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Lake City News

LC City Manager Search Struggles Along: City Attorney a Stick In the Spokes

Photo: Annette via Pixabay| Columbia County Observer graphic

widget-city-manager-storiesLAKE CITY, FL – The latest Lake City City Manager search took another confusing step on Monday night when, out of the blue, the City Clerk provided the City Council with a tentative timetable and interview schedule for the three City Manager candidates.

The timetable was distributed to the Council members and left in front of each of them before the meeting was called to order. Mayor Witt or the City Clerk could have asked for the item to be added to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting as an item for discussion. It wasn't. No one from the public would have known the Clerk prepared the schedule had Councilman Hill not asked about it during the Council member comment portion of the meeting, which occurs just before adjournment.

Read about the candidates, view and download their information, and see how the Council got to this point here: LC City Manager Search: Now Down To Three Candidates – City Has No Plan Moving Forward

The schedule is more than just an interview schedule. It is a three-day plan for the interview process: a tour of the City, meetings with City staff, a meet-and-greet for all three candidates, and a final interview.

With limited public discussion about the process before Monday night, it was unclear how this schedule/plan suddenly appeared.

Big Trouble:
The City's New City Attorney, Clay Martin

It is against the law in Florida for the City Attorney or others to act as a liaison between members of the City Council.

Attorney Martin met with each Council member individually to review the hiring/interview process. Mr. Martin had the meetings in City Hall, where he received input from each council member. Those meetings were responsible, in good measure, for the City Clerk's plan, which she did not pluck out of thin air.

After the March 4 Council meeting, the Mayor could have scheduled the topic to build consensus moving forward. He didn't. This lack of action caused former City Councilman and legislative expert Glenel Bowden to email the City before Monday's meeting to ascertain what was happening with the City Manager process. There was no response.

Your reporter was advised that City Attorney Clay Martin approved City Councilman Jernigan's plan to be alone with the three candidates during his "secret" meetings with the Council members.

It is unclear how many other discussions with the City Attorney about City business are going on. The role of the City Attorney is not to have his nose in the non-legal business of the City, nor is it to be the attorney for the citizens of Lake City, which is a challenge for Mr. Martin, who believes he is the attorney for everybody.

Mayor Stephen Witt
Mayor Stephen Witt is the only City official elected City wide. He has been Mayor for the past two decades. (file)

The Plan to hire a City Manager - Hmmm

link to city manager scheduleThe plan should provide equality and equal access for all citizens, Council members, and candidates.

It does not do that. In what would seem to be a typo, but is not, day one of the plan has City Councilman Ricky Jernigan spending the day alone with all the candidates. It is called "Tour of the City with Council Member Ricky Jernigan." Tour time: 7.5 hours.

Day two of the plan then has Interim City Manager Johnson giving another tour for three hours, this time of City facilities, followed by three hours of Q & A with the department directors. The plan is silent about other City workers attending or joining these sessions.

A series of one-on-one interviews will be scheduled between the Council members and the candidates. Councilman Jernigan is not scheduled. He opted out. He needs to be scheduled and then not participate.

According to the plan, there will be a public group interview (Q&A) with the candidates after all the one-on-one interviews are completed.

The Council Member Discussion

City Councilman Jake Hill
Without Councilman's Hill's remarks, there would have been no discussion about the City Manager search. (file)

If it had not been for Councilman Hill, there might not have been a word of discussion about the City Manager search.

At the very end of the meeting, during the Council member comments, Mr. Hill asked, "This interview schedule –  are we gonna meet with them singularly?"

Mayor Witt asked, "You mean the candidates?"

Councilman Hill answered, "Yeah."

Mayor Witt said he thought the Clerk "had it to do it individually."

That is not what the plan said.

Clerk Sikes advised the Council, "Mayor, Mr. Martin could report on [that]. He had independent meetings with each one of you, so he could probably report better on that."

City Attorney Martin responded, "Sure. I'm sorry, I didn't understand the question."

Councilman Hill:  "Are we gonna interview these candidates individually or as a group?"

city attorney Clay Martin
Is he treading where he is not supposed to tread?   (file)

Attorney Martin (as spoken): "As I understand what, uh, has been proposed? Uh, and, and the schedule that's in front of us right now? It's actually both. Uh, on day three, uh, there will be, uh, one-on-one interviews with, uh, each council member and, uh, each of the candidates, uh, with the exception of, uh, Councilman, uh, Jernigan, who has, uh, requested a, a different format for his, uh, individual interview time. And so, uh, his will be, uh, uh, with the, the group as a whole, uh, uh, for the first day. Uh, And then, uh, on, let's see."

Clerk Sikes help out the attorney, "Day three."

Attorney Martin asks, "Is it day three?"

Ms. Sikes again, "Day three."

Attorney Martin, "I didn't get a chance to study this, uh, okay. At 1:00 PM. Then we have the, I see, on day three now at 1:00 PM, then all three candidates would come in for an interview with the Council."

Did the Attorney poll the board?

Councilwoman Chavella Young
Councilwoman Chevella Young (file)

Councilwoman Young said, "I was one of the ones who agreed that they come in as a group on the last interview. But after considering, it really takes away when you have all their interviewing in a group. I really think that they should be separate interviews on that."

Ms. Young said the whole Council should interview them as a group, each one separately.

Councilman Hill added [abridged]: In the past, we brought the individuals in one by one for an interview. I disagree with this format here because I just think that if all three candidates are sitting there, they pretty much can, can feed off what the other one is saying. So, I think that we should bring them in one by one. That's the way it was in the past.

Councilman Jernigan gave his take on the interviews: "Well, I think all three of 'em should be sittin' around here. And then we have the full Council, and then we all just interview 'em one by one. You ask a question, I ask a question, and it just keeps on going. And then it comes back, back and forth until we get done. I think that that's the best way to do it – one, one on one... "Either way, it doesn't matter to me, but I, I, I think three days is a long stretch. I think we should bring him in on one day, give him a tour, come to the meeting, get the interview, get everything out of the way in one day. That's what I think."

Councilwoman Young reiterated, "This is a very serious matter... I would like to see [them]interview  individually."

Mayor Witt added, "I think that's the way I voted individual (unintelligible)."

The Mayor did not explain where or when he voted.

Attorney Martin: "(unintelligible)  Fine. Okay."

The Clerk commented on the timing and asked the Council members to take the draft schedule home and "kind of look at some dates."

The parent law firm, Folds & Walker, has a bunch of attorneys and has had no problems billing for all of them and sending alternative firm attorneys to different City meetings.

Clerk Sikes advised the Council, "Mr. Martin will be out of town... He'll be out town like the 16th through, lemme get it up here. He's like the morning of the... 16th, back about the morning of the 24th is what I have down. So that's going to rule out that second meeting in April... unless we start on a weekend and pull it through."

Mayor Witt had no problem with the whole City rearranging its City Manager interview schedule around the Attorney Martin schedule.

Councilman Ricky Jernigan
Councilman Ricky Jernigan (file)

Councilman Jernigan had his own ideas: "Well, we're talkin' about three days. I just don't think it's necessary for us to do three days with these candidates and this, this is not a rush. This is you, you doing your homework for all of us. We gotta do our homework and make sure we got the proper candidate for this position. I wanna take my time. That's the reason why I say we have prolonged this a long time. So now it's time for us to make a decision based on the information that we interviewed... It's a, it's a check and balance situation. So, again, we want to go ten days. I'm, you know, I can go ten days if you want. Three days is not long enough, maybe. So (he laughs)." 

Newly appointed Councilman James Carter had the final word, saying three days was "not an unreasonable amount of time."

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