MILTON — Main Street Milton managed to plead their case to continue receiving funding from the city of Milton after a special City Council meeting was held this week to discuss whether to end the partnership over multiple concerns were made public by city officials and citizens.
The council voted to continue funding the program and having city staff look into the contract between MSM and Santa Rosa Historical Society and the memorandum of understanding between MSM and the city in a majority vote with council members Peggi Smith, Sharon Holley and George Jordan voting against it.
City Attorney Alex Andrade issued a letter to City Council stating that his legal opinion was that the council should cease all funding for MSM and direct city staff to issue a 30-day notice to terminate their relationship with the organization based on three concerns he had. In his letter, Andrade said he was concerned, based on the proposed contract MSM drafted with the SRHS to operate Imogene Theatre, that the city was taking on a 50 percent risk if the contract failed.
"A vast majority their funding comes from the city," Andrade said.
He also had concerns, he said, over a perceived public records compliance issue where, according to several citizens, complete paper records had not been given upon request. Andrade said he was also concerned about the "control" of the program as it has only one active member, the organization's board president Cassandra Sharp, and four lifetime members.
Andrade said he cautioned the council against continuing to fund MSM, saying that doing so could put the city at "considerable risk" for liability.
Sharp said that the organization was in the process of revamping its program since coming back into existence last year, accounting for the low numbers in memberships, and they plan to open the membership up in the near future. She said attempts had been made to meet with the city attorney to handle the compliance issue but they had not been able to coordinate their schedules.
MSM Executive Director Ed Spears thanked the community for their support over the year and considers the program's biggest accomplishment thus far was achieving national accreditation and making progress on being more transparent with the community. Spears said without the council's support financially and morally they would not be able to continue.
"Looking back it has been quite a year," Spears said. "Thank you for being a great and soon to be award-winning partner that has allowed Main Street to return to its position of prominence."
Several citizens spoke for and against the organization. Those in favor said the program had continued to help move Milton forward and bring activities to the community that they feared would disappear if MSM was taken away. Those against said MSM had become a concern of the community with some even considering lawsuits for the possible Sunshine Law violations.
Councilman Jordan said, in general, the MSM programs were a good thing for the city and he did not want to see it die out altogether. He said his concerns were that there were things that the current MSM program was doing that were wrong and needed to be addressed.
"This was never about us or them," Jordan said. "It was about right and wrong."
Councilwoman Mary Ellen Johnson said she had listened to both sides and while she understood the concerns, she did not feel it was right to terminate the program right now.
"We as the City Council are supposed to build bridges, not destroy them," Johnson said. "We should work together to fix the problems."