Dade City needs to add greater transparency to its City Commission's method of conducting public business. The commission is scheduled later this month to hear proposed changes — no binding votes in workshops, no voting on nonagenda items during regular meetings and a standing invitation for public comment at all city meetings. Commissioners should endorse these new rules in the aftermath of a majority's recent ploy to create a new job at city hall in a predetermined vote that came during a work session with no public comment. The vote was legal, but detrimental to good government and discouraging to public debate.
On Oct. 21, in a workshop setting, a three-person majority of Jim Shive, Eunice Penix and Mayor Camille Hernandez voted to split the job of city clerk/finance director into two positions amid rationalizations of greater efficiency and improved customer service. In reality, the trio added $4,000 to the city payroll in salary and benefit costs during a tight budget year in which the commission could accommodate one-time bonuses, but not across-the-board raises for city employees.
Worse, the maneuvering to strip long-time employee Jim Class of his clerk's duties and the attempt to promote his assistant came without formal job descriptions for the two roles or a customary job posting to seek applicants for the newly created position. Class' designated successor, assistant city clerk Joanna Akers, hadn't even applied for the job when the majority offered her the new role. The whole episode carried a whiff of retaliation toward Class for some unspecified reason. It also smacked of micromanaging by Shive, a former long-time utilities department employee, and hypocrisy from Hernandez who campaigned for office seven years ago on a platform promising inclusive and collaborative governing. Inclusion should extend beyond two other commission members.
The City Charter allows the commission to split the combined city clerk/finance director job into two positions and the recent vote now means the commission will have direct oversight of four employees: city manager, city attorney, city clerk and financial officer. It's a bit much for a city government representing just 6,500 people. If Shive, Hernandez and Penix truly want to boost efficiency, they would ask the voters to consider a charter change to make the clerk and finance director answerable directly to the city manager. That would eliminate the temptation to make rash (or punitive) changes to the organizational chart from the dais and would allow the commission to correctly focus on policy rather than on day-to-day operations at city hall.
It's an idea worthy of public discussion — just as long as the discussion comes in a commission meeting as part of a publicly noticed agenda item.