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By Sean Boone
For the first time in Pensacola’s history, voters will decide on a sole leader of their government. Last year’s charter revision brought new expectations for a city that for so long has underachieved, and paved the way for one man or woman to be the administrator of a $200-million budget and nearly 800 employees.
At a time in which economic prosperity and morale is at rock bottom, there are several high points that should be embraced by our new mayor.
The $70 million Community Maritime Park has broken ground, new businesses and attractions are popping up downtown, the Port has finally shown signs of life, and the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce has just recruited a reputable new president.
We are now left at a crossroad of leadership. Who has the vision, determination and drive to take our city from where we are and move us to where we hope to be? Who has the ability to walk a tightrope with other officials to get things done? And most importantly, who believes in our future?
This year’s race comes down to four candidates: Chares Bare, Ashton Hayward, Diane Mack and Mike Wiggins. The IN sat down with each this week for a detailed interview to get a glimpse of who they are, why they are running, and what they feel is essential to being the city’s inaugural strong mayor.
Charles Bare, 39, Owner of Catalyst Technology
Charles Bare describes himself as a person “who can work in any environment” and has a broad range of experiences and education that backs up his leadership potential. But more importantly for Bare, he says he knows how government works.
“I lobbied in state government and worked under (then State Rep.) Jeff Miller,” he says. “I know how to get the money at the state level. Nobody really intimidates me.”
Bare moved to the area in 1988 to attend The University of West Florida. He earned his bachelor’s degree in legal administration and a master’s degree in public administration before leaving the area for a few years to work for the U.S. Department of Education in Atlanta. He later served time in Iraq as part of the Military Reserves and today owns his own technology business.
When asked if he thought his young age played a negative part in his campaign, Bare said he felt in some ways it has probably helped him out.
“I’m kind of in touch with the young parents and young professionals I think. We have a lot of younger people who are leaving our city.”
He says he is running for mayor because he feels he simply could “do a better job” than the other candidates and feels the role as the strong mayor should not just focus on the future of Pensacola, but the region in general.
“My focus is more regional than my opponents’. I think we need to have an economic development council…regionally that moves away from the Chamber. We also need to see what educational institutions are seeing a demand for. Our K-12 schools need to have more people come out with a specific skill, like what is happening at West Florida Technical Institute.”
Bare also believes the city needs to find ways to address the funding issue for the City’s fire and police departments as well as the Community Maritime Park, a project he says needs a better economic plan to pay off its bonds.
“We are going to have a huge debt to deal with, but I don’t think a lot of people realize that what’s going in there is not going to repay that debt. We need to create a plan for economic development to pay for it, because the ballpark in its current plan is not going to do that.
“Not a lot of people are going up (to UWF) right now to see a b-aseball game,” he adds. “It’s going to be tough competing with places such as The Wharf (in Orange Beach).”
Bare also believes in an economic development overhaul, stating that the city’s plan should model that of Santa Rosa County’s economic development council — Team Santa Rosa.
“If we get the right cooperation on the county side and that council does an assessment of what job skills we have here, I believe we can retain the people that are here. We must look beyond high-tech jobs that the Chamber has been looking at for some time. As a city, we have to provide tax incentives and work with the county on growth.”
Bare says he’s also in favor of citizen-led government and of making sure the public is aware of advisory councils and boards they can serve on by posting the information on the city’s website. He is also in favor of creating an environmental consultant position on city staff.
“We need someone in this role because everything we do in the city has an effect on the environment. The person would be working with the EPA or DEP on public works projects.”
Port of Pensacola: “I believe they need some assistance in marketing. For example, they’ve got the frozen chicken (shipped by Northwest Florida Cold Storage) going to Cuba, and it looks like they will move shipments to Russia soon, but the problem is the shipment comes in for five days and then there is a lag (with no business coming in or out). Until the long-term leases expire at the port, we’ve got to make the best use of what is out there.”
Pension Funding: “I would like to pursue putting people on the Florida Retirement System and bargaining for that (through the fire and police unions). I don’t think there is any quick answer anywhere. It’s over $80 million here, but Jacksonville is over $1 billion. What I want to avoid is a tax increase to cover pensions…when you throw the Maritime Park debt on top of the pensions, you’re faced with a lot of increased cost for the city. That’s the more pressing issue…how much debt can we handle?”
Raises: “I prefer performance-based raises. I’m sure we have people at the city that aren’t pulling their weight…I’m sure it will be the job of whoever is my department head to make sure they are performing. Fire and police we have cut to the bone, and I’m more concerned with keeping people than giving raises. We may have to reduce some services, but I think public services are the most important thing to fund.”