By ASHLEY AMASON
What was more aptly a 20-minute agenda was exhausted into a two hour meeting at the Defuniak Springs City Council Jan. 24.
Appointing the negotiation committee, which would conduct an interview and make a recommendation to either accept or reject the firm which responded to the request for proposals for the community redevelopment area(CRA), became a stalemate. The committee includes the mayor, city manager, assistant city manager, financial director, and city planner. Councilman Don Harrison asked, “I wonder if we’re getting a fair appraisal when a supervisor and employee are on the same committee,” referencing the city manager’s position over other committee members. Harrison too disagreed with the CRA area, which included the downtown Defuniak Springs area and possibility of the U.S. 90 corridors, recommending removing the U.S. 90 corridors from the proposal.
City Manager Kim Kirby addressed Harrison’s concerns regarding U.S. 90, stating, “The final area is not yet identified.” Kirby explained at the last meeting she received direction from the council to allow the study to include a bid for the downtown area, and an alternate bid including the U.S. 90 corridors. On committee concerns, she said, “My leadership style is collaborative, not top-down. I seek input, then make decisions…I don’t tell anybody what to do.”
Harrison countered in his experience as an employee he found himself wanting to please his boss at the expense of opinion. He then asked the council, “Is the City shirking its [responsibility] by having a negotiation committee?”
Mayor Pro-Tempore suggested Harrison take a seat on the committee, which he declined. Harrison in turned moved the council dissolve the committee and assume negotiations. The motion failed 3-2, only Harrison and Wayne Graham in favor.
Harrison stated he was not convinced the City needed to spend money on a study for the CRA, and emphasized the CRA would require the City to designate at least half of all future ad valorem tax revenues from the CRA area to the trust fund for projects within the CRA area for a possible maximum of 40 years.
Kirby noted the study for the CRA was required by Florida statute. City Planner Greg Scoville explained the procedure for the establishment of a CRA includes a findings of necessity study, resolution, plan of action, and trust fund.
Scoville clarified in a phone interview with The Herald, “If the CRA started today, in the future, any increase in ad valorem taxes from the designated CRA area would go to the trust fund for projects within the CRA area.”
City Marshal Mark Weeks offered his services to solve the negotiation committee stalemate, volunteering to take a place on the committee. Councilman James Coffield moved to reappoint the committee as the mayor, city marshal, assistant city manager, financial director, and planning director, eliminating the city manager’s seat on the committee therefore removing the supervisor-employee concern. The motion died for lack of a second.
Harrison then moved to appoint the original committee, including the city manager, but narrow the scope of the CRA to only the downtown district.
Huffman said, “I don’t see what harm it does to look at the rest of our city…We’re saying [the Highway 90 corridor businesses aren’t] important.”
The motion passed 3-2, Huffman and Henry Ennis opposing.
The council unanimously approved road closure on Feb. 26 from 7-9 a.m. around Circle Drive for the Defuniak Springs Woman’s Club 5K Fun Run/Walk, as well as the Defuniak Springs Little League Opening Day parade Mar. 19 at 8 a.m.
The final report on Christmas Reflections was in, earning a total of $42,155.35, with tourists from Ireland, Canada, Germany, France, and across the U.S. A $500 bonus for Reflections board member Jim Ash was unanimously approved. Kirby mentioned certain Christmas decorations remained up in the City because the bucket truck was malfunctioning. However, a bucket truck was leased and the decorations have been taken down.
In closing comments, Harrison announced he does not plan to seek a seventh term in the April 2011 election. “I have thoroughly enjoyed the past thirteen years that I have served on the council, but I feel that it is time to encourage and give others an opportunity to serve,” he said.