C4ward movement: “City Hall, We’ve got our eyes on you”

SUPPORTERS and members of the C4ward movement wearing shirts bearing an illustration by artist Mark Douglass. (photo by Jenna Bailey)

Story and photos by JENNA BAILEY

The Coalition of Concerned Citizens, a movement also known as C4ward for short, held its second community meeting on Tuesday, May 29. The community meeting took place at the DeFuniak Springs (DFS) Civic Center and was from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.  At the top of the meeting’s agenda —  all caps and in bold — read, “City Hall, We’ve got our eyes on yoU.” The movement is explained on its Facebook page as, “We are a diverse coalition of concerned citizens and DeFuniak Springs supporters advocating for change and reform of our city government. We act in accordance with our values of T.A.C.T.”  This acronym stands for transparency, accountability, civility and truthfulness. “…and expect the same in our elected officials.”

There was an hour of meet and greet time prior to the meeting for those in attendance to

greet and get to know each other. The meeting began with a call to order and welcome by DFS resident Geneva Lee. Lee was successful in rallying the DFS residents in attendance. “We’re ready for change!” chanted the assembly.

Following Lee, DFS resident Shayne Betts explained the layout of the meeting, issue updates, and calls to action. “Our meetings are going to be purpose-driven. We’re not here just to talk and bash or to come up with solutions, but we want to make sure that we stay on task with what we are doing. So that everyone can get informed and everyone can get engaged.”

Speaking after Betts was resident J.B. Hillard, who explained C4ward as a legal entity, what drives the movement and how membership for the group works. Hillard explained that C4ward is pursuing a 501(c)(4) status with the IRS (International Revenue Service), which allows the organization to be involved in political issues.

ATTENDEES listening to a speaker at the May 29 C4ward community meeting at the DeFuniak Springs Civic Center. (screenshot from live Facebook video courtesy of C4ward).

“The purpose of this group is to improve the government and somewhat watchdog the city government,” said Hillard. At C4ward’s first meeting on May 1, 2018 it was stated C4ward would get behind candidates that they saw potential with. Hillard announced at the May 29 meeting that C4ward will not endorse any specific candidate and will instead focus on addressing key issues. C4ward is considering holding a workshop where anyone interested in running for a city council position can learn about the running process and what is legally expected of a city council member. The final topic Hillard spoke on was membership. A person does not have to be a resident of DFS or Walton county to be a member of C4ward. The movement welcomes anyone invested in the welfare of DFS. There will be membership dues, the amount of these dues are still to be decided. Monies will be used for the organization’s costs.

Speaking after Hillard was resident Sharon Grenet. Grenet attended the recent special city council and Finance Director/City Manager Application Committee meetings. On May 21, the DFS city council held a special meeting to inform the application committee of the Sunshine Laws pertaining to said positions.

DFS resident Erin Glenn spoke on a topic that has been on many DFS residents’ minds after the outcry following former City Manager Lucas’ termination of employment.Will there and can there be a recall on city council elected officials? “One of the things we had talked about before that really galvanized our group happened with the city manager and at that time a lot of people were using the word ‘recall’,” said Glenn. “We said at the last meeting that recall is still on the table and we are reiterating right now that recall is still an option.” C4ward has spoken with multiple attorneys on the issue of a recall of city council elected officials. Including the attorney involved in the most recent recall effort which took place in Riviera Beach, Fla. in 2017. “We are very aware of the process,” Glenn stated. The group has been told that the costs can range from $5,000 to $25,000 to run a recall effort. In addition, 10 percent of the voters who voted in the last election would need to sign a petition for the recall which would state the legal reasons for that recall.

The state of Florida is one of 34 states that allow the recall of local elected officials. The grounds for doing so include malfeasance (wrongdoing by a public official); misfeasance ( transgression/wrongful exercise of lawful authority), drunkenness; neglect of duty; permanent inability to perform official duties; and conviction of a felony involving moral turpitude. “The ones that are the most common are outright fraud or if there is a deliberate attempt to mislead,” stated Glenn.

The Riviera Beach recall regarded one of the similar issues happening now in DFS — the firing of a city manager. The Riviera Beach City Council’s decision in September 2017 to fire former City Manager Johnathan Evans was met with disapproval by many of the city’s residents.  Riviera Beach City Attorney Andrew DeGraddenreidt concluded that the council fired Evans without cause. In early December of 2017, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections determined that only two of approximately 8,600 recall petition signatures were valid. The reason being that the remaining signatures were gathered outside of the 30-day signature gathering window allowed by state law.

More information on the C4ward movement can be gathered on the movement’s facebook page at www.facebook.com/C4ward.