By REID TUCKER
Amendments to two city ordinances and a lengthy discussion regarding a possible employee termination bookended the DeFuniak Springs City Council’s Nov. 14 meeting.
First of all, the Council voted unanimously in favor of proposed changes to the job description of the city manager position. The proposed amendment, which the Council approved for second reading, would change the residency requirement for the city manager to allow holders of the position to live anywhere in Walton County, rather than solely within the city limits of DeFuniak Springs as the current ordinance reads.
Other substantial changes in the proposed amendment would make it so that the city manager would be required to recommend to the Council any person eligible for hire as a city employee whenever there are vacancies to be filled or new positions to be created. The city manager would also be required to take the firing or termination of a city employee before the board as well.
Before voting on the first reading of the ordinance commenced, Building Official Ed Joyner addressed the Council with concerns he, as a supervisor, had regarding the requirement that the City Council receive recommendations from the city manager in regards to hires, fires and suspensions. Joyner said that, in most cases, an employee’s direct supervisor needs to be able to act quickly when it comes to questions of suspensions in particular. Joyner also expressed concern regarding changes to the hiring and firing powers of the city manager, saying that, in some cases, the reasons for an employee’s termination could involve sexual harassment or other sensitive topics that he “would hate to see come in front of the Council” in a public setting. Also, Joyner said requiring the city manager to bring potential hires before the Council could politicize the process.
“I think we have a policy and procedures in place that work and I think we have staff and a city manager in place that can handle all of these in a…manner that is good for the city, good for the employees, good for the Council, good for the community,” Joyner said.
City Attorney Clayton Adkinson said the city manager could call a special meeting to addressing a hire or fire with as little as six hours’ notice, so an extended wait would not necessary. Also, Councilman Ron Kelley also said the Council could maintain an employee’s confidentiality in the event of sensitive circumstances involved in a potential hire or fire.
The Council also voted 5-0 to repeal an ordinance regulating the discharge of firearms within the city limits per a decision handed down by the Florida Legislature requiring cities and municipalities to abdicate authority regarding firearm laws to the state. The end result is that there is no change to the ordinance, however, as it is still not permissible to discharge firearms within the city limits. The ordinance became effective immediately upon adoption.
Councilman Mac Work made a motion to begin accepting a new batch of city manager applications, with the deadline for application being set for Dec. 9. The Council voted 5-0 in favor of the motion and the board also voted unanimously in favor of fixing the salary for the position at $70,000 with the provision that the salary could be increased based on the experience and qualifications of the applicant being interviewed by the Council.
The last main item of discussion at the meeting was also the last chronologically. It dealt with a recommendation from previous Interim City Manager Kelly Schultz and Assistant City Manager Bill Holloway to terminate the employment of a Street Department worker written up for insubordination. The disciplinary file made available for the councilmen’s review prior to the meeting indicated that the employee in question had, the accounts compiled by Schultz showed, been suspended without pay on Oct. 5 due to a refusal to carry out orders and other alleged acts of insubordination on Sept. 28.
The file further showed that the employee called Building Official Ed Joyner at his home on the night of the incident in question and made remarks that Joyner and Holloway interpreted as threats.
Additionally, the employee in question, who has served with the city for several decades, was transferred from a supervisory role in the Parks and Facilities Department to one in which he would serve in various Public Works departments as needed. This transfer, which did not affect the employee’s pay rate, served as the disciplinary action for a prior act of insubordinate behavior and took effect on June 23.
When put to the vote, the Council voted 3-2 in favor of reinstating the employee with Councilmen Kermit Wright and Henry Ennis opposing the motion. The Council did however vote unanimously to drop the employee’s salary from the upper end of grade 10 to grade 4 at the recommendation of current Interim City Manager Sara Bowers, though the exact figures were unavailable at the time of the vote.
Other items approved by the Council at the meeting included the hires of a temporary administrative assistant at City Hall and a new communications officer for the DeFuniak Springs Police Department.
As a last matter of housekeeping, the city will also be closed On Friday, Dec. 23, Monday, Dec. 26 and Monday, Jan. 2. Finally, a request to cancel the Dec. 26 regularly scheduled City Council meeting met with unanimous approval from the Council members and representatives of the news media as well.