DADE CITY — A divided City Commission voted in a heated workshop session this past week to split the city clerk/finance position into two jobs.
But the next night, at the commission's regular meeting, City Attorney Karla Owens had to assure commissioners that the action was legal — even though the public was not notified of the impending vote and it took place in a workshop, not a regular meeting.
In response to an email from Commissioner Bill Dennis and a query from Commissioner Scott Black at Tuesday's meeting — both of whom voted against the proposal and questioned its legality — Owens said because the group did not vote on an ordinance, resolution or any other type of legislative action, it was a lawful action.
"Even though there was no effort at all to include the public?" asked Dennis.
Owens acknowledged that the issue is controversial, but the fact that there was no opportunity for public discourse does not matter.
"I feel comfortable defending this in court," Owens said.
The issue of separating the position — held by Jim Class for more than 20 years — first came up during budget workshops over the summer, but was not explored in depth or acted on until Commissioner Jim Shive brought it up at the close of the commission's Oct. 8 meeting. Shive said he thought restructuring the position would improve customer service and create a more balanced workload for Class.
Shive made a motion to split the job, which Commissioner Eunice Penix seconded, saying most other Florida cities have separate clerk and finance director jobs. Black objected to taking a vote, saying he wanted more information and discussion about the cost and effects to the city. Black also noted that a new position was not included in the recent budget, nor were there any job descriptions for the two positions.
Shive suggested they could fill it from within with a current city employee, at little cost. The commission agreed to hold off on a vote until they could discuss the issue in a workshop.
The 3-2 vote Monday did not include job descriptions or an effective date for the separate positions.
At the close of Tuesday's meeting, Mayor Camille Hernandez, who voted with Shive and Penix to split the job, told commissioners a vote was needed to appoint assistant city clerk Joanna Akers as the new city clerk, with a $2,800 pay raise and to make it effective Nov. 1. Shive and Penix motioned and seconded, respectively, but a vote was delayed when Dennis questioned whether Akers even wants the job.
Akers said she was interested, but wanted to discuss details before accepting it. The commission voted unanimously to work out details with Akers and vote on putting her into the clerk position, along with job descriptions for the clerk and finance director, at the Nov. 12 meeting.