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Pensacola's charter under review

Pensacola City Hall
City of Pensacola
City of Pensacola

Pensacola’s city charter that was updated in 2009 is undergoing similar scrutiny this year, in a periodic review. The hearings kicked off last month with an organizational session.

Article eight of the charter sets forth the requirement of a charter review commission every ten years, and the process to empanel a commission to consider amendments to the document. This is the first formal review since the charter changed city government to “strong mayor” in 2009. The first full meeting was last week — Don Kraher is City Council executive.

“They just went over some housekeeping items —setting a timeline for meetings,” he said. “And just requesting that we bring somebody in to charters in general, and then have someone speak directly to our charter.”

At first glance, the charter can stand a verbal cleanup, says Kraher, of language that was in the charter in its original 2009 rewrite that deals with the transition of government from manager-council. That cleanup is also aimed at removing any ambiguity, as part of a three-pronged process.

“That will be the charter review commission’s determination of whether they’re going to recommend any changes, to the city council,” said Kraher. “And then the City Council determines if they’re going to send any of those recommendations for a ballot referendum.”

If all of that falls into place, then the proposals’ fates will be decided by the voters.

“I don’t know how many of you watched that meeting, but if you thought they were going to simply tweak the charter, I’m not so sure. It seemed like there were several people that want to totally redo the charter,” said Mayor Grover Robinson during his weekly news conference on Monday.

Robinson, who’s not seeking reelection, said there are some things in the charter that can be tweaked but adds that overall, the system works.

“We’ve never found ourselves this successful in anything we’ve done as a city; can it be tweaked? Can you do things a little differently? Yeah,” the mayor said. “But I think one of the most important things that we’ve been able to do, is attract talent. The people we have are some of the best people I know in public service. But I think they would tell you one of the attractions to being here is the system that we have.”

When the Charter Review Commission hears from the mayor, this is what he says they will hear.

“The city of Pensacola is a more effective community, when you have a good executive branch, and a good [City] Council,” said Robinson. “It’s always interesting when people say ‘strong mayor,’ because I don’t make any ordinances, appropriate any money. Really, the council does and we execute; we try to do things that move the city of Pensacola forward.”

Meanwhile, CRC member Don Kraher says they’re on a pretty restrictive timeline in this local election year.

“For them to get done what they need to do; for then the city council with what they need to do, and then us to get any ballot language to the supervisor of elections by mid-August, so we can be on the November ballot,” he said.

The timing of the regular charter reviews, says Kraher, could very well be one of the possible changes to be considered this year.

“Doing it every 10 years, we also have the redistricting; you might look at it from a timing standpoint,” Kraher said. “Maybe one needs to be pushed back [but] redistricting really can’t be pushed back. But according to the charter, the City Council can call for a charter review at any time.”

One of the cornerstones on which to base the review, says Kraher, will be the lessons learned in the time the rewritten charter has been in effect.

“We’ve seen some things that work really well; we’ve seen other things that work well, that might just need a little bit of tweaking,” Kraher said. “Just my personal opinion — as a general rule the charter’s a good charter.”

The next meeting of the CRC is set for Wednesday, Feb. 23 at 5:30 pm, inside City Hall’s Hagler-Mason Conference room. More information is at cityofpensacola.com.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.