Story by STACY MARTIN
Note: This article contains the remainder of the business conducted at the Feb. 24 meeting. The council moved to approve the consent agenda and the agenda for the night’s meeting. The council then moved to hear from city manager Mell Smigielski, who started with updates on new positions budgeted by the council:
IT person hired and will start on March 9.
The new grant (unclear) position has been offered and accepted, currently in the background stages of the hiring process.
The deputy city manager and the fire chief positions will begin the interview process the first week of March.
The planning coordinator position was offered and declined, working on possible adjustments to bring back to the council for approval.
One item discussed by Smigielski concerned the sewer plant. Smigielski mentioned during the budget discussion the council was going to put money into its funds for a receiver for the sewer plant, but they went over on the blower, so funds had to be transferred to cover the blower as a mandatory project, putting the receiver project on hold.
Next on the agenda was public comment. First to approach the podium was Sara Comander, with the DeFuniak Springs Business and Professional Association (DBPA), to address the council. Comander stated that Council member Robert McKnight approached Comander to ask her what thoughts the businesses had about events being held uptown.
Comander stated that she asked the DBPA members and surveyed businesses from Ace Hardware to Bass Barbershop and asked most of the businesses about their thoughts. She reported that most said they were in favorer of the events, however most didn’t like being “boxed-in” with the closing of some of the roads along Baldwin Ave. Comander stated that after giving it some thought, she recommended shutting down the left side of the road (east-bound) to vendors and making the right side of the road (west-bound) a one-way road during the event for people to get to shops still open on those event days. Comander continued with parades, stating that a majority of businesses did not want the parades to take place on Baldwin, preferring to keep all parades on Circle Drive. Also, Comander gave an update on the Fourth of July fireworks event to invite council members to attend the $9/plate Steak Lunch fundraiser held at Thrift Way on March 6.
Next from the public was a Mr. Anderson, who spoke about the trees in the city; he said he would like for live oaks to be planted, and concerning, the palm trees, for the City to “pay some attention to what you are doing” prior to cutting or servicing them.
The next comment came from Jacobs Engineering Group to introduce to the council new members of their team.
Then Brandon Elkins, vice president of the Matrix Outreach Center, gave an update to the council on what the non-profit center has done and how they serve the community with the money they received from the city: In December: they gave 542 children Christmas gifts and fed 710 individuals during their Christmas program. They were also able to address the needs of over 300 families with various financial struggles, including rent, utilities, and prescription assistance.
The WorkForce Investment Act, a youth program for young adults age 16-20, offers employability skill training. Through the funds provided from the city, the Matrix was able to revive that program to be able to service about two students per week. The last item updated was the information on 154 students that the Matrix serviced in partnership with the school district, which provides clothing socks, shoes, undergarments, school supplies, hygiene, and medical equipment. Elkins aded that just within the last two weeks, they were able to provide prescription eyeglasses.
The next three comments from the public addressed their concerns with the low-income housing project that is proposed to go up near West DeFuniak Elementary School. Issues stated concerned the roads and the additional traffic. Also addressed was the concern over potential crime so close to the school, and rezoning of the property to possibly reflect residential instead of public use, in which one concerned citizen noted that there needs to be more for our children.
At that point Mayor Bob Campbell stated he would add his opinion on the matter, stating: “I am very much against housing next to that elementary school.” City Attorney Clay Adkinson interjected advising the council and the mayor to not speak out on the matter, stating: “This item is not noticed and we have an applicant that has a legal right to be present. I understand this is citizens talk, but I would ask you and council, and my advice is not to make any comments on the record until the presentation has been heard.”
At which time, there were no more public comments.
The next item on the agenda presented to the council, and the public regarded the second draft of the city charter. Council member McKnight stated that the charter committee reviewed a format from the city of North Point Florida that contained 14 different articles, and they selected which ones they felt applied to them.
McKnight also responded to a suggestion made that the committee start over with the charter in which his response was, “I assure you we are not starting over.” McKnight continued with the update announcing two upcoming charter meetings open to the public on Tuesday, March 3 at 1:30 p.m. and the second on Tuesday, March 24 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
McKnight then presented to the council for discussion the idea of having city departments accredited, stating no part of the city government to his knowledge has any accreditation nationally and listed the police, fire, public works department, urban tree landscaping and parks, and recreation departments. McKnight continued stating, “What this accreditation does is helps our city develop what the best practices of customer service are.” He added, “We as a city need to look at opportunities to make sure every department is accountable and responsible in ways above and beyond what might be considered minimally necessary to serve our city.”
Council member Todd Bierbaum commented that he agreed with McKnight, having watched the transformation from the Sheriff’s office as a result of the process and the progress, and it was an extremely positive experience. “Yes, it was long, and yes, it was tough, but we have a better sheriff’s department because of it.”
City Manager Smigielski weighed in, stating that “If we wanted to be accredited today, there would be no way on God’s green earth that would happen.”
Smigielski then listed departments that do not have the capacity to be accredited and listed finance, human resources planning, which do not have departmental accreditation services; however, individual department heads can be accredited. He added that with parks and recreation can be accredited, but the city has no parks and recreation department.
There is no city clerk accreditation organization, however, Smigielski stated that there is the Certified
Municipal Clerk Program and the Master Municipal Clerk program, and that the city clerk and himself are certified in each.
Referring to the city manager’s office, he said there is no organization that accredits this department, however, as an individual there is the ICMA Credentials Manager, which he maintained for three years but no longer holds because “my current place of employment didn’t feel it was worth the effort.” He added that could get it back if needed. The city manager also discussed the airport and said that the director is indeed certified.
From the planning department, Kelly Schultz presented a request to the council from Rusty Eichorn from Roll Out Sushi and H&M Hot Dog, requesting permission for a special event on Saturday, April 25. The request includes street closure of south 9th Street from Baldwin Avenue over to the alley way, to start at 7 a.m. for setting up with event starting at 8 a.m. The event will include a cornhole tournament of 50 teams (two people on each team) with live music or a DJ, and will hire an officer for safety and security as well as handle the trash. A portion of their proceeds will be donated to the Matrix for their Christmas program. After discussion from the council, motion was carried to approve the event.
From the city manager department, Smigielski gave an update to the public that the original charter committee was also originally tasked with going through the city code. Smigielski said that he tasked the city staff to go through a full or partial chapter of the city’s code weekly. They have gone through one chapter and have forwarded some concerns to the city attorney for review and for the public to address any concerns if needed. Updates also included notice that the March 9 city council meeting will be held at City Hall due to the elections.
Council member Kevin Crystal and Mayor Campbell discussed possibilities in the future for sidewalk and road fixtures working with the county on Walton Road and other roads.
The meeting was adjourned. The next DeFuniak Springs city council meeting will be held on March 9 at 6 p.m. and will be located at the City Hall building due to the election.