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Accusation flies at city council

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Pictured: During the Thursday, Jan. 13, meeting, Bandera Councilman Nita Jenkins accused beleaguered City Administrator Mike Cardenas of misappropriation of equipment owned by the municipality. Mayor Pro Tem John Hegemier is also pictured.

Now-you-see-him-now-you-don't City Administrator Mike Cardenas shown in happier days.

For months, Bandera City Council has discussed reassigning City Administrator Mike Cardenas to his original position as director of public works. However, when an incident that occurred during a Thursday, Jan. 13, meeting is investigated - and perhaps litigated - Cardenas may end up owning the city should a councilman's allegation of theft prove unfounded.
Although the agenda item "Personnel matters regarding Public Works Director and City Administrator" was originally slated for a closed executive session, Cardenas elected to have the discussion take place in open session, which is his prerogative.
Councilman Suzanne Schauman indicated Cardenas' strong suit was as public works director because she felt he did not properly oversee the city's finances. As examples, she cited Cardenas being unaware that a financial CD had matured and an "unprofessional" city budget on the website. "There are a thousand things wrong with a document I printed off the Internet," Schauman said. "I could go on and on about the finances."
She also charged that Cardenas was not experienced in financial dealings or in administration of office personnel. "You're great in the field, but you're just not prepared."
In his defense, Cardenas stated most of his time has been spent "putting out fires." Regarding the "unprofessional" document to which Schauman referred, Cardenas said, "Council approved what's on the Internet."
After noting Cardenas had met the expectations of a previous council, Mayor Pro Tem John Hegemier said it would unfair to expect him to satisfy the needs of the present council before those needs could be ascertained.
"The former council had no organization," Schauman rejoined. "Mike should have taken the reins two and a half years ago."
Councilmen Glenn Clark and Jim Hannah agreed that Cardenas would be a better fit as director of public works.
"If council decides that's best, so be it. I'll give 110 percent," Cardenas said. However, as a 24-year employee of the city, he noted he would expect to received proper compensation as director of public works.
Councilman Nita Jenkins asked Cardenas how he would "prove himself" if given another year as city administrator as he had previously suggested.
Citing the looming city audit, budget process and ordinance changes, Cardenas indicated that, at this point, "proving himself" would be impossible.
Then, Jenkins asked if Cardenas had a private business in addition to being city administrator.
"Yes ma'am, I do," he replied. Cardenas owns a fence-building business.
"Do you use city equipment to run your business?" Jenkins asked, to which Cardenas replied, "No, ma'am, I have my own equipment."
At this point, Mayor Don Clark looked to city attorney Zachariah Evans for assistance.
Evans advised Jenkins that her line of questioning had strayed off topic.
Ignoring Evans, Jenkins then referenced a posthole digger that she alleged Cardenas had taken to his house and which had apparently gone missing. "I have this documented," Jenkins said, pointing a finger at Cardenas and adding, "I got you."
When Jenkins made her accusation, the council chamber became quiet. As one witness to the exchange noted, "You could have heard a pin drop."
Breaking the silence, Cardenas asked Evans, "Did you get that last comment Ms. Jenkins made?"
"Yes, I did," Evans replied.
"Good," Jenkins added.
On Friday, Feb. 14, under the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Courier requested copies of all documents or photographs in Jenkins' possession that indicated Cardenas had misappropriated city equipment. By press time, the request had been turned over to Cardenas who had forwarded it to the city attorney.
When the general discussion ended, Hannah made a motion to reassign Cardenas to director of public works; however, Evans noted that that option had not been included on the agenda. He advised council to craft an appropriate agenda item for the next meeting.
During the Jan. 9 meeting, Hannah's first motion to reassign Cardenas as public works director had died for lack of a second.
Later in the Feb. 13 meeting, Hannah and Mayor Don Clark advocated advertising for a new administrator, as well as a public works director, on both the Texas Municipal League and city websites.
Glenn Clark asked why it would be necessary to advertise for both positions.
"Mike's agreeable to being the public works director," Schauman said. "Why do we need to advertise for that position?"
Without a reasonable answer to her question, council approved advertising only for a city administrator.
It should be noted that while Cardenas might have been amenable to being reassigned, he only agreed to doing as council directed.
During a workshop on Jan. 25, it became apparent that the writing was on the wall for Cardenas' position as city administrator.
When Glenn Clark suggested giving him a contract for a year, county resident Robert Koimn - apparently lobbying for Cardenas' ouster - commented, "There'll be another election in November. It behooves you to do it to a conclusion now. You have the will. Another council might not have the will."
Koimn continued, "Mike has served under several administrations. He morphs to what is needed. He's a survivor. If council wants to take action, it must move forward."
At the same time, Hannah added, "If we go out for applications, it will take six months. I'm still for getting a job description out and see who replies." Conventional wisdom suggests that Koimn will be appointed Bandera's next city administrator.