The Pensacola City Council has perfected the art of kicking the can down the road. Councilman Larry B. Johnson perhaps said it best on Thursday night: “We have a council that does not want to move forward.”
Time and time again, citizens have watched as their elected leaders have gone back-and-forth; held workshops and hearings; debated issues for hours, weeks, months, and years; and then punted.
On Thursday night, council members did it again — at the finish line, no less. After more than two years of debate on food truck rules and more meetings that anyone could count, citizens were optimistic last month when the council finally adopted an ordinance. By Thursday, however, they’d managed to talk themselves out of it, voting down the ordinance on a second and final reading. Several council members said they felt the ordinance “needed more work” — despite it having been the product of multiple workshops, a tremendous amount of public input, vetting by the city’s planning board, and more.
Councilman Johnson emerged as a voice of reason. “We will never have a perfect ordinance,” he said, pointing out that the council could always amend an ordinance later on if necessary.
The fecklessness and inaction demonstrated by the council this week might be excused if not for its alarming regularity. How many times have we watched three, four, or five-hour long city council meetings, only to scratch our heads afterward, wondering what if anything was actually accomplished?
Over the past few years, the Pensacola City Council has dragged its feet on a host of key issues, unable or unwilling to make a decision. Straightforward issues like the development of the Hawkshaw property have stretched on for years. Similarly, the popular ridesharing service Uber has been operating in Pensacola for nearly a year despite a murky regulatory climate. Despite several discussions, workshops, and briefings, the council still hasn’t taken any action — prompting Mayor Ashton Hayward to act unilaterally, negotiating a temporary agreement which his office announced last week.
Speaking of Hayward — where has our “strong mayor” been? Hayward has spoken in support of food trucks in the past, but was nowhere to be seen as the city council took up the issue on Thursday night, having quietly slipped out of the meeting earlier in the evening. Hayward doesn’t have a vote on the council, but council members and citizens rightly look to him for leadership, and on Thursday, he fell short.
These failures are hugely disappointing to citizens, but worse, they send the wrong message to the outside world. The council can’t claim to be business-friendly on the campaign trail and then toss out bids and stifle entrepreneurship on the dais. Pensacola has enjoyed tremendous growth over the past five years, leading many citizens to feel like the city could finally start reaching its potential. Now, though, our elected leaders are falling back into the same bad habits that led city voters to overhaul the government with a new charter in 2009.
This city is special. We all know it. We all know that it has the bones to be a city on par with the Ashevilles and Charlestons and Savannahs of the world, if only we’d get our shit together. Pensacolians deserve more than inaction, indecision, and ineptitude from City Hall. Strike that — we demand it. The leaders at City Hall need to start leading, or we’re going to need to find some new ones.