By BEN GRAFTON
At Freeport’s City Council meeting of June 27, Councilman Charlie Simmons introduced the subject of replacing the current practice of electing City Council members on an “at large” basis to a system that provides election districts for council members. He said that, at this time, the subject was for discussion only, and that it should be treated with great care. He explained his concern that with the current “at large” system, all of the Council members might be elected from a single population center, a situation that could deny representation to residents in other areas and which could result in the loss of the city’s historical identity. Simmons believes the process of establishing districts would take some time and he called for input from other Council members, the audience, residents and any interested source.
Mayor Mickey Marse agreed with Simmons’ concern.
Councilman Ray Jackson proposed a workshop as a starting place for discussing the idea of election districts in detail.
Councilman Harold Taunton told the Council that he has looked into election districts before and that they would have to be based on population distribution.
City Clerk Robin Haynes informed the Council that the city charter has language that would let the city establish between five and nine Council member election districts.
City Attorney Clayton Adkinson agreed that the election district process would require a very long effort. All possible options would have to be explored. If there were an even number of districts, the mayor would have to be given the authority to cast the deciding vote when the Council members’ votes were equally divided. Thought might be given to having a Council of seven members.
In other business, Adkinson presented an up-date on efforts to have a piece of property at Bishop Landing cleaned up. It was learned that the property had gone into foreclosure and there is a new owner. The new owner has been contacted about the clean-up and it is believed that corrective action will be taken.
Parks Director Shane Supple reported that construction of the pole barn for the batting cage addition to the Sports Complex is nearing completion and nets for stopping batted balls will be installed the first of next week. Flooring is not yet available, but two cushioned 6-foot by 12-foot mats for batter’s boxes and home plate will be put down. It is expected that the facility will be completed in the next week.
Supple also reported that the Walton county Sheriff’s Office is holding its annual benefit softball game against the South Walton Fire District on ball field No. 5 at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. In the past the game has been played in south Walton, but it was decided that the Sports Complex was nicer and more centrally located, so the game will be played there.
Anna Hudson of Preble-Rish Engineering reported that work on the water system model is progressing and about 20 areas remain where field verification information is being gathered. Progress is also being made on the sewer model where only 12 areas remain for verification and work on the model may start next week.
Haynes informed the Council that the employee whose need resulted in the move to adopt a policy allowing employees to donate accumulated sick leave to another employee has received 100 hours of donated sick leave benefit. At this time the employee still has not returned to work.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Brannon informed the Council that a Northwest Florida League of Cities Board meeting will be held on Thursday, July 18, in Marianna.
Haynes informed the Council that with several conflicts pushing the meeting date back, Dede Hinote of Walton County Administration has proposed July 16 for a joint Freeport City Council/ Walton County Board of Commissioners sewer workshop.
Haynes also provided the Council with an election update: Voting machine testing is scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday, July 5. There have been 109 absentee ballots mailed out and to date 23 of these have been returned.