Grand Jury To Investigate Pensacola Road Contracts
A federal investigation is underway involving road contracts with the City of Pensacola dating back to 2011, along with related expenses paid on behalf of Mayor Ashton Hayward and others. A federal grand jury in Tallahassee will get the case next Wednesday.
One subpoena released by the Mayor’s Office is requesting numerous records related to the "Main Street Rehabilitation Project” between the city and Jerry Pate Design. Those include bids, bid sheets, selection of contractor documents, all emails referring to the bids and copies of all payments to the contractor.
Mayor Ashton Hayward – in a written release on Wednesday and media interviews on Thursday – pledged full cooperation in the case.
“First and foremost, transparency has always been the hallmark of our administration,” Hayward said. “These are the same issues that have been looked at by the city auditors, the State Attorney’s Office, and they both conclude there’s no substance. And we’re confident that the authorities looking into it now will reach the same conclusion.”
Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille led an investigation of city government last year on two fronts. The first dealt with the mishandling of city records. The second involved a complaint submitted by former City Councilwoman Maren DeWeese – who was briefly a candidate for mayor.
“It made a number of allegations involving primarily the Mayor, involving several businesses as well as actions that had been taken involving several projects within the city,” said Marcille. “Based on the information we had, and based on our review, we determined that there was insufficient evidence to go forward with any criminal charges.”
Those findings do not appear to be related to the current federal investigation. Marcille says the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not contacted them about the information.
Five city staff members have been subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury in Tallahassee. Mayor Ashton Hayward is not among them. According to figures from the Escambia County Supervisor of Elections, pro golfer Jerry Pate and his wife Soozie each contributed $1,000 to Hayward’s re-election campaign.
“There’s no secret in our community that the Pate and the Hayward families go back for decades” said the Mayor. “
Other figures from the Supervisor of Elections places the Mayor’s campaign war chest at more than $135,000. The investigation surfaces 10 weeks before the general election, where Hayward's bid for a second term is being challenged by Donna Clark.
“You know, this is nothing more than ‘Pensacola politics’ it seems like,” said Hayward. “We’ve been challenged on the Charter, the powers of the mayor, what the mayor can do and can’t do. There have been a lot of changes in Pensacola since we’ve taken office. A lot of dynamics are changing. It’s not ‘business as usual.’”
Greg Marcille at the State Attorney’s Office -- which is not involved in this case -- says there are major differences between subpoenas issued at the state and federal levels.
“Under state law, the state attorney’s office has the authority to issue subpoenas to compel individuals to appear before an assistant state attorney, to give testimony,” Marcille said. “The investigating officers at the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not have the same authority. What they have to do is issue subpoenas to compel somebody to appear before a grand jury. And then they can be questioned before the grand jury.”
The subpoenaed records include copies of bids in 2011 and early 2012 by Pam Childers – who’s now Escambia County’s Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller – but at that time worked in the City Finance Department.