By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council chambers were nearly filled to capacity as Mayor Harold Carpenter presided over his last full meeting before installing the new mayor in two weeks’ time.
Carpenter expressed his appreciation for his wife, Hilda, and the members of the Council and city staff at the April 8 meeting, thanking them all for their support during his eight years as mayor. Looking back on a career spanning 50-plus years, Carpenter never imagined he would hold public office, and he said the successes of his time in office would not have been possible without the help of his colleagues and, most of all, the love and support of his wife.
“I never thought that I would wind up in politics, but especially not mayor of the city of DeFuniak Springs,” he said. “It’s been quite an honor (to serve the city), but I don’t need all the honor and glory for this. From day one I’ve had a partner who’s been with me, that’s encouraged me, that’s listened on the telephone, so many things….She’s been a vital part of my tenure as mayor. Tonight I want to personally thank her, while I have an opportunity, for a job well-done.”
The mayor will install his replacement and one City Council member at the next meeting, scheduled for April 22. City Hall will host a going-away party for Carpenter on Friday, April 19, at 2 p.m.
Carpenter’s brief address came at the end of a fairly busy agenda packed with disparate item of city business. Firstly, and most prominently, Terry Dawkins, a representative of the Choctawhatchee Military Council, presented the mayor with a plaque in appreciation of the city’s longtime support. The self-funded Choctawhatchee Military Council, which acts as a liaison between local communities and the military to assist service men and women and their families while deployed and once they return from deployment, is the only active organization of its kind in Walton County.
“We appreciate all you do for us,” Dawkins said to the mayor. “It’s a city-wide effort and we’d like to give this to you, the Council and to the employees for all the help and support you’ve given us.”
The Council also approved a raft of agenda items and requests, ranging from hiring a new Public Works Department administrative assistant to approving a switch in push-to-talk cellular phone providers from Verizon Wireless to SouthernLinc Wireless. The new SouthernLinc account is about $600 more expensive than the current contract with Verizon but includes all new phones, free of charge, to city operators.
The annual agreement between the city and the Walton County Council on Aging for the lease of the canning building located at 41 Main Street also got the members’ unanimous approval, provided that the lessee continues to pay for all necessary improvements to the building. Furthermore, the Council approved the recommendation of the Planning Board to allow city resident Carlotta Smith to operate a fitness center and day spa, C&C Fitness Retreat, at her home on 124 N. Second Street. The Council amended the motion to approve by including a provision to ensure that only one business-related vehicle will be on the premises at a time, in keeping with Smith’s intent to train clients on an appointment-by-appointment basis, so as not to increase traffic in the neighborhood.
City Manager Sara Bowers’ report included updates on the first phase of the t-hangar site development project underway at the municipal airport, which is 80- percent completed. The contractor carrying out construction filed for a 45-day extension on the project due to bad weather, but a test strip is scheduled for paving this week. The completion date for the entire project is now expected to be May 2.
Bowers also informed the Council that she would attend a Gulf Power-sponsored site evaluation and certification meeting in Fort Walton Beach on Wednesday. The purpose of the meeting is to place sites ready for development on a national registry as a means of stirring up interest in economic opportunities, with the city’s airport and surrounding property believed to be a candidate for the program.