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2014-03-27

City - too much talk, not enough action

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Attending a meeting of Bandera City Council is reminiscent of watching a carnival bumper car ride. The dais is filled with elected officials going off on tangents, generating flurries of commotion and activity, but without direction or leadership. Critical thinking, institutional memory and a sense of vision for the city seem to be sorely lacking.
Commenting to the Courier, one city-watching wag described the Thursday, March 20, session as "... one of the most ridiculous meetings I've ever attended. What a joke!"
Another noted, "I thought this council was elected to actually do something. To my mind, there's been too much talk and no action."
For the record, should any elected city official wish to learn how governmental meetings should be conducted, they might attend Bandera County Commissioners Court, the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District or perhaps even the FFA at Bandera High School.
Cardenas still city administrator
For example, on the agenda was "Change Mike Cardenas job title to Public Works Director and negotiate salary." For months, Councilman Jim Hannah has attempted to do just that, but for some inexplicable reason, he was not the one who put this item on the agenda. According to Mayor Pro Tem John Hegemier, Cardenas had asked Hegemier to do it because it was becoming an embarrassment for council to solicit for a new city administrator when they already had one.
Hegemier continued, "Mike wants us to finalize the title change." Additionally, once he is reassigned as director of public works, a new salary would have to be negotiated, which stopped council cold.
"We'll need to have a workshop to discuss salary," said Mayor Don Clark. "We're not prepared at this time."
Council has been trying to have Cardenas removed as city administrator since the November election yet it appears that no one took his salary requirements into consideration. For the record and for those interested, Cardenas' salary negotiations are set to begin at 9 am, Thursday, March 27, during a special-called meeting - maybe.
Lawsuit finally settled
After an executive session that lasted over an hour, it was announced that protracted litigation between the city and James McGroarty over a non-existent alley located somewhere within the confines of the 11th Street Cowboy Bar had been settled at last. Mayor Clark had apparently already signed the agreement; however, no public comment would be made until the former councilmen and McGroarty himself also signed the document and the court has accepted it.
Council took no action on the other topic discussed in the executive session: "Review of City Attorney." However, on the agenda of that 9 am, Thursday, March 27, special meeting, council plans to seek proposals from law firms to serve as municipal attorney for the City of Bandera.
Bye-bye Mae Vion
With the city attorney's position on the line, council seems to be making a clean sweep of staff. They accepted the resignation of Mae Vion Meyer as interim treasurer, effective March 28. Coincidentally, that will also be City Secretary Linda Boshek's last day as she also tendered her resignation on March 17.
Although Councilman Suzanne Schauman had submitted the agenda item: "Possible solutions for replacing or reassigning the duties of Mae Vion Meyer," neither Schauman - nor anyone else - appeared to have an inkling of how to find a replacement. Luckily, Boshek assured council that Meyer would oversee the payroll due at the end of the month. The next payroll will be April 15, which gives council some breathing room.
"We have to decide what to do about paying the bills," Schauman said. Again, she and others seemed at a loss as to how to keep the city running fiscally in the absence of a treasurer.
Hannah suggested that Bruce Hanks of Starlight Bookkeeping might contract with the city as a consultant - until Schauman pointed out, "It's right in the middle of tax season."
"Well, there must be someone in the city who's familiar with QuickBooks who could help out," Hegemier offered optimistically.
Council then authorized Mayor Clark to seek out an interim treasurer. No action was taken.
Belatedly and at the prompting of former Councilman Lynn Palmer, council publically thanked Meyer for her 18 months of service as the city's interim financial officer.
Schauman suggested thanking Meyer in person, but frankly, this writer can't imagine Meyer attending another meeting of city council.
Additionally, attempted discussions of replacing Boshek were stymied because the topic "wasn't on the agenda." Council is finally learning something about parliamentary procedure.
Bidding process &
Private contractors
Then ensued a discussion about "current procedures for awarding city contracts," put on the agenda by Councilman Glenn Clark. Currently, only projects estimated to cost over $50,000 are required to go out for bids.
Mayor Clark wanted to start taking bids for "anything that happens in the city," while Glenn Clark favored projects over $1,000 going out for bids. Both recommendations brought groans from the audience.
According to Cardenas, the proposed restrictions would effectively stop any projects from moving forward in the city. "We'd be going out for bids all the time. Today, I bought a fire hydrant for $1,800," he said. "You need to give this a lot of thought. You won't just be handicapping me, you'd be handicapping the marshal's department, too."
"How about a $5,000 limit?" Hannah asked.
"It's better than $1,000," Cardenas rejoined.
Mayor Clark volunteered "To work with Mike and come up with a figure."
Glenn Clark also brought up requirements for private contractors working within the city limits. Essentially, he wanted the contractors to be licensed to do what they were supposed to be doing, such as air conditioning. This would include plumbing and electrical work among others. "The code enforcement people could come and check (about licenses)," Glenn Clark said. "We need to keep a handle on this."
Cardenas said a previous council had attempted to require licensure, but contractors balked at paying the fees the city had proposed requiring. No action was taken.
Slammin' Linda
For some inexplicable reason other than wanting it "on the record," Glenn Clark complained that Boshek had not filled one of his requests for information. Rather than address this with Cardenas privately, he decided to include this slight as an agenda item.
Glenn Clark stated that after he had attempted a second - or perhaps third time - to get the requested information, Boshek had purportedly accused him of "harassment."
At that point, Cardenas stopped Glenn Clark's rambling, cautioning him, "Don't call out anyone's name. You have to be real careful here."
"When council asks questions, you should expect to have answers in a timely manner," Glenn Clark rejoined. He said due to a lack of backup on a computer, the requested information is no longer available.
Various audience participants then opined about computer backup; however, the upshot was that not all computers, including Boshek's, were being routinely backed up. However, that oversight has now been corrected.
Adding to the Glenn Clark's complaints, Hannah has apparently not yet received information on the "historic overlay" so near and dear to his heart. He suggested the matter be clarified in the policy manual, which will undoubtedly fix the problem.
On the other hand, Schauman said she has never had a problem accessing requested information. "Linda has been very helpful," she said.
Mayor Clark suggested conferring with the now-soon-to-be-terminated municipal attorney about "what we can do." He assured Glenn Clark, "Just let me know what you want and I'll stay on top of it." No action was taken on the agenda item.
However, conventional wisdom suggests that with Boshek now a short-timer, Glenn Clark et al will have to whistle for any information until a new city secretary is hired.
Enter Lynn Palmer
During the public comment section, Palmer asked council to consider appointing her to the unexpired term of late Councilman Nita Jenkins. Previously, scuttlebutt had Joe Hearn and Phillip Acton hypothetically being tapped for the seat. Or, perhaps as some suggest, the seat will be left vacant, giving Mayor Clark the tie-breaking prerogative.
Regarding that, Palmer cautioned against having the mayor also act as city administrator. "It wouldn't be good for the mayor to have authority as city administrator and also be a tie-breaker," she said. "That's not how a democracy is supposed to be."