City of DeFuniak Springs voted to incorporate Special Magistrate method for disposing of Code Enforcement cases [PREMIUM]

Story by STACY MARTIN

On April 27, the city of DeFuniak Springs meet to hold their regular council meeting.  The meeting began with a presentation by Liberty Partners on legislative updates. The council then voted to approve the consent agenda unanimously.

The next item was for the public to comment on what is on the agenda. The public had the opportunity to join the virtual meeting or call in with any questions or comments.  No public comments were made, and the council voted to approve the agenda. 

Under Administration, Deputy City Manager Carisse LeJeune said that the Purchase Policy and Procedure Manual has not been updated since 2010 and in an attempt to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, LeJeune proposed a resolution to add to the city manager’s authorization of expenditures for disaster relief expenditures up to $200,000 good for 90 days and only following a declared emergency. The amount requested would be considered significant enough to cover any potential emergency repair for the water and wastewater facilities.  A motion was made by Council member Henry Ennis and seconded by Council member Todd Bierbaum.  The council approved the motion unanimously. 

City Manager Mell Smigielski requested a motion to approve the Special Magistrate method for disposing of code enforcement cases and proceed with amending ordinances allowing for a Special Magistrate and distributing of Request for Qualifications (RFQ).  McKnight said that it had been a long time since any fines have been issued by code enforcement for violations and stated that he approves this process. 

Council member Kevin Crystal also commented, saying he would like to see another code enforcement position open up to assist with all the responsibilities and to get code enforcement orders under control.

City Attorney Clay Adkinson stated that the problem with the current situation now is the city has never issued citations or notices of code violations because there has been no board to appeal those too, and this option will allow the city to do a traditional process and allow a more effective legal action on enforcement of code violations. A motion was made by Ennis and seconded by Crystal. The motion carried unanimously.  

Smigielski also requested direction or a motion to approve a revised resolution on the non-profit policy and application form for requests for small-scale funding to community charitable organizations. Bierbaum made a motion with Ennis seconded the resolution as presented.  Motion carried unanimously.  Any finalized language and adjustments will be presented at the next council meeting. 

Smigielski addressed the council stating that at a previous meeting, a motion was made to allow the city committees to meet using Communications Media Technology (CMT) if chairs felt meeting were necessary.   Smigielski requested direction on the extension of the May 1 deadline for the city’s committee and board meeting suspension.  McKnight recommended that committees be allowed to continue to meet via CMT through to the next council meeting on May 11.  

A recommendation was made by Smigielski to remove the “Sunset” provision of the committees and make it effective until the council declares otherwise. 

Bierbaum said he would like for the council to consider lifting the prohibition on public parks. 

McKnight said that he is hesitant to open things up at this time and would like to revisit the discussion at the next council meeting on May 11.  

Crystal made a motion to approve the removal of the “Sunset” provision of the committees, effective until the council declares otherwise.  A second was made by Bierbaum, and the council approved the motion unanimously.  

Under public comments, Dr. Melinda Henderson informed the council that she spoke with Patricia Henry in the National Parks Service in Washington, D.C. about the city’s National Historic Landmark status and stated that Henry spoke very positively about the city. Henderson continued that she is hopeful that the city will receive an invitation to file an application, possibly in June.  

Henderson requested a letter of support from DFS Mayor Bob Campbell and a motion for a resolution of support from the council regarding the St. Agatha’s Episcopal Church to move forward with the grant application to preserve and restore the Charles E. Murry House at 168 Circle Drive.  Crystal made a motion to approve the support letter and resolution request from the mayor, with a second from Ennis.  The motion was carried unanimously.  

Under executive requests, McKnight gave an update on Charter Review Committee meeting,  McKnight informed the council that the committee discussed and worked on several items, including work on Article 5, which concerns ethics, and it was decided to expand to discuss improper or egregious behavior regarding city official’s behavior.  

Also mentioned was Section 6.01, “powers of city council,” in which the committee agreed to collapse a lot of the powers and language for the city manager, city clerk, and city attorney into a paragraph and added additional wording. McKnight said that the committee is working on putting the charter in a better and easier to read and understand format. 

Under Airport, Director Matt Overton requested a motion approving the application submittal under the Federal Assistance CARES FAA grant for personnel (airport payroll) and to help fund an administration position in the amount of $30,000.  The council voted in favor of the motion request.  

Under Public Works, Elissa Pettis, with Dewberry, requested a motion authorizing the mayor to execute a construction contract agreement for the CDBG Live Oak Wastewater Improvements.  McKnight made a motion, seconded by Ennis.  The motion carried unanimously.  

City Marshal James Hurley requested a motion from the council to authorize the emergency purchase for a 2020 Chevrolet Impala from Triangle Chevrolet in the amount of $25,377.89.  This vehicle would replace an older car driven by a member of the administration staff. The motion was carried unanimously.  

Under staff reports, Smigielski updated the board on the potential purchase of the CHELCO property for a new city hall.  The council had previously given staff permission to proceed with the purchase completion, including two appraisals, one of which is completed.  The other item is a Phase II environmental study. The city received proposals from two different firms, one in the amount for $8,426.00, and the other for $13,800.00.   Smigielski said that the scope of service offered by the firm with the highest estimate was broader and with more potential sites to test; he has decided to go forward with services from the highest proposal. The time frame to complete the environmental study would be 30 days.  Adkinson also addressed the council, stating that it was engineering’s recommendation to proceeded with the firm that offered the largest estimate based on the scope of the proposal.  Adkinson also said that he advised Smigielski that that would be the appropriate way to proceed.    

Another item was the 2020 Census rate of self-response. Smigielski said that the whole state of Florida’s self-response rate is rounded off at 51 percent.  DeFuniak Springs is at 38 percent. Paxton 28, and Freeport at 46.  Percentages in other northern communities in the Panhandle areas: Chipley at 45, Bonifay 38, Ponce de Leon is at 32, Caryville 20, Ebro 24, Crestview at 53, and Niceville at 64 percent.  Smigielski gave these numbers to the council and said that the mayor had a suggestion on a way to increase the city’s self-response rate which would allow phone calls to be made to citizens asking them if they have or need to fill out their Census forms.  Staff is looking at scripts to put together so that planning staff can start reaching out to citizens from home to help with the response rates.  Campbell said that for every new person added [in the Census count] could mean additional funding for the city of potentially $1,600 per person. That could be beneficial to the city.  

Council members’ comments:  McKnight expressed his excitement about the potential invitation to apply for the city to upgrade its historic district to a national historic site, which will be a big economic development generator and important in going forward with the new code enforcement system.  

Ennis commented that the Zoom meetings are going well and that he appreciated all the effort put into making this possible.  

  The mayor then asked Chief Hurley about last Thursday’s storm. Hurley responded that it is believed the storm was an EF1 twister that came through, and expressed his special thanks to Walton County Code Enforcement, who helped with the traffic.