DeFuniak Springs City Council hears State of the City address, discusses city manager hiring process

Story by ADRIANNE WALLINE CAMPBELL 

The DeFuniak Springs City Council held its regular meeting at the DeFuniak City Hall on Nov. 27, 2023. Mayor Bob Campbell began the meeting with a State of the City address, saying that the city is “on the threshold” of many opportunities, and “there is a serious need for preparation,” adding that “we are a unique city and need not try to duplicate another.” Campbell noted the moving of city offices, and a pending contract for sale of the previous city hall property. The relocated police department has been implementing improvements. There have been both physical and organizational changes in various city departments. Code compliance has benefitted from the special magistrate. The planning department has also been busy with various new projects. Veterans Lodge construction is scheduled to get underway in January. He also listed various new businesses already in operation and under construction, as well as residential construction. IT has improved city computer security. Maintenance has repaired the docks on Lake DeFuniak, and at the train depot, street lights, and Christmas Reflections lights. Wastewater capacity expansion is being “aggressively” pursued. Then airport is securing funding for its various needs. He also listed a calendar of events sponsored by historical, business and professional organizations. 

The FP&L easement was presented for ratification of easements previously discussed. Interim City Manager Mike Barker presented them for approval to sign. A motion to approve was made, and carried, with Council member Amy Heavilin voting Nay. 

The Employee Christmas Party to be held on Wednesday, Dec. 13, from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m. at which time City Hall will be closed. 

The Inmate Labor Agreement between the Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) and the city that was set to expire on Dec. 23, 2023, has been renewed. This renews the city’s ability to receive inmate labor. 

The Interlocal Agreement between the City of DeFuniak Springs, Walton County Board of County Commissioners, and the TriCounty Community Council, Inc. for the Senior Center was approved. This is an annual renewal that has been budgeted at $27,000 for the city. 

Mayor Campbell gave Police Chief James Hurley signature authority to sign all grant related documents permitted by the PSN (FY 2022 Project Safe Neighborhoods Grant). 

Chris Wallace, Planning Director, presented the final plan for the Bay Springs Residential Phase 2, of 106 lots on Coy Burgess Road which was approved, for infrastructure.  Bond and capacity fees have been paid for Phase 1. 

Change order #3 for the DeFuniak Springs Airport Terminal, Hangar, and Apron Expansion Project in the amount of $172,424.59 (from Dominguez Design-Build Inc.) was approved for additional design requirement items. Engineer Cliff Knauer made the presentation. The construction of the hangar is about 60% complete; $134,304 less $73,625 from the set aside capacity fees. Also, there is $1,400,000 in ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan Act) allocated and available. There was discussion over validity of change requests made by the city or by the contractor. Approval was moved and carried, with Council member Amy Heavilin voting nay. 

Mike Goodchild, City Beautification & Tree Board, received approval to install a bat house on the opposite side, Southeast, of the Library and the Chautauqua Building at the Lakeyard to try to divert the bats in the other direction. 

Kim Wennerberg, Chairman of the City Beautification & Tree Board, presented the results of the survey they’d done on the Amphitheater Design Survey. The top answers were: 

• Open design to see the lake

• Terracing with mixture of grass/concrete seating

• Natural grass

• Trees on the perimeter 

• Updated restrooms

• Cover for seating

Council member Heavilin raised the question of parking. Vallee said several places and options have been explored for parking. Vallee presented a motion to pursue and develop an RFQ, which was approved. 

In Citizen Comments, Kim Wennerberg questioned the need for so many “terrible looking” portable toilets around the lake yard (in addition to facilities existing). Barker commented that they are indeed being used, and that they were wanted and needed. Council member Todd Bierbaum noted that visitors to Christmas Reflections have been repeatedly asking where the toilets were. He suggested the use of “comfort trailers” as an alternative.  

Attendee Capt. Robert Minor addressed the council, speaking on the need to provide more extensive (and potentially heavier) maintenance on the aircraft (beyond that done by the owners) at the airport that would be grounded without the necessary maintenance. Interim City Manager Mike Barker said he was negotiating with a prospective tenant concerning that subject. 

Under Legislative Requests, Council member Heavilin presented a discussion concerning the hiring process of a new city manager, and urging that the same “vigorous” process used for the last two city manager hires be used again. She described the various steps, including vetting and creating a matrix of finalists that was submitted to the council.  Bierbaum discussed timelines for action, and asked what the next step should be. Following discussion of various details of the process, it was agreed to set a special meeting for Dec. 5, 2023, at 4 p.m. at City Hall for review and input on the process. 

Council member Anthony Vallee gave an update on TPO and General Transportation. The update was supplemented by an Okaloosa/Walton crash analysis, DeFuniak Springs Crash Map, and a summary report, with a Tentative Work Program Public Hearing Report.  

Council member Anthony Vallee and Walton County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA) Executive Director Uriah Matthews presented an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the Florida Scenic Trail and city of DeFuniak Springs. The Florida Trail Association would provide advertisements on their website and in their magazine for members as well as other benefits. It was approved to become a part of the association. Local businesses can also participate. 

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