Councilwoman called out over “misleading” letter

Posted on August 14, 2023 by Romi White

Milton City Councilwoman Marilyn Farrow apologized August 10 after realizing she had incorrectly described proposed changes to the city’s development code in a June 14 letter mailed to property owners within the historic district.

“It’s disappointing that citizens have been misled regarding the efforts of the Historic Preservation Board,” said John David Ellis, a volunteer who currently serves as chairman of the city’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB).

During the August 10 HPB meeting, Farrow admitted sending the June 14 letter, telling the board she mailed copies at her own personal expense.

The letter was sent out ahead of the city’s June 20 planning board meeting and encouraged the submission of comments on proposed changes to the Unified Development Code (UDC), a document which governs development within the municipality.

However, Farrow apparently failed to understand the proposed UDC changes, stating the following in that letter: “The powers of the Historic Preservation Board would expand beyond its current advisory role to certify, regulate, assess fees and even demolish historic properties.”

Multiple members of the HPB and other city officials say that statement was misleading since the HPB already certifies and regulates structures within the historic district, and none of the proposed changes called for the HPB to start assessing related fees.

Additionally, Ellis also expressed frustration that Farrow’s letter caused confusion over an UDC change to provide an opportunity for property owners throughout the city, not just within the historical district, to seek historic designation on a strictly voluntary basis. “She still characterizes it as a power grab by the Historic Preservation Board. Ultimately, we are all volunteers that serve the city of Milton, and just want to see the city be the best it can be,” Ellis told South Santa Rosa News.

City Attorney Alex Andrade during the August 10 HPB meeting asked Farrow to clarify her assertions, including comments made to him prior to the beginning of the meeting regarding “bad legal advice” she alleged he provided during the July HPB meeting.

Andrade asked Farrow to read the UDC verbiage, which states the city council, not the HPB, will assess any related fees. He then asked her what was incorrect about his July 13 statement to the HPB.

Farrow then read aloud Andrade’s July 13 statement: “It’s not my understanding that (the HPB has) the ability to assess any type of fees.”

At that point Farrow realized her mistake. “Well, I stand corrected then, and I apologize,” Farrow said.

But saying she’s sorry isn’t enough for some. “Councilwoman Farrow’s actions are unethical, and I believe she has violated her oath of office to uphold the city’s charter, comprehensive plan, unified development code and other governing documents of the city of Milton,” said Milton business owner Cassandra Sharp, who also volunteers on the HPB.

Sharp and others want to see Farrow issue a correction to the June 14 letter. The matter is expected to come before the council for discussion during the board’s August 17 agenda workshop.