MADEIRA BEACH — Controversy has erupted in the city over the issue of allowing the city to contract for a finance director.
Currently, the finance director is contracted externally. The subject has come up because of a referendum on that topic that was turned down by the public in the March 14 municipal election.
At the April 12 regular commission meeting, the topic was not on the agenda, but resident Bill Howell brought it up during the public comments portion of the meeting, reinforcing remarks he had made at the March 22 commission workshop.
“Is the city of Madeira Beach going to listen to the voters and move to hire a full-time finance director, or are you going to ignore the will of the voters?” Howell said.
The wording on Ballot Issue #2, which was defeated 537 to 427, reads as follows: “This charter amendment would amend Section 5.5 of the charter to provide the Board of Commissioners with the option to delegate to a contractor or firm to perform the services of the Director of Finance and City Treasurer. Should the charter be amended?”
During discussions at the recent workshop, City Attorney Thomas Trask said the charter does not require the finance director, or any other professional, to be an employee of the city. He said the ballot issue was not really necessary, but it would “give a stamp of approval to what we’re currently doing.”
He pointed out the city attorney position is also one that is contracted out.
Even with the defeat of the ballot issue, Trask said his opinion is “the charter still doesn’t require the City Treasurer to be an employee.”
City Manager Robin Gomez had said there is a savings to the city by using a contractor rather than a full-time employee who would be in a higher salary range and need to be offered benefits. A contractor, Andrew Laflin with Aclarian LLC, has served in the finance director position since 2020.
While Howell’s main point was that the voters “don’t want a contractor in that job,” he also objected to Trask’s handling of the ballot issue.
“The man who wrote the ballot question, about whether or not there should be a contractor in an official full-time position, is a contractor himself,” said Howell, adding that it sounded to him like a potential conflict of interest.
Howell concluded by saying, “I call on you the commissioners to take immediate action on this need for a full-time finance director, and to proceed with haste to appoint a new city attorney.”
Commissioner Ray Kerr said there were advantages to having an outside company provide financial services, and recommended that the commission put the topic on the agenda for an upcoming workshop Apr. 26. In addition, the commission should call a special meeting, Kerr said, with the intent to get as much public comment as possible before finally making a decision on what should be done about the finance director position.
Mayor Jim Rostek said he definitely wanted to add the discussion about finance director to the upcoming workshop and “just get the commission feel of how we need to proceed with that.”
At that next workshop, there will also be discussion of putting out requests for proposals on professional services for the city attorney, engineering, and information technology.
Andrews was presented with a plaque honoring his four years of service on the commission. He had stepped down to run for mayor, hoping to follow Mayor John Hendricks, who decided not to run again after serving one term. Running on a platform of continuing Hendricks’ policies, Andrews was defeated by political newcomer Rostek in the March 14 election.
“I have not shed a tear about the election results. Free and fair elections is what this democracy is based on,” said Andrews in his remarks.
Noting that the two senior members of the commission “have been here for a whopping 13 months,” Andrews said “this isn’t a time to be playing agenda politics or making drastic changes.”
New board, new priorities
The first order of business as the new board, with three new commission members, began its first regular meeting was to elect a vice mayor. The choice was Kerr, who was new last year, and previously served on the Planning Commission.
In his campaign for mayor, Rostek had said, “I think greater involvement of the citizens with the city is of paramount importance.” He promised to allow interaction between residents and officials at meetings, so that people could get a response to their concerns. Past practice at Madeira Beach, and elsewhere, has been that commissioners do not respond back-and-forth to resident comments.
It was apparent that the new policy was in effect at this meeting. A resident spoke about a problem with her garbage pickup, saying she used to put out palm fronds any time it was garbage pickup day, and the workers would take it. But now they pick up yard waste on Wednesday only. Gomez responded that Wednesday was always the yard waste day, but that was not strictly enforced. Now, with the automated process for picking up trash containers, yard waste cannot be picked up except on Wednesdays.