HIGH SPRINGS – The City of High Springs may ask its citizens during the upcoming special election on April 10 to approve a change in the City Charter that governs the city and the commission-employee relationship.
During the Thursday, Feb. 23, meeting, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas suggested amending the charter so that the commission does not have to go through the city manager to delegate tasks to employees.
Charter Section 2.06 states: “…nor shall the Commission or any of its members give orders to any employee other than Commission orders to a Charter Officer. The Commission or its members shall deal on all matters through the appropriate Charter Officer.”
Currently, High Springs operates under a city manager form of government, which requires that commissioners go through the city manager to give any direction to another city staff member.
“It seems ludicrous that we can’t talk to an employee,” Barnas said. He said his requests would get done either way – through him directing the city manager or through talking directly to the city staff – and he feels that it hinders the city for him, and other commissioners, to be required to jump through those hoops.
In a recent instance, Barnas said he instructed High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman to inform an employee on a certain matter, and 30 seconds later, Langman was sending an email to the employee. In the future, he said, it might not always be so easy to get in contact with the city manager.
Thomas DePeter, the City of High Springs former attorney, came to the podium during citizen’s comments and asked if the commission would be telling everyone who works for the city that they now have six bosses, instead of one.
Barnas would like to see a referendum on the upcoming election ballot that asks the High Springs voters what they think about changing the charter. When asked by Alachua County Today to comment further on his decision to move toward changing the charter, Barnas declined.
He did say that if the request to place the referendum on the upcoming charter is denied due to time constraints, he would definitely like to see it on a ballot in the next election, which will be held in November.
Commissioner Linda Gestrin agrees with Barnas, but takes it a step further to say that the commission should consider eliminating the city manager form of government all together.
Adjusting the current charter, Gestrin said, would simply be a band-aid. She would like to see a restoration of checks and balances.
Commissioner Sue Weller is against a restructure of the charter and a change of government form. With a form of government that enables commissioners to direct city employees, Weller said it opens the potential for one commissioner to direct staff one way and another to direct him or her in a different way.
“It opens it up to cronyism,” Weller said. Weller added that with five individuals handling day-to-day city activities, the government can end up favoring a certain individual or company. In addition, commissioners would become responsible for hiring and firing of city employees, which could lead to the commission selecting friends for staff positions.
Weller told Barnas to consider the possibility that he orders a city employee to do something illegal, which would set the city up for liability issues. It was then suggested that commissioners direct only department heads, such as the police chief and the fire chief, in an effort to eliminate the possibility of ordering an employee to violate the law.
Mayor Dean Davis did not voice an opinion whether he agreed or disagreed with Barnas’s proposal.
“Our charter is not very concise,” Davis said. “It’s convoluted.”
The commission will take up the matter again on Saturday, March 10, at the commission retreat at the Civic Center from 8 a.m. to noon. The meeting is open and the public is welcome to attend.
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