SEBASTIAN - Tempers erupted at the Jan. 8 Sebastian City Council meeting, as Council Member Damien Gilliams challenged the ranking of City Attorney candidates conducted at the prior meeting. Mr. Gilliams also suggested the council votes needed to be more transparent.
“At the last meeting, everyone up here got a ballot, and they were requested to put their top three out of the eight attorneys that submitted applications,” Mr. Gilliams said. “Looking at the tally sheet, the numbers were transcribed in the wrong boxes. So when you did the count, you had the wrong totals. The whole thing is a mess.”
“The second thing is you cannot have a secret ballot,” Mr. Gilliams continued. “It’s a violation of the Sunshine Law. Everybody in this community has a right to know who we’re going to short list for a charter officer that is a very important officer.”
Mr. Gilliams demanded a new vote to re-rank the city attorney candidates. Mayor Ed Dodd said a new vote should not happen in the absence of Council Member Jim Hill.
“You’re not going to sneak this through without the other council member being here, Damien,” Mayor Dodd said.
“It’s not my problem that Mr. Hill went on vacation,” Mr. Gilliams replied. “He’s been out many times. Why should we hold up the business of this community when we have litigation pending, we have issues to deal with, we need to start interviewing for attorneys? If there’s three of us up here, which is a majority, why are you Mr. Mayor holding us up from proceeding with a clean vote? Jim’s votes may be considered from the last time, there might not be much of a change. I’m asking this council to re-do it correctly.”
The battle had begun before the council meeting, as Mr. Gilliams had sent his fellow council members a memo addressing the process, which prompted a point-by-point response from Vice Mayor Charles Mauti. Because Vice Mayor Mauti’s letter opposed Mr. Gilliams’ arguments and concluded that “there is no need for a re-count or a re-vote,” Mayor Dodd was taken aback when the vice mayor voted with Mr. Gilliams to re-do the vote.
“You said yes?” Mayor Dodd asked Vice Mayor Mauti. “After that letter you wrote, you said yes? You said yes for a revote after that letter you wrote?”
“Excuse me,” Mr. Gilliams interjected. “Don’t be ridiculing him. He gave his vote.”
“I wrote a letter against what Mr. Gilliam did,” Vice Mayor Mauti explained. “Take a vote on this, get an attorney on board, end of story.”
What followed was a lengthy debate on when that re-vote should happen. Mr. Gilliams wanted it to happen immediately. Mayor Dodd insisted that it was his right as chair of the meeting to put that vote on the agenda for the next meeting, when the one absent council member would be back.
When Mr. Gilliams insisted that his agenda item was to hold a re-vote at this meeting, Mayor Dodd threatened to adjourn the meeting.
“If I have to adjourn this meeting, I’ll do that,” Mayor Dodd said. “We’re not going to take a vote until all five council members are here. It is not fair to the fifth council member for us to do that.”
Following a five minute recess, current City Attorney Jim Stokes stated that Mayor Dodd had the right to declare that discussion of this item was over, and to move on with the rest of the agenda.
“Somebody’s going to hang for this,” Mr. Gilliams replied.
Mr. Gilliams then asked if they could simply add the firm that should have been the fourth candidate had the count been done correctly, and then interview all four as equals. Mayor Dodd said that this is what he had been proposing since the agenda item discussion started.
So rather than conducting a re-vote at this meeting or the following, Mayor Dodd and Mr. Gilliams agreed that the four top candidates after a proper tabulation of the prior meeting’s votes would be invited to interview for the position. Both the mayor and Mr. Gilliams seemed satisfied, as did the rest of the council.
The four to be interviewed for the Sebastian City Attorney position are Manny Anon, David Migut, Gary Oldehoff, and Paul Gougelman of the firm Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman.
Dropped from the top four was Sherry Sutphen of Bell & Roper, PA.
View the debate at the Jan. 8 Sebastian City Council meeting at this link, beginning at 3:09:20: www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRqLGsgfBSQ.