More debate in High Springs over manager
Effort to make interim manager permanent stirs passions
Published: Friday, January 27, 2012 at 8:05 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 27, 2012 at 10:57 p.m.
Political disputes continue in High Springs — with the latest involving a failed vote to hire the interim city manager as the permanent manager.
Thursday evening, commissioners were scheduled to discuss how to move ahead with the hiring of a permanent manager after four of five finalists dropped out of contention, leaving former Gainesville City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. or the possibility that the city would start its second search for a manager since October 2010.
Commissioner Linda Gestrin proposed a different route. She said the ongoing search and a review of applicants who had, in some cases, already applied twice was “undermining” interim City Manager Jeri Langman.
Gestrin moved to hire Langman, who had no government administration experience before she was hired as the interim manager in a late November 3-2 vote, as the city's permanent manager.
After some heated debate, Gestrin's motion failed 3-2.
Commissioner Bob Barnas, who shortly after his election initiated the commission's process of hiring Langman as interim manager, voted with Gestrin.
Mayor Dean Davis and Commissioners Eric May and Sue Weller were in dissent.
Davis said he believed the city should consider moving away from the form of government where the City Commission sets policy and a manager implements it and handles day-to-day operations. Weller and May had also opposed the initial decision in November for Gestrin to replace City Clerk Jenny Parham as interim manager.
On Thursday, Gestrin said Langman had provided commissioners with “eyes inside our city hall” and that was something they had lacked in the past.
May said that, when Langman was hired as interim manager, the majority who voted for her described an organizer who would come in and stabilize city government until the hiring of a permanent manager. He said he now feels the motive all along was to set the stage for her to be hired as the permanent manager.
May said he feels Langman's short tenure has divided city staff and has been characterized by “backbiting” and “political maneuvering.”
“I have never seen political tension in our city — and I'm not talking about the citizens, I'm talking about the staff — like it has been over the last couple of months,” May said. “It's disgusting.”
In response to May's comments about the initial hiring of Langman, Gestrin said nothing improper, “strange” or “unusual” occurred.
In the end, commissioners voted 4-1, with May in dissent, to have a workshop on how to proceed with the hiring of a manager.
May dissented because he wants an initial list of 31 applicants to again be reviewed at that meeting.
After that vote, Gestrin said she wanted Langman to “no longer be undermined” by some staff members and elected officials while serving as manager.
During the meeting, Davis and May also had a testy exchange after Davis said that, under the city's rules for meetings, he would not allow commissioners to “filibuster” and would limit each commissioner to two turns speaking on the motion before them, which, at the time, was to hire Langman.
May raised a “point of order” to ask where such a limitation was written in the city's policy.
“You can't call me out of order, son, and don't ever do that again,” Davis said, as he struck the gavel.
May then said he did not believe there was such a limitation either in the city's policies or Roberts Rules of Order. “Be careful what you say. You're challenging me, you're calling me a liar,” Davis responded.
Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or email@example.com.