After three years on the job, Eric Olson has stepped down as Pensacola City Administrator. The announcement was made late Friday afternoon, four months before the end of the Ashton Hayward administration.
The written statement from Hayward gives no details; calls to the Mayor and to Olson seeking comment have not been returned.
Hired as an assistant administrator upon his retirement from the Navy – Olson was named administrator in 2015 – the third person to hold that job in the Hayward administration, after Tamara Fountain and Colleen Castille.
Olson was at the center of a number of controversies during his tenure, one shortly after he took the job. Melanie Nichols was an employee at NAS Pensacola who alleged that Olson sought to have her fired, over emails sent by Nichols to city staffers that were critical of a private radio station tower to be built on city property. That led Councilman Charles Bare to call for a “no confidence” vote.
“Clearly a vote of no-confidence to me means more than one incident,” said Bare. “It means a pattern of behavior. I have 19 questions that I would love to ask Eric Olson, because I think there are some things we need to clear up.”
During that meeting, Olson made a statement that included an apology to Melanie Nichols.
“I made my initial judgement based on my experience as a naval officer; and in that hindsight, I realize I should have taken a different approach. And I apologize for not doing that,” said Olson. “I have learned a valuable lesson.”
While Olson’s apology drew some applause, Melanie Nichols wasn’t buying it.
“I don’t consider your apology tonight after exactly seven weeks,” Nichols told Olsen. “Your apology’s for the perception of what you did; I don’t consider that a genuine apology, but one that you issue tonight for the media.”
The no-confidence measure against Olson failed when the Council deadlocked at four votes apiece.
Most recently, Olson was criticized for the city’s handling of its recycling. Tarpon Paper of Loxley, Alabama stopped accepting loads from Pensacola last September, and their contract expired in March.
“Our processor just hasn’t been able to find a buyer for the materials that they process,” said Olson at the time. “It’s backed up and we’re at the tail-end of that, and we have to take it to the landfill.”
Recyclables were taken to the landfill for nine months, unbeknownst to the public. Olson addressed the issue before the City Council in June.
“We’re ready to get this agreement with ECUA, but we’re going to need everybody’s help in the community to make sure that we’re doing recycling right,” said Olson.
A contract with Emerald Coast Utilities Authority was finalized and in early July, the City of Pensacola joined 10 other cities and counties in northwest Florida and south Alabama in using ECUA’s facility.
Also on Olson’s watch was the beginning of an $83 million project by Gulf Power, to bring the electric infrastructure in downtown Pensacola into the 21st century.
“They came to us, they let us know that they had a lot of infrastructure in the downtown area that they needed to replace, to upgrade,” Olson said. “We certainly agree with them that it’s important for the future growth of the city.”
When the project is complete, Olson said earlier this year, he hopes it sends a message to everyone about growth downtown.
“If you’re thinking about coming into downtown, you’re a business or you’re a resident, you know you’ve got a reliable, robust, upgraded electrical infrastructure,” Olson said. “And that’s a selling point for anybody who’s looking at our area.”
Since Mayor Ashton Hayward is not seeking a third term, Assistant Administrator Keith Wilkins will take over for Olson until the end of the Hayward administration later this year.