Story by ADRIANNE WALLINE CAMPBELL
The DeFuniak Springs City Council held its regular meeting on Nov. 13, 2023, at DeFuniak Springs City Hall. Due to the meeting being almost four hours long, and to press deadline, this article will be split in two, with Part 2 in next week’s edition. There was a full house in attendance, with numerous audience members speaking. This article covers only the items on the agenda dealing with the position of Interim City Manager.
Council member Amy Heavilin initiated discussion on applications for the position of city manager, currently held by Interim City Manager Mike Barker. Heavilin said that when a vote is taken on whether to extend Barker an offer as full time city manager, she would vote no, saying that her experience with Barker’s work has been “very negative.” Because the position must have a unanimous vote of 5 to 0, Barker would therefore not be confirmed.
Council members Josh Sconiers and Todd Bierbaum spoke in support of Barker’s work. Bierbaum noted that the city’s relations with the workers union are better than they have been in a long time. Council member Tony Vallee said he was “incredibly impressed” with Barker’s relationships with employees, other municipalities, and the county.
A citizen commented that council members needed to sit down and talk with each other to work things out: “I want to see some adult behavior.” Council member Henry Ennis also supported working together.
Another citizen reminded the council of its promise to “put the city first.”
Human Resources Director Julie Chance said there were 28 applications for city manager received prior to her taking the position in June, and another seven after she began working there. Chance said she forwarded those seven applications and that she is waiting on the council to give her directions. Chance did not forward the previous 28.
Heavilin asked her if she had ranked or vetted the applications before sending them, but she had not. Among the basic qualifications for the position of city manager is having a bachelor of science degree, although that is not absolutely necessary. Neither the current Interim City Manager nor the Finance Director have a degree.
Attendee Melinda Henderson spoke about how she would feel if she had been an applicant for the city manager position but had heard nothing in response. “Little failures” in administrative actions are “things that make people angry about how they were treated” by the city government.
Attendee Danny Cosson said “we’re focusing on the wrong thing….nobody is demonizing Mike Barker.” But he said there is a public perception that there are “two sets of rules,” and a “good old boy system.” Cosson also commented on the fact of having a council member who is a “real accountant” subordinate to a finance manager that does not have her qualifications. He said, “Just go by the rules… [they are] in effect for a reason,” and that “the same applies for city manager.”
City Attorney Clay Adkinson responded to Cosson that by existing ordinance, the bachelor’s degree is not required, but “desirable,” and that “experience as an administrator” in local government can be substituted, along with a “combination of education and experience.”
Cosson countered by noting that the city’s increased population and budget ought to require them to “raise the bar” for educational requirements for these positions. The mayor commented that that was something to talk about.
Attendee Sue Rushing commented that experience and “common sense” ought to count, and praised Barker’s handling of a residential water problem with one of her neighbors: “Education’s real important, but I think you’ve done a real good job.”
The council voted to extend Barker’s contract as Interim City Manager for an additional three months.
Meeting agendas, agenda forms, and supporting documents for items brought before the council can be accessed and/or linked to on the city’s website. Minutes from meetings are also available on the website, defuniaksprings.net