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2014-07-17

Understaffing, underbudgeting & listening posts at city

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

According to reports, the Bandera County Courier "got it all wrong" last week when the newspaper postulated that beleaguered Director of Public Works Mike Cardenas would once again be the subject of an executive session.
As it turned out the agenda item to "... deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee" was, once again, pulled from the agenda. Not coincidentally, Cardenas himself was absent from the meeting. He was in Eagle Pass.
Never fear, however, yet a somewhat less-than-enigmatic item is back on the Thursday, July 17, agenda: "To deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline of, and/or hear a complaint against, a public officer or employee, the City Administrator."
According to City Administrator Lamar Schulz, the executive session will afford him an opportunity for a frank discussion and question and answer period with city council as a whole rather than individually. "I'm looking forward to it," Schulz said.
During the July 10 special meeting, during the open forum section, a concerned citizen spoke on an agenda item allowing Cardenas to advertise for open positions within his department. The public works department is short four employees.
This concerned citizen alluded to Cardenas as contemplating retirement, which gave rise to continued speculation that a "shadow government" is actually calling the shots within the municipality.
Another tidbit gleaned from last week's hour-long session concerned the now understaffed city marshal's department. Marshal James "Charlie" Hicks asked permission to fill slots left vacant by the recent resignations of Chief Deputy Scott MacNaughton and Deputy Amanda Wedgworth.
However, rather than allow him to advertise for deputies for the already budgeted positions, by a 3-1 vote, council decided postpone the decision until the July 17 meeting. A clearly displeased Councilman Suzanne Schauman voted to fill the positions as Hicks requested.
Also announced was a $62,369 shortfall in the city's garbage contract, which must be taken out of the utility fund balance. According to Schulz, council failed to earmark sufficient funds in the 2013-2014 budget for increasing garbage collection fees. In fiscal year 2011-2012, $286,566.11 was budgeted; in FY 2012-2013, $285,000; and in FY 2013-2014, $286,000 - plus change, of course.
"The garbage contract allows for an increase of up to 6 percent annually," Schulz explained. "While the increases didn't go that high, the 6 percent was not incorporated into the budget." He noted that there would be another increase in October.
Another intriguing revelation surfacing at the meeting concerned the telephone system. It was recently discovered that telephones within the municipal building had been equipped with a "silent monitor." This enabled up to five people to listen in on conversations without the speakers' knowledge.
"That capacity has now been turned off," Schulz said. However, no one knows how - or why - it was activated in the first place. Councilman Jim Hannah suggested Schulz check records for possible AT&T work orders. Others theorized the clandestine listening posts were the work of the NSA.