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2014-06-26

City's alleged open meetings violations

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

During an investigation into wrongdoing by ex-Bandera County Sheriff Weldon Tucker, a BCSO deputy asked a veteran law enforcement officer, "What do I tell them if they interview me?"
The law enforcement officer replied, "I suggest you tell the truth. You can be sure if (an investigator) asks you a question, he already knows the answer to it."
That investigation - the talk of the county for months, if not years - ended with Tucker pleading guilty to misuse of county property and taking a plea bargain that precluded jail time. He resigned his elected position in disgrace, was stripped of his peace officer's certification and served two years of deferred adjudication. All the resultant chaos stemmed from the former sheriff's personal use of an ostensible water rescue boat donated to Bandera County by a San Antonio bail bondsman.
Now, the City of Bandera is undergoing scrutiny due to complaints about alleged repeated violations of the Open Meetings Act by some members of the current city council.
As expected, 198th District Attorney Scott Monroe was characteristically mum on the subject. "Not only can I not offer a comment, but I also cannot there is an investigation. However, Texas Ranger Kevin Wright assigned to Boerne began preliminary enquiries regarding the complaints approximately a month ago. At that time, eight to 10 people were contacted. After what might be construed as significant evidence came to light, an in-depth investigation was initiated.
Last week, Wright interviewed Mayor Pro Tem John Hegemier at the Bandera County Library where he serves as director. On Tuesday, June 24, Hegemier spoke candidly about the encounter, the thrust of which was possible violations of the Open Meetings Act.
Hegemier readily admitted he had met in the library with Mayor Don Clark and Councilman Jim Hannah several times "a while back," but didn't consider the meetings problematic. "Since the mayor can't vote, I didn't think he would be part of a quorum," said Hegemier, an eight-year veteran of Bandera City Council.
"However, after doing some research, I found out that for the purposes of the Open Meetings Act, a mayor is considered part of a quorum - even as a non-voting member of council."
Although he couldn't recall what was discussed at the suspect meetings, Hegemier didn't consider the topics very important - whatever they were. "The mayor comes over quite often. He wants to keep me abreast of what's happening since I serve as mayor pro tem," he explained.
Continuing, Hegemier said, "This is a small town. It's hard to avoid other council members. I have property next to Jim Hannah."
Hegemier added, "I'm not losing any sleep over it. If mistakes were made, they were unintentional. Every meeting is a surprise when votes occur and motions are made. I don't think we violated the spirit of the Open Meetings Act."
He noted however, that perhaps a review of the rules surrounding the Open Meetings Act is in order. All Texas elected officials are required to complete a course on the Open Meetings Act within 90 days of taking oaths of office.
Although Wright reportedly also spoke with Mayor Don Clark, calls to Clark about the visit were not returned by press time.
The alleged illegal meetings that Hegemier referenced did not include an unposted public hearing that occurred on May 28. A review of that meeting has not been included in this investigation.