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Don't leave - best show begins after meeting

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Those living under rocks can be excused for not knowing that meetings of Bandera City Council have once again become the "best show in town" - entertainment that's admission free!

Council attended two sessions on Thursday, Sept. 13, beginning at 6 pm with a perennial budget workshop in which discussions centered on employee salaries and hiring a building inspector and 30-hour per week part-time deputy marshal with benefits. At 6:30 pm, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher opened a special city council meeting to discuss and take possible action on amendments to the 2011-2012 budget.

Since both agendas seemed innocuous, there should have been no need for the presence of municipal attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells. Council explicitly followed her instructions regarding the verbiage of the possible budget amendments and wording of the agenda item. As it turned out, of course, not having an attorney present translated into a false bit of economy.

$50K overrun

Interestingly, for the first time in years, council actually discussed budget amendments - aka budget adjustments or line item transfers.

Previously, when projects went over budget, a former city treasurer, who also served as city administrator, had merely informed council of the overage and transferred funds from another line item to make up the deficit. Council always acquiesced to the suggestions, but rarely - if ever - approved by a vote the necessary budget adjustments as is usually done.

For example, in 2010, $30,000 was budgeted for a drainage project on 12th Street - a project that ultimately failed because, according to reports, the recommendations of a city engineer were not followed. However, before its completion, the cost had soared to $80,000 - a fact only revealed during a council meeting on Sept. 11, 1012.

Apparently, council members were never called upon to approve the transfer of municipal funds to cover the overrun.

"Council was led to believe TxDOT took care of the extra cost," noted Schumacher, "But they didn't. Apparently TxDOT only gave the city materials for the project."

Improvements made by the Texas Department of Transportation on Highway 173 North contributed significantly to drainage woes on 12th Street.

ID vs. approve

To close out the 2011-2012 budget correctly, Boulware-Wells recommended identifying all necessary budget amendments - aka budget adjustments and line item transfers - before approving them during a special meeting on Monday, Sept.17.

At the onset of last week's meeting, Schumacher told those attending, "There will be no action taken during this special called meeting."

City Administrator Mike Cardenas added, "We'll just be going over the general fund line items that need amending. This hasn't been done in the past, but we'll be doing it in the future."

As the identified areas that required amending droned on and on, Councilman John Hegemier said, "I guess it can't hurt to approve everything, but I think this is overkill."

Interim financial officer Mae Vion Meyer added, "A lot of items in the general fund were not accurate. For example, many things were listed under the wrong line item."

"In the past, everything was considered okay as long as we didn't go over budget, but Barbara told us that wasn't the way to do it," Schumacher said. She added, "With this exercise and others, we will have an accurate picture of both budgets - 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 - to present to the public."

Circus begins

For the first time in years, council believed it was actually doing something correctly and as transparently as possible. As is often the case, however, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And, when the meeting was adjourned at 7 pm, all hell - and the four-ring circus - broke loose.

Prior to the adjournment, referring to recent upgrades at the municipal building, a concerned citizen accused Schumacher of "spending money illegally." After adjournment, the resident citizen continued the dialogue, saying to Schumacher, "I wouldn't have had to make this public, but you refused to return my calls."

"Yes, you would have (made it public) and I am not returning any more of your calls," Schumacher rejoined. "We have explained this over and over to you. You are not going to waste any more of the city's time and money."

Before Schumacher finished speaking, the concerned citizen, who had also exhorted Councilman Binky Archer to "shut up" after Archer interjected herself into the conversation, headed to the door.

At this same time, Councilwoman Nancy Montgomery was taking to task a Bandera County resident for an inaccurate comparison he had made at a previous meeting.

Meanwhile, Schumacher followed the citizen to continue making her point.

The concerned citizen stopped at the door and a contentious dialogue ensued.

Stepping into the fray, Deputy Marshal Scott MacNaughton suggested the conversation be taken outside.

The citizen pushed the door open with this reporter following her for an interview.

Fusses & meeting violations?

The question posed was: "Why all the fuss over a $60 overrun on improvements to the municipal building when no one expressed concern about a drainage project that went $50,000 over budget?"

"Just because things were done illegally in the past, that doesn't mean they have to be done illegally now," came the reply.

When it was pointed out that all updates to the municipal building had been completed with funds from the building maintenance budget item, the citizen gestured toward the municipal building and asked, "You call that building maintenance?"

The affirmative reply further inflamed the woman and she stormed off toward the library next door.

When this reporter returned to the city council chamber, yet another county resident was lecturing the remnants of city council on open meetings, declaring council in violation of the state statute.

Later, expressing concern that council had indeed violated Texas' Open Meetings Act, a county resident recommended that MacNaughton file charges against the governing body.

The man's charge apparently stemmed from the fact council had not approved the budget amendments, but rather had simply reached a consensus that adjustments to the 2011-2012 budget needed to be made.

MacNaughton instead suggested that such a charge might be premature. "I'm not familiar with the complete Open Meetings Statute and I would not feel comfortable filing a complaint merely on a (county) resident's say-so," MacNaughton said in a later interview.

Dramatis personae exited stage left, ending the meeting of Bandera City Council. Another had been called for Monday, Sept. 17, however, giving rise to hope that more acrimony and entertainment will surely follow.