As both Mark Herron and Darren Elkind, the two opposing lawyers in the Oct. 25 public hearing regarding Helen Miller’s seat on the White Springs Town Council, agreed: the council took upon itself a solemn responsibility with the hearing.
It was the council that charged Miller with malfeasance, misfeasance or non-feasance while in office at its June meeting when it moved to declare her seat forfeited.
It was that same council that then heard the evidence at last week’s public hearing and issued the verdict on whether Miller would indeed have to give up her seat.
But in doing so, the council started down a slippery slope.
One of the four charges heard at the quasi-judicial hearing against Miller involved her asking if staff could move chairs from one building to another to host a dinner for the Suwannee River League of Cities, which Miller serves as the organization’s president.
Herron, Miller’s lawyer, called the charge “probably one of the most trivial charges in terms of trying to deprive the people of their representative on this board that is imaginable.”
We agree that it’s hard to imagine how making a request about moving tables and chairs can lead to someone losing their elected office.
Watergate, this is not.
In fact, Elkind even admitted that the charge seemed petty, although he quickly touted the importance of not interfering with employees’ jobs and responsibilities.
Petty and trivial as it may be, the council — by virtue of a 3-1 vote from Mayor Rhett Bullard, Vice-Mayor Tonja Brown and Willie Jefferson with only Walter McKenzie voting against — decided it still constituted a willful violation of the town’s charter. They also voted her in violation on the other three allegations of questionable employee pay requests and overstepping through unilateral direction to city staff.
And in doing so, the council opened itself up to the potential for more seat forfeiture hearings in the future.
McKenzie earlier in the hearing admitted to having made requests of Police Chief Tracy Rodriquenz.
“I’ve asked Chief Rodriquenz to do things, I’ve asked her if she would mind taking care of the bicycles for the Suwannee Bike (Association) that were donated to the kids for the Christmas program,” McKenzie said, later adding that he also contacted the supervisor of utilities about a water main break that flooded his yard, which could be interpreted as a no-no: “According to the way we’re doing business here tonight, I could be charged with a violation of the charter. And I will openly stand up and say, ‘Yes I did that.’”
That admission seemed to have jogged Rodriquenz’s memory, who had just said that Miller was the lone council member who asked for her help.
“Everybody asks me to do things,” she said. “He’s absolutely right in that he’s come to me about the bicycles and I believe Miss Tonja has come to me about hot dogs.
“It’s whatever the community needs.”
Except requesting help to fulfill the community’s needs apparently is a willful violation of an express prohibition of the charter.
At least, that is what the council declared last week.