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City Docs Due for Release Wednesday

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City of Pensacola
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Some of the documents subpoenaed in a federal bribery investigation involving the City of Pensacola last month are due to be made public on Wednesday. WUWF’s Dave Dunwoody reports.

The records in question – which went to a federal grand jury and prosecutors in Tallahassee – deal with Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward and no-bid contracts for city projects that were awarded to Jerry Pate Design – owned by the pro golfer, who’s a longtime friend of Hayward’s.

Pensacola Independent News Publisher Rick Outzen has filed public records requests with the city, seeking release of documents connected with the investigation. City Attorney Jim Messer agreed with the I-N, says Outzen, but the city delayed media requests to examine the records for more than two weeks, on advice from the Florida Attorney General's Office.

“We went to the State Attorney last week and said, ‘Our reasoning is that those are public documents,’” said Outzen. “City contracts, travel expenses, anything the city handled was a public document before this investigation happened. Once they were delivered to the grand jury they remained public documents.”

Greg Marcille, Chief Assistant State Attorney in the 1st Judicial Circuit, says that a packet of documents provided specifically to the grand jury may have been covered by the exemption.

“But because these were documents that had been in existence preceding the time of the grand jury subpoena were otherwise public records, we felt they would be public records for those reasons,” said Marcille. “And specifically, because the request itself was not for anything referencing the grand jury, but (instead) for specific documents.”

A spokeswoman in Mayor Ashton Hayward's press office said Wednesday that he was unavailable for comment. Earlier this month, he acknowledged the contracts, but asserted that there was not any wrongdoing.

“l think Mr. Pate worked on the Maritime Park and maybe the design of Main Street,” Hayward said. “It saddens me that anyone would think a man of Jerry Pate’s character and stature would do anything wrong.”

According to a report in the Pensacola News Journal, the Hayward camp is hoping that some of the documents – such as canceled personal checks from the mayor reimbursing Pate for travel expenses -- will serve as proof of no payment in exchange for city contracts.

The documents in question are expected to be less than half of those that were collected by the feds. The city’s records office is redacting data, such as bank account numbers and personal financial information.

Meanwhile, the grand jury isn’t scheduled to meet again until the first week in October, possibly for three days. If no action comes from that, the next meeting would be around November 4 – Election Day.