By BEN GRAFTON
At the beginning of what proved to be a well attended and unusually long Freeport City Council meeting on Aug. 13, Leslie Gonzalez, Northwest District Director of the Florida Association of City Clerks (FACC) presented a citation to Robin Haynes, Freeport’s Certified City Clerk and a board member of FACC. The citation acknowledges Haynes’ exceptional contributions to the FACC and to the city.
Haynes, speaking for City Planner Latilda Henninger in her absence, asked the Council to grant a continuance for the agenda items for military sustainability, appointment and training of a floodplain manager, a new resident information packet and appointments of new Planning Board members. The Council approved moving these items to the next regular scheduled meeting.
City Attorney Clayton Adkinson opened a discussion about a letter filed by discharged former employee Linda Watson contesting terms and conditions of her employment termination (which occurred prior to recent city elections) and asking for reinstatement and reimbursement of lost pay. Adkinson said that upon review the termination process was not done properly. Mayor Russ Barley asked the Council to approve a negotiated settlement of the grievance which offered reimbursement of one-half of back pay and reinstatement subject to a six-month probation period. Councilman Ray Jackson said, “…the action might not have been by the book but it was done with the agreement of Watson’s supervisors,” and he made a motion calling for further review. The motion was defeated by a vote of 3 to 2, Councilwomen Jennifer Laird, Janice McLean and Elizabeth Brannon voting “nay.” Brannon’s motion to approve Barley’s recommendation was then approved. Later in the meeting, Jackson read a letter of resignation submitted by Water Operator Ben Lewis over this matter. Jackson said that Lewis would have presented the letter himself, but he could not because of a scheduled trip to Orlando for re-certification.
Fire Chief Chad Harrell presented the department’s report for the month of July. A total of 78 calls were answered. The fire hydrant maintenance program continues with 80 hydrants being serviced in July.
Harrell asked the Council to approve a proposal to advertise for the sale of the department’s tanker truck. He said the truck was purchased in 2010 for $425,000. There are only two qualified drivers and it is too big to navigate through tight areas. The proposal to advertise and sell would require the agent to report all offers to the Council and the agent would receive a 4 percent fee. The Council approved the request.
Harrell asked for approval to apply for a grant that would provide funds to provide training at schools and fairs by the department. Matching funds would not be required. The Council approved sending in an application for the grant.
Parks Director Shane Supple reported on a number of items: Registration for soccer is underway; visitors from Austin, Texas and Cincinnati, Ohio have utilized the disc golf course; and two travel ball tournaments have been booked for October and November
Supple also said that fields have been treated for mole crickets, fire ants and army worms, pine straw has been spread, weeds will be sprayed in two weeks. The installation of individual electric meters for the individual ball fields and concession stands is resulting in apparent annual cost savings of $18,000.
Barley’s request for Council approval to form a Freeport Festival Committee was approved as was his request to convert the Old Post Office building into a Freeport museum.
Tim Ard told the Council that the proposed museum will be privately funded except for utilities. An alarm system will be needed for the building. Offers to set up displays have already been received and a large group of volunteers to man the museum have come forward. A motion to move forward with development was approved by the Council.
Councilman Harold Taunton received approval to ask the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) to provide dirt for ball field development.
Taunton also reported on the failure of a storm water retention pond in one of the developments off of east Road Bay Loop Road. He said a significant washout had occurred and the dirt has been carried into Four Mile Creek. Engineer Cliff Knauer reported that the owner is aware of the problem and is working with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to correct the problem. The engineering plan to repair the pond will have to be approved by DEP before work can start.
The Council was scheduled to meet with the BCC on Aug. 19 to discuss the financial situation and future plans for the sewer system east and west of U.S. 331 on the north side of Choctawhatchee Bay.
A request to extend the swimming pool operating season, possibly into November, was considered. Operating expenses to date and projected expenses for the extended period will be gathered and discussed at the Council meeting on Aug. 22.