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2014-06-19

More ??? about not-so-public hearing

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

The Bandera County Courier recently published an article on the City of Bandera's not-so-public hearing, held Wednesday, May 28, to discuss three substandard houses located within the city limits.
After the article appeared on June 5, Rita and Stan Sellers of Kirby contacted the newspaper. Rita Sellers serves as trustee of the estate of her late mother, Mrs. Coy F. Ross. A home owned by the late Ross at 315 10th Street was one of the buildings found to violate City Ordinance 230, which addresses substandard buildings.
The Sellers had received a certified letter from the city dated May 12 requesting that the couple attend the not-so-public hearing. However, the letter was delayed, according to the Sellers. "We didn't find out about the May 28 meeting until the Friday before," Rita Sellers said. "That didn't give us a lot of time."
Although the public hearing was not posted and a quorum of city council was not present, at the meeting's conclusion, City Administrator Lamar Schulz required the Sellers to "within 30 days repair or demolish the building, unless it is proven at the hearing that the work cannot reasonably be done in 30 days." As a municipal attorney who is not associated with the City of Bandera pointed out, "No action can be taken at a meeting at which there was not a quorum of city council."
And, if any doubt remains that the May 28 uncalled meeting should have been posted, the certified letter to the Sellers began: "This is your notice of a Public Hearing to be conducted at 6 pm on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at City Council Chambers ..."
After receiving the letter, the couple contacted Mayor Don Clark. According to the Sellers, Mayor Clark told them there was nothing he could do to stop the meeting, adding, "It is out of my hands." He also told the Sellers he knew nothing about the not-so-public hearing.
However, according to Schulz, all members of city council were informed of the impending hearing although only two attended the session.
The 30-day timeline puts the Sellers in somewhat of a bind, according to Rita Sellers. As she explained, the State of Texas has put a lien on the house to recover her mother's end-of-life Medicare expenses. "With the required asbestos abatement, it will cost more to demolish the house than it's worth," she said.
During the not-so-public hearing, city resident Jodie Sinclair asked Schultz and Public Works Director Mike Cardenas to contact the state and have the lien lifted, allowing the demolition project to move forward. Schultz had earlier informed Sinclair about the not-so-public hearing so at least one member of the public knew it was occuring.
The Courier contacted Schultz to see if the lien has been lifted from 315 10th Street - or if he had even contact state authorities - but he did not return the call by press time.
"Glenn Clark put in his two cents to try to help us," Rita Sellers said - to no avail, it seemed. Councilman Clark was one of two who attended the not-so-public hearing.
Other property owners contacted about their derelict properties included George Hamilton and John Hamilton, who own property at 1206 Cherry Street, and a trustee for the estate of Della M. Bailey, 1210 Cedar Street. No representative of the late Bailey was in attendance.
However, if the Office of the Texas Attorney General deems the unposted public hearing held May 28 to be illegal, any action taken would, in turn, also be illegal.
When apprised of the situation, a local citizen opined, "As conducted, the hearing would seem a deliberate attempt to circumvent the Open Meetings Act."