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New councilman makes waves, initiates hiring freeze

Apr 28th, 2011 | 0

By ASHLEY AMASON

New Council members Ron Kelley and Mac Work were sworn in to the DeFuniak Springs City Council, as was City Marshal Mark Weeks.  Mayor Harold Carpenter welcomed the new members, also informing them, “I have no problem calling you out of order if you become that out of order.” Later in the meeting, Carpenter would bang the gavel and declare, “Mr. Work, I’ll conduct this meeting.”

Councilman Work wasted no time, placing discussion of a hiring freeze on the agenda. Work stated he wanted to discuss a hiring freeze for all city departments as well as examine positions hired within the past two weeks. Currently, the city has four openings, three of which—captain, sergeant, custodian—are in the police department, the remainder being the city clerk’s position temporarily held by Jonathan King.

Weeks requested the police department and fire department be excluded from the hiring freeze, noting he had already advertised and interviewed for the positions and offered a candidate the captain’s job last week. Freezing these positions would lead to “public and officer safety issues,” he said. “My people are already wearing three or four hats.”

City Manager Kim Kirby agreed with Weeks, “It’s critical for all our departments, we’re already understaffed…If we cut pre-budgeted positions, we have to cut services as well.”

Work told Weeks he believed the captain’s position did not need to be filled in light of a “budget problem.”

“I disagree,” Weeks said. “I think that’s opinion, that’s your opinion…right now I am already in the process [of hiring] and if I’d known this was on the agenda, I would have already hired them.”

“Yea, that’s how it’s done down here,” Work replied.

Kirby clarified, “We have not created any new positions. We are filling vacant positions…so we can do the business of the city.”

Work requested the Council see a detailed list of persons for hire, positions, and salary before any new hires were made.

“As far as providing information, I have no problem with that,” Kirby said. She advised Work spend a day in the field observing the many different responsibilities each employee has due to understaffing. Work confirmed he had and asked if Kirby would accompany him on a work day.

The conversation took a heated turn when Work challenged Kirby’s field experience, asking if she had engaged in a field day “here or down in Chattahoochee.” Kirby was a former utility and public works director as well as acting city manager in Chattahoochee.

“I don’t have time to do near as many work days as I’d love to because I’m busy being a city manager,” Kirby said.

Returning to the issue of a hiring freeze, Councilman Kelley stated the police and fire departments are vital services. “I trust that you know what you need,” he told Weeks and voiced his support of excluding the police and fire departments.

Kirby agreed those services were vital, but noted all departments in the city were necessary to provide services and maintenance. “To single out what is vital and significant, is in my opinion, incorrect” she added.

“There’s going to be some cuts, get ready for them,” Work countered.

He then referenced an occasion when he witnessed seven employees trimming one tree on city property under a former supervisor, challenging the “employees wear many hats” mantra of the meeting. Assistant City Manager Bill Holloway answered the supervisor was no longer a city employee, in part because of that incident.

“I’m glad I was able to point that out so you could get rid of him,” Work said. Kirby later told The Herald that the supervisor was terminated before Work was elected, or even campaigned.

When the motion came to call the hiring freeze for all city departments passed 3-2, Work, Henry Ennis and Wayne Graham in favor, Kelley and Mayor Pro-Tempore James Huffman opposing.

Weeks told the Council he strongly opposed the freeze. “I believe public safety and officers’ lives have been put at risk tonight.” Ennis replied, “This could be short-range, it could change at the next meeting.”

Rachel Jones of Families First Network requested a fee waiver for the civic center for a free to the public presentation on alcohol, substance abuse, suicide and bullying by Marc Mero on May 4. The request was unanimously approved.

Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander addressed the Council on behalf of the Defuniak Springs Business Professionals Association (DBPA) to request a fee waiver for the amphitheater and blanket approval to use city facilities to host the July 4 festivities. According to Comander, the DBPA has come before the Council requesting blanket approval for the past 21 years. “This will be my final time coming up here and begging you all to put on this event for you all…I find it degrading to come up here and beg for blanket approval for DBPA…We should work hand in hand together to make this happen,” she said. The request passed unanimously….

Read the full story in the April 28, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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