More government, not less, seems to be the Pensacola City Council’s mantra under the leadership of Charles Bare, who took over as council president last November.
Bare has repeatedly pushed to expand the number of staffers employed by the council under an amendment to the city charter which voters narrowly passed in 2014. Previously, all city employees were the mayor’s executive branch, but the amendment essentially gave the council the power to hire an unlimited number of staffers itself. And they’ve been using that power: since the beginning of the year, council members have approved three new positions — two assistants and an attorney — bringing the total payroll for the council office to nearly $300,000 a year.
This week, Bare is pushing the council again to add another position: a budget analyst, a move which council members voted down just last month. Here’s the thing — the city already has a full-time budget analyst within its Finance Department, a department which has been repeatedly recognized by the Government Finance Officers Association for its excellence when it comes to the budget.
What we’re seeing is exactly what opponents of the 2014 amendment warned about: a growing bureaucracy at City Hall, fueled by council members who are more concerned with creating jobs in government than they are the private sector.
The arguments of those who support the city council having its own budget analyst are much the same as their arguments in support of a separate council attorney: that the council can’t trust employees hired by the mayor; that employees advising both the mayor and the city council is a conflict of interest. These arguments ring hollow, though. In Jacksonville, a single legal office provides counsel for both the mayor and the city council, not to mention constitutional officers, the school board, and a slew of boards and authorities. It works the same way in Hialeah, the city from which much of Pensacola’s charter was borrowed. Makes sense to us, but our council members here in Pensacola apparently prefer to duplicate, rather than streamline.
That’s not all, though – Bare also wants the council to hire a short-term attorney to help create procedures for the council to investigate the mayor’s executive branch, a power granted to the council by the 2010 city charter but which the council has never used. It’s a good goal, but it’s not an emergency, and we can’t support spending an extra $22,000 to do it now when the council voted just last month to hire a full-time attorney. Presumably, that’ll take a while, and Bare wants to get a jump on things so that he can squeeze in an investigation or two before he leaves office in November. Sorry, councilman, but that’s not a good enough reason to spend taxpayer dollars. If the council’s already planning to hire a full-time attorney, let’s get that done and then have that person do the work.
There’s no question that Pensacola’s city council needs some administrative support. We’re not arguing that point. But Bare’s push to continually expand the council’s staff — with little or no analysis of whether there’s even an adequate workload to merit these positions — points to a council president whose priorities simply don’t reflect those of the people he was elected to serve. We believe that most Pensacolians want smaller, not bigger, government; less bureaucracy, not more.
Councilman Larry B. Johnson perhaps said it best when he spoke to The Pulse last month: “I believe this is a waste of taxpayer dollars. I don’t know what these people are going to do for 40 hours a week.”