MILTON — Lengthy discussion on Milton Councilman Jeff Snow’s proposal to amend the code of ordinances to give the council more authority over city employee hiring and termination ended in a vote to move the matter to the Charter Review Committee.

However, due to Councilman Casey Powell’s absence, the vote to do so was evenly split.

For now, the Code of Ordinances leaves this power to the city manager, currently Brian Watkins. Because of the split vote, the matter will go before a special meeting yet to be scheduled.

“The power of appointment and removal of officers and employees of the city is vested in the city manager unless otherwise provided in this charter or by ordinance,” Article 1, section 2-4c reads.

Staffers displayed Snow’s proposal on the screen during the meeting.

“The power of appointment and removal of officers and employees of the city is rested on the city manager as well as the city council. City manager shall have decision-making authority in all aspect of employee management, with the exception of management of contracted employees/department supervisors. Council may intervene by a majority vote of the council, in matters related to said employees/department supervisors to include the police chief, fire chief, special magistrate and public information officer. In such case, council’s decision in said employee matters shall be the final decision and ultimate authority.

“Council shall have final approval, by majority vote, in the hiring and termination decisions for all contracted employees to include the police chief, fire chief, all department supervisors with the city, as well as the special magistrate and public information officer.”

“This motion, just so everyone’s clear, does not take anything away from the city manager,” Snow said. “It does not impede his process whatsoever. All it does, in addition to the city council, gives them more oversight over the top executives if need be in a hiring or firing situation.”

With only time for a cursory review of this change, attorney and city magistrate Matthew Hargraves disagreed with Snow’s statement, citing three significant changes to the current power structure.

“I’m very interested in your opinion as well as our esteemed attorney,” Smith said, referring to Milton Attorney Heather Lindsay.

Hargraves started with the statement in Snow’s proposal saying the power of appointment and removal of officers rests with the city manager as well as the city council.

“That creates a question of what is the authority. Is my boss the city manager or is my boss the council? Is my boss both? Who makes the decision? Under what circumstances do they make the decision?”

Hargraves’ second concern dealt with the broad line referring to how the council can intervene in matters.

“Council may intervene in matters related to said employees/supervisors,” Hargraves said. “It doesn’t define what those matters are. Matters can be anything … As attorneys, we look at language very precisely. We have to look at that. How broad is that … and there’s no further guidance on specifically what those matters could be.”

The final item Hargraves discussed was the council having final approval in the hiring and termination decisions for all contracted employees.

“That language is a significant and fundamental change … to the power that is vested in the city manager position under our charter.”

When a city fundamentally changes its power structure, it can only do so by referendum, according to Florida law.

“Going on what the attorney general’s opinion is, it cannot be done by ordinance. It has to be done by referendum,” Hargraves said.

Lindsay agreed.

“I had already indicated based on the language I saw before (and) based on the research I did which came up with the same opinion Matthew found that if we were to proceed with this change, we would end up passing an ordinance, which would go on a referendum vote,” she said.  

“The ordinance would not have effective law until, by referendum, the people agreed with it.”