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2013-03-21

Who's in charge in City of Bandera?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor's note: For another on the subject of this article, see "City Park - not a citizens' committee project')

Brandi Morgan was elected to Bandera City Council on the platform of rejuvenating City Park to make it one of the premier tourist attractions within the municipality - and a place where local families, especially those with children, could relax and have a fun time.

"That - and recycling - were my primary reasons for running for elected office," she said in an interview on Thursday, March 14. "I really want to make the park a better place - a place that the entire community can be proud of."
Ad hominem attack
To that end, she had worked with the former Economic Development Corporation, comprised of the late Horst Pallaske, current Mayor Don Clark, Joe Hearn, Linda James, Vonia Dyer and Councilman Binky Archer. When then-EDC President Pallaske suggested she do research for additions to City Park, Morgan approached the task with enthusiasm.
However, a roadblock apparently occurred in short order because Morgan was summarily ousted and Pallaske appointed himself and Clark to take over City Park improvements, according to an open letter by Morgan that was published in the Courier in February 2012.
A month later, during a joint meeting of EDC and city council, she questioned expenditures for two park pavilions, asking, "Why was so much money invested in the pavilions? Why was it so important?" The pavilions were purportedly constructed without going out for bids, as per an interview with Pallaske before his death.
Rather than answer the question directly, Clark launched an ad hominem attack, saying, "Brandi's upset because of her little play park."
$30K allocation
Fast forward to council budget workshops for fiscal year 2012-2013, when $30,000 was allocated for park improvements to include stand-alone educational play stations. Morgan researched that equipment as well, noting that $4,000 per play station would allow the purchase of several stations.
Even during a meeting on Wednesday, March 16, current EDC members, who replaced former members who had served far beyond their allotted six years, discussed adding funds to the city coffers for park improvements, such as jogging and walking trails and playground equipment.
EDC President Johnny Boyle asked that draft versions, costs, timelines and proposals for City Park be reviewed. "We can plant the seed at this meeting and convene a workshop for other projects," he said. At the same meeting, the EDC approved $2,500 for 10 wooden picnic tables as per a request from Clark - despite the fact that Mayor Pro Tem John Hegemier had earlier asked for concrete tables.
Get everyone involved
Clearly excited that plans seemed to be moving forward at last, Genie Strickland recalled a park master plan that had been commissioned for $6,000 by the former EDC. However, after being completed, the park plan was simply shelved and forgotten. "Because of all the events that take place, this park project needs to be a joint effort with the BBA, Chamber, the city and EDC," Strickland said.
"The best way to approach this would be to create a project list, prioritize the projects, both long- and short-term, and work with various groups," Boyle said. "We want everyone at the table."
Previously, new members of the EDC, Lynn Palmer and Martha Shoemaker, had identified the park as a priority that needed a playground and walking trails.
Everyone involved was aware that City Park was finally on the radar and improvements would begin at last - with Morgan leading the effort on behalf of city council.
'Will you help us?'
However, she was in for a surprise after the Thursday, March 14, meeting of city council when approached by Joe Hearn and Glenn Clark, members of Mayor Clark's newly formed citizens' committee. In an email, Morgan indicated that Glenn Clark had asked her to assist on their project.
Apparently, as members of the citizens' committee, Glenn Clark and Hearn had been asked to serve as prime movers on the City Park and moribund skate park project(s). Prior to this, Mayor Clark had touted the newly selected committee as having no authority except that of making recommendations to him or to city council.
According to Morgan, however, the men had spent "all morning" at the park working on their plans. "I was very perplexed and explained to Glenn Clark that I had been working on the project for nearly two years," Morgan said. Ironically, she had spent that afternoon with City Administrator Mike Cardenas at City Park, mapping out potential locations for playground equipment and a possible skate park.
Morgan asked the men about the citizens' committee such as who was on it, where meetings were held and how the public - or city councilmen - could know when the meetings were taking place.
According to Morgan, Hearn stated that "they" had already selected 10 people to participate in the citizens' committee and that "they" did not want the group to grow to 50 people. "(Joe Hearn) said to me, 'It's very informal and we want to keep it small'," Morgan noted.
Right to know
As an elected city official, Morgan insisted she "had a right" to know times and locations of the meetings, as well as other details.
"Joe finally said the next meeting was set for 5 pm, Wednesday, March 27, in the library basement, but he didn't really want to invite anyone because 'things can get out of hand that way'."
In fact, another member of the citizens' committee had unwittingly corroborated Morgan's statement. When apprised that the Courier had offered to publish the meeting dates, times and locations at no charge, Hearn had reportedly responded, "We don't want to do that. Too many people would show up with their opinions and we'd never get anything done."
Clearly outraged by Hearn's alleged statement, Morgan opined, "I told them that it sounded like a private meeting, consisting of cherry-picked men who were former EDC members (Hearn had served with Don Clark on EDC for 13 years) and who are working with the mayor - without accountability. No one on city council is even aware that the meetings are taking place or what the citizens' committee is planning."
'Off council?'
At the point when Mayor Don Clark allegedly told her pointblank in front of witnesses, "I'll get you off this council, girl," Morgan admitted things became "very heated."
"That fired me up no end," Morgan said. After telling Glenn Clark and Hearn that "what they were doing was wrong," she tried to leave the building, but found all doors locked. "I realized that I was very upset."
Following her, Hearn allegedly asked her to "calm down and stop acting like a child."
"Nearly in tears, I told Joe that if anyone should know, he and Don Clark should know how hard I've worked and how much this project has meant to me," Morgan said. "I feel that all they want to do is step on my toes and prevent progress." She added that Glenn Clark appeared to be unaware of her previous work on City Park.
Morgan continued, "At that point, I told (Mayor) Don (Clark) again, 'What you are doing is wrong'."
For the record, it took the Courier approximately four weeks to learn the identities of those on the citizens' committee - Chairman Hearn, Glenn Clark, Raymond Adamietz, Margie Keese and Rilla Stephens. The other members still remain a mystery. As reported in the Courier on Feb. 28, Clark said that while the citizens' committee has no authority, they would meet regularly and make recommendations to Clark or to city council on things they feel would make for a better community.
Advisory or
action status?
"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 could be assigned to the citizens' committee.
The question remains, however, when Glenn Clark and Hearn approached an elected member of city council and asked her if she would like to "help" them with the city park project, does that constitute a councilman being a part of the citizens' committee? It also would indicate that the committee is not an advisory group but rather an action committee with projects, and, as such, must follow the Open Meetings Act. And, for the record, town hall meetings are usually open to everyone - with times and locations posted prominently.
For her part, perhaps Morgan made the most astute observation when she asked, "What do two older men with no small children know about designing a park to attract families with kids anyway?"