by Jeremy Morrison
While some members of the Pensacola City Council questioned the legality of a recent mayoral veto of their decision to hire a budget analyst — describing it as “blatant interference” — Council President Brian Spencer attempted to deploy “less dramatic” phrasing during a special meeting April 10.
“I’d like to think it was a day in the days of Mayor Ashton Hayward that he didn’t seek, perhaps, some council from us, have some conversations,” Spencer said. “But, I see this as moderate turbulence, not something where we’re in the aircraft with the tailspin.”
Tailspin or no, the council’s decision to override Hayward’s veto was unanimous. Members pointed to the 2014 charter amendment voters approved, which grants council the right to hire its own staff. And they said allowing the veto to stand would effectively nullify that power.
“It allows the mayor to determine our council staff,” said City Councilwoman Jewell Cannada-Wynn, warning that the veto would become a “tool.” “If we allow this to stand, our entire staff is in jeopardy. We could get through the budget process and it could be lined out.”
Councilman P.C. Wu said he’d been asked by multiple people if he planned to vote “for or against the mayor.” He said he didn’t view it in those terms, and planned to vote to override the veto because it was the “right thing to do.”
“There’s probably no more important task that council does than budgetary,” Wu said. “And I believe that we need help in this and we need help from an independent body.”
Though several council members questioned the mayor’s authority to have issued his veto in the first place, terming it as “meaningless,” they decided to shelve any discussion of such for now.
City Attorney Lysia Bowling assured council that the mayor did have the authority to veto its decision. But, the council, in turn, had the authority to override the veto.
“You have the power through override to own your decisions,” she told council, “and you can do so.”
Mayor Hayward issued a statement following council’s unanimous override.
“I completely respect council’s decision to override my veto of hiring a budget analyst,” Hayward said in the statement. “The purpose of the veto was to underscore my objection to what I thought was an unnecessary cost to the taxpayers. Our team has always worked well with city council on all legislative issues, and I expect that to continue.”
While council held its special meeting for the purpose of considering and voting on the override, it will tackle the issue again during its April 13 regular meeting. This is due to some difference in legal interpretation regarding the timing of the vote.
The city charter provides that council must vote to override a veto within five days. Or by the next regular meeting. Which ever is last.
Spencer called the special meeting to meet the deadline. Bowling feels the council has until its regular meeting this week.
“Therefore, we may have two votes,” Spencer said. “Just in an abundance, again, of caution it will be on the agenda again on Thursday.”