Hard Candy: I’m Confused

I’m confused. That’s really not unusual; I spend a lot of time confused about a lot of things. Most of those things don’t matter enough to try and work out, like why my cat can clean my dog but won’t let Calypso clean him, or why my freezer won’t keep ice frozen. These sorts of things work themselves out eventually; the dog seems OK with it and I can always get ice from a neighbor. I’ve gotten quite good at ignoring the voices in my head that ask those sorts of questions.
Other voices don’t go away as easily. They start as whispers and get louder and more annoying until I finally give in and try to work out what’s confusing me. It’s been like a Aerosmith concert in there since Gulfport city council told their attorney of 19 years they didn’t need him around anymore and hired local attorney Tom Minkoff as the interim city attorney.
I have no problem with Minkoff as a person—I actually like him—and no special loyalty to former Gulfport City Attorney Tim Driscoll, although I like him, too. I’m just confused as hell and, according to e-mails and phone calls I’ve gotten from Gulfportians as well as some city staff, I have good company.
I’m confused as to why three out of five council members think Gulfport needs a full-time city attorney. The Florida League of Cities seemed to think small cities don’t need full-time attorneys unless, like Destin or Sanibel, they have development issues. Does someone on council think Gulfport will have development issues someday soon?
I’m confused as to whether or not this was about Tim Driscoll. Mayor Mike Yakes said it wasn’t but council member Michele King disagreed. I attended a meeting some years back when Driscoll did lose his composure and yes, some of it was directed at King, but I also remember that she didn’t treat him so nicely, either. Since then, Mayor Yakes counseled Driscoll and several meetings later council discussed that they had seen an improvement in Driscoll’s performance. Even when King said at the special meeting earlier this month that it was about Driscoll, his behavior epitomized class. The cost comparisons don’t make sense to me; a full-time attorney seems like it’s going to cost the city more money, so it seems as though this move was about Driscoll. Did someone on council toy with Driscoll’s livelihood because he had a bad night a few years ago?
I’m confused as to how the city expects to afford a full-time attorney. According to the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook, municipal attorneys for local government earn a median salary of roughly $78,000. A full-time attorney will want benefits and the city will pay taxes, Medicare, social security, and unemployment on his salary, something they did not pay a part-time attorney. The city’s portion of this will equal about 33% of the gross salary, bringing his salary costs to $102,000. The current budget for legal matters, including an attorney’s salary, is $122,000. That leaves $20,000 for support staff. That translates to $7 an hour plus benefits for the attorney’s support staff. That leaves no wiggle room for office furniture, law books, or expenses. It also leaves no money for any court costs. Where does that money come from?
I’m confused as to why anyone thought hiring Minkoff was best for Gulfport. While Minkoff belongs to the City, County, and Law Section of the Florida Bar and the State and Local Government Section of the American Bar Association, he pays to belong to these sections. These sections do not turn away lawyers because they don’t have experience; if a lawyer’s check clears he can join. Minkoff does seem to have extensive experience with real estate law, which only makes sense if the city’s planning to get involved in the real estate business.
I have no issue with the man but I do take issue with the stewards of your tax dollars using them to hire someone with a marked lack of municipal experience on his resume. Why would Gulfport do that when it makes as little sense as using tax dollars to pay the head of the Building Department to run the city?
I’m confused as to why King would risk her reputation by making the motion to hire her personal attorney as the interim city attorney. Although Driscoll assured council no conflict existed, why would King open herself up to any allegations, whispered or otherwise, by changing the course of the meeting? Council convened to discuss how to hire a full-time attorney, not who to hire, in the interim or otherwise. What about getting Minkoff in the attorney’s position mattered so much that King felt compelled to bring it to council before they’d had a chance to consider other attorneys? What was her rush?
I’m confused as to why no one even acknowledged the protests of two long-time Gulfportians, Vice-Mayor Bob Worthington and Councilmember Judy Ryerson. I understand that some folks think Worthington has allied himself with Gulfport Water Watch and, as such, they will ignorantly dismiss everything he says, but what about Ryerson? She’s one smart cookie, and she knows Gulfport and finance and human resource issues. She made some logical points and expressed some real concern about the path the city was about to charge down (as did Worthington.) Why would council ignore her and Worthington?
Finally, I am not just confused but astounded at Mayor Mike Yakes’ vote to hire Minkoff. I know Mayor Mike has wanted a full-time attorney for some time now, but at the Tuesday night meeting he seemed open to several options. I am dying to know what happened between Tuesday night and Friday afternoon that he voted to charge ahead without considering any other options. Why would Gulfport’s mayor hire an interim city attorney who had no municipal experience when no one else even had the opportunity to apply for the job?
While the voices in my head won’t let these questions go, I don’t believe them and you shouldn’t, either. It’s just crazy talk: crazy to wonder if those three yes votes on council stemmed from anything that would constitute a Sunshine law violation, and crazier still to think that perhaps the city would leave the interim attorney in that position indefinitely. I have every faith in city council to replace the interim city attorney with a permanent attorney in a timely fashion. After all, there’s certainly no evidence that Council would let interim employees to remain in power indefinitely.
All the same, if anyone has any answers, the voices in my head would dearly love to hear them. I would love to be wrong about what I suspect. So, I think, would quite a few Gulfport voters. Is there anyone out there willing to answer?

You can contact Cathy Salustri at cathy@TheGabber.com.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.