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2012-09-13

City's 'troubling' remodel overage - $63.07, but upgrades garner kudos from citizens

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

During the last couple of weeks, city and contract workers have been busy updating offices and installing security measures at Bandera City Hall.

Although the building has been virtually untouched since the 1970s, the renovations have caused an ostensible "firestorm" among "concerned citizens." During a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 6, City Administrator Mike Cardenas updated council on the three-prong city hall remodel.

According to Cardenas, possible renovations had been brought up during two previous budget sessions, but the former administrator and mayor had insisted there was insufficient money in the budget for the updates. "We were repeatedly told 'if there was money left over' we could fix things up a little," Cardenas said in an interview. "Apparently, there were never any 'leftover funds'." As city administrator, he is in charge of upkeep of the municipal building.

According to Cardenas, the first portion of the remodeling took place in the offices of the municipal judge and city marshal. "Since 2009, the city attorney has advised us that the municipal court has to be completely separate from city law enforcement officers," he said, "but that was never done. Now it has been."

In fact in October 2009, the city built a sort of "toll booth" as an ersatz office for former employee, Pam Scharmen in an attempt to convince the public and their defense attorneys that Scharmen, who served as municipal clerk - and sometime municipal judge - was not employed as a secretary for the then police department.

The reconfiguration purportedly forestalled breaches of confidentiality regarding conversations and interviews that Scharmen might overhear that could relate to possible future court cases over which she might have presided.

Although both the former city administrator, mayor and judge insisted Scharmen was not employed by the police department, in fact, prior to her termination in October 2011, her salary was apparently paid from both that department and that of the municipal court.

The recently expanded former "toll booth" now houses an office for both Municipal Judge Dawn Wright and a future part-time municipal clerk. The office has a separate door as does the city marshal's office.

"That portion of the remodel included new flooring, painting, electricity, air conditioning and new shelving.

The $7,939 cost was split between the budgets of the municipal court and marshal's office," Cardenas explained.

Considering that construction cost for the "box with pocket doors" - aka "toll booth" - was approximately $5,000 three years ago, the city certainly undeniably got a deal on that portion of the remodel.

On the advice of a consultant, several doors were permanently sealed for security measures at a cost of $1,500. Sealed doors included one from the law enforcement area to the office of the city secretary, one leading from the Bandera Volunteer Fire Department to the municipal building and from the former police department to the fire department.

Front office and city council chamber renovations included painting the walls and trim, installing new flooring, insulating windows, adding shelving, renovating restrooms, patching holes in walls and updating cabinets and countertops. "The total cost was $3,665 - split between the general fund and the enterprise fund," Cardenas said, "which came under the line item, 'Building Repair and Maintenance' in the 2011-2012 budget.

Cardenas admitted he had overspent the allowable budget by $60.65 for office renovations and a whopping $2.42 for sealing the doors. To deal with minor overruns, governmental entities routinely approve simple line item transfers.

Local contractors for the project were Robert DeLeon and Bob Madden.
Reactions to the renovations were positive.

"Y'all did a good job," said local businessman James McGroarty, "(City hall) is a point of contact and it should look good. Maybe this will inspire others to clean their businesses, too, and get the city looking like it used to. When Wilvie Smith was mayor, Bandera was spotless. It ought to be that way again."

Anita Dunnenberg added, "I work for a builder and let me tell you, you got your money's worth."

During an earlier budget workshop, grant writer Margaret Hardin with Langford Community Services Associates had taken photos of the work in progress. "I'm going to show these to city councils of other towns I work for. I want to show them how easy and inexpensive it would be to make their city buildings look nice, too."

"We used local labor for the project.

This was long overdue because the building has had little done to it since the 1970s," noted Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher.


Pictured: Photo by Judith Pannebaker
Contractor Robert DeLeon installs new doors to storage cabinets in Bandera City Hall.