Midway city councilors voted unanimously Monday to send the appointment decision for late Council member Charlie Smith’s replacement to Governor Rick Scott after the council failed to reach a majority vote on any of its six candidates.
The City Council held the special meeting and vote after they were unable to reach a decision last month at their regular meeting. The council decided that if by the end of a 30-day period they could not reach a majority vote for a candidate, they would send the decision to the Governor. The council interviewed six potential candidates to replace Smith, with a 2-2 vote split on each candidate.
“I feel disappointed, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” Councilmember Carolyn Francis said. “I think the only way we could have reached a consensus is if we went along with their choice.”
The meeting began with a surprising turn of events when Francis and City Attorney Anthony Thomas and were served with a lawsuit from one of the candidates, former council member Quintealia Cado, only minutes before the meeting began. According to Thomas, the lawsuit alleges Francis made defamatory remarks against Cado in her capacity as a city council member, during a previous meeting.
Council member Sam Stevens then tried to convince Francis that she must recuse herself from the vote on Cado, calling the lawsuit a conflict of interest.
Francis said she would not recuse herself and believed the lawsuit was a ploy to remove her from the vote, tilting it in Cado’s favor.
“The handwriting is on the wall,” Francis said. “I think it was absolutely filed to keep me from voting. That’s my gut intuition, that’s the only thing I can think of. The lawsuit is really baseless.”
Auburn Ford, the former Midway City Manager, who has also said he is bringing a lawsuit against the city government, said the lawsuit was “dirty politics”.
“I think that it’s sneaky and underhanded,” Ford said. “The corruption up here is bad. I think it was an underhanded way of getting Mrs. Francis’ vote not to count so they could put somebody in that seat like Ms. Cado. Politics is one thing, but when you use the court system to ease yourself in there, I think that’s really bad.”
The council interviewed five other candidates after Cado, including Ford. During Ford’s interview, his rivalry with current City Manager Leslie Steele became apparent, as he said one item on his agenda if given the seat would be to fire Steele.
After Ford accused Steele of making illegal changes to the city charter, Steele then accused Ford of being a danger to her and her staff.
“We are afraid of Auburn,” Steel said. “If you select him, you’re putting me and my office in danger. Every time he’s on this property, I call the police. I am afraid of him. He has threatened me, he has done things to me, Sabrina is afraid of him, he has shouted at all of us, and we don’t deserve to be treated like this. You would place us in a very hostile work environment.”
“His girlfriend’s car has been set in front of my house, and when we walked towards it, it drove off,” Steel continued. “When someone has the rage and anger that he has towards me, you have a right to be afraid of him. People are calling me all the time and telling me be careful he killed his first wife.”
The accusations come a week after Ford brought Steele’s relationship with accused kidnapper/attempted murder Robert Moore, her son, to news station WTXL. However, accusations made by Mayor Wanda Range followed. Range accused Ford of having one his supporters parked outside her daughter’s house.
“You did have to bring documents to her house, but to bring other people to where my children live, that is not right,” Range said. “City council has nothing to do with where I visit with my kids. Other people have no business being outside my daughter’s house. From that, I could say I am afraid of you.”
According to Ford, the accusations were baseless misunderstandings made to keep him from winning the seat.
“I feel it was in poor taste,” Ford said. “We were here for a purpose, to see who was going to serve the people of district one so the city could move forward. They brought up my first wife who committed suicide in Quincy, that was back in 1993, and said there was a possibility that I killed her. To come after me like that was not professional. Because I’m an activist against some of the things they’re doing up here they attacked me.”
The council interviewed other candidates, including Ella Dickey, David Gaines, and Jason Whittaker. Only three of the six candidates live in district one. Mayor Wanda Range and Mayor Pro-Tem Sam Stevens said they would only vote for someone in the district.
Chavien Lockwood, a Florida A&M University pre-law student with experience in student government and references that included State Representative Ramon Alexander seemed well-received by most council members. Stevens said if Lockwood lived in district one he would be a frontrunner for the position.
“You’re a very impressive young man,” Stevens said. “Midway needs to move in that direction.”
Governor Rick Scott will select Smith’s replacement from the list of the six candidates in the coming weeks.
By Weston Williams