Live Oak —
The Live Oak City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to place the Live Oak Chief of Police position on the ballot in May and let city voters decide if they want the position elected or appointed. Councilors Keith Mixon and Jacob Grantham voted against.
For the item to be placed on the May ballot, an ordinance will have to be drafted by the city attorney and a special called meeting could be held on Feb. 25, to hold the first reading of the ordinance. The second and final reading could be held during the council’s regular monthly meeting on March 11. The items for the ballot must be sent to the Supervisor of Election’s Office no later than March 14.
At a previous city council meeting, two recommendations were presented to the council from the Live Oak Charter Review Committee, one which supported placing the position on the ballot, and one that opted for it to remain appointed. The council agreed to take each recommendation under review. However, Tuesday night councilor John Yulee said he would like the position to be placed on the ballot for the people to decide.
“Mr. Yulee, what are the specific benefits of an elected police chief,” Grantham asked.
“I’ve been pondering this for about a month now, since we last talked about it. And the way I look at it, it’s favoritism,” Yulee said. “I got the definition of favoritism, and it says favoritism is unfair treatment to some people or showing special favor to someone. We are not in the business to show favoritism to anyone.”
Grantham then asked Yulee how favoritism has been shown within the police chief position.
“Once you get an appointed position, it’s favoritism,” Yulee responded. “An appointed position is considered favoritism ... It should be open for anyone to run for chief of police.”
“If that’s one department head you’re talking about, what about the fire chief? What about the public works director (or) finance director?” Grantham inquired.
“It’s not about (Police) Chief Buddy Williams,” Yulee said. “The position should be an elected position and let the people decide whether they want an appointed position or an elected position. What’s wrong with that?”
Grantham told Yulee and the council they do not have the authority to set qualifications in place for elected positions.
“Out of 410 municipalities in the state of Florida, five of them have police chiefs that are elected,” Grantham said. “There’s only five because of a reason. It doesn’t work.”
“If you elect a police chief, you have one control mechanism for that chief. You can control his or her budget,” Mixon said. “But if he wants to be a lousy police chief, he has the authority to be a lousy police chief (if elected). If he wants to be a dedicated police chief, he’ll be a dedicated police chief.”
“Those cities have an appointed police chief for a reason,” Mixon expounded. “You can require qualifications, minimum qualifications from experience to education, a plethora of other things. If you elect a police chief, you’re going to have minimum standards and you’re going to allow for anybody to run.”
“When the council is selecting that position, you have not the minimum standards, you have the maximum standards. You have the best one who applied for the job. It doesn’t matter (about the) color of your skin or anything else. It doesn’t matter. There will be no favoritism,” Grantham said. “There will be the person who stands up in front of the podium that comes to us. That’s a person that we pick collectively for the job.”
Prins said he was concerned with the recommendations that came from the charter review committee.
“The recommendation from the charter review committee dealt with one section of the charter, whether or not the police chief is elected,” Prins said. “They recommended that we put on the ballot; that we allow the people to decide if that should be an elected position or not. Say that we do that, there are no duties or responsibilities, there’s no salary (and) there’s no term. There’s nothing else outlined in any of the recommendations that came from the charter review committee for that position that would be, or would not be, created by the people that vote.”
“The charter review board did not get legal advice pertaining to what you’re talking about,” Yulee said.
“Yes, they did.” Prins replied.
City Attorney Erny Sellers was present at several meetings, including the Jan. 6 meeting where he recommended to the committee amending and adopting sections 24, 25, and 29 of the previously existing model city charter, which addressed the election term, salary, and duties and responsibilities of the police chief. That motion failed 2-3, with only Stefan Blue and Tommie Jefferson voting in favor.
“I, personally, disagree with an elected police chief. Having said that, I don’t have a problem letting the people vote how they want to be governed,” Prins said. “But, I refuse to put something on the ballot, something (that is) incomplete.”
After further discussion, Yulee made a motion to place the chief of police position on the ballot just as recommended by the charter review committee.
“I can tell you, I’m not interested in your motion as it stands,” Prins told Yulee. “Without an amendment to include bringing back sections 24, 25, and 29 ... I’m telling you, I can’t support it.”
Councilor Bennie Thomas asked Yulee to amend his motion to include sections of the model city charter.
“But that has not been (done) by the charter review committee,” Yulee said.
“It doesn’t need to have been done,” Prins said. “We can modify what the charter review committee did.”
The council then voted and the motion failed 2-3 with only Thomas and Yulee in favor.
After an uproar from most in the audience, Yulee then made another motion to place the position on the ballot, including sections 24, 25, and 29. The motion passed 3-2, Grantham and Mixon voting against.
Additional items for the ballot
The council voted 3-2 to put before the city residents a referendum to decide if they want to move to a city council/manager form of government or continue as is with a council/city administrator. Yulee and Thomas voted against.
Mixon made the motion to place the item on the ballot, which was seconded by Grantham for further discussion.
Grantham told the board the duties and responsibilities of the city manager needed to be addressed, and recommended the charter review committee’s recommendation of using the language provided in the model city charter.
“I look to the example of the county, they just went to and they gave the cart, the horse, and everything else to one person,” Prins said. “I don’t know how you think it’s working out. No disrespect at all to Mr. Harris ... I don’t like the way that it’s set up. I don’t like one man having all the power.”
Prins continued, “Five of us, elected by different areas of the city, get to come in here and represent our people and give our opinions collectively. I don’t like the idea of giving all of that, what the people elected us to do, to one person. I am very, very opposed to this idea.”
The council voted 3-2 to accept Mixon’s amendment to include the duties and responsibilities. Thomas and Prins voted against.
The council then voted on the amended motion, which passed 3-2, Thomas and Yulee voting against.