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Midway council proposes millage rate, addresses lawsuits – Breaking with what has become the norm for Midway meetings, council members conducted city business without heated squabbling

At its regular meeting last Thursday, the Midway City Council managed to pass a new millage rate, discuss pending lawsuits and the current charter controversy, and address citizen concerns, all without the heated arguments and contentious atmosphere that typically characterizes meetings of the local government body.

“I can appreciate the cooperation between the citizens and the members of the city council that took place at our Midway meeting tonight,” longtime Midway City Council member Ronald Colston said. “That’s the spirit in which all our meetings should be conducted. It was a very productive night and a great meeting.”

Quincy lawyer Sten Sliger – who is representing former Midway City Manager Auburn Ford and former Midway Police Chief Thomas Murray in separate lawsuits against the city – came before the council to request quick settlements of these cases “for both the good of [his] clients and the good of the city.” Sliger and Midway City Attorney Anthony Thomas, who was participating in proceedings via a mic’d cell phone, agreed to get in touch with each other to resolve the outstanding lawsuits quickly.

“We want to settle these lawsuits so my clients and the city can just move on and go forward,” Sliger said.

Ford complained Thursday night, as he has done in multiple past Midway council meetings, that his successor, current Midway City Manager Leslie Steele, illegally changed the Midway City Charter. Steele responded that City Attorney Thomas was addressing the controversy over the charter revision.

She said Thomas is currently consulting with a legal expert on charter revision and plans to review both the old and new charters and discuss the legality of the charter revision, which went into effect July 27, 2017. Then, Thomas will draft a new version of the charter and present it to the council for scrutiny. Upon council approval, the newly revised charter will be voted on by the citizens of Midway in a public referendum.

Later, Midway resident Tammy Knight voiced concerns over the slow progress of construction of environmental buffers surrounding a Tallahassee Truck and RV Service Facility on Highway 90 that borders Knight’s property on Hayward Dupont Road in Midway. City Manager Steele assured Knight the city’s Building and Planning Department will work closely with her to alleviate her concerns.

Finally, after much discussion, the council voted unanimously to propose a millage rate of 5.5348 for the next fiscal year. Millage rate is used to calculate property taxes. The council scheduled public hearings on the millage rate and the city’s budget for fiscal year 2018-2019 for 6 p.m, Sept. 13 and 6 p.m., Sept. 25. Notices of the proposed millage rate will be distributed to the public on August 14.

During the millage rate discussion last Thursday, Ford reiterated to the council his contention that the city charter put into effect when he was city manager limits the city to setting a millage rate no higher than 5.0000 mills. Steele responded that the city needs a higher millage rate to provide all the services the citizens and council members want from the city; she claimed the charter under which she operates is legal and allows for a millage rate higher than 5.0000.

Steele added the millage rate proposed at Thursday’s meeting is only tentative and can be reduced following public discussion at the September hearings. The millage rate can’t, however, be raised, she continued.

Steele’s comments seemed to placate the restless audience, who ceased to come to the podium to comment following her remarks about the public hearings.

Steele and council members agreed Thursday’s meeting was productive all-in-all, adding they hope it sets a precedent and tone for all future meetings in the city.

“We have worked really hard to be more inclusive starting with our retreat a few weeks back,” Steele said. “I believe that everyone goes through growing pains and adjustments when leadership changes, and that’s all we were experiencing.” Council member Colston concluded the meeting by saying, “We want more citizens to come out to our meetings and get involved in city business with the spirit of cooperation that was displayed tonight.”

By Randall Lieberman