The Live Oak Charter Review Committee met at City Hall on Oct. 15 to continue working out details for revisions in the city charter and whether the position of mayor should be eliminated and if the city should continue to have a city administrator or change to a city manager form of government.
Councilman John Yulee
Councilman John Yulee wasn’t present at the last meeting, so he was given an opportunity to speak before the committee. Yulee began by saying he had some concerns about the changes the committee proposes to make. He said he wanted to share some things in his heart that he felt were important. He asked for the committee to summarize what their plans were and that he would then address them.
Committee Chairman Tommy Jefferson said they invited the Live Oak City Council to their last meeting to voice their opinions on what items within the charter they thought needed to be revised. Other reasons included elimination of the position of mayor and the changing of the City Administrator to City Manager form of government. He said much of the revisions had already been taken care of by ordinance, but he wanted to know why there was a desire for the council to change some of the language in the charter.
“I think I was the only one who voted not to get rid of the mayor’s position,” said Yulee. “I grew up in Live Oak and it’s very important to me.”
He said one thing he’s learned is that sometimes change can hurt people. He said change can be good, but getting rid of the position of mayor wasn’t and that it would be hurtful. Yulee’s reasoning was that in 1990, he ran for the chief of police when that position was an elected one. He said at that time, the council had voted to abolish the chief’s position and to consolidate it with the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office.
“The council felt that during the situation, that we no longer needed an elected position as a police chief,” said Yulee. “So, what the council did is abolish the police department for four years.”
He said after the four years, they brought the position back as an appointed one.
“You really don’t stand a chance when there is a group of people and that’s the way they feel when they want to get rid of someone,” said Yulee. “That’s the way that I felt in my heart. They got rid of me and I never had the opportunity to serve as police chief, but I had all the certification having graduated out of Metro Police Academy.”
With that said, Yulee asked them where would he be today if all the city councilors were appointed instead of elected positions. He said there are young people who would like to serve as mayor, city administrator or on the city council.
“If it were an elected position, the people would have the right to vote on who they want to go in these offices,” said Yulee. “I’m urging y’all tonight to not get rid of the mayor’s position because you never know when (Mayor Sonny Nobles) might retire.
Although Yulee agreed the position was mainly ceremonial, he urged council not to alter the charter in regards to the removal.
Yulee said he fully agreed to the city having a city manager, but was adamantly opposed to abolishing the position of mayor.
Live Oak Police Department
Committee Vice Chair Stefan Blue asked Yulee why the police department had been consolidated years ago. Yulee said he wasn’t a council member then, only a police officer and was told there was a problem with some of the officers, that they were taking advantage of some of the city council members. He said the mayor might explain it better.
“First off, I want to say that I opposed that,” said Nobles. “It was consolidation and I opposed it. It was suggested because they thought it would save money.”
Nobles said it didn’t happen the way council expected it to at the time. He said the sheriff at that time frequently demanded more and more money, but the city wasn’t getting the services they needed. Nobles said they only had one officer in the city and the response time was terrible causing the public to become disgruntled. After this had gone on for some time, Nobles said he called a town hall meeting in his district and also invited council.
“We had some discourse,” said Nobles. “I finally asked the people there, ‘Do you want your police department back?‘ and there was maybe 75 to 100 people there, they all said they wanted it back.”
Nobles said it wasn’t a council meeting per se, but they voted that night to reinstate the Live Oak Police Department.
Yulee thanked the committee for inviting him and allowing him to speak his mind. Nobles was then given a proper opportunity to speak before them.
Nobles done with politics
“I just want to say, I’m not going to run for office,” said Nobles. “I’ve got eight more months. None of this has anything to do with me. I’m through. I’ve given 38 years of my life to Live Oak as councilman and mayor.”
Nobles said there was a charter review about two years ago and that every item (about 10) on the charter referendum pertained to the position of mayor.
“I tell you, it was a mayor’s witch hunt, it was a witch hunt against me,” said Nobles. “There’s no doubt about it. You can’t tell me that there wasn’t something else wrong on that charter that needed to be corrected.”
He said he has no administrative authority in that no one reports to him and he doesn’t tell anyone what to do. He pointed to Live Oak City Administrator Kerry Waldron and said he was the man with the authority. He asked the committee to later ask Waldron if Nobles ever interfered with any of his responsibilities.
Nobles said after the charter referendum two years ago, he was very aware of what he was supposed to do and not do and that what he is supposed to do is important. He said what he makes is a meager salary, but what he does more than pays for it. He said he was faithful to the job and that he’s at City Hall constantly and more than any mayor he’s known in Live Oak. Nobles asked that the position not be eliminated as he was asked almost daily to sign declarations, proclamations, requested at churches, to attend meetings, fundraisers and other events. He said these are all the time, everyday, evenings and weekends.
“You’ve got to have a mayor, people,” said Nobles. “Mayor, basically as a ceremonial position except for the few things that are left in the charter that are the checks and balances that y’all don’t need to mess with.”
He said again in eight months he would be gone, but asked for the welfare of Live Oak, for them to leave the position alone.
Councilman Adam Prins was present for the sole purpose of answering any questions anyone might have had for him in regard to his opinion. He was absent from the last committee meeting, but had previously sent City Clerk John Gill his thoughts on why the mayor position should be incorporated into one of the councilman’s position. He thought every year, a councilman should assume the role of mayor and execute any of the contracts and other mayoral duties.
“Just go to a League of Cities conference, you’ll meet tons of people that are elected council people, but they serve a year as mayor,” said Prins.
He said just as the committee elected chair persons and vice-chairs, so would city council vote who would be mayor for a year.
Blue said he had been at the League of Cities website to try and clarify what form of government Live Oak falls under which is actually defined as “strong council/weak mayor”, but is a bit of a hybrid; the mayor is somewhat more than ceremonial. They all agreed this was not entirely unusual to have a mix of the responsibilities between a council and mayor.
Blue brought up an interesting point that it seemed that the titles administrator and manager were synonymous and it was actually up to council to define what responsibilities were expected from the position.
“I think it comes down to what the council will allow him to do,” said Blue. “It’s about what responsibilities and authority you’re going to give him.”
He added, “I know he (Waldron) can do the job. I think we’re playing with a word too much.”
Nobles stood up again and said that there was no reason for them to change the charter. He said the council members are the bosses and their duties are to make the policies and laws for the city of Live Oak and the changes they make can be done through ordinances.
“They can write in anything they want to,” said Nobles. “Whether you call it administrator or manager, it doesn’t matter.”
Prins said when former City Administrator Bob Farley was there, there was a lot of council involvement. He said Farley involved the council on a lot of issues that probably shouldn’t have been done. Prins said he didn’t want to disparage Farley, but he was prone to involve people.
“I promised myself that when we (council) found a professional to do this job, I was going to leave him alone and I’ve done that,” said Prins. “I’m very pleased at what I’m seeing out of Mr. Waldron.”
The committee soon wrapped up the meeting and decided their next meetings would be held on Nov. 19 and Dec. 17 at 6 p.m.