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2014-01-16

City council debacle, Mike in or out?

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The good news coming out of the Thursday, Jan. 9, meeting of Bandera City Council is that Mike Cardenas is still city administrator. The bad news is that, by a 3-2 decision, council approved seeking applications for the position of city administrator. However, all is not lost because council also encouraged Cardenas to submit an application for the position he already holds and advised him that, in his capacity as current city administrator, he could participate in the selection process.
The motion to post the position of city administrator was made by Councilman Glenn Clark and seconded by Councilman Jim Hannah. Councilman Nita Jenkins cast the deciding third vote in favor of the motion. Councilman Suzanne Schauman also suggested that both positions - city administrator and public works director - be advertised.
After Glenn Clark's motion passed, someone in the SRO crowd shouted to council, "How do we get rid of you all?"
An earlier motion by Hannah - to reassign Cardenas to the position of public works director - died for lack of a second.
Closed sessions canned
Last week's meeting played to a full house despite the fact that Mayor Don Clark expressed concern about going over the 25-person limit in the city council chamber. Although the packed agenda was filled with controversial issues, he apparently failed to anticipate the level of attention and antipathy that would occur.
Interestingly, the first two items, a closed executive session to create job descriptions and discuss possible reassignment of duties of Cardenas, City Secretary Linda Boshek and Utility Clerk Lisa Chacon had been, in the words of the mayor, "stricken from the agenda." No information was given as to whether the items would resurface at a later meeting. Schauman had placed both items on the agenda.
Overwhelming support
From the onset, it rapidly became apparent that the majority of people attending the meeting came to support Cardenas.
Joe Davis, owner of Busbee's Bar-B-Que, called the proposed reassignment of Cardenas "unbelievable." Bringing up the specter of "personal animus" against Cardenas, Davis added, "This whole thing doesn't pass the smell test." He also raised questions of possible violations of the city council's scope of authority.
"You don't seem to understand that if you do not act within the scope of your authority, TML (Texas Municipal League) attorneys will not protect you," Davis said. "You could all be sued personally."
James McGroarty, owner of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar, said that during the last city election process, which occurred in November, he had heard that Mike was being set up for termination. "It is not right for you all to drag him through the dirt," McGroarty said. "And, you can't say he's not qualified after being here for 25 years."
Praising Cardenas, Precinct 3 Bandera County Commissioner Bobby Harris said, "Mike Cardenas is an asset to the city and needs to remain in his current position."
David Mauk, general manager of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District, also supported Cardenas, noting he had worked with him for the last five years. "Mike has always been professional and competent. I hope the council understands he's a true asset to the community," Mauk said.
After each person spoke on Cardenas' behalf, onlookers broke out in supportive applause - to the evident discomfiture of council.
Council's turn
Glenn Clark opened discussions on possible reassignment of Cardenas to public works director - which wasn't designated on the agenda as an "Executive Session pursuant to Section 551.074 (Personnel) of the Texas Government Code."
After noting he hadn't heard rumors of Cardenas' imminent termination, Glenn Clark recalled "visiting with Mike for 45 minutes on my porch." During the course of his somewhat disjointed narrative, Clark indicated he had apparently heard that Mike had said he had no problem going back to public works, but "he [Cardenas] didn't tell me."
Supporting Clark with a "ditto," Schauman noted Cardenas would "be strongest" as a public works director - albeit with a "salary adjustment." She then said that the administrator's position should be combined with that of the financial officer before observing, "It's all a conglomerated mess!"
Councilman John Hegemier favored allowing Cardenas to "act as city administrator" and giving him the opportunity to decide which position he actually desired. Cardenas has been city administrator since Oct. 27, 2011, according to the minutes of an October 20, 2011 city council meeting.
After reviewing those minutes, municipal attorney Monte Akers noted in a Jan. 7, email: "The minutes say that the motion was to hire [Mike Cardenas] as City Administrator, the vote was unanimous to do so and the City has treated him as such for over two years, so I don't see that there is any doubt that he is the City Administrator. Legally there is no particular difference between an interim city administrator and a city administrator."
'No explanation
needed'
Councilman Nita Jenkins reminded Cardenas that in October 2011, he had promised to return to public works if things were not working out. "I was hoping you would stand by that promise," she said.
However, Cardenas' "promise" was predicated on his position as city administrator "not working out." To date, no one has given Cardenas an indication that it "wasn't working out" - not even the present council who attempted to reassign him.
On Monday, Jan. 6, Jenkins submitted a request to hire a city manager [sic] to be placed on the Jan. 9 agenda. Under the "Summary of Proposed Agenda Item," Jenkins had written, "No explanation needed." She gave no indication of why she wanted Cardenas removed as city administrator.
Deeming Cardenas' current position as "18 months of pinch-hitting as city administrator," Hannah said that the public works department "needs leadership" and that Cardenas is "geared for the public works director." He added, "This is not a motion and not a firing. Mike's willing to do it."
What isn't working?
Cardenas, however, took exception to council's assertions, saying, "That bit about me accepting a move back to public works is not correct. However, if council orders me to, I'll have no choice." He then asked council to tell him what he has done wrong as an administrator.
Jumping right in, Hannah said Cardenas seemed so overwhelmed that he had little time to do follow-up on details. Jenkins concurred.
"Is this concerning something you requested?" Cardenas asked Hannah, who replied in the affirmative. "Did you ask me as a single councilman or was it at this table (during a city council meeting)?"
"As a single councilman," Hannah replied.
According to Cardenas, state law does not require city administrators to follow the orders of a single councilman, just directions of the entire council - as authorized in an open meeting.
"I'm glad somebody around here knows the law" came a rejoinder from the back of the room.
Tellingly, no other council members offered their reasons for wanting Cardenas to be reassigned.
More audience support
At this point, many audience members, including Lynn Palmer, Nancy Montgomery, George Hamilton, Mike Smith and Maggie Schumacher, among others, spoke up in support of Cardenas as city administrator.
When asked, municipal attorney Monte Akers described Cardenas as "the best city administrator I've ever seen. If you have him as city administrator, he still has expertise in public works." Akers did not feel this was a detriment.
Nevertheless, Jenkins, Hannah and Clark voted in favor of seeking a new city administrator.
When Mayor Don Clark was asked how long it would take to train a new city administrator, his "two months" reply was met with hoots of laughter and derisive comments from those attending.