Q&A with City Council President Charles Bare

Charles Bare

Charles Bare was recently elected City Council president, and faces a host of upcoming issues that may very well define his political career up to this point. He spoke with Business Climate about leadership and consistency in the council, getting along with Mayor Ashton Hayward, Uber, the Human Rights Ordinance, the Downtown Improvement Board, and more.

Congratulations on being elected City Council president. What do you foresee for your new role?
Hiring the rest of the staff for the City Council. The president is really the one who oversees the staff and my job is to supervise the council executive, and the council executive will supervise the other employees. It’s important that we as a council fill out the staff that was set up in the charter amendment. That’s the first goal.

Beyond that, there’s a lot of different issues, like the Human Rights Ordinance, dealing with food trucks, Uber versus taxis, etc. I’m going to sponsor a bill to deregulate the taxis. The current rules are from 1983 and there a number of reasons that was done. But things have changed and people want choices and technology has given them better access to transportation. I think that’s one that’s going to be citizen-friendly. There are laws to protect people who are taken advantage of, whether it’s in a store or taxicab or whatever. I don’t think we need to be so strict on regulation with price and things like that. We can leave that up to the market.

The main job of the council president is really to run the meetings, set the agenda, etc. The agenda is given to us by council members, and it’s not my job to say, “No, that can’t be on the agenda.” My job is to order it in a certain way and decide if it’s going to be a regular item or a consent item. Making sure we get the agenda in and it’s all titled correctly is important. The recommendation needs to match what we’re asking the council to do. My job is to protect the council as much as I can from errors in procedure and trying to minimize the opportunities for us to not move forward on something.

So do you have any particular goals?
I’ve been asked if I have an agenda. I really don’t. It’s the council’s agenda. There are things I’d like to see passed and things I think we need to discuss more. We need to address this EDATE issue, like who can quality for them and how we’re going to approach incentives for economic development. There’s a lot of players in that—the Chamber, Florida West, etc. How does the city work for economic development? This rail initiative—I’ve worked three times to support passenger rail coming back to Pensacola. I still don’t know exactly what it’s going to cost. I don’t think it’s going to cost us much. We have a station and there’s a rail line that runs right past that station. Just put the train on the track.

Have you talked with the mayor about any of these issues?
A lot of this is going to have to be in concert with the mayor. I had my first meeting with the mayor on Dec. 7 and we discussed some of the bigger issues to get an idea about where he stood on some of them. The key is to team up on things we can agree on. There’s been division on the council and I’ve been part of that based on my criticism of the mayor at times. But we need everybody on the field and the mayor’s important. We need to communicate on a regular basis. The hardest thing for me will be not knowing where the administration stands on an issue. Do we do a workshop or consider council action? They’re delicate issues.

It’s my job to give everyone a voice. We talk about rules and procedures since we’ve changed them in 2013. The rule is for council members to speak three times, three minutes a piece on an issue, or essentially nine minutes a piece. Last year, we didn’t adhere to that. Sometimes they got rather lengthy. There’s a balance to strike there. It’s very difficult for a council member or anyone to form a full opinion in three, six or even nine minutes. You have to add opening statements, and refutes to that. I tried to sell a charter amendment in six minutes, and that’s very tough. The public deserves deliberation. The problem right now is that we meet once a month and we’re only allowed nine minutes an issue. The citizens expect more from us. The citizen input issue is something else. I think we’re pretty accommodating, maybe a little bit low in the amount of time, with three minutes per issue. So everyone wanted to speak during opening forum and during each of the 25 issues and then once again during closing forum. That’s plenty of time. But council needs more time to deliberate. I’m not going to enforce the three-minute rule, because I need to hear from my council members.

You said there are some issues you agree upon with the mayor. What are some of those issues?
The Human Rights Ordinance. It needs to come back. I can’t put words in his mouth, but there’s a feeling out there that businesses are concerned about this ordinance, and the ability of someone to go directly to the court system. In the original ordinance, the only means of redress was to go directly to the court system. There was no board or anything, which would be the ideal way. You can get to the court system eventually of course, but this new ordinance created an immediate path to the court system, which gets very expensive. That’s one of the things we talked about was trying to make that ordinance a little more palatable.

I think that the big thing we really agree on is that communication needs to be clear between the council president and the mayor, not that Andy (Terhaar) didn’t have that. Andy and I are two different people when it comes to the presidency. I’m going to spend time in the office and have office hours. It’s critical that the president is out there, meeting with people and discussing issues. I think communication is the biggest thing we agree on.

As far as issues, when you look at Uber, I gather that the only issue is that the airport wants to have some control. If I read the mayor correctly, I believe that deregulation is something we can accomplish. Uber and Lyft and all these options are things people want. We can move toward that as long as the airport has some control over the flow of traffic. Right now, there’s a fee that’s paid to allow Uber to come to the airport and pick people up. Maybe we need to look at running the airport with a separate authority since it needs to be self-sustaining anyway.

There’s been criticism in the past about the council going back on itself and readdressing issue that the public thought we already finalized. Do you consider it within your purview to deal with that?
It is an issue that council president needs to deal with. I think sometimes issues come to us as an ordinance without a workshop for a first reading and it shocks a lot of people. Right now, our agenda comes out less than a week before the agenda conference so there’s not a lot of time to prepare. One of the recommendations is to get all items in two weeks prior to agenda conference. The public needs that time. We need to limit adding items to the agenda late. We can’t get in the habit of putting things on that don’t meet the deadline.

We have a 500-page agenda and it’s very difficult to fully comprehend everything. There’s some things that are standard and most things I really dig into. So I’ll bring something up at a meeting that maybe other council members haven’t read yet, and that gives them pause. So you may think you’re moving in one direction when suddenly it changes. I’ve seen that happen a couple times. Sometimes things need to addressed more and we really only get one shot at it. You don’t have a chance to ask questions, and even if you do, some people haven’t even read the whole agenda and may not realize what’s in there until they come to the meeting.

We need to do a better job workshopping things and not just push the issue off and say, “Well, we’re going to have a workshop on this.” We have to be deliberate about it. We’ve had workshops before where it’s just like, “What are we doing here?”

There are legitimate criticisms. We’ve gone round and round on the food truck issue. We were sitting down there, and the mayor had done his pilot, and we hadn’t done anything. So I looked at another city’s and grabbed their code and adapted it to ours. I put it out there and said, “How about that?” It went to Planning Board, they changed a bunch of things. There was another group that brought another bill that went through Councilman Johnson. Then we had two competing bills that we combined. The real sticking point is the buffer. Should there be a buffer or not? How much should it be? We’re going to have another workshop on food trucks again with a new set of recommendations that council staff has put together.

Does this frustrate you? Has the recent upset disappointed you?
It has. My ordinance went through the Planning Board, they rewrote it, people had plenty of opportunities to speak—people from food trucks and restaurants—and then it gets to the floor this other group comes forward with what they considered a compromise approach. But it wasn’t a compromise for the existing ordinance; it was the original ordinance. There were things in there not within compliance of Florida law. We’re preempted on a lot of things by the State of Florida. I’ve done the research.

Part of the problem is we don’t have committees, so it’s tough to dig into these things. Very often the reason we don’t look like we know what we’re doing is because we haven’t gotten all the information. I’m hopeful that more staff will keep us from having those situations. We’ve been dependent on the mayor’s staff. We’re a legislative body. We have power; we just have to know how to exercise it. We need to get information from people on both sides before we make a decision, because those decisions can create precedence.

The Fish House sign is a good example of something that went through the ARB process and is now getting questioned after the fact. Do you think that discourages new business?
Sometimes council members, including myself, are unsure. That sign looks really big to me. I’ve heard people talk about signage. You look around at other businesses. I really don’t understand how a sign of that magnitude can go down there. I don’t think that’s what’s being challenged.

There are times when the business community is frustrated by all the permitting and everything they have to go through. We have to work harder to make that easier. From a legislative perspective, we can legislate that, but ultimately it’s the mayor’s job to make it happen. If what we’ve passed doesn’t allow him to expedite business growth, then we need to change it. That’s another conversation the mayor and I need to have. That’s not our job as a legislative body, but we need to set the structure for the mayor to do that.

You were the lone council member who wanted to go through the referendum process for the Human Rights Ordinance. What to you is the distinguishing factor between what can be decided upon by a representative legislative body and what needs to go to the general voting public?
That’s a very difficult determination to make. I look at what happened in Houston with their HRO. The council has passed it and the referendum reversed it. Part of me looks at that and knows that lots of people have contacted me recently on the opposition side. They’ve told me they will seek a referendum process. I know that requires 10 percent of signatures, which is not hard to do. The issue is if we schedule it as a referendum as a council, we can pick an election—primary election, general, existing, whatever—so the cost is minimal because a ballot will already be out there. If we pass it and then the citizens ask for a referendum it has to be a special election which gets very expensive. I think it’ll go to referendum because this affects businesses and churches. It’s going to have a huge impact. When I first heard about this, I thought this would affect the city, that we would be the ones implementing this. Now they’ve changed it somewhat to affect businesses of 15 or more. I think the ordinance will come back to us in a different format to go to a board or something.

This ordinance broadens the scope beyond state and federal law. It broadens what’s protected. There are real strong feelings in our community that certain aspects of that should not be protected. They feel that people within the reach of this ordinance should not be protected. There’s a lot of concern about what this opens the door to. Because it affects so many and there’s deep feelings on both sides, this deserves to go to a referendum. There are big issues that need to go that route with the citizens. That might be a good litmus test. We’re the only city in Northwest Florida even considering this right now.

What’s your opinion on downtown’s Gallery Night?
I think Gallery Night is not Gallery Night anymore. It’s become a street party. That’s the best way to put it. I used to go and take my kids from time to time, but it’s changed significantly. The crowd would change around 7:30 or 8. If people want to go down there and have fun, that’s fine, but I don’t think it’s called a Gallery Night. I don’t know how you make it sound better than what it is. There’s been some significant change there.

The DIB’s original role was to eliminate blight. I don’t think it’s necessary anymore. I’ve been vocal about that. That extra two mills could be used for things without having the DIB infrastructure in place. Part of the DIB’s role is to manage parking. Because the DIB manages it, we’ve had police cars and council members get tickets. There are very few benefits council members get, and it would be nice that if we went to visit someone at a business or attend an event, we could park and not get a ticket. I just don’t think the DIB is essential for the parking issue. We could manage that in-house. We could manage Gallery Night and Palafox Market, too.

They wanted to restrict outdoor liquor sales. They don’t have any regulatory authority. That was beyond their ability in my opinion. If nothing else, we need to pull back the DIB. If they want to do parking, do parking, but I would prefer to see events fall inside our own city government.

Your position on City Council expires next year. Any plans?
Not yet. I’ve been under Sunshine for four years and the idea of coming out from under that and being able to communicate without having to retain everything is nice. I’ve run in 2010, 2012, 2014 and so I may not do it for 2016. There’s not a whole lot of opportunities for 2016 unless I ran for Andy’s seat and I’m just not going to do that. I don’t want to go from an at-large seat to a district seat. It’s just not something that’s for me. I like being at-large and representing the entire city.

Going out as president is a great way to go out. I can do as much as I can and make sure they have the tools and staff they need to get the job done. Since I’ve been on council this past year, things have changed. We’ve gotten council cell phones and tablets and our technology has improved for retaining calls and texts.

Is there anything in the city that you feel needs addressing that hasn’t been?
We’ve not really moved on homelessness in a while. I know LeaP (Leadership Pensacola) has taken that up. I think we’ve kind of just left that one for a while. I’d like to see a push toward that or affordable housing. A multi-family location for homeless people would be great. There’s homeless veterans and mothers with children. We need opportunities for places to sleep.

My big concern is that if we push them out of public parks, then you push them on to private property. Would you not rather have them in a place where you can monitor them? No one uses our public parks at night. We can’t move them out of downtown because the churches are still going to provide meals for them. So we need to find a place for them to lay their heads at night.

We need to give them opportunities to better their own situation. We can’t just let it sit. We need to look at that more and I’m glad LeaP has taken that up. I do think the way LeaP is doing it is right. It needs to go through non-profits because the panhandling issue is a problem. It doesn’t address the issue. Non-profits are in a better position to give opportunities to people than just giving them money on the side of the road. You have no idea who you’re giving it to or what they’re going to do with it.

Also, the general idea that we don’t have jobs for certain segments of our population. We just kind of ignore certain segments that are not able to be trained for what we want them for. That for me is a challenge that is bigger than the city. It’s a county thing and Florida West needs to look at it, too. A lot of our crime issues deal with people who don’t have education or don’t have anything to do. It snowballs.

We have to find a way to get people to work and get people involved in activities that are better than the attractiveness of crime.