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2013-02-28

Citizens' Committee - 'just trying to do something'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Although his absence from the Thursday, Feb. 21, meeting of city council precluded him from making public appointed members of a new Citizens' Committee, Mayor Don Clark offered the Bandera County Courier a list of the confirmed members the following day.
Members include Joe Hearn, Glen Clark, Margie Keese, Raymond Adamietz and Rilla Stephens with Hearn apparently serving as chairman. A sixth member has not yet been confirmed.
According to Clark, while the Citizens' Committee, which seems to be comprised of Bandera's "Old Guard," has no authority, they will meet regularly and make recommendations to Clark or to city council on things they feel would make for a better community.
"It'll be like a town hall meeting," Clark said, "or a group of neighbors and friends." He reiterated that the committee has no authority and that no councilman would be assigned to the Citizens' Committee.
An organizational meeting had already taken place at City Hall, and, according to Clark, another will be called next month. While anyone can apparently attend the meetings, the get-togethers are not required to be posted, so it would be nearly impossible for interested parties to ascertain when and where the somewhat secret meetings will occur.
Clark first fielded the idea of two committees - one made up of city residents and the other of local business owners during January's lone city council meeting.
At that time, the mayor sought approval from council to appoint "Citizens Committees, Business Committees and City Council Commissioners." This went along with a proposal that has been put forth intermittently by former Councilman Robert Koimn. Clark said the committees would consist of five members and a chairman, with appointees rotating every five to six months.
"They would have no authority, but they would work with me for input and I would report back to council or they would report to council themselves," he explained at the time. "They would be in advisory positions. They would just be an unofficial group of people trying to do something."
The City Council Commissioners, he said, would work on specific projects. As an example, he said Morgan might work on the "park beautification project." Another councilman would be in charge of the infrastructure and wastewater treatment committee, Clark indicated. They would also serve as liaisons with commissioners court.
"Where would the city administrator fit into all this?" City Administrator Mike Cardenas asked. Apparently this was the first time he had heard of Clark's idea. According to the mayor, Cardenas would still be "in charge," assisted by the citizens' committees. Additionally, Cardenas would not be required to attend meetings of the various committees nor would those meetings be subject to the Open Meetings Act.
When queried via email about the committees, municipal attorney Monte Akers responded, "Although I will guess at the correct answer, I've not been asked or told any details about these committees. Without knowing their makeup, purpose and extent of their authority, I cannot give you a definite answer. However, if, in fact, they are only advisable committees with no authority to do anything than make recommendations and they do not include any members of the City Council then they almost certainly not subject to the (Open Meetings) Act."
However, after consulting with agency attorneys, Heather Mahurin of the Texas Municipal League expressed another opinion. To a query from Councilman Maggie Schumacher, Mahurin opined that in the interest of transparency, meeting times, locations and topics under discussion should be posted and made available to interested parties at least 72 hours in advance.
Mahurin also noted that if the (Citizens' Committee) would make recommendations to city council, the meetings must follow the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, according to Schumacher.
After learning the names of those appointed to the Citizens' Committee, one longtime city watcher quipped, "It seems to me if they had any good ideas, (those ideas) would have been implemented decades ago."
According to Clark, members of the Business Committee have not yet been appointed. As his commented when attempting to form the Citizens' Committee, "It's a lot harder to find people to volunteer than I thought it would be." However, Clark is not adverse to expanding the membership of the committees, "There can be as many people on the committee was we want," he indicated.