Story by ADRIANNE WALLINE CAMPBELL
On Jan. 20, 2023, the DeFuniak Springs City Council held interviews with three individuals for the position of city manager, at the new City Hall. The three applicants being interviewed were Mike Barker, Laurence McNaul, and Larry Jones. Applicants were called in order of ranking (previously done) and given 45 minutes each. The DeFuniak Herald – Beach Breeze attended and its video of the meeting (some 2 hours and 50 minutes in length) was posted on the Herald – Breeze Facebook page.
The candidates were asked various questions that had been approved by the city council. The questions included why they are interested in the position of city manager. They were also asked to describe in their own words what “transparency” means to them and how they would implement transparency on a day-to-day basis with the council and staff as well as the public. Next they were asked if anything had changed since they applied for the position. They were asked to give specific examples of how they motivate employees, how they would pursue funding opportunities, and what they would hope to accomplish in the first three to six months. They were asked how they would gauge success in the cities or counties where they have been, and how they maintain positive relationships. Also asked was how they structure their workday, and how they would align the mission goals and objectives with the administrative functions of the city.
Mike Barker was the first applicant to be interviewed. He is currently the county commissioner for District 3. He would have to resign his position if appointed to this position. Barker is a Walton County native. He graduated from Walton High School in 1979 and served as a police officer for the DeFuniak Springs Police Department. Then he worked as a deputy for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office. He became the county’s first emergency management director. While emergency management director, Barker implemented a 911 system in the county, re-addressed the county to run on a logical addressing system, and took the county through numerous hurricanes and floods. He then went into business in real estate and retail in south Walton. He then went back to work with the Walton County Sheriff’s Department. He was on the Walton County Planning Commission for two years.
Laurence McNaul was second. He retired from the military and is a former sheriff’s deputy. He also was the Hardee County Manager; City Manager of West Liberty, Iowa; Military Intelligence Officer in the Army; and Chief Deputy of Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office in Iowa. He has a master’s in Public Administration (grade 4); Certified Public Manager in Business Administration (4.0); Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Management and Operations; and Professional Development, School of Police Staff and Command.
Larry Jones was the last candidate. He is also a Walton County native and served three terms as County Commissioner from 2000 – 2012. In 2012, he was appointed as County Administrator and served eight years. Jones has a bachelors degree in management, a masters in public administration, has an Associate of Arts degree, and has been a private business owner.
Though the council was informed by City Attorney Clay Adkinson that it was not required to take action on that day, Council member Anthony Vallee made a motion (which was seconded) to extend a contract and to do a background check on the top ranked candidate, Mike Barker.
There followed a session of public comment. Several citizens spoke supporting Mike Barker and also Larry Jones. Nadine Bacon described Jones a “the most qualified,” with a “wealth of experience” and talent that would be needed to bring a growing city to its “higher plateau.” She described Barker as “status quo,” lacking the necessary management skills. and urged the council to reconsider Jones.
Melinda Henderson suggested that on the strength of resumes, McNaul would have been her choice, but she felt he “did not interview well.” As for Barker, his varied job experiences made her feel cautious: “I run when I see somebody who changes jobs that frequently.”
Barbara Morano appeared on her own behalf. Though a south Walton resident, she expressed her belief in “One Walton.” She stated, “What happens in DeFuniak definitely affects the whole county.” Morano said that, during a break in the meeting, while taking with fellow attendees, that based on what she heard, Jones was the favored candidate. She did acknowledge having a good relationship with Barker, and was grateful for his work on the Planning Commission.
Other comments came from Realtor Bruce Naylor, who expressed support for Barker’s “commitment,” and his “heart and desire to serve,” and that “he would be a real asset” as city manager. Don Graham, local businessman, called Barker an “innovator” who “knows the people,” adding that “whether he’s a good old boy or whatever, he’s a homeboy to me.”
Shirley Guillory praised Jones’ educational background, organization and knowledge, and his strategic plan. She was followed by a citizen who noted that finance and a balanced budget were the most important items – “where are we, and can they handle that?” He also urged the importance of a thorough background check. “That’s your duty….step up to the plate.”
Following public comment, Mayor Bob Campbell (who does not have a vote) praised Barker as “one of the more pro-active commissioners.” He also said of Jones: “I didn’t always like what he had to say,…but he sure looked out for the commissioners and the county.”
From the council, comments came from Council member Vallee, who said that education is very important, but “In this country, I believe you can earn your way up.”
Council member Josh Sconiers said, “I keep hearing ‘good old boy system.’” Sconiers said that just because people have lived in this area a long time, it does not automatically make them “good old boys.”
Following comment, the council voted 4 – 1 (with Kevin Crystal voting nay) to move forward to do a background search on Mike Barker. After the background check is completed, the council must vote 5 – 0 to confirm anyone to the position of city manager.