace print. So far I haven't seen it. Recently I was picking my son up, and another mom was standing reading from a Kindle. I asked her about it. She loves it, particularly having a selection of books for her recent flight, moving here from Okinawa. But, she said, she also loves libraries, browsing the stacks, thinking about all of the people who have read the book before.

As Rebecca Ryan, who recently spoke to the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce, has noted, young workers pride themselves on lifelong learning; one of her metrics for an area's success at recruiting and retaining young professionals is the Learning Index. Strong libraries can improve the lifelong learning opportunities in our city, improving our local economy.

The new Tryon branch is open on Langley. Soon the geneology department will move to the old Tryon location. The city is working on the plans for a new downtown library. I look forward to the strengthening of our library system to improve education opportunities, from teaching kids to read to supporting life-long learning, in our city.

Hope to see you at the Tryon library grand opening Friday (Oct 23) at 2 pm!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Charter vote

On Thursday, October 9th the City Council voted to send the new proposed charter to the voters. This charter, which is the product of the Charter Review Commission, proposes substantial changes to the government of the City of Pensacola. The Supervisor of Elections will send out mail ballots in early November, and they will be due Nov 24. There will be only one question on the ballot, and it will read as follows:


Shall the City of Pensacola replace its current Charter with a completely revised Charter providing for:

  • A Mayor-Council form of government, replacing a Council-Manager form of government;
  • A nine-member Council with two at-large seats and seven district seats;
  • Four-year staggered terms of office instead of two-year terms of office;
  • Term limits of three consecutive terms;
  • Recall, initiative and referendum

as described in Ordinance #35-09.

There are, appropriately, many questions that people have about this vote, and I hope everyone will take every opportunity to educate themselves on this. The following are some frequently asked questions:

Where can I see the two charters to read them for myself?

Both the current charter and the proposed charter are posted online. In addition, the videos and minutes of the Charter Review Commission are available.

What's the difference between the charter and consolidation?

The charter is for the City of Pensacola only. City voters will vote on the charter this November. Consolidation is an effort to combine the governments of the city, the county, and the Town of Century. It is anticipated that consolidation will come before the voters throughout Escambia County in the fall of 2010.

What are the differences between the two charters?

The ballot language (above) highlights the key differences between the two charters, including the form of government, term lengths and limits, and changes to the referendum process. Other differences include some stylistic updates, like including a preamble, as well as putting into the charter some things which are currently governed by ordinance.

What if I like certain provisions of the new charter but not others?

The charter review commission put many, many hours of work into drafting this new charter. There are a variety of provisions that they changed, including the form of government, council terms, term limits, and referendum provisions. Each of these could have been a separate ballot item. The council decide to simplify the current vote by having only one question. In the future, however, it is likely that individual items could be brought forward, if the new charter does not pass in its entirety.

What is Mayor-Council and Council-Manager?

Council-manager describes our current form of government. The council (and the mayor) can be likened to a board of directors. One of their tasks is to hire a city manager, who oversees the day-to-day operation of the city. In a way, the city manager is like the CEO.

Mayor-council describes a system more like the federal or state government systems. The mayor acts as the head of the executive branch, in this case hiring city department heads and overseeing operations. The council is like the legislative branch, controlling the budget and passing ordinances.

Will the Mayor be governed by the Sunshine Laws?

The Sunshine Law is a law which governs the communication between members who serve on the same elected body. Under it, two members of the same body can not speak to each other outside of a public meeting about any matter upon which they might vote. The communications between council and mayor are governed by this law, but it does not apply to individual council/mayor communication with members of another elected body (e.g., individual members of the county commission or the Gulf Breeze city council).

Under the new proposed charter, though, the mayor no longer serves on the same body as the council. The mayor then may have private meetings with individual council members to discuss issues, including issues that may come up for a vote before the council. Under both the current charter and the proposed, though, all written/email communication is still subject to public records, though face-to-face and phone conversations are not.

Do we have a charter currently?

Yes. Our current charter was adopted in1931. Like other constitutions it allows for amendments, which must be ratified by the voters. One amendment, for example, allowed for the direct election of the mayor in 2000 (previously the mayor was chosen by the council). On the other hand, Escambia County does not have a charter. Several years ago, a group worked on "charter government" for Escambia County, but that referendum failed. Without a charter, the county relies on the state legislature to control certain aspects of our county government. However, the existing city charter and the proposed one both confer the benefits of home rule, so we do not have to get legislative approval for changes.

If the charter passes, what happens next?

The outcome of this referendum will be known in the end of November. If it passes, the city government will begin the transition process. In either case, the next election for council members and mayor will be in August 2010.

How many people will I vote for?

Under the current charter, each city voter votes for four people: a district council member, two at-large (city-wide) council members, and the mayor. That will remain the same under the new charter. Currently every vote of the council is deliberated by 10 people, requiring 6 people for a majority. Under the proposed charter, the council will consist of 9 people, requiring 5 people for a majority, and the mayor will have veto power. The council, however, will be able to override the mayor's veto.

Will the elections be partisan?

Current city council elections are non-partisan, meaning that the candidates are not listed based on their party affiliation (e.g., Democrat, Republican) on the ballot. The new charter preserves this form. Some individuals, because of their employment, are prohibited from participating in partisan politics, so under either charter they are still able to serve on the city council.

Why not wait until the next election cycle to save on the cost of the ballot and give voters more time to study the issue?

The charter commission has spent over a year and a half working on drafting this new charter. They revised many provisions. However, after all of their study, they created a short document that can be reviewed in a short time. If we postpone until the next election cycle, citizens will be voting on state referendums and a large number of elected officials. Our charter, the underlying structure of our government, deserves to be considered separately from all of the other clutter. If we postpone until this spring, there would be insufficient time for candidates to file and run for the new positions, if the new charter passes. If we postpone and vote either in the spring or next fall, we would have to consider holding a special election for the new officials in the new government (again, a cost to the city) or electing a caretaker government to wait until the 2012 election. For quite some time now the potential of the new charter has caused some uncertainty in city government, and it is in our best interest to resolve this as soon as possible so that we can all again come together to creating the best city we can, under whatever form of government the voters choose.

So, which form is better?

That is the question that the voters must decide. In the multiple meetings we have had on this issue, we have heard examples of great cities with both forms of government. The underlying issue is ensuring that we have people in the government that are leaders and best represent the citizens.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Southwest Airlines

Steve and Sarah are a bright young couple. Their jobs are based in Chicago, but they spend most of their time traveling. They awakened one day and realized that they could work from anywhere as long as they had computers and access to air travel. They approached their employers with their plans. Their employers agreed. Steve and Sarah traded their down jackets for flipflops.
I am sure you have heard the buzz about efforts to attract Southwest Airlines to Pensacola. What's it all about? What are the benefits? Well, the primary benefit is to air travelers. When Southwest enters a market, they typically offer two things: lower prices and more service.

When I was in college in the early 90s, it cost about $350 to fly roundtrip between PNS and Boston. As soon as AirTran came to Pensacola, the prices dropped considerably. And they have stayed lower than those of our nearest competitors. Lower prices are nice for each of us as individual travelers, but they also attract more travelers from across our region to our airport, lowering the per passenger cost of the overhead. In addition, tourists who want to come to a beach are also more likely to come here instead of Destin or Panama City Beach if the price is right.

The economic impact of Southwest goes beyond filling hotels and restaurants, though. The more people who visit, the more who will realize how attractive our community is and the more likely they will move their companies here. (A recent editoral in Florida Trend suggests that perhaps local chambers of commerce should just check resort guest lists to generate potential contacts--sometimes vacationers are some of the best recruits.) Beyond beautiful beaches, diverse recreation, rich history, vibrant arts and all of the quality of life our community offers, when we add a great airport with low fares and direct service to many cities Pensacola becomes increasingly attractive to business leaders and their employees. Southwest, then, is more than an airline--it is an economic engine.

Southwest will not displace other carriers--it will enhance the menu of services. Having Southwest in addition to AirTran will increase competition, helping to cement the low prices that we enjoy. They will also fly different routes, making it easier for us to reach our destinations (and easier for people around the country to reach us).

And, ultimately, Southwest is--in popular jargon--just cool. They have adopted a corporate culture that values the flying experience. They are hip, innovative, and fun. And if they choose us, maybe it suggests that we are, too.

What needs to happen to land (no pun intended) Southwest? Money is important. Panama City has put a big incentive package on the table, courtesy of St. Joe. We can't afford the same amount, but as a community we can pull together to attract them:
  • Escambia and Santa Rosa counties have pledged bed tax money.
  • The City has approved incentives for new routes at the airport and authorized the purchase of ground equipment for a new carrier.
  • And you can help too.
We need to show community commitment--they need to know that we want them and that we will fly Southwest if they come. Pledge to purchase a Southwest giftcard if they come to PNS. Support the cause on Facebook. Tell Southwest that you want their next destination to be Pensacola.

Even with all of this hoopla about Southwest, we need to remember that all of the incentives are great, but if folks don't buy tickets, they won't want to stay. When PNS recruited AirTran, they offered incentives. But AirTran has stayed because we are loyal. Please continue to support our local carriers and fly Pensacola.
Sarah and Steve bought and restored an older house on the west side of downtown Pensacola (where their taxes are a lot lower than they were in Chicago). They now are engaged in the life of our community. They pay taxes. They donate their time to charities. They add vibrancy to downtown. And as they travel, they are ambassadors for our city.
Southwest is more than low fares--it may help us recruit more Sarahs and Steves....

Friday, October 2, 2009

Walk to School Day

October 7 is international walk to school day, part of walk to school month. We all know why kids should walk to school: it's good exercise, it helps them know their neighborhood, it gives them a sense of freedom and responsibility, and it keeps cars off the roads (and their emissions out of the air).

This year Unite Escambia Health Solutions Team, along with the mayor, fire chief, and other city representatives, will be at Spencer Bibbs school at 1:45 to to join the kids as they leave for home. On foot. You are welcome to join us. Or you might be interested in organizing a similar event at your own school. There are resources available to help you.

I am excited about this event and hope it will start some discussions on how the city can become more pedestrian-friendly. We are making some strides (pardon the pun). We have a sidewalk program. Last year, for example, Christy Ball took the lead in getting new sidewalks in Cordova Park to make it safer for kids to walk to school. But sidewalks aren't always enough. Lara McKnight, a resident in Scenic Heights, became so concerned about the safety of her kids on their way to school that she is organizing a new neighborhood association to push for improvements. (Want to start a neighborhood association or get involved in one in your neighborhood? Check out the Neighborhood Association How-To Guide or the Neighborhood Resource Guide. Email me, too--I would love to help.)

How can walking be improved in your neighborhood, near your school, or near your church? Try the walkability test. Email me about spots that aren't safe, and we can talk about how the city can help. Together we can build a more pedestrian-friendly city.