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By Jerry Robinson
On Jan. 4 the City Council and City Manager finally got what they wanted, the resignation of City Attorney Norm Fugate.
I am sure that the council and city manager met together to celebrate because as you will see later the Truth in Sunshine means nothing to them.
The last vestige of checks and balance on behalf of the city is now gone and we are at the mercy of the City Manager Marcus Collins, and the city council members. Even when Mr. Fugate was reading his resignation to the council Marc Nussel, council president, asked him if it was really necessary that he read it all aloud because the council would accept his resignation.
That night there were two items on the Consent Agenda that was to be approved without discussion but Mr. Fugate brought to the attention of the council there were problems with those two items. One of the items involved a company of consulting engineers. It was pointed out that under the “Consultants Competitive Negotiation Act” there was a need for “no fewer than three firms regarding their qualifications, approach to the project, and ability to furnish the required services.” Mr. Fugate asked that this item be removed from the consent agenda to be discussed later in the meeting. After a short discussion the council voted to remove this item, with the exception of Mr. Brooks Holloway who voted not to remove the items. Paraphrasing, he stated that if an item was on the consent agenda it should be voted on and approved. As a former Williston City Manager and now a council member he of all people should have known that by only presenting one company this was in violation of the CCNA but apparently he either did not have the knowledge to know this or just didn’t care.
The advertisement for the consulting engineer was run in a local newspaper, unfortunately not the Pioneer. There was only one company that applied and this company was out of Orange Park. Now this company has done work in Fanning Springs, Cedar Key and Inglis but not in Williston. The ironic thing about this company is that they did work in Crescent City, when Mr. Collins was the city manager for Crescent City.
The second item on the Consent Agenda that was pulled for further discussion was “RFP for City Attorney for publication in the Gainesville Sun.’ Apparently, the City Council can not remember what was agreed on when they discussed the RFP, an advertisement for the city attorney position, in their Dec.7, 2010 meeting. The minutes of that meeting state, “Vice President Jones requested the RFP be drafted and brought to Council for review and approval.” “President Nussel requested the RFP be brought back to Council for approval.” “Vice President Jones stated to make sure the RFP included the language from the Charter regarding responsibilities of the City Attorney.” Neither of the two was done.
Mr. Fugate pointed out there was a serious problem with the way this was handled because it seemed the entire city Council was “polled” to see if the RFP was good enough to be sent to the Gainesville Sun. During the discussion Ms. Jones was vocal and stated that she did not ask that the council be polled. However, in an e-mail dated Dec.20, 2010 from the City Clerk Ms. Valerie Anderson to Ms. Jones, Ms. Anderson states, “Debra, per your request I have called each of the other Council members to be sure that everyone wants to place the RFP in the newspaper so it will be done and we will have responses back in time for the February CC Mtg.” You be the judge.
Mr. Fugate pointed out that by the polling of the City Council regarding the RFP this was outside the Sunshine Law. Mr. Nussel said he spoke with an attorney, not the city attorney nor was this attorney identified, and the attorney told him that this action was not a breech of the Sunshine Law. Mr. Fugate disagreed and informed the council there was not only case law regarding this breech but opinions by the Florida Attorney General that this action was clearly a breech of the Sunshine Law. This information fell on deft[sic] ears because the council unanimously approved this item. Apparently the council feels it is immune from working within the Sunshine Law.
There are a couple of other things I would like to mention that was not involved in this council meeting that I believe the people of Williston should be aware of.
The first one is the high electric rate for the city. Based on the 2010-2011 budget that the council approved indicates that the mark up for the electric rate is 68 percent. Do you think this is high? Call you council members if you think it is and let them explain why the mark up rate is so high.
The other item is the contract for the City Manager that was approved on Aug. 18, 2009. In that contract the City Manager was given $3,000 for three days moving expense. The contract is for five years and the salary at the time of the contract was $80,000, probably more by now and with an annual review for possible additional increases in salary. In addition to that and in order for the City Manager to be dismissed all five members of the city council must vote in favor for his dismissal, talk about a perpetual contract! He is allowed to work 10 hours per week at another job without council approval. He also receives eight weeks vacation per year and in addition to that he also receives eight weeks sick leave per year. This does not include holidays or personal days so let’s do the math for a 52 work year for the city manager. 52 weeks is a normal working year, minus 16 weeks of paid vacation and sick leave, we are left with 36 working weeks minus 12 paid holidays leaving 33 weeks and three working days, minus four personal days per year which leaves us with the expectation for a 52 week work year reduced to 32 weeks and four days. This is your money folks!
Now the most interesting part about the contract was the council did not request a legal review of the contract by Mr. Fugate. So one can only surmise the contract was written by the council members and/or city staff and/or city manager himself.
Lastly, Mr. Fugate has given his all for this city. He has provided excellent legal expertise for the welfare of the city and has worked diligently to do this and he will be sorely missed. But it is very apparent the City Council and the City Manager want a yes man that answers to them instead of a city attorney that has provided exceptional legal advice to the city council for the betterment of the city.
It is obvious, to me any way, the members of the city council and the city manager have their own personal agendas and it is quite apparent that they care nothing about keeping the Sunshine Law. People of Williston, you need to wake up and become involved in city matters, because if you don’t, this town-this lovely little country town-will never be the same again.
Jerry Robinson is a former Williston City Councilman.