On Monday, the Pensacola City Council — well, some of it, anyway — gathered at a workshop to discuss its “rules and procedures,” a document which ostensibly governs the way council meetings are supposed to be run, including how many times council members can speak on an issue and for how long.
We watched for more than an hour as five (and then four) of eight council members debated their rules, but in the end, we decided not to cover the meeting.
Why? Because like most city council meetings in recent memory, it was a meeting full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It was, as usual, a circus — yet somehow even more inconsequential than usual.
Nothing that the city council has done in months has had any tangible impact on anyone’s life. Instead, they’ve spent countless hours debating hot-button issues like how many staffers council members should have or how food trucks will destroy downtown Pensacola. There’s perhaps no better example of the council’s penchant for the mundane than the seven-hour marathon meeting they held earlier this month, at which they accomplished literally nothing of any significance to ordinary Pensacolians.
As one observer said, all they did was “move a peanut from one side of the dais to the other.”
Monday’s rules workshop, while mercifully shorter in length, was no less embarrassing. The meeting quickly devolved after councilman Larry B. Johnson pointed out that many of the council’s existing rules are rarely enforced, which Johnson believes contributes to the length of the council’s meetings. “Why are we even talking about rules if we’re not going to adhere to them in the first place?” asked Johnson. “Why don’t we just throw them all out the window?”
After Johnson spoke, councilwoman Sherri Myers took the opportunity to criticize Johnson for having what she called “unfettered access to the mayor” — drifting off the topic of discussion and seemingly illustrating Johnson’s complaint about the council’s rules not being enforced. Saying, “We don’t control our meetings,” Johnson then collected his things and walked out of the meeting.
Johnson’s disappointment and disgust was palpable, and for citizens who regularly watch the council’s increasingly ridiculous and unproductive meetings, a familiar feeling. The council’s seemingly endless, unfocused discussions are hard to watch, and there’s little incentive given that few issues of any actual consequence are ever discussed. This city council doesn’t discuss issues like public safety or the environment or the generational poverty which cripples so many in our community. No, this council spends its time debating how long they should debate and discussing which mundane issue they should discuss next.
The simple fact is that the only thing which could have made Monday’s meeting objectively newsworthy was the clash between Johnson and Myers and Johnson’s ensuing walkout. That’s sad, but what’s sadder is that this is the new normal. While the council debates non-issues in its echo chamber, the rest of us have real issues we’d like to see addressed.
So we’re not going to give the council’s pointless discussions any more attention than we have to. When — or if — they start talking about something meaningful again, we’ll be here to tell you about it.