By ASHLEY AMASON
Chairs were pulled into the aisle, and hallways and fire exits overflowed for the May 9, 2011 Defuniak Springs City Council meeting. Councilman Kermit Wright was sworn in, the Bible held by his wife, Brenda, and granddaughter. As he took the seat formerly held by James Huffman, Mayor Harold Carpenter warned Wright, “Be careful with these chairs, we’ve only been sitting in them 18 years.” Wright laughed, “Are you calling me large…that’s the nicest I’ve ever been called fat in my life.”
Councilman Wayne Graham nominated Henry Ennis as Mayor Pro-Tempore; the motion carried unanimously.
In accepting the last meeting’s minutes, Councilman Ron Kelley asked clerk Jonathan King why the discussion of the hiring freeze was covered in more detail than other items. “I do my best to capture the intent of each discussion…some discussions take more, some take less” King said.
Councilman Henry Ennis noticed a motion listed no second in the minutes, to which Councilman Mac Work demanded of King, “Is that one of the things you did less?”
King replied, “It was a mistake, sir.”
The Council accepted the resignation of former City Manager Kim Kirby and approved a three-week advertisement run for the position. The city clerk’s position, which will be appointed by the Council rather than elected henceforth, has received nine applications. The Council will rank and interview the top three candidates. The position is currently being filled by former elected clerk Jonathan King.
Work moved to lift the hiring freeze he initiated at the last Council meeting with the condition that all new hires must come before the Council for approval. Work said the freeze had been “misperceived” and declared, “All I want to do is every time we got someone to hire bring it before the Council and we’ll approve or disapprove it.” City Marshal Mark Weeks, who at the last meeting was denied an amendment to exclude the police department from the hiring freeze although it had already advertised three vacancies, had his new hires in attendance—a captain, patrolman, and custodian—to bring before the Council. The motions to lift the hiring freeze and approve the new hires were unanimously approved.
Work placed discussion of personal use of city vehicles on the agenda after reports that an employee was using a city vehicle to pick up family members in the Alpine Heights community, and that three police officers were driving patrol cars home to Crestview, south Walton, and the Bonifay-Vernon area. City Marshal Mark Weeks confirmed officers were driving cars home to those areas, noting, “I inherited the [take home car] problem.” City Attorney Clayton Adkinson urged, “That has to stop today, that’s in violation of our policy.”
Assistant City Manager Bill Holloway, who was unanimously voted to serve as interim city manager after the Mayor’s recommendation to appoint Airport Manager Kelly Schultz failed, bargained to allow employees to continue driving vehicles home for safety and quick response times. “All supervisors take a vehicle home…it’s also for vehicle security. We have nowhere safe to park them. It’s a lot safer [at home] and we can get to a site quicker.” Holloway praised the employees’ dedication and conduct, noting “These employees carry a radio 24-7, although they don’t have to if they’re not on-call…these guys have never abused the use of these trucks.”
Work commented he would find out who used a city vehicle for personal reasons in the Alpine Heights community.
Kelley added, “I’m [surprised] our facilities aren’t secure.”
Holloway said although the public works yards are fenced, break-ins have occurred, and removing the tools from the trucks each evening and replacing them each morning is inefficient, therefore vehicles are safer at employees’ homes.
Councilman Wayne Graham referenced his 21 years of government service, saying he would have never been allowed to drive a government vehicle home and did not agree with employees driving city vehicles outside of the city limits with gas prices reaching $4/gallon. “We’ve got to look at the bigger picture,” he said.
Wright said he did not agree with an off-duty officer driving a patrol car. “I think [an officer] should be on-duty anytime he’s driving a city car….”
Read the full story in the May 12, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.