Frustrated by the Pensacola City Council’s increasingly lengthy meetings, Councilman Larry B. Johnson is taking aim at the man he believes is to blame: Council President Charles Bare.
Johnson says that Bare’s refusal to enforce the city council’s rules — specifically, limits on how many times and for how long council members can speak on a specific issue — is causing the council’s meetings to run later than they have in the past. The council’s March 17 meeting clocked in at more than seven hours, prompting council members to call it quits around 12:30 a.m. and schedule a special meeting to discuss the remaining items on the meeting’s agenda.
The average length of meetings has increased by more than 60% since Bare took over as council president in November, Johnson says, also noting that four of the council’s five longest meetings in the past three years have taken place under Bare’s leadership.
Now, Johnson is invoking a clause in the city’s charter, asking his fellow council members to remove Bare as council president. The charter says that a council president can be removed by a simple majority vote, and that’s what Johnson is asking the council to do next week.
“I don’t think it’s fair to citizens for us to have meetings go until 12:30 in the morning,” said Johnson. “It’s completely unacceptable for us to be doing public business after midnight. It’s a disservice to citizens.”
Johnson says that Bare’s unwillingness to curb council members who drift off topic is another reason for the council’s longer meetings. Johnson recently walked out of a council workshop session after complaining that Bare wasn’t keeping debate on topic.
“I’ve heard from my constituents and they are not happy with the length of our meetings and how often we get off topic,” said Johnson. “I’m extremely disappointed in the council president’s leadership and the disrespect he has for our rules and procedures.”
Not everyone on the council agrees with Johnson’s assessment. Councilwoman Sherri Myers has called the three-minute time limit “draconian,” and has instead pinned the blame on the council’s decisions to eliminate its Committee of the Whole meeting and to meet only once per month instead of twice, moves she strongly opposed.
“I think it’s very difficult to sell anything to this council in nine minutes,” said Bare at a workshop last month, referring to a rule that allows council members to speak up to three times on an issue, with each time limited to three minutes. “I just think we’re doing a disservice to citizens, so that’s why I haven’t enforced it.”
The council’s rules say the president can choose not to enforce the limits as long as no council member objects.
“I think President Bare has a lot of support in the community,” said Myers on Tuesday, adding that she doesn’t believe Johnson’s item will be supported by any of her fellow council members. “I think Councilman Johnson is being viewed as unreasonable and a bully. Councilman Johnson has hurt himself and the council by his actions.”
Johnson’s request to remove Bare will be discussed at Monday’s agenda conference meeting, and if the item isn’t removed from the agenda, a vote on Bare’s presidency could take place at the council’s regular meeting next Thursday, April 14.
Elected in 2012, Bare is in his final year on the council. His at-large seat was eliminated by city voters in a 2013 referendum that will reduce the council to seven members this November.
Bare did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.