Midway city officials heard from mayor Ella Barber at their April 4th meeting that she had recently sent a certified letter to councilman Jerrod Holton listing a summary of his attendance at meetings. The period included in her letter covered a period of time from May, 2011 to March, 2013. Barber told the board via Skype that her letter stated that any council member who fails to attend three regular council meetings without being excused by the council shall forfeit his office.
Most council members were unaware of the letter going to Holton and objected to its being brought up in the meeting. “We did not know about the letter and it wasn’t in our package. How can we take action on something we haven’t read?” asked Delores Madison.
“There’s a violation and an opportunity to redeem himself,” said Barber. “He’s called me to say he’s going to be absent. That’s not a violation of the Sunshine Law,” she continued. “Even though he called in to me or the office to say he couldn’t attend, that’s not an excused absence.”
Holton responded to the mayor’s claims: “The citizens who elected me to represent them did not vote me in to attend illegal meetings. Our agendas are not advertised per the State of Florida requirements. The attachment (referred to by the mayor) to the certified letter to me was not attached in mine. Every single time I could not make a meeting, I called in, every time, saying I was going to be absent, whether the staff told you or not. Ella Barber was in the same situation in 2008 and the council came to her defense. The charter does not define what an excused or unexcused absence is,” he said.
Councilwoman Delores Madison said no one on the board got the attachment to the certified letter or a copy of the letter.
Mayor pro tem Chuck Willis said the city’s policies have no definition of an excused or unexcused absence.
“You can’t crucify or convict someone (for this),” Willis said.
Board member Charlie Smith agreed. “I’ve called in, and called in sick and I was still marked absent. We need to quit playing games,” said Smith.
Councilman David Knight added, “I’m hearing tonight that he (Holton) called in to the city manager. I take that as an excused absence.”
Jerrod Holton summed up: “This issue tonight - if we were policy-driven this wouldn’t have come up. This is about personal agendas. As soon as one of us votes against an agenda item, this thing becomes an issue.”
Councilwoman Allean Robinson said the city already has so many problems and issues. “We need to be of one accord. We need to get this board straight. Since I’ve been here the past two years, we’ve been on a roller coaster. I came to help the citizens. We don’t need to be name-calling. Let’s try to get this city in good order,” she said.
Chuck Willis made a motion to update the city’s policies and hold a workshop on the issue. The motion passed in a 6-1 vote. Ella Barber was the lone negative, saying, “I refuse.”
Council members disagreed over approving a resolution to receive a grant for $89,000 and take out a $200,000 loan for the city’s proposed senior center.
“The city has found out that money was taken out of the city’s budget for the second fire station. What’s to say we won’t do that again?” asked Delores Madison. “If you’re already in the red, why would you take out an additional loan and put more pressure on yourself?” she asked.
Interim city manager Roosevelt Morris said if the city waited until one grant project is completed, additional grants the city could go after might be lost. “You have to do all of these at the same time and keep moving forward,” said Morris.
Midway resident Samuel Stevens said there was adequate money in the budget for the small loan that the council has already approved. “Once the money comes in reimbursing the city for the fire station, you’ll have money for reserves above what the contractors would get,” said Stevens.
A vote to table the issue failed. A vote to approve the resolution failed.
A first reading of several charter amendments was read at the meeting. Second reading and vote will be in May. The amendments will be included in the city’s next newsletter to citizens and will be advertised several times, the city manager said. A special election will be held on the charter amendments, probably in May, Morris said.