Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bay Bridge Comments

The state has determined that the Pensacola Bay Bridge needs to be replaced. It is several years off, but they are starting the planning now. They are requesting comments from the public on any priorities that should be considered. Anyone with suggestions should access the Efficient Transportation Decision Making (ETDM) Web site. On that site, you can search for the bay bridge project, and there is a link for submitting comments.

Examples of the topics that some people have commented on include:
  • Bike lanes
  • Sidewalks
  • Break down lanes
  • Toll lanes/HOV lanes
  • 6 lanes, 8 lanes, 4 lanes
  • West side landing, east side landing
  • Pretty lights
  • Road Rangers Services
Please share your opinions on the proposed project so that we can try and make it a bridge that will meet the community's needs for many years to come.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Council staff

Since the first council meeting after the passage of the new charter, the council has been working to formalize the structure of this new government. And since that meeting, the council has contemplated having some form of council staff. The council is currently considering two highly qualified candidates and looks forward to the hiring of one of them.

Why does the council need a staff?
The legislative branch of any government has needs that differ from those of the executive. While the mayor has working relationships with many of the knowledge experts in the government, the councilmembers often need a guide to help them navigate the bureaucracy and research issues. The council needs a professional who will provide clear, unbiased advice on issues before the council, to serve as a sounding board for councilmembers as they contemplate an issue. The council also needs assistance in preparing agendas, particularly handling requests for council presentations and facilitating the appearance of experts for council deliberations.

These are all tasks that were done under the previous government and still need to be done under the new charter. Without someone to perform these functions, the council cannot adequately fulfill its duties under the charter. Council staff is a necessary element of good governance.

Is it legal under our charter?
Our charter gives the mayor the power to appoint, discipline, and remove all officers and employees. However, nowhere in the charter is there a prohibition of the council having dedicated personnel. Early in his tenure, even, Mayor Hayward directed the council that Mr. Coby would continue to be a resource for the council. And the charter does not forbid the mayor from respecting the wishes of the council.

True, the council can not send an offer letter, the council can’t sign paychecks. But the mayor can do those things on behalf of the council in the best interest of this city and sound governance.

Do other cities with a mayor-council government have council staff?
Yes. Hialeah has multiple council aides, as well as a relationship with the clerk. Hialeah does not expressly give the mayor the powers to appoint all officers, but it does not give the council the power to supervise any departments.

Orlando has an assistant for each council member, and their charter explicitly gives the power to have subordinates. In Orlando these assistants function much like the assistants for the Escambia County Commission and are paid in a similar range.

The council in St. Petersburg has one administrator and three assistants, but the charter prohibits the council from requesting the appointment of anyone.

Each of these cities has found a way to provide the necessary support to their councils. Each has a different format, and the one this council contemplates is different, too. But if they have found a way to make it work, so can we.

Can we afford it?
During the budget deliberations for the 2011 budget, before the first mayor under the new charter was elected, the then-council provided funding for the mayor’s staff as well as the council staff. The budget was balanced, but the funds for this council staff have not yet been expended. There are sufficient funds in the budget to hire candidates of the caliber the council considered during their recent workshop.

The mayor and city council are all dedicated to providing a strong city and want to ensure that decisions are made with adequate consideration. The council has spoken multiple times about the need for a staff person and has worked diligently toward the hiring of such a staff, including much debate and discussion since the mayor’s swearing in. This council staff is an essential element of good government, which is in the best interest of all the citizens of Pensacola.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Creating Jobs or Rearranging the Deck Chairs?

the issue: number of city council seats

Over the course of a year, a committee set about the complex task of designing a new charter for the City of Pensacola. Among the issues which they discussed was the number of City Council members and the existence of at-large council seats. After considerable deliberation, they decided to leave the existing structure as it was.

Why did the charter commission keep the existing council structure?

People in our community are passionate about voting for those who represent them. And they should be. When a previous city-county charter commission proposed changing from elected to appointed constitutional officers, that issue was attributed to the failure of the entire initiative. If we were to change from the current system of seven district representatives and two at-large representatives on council, the voters of Pensacola would lose considerable control over their city government.

Under the current system, every voter casts four votes. One for the mayor, one for their district representative, and two for at-large council members. That means they have four out of ten city officials directly accountable to them. Why would the voters want to reduce their voice on the city council by two-thirds? But more important than how many votes they cast on election day, the current system increases the chances that their perspectives will be voiced during council deliberations.

The Wisdom of Crowds.

Each individual council member has a different life experience, different passions, diverse knowledge. Each asks different questions helping shape a better final decision that considers many points of view.

The more people participating in the debate, the more likely all angles of an issue will be considered and the more likely the final product will be better than any one person could have created.

Consider juries, which are typically twelve people, regardless of the size of the community. In decisions about jury size, the Supreme Court has stated that juries should be “large enough to promote group deliberations”. It is not a question of the size of the community, but rather a question of the size of the group which determines whether a sound decision will be reached.

But what about the costs?

Council members are currently paid $14,000 a year. In the scale of the city’s budget, each additional council member’s salary is a drop in the bucket. If more members provide better decision making on a $200 million budget, that $14,000 is worth it.

As we work under the new charter, we continue to have questions on implementation. This is not one of them. The commission made a clear decision on this, and we should spend our energies discussing more pressing issues.

Our community faces serious challenges as well as many opportunities to shape our destiny. We should not be distracted by how many seats are on the council, when the people of this community are more concerned about how many good jobs we can create. We have many, many important matters before us; we should not be worried with rearranging the deck chairs.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Library of Congress and July 4

I do hope you are making plans to celebrate Independence Day downtown in Seville Square. The City is incredibly appreciative to the Pensacola Sertoma Club which organizes the whole thing, along with all of their sponsors. In addition to the fireworks at 9 pm, they hold free children's activities in Seville Square all day plus live music in the evening. Make sure to come down. Visit their site for more information.

In addition, this year we will have a special treat, the Library of Congress traveling exhibit. It will be in Fountain Park (south of Seville Square) on July 3 and 4. It is free and open from 11 am to 7 pm both days. The exhibit will include high-quality reproductions of many of the Library's top treasures including a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and many other items. Thanks to the West Florida Public Library for sponsoring this exhibit.

We are very fortunate in this community to have so many wonderful events going on. I hope to see you at some of them.

Monday, May 2, 2011

City board openings

The City Council is looking for nominees for two boards. Serving on city boards is one way that citizens can take a more active role in the city government, and I hope that you will consider serving on one.

First is the city redistricting commission. The results of the most recent census are in, and the city needs to redistrict to balance the council seats. Service on this board will be short since the supervisor of elections will need the information by the early fall. Members of this commission must be residents of the city.

Second is the Community Maritime Park. The CMPA recently expanded the size of the board to broaden the citizen involvement. Therefore, there are now three vacancies for the board. It is an exciting time for the project, with construction to be complete by the end of the year. While the board meets monthly, those filling these vacancies will likely have quite a bit of homework to do to get up to speed. Many important decisions are still awaiting the board's deliberation, and it will be a great chance to have a role in one of the biggest projects in our community.

Please let me know if you might be interested in serving on either of this boards. Nominations are due by this Friday, May 6.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Transit survey

Would you like to share your opinions on public transportation in our community? You are invited to take the transit survey that will help inform the Northwest Florida Transit Development Plans. The results of this survey will help the West Florida Regional Planning Council in planning for future projects. Feel free to share other transit thoughts with me directly, as well.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bands on the Bayou

The city parks department is trying a new program, Bands on the Bayou. Bring a chair or blanket to Bayview Park Pier and enjoy the sounds of local middle and high school bands. Vendors will be on site selling food items. This free event starts at 6 pm. This program should be a great opportunity to enjoy music and one of our most beautiful parks.

The kick-off schedule is:

Date Band Music
March 25th Warrington Middle School Guitar
April 1st Woodham Middle School Jazz
April 8th Escambia High School Jazz
April 15th Workman Middle School Jazz
April 22nd Washington High School Jazz
May 6th Bailey Middle School Jazz
May 13th Escambia High School Jazz
May 20th Pine Forest High School Jazz

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Great American Cleanup in Pensacola

Clean and Green is coordinating many events in honor of the Great American Cleanup. They provide an opportunity for us to get together with friends, coworkers, and others to improve the looks of our community. It is also a great opportunity to get young people involved in making a difference in our community. Last year I had the chance to participate in the downtown clean up with my daughter, who was 7 at the time. Not only did she become much more cognizant of the impact of littering, I think it was the best anti-smoking program I could have ever come up with--she became disgusted by the numbers of cigarette butts we ended up picking up.

If you can't make it to one of these events, consider partnering with your neighbors to do a pick up in your local park. Or take a family walk with a garbage bag and see how fast you can fill it. If you do want to coordinate a special event, whether picking up litter, planting flowers, or sprucing up neighborhood entrances or public parks, contact Clean and Green and they can help provide support. Who knows--you might have so much fun you will want to adopt your neighborhood park.

Contact Clean and Green to sign up to participate in one of the currently scheduled events in the area:

March 12th, 8:30-11:30AM.
Downtown Cleanup: Coordinator Kim Kimbrough /Melissa Hulen
Area: Streets of downtown Pensacola
Meeting location: Plaza De Luna - end of S Palafox
Kickoff Time: 8:30 am

March 12th, 8:30-11:30AM.
Warrington Cleanup: Coordinator Kristie Sitler
Area: Warrington/Lexington Park
Meeting location: Lexington Park
Kickoff Time: 8:30 am

March 19th, 8:30-11:30AM.
Project Greenshores/Hawkshaw Memorial Cleanup
Meeting location: Hawkshaw Missing Children's Memorial - Bayfront Parkway (Across from the Veterans Park)
Kickoff Time: 8:30 am

March 26th, 8:30-11:30AM.
Thompson Bayou: Coordinator Karen Pritchard
Area: Thompson Bayou off UWF campus
Meeting location: Bldg 13 (Environmental Studies) at entrance to the Edward Ball Nature Trail (parking lot G)
Kickoff Time: 8:30 am

April 9th, 8:30-11:30AM.
Whitmire Cemetery: Coordinator Karen Pritchard
Area: Whitmire Cemetery, West of West Florida Hospital
Meeting location: Cemetery
Kickoff Time: 8:30 am

April 14th, 8:00 am-12:00pm.
This is a Thursday!
Mt Zion Cemetery: Coordinator Stephanie Planich
Area: Cross St and Guillemarde
Meeting location: Cemetery

April 16th, 9:00 -1:00 pm.
Union Hill Cemetery: Coordinator Mark Caro
Area:Fairfield & 69th Ave
Meeting location: Cemetery
Kickoff Time: 9:00 am

April 23rd, 8:00 -11:00 am.
Barrineau Park Cleanup: Coordinator Tina Tuttle
Area: Molino
Meeting location: Community Center
Kickoff Time: 8:00 am

April 30th, 8:00 am-12:00pm.
Landscaping: Latter Day Saints
Area: TBD
Meeting location: TBD
Kickoff Time: 8:00 am

Monday, February 14, 2011

Maritime Park public spaces workshop

The Maritime Park board is hosting a public workshop to review the plans for the public park spaces of the park. Information about landscaping, lighting, benches, and other amenities will be presented for discussion. The meeting will be held at City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 15, at 5:30 p.m. Come and see what is planned to make this park a unique destination.

Friday, February 11, 2011

9th Av traffic study

Escambia County is holding a meeting to discuss improvements to the 9th Ave corridor from Underwood Av to Creighton Road. The meeting will be held Saturday, February 19, from 9 am to 1 pm at Cokesbury United Methodist Church. It will be a workshop, and there is no need to attend the whole session.

This workshop is part of a study to consider design changes and alternative routes to alleviate congestion and safety issues of 9th Av. A major focal point will be the 9th Av/Langley/Tippin intersection.

While much of the area under consideration is in the county, this is an important corridor for city residents as well, particularly those living in Scenic Heights. A presentation regarding some alternatives considered in this study was shared with the city council previously. Some ideas they are considering include closing the section of Langley beside the airport, routing traffic along McAllister Blvd. These changes will likely be significant, and I hope that city residents make their voices heard.

If you have any questions about the meeting, you could contact Dennis Moxley, the project manager in Escambia County.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

No such thing as free parking

--except in Monopoly

The recent article in the PNJ about parking at UWF has spurred me to share some thoughts on parking.

We live in a culture that cherishes the freedom implied by automobiles. Since the advent of the automobile, we have built our cities around them, easing their use. One thing that we have come to expect is ample, free parking.

But is free parking really free?

Take a look at the recent CRA master plan. Much of downtown is covered with surface parking (shown in purple and red), occupying our prime commercial land. That is land that could house businesses or residences. Businesses that would draw more people downtown, whether to shop or to work. Residences that increase the numbers of people living downtown. Both would contribute to our local economy and support our city services.

If the land were occupied by buildings, walking downtown would be much more pleasant. Consider how appealing walking on Palafox St is, with the variety of window displays to interest you. Compare that to walking on Romana St, past large expanses of parking. Or, a more extreme case, compare it to walking along 9th Ave beside Cordova Mall.

Businesses throughout our community subsidize parking (and, therefore, driving). The business must buy more land than it needs for its actual work and then pays taxes on the land that is taken up by parking.

But we “need” all of that parking. Most people can’t walk or bike to work, and our bus system is inadequate. To reduce the amount of our land dedicated to parking without an uproar, we must reduce the demand for parking. People need an incentive to consider an alternative to just hopping in the car.

What kind of incentive could there be? Many businesses downtown currently pay for parking spaces for their employees. Instead of paying for those spots directly, what if they gave the money to their employees, letting them make the decision for themselves about how much they are willing to pay for the convenience? Alternatively, employers could start paying employees who forgo their parking spot, a little reward for using a different, and mostly likely less convenient, way of getting to work.

I do not expect that such a simple program alone will make much of a dent in our transportation challenges. Nor would it transform our landscape overnight. However, it will be a regular reminder that there are options and there are incentives to try something different. Employees could switch to carpooling, the bus, or other means. People might start asking for a better transit system, and the transit system would have the riders to justify an increase in the service. And better service might draw more folks, and perhaps the number of people driving to work will begin to decrease. With less demand, perhaps businesses won't need to continue to subsidize parking so much.

The oil spill last spring was a horrible reminder of what our collective actions can do to our environment. The devastating results of our dependence on oil should encourage us as a community to step up and take leadership in changing our behavior. Small steps such as this can start the shift.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Choosing a council president

Next Monday Pensacola embarks on a new era in our city government. The first elected mayor will be sworn in. It’s time to heal any rifts from a vigorously fought campaign, time for our entire community to unite in wishing Mayor Hayward great success in moving Pensacola to take its rightful place as one of the great cities in the Southeast.

But another important step will also take place on Monday--one that is also critical to the success of city government under the new charter. That is the election of the council president. And just as Mayor Hayward will shape the roll of mayor, the new president will have a vital role in determining how city government functions under the new charter.

So what qualities should we look for in a council president?

Diligence and attention to detail. The new president will work with staff to prepare meeting agendas. It’s not sexy, won’t garner applause, but it is an important and time-consuming function of the new council president. The president needs to thoroughly understand the City budget and be grounded in public policy and make sure that something as mundane as a meeting agenda helps accomplish our long-range goals.

A team-builder. The new council will blend new faces with old. While we may represent different constituencies, while we may differ on issues and vigorously debate our points of view, we must do everything possible to avoid a polarized council. The new president will need to be able to set aside his or her personal agenda to help create a team out of diverse viewpoints and talents. The council as a whole must be bigger than any individual member.

A bridge builder. The council president will be the liaison between the council and the mayor and the council and staff. He or she must earn the respect and trust and establish good working relationships with Mayor Hayward as well as with the city staff.

Able to recognize and tap creativity. We have a diverse and talented council. The president should tap the unique skills of the other council members. As committee chairs, council members can play an active role in setting City policy. (It would be a mistake, I believe, to place all of the power in one council president heading the only committee, squandering the depth and breadth of leadership that exists in the council.)

Able to run open, efficient meetings. The president must be respectful and open to citizen input, fair to all members of council, able to maintain discussion that is germane without being heavy handed, and respectful of everyone’s time. A complete understanding of Robert’s Rules of Order is a must.

Committed to making this new charter work. The charter is short. It broadly outlines the structure of our new form government. But there is a lot of gray area. The council president will collaborate closely with the mayor to create a functioning government that is consistent with the spirit of the Charter the citizens ratified and to serve the best long-term interests of Pensacola

Finally, the choice of council president this Monday will embody the council's vision for its role in this government. It is as important as any decision this council will make.

The deliberations of the city council are an important part of representative government. The mayor will act outside of the spotlight, while the council is the public face of decision making and a primary entree for citizen input. It is the open government branch. The council president will set the tone for these deliberations, from setting agendas to running meetings to empowering other council members.

This is an exciting time to be involved in the city government. Each of the members of the government have unique roles. We are no longer supporters or foes of candidates or of the charter, but we are all working together as supporters of Pensacola and Pensacolians. I look forward to working with the council, the mayor, and the citizens to create a government that is effective, efficient, and innovative—putting us on the path of becoming one of the great cities in the Southeast.