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City Commission meeting: Citizens fill meeting with comments

Nancy Taylor: Greene Publishing, Inc.

The members of the Madison City Commission gathered on Tuesday, Nov. 14, for their regular monthly meeting. During their meeting, they covered issues ranging from approving sale of public property to approval of ordinances regarding land development regulations.

The citizen participation portion of the meeting began with James Glaser, who came to voice complaints concerning what he felt was the City’s lack of support and respect as he and his wife have put together the “Tell-a-bration” event. He stated that, even though this is the fourth annual event, the City has lied to him when he has been told that certain things would be done by the City to help promote the event (specifically, hanging the banner in town at least seven days prior to the event).

Glaser’s wife also spoke and referenced the amount of volunteer time she had put into preparing for the Tell-a-bration by going into the schools and talking to/and working with the students to help them develop their story-telling skills. She stressed that she and her husband were simply trying to do something positive for the City’s young people, yet the City government did not seem supportive.

Before she left the microphone, she invited each commissioner to attend the event. She said they should “come and see it for yourself.” She also asked for permission to approach the commissioners, which was granted, and she placed an event flier in each of their hands.

Commissioner Thompson said the Glasers had approached her about hanging the Tell-a-bration banner seven days ahead of the event. This was a verbal discussion, and nothing was placed in writing. The commissioners decided to refund the Glasers’ $100.

Thompson also recommended that some type of form/contract be drawn up for future use when requests of this type are made, and then require those making the request to go through City Hall.

Donnell Davis was the next citizen to voice concern about an issue. He and a group of fellow citizens, are concerned as to whether or not ethics violations are being committed by some of the commissioners. One of his complaints referenced potential conflicts of interest Commissioners who are also local business owners might have. He questioned whether or not their services were being favored over other businesses. Another concern he raised involved whether or not certain Sunshine laws were being completely followed.

To this, Commissioners Catron and Thompson responded that this is a small town, and they do see each other outside of City Hall (at places like church), but they are very careful not to discuss City Commission business when away from meetings.

Repeatedly, Davis said he was not coming with accusations, just questions. However, he had copies of several e-mails from public record files that he referenced as he spoke.

As the meeting moved forward to the next item on the agenda, Community Development Director Charles D. Hitchcock began by telling the Commission that he frequently receives positive comments from people traveling through Madison about the beauty of the city. He indicated that, in fact, some have relocated to Madison because of the beauty of the city and the charm of the people.

Hitchcock also presented first readings of several ordinances regarding land development regulations and building codes. The ordinances referencing land development were primarily about bringing Madison’s codes in line with the federal floodplain regulations. One of the building code ordinances dealt with elevation, which is also a floodplain issue. Another dealt with the granting of permits for loft dwelling issues and parking.

As the meeting continued, City Manager Bennett told the commissioners of local citizen Lisa Frieman’s desire to purchase the right-of-way behind her home.

Frieman stepped forward to speak concerning her request after concerns were raised about the possibility of in-ground utilities that might need to be accessed by city employees being restricted. Frieman assured them it was not her intent to keep authorized people from being on her property. She stated that there had been numerous times when there had been “parties” taking place in her yard, and she was simply tired of “cleaning up the mess” that often included trash and empty beer cans and bottles.

In keeping with the rules regarding public disclosure, City Manager Bennett told the commissioners that he lives close to Frieman.

The commissioners voted to approve Frieman’s request, and they authorized the city attorney and the city clerk to draw up the documents.

In other business, the commissioners voted to renew their contract for the city’s auditing services with Powell & Jones, CPA for another three years.

Madison Public Works/Sanitation Department Superintendent David Floyd came to the Commission asking them to consider revising the Sanitation Ordinance so the fees charged for sanitation services would be more equitable throughout the city.

The next item discussed was placing a freeze on non-emergency capital expenditures. It was decided this was an item that first needed to be addressed internally allowing for input from all city department heads.

Other issues directly impacting city employees included pursuing grants/loans through the United States Dept. of Agriculture to obtain police and fire vehicles and equipment. Police Chief Alexander, Fire Chief Jordan and City Manager Bennett have all been involved in this process since much of it has been on-going in order to maintain updated equipment.

In addition to using these funds for equipment and vehicles, part of the funds would be used for renovations to the Madison Fire Department building. Jordan said firefighters have been staying in the building 24 hours/day for eight months, and the building was not designed for that type of use.

City Manager Bennett then brought the commission up-to-date on a couple more issues. The first was the solicitation of proposals to remove debris from city streets following weather emergencies. Bennett recommended choosing only one firm for this purpose, even if it’s simply for the purpose of receiving an assessment of damages.

Next, Bennett presented the bids regarding parking areas for Sumpter James Park, and the contract was awarded to the lowest bidder, C.M. Brandies, Inc.

The selection process for Madison’s new city manager was next on the agenda.

Commissioner Catron mentioned the fact that he had sent letters to his fellow commissioners on Thursday, Oct. 26, expressing the need to expedite this process so a new manager could be selected, and in place, prior to Bennett’s departure in order to provide the smoothest transition possible. Catron also informed the commissioners that he had mentioned the vacancy while he was attending the recent Florida League of Cities meeting.

The Commissioners decided they would advertise and accept applications through Friday, Dec. 8.  Then a special meeting would be called to review the applications and choose between three and five applicants to move forward with background checks.  Commissioners would then consider the matter during the regular December meeting, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, with the hopes of making their final selection.

As the meeting began to wind down, Bennett gave the monthly finance report. He explained to the commissioners the difference between the “actuals” reported versus the amended budget report (which is required to balance the budget).

Bennett also provided his monthly report, and the commissioners accepted it as presented.

When they moved on to “items of interest” before adjourning the meeting, Commissioner Catron mentioned that Chris Norris had moved outside the city limits, so his seat on the Planning and Zoning Commission needed to be filled.

Seeing there was no further business to address, the meeting was adjourned.

The next Commission meeting for the City of Madison will be held Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 5:30 p.m. The meeting will take place in Madison City Hall, located at 321 SW Rutledge St., in Madison.

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