Midway council members last Thursday, March 23rd took up a discussion for potential personnel action because of issues at the city's police department. City Manager Auburn Ford said he had had a meeting with Police Chief Tom Murray to try to clear the air in what had developed as an impasse between the two.
Ford said he had hoped to have a discussion with Murray, but the chief said if 'the manager wanted to make up scheduling for the department, the city would be broke by April,' and left the building.
Mayor Ronald Colston asked if there was any open discussion at that meeting; Ford said he had called the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to see if there were any issues going on that he needed to be aware of. A FDLE Special Agent and an inspector sent Ford a package containing a December 20, 2016 report, stating that most of the report contained Chief Murray's allegations against Ford's supposed wrongs.
In the report, Murray complained that Manager Ford was a convicted felon and had been appointed as manager three times for Midway. The two FDLE agents explained that appointing a convicted felon as a city official was not a violation of Florida Statutes.
Murray made the allegations that the city manager had interfered with his proposed departmental hirings by providing him with names of those he thought were suitable for the positions. The agents explained to Chief Murray that city managers' duties and responsibilities often include overseeing day-to-day operations of city departments. Moreover, city managers are responsible for administrative operations to include hiring and disciplining other city employees.
"This report really troubles me. It bothers me that he went to FDLE - that's wrong. His issues are administrative," said Ford.
Former City Attorney Henry Hunter said that Chief Murray had called him and asked for an opinion on the convicted felon issue, and Hunter said he didn't think a legal opinion was necessary, saying to Murray to go talk to FDLE.
"The chief’s position is a position of trust. He was hired (last November) as Interim Chief (and all went well). I lost confidence in him when he became the permanent chief," said Ford, adding he had scheduled Murray for managerial-issues training and that there had been a lot of blatant insubordination issues. He recommended that Murray be terminated immediately.
Councilman Zach Woods, a former police officer, said he had seen the insubordination instances by the police chief himself. Mayor Colston said he had also met with the city manager and police chief but didn't think termination would be the answer at that time. Councilwoman Quintealia Cato said the city's charter stated the chief of police can only be fired by the city manager. In a 4-3 vote Murray was terminated.
Earlier in the meeting, Attorney Steven G. Webster and an assistant came before the board to, in Mayor Colston's words, enlighten them about the procedures and protocol of the Florida Sunshine Law.
"If any member (of a governmental body) meets with another member of the board pending issues that would come before the body, it is a violation of the law. If you put (an issue into) an email, text, cell phone, we will litigate if it is a violation. (There are to be) no backwoods conversations, no emails, texts, etc. Florida has the broadest Sunshine Laws in the nation," the attorney said.
Council member Charlie Smith said the city has been talking about the issues between the city manager and police chief for three months. "Nothing's been said outside (of meetings). It's all public record," said Smith.
Attorney Webster finally admitted he and his firm were there representing Tom Murray. Midway's Interim Attorney Anthony Thomas, who had been appointed in a special-called meeting two weeks ago, said the attorneys' conversations indicate that there will be litigation pending.