DeFuniak Springs City Council to hold first reading on the new city charter [PREMIUM]

MAYOR BOB CAMPBELL with proclamation for Constitution Week.

Story and photo by STACY MARTIN

On August 24, the DeFuniak Springs (DFS) City Council held its regular council meeting in the Walton County Courthouse. The meeting began with a presentation from Jeff Goldberg, director of the Walton County Emergency Management. Goldberg presented the Walton County Local Mitigation Strategy to the council and requested a motion to adopt the 2020 Walton County Mitigation Strategy Plan.  Every five years an update of the mitigation strategy is required by FEMA and Florida Administrative code. Goldberg said that a mitigation strategy is a document defining methods of mitigation of the effects of all types of disasters. The council approved the request unanimously. 

Next during the meeting was two proclamations. DFS Mayor Bob Campbell read the first proclamation from the International Overdose Awareness Organization. August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) and this year will mark their 20th anniversary.  The purpose of this day is to remember loved ones lost from overdoes. Campbell stated that the CDC had reported over the last ten years that 500,000 people in the United States had lost their lives from overdoses and in the state of Florida 16 people per 100,000 over the past ten years.  

The city of DeFuniak Springs extended its heartfelt sympathy for the families and the victims of substance use disorder and overdose and declared year-round August 31 as the IOAD. The next proclamation recognized that September 17, 2020, will mark the 233 anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. Mayor Campbell proclaimed the week of September 17 through September 23, 2020 as Constitution Week.  The West Florida Daughters of the American Revolution will be gifting 1,240 small constitution booklets and activities for the Walton County School District.  

Next on the agenda was the approval of the consent agenda and the regular agenda. Council member Robert McKnight requested that an item from the human resources (HR) department be removed from the consent agenda and added to the regular agenda. Also, Campbell requested to add an item concerning Main Street DeFuniak Springs. The council approved the items with one nay on the regular agenda from Council member Todd Bierbaum. 

From the administration department, City Manager Mell Smigielski requested approval to go after Requests For Qualification (RFQ) to procure consultants who will provide a permitting clerk and inspection services for citizens. The council approved the request unanimously.  

Next was an item from the HR department item removed from the consent agenda to the regular agenda for discussion. HR requested the approval to formalize the existing procedure with the provider, Pattison Professional Counseling and Mediation Center, for the employee assistance program. Council member McKnight asked a few questions for clarity on the terms of the contract set at 16 months and why services would only be offered in Fort Walton Beach or in Crestview. HR Director Lacey Woodham stated that there is virtual counseling and over the phone counseling as an option. The purpose of the request was to get the contract in writing of what the city currently has with its established provider.  Council member Kevin Crystal asked about eligibility and clarification of services to city employees and their family members. With the HR department’s approval, the city is obligated to pay for up to three visits for the individuals or their family members with the rest being covered by the individual.  The council approved the request as presented.  

MAYOR BOB CAMPBELL with the proclamation for International Overdose Awareness Day.

In the last item under administration, Campbell addressed a concern over an outstanding bill from Main Street DeFuniak Springs (MSDFS).  The outstanding bill is from an agreement with a vendor and MSDFS over the Christmas lights and ornaments for the city.  Main Street currently has no funds to cover the bill which was acquired during the previous administration of the MSDFS.   Campbell stated that he was not looking for any type of action from the council but hoped that the council could address the issues.  Bierbaum stated that he has reviewed the contract and had others review the document as well and states that he does not feel this is a valid contract.  The concern is over the potential for this issue to become a civil dispute between the vendor and MSDFS and Bierbaum stated that he “Bottom line is this is not an issue for the council to discuss in debate and I don’t think it needs to go any further or needs to be reconsidered beyond this meeting period.”  City Attorney Clay Adkinson stated that the ”city should not involve itself in civil disputes, and this is a civil dispute.”

There were no citizens comments during the meeting so the council moved to executive requests. Council member Bierbaum requested a motion to appoint Tony Brunson to the City Beautification and Tree Board. The council approved unanimously in favor of the request. 

The next items on the agenda were from the planning department.  Planning Director Kelly Schultz requested the council’s approval of The Planning Collaborative (TPC) as the most qualified applicant and direct Staff to prepare a contract for the council’s review and approval.  This planning consultant will provide planning services for specific projects as well as back up to help with city staff until the planning coordinator vacancy can be filled.   

McKnight stated he was impressed with one member of the firm having a master’s degree in historic preservation with a thesis in cultural heritage values. McKnight commented on the planning department being in need of assistance with hiring an individual or consultant.  McKnight said, “Time is of the essence and the analogy I give is that our ox is in a ditch right now in the planning department, and I think this firm can pull our ox out of that ditch.”  McKnight added that his concern would be to make sure this firm does not have any current “entanglements” with the city of Lynn Haven, given the current legal problems of some members of that city’s staff.  

Legal advised that if the council voted to designate The Planning Collaborative as the most qualified applicant, an appropriate motion would be to designate Planning Collaborative as the most qualified applicant, direct staff to negotiate and bring back a contract to the council, and ask that Planning Collaborative provide sufficient assurance to the city that there are no outstanding legal entanglements with any other governmental agencies in Florida that may prohibit them or team members from performing these services.  

The last item request from planning was for the approval for a special event request from the Stanley House Assisted Living, to hold a small firework display on Sept. 7, 2020, from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. with assurance the Stanley House will have a volunteer fire department on-site during the event.  The council approved the request, and Jolinda Eddins, executive director at Stanley House, stated that they are working with the Argyle Fire Department for the event.  The council approved the request unanimously.  

A request was made by the city attorney for a motion to have First Reading on the city’s revised City Charter and calling for a special election with a referendum question to be placed before the qualified electors of the city of DeFuniak Springs, on Jan. 26, 2021.  The charter had three updates to some of the language for clarity that will be included in the meeting and will be added to the charter online document.  A motion was made by Bierbaum and seconded by McKnight, with the motion carrying unanimously. The second reading, public hearing, and adoption will be held at the next council meeting.  

From the staff reports, Smigielski stated that staff had had conferences and meetings regarding the preparation form any potential emergency services needed from the two hurricanes currently in the Gulf.  

Bierbaum stated in his closing comments that conversations amongst council members can be uncomfortable as the only time they are able to speak to each other is in public settings per Florida’s Sunshine Law.  Bierbaum said that he is not attacking anyone personally but based on Council member McKnight’s comments during planning presentation; “The planning department is the Ox in the Ditch.”  Bierbaum added that while the city is making strides to correct issues, the council should be paying attention while certain things occur on their own, or in a bubble, there is a pattern developing that he is concerned about with the city’s “ox in the ditch.”

Councilmember McKnight’s comments were over anticipation for the final discussion on the budget workshop held on Tuesday, Aug, 25, at 4 p.m.  

The next council meeting will be held on Sept. 14, at the Walton County Courthouse.