Story by STACY MARTIN
NOTE: This is a continuation of the Freeport regular council meeting held on Tuesday, June 9.
Under the consent agenda, the minutes were removed from the consent agenda to make the correction for the opening and adjourning time. Also Council member Amanda Green stated her concern with some of the special meetings concerning the city manager interviews. They only had the questions asked to the candidates and documentation on who was in attendance, but did not document what was said or answered in the meetings. She would like those to reflect all of the discussion in those meetings. Council moved forward only to approve the bills in the consent agenda.
The regular agenda was then approved with staff and council additions to the agenda.
Under the parks department, director Charlie Simmons gave an update on the trails that are officially open. Clearing of the underbrush property for the barrier-free park has started.
Simmons went on to discuss opportunities for the city to have fuel tanks for emergency and city vehicles during times of emergencies such as hurricanes. The city should have enough fuel to get them through two weeks if necessary. The proposal was for four 525-gallon tanks for both gas and diesel. The council voted in favor of the containers. Later in the meeting, Simmons would address the council to make a request that the financing for the tanks come from the park’s money that was set aside to add shading to playgrounds. Council approved the request unanimously.
The finance department gave the council an update on potential third-party financing for sewer and water impact fees. Finance was in contact with People’s Bank, which said they would be willing to meet with anyone and work with those interested in their services.
The billing department requested direction from the council as to how to proceed with June late fees and cut-offs. The council discussed how to proceed with residents who were behind on bills. The council voted to work on a payment plan with residents who were two months behind and to suspend late fees and cut-offs for June.
Under the planning department, the first item presented to the council was a request for permission to add a note regarding the census in the next two months’ bills that go out to residents. The wording would encourage more people to participate in the census, which helps determine monetary amounts the city receives in funding and grants for city projects. The motion carried unanimously.
The next item was a request from a local pastor to temporarily hold church services in the Walton County Industrial Park. Planning Director Latilda Hughes-Neel informed the council that church services are not listed as an allowable use in industrial properties, but presented the council’s information. The pastor then addressed the board and assured the service would be on Sunday morning, have about 60 people, and on Wednesday nights with some 10-12 people. City Attorney Clay Adkinson stated that the council could grant a temporary variance with a limited scope and time of six months that is non-binding. A motion was made by Council member Eddie Farris and seconded by Council member Mark Martin. The motion carried with one nay from Council member Green.
On the next item from planning, Hughes-Neel asked for permission to investigate into the Main Street program to bring to the city. The Freeport Merchant Association has discussed bringing this type of programing to the Freeport area and would also serve as a focus group for the project. Council made a motion in favor of the request and approved it unanimously.
Under legal, Adkinson presented to the council a resolution to approve commercial rate study resolution. Council voted in favor of the request.
The other item legal requested was the rescheduling of the attorney-client session for a closed-door meeting. The meeting will be set for 30 minutes before the next council meeting on June 25 to discuss litigation that was previously set for discussion and canceled due to COVID-19. Council voted in favor of the request.
The engineering department presented updates on projects to the council. The U.S. 331 Water and Sewer projects, SRF Phase 1 Waste Water Project is under construction with the underground piping to be finished this month. In July, the project will be packing for lift stations and finishing with fencing, painting, and paving in August, East Bay Loop construction is set to start in July.
On the SR-20 force main project, Jolly Bay Road bore under U.S. 331, take-five rehabilitation is still underway with about 70% completion. There was a change on the decals; there will be three decals instead of four so that the verbiage “Anchor Here Grow Here” can be seen from U.S. 331.
Under old business, Adkinson addressed the council concerning the city manager position. Council voted to begin hiring negotiations with Andrew Hyatt. Adkinson informed the council that he and the mayor had been in contact with Hyatt to discuss his proposal and make specific recommendations about his proposal. Adkinson said that he was amenable to the advice. Adkinson added that he expects to have more information coming back to the council in a special council meeting within the next one to two weeks. Adkinson also stated that Hyatt and his wife are expected to come to look at residences and have assured that they are in no other negotiations with any other entities.
Latilda Hughes-Neel presented suggestions concerning the city clerk position to the council. Hughes-Neel asked the council if they would like to re-advertise for the position making the city-clerk certification a requirement for the position.
The council held a discussion on what that means if the certification must be earned during the time or to be eligible to obtain certification. Some members stated that the city had a lot of people within the city who would be excellent employees but are not certified.
Adkinson suggested looking to the county’s clerk of courts office to inquire about the hiring of one or two of their clerks to assist with general clerk’s duties where they take care of agenda packets and council meeting minutes without being involved in the operation of daily aspects of the city. Farris made a motion to reject all the previous applications and allow the mayor to reach out to the clerk of the courts office for assistance. Council member Elizabeth Haffner seconded the motion.
The motion carried by the council unanimously.
Motion was made to authorize staff to accept and approve special event permits applications that would require vendors to sign off on their willingness to comply with all Center for Disease Control (CDC) procedures and precautions. The council voted to approve the request unanimously.
Mayor Barley asked the council about opening back up rental facilities for the Blount House and the Old City Hall for dance and karate groups. Council discussed waiting for Phase III of the State opening procedures; however, they voted on a motion to allow the Sports Complex to re-open with the park’s director’s digression regarding usage. The motion carried unanimously.
Adkinson then addressed the council concerning a nuisance case at 1667 and 1665 SR-20 West. A recommendation was for a motion to have the residence’s owner served by a certified process server with their notice of violation. The motion was carried unanimously. Adkinson also stated that the property owners would have 15 days to respond once receiving the notification.
Council member Farris informed the council that he has had several people speak with him concerning the traffic off of 83A East, coming up North Street and not observing speed limits. Farris requested having the engineering department along with Simmons to conduct some assessment in order to slow down speeders on these roads. A motion was made to approve the request as presented and seconded. Under discussion, some council members stated Hammock Bay subdivision has a road that needs to be addressed as well. Motion carried unanimously.
The next regular Freeport City Council meeting will be held on June 25 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Hall Council Chambers.