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City Council Hires Special Magistrate: City Manager Says, "Everybody has to start somewhere."

Councilman Paulk: "I have questions"

Councilman Paulk (center) questions City Manager Johnson, as Mayor Witt (left) and Councilman Ward look on.

LAKE CITY, FL – Monday night, controversy and questions surrounded the appointment of Gainesville attorney Jennifer Springfield as Lake City's first Code Enforcement Special Magistrate. City Councilman Zack Paulk questioned the experience of Ms. Springfield and told City Manager Wendell Johnson and the Council, "I have some questions. I don't have questions of Ms. Springfield." A short time later City Manager Johnson told the Council, "Everybody has to start somewhere."

The appointment of a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate for Lake City has been on the boards since October 2013, when City Manager Johnson first proposed the position.

Code enforcement cases are heard in the City by the Code Enforcement Board, which is composed of citizens of Lake City, who could be considered as a jury of peers.

City Manager Johnson listens as Councilman Paulk articulates his reservations.

In October 2013, City Manager Johnson reported to the City Council, "A Special Magistrate will provide for a more meaningful due process and a Magistrate would provide the most effective means for enhanced service and code compliance."

On December 2, 2013, the City amended its City Code to provide for the creation of a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate, while also retaining its Code Enforcement Board.

On April 7, 2014, City Manager Johnson recommended a one year contract and the appointment of Richard Stadler of the City's long time law firm, Darby & Peele, for the position of special magistrate. Mr. Stadler withdrew his name from consideration.

The Evaluation Committee Did It

City Manager Johnson was one of the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) Directors that was responsible for hiring Ms. Springfield; was a supporter of Ms. Springfield; and most recently supported retaining her as the NFBA imploded.

The history of the NFBA is legendary in North Central Florida. Ms. Springfield took over the reins of general counsel of the NFBA in 2012 and has earned monthly fees in the tens of thousands of dollars. Nowhere in her response to Lake City did she mention that she ever was and is employed by the legendary North Florida Broadband Authority.

On June 16, 2014, City Manager (CM) Johnson came back to the Council with a recommendation to hire Gainesville attorney Jennifer Springfield as Lake City's first Special Magistrate. CM Johnson did not take the recommendation as his own, but called it the Evaluation Committee recommendation.

The Evaluation Committee was CM Johnson and two City employees who are under his direct supervision: Asst. City Manager Grayson Cason; Director of Growth Management, Bob Hathcox, who CM Johnson called the City Planning Director, but whose official title is Growth Management Director. CM Johnson hired Director Hathcox in October of 2013 and has the authority to fire him. He also can fire Mr. Cason.

The Evaluation Committee report submitted by City Manager Johnson to the Council as part of the June 16th agenda material gave no useful information to the City Council. City Councilman Paulk was the only Council member who was not willing to hire Ms. Springfield that night. The Council put off entering into a contract with Ms. Springfield and decided to have a workshop.

Monday Night

Councilman Paulk still had questions. He asked CM Johnson, "How come she's ranked so much higher than Folds and Walker from a reference standpoint... Maybe I'm missing something."

Councilwoman Moses listens to Mr. Paulk

CM Johnson told the Council, "We had three independent scores – independent. I did not talk to Mr. Cason. I did not talk to Mr. Hathcox. I got no dog in the hunt. Yes, I have worked with Ms. Springfield in the NFBA. This is the Council's choice. I'm not recommending her."

CM Johnson continued, "I want the council to do what the Council wants to do and what's in the best interest of this City and if any of you -- if you feel compelled that you want to postpone this; you want to go out again; and you wanna do the scoring -- I'll be glad to relinquish that to the Council, so there will be no second guessing of the staff's procedures for scoring these kind of RFPs... If you're not comfortable with this and that -- then don't do it... everybody has to start somewhere."

CM Johnson added, "I know Ms. Springfield does have code enforcement experience. She's adequately familiar with Florida statute 163. She's on the Code Enforcement Board now. She's the vice-chairman of the Code Enforcement Board."

Ms. Springfield was in the audience. She told the Council, "The Planning Commission."

Councilman Paulk said, "I want to make sure that we make the right decision as far as getting someone that's really qualified."

Long time City Councilman George Ward added, "I agree with some of what you said, Mr. Paulk. This is an at will position. There is no term or contract. That [her position] can be nullified at any point.  I think we should give her a chance and see what she does."

The first line of the resolution before the Council is as follows: The City of Lake City, Florida ("City") hereby appoints Jennifer B. Springfield ("Springfield"), Attorney at Law, as Special Magistrate to serve for a term of three (3) years.

The second line begins: Jennifer B. Springfield has tendered to the City a proposed contract (the "Springfield Agreement") for her services in her capacity as Special Magistrate.

Ms. Springfield wrote her own contract. City Manager Johnson did not present it to the City Council for its consideration.

City Councilwoman Melinda Moses spoke, "I agree with you Mr. Paulk and had some reservations as well. Neither candidate was interviewed -- face to face -- there's some questions. How would you -- but -- but -- as I thought about it -- you know -- when I read -- I thought it was a three-year contract and that we were -- ya know -- within a three-year contract, but as you spoke Mr. Ward -- it's a at will."

Councilman Eugene Jefferson was silent.

Mayor Witt said, “We could have brought everybody in, but we didn't.”

The Mayor called the vote.

Except for Councilman Paulk, Mr. Ward, Mayor Witt, Ms. Moses, and Mr. Jefferson all were in favor of hiring attorney Jennifer Springfield to a 3 year term as Lake City’s first Code Enforcement Special Magistrate.

The City Council also gave up its right of final approval of Ms. Springfield's contract to City Manager Johnson and City Attorney Darby.

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