Council forgives penitent Hall

Last month’s city council meeting continues to cast a long shadow.

Sam Hall opened Thursday’s meeting with an apology to Father Nathan Monk. Hall had said in previous statements that, while he regretted his hasty actions, he would not apologize for attempting to maintain order. He may have changed his mind after Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, where several council members indicated that they would vote to remove him as council president.

Councilwoman Maren DeWeese made such a motion Thursday evening. It was immediately seconded by Councilman John Jerralds, who relayed a childhood story about his civil rights being violated under segregation. He said that in cases like these, forgiveness isn’t enough; there must be consequences for the wrongdoing.

Councilman Larry Johnson disagreed, repeatedly punctuating his desire to move onto “positive” issues.

“I speak to many people from all walks of life, and I’m just not hearing this outcry for the president to step down,” Johnson said. “He has offered his apology, and I think we should accept his apology, and I think we should move on.”

Council members Wu and Townsend both mentioned how Hall had tried to recruit candidates to run against them in the past. They said that it would be easy to use this opportunity as political payback, but that they would support him remaining president.

When Monk addressed the council, he joked that if he went over the allotted time, “you owe me a minute and twelve.” He said that he could accept Hall’s apology “as an individual and as a Christian,” but that he wanted to know, “what are you sorry for?”

Hall responded that he was sorry for what others perceived as a violation of First Amendment rights, but that “I’m not a constitutional lawyer.” That only provoked another barrage by Monk.

“If you cannot make a discernment about what is and is not constitutional, then I have to ask how you can uphold an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America,” Monk said to applause from several audience members.

“Fair enough question,” Hall replied. He was careful not to admit violating the First Amendment, referring to the legal liability that could present to the city. “I was unfair to you. I’m not sure it got into the constitutional area… but it’s not that clear to everybody, and I can’t make an apology for not seeing everything the same way that you do.”

Ultimately the motion failed on a 6-3 vote, with council members DeWeese, Jerralds and Myers dissenting. Councilwoman DeWeese nevertheless urged Hall to consider resigning.

“If there is one thing I have learned on this council, and in government in general, it’s that people have a very short memory, whether it’s us or the citizens,” DeWeese said. “And they go, ‘Whatever happened with that?’ And our silence on this issue, and our inaction on this issue, is what will be remembered.”

Several people pointed out another negative consequence of the incident: that Hall may become “gun-shy” in future attempts to enforce the council’s rules of order. This became apparent when Jeffrey Scott — another Pensacolian who recently made embarrassing national headlines — took to the lectern and started talking angrily about his arrest.

“I have two minutes left. Are you going to stop me?” Scott asked. “No, you’re not. I’ll talk until I feel like stopping talking, when the time runs out.”

Since it was not an open forum, Hall could have limited Scott’s speech to the motion at hand (that is, Hall’s removal), but he held back. Indeed, the only person Hall called “out of order” was Councilman Johnson, when the latter told a citizen speaker to go “clean up that mess outside,” referring to the Occupy Pensacola presence at City Hall.

“You’re right, my bad,” Johnson said. “I apologize.”

Councilwoman Sherri Myers had another piece of fallout from the December 15 meeting. She mentioned the press release issued by the mayor’s office regarding Diane Mack, which included the following characterization of a letter Mack sent to the State Attorney’s Office:

It is unfortunate that Ms. Mack, a former political foe who failed in her efforts to become the Mayor of Pensacola, has continued to try and find any avenue in which to win – but it is unacceptable for her to try and push her political agenda into the realm of making unfounded criminal accusations.  Whether the by-product of lost political battles, a fundamental misunderstanding of the law – or a combination of both – her efforts have resulted in a deflection of attention from recognizing hard-working City employees to a political game of “gotcha.”

Myers felt this was a retaliatory misrepresentation of Mack’s letter and issued a complaint with the mayor and Mr. Reynolds.

“Ms. Mack is a private citizen and has the absolute right to redress her grievances to the government, i.e. the State Attorney’s Office,” Myers said. “Your characterization of Ms. Mack’s inquiry to the State Attorney as a disgruntled political loser and assigning motive to her as a game of ‘gotcha’ in the press constitutes conduct that is retaliatory and calculated to have a chilling effect on Ms. Mack’s First Amendment rights.”

Myers also pointed out the irony of the date when both instances occurred; December 15 was the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights being ratified.