Residency requirement waived for new city manager by Winter Garden commissioners
Monday, April 18, 2022
Winter Garden City Manager Jon Williams, left, confers with Winter Garden Mayor John Rees at a Feb. 16 community meeting to stop OCPS from building a bus depot on the Orange Technical College-Westside Campus site when the school relocates in 2025.
In a surprise move, the Winter Garden City Commission on Thursday unanimously extended the grace period for new City Manager Jon Williams to move into the city as required by its charter, at least through March 14, 2023, when the next municipal election will take place. Commissioners also unanimously voted to put a measure to repeal the residency requirement on the ballot for the March 2023 municipal election.
The city charter states that “during the city manager’s tenure of office, the city manager shall reside within the city,” and that he or she has 90 days to secure living quarters after accepting the position if they’re not already a resident unless the city commission “extend[s] the residency requirement for good cause shown.”
VoxPopuli had emailed commissioners last month to ask whether a ballot initiative to remove the residency requirement would come before voters during the March 2023 election after Mayor John Rees confirmed Williams as city manager during the March 24 city commission meeting. Williams currently lives in unincorporated New Smyrna Beach, approximately 67 miles from Winter Garden. He commutes an hour and 20 minutes each morning, often arriving at City Hall by 7 a.m. Rees emailed back, “No, he will have to move.”
The unexpected decision to waive the residency requirement until after the next municipal election came toward the end of Thursday’s meeting, as City Attorney Kurt Ardaman highlighted the terms of Williams’ new three-year contract. It includes a $220,000 salary, a $10,000 moving allowance and use of a city vehicle.
“It replicates a lot of what was in place for Mr. Bollhoefer,” Ardaman said, referring to former city manager Mike Bollhoefer, who left the city in November for a position in Virginia.
It was Commissioner Ron Mueller, representing District 2, who said that he wanted to craft a ballot initiative to remove the residency requirement from the city charter.
“We have 368 people working for us on city staff, and this is the only hired position we require to live in the city. That is a relic from the past that a lot of cities are moving away from,” Mueller said.
The town of Oakland has no residency requirement for its town manager while Windermere and Winter Park allow their managers to live outside their areas with approval from their governing bodies. Ocoee mandates its city manager live within the city limits and provides a year to make the move after accepting the position.
Rees expressed some skepticism that it is necessary to repeal the residency requirement since it hadn’t passed when it was among the 11 city charter amendments on the ballot during the 2020 election.
Both Mueller and District 1 Commissioner Lisa Bennett argued that a lack of understanding about the ballot measure had doomed it.
“I had a lot of people tell me that they didn’t realize that the rest of the staff wasn’t necessarily required [to live in the city]. We [commissioners] are, because we’re elected,” said Bennett.
Mueller said he wanted to extend the residency grace period until they got the results from the March 2023 election. “Then a proper decision can be made.”
Colin Sharman of District 4 added that he knew it was “a tough real estate market” and he told Williams during the meeting that he didn’t want to “put an encumbrance on [him] to push you to buy. You might want to sell in this market.”
According to Realtor.com, the median sale price for Winter Garden homes are $530,000, with homes generally selling for their asking price.
For his part, Williams, who noted he was “comfortable” with the contract that the city offered, said he had “no problem meeting the residency requirement as currently provided for in the city charter." But, he added, ”if the city commission decides they want to provide me with that flexibility I’m certainly okay with that. I’m okay either way.”