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Wow! Council meeting was eye-opening

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By Jerry Robinson

Guest Columnist

On Dec. 7, I attended the city council meeting to see what the council would decide about changing the make up of the council itself.
Boy was I surprised because I got more than I bargained for. I thought things might have changed especially since the hiring of a new city manager. WRONG! I will admit there was one change and that was the time taken for the meeting itself, it has been shortened.
The council spent many hours, a couple of workshops and gave instructions to the city attorney to come up with an ordinance that could be put on the March ballot so the people could vote on it.
For those who do not know what was discussed the ordinance would remove one city councilor and incorporate the mayor, by election, and give the mayor the right to vote just like a council member.
 He would lead all council meetings. Also the fire chief and police chief would become charter members and their respective offices would come under the authority of the city manager.
There was a lively discussion regarding this ordinance but a couple of things stood out. There was discussion that the city council appoint the mayor.
 During that discussion one of the councilors said, “The council knows better who could do the job than the people who would elect him.” WOW, does this mean the people of Williston are not informed enough to elect the mayor or any of the council members? It was stated by two of the councilors that 90 percent of the people in Williston did not know what the responsibilities of the Mayor are presently. This is another WOW, are the people of Williston that ignorant? I don’t think so. After all of the discussion regarding this issue, the hours spent by the council, the workshops and the utilization of the city attorney to prepare a proposed ordinance it was tabled “for a later date.” If the council and the city manager want to cut spending is this a proper utilization of the city’s funds and resources?
For the 90 percent of you that do not know what the mayor’s responsibilities are and for you to be more informed there is a website where you can go and get this information and that would be at www.municode.com/. Once there begin by clicking on their free library, then click on Florida and then click on Williston and go to Williston Code of Ordinances and finally click on Article II City Council and Mayor and then one can read the duties of the Mayor. Perhaps the 90 percent can become “more informed.”
On the agenda was an item involving the “Clarification of Subdivision Process.” I am here to congratulate the city council and the city manager because after that night it was apparent that they have all gone or are going to law school because they were spouting out all kinds of legalese regarding the discussion of the above. The surprising thing about the whole discussion was the lack of participation of the city attorney or a request that the city attorney offer his opinion because it seemed the city council and city manager were all knowing and really didn’t need his input. Why the city council and the city manager ignored what is stated in the city charter is beyond me. But I guess with all their new found legal knowledge the city council and city manager did not need his assistance and they know more about the law than the city attorney.
During the meeting one of the councilors came up with an idea that has been discussed many, many times and that was to obtain information for a “new” city attorney.” This was after he lamented the need to curtail spending on the part of the city. Yet it was passed that the city would advertise the city attorney’s position, “just to see what’s out there.” Now is this a proper utilization of city funds with the council spending money to advertise the city attorney’s position, “just to see what’s out there?”  I think not.
There was also a discussion regarding the harshness of memos, etc. written by the city attorney. Also there was discussion of a lack of cooperation between city hall and the city attorney. After the city manager was hired there were many that worked in city hall who resigned and for all appearances there are new people in city hall. I wonder why that happened? I know for a fact the city attorney requested a meeting with the City Clerk to discuss procedures between City Hall and the City Attorney’s office. The meeting finally took place but there was an interesting twist, the City Clerk came with the City Manager. I just wonder if the City Clerk was incapable of discussing matters with the City Attorney by herself or if the City Manager would not allow her to visit with the City Attorney without him being present? Could the alleged harshness of the City Attorney memos be a way of trying to get the attention of City Hall so that proper procedures can be followed? Have the workers been given specific instructions not to involve the City Attorney in City matters by the City Manager? Could this have created the problem between City Hall and the City Attorney that starts at the top? I thought that all City employees needed to work together as a team for the betterment of the City? Is there an exception for City Hall, the City Council and the City Manager not to involve the City Attorney in City matters?
I would take this opportunity to remind the City Council and City Manager part of what the Charter states regarding the City Attorney, who is a Charter member by the way, and that is: “The City Attorney shall: (a)   Serve as chief legal advisor to the City Council, the City Manager, the City Clerk and all City departments, offices and agencies. (b) Represent the City in all legal proceedings………..”
Is it true that that the City Manager signed a grant application? Is it true that the City did not formally approve this particular grant? Section 2.03 of the City Charter states, in part: “The president of the city council shall sign all ordinances, resolutions, contracts, agreements………subject to the authorization and approval of the city council…..” Was this procedure completely followed by the City Manager and the City Council? If not I wonder how many other instances in the City Charter have been ignored and not followed?  Why in the world do we have a City Charter and City Ordinances if they are going to be ignored by the City Manager and the City Council? The City Council and the City Manager have proved they are not in compliance with the City Charter by not involving the City Attorney in legal matters on behalf of the City.   
I have repeatedly sent a request to the City Manager to post the 2010-2011 budget workshop minutes on the City’s web site but I see that has not been done because the last minutes that have been posted on the City’s web site are from the meeting of September 7, 2010. Why can’t the City keep this updated for those of us who would like to review the minutes of the meetings? This would allow those who are unable to attend the meeting, for what ever reason, to do that. I’m not sure if this would be applicable for posting minutes on the City’s web site but I am sure it is applicable that minutes of past meetings be approved by the City Council: Florida Statute 286.011 (2) reads, in part: “The minutes of a meeting of any such board or commission of any such state agency or authority shall be promptly recorded, and such records shall be open to public inspection.” Can or the better question would be “will” the City post the minutes on the City web site in a timely fashion?
I will admit the City Manager has done some good things for the City and he has saved the City money but that is not the extent of his responsibilities on behalf of the City.  
Just a reminder, we have an election for three Council positions in March and I know there are several in Williston that would make very good City Councilors. Look around, talk with each other and I cannot urge you enough that other’s run for the up and coming Council election. We need good people who can make intelligent and timely decision’s so that the City of Williston can move forward in a positive manner. Merry Christmas and a Happy Safe New Year to all!

Jerry Robinson