Williams and Rush face off in High Springs election
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 7:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 7:12 p.m.
In the High Springs City Commission Seat 4 race, former Commissioner Byran Williams is critical of the current commission majority, while candidate Pat Rush says the decisions of past commissioners, including Williams, continue to bring budget woes.
Occupation: Pastor, Mount Carmel United Methodist Church; owner Byran's Car Wash
Family: Single. Four children. Five grandchildren.
Occupation: Electrical engineer, University of Florida Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering.
Family: Wife, Robyn. Two daughters.
The two candidates differ on the further expansion of the city's sewer system, the City Commission majority's decision to bring back the police dispatch center and a proposed charter amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot that would cap the amount the city may borrow in any single loan or bond issue at $1 million — unless there is a supermajority City Commission vote and approval in a voter referendum.
Williams, 54, served on the commission from 2004 to 2009, when he lost a re-election bid. He subsequently was elected to an unfinished term in 2010 before losing a re-election bid in 2011.
In his current campaign, Williams says the city has to move in a different direction than the majority has taken with 3-2 decisions involving the dispatch center, the charter amendment on the borrowing cap and the hiring and eventual firing of a city manager with no prior government administration experience.
"Three of the seated city commissioners do things they want instead of serving the majority of the people in High Springs," Williams said.
Rush, on the other hand, said current commissioners are dealing with the aftermath of the financial choices of past commissioners, including Williams.
He pointed to the sewer system, on which the city currently owes about $8.5 million and where revenues lag. He also noted Williams' vote for the purchase of the "Pigg property" in 2006. That year, a prior commission bought that residential property for about $610,000 under the premise it would be needed for a future state road project that never became reality. In 2010, the city sold the property at a loss for $330,000.
Rush also said a "constant problem" in recent years has been the performance of upper-level management, including the manager and the attorney.
Williams said High Springs needs a professional city manager to fill the current vacancy and faulted the current City Commission for its decision to bring in Jeri Langman, a political supporter of some commissioners with no prior government experience, as first an interim and then full-time manager. The three elected officials who voted to hire Langman — Mayor Dean Davis and Commissioners Bob Barnas and Linda Clark Gestrin — have since voted to fire her.
On the sewer issue, Rush opposes future expansion for financial reasons.
"We absolutely do not want to expand the sewer," he said. "It is a vacuum that is draining the city dry."
Williams, on the other hand, supports building out the system as originally planned.
"Finish the process," he said. "It's going to have to be paid for, and that burden is now going to fall on the people on the system now. The more people you have on it, the more revenue you have."
They also differ on the majority's decision to bring back the dispatch center, which has a budget of approximately $250,000 this fiscal year.
Williams said that when he was in office, he had misgivings about the city giving up its own dispatch center to contract with the county's Combined Communications Center. But now he says the CCC is doing well and he sees no reason for the city to take dispatch back.
Rush supports the City Commission majority's decision on the dispatch center. He said it would allow the city more control over its costs in the long-term because the payment the city makes to the CCC would increase from 60 percent of the actual costs to 100 percent when High Springs' population reaches 6,000. He also said it's unclear what share the city would have to pay for future computer system upgrades at the CCC.
Rush said he also supports the referendum to limit borrowing without supermajority approval from the commission and then voters.
"Philosophically, I oppose referendums to tie the hands of our elected officials … but five years ago, eight years ago, if we had this referendum we would not be in this budget trouble," he said. "So I am in favor of it."
Williams opposes the proposed charter amendment on borrowing.
"It would tie the hands of the commission, and that goes against the idea of electing people who are in office to make decisions for the people of the city of High Springs," he said.
In Seat 5, incumbent Scott Jamison will return to office unopposed after a challenger, Edward Riess, dropped out of the race.