East Williston Park advances

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By Pat Hibbs

The East Williston Park is a major step closer to reality after the City Council approved the site plan and gave the go-ahead for permitting at its Tuesday meeting.

Troy Burrell, from Burrell Engineering, the chief contractor for the park, presented the plan. One point of debate was the size and use of space between the two ball fields. The suggestion that drew the most interest was for a two-story building, the first floor of which would be the concession stand and the second floor a press box. Councilman Steve Holcomb also asked whether an empty spot on the plan was sufficient to house a tennis court. Burrell will research both suggestions.

Two familiar topics consumed significant time at the meeting. The first was Traffipax, the proposed camera system for identifying and producing citations for vehicles that run red lights,

The discussion centered on a tentative contract submitted by Traffipax. Council president Debra Jones once again expressed her displeasure that city attorney Norm Fugate had not reviewed the contract before the last council meeting. She made it clear that she was not satisfied with his explanation.

In spite of a suggestion to table the matter until Police Chief Dan Davis was present (Lt. Clay Connolly represented the WPD at the meeting), the council decided to review Fugate's comments. Fugate had prepared a revised contract based on his concerns. For example, he removed language which would have made it possible for Traffipax to file lawsuits in the name of the city. He addressed questions about insurance and about assignment of the contract to another party, which is now specifically not permitted without the city's consent.

Most significantly, Fugate completely removed a clause having to do with termination penalties. Although the initial cost of the equipment and installation is borne by the company, they had specified stiff monetary penalties should the city terminate the contract "without cause." (In the first year, for example, the termination fee would have been $75,000 per unit - three units are planned.)

There was considerable discussion about how long the system would be useful, as the Traffipax contract specifies that the company may move or remove the equipment should the operation of any unit prove to be unprofitable (Traffipax's fees are based on volume of citations issued and paid.) Theoretically, at least, the goal of the system is to make itself obsolete; i.e., cut down on the infractions enough that the unit becomes unprofitable.

Council members asked Fugate to send his revision of the contract to Traffipax for its review, even though some speculated that removal of the termination fees would be a "deal-breaker." The general sentiment was to propose the changes and await a response from the company.

Another significant agenda item was a proposed contract for a new city manager. Jones had asked for copies of the Chiefland city manager's contract and a sample document from the International City/County Management Association. The latter was deemed to be unacceptable and was rejected out of hand.

The Chiefland contract was reviewed article by article and found to be largely satisfactory. One subject of discussion was the hours of work, which had been a bone of contention between some council members and former city manager Jim Coleman. Considerable discussion yielded the consensus that the city manager, if involved in city business other than in the office, must keep the office staff apprised of his whereabouts and intended time of return. Fugate was directed to devise wording to that effect.

No mention was made of imposing certain hours during the week when the manager must actually be in the office for constituent meetings, which was once proposed for Coleman.

Place of residence had been the other major point of controversy with Coleman, who did not move to the Williston area, as he had indicated that he would. Again after much discussion, councilman Brooks Holloway suggested that the matter be considered in terms of reasonable response time rather than physical proximity to the city. This will be a matter for discussion when a new city manager is chosen.

In other business, the council:

Approved a payment of $4,000 to the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce, representing its first draw of the year.

Agreed to retain Leonard J. Dietzen, a well-known labor lawyer based in Tallahassee, to negotiate the PBA contract as well as that with AFSCME, the new union for city employees. Dietzen has worked with the city on past union matters. Byrd emphasized that he would like to see in writing the union's initial proposal. Fugate told him that he wasn't sure that there would even be such a document at first, and assured the council that they would be kept apprised of developments in the process.

Appointed a committee to review proposals for an engineering consultant for the Williston Airport.

Heard a report from Schiefer on the difficulties with financing the new water well. Schiefer described the steps he's taken thus far and was encouraged to continue along the line he is pursuing.

Agreed to retain the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council to assist with preparation of the city's EAR, which satisfies an unfunded state mandate.

Jones reviewed airport matters sent on to council from the Airport Committee.

The council accepted a redesign/relocation of retention ponds around the Bibby and DelZotto properties at the airport. The move will make more land at the airport available for lease.

They also approved a lease for Fisher Aviation, which will rent part of the building in which the FBO is located. The lease will include a one-year probation period, after which the lease may be renewed for longer periods. Schiefer suggested that all leases granted for rental of city property contain a one-year probation clause. Land leases, on which the tenant does his own building, would not be subject to a probation period.

Jones (who also chairs the airport committee) presented a conceptual drawing of an area called "the hub." It is planned to be adjacent to Taxiway "H" and contains provisions for two roads, each lined with executive hangars.

At the recommendation of the Airport Committee, discussion of an airport manager job description was tabled, as was discussion of the need for a part-time employee at the airport. These items will be held off pending a new city manager.

And then, just as the meeting seemed to be winding down, as Jones called for final comments from council members and staff, Schiefer raised the question of whether the council wanted to pursue an option contract on the building that would be the new city hall. Attorney Fugate explained that the option contract did not obligate the city to close the deal; it is simply the next step in the negotiation process.

Schiefer than offered his opinion that perhaps not enough "due diligence" has been exercised in the choice of a new home for city hall. He said that there were other possibilities that might be explored, and specified them briefly. They include buying land or using land the city already owns to construct a building which might have multiple purposes, including retail space.

Jones indicated that she thought that the former church had been agreed upon and was simply awaiting administrative steps to procure it. She agreed with Schiefer, that, should that building be acquired, some interior redesign would be required.

Byrd the offered his "gut" opinion that the city was rushing into obtaining the church building too quickly. When Jones objected to the costs of a new structure, Byrd said he'd rather pay three or four million dollars for something that would last far into the future than pay one million for a building that the city would outgrow in 10 years.

Holloway, who joined the council only recently, also expressed some apprehension about the church building. Jones urged him to arrange to inspect the building. When he asked what other possibilities had been explored, Jones decided to terminate the discussion for the evening and place it on the agenda for the next meeting.

That meeting takes place on Tuesday, June 3, at 7 p.m., in the city council chambers. Citizens are encouraged to attend and to participate.