City councilmen attend their final meeting

OKEECHOBEE — The Dec. 18 City Council meeting was the final meeting for Councilmen Noel Chandler and Gary Ritter as they move on to the next phase in their lives. Mayor Dowling Watford presented them each with plaques and keys to the city, but Councilman Chandler was quick to quip, “You know they’re gonna change the lock, right, Gary?”

Mayor Dowling said of Councilman Chandler that it was a great pleasure serving with him and he always briought a level of humor that was sometimes needed. “Thank you for your 14 years of service. We certainly appreciate it,” he said.

Mayor Dowling Watford presented Councilmen Gary Ritter and Noel Chandler with keys to the city at their final meeting. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble.

The mayor said Councilman Ritter added a little class to the council, and said he appreciated what Councilman Ritter brought to them: his knowledge of agriculture and water issues in particular. He also felt Councilman Ritter added a much-needed air of professionalism and assured him he would be missed.

Councilwoman Monica Clark expressed her appreciation for both men, and said they would both be missed. She said not many knew it, but when she tended to get cranky or out of hand, Councilman Chandler would sneak her a Snickers bar under the table. She said he told her she might not be able to fill his shoes, but she can fill his seat at the table after he leaves.

Councilman Wes Abney said he has learned a lot from both men and appreciates them both.

Councilman Ritter said, “It has been a pleasure serving on the council for the last four years.”

In other business, the council discussed moving away from having code enforcement done by the fire department, and instead having it handled by the police department. Chief Bob Peterson explained that with an increase in economic development comes an increase in the need for code enforcement. He said they have been researching, and just about every city the size of Okeechobee has a division of the police department that handles code enforcement.

He said the job of code enforcement is to investigate, and that is what the police department does: they investigate. He said there would be no additional cost involved. He believes they have more resources and more personnel so this will take some of the burden off the fire department. He explained their research found no other city had code enforcement handled by the fire department in the state of Florida.

Fire Chief Herb Smith seemed happy with the idea, and said, “Merry Christmas to me.”

Councilwoman Clark mentioned the fact many people know there is no code enforcement at night or on the weekend right now, and they deliberately wait until then to do unpermitted work thinking they won’t get caught. If they make this change, that problem will be resolved.

The decision will be finalized at the next meeting after the legality of changing the jurisdiction is taken care of.

Okeechobee Utilities Authority Chairman John Creasman gave a report on their activity this year. He mentioned that approximately 60 percent of the 197 customers who were offered the opportunity to hook up to OUA at no expense to themselves took them up on the offer.

He said they plan to try the same program in the southwest section in the coming year if they can get the financing. He also said they will be implementing a small rate increase next year, and they will be replacing a water main on Southeast Eighth Street. They will be installing new hydrants and moving some of the old ones.

City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca brought a request to the council from the city administrative staff. He said they wanted to know if they could take Monday, Dec. 31, off so they would have a four-day weekend. After a discussion in which it was mentioned that the business community generally only gets seven holidays off and the city already gets 12 holidays, it was decided they would work that day but close at 2 p.m.

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