By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council voted unanimously to have background checks on applicants for the city manager position be handled in-house, rather than by Walton County.
The decision, an about-face from the Council’s previous consensus to approach Walton County’s Human Resources Department to carry out the background checks, came at a specially-held meeting on Thursday, Dec. 29. The reason for the change in opinion was the result of a meeting the previous day between Mayor Harold Carpenter, City Attorney Clayton Adkinson and County Administrator Greg Kisela. Adkinson informed the Council that, in the opinion of Walton County administration, a conflict would exist should the Human Resources Department conduct the background checks, meaning the Council now had to reassess its own decision on the matter.
By way of exploring other options, Adkinson spoke with Superintendent of Schools Carlene Anderson about the possibility of having the background checks on the four city manager candidates be conducted by School District staff. However, Adkinson said little advantage could be gleaned from taking this approach as the School District would charge the city a fee to conduct the same driver’s license checks the city has the capability of performing, but would further have to assign a School District staffer to the task, which could delay the completion of the background check process.
A motion was made by Councilman Mac work to have Michelle Schack, the city’s Human Resources Manager, carry out the background checks “from start to finish,” a process which includes checks with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and contacts with the applicants’ former employers. Adkinson reminded the Council that the person conducting the checks simply gathers the required information and does not make a recommendation to the board.
Councilman Kermit Wright initially supported having the School District perform the background checks in an effort to prevent the city from having any scrutiny brought against it during the process, especially with Interim City Manager Sara Bowers being one of the final four applicants for the full-time position. However, as Bowers’ application and background check had already been completed during the first round of applications, her information would not need to be run again. Wright then joined the rest of the Council in voting 5-0 in favor of having background checks be carried out by city staff.
Schack was set to begin working on the background checks this week with the aim of having them completed in time for the Council’s first regularly scheduled meeting of 2012 on Monday, Jan 9. The Council’s next move will be to set dates to begin conducting interviews with each of the final four candidates for the city manager position.