Tuesday’s meeting of the Pensacola City Council’s Committee of the Whole (COW) started at 3:15pm and dragged on for over four hours, yet it was minute-for-minute one of the most heated (and often rancorous) meetings in recent memory of the already divided city government.
The big news, of course, was that the city council voted (unanimously!) to subpoena Mayor Ashton Hayward and others for information about an incident at the October 19 Gallery Night, where Mayor Hayward and recent DIB appointee John Peacock allegedly confronted police officers who were reopening Palafox Street to vehicular traffic at 9pm. According to complaints made by Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) representatives, Hayward and Peacock seemed not to realize that Gallery Night ended at 9 — the streets have stayed closed until midnight at other recent events, thanks to additional contributions by local bars and restaurants — and compared the street reopening procedures unfavorably to responses to “terrorists” in “Beirut.”
The PNJ and Independent News have already published great articles (by Nate Monroe and Jeremy Morrison, respectively) on the continuing fallout from that night, but that was only one item on the 21-item COW agenda. Among the many memorable moments:
- 30:06 – A police officer compares Peacock’s alleged invocation of the mayor’s name to the “good old boy” system he encountered in Mississippi. “I didn’t elect a king, I elected a public servant,” he said.
- 45:22 – Councilman P.C. Wu says that demanding an apology would not be satisfactory, comparing it to a child who is forced to apologize to a sibling. “He didn’t think of the idea of saying he’s sorry. He’s doing it because you told him to do it.”
- 46:02 – Council members Sherri Myers and Sam Hall make sniping comments to each other during the Gallery Night discussion. When Myers says she doesn’t think an apology from the mayor will be sufficient, Hall interjects, “I’m not surprised.”
- 53:50 – Another police officer suggests that the council ask whether the mayor had been drinking before intervening in the police crowd action. “He went from being ‘Ashton Hayward, Gallery Night patron’ to ‘Mayor Hayward, the chief executive officer for the City of Pensacola.'”
- 1:09:04 – After Hall seconds a motion to consider removing Peacock from the DIB board, Councilman Brian Spencer says that he’s “speechless” at the “short-term memory” of council members, specifically Hall, who was himself the subject of unpleasant media scrutiny. “I have watched with amazement members of this council reach a level of inflammatory comments that verge on irresponsibility, in my opinion.”
- 1:11:30 – Wu says, “We cannot have two systems of law. You can’t have a system of law for folks who don’t know the mayor and a system of law for folks who do know the mayor.”
- 1:14:42 – Hall says, “I’ve never made it a secret that I consider the mayor a personal friend. I’ve probably been one of his biggest political allies … But I find the reports from the FOP compelling, and it saddens me. I stand with the police officers on this, and I do ask the mayor to issue a sincere apology.”
- 1:44:48 – Councilman Larry Johnson says certain printed media outlets “who do an awful job and do a disservice to our community for the awful spin they put on things. It’s disgusting.”
- 1:48:13 – Councilwoman Megan Pratt: “We’re the city government, and when the council’s buffoons, it reflects poorly on the city, and when the mayor screws up, it reflects poorly on the city.”
- 2:09:55 – Motion to request sworn statements from all parties involved passes unanimously.
- 2:24:28 – After Councilwoman Maren DeWeese invites Parks and Recreation board member John Myslak to speak about a fairly esoteric issue (the ability of boards to bring issues to council and memoranda of understanding for groups using city facilities), City Administrator Bill Reynolds accuses her of making an “end-around” move. “As we are putting together the MOUs, Councilwoman DeWeese had some problems with the way we were implementing them,” Reynolds said. “She did not like that very much and actually that same day lodged a complaint against me in regard to a Sunshine violation … As Councilwoman DeWeese has noted in her comments, she doesn’t want to look at everything. She only wants to look at those particular pieces that she disagrees with and has to do with Bill Bond baseball—” At that point DeWeese interjected with a point of order. “That entire sideswipe or T-bone — I’m shocked, so I need to take a minute to get myself together, because that was completely inappropriate,” she said.
- 2:54:25 – Motion to expand the library MSTU within city limits passes unanimously.
- 3:10:48 – Shortly before a vote to buy a parcel of land near the airport for nearly $600,000, Councilman Larry Johnson asks for the identity of the seller. Airport Director Melinda Crawford hesitantly discloses that it’s A.E. New, a general contractor frequently used by the city (for example, the new downtown library and Legion Field community center). Johnson also inquires about the identity of the appraiser and questions what role “our recent hire, Ms. Mitchell” had with the purchase negotiations. After some discussion, Hall sides with Johnson (“You just brought up a ghost I didn’t even want to think about”) and DeWeese withdraws her motion to acquire the land.
- 3:21:46 – After several council members demur on a second proposed airport acquisition, Wu warns the council not to “deep-six” the purchases and implies it could sabotage an economic development opportunity. “We’re talking about the potential of a lot of jobs going down the tube very rapidly.”
- 3:47:27 – Pressed for his legal opinion about the city’s response to an FAA complaint filed by Pensacola Aviation Center, City Attorney Jim Messer flatly declines to give one. “I don’t know bananas about this litigation; that’s why we hired the experts,” he said. “If you want the city attorney’s recommendation, it would be to follow the advice of the attorneys you pay a lot of money to to represent you, which are these folks. You may choose to disregard that, and I have no opinion one way or the other.”
The video of the full meeting was uploaded to the city’s YouTube account yesterday morning and is embedded above for your viewing pleasure. If you have four hours to spare, it’s a good way to watch the sausage (in this case, not especially appetizing sausage) get made.