As Gainesville searches for an interim city clerk, Commissioner Bryan Eastman brought up the possibility of folding the clerk’s office underneath that of the city manager, eliminating one of the six charter officers.
The conversation came up during commissioner comment at the end of Thursday’s regular meeting, and the City Commission decided to revisit the conversation at next week’s budget workshop.
Eastman said he didn’t know the commission could eliminate the clerk’s charter position until recently, assuming the six charters were set in the city charter.
However, City Attorney Daniel Nee confirmed that the charter says the commission “may” appoint a city clerk as a charter. But the commission may also place the functions of the clerk under the city manager’s office.
Another charter officer, the city auditor, also exists at the discretion of the commission. The Gainesville charter does require the other four charter officer positions—city manager, city attorney, general manager and director of the office of equity and inclusion. In order to change one of those four positions, the commission would need to turn to the voters.
Eastman said placing the city clerk under the city manager could provide efficiencies in budget and other benefits. He said it’s tough to have accountability in a system where seven commissioners, who can’t speak to one another, have six separate charter officers that report back to them.
"I have personally, over the years, come to the conclusion that our system, with the huge number of charter officers that we have, is extremely inefficient and is quite hard to manage on a day-to-day level,” Eastman said.
City Clerk Omichele Nattiel-Williams turned in her resignation in April, and the City Commission voted to proceed with an internal search for an interim replacement.
The commission also decided on Thursday not to add an amendment, requested by Nattiel-Williams, to the contract that would give 20 weeks of severance. That severance doesn’t apply to voluntary resignations, according to Nee.
Commissioner Casey Willits said removing the clerk from the charter level could impact the applicant pool in the internal search. But, he said it’s probably fairer to discuss the possibility up front than make the change after hiring a permanent clerk.
City Manager Cynthia Curry said other cities position the clerk within the manager’s office.
"I can see the streamlining; I can see more condensed communication,” Curry said. “With all that said, I'm not asking for this, but if it is given to me, I will handle it."
Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker asked if Curry could present her plan for integrating the clerk’s responsibilities within her office. Curry said she could have that proposal ready by Thursday’s budget workshop—May 25.
The commission will not be able to vote at that time. But Ward said this isn’t a decision to take lightly. He said it would be best to gather the information and then sleep on the issue.
The city can also work on parallel tracks—gathering the information on a merger while working to hire an interim clerk. After hiring the interim clerk, Ward said the commission can decide to continue with a nationwide search for a charter officer city clerk or dissolve the position and transfer the responsibility to the city manager.