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Last updateFri, 26 Sep 2014 6pm

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High Springs City Commission wants more control, debates City Charter changes

Avoids Charter review board

HIGH SPRINGS – Several High Spring commissioners challenged the City Manager form of government during Thursday’s meeting, and discussed possible Charter changes to be placed on the November ballot.

By State law, Charter amendments must be approved by the electorate.  But this year, because of limited space on the ballot, the City is limited to two Charter amendments.

The commission intends to select what they view as the most important of commissioner-suggested changes, and those changes will then be voted on by the general public during the election.

Vice-Mayor Bob Barnas suggested a workshop on Monday, July 9, to solidify the changes suggested during the Thursday meeting.

Mayor Dean Davis said the Charter had been changed several times over the years, and High Springs is now bound by laws designed for much larger cities.

“We need to come back through the commission with everything,” Davis said. “We need a little more oversight.”

Davis, Barnas and Gestrin detailed the sections of the current Charter he or she felt were the weakest, citing Charter Section 3.04 as the crux of the issues surrounding High Springs. Commissioners Sue Weller and Scott Jamison did not recommend changes to the Charter.

“There’s been much said in e-mails, in writing, in the paper about we, the gang of three, want to change the Charter and take over power,” Barnas said. “I don’t have any desire to completely change the Charter back to the other way. What I think we’ve found is that the city manager style of government, while it works for some commissioners, absolutely fails for others because of one clause in the Charter.”

Instead of rewriting the entire Charter, Barnas said all the problems fell on one sentence in Section 3.04 about the duties of the city manager, which states the manager must keep the commission fully advised of activities related to the City, financial conditions of the City, future needs of the City and make recommendations to the commission concerning the affairs as he or she deems desirable.

While former High Springs City Attorney Thomas Depeter said the “deems desirable” refers only to the last section of the sentence, Barnas said the wording creates a loophole that allows to city manager to update commissioners only when she sees fit. Jamison suggested changing the word to “necessary.”

Barnas also suggested removing Section 2.06 concerning commission-employee relations, which states the commission is not allowed to dictate the appointment or removal of a City employee except Charter officers. It also states the commission is not allowed to directly give orders to City employees. However, after Davis expressed concerns about the deletion allowing for conflicting directions to City staff, Barnas said Section 2.06 was not as important as 3.04.

“I think what we’ve experienced – a lot of the misinformation, no information – and I think it’s from the structure of what we’ve built,” Gestrin said. “What I would want is a rewriting of the powers and the duties between the city manager and the commission. All the decisions are made, and the commission is removed from that decision.”

When the taxpayer no longer has a say in what goes on, Gestrin said, the City has lost its representation. She backs creating a stronger commission by rewriting Section 3.04 of the Charter, the section outlining the duties of the city manager.

She said the city operated with a stronger commission in the past, and everyone worked together for the good of the City.

Jamison agrees with the city manager form of government, saying he had no changes to make to the Charter –– as long as it was followed correctly.

“We’re the oversight,” Jamison said. “I think the way the system is now, the citizens have more input than they know because they elect us. It is our job to hold the city manager accountable.”

Davis recommends that each commissioner act as a liaison between the departments and the city commission, as well as approve any transaction over $1,000. He also suggested the commission be allowed to approve the hiring of City employees.

Several High Springs’ residents voiced their anger at the commission for ignoring the current Charter and skipping over a Charter requirement that changes would pass through a citizen Charter Review Board.

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