MILTON — Councilman Jeff Snow made the motion to fire City Manager Brian Watkins near the end of the Tuesday council meeting. Councilpersons Peggi Smith, Casey Powell and Alan Lowery voted to fire him. Pat Lunsford, Sharon Holley, Mary Ellen Johnson and Heather Hathaway voted to retain him. Mayor Wesley Meiss cast the deciding vote.
Council members have twice attempted to remove Watkins. Smith motioned to do so at the Feb. 13 meeting and then voted against her own motion. The first attempt took place in 2017.
Meiss previously supported retaining Watkins last year but since changed his mind after speaking with Watkins, he said. He also said he supported those who feel strongly enough to call for his removal.
"When this happened a year ago," Meiss said in February, "he said...’If Council wants to let me go, let me go."
"It was several things that added up over time," Snow said in a statement he gave April 12. "I just felt like it was the best time now that we need to go into a different direction for the City of Milton."
"I feel like it’s the worst mistake council ever made," Councilwoman Pat Lunsford said. "He had been at [Naval Air Station Whiting Field] as a CEO… I have been on the council since 1996 and I have seen different situations that came up. I never had a problem communicating with him ever. He always gave me good advice and reason for doing the things we decided to do. He always had an answer for me."
Watkins served as manager since early 2009 and Public Works director before then starting in 2006.
City staff had no comment on the issue other than to say there was no criminal reason cited for Watkins’ removal, according to Public Information Officer Pamela Holt. The city code has no special provisions for hiring or firing the manager.
"The council shall appoint the city manager for an indefinite term and may remove the manager by a majority vote of its members," section 2-93 of Article III says.
In January, the Santa Rosa County Chamber of Commerce revealed Watkins as its selection for Man of the Year.
This issue of the Santa Rosa Press Gazette has opposing letters on Watkins’ termination.
"Many whom have lived in Milton for a long time have said that Mr. Watkins is the best manager the City has ever had," former Councilman Jimmy Messick writes.
"With a serious stumbling block removed I believe Milton has now turned a corner toward attaining its impressive potential," Rob Johnstone writes.
Snow’s desire in a new manager was mostly in improving city economics.
"I want someone that’s excited," he said, "basically knowledgeable in bringing new business and improving our town."
Until the Council finds a new manager, those duties fall to City Planner Randy Jorgenson. A special meeting will take place 5:30 p.m. Monday for Council to discuss replacing Watkins.