August 16, 2016 City Council Synopsis with Video Link

City emergency vehicles park near City Hall to help recognzize a young hero

Mount Dora council supports settlement of Medallion litigation, approves the new city manager’s contract and says farewell to Kim Leinbach

At their August 16 regular meeting, Mount Dora city council approved preparing a request for settlement in the city’s ongoing litigation with Medallion Homes and approved the employment contract for new city manager Robin Hayes. In both cases there was a good amount of debate and a split decision. Council however was unanimous in appointing Fire Chief Skip Kerkhof as acting city manager for the month between interim city manager Kim Leinbach’s resignation on August 26 and Hayes’ start in September.

Council got off to a feel-good start with three recognitions. First, Police Chief O’Grady presented a $2,000 check to Pat Burke’s HOOPS Life program, which for the past three years has been teaching youth to face the challenges of growing up by applying the fundamentals of basketball to the game of life. The money, which came from the department’s drug seizure fund, will go toward 20 scholarships in the program.

Next, the Mount Dora Friends of the Environment presented its two annual awards recognizing outstanding leadership in environmental awareness in Mount Dora. The Award for Citizens and the Environment (ACE) went to Mark Vaughn, who with neighbors had removed a number of ailing trees and planted some $2,500 worth of healthy trees in their stead. He will receive a live oak to plant in a location of his choice. For the Award for Government and Environment (AGE), twenty employees of the city’s Public Works department were named for their diligence with and care of the city’s trees. For their prize, the department will get a catered lunch after they’ve planted the live oak donated to Vaughn.

3-year-old hero Liam Coburn almost stole the show from Mayor Girone
3-year-old hero Liam Coburn almost stole the show from Mayor Girone

Mayor Girone then read a proclamation recognizing the heroic efforts of three-year-old Mount Dora resident Liam Coburn who had saved his mother’s life when she was having an active seizure. The boy managed to call both his mother’s family and 911 on her cellphone. Liam stood on a table next to the dais with his mother and surrounded by the emergency response team who came out to help, mugging so much for the room that Mayor Girone’s proclamation almost got lost in the titters from the peanut gallery.

On to scheduled business. Council approved the inaugural Donnelly House Four-Mile Run, scheduled for the morning of Saturday, October 29. The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Donnelly House and all proceeds after City-related costs will go to renovation efforts at the Donnelly House. Event coordinator Vickie Blate asked if volunteers could stand in for some of the police officers to be assigned, hoping that would reduce some of the costs. Parks and Recreation Director Roy Hughes replied that the police department sets their public safety staffing depending on the event and would need to respond to the request.

Next up, Sherry Sutphen, legal counsel for Mount Dora in the ongoing litigation with Medallion Home, asked that council decide whether to proceed to trial or request settlement. Since March 2015, Medallion has contested the agreement the city had with Pringle Homes (Lakes of Mount Dora’s original developer) regarding two parcels of land in the development intended for a fire station and pumping station (public well). Medallion says it no longer wants these in the development, and residents of the the Lakes of Mount Dora have supported that decision. Instead, Medallion wants to use the land to build more houses. Medallion has said contended that the two parcels, valued at approximately $250,000, should never have been granted to the city (they say the original PUD is unconstitutional); they want ownership of the parcels returned to them, and have all attorneys’ costs related to the litigation paid for by Mount Dora.

Medallion’s legal representatives had approached the judge this year for a summary dismissal of Mount Dora’s litigation, but it was denied. Earlier this month, a status conference with the court set a trial date for late January 2017. While the city’s chances for winning the litigation may be good, Sutphen drew a picture of “what a win would look like” that was less than rosy: If Mount Dora wins the trial, it would get the two parcels inside the development, but that’s all; they would have to build the fire station and well that isn’t wanted in the community, and if they didn’t build them, their “fee simple title” wouldn’t give the city the legal right to sell the properties.

In the settlement scenario, Medallion has offered to give the city two 100×200-foot tracts of commercial land just outside the Lakes of Mount Dora on which to build their fire station and pumping station. The city would have 3 years to develop the property, Medallion would kick in $5,000, and both parties would keep their own legal costs.

Attorney Sherry Sutphen (r) listens to Council debate on the Medallion litigation
Attorney Sherry Sutphen (r) listens to Council debate on the Medallion litigation

Ed Rowlett (Third District) moved to approve for settlement, adding that too much time had already been dedicated to dealing with the ongoing litigation.

The discussion which followed was divided. Cal Rolfson (Second District) thought that Medallion’s settlement terms were unfair to the city (he said the $5,000 payment was “insulting”) and warned that a 3-year limit on developing the parcel of land for the fire station way too dicey, given the time it takes to accomplish all the work of changing zoning, getting capital budgeting approved and construction).  He suggested that if council was leaning toward settlement, the time be extended to 5 years.

Laurie Tillett (First District) felt that for the added cost, if the city wins at trial they don’t really gain much, since the parcels in the development won’t end up belonging to the city anyway.   Mark Slaby (at-large) said it’s more beneficial to citizens to have the fire station and well outside the Lakes of Mount Dora (better access to other areas around the Lakes of Mount Dora) and the added city revenue from property taxes of new houses built on the 5+ acres involved in the two parcels would be significant.

Mark Crail (fourth district, and Lakes of Mount Dora resident) warned that acting now on a settlement isn’t a smart idea since the city did not fully understand yet the ramifications of changes to the PUD that Medallion is proposing. “How could it hurt to have a couple of months to look at the PUD?” he asked. Mark Slaby, apparently fearing potential loss at trial, wondered just how much percentage change of success the city really had. Sutphen replied that with judges, you can never know for sure how they will decide.  Rolfson (a former attorney), added, “50-50 is all you can get from a lawyer. Any more would be malpractice.”

In the end, council voted 4-3 to have Ms. Sutphen draft the settlement proposal for their approval, with Crail, Rolfson and Marie Rich (at-large) voting no.

Next up, council reviewed the new city manager employment contract, which had been drawn up by Mayor Girone, Robert Slavin (the recruiting consultant) and William Colbert of Stenstrom, McIntosh, Colbert and Whigmam P.A., the firm through which city attorney Lonnie Groot was hired. (Due to Groot’s connections with the city of Oviedo where new city manager Robin Hayes now works, Mr. Colbert was called in to review the contract.)

Cal Rolfson spent a good time combing through the contract, asking in a number of junctures why additional emphasis was being placed on the Mayor’s tasking of the city manager had been added to Council’s responsibility.  To most of Rolfson’s objections, Mayor Girone replied that the contract was the same that had been signed by both interim city manager Leinbach and former city manager Pastue. Rolfson also wondered if the contract limited too much the authority of the city manager, and also cautioned about language that did not restrict attorney services to “reasonable” costs.

The main issue of discussion was the contract’s salary terms of $135,000 to start with, adding another $5,000 in six months. “Our current city manager, who makes $140,000 a year, came with 43 years of city manager experience,” Rolfson said. “Our previous city manager was hired at $140,000 a year and had 20-plus years of experience. Why are we paying somebody without any managerial experience the same money?”

Mayor Girone talked about how Mount Dora is “unique” as it is a “full-service city” a range of services and responsibilities comparable to much larger municipalities. He attributed the small number of resumes received for the city manager job this time to less competitive pay. “Mount Dora needs to pay for the job, not for what they were paid in the past,” he said. “If we want our managers to stay, salaries will have to go up.” (Hayes, who currently makes $96,675 a year as Oviedo’s Management Services Director, had apparently asked for $165,000 for starting salary.)

Mark Slaby supported the set salary, saying, “If these are the tools she needs to be successful, then we should give them to her (the $140,000) and expect the work to be done.”

During public comment, Rolfson’s nit-picking approach was criticized by one resident, but Rolfson later defended his actions. “This council has a fiduciary duty to “nitpick” contracts,” he said. “Just because it was negotiated by one member of Council, the entire Council has to agree with it.”

Council approved the contract with limited revisions 5-2, with Rolfson and Rich voting no.

With that accomplished, Mayor Girone nominated Fire Chief Skip Kerkhof to be named acting city manager for the one-month period between the resignation of interim city manager Kim Leinbach on Aug. 26 and new city manager Robin Hayes’ first day. (Leinbach is leaving early to run for mayor of Temple Terrace, where he had served as city manager for 14 years.)  Leinbach said that Kerkhof has many years of experience and lives within city limits—a requirement for city managers of Mount Dora.

Council unanimously agreed, and then appointed Deputy Fire Chief Timmons Griner to acting fire chief while Kerhof is busy with city manager duties during the transition. Both will receive salary increases for the time they’re wearing bigger shoes.

In his city manager update, Leinbach had Public Information Officer Megan Glass address council about the new city website which went live a few days ago. Glass said that staff are going through the site and correcting any small glitches. She also mentioned a new online calendar feature which will allow all members of the community to post their events live and events can be posted 3 years in advance.

Interim City Manager Kim Leinbach says farewell to Mount Dora
Interim City Manager Kim Leinbach says farewell to Mount Dora

As this was his last council meeting, Leinbach thanked Mayor Girone, City Council, staff, and residents for making him feel welcome during his short term in Mount Dora. “Although I’m returning to Temple Terrace, you are now my adopted family,” he said. Many council members thanked Leinbach in their comments, and the room stood to applaud his work and wish him well.

During council comments, Cal Rolfson said he been reviewing charges from new city attorney Groot. He was concerned that the city was being billed in increments of 1/4 hour. This is a far larger unit than is customary by most attorney services, Rofson said, and he recommended that council consider re-writing the city attorney contract to change billing to increments of 1/10 of an hour, saving “as much as $10 thousand dollars a year.” He handed out to all members of council copies of his billing analysis, and Council agreed to consider the matter at their next meeting.

With that, Council adjourned, and residents, staff and officials filed out into a dark, humid August night where thunder seemed just over the horizon much these days and the work of Mount Dora remains a challenging row to hoe.

David Cohea, Writer (