DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — A special City Council meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday “relating to the City Clerk position.”
DeFuniak Springs City Manager Mell Smigielski said he called the meeting because of “rumors and innuendos” circulating around town. He said what items might come up is subject to speculation.
“If I knew I’d tell you, but it’s a fast moving ship right now going in a lot of different directions. Nobody knows exactly what will be discussed,” Smigielski said.
DeFuniak Springs Mayor Bob Campbell said Wednesday he has been out of state and learned of the meeting when he received a phone call from Smigielski.
Campbell said he was under the impression the council would discuss Loretta Laird’s request for a transfer to the DeFuniak Springs Police Department. Following the April 9 election of three new council members, Laird asked to be moved out of City Hall and allowed to fill an executive administrative assistant position at the Police Department.
But City Marshal James Hurley, who is also newly elected, said Wednesday he doesn’t have an administrative assistant’s job open, and no one in city government has approached him to discuss a possible transfer.
“Right now, the way it is, I don’t necessarily have the authority to hire and create positions,” he said. “Right now everything has to go through the city.”
It is possible that Thursday’s meeting was called to discuss terminating Laird. In a 20-point complaint that accompanied her request for a transfer, Laird claimed the level of hostility against her has grown since the three new council members — Kevin Crystal, Todd Bierbaum and Robert McKnight — were sworn in to office.
When the Northwest Florida Daily News obtained her transfer request and complaint through a public records request, Laird, who is the DeFuniak Springs records custodian, said she had been told she’d be fired if a story was written about the complaint.
A story ran last weekend.
Among the items cited in Laird’s complaint were allegations of wrongdoing by Bierbaum and Crystal.
She stated in the complaint that Bierbaum had published photos of himself voting in the DeFuniak Springs election. The First Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office has confirmed that publishing material from inside a voting precinct is a misdemeanor offense and that Bierbaum could face sanctions.
Laird also complained that Crystal had confronted her 20 days after his election about a pre-election incident in which she had allowed Hurley, the new city marshal, access to public records information when she was working on a Saturday. Laird’s action had also angered Mark Weeks, who lost to Hurley in the city election.
Laird’s complaint also stated that Campbell and City Attorney Clayton Adkinson improperly “exert too much control over the (city’s) Planning Department.”
“The mayor and city attorney selectively enforce the code depending on who is involved,” the complaint said.
Adkinson has previously denied Laird's claims.
Adkinson, Bierbaum, Crystal and Councilman Henry Ennis did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment about the special meeting. Councilman Wayne Graham said he knew little about what to expect and McKnight, the other new council member, spoke as though he knew something but couldn’t say.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss that at the moment. I’m not in a position to discuss that,” he said before hanging up on a reporter.
Attorney Stephen Webster, who is representing Laird, said he intended to attend Thursday’s meeting.
Kermit Wright, one of three City Council incumbents who were ousted April 9, is no fan of the mayor and the new council. He believes action will be taken at the meeting to fire Laird, which would be a big mistake.
“If there were one employee out of the 100 or so we have that I could have help me save the city, it would be Loretta Laird,” he said.