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2015-12-31

Council terminates two more,Folly la la la la la ... whatever

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

After a series of protracted executive sessions during a Tuesday, Dec. 22, special-called meeting, Bandera City Council terminated two more employees. Now City Secretary Karen Chesler and Code Inspector Mike Armstrong are out of jobs.
Only about 10 minutes of the two-hour meeting was spent in open court with the rest behind closed doors.
At the onset, council entered executive session to consult with city attorney T. Daniel Santee of the San Antonio-Austin law firm, Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal Hyde & Zech, P.C. At least this time, someone produced a key to the office in which the executive session was to be held. In an earlier session, council was forced to mill around for some time before a key to the office of former City Administrator Lamar Schulz was located.
After 30 minutes in seclusion, council and counsel reconvened in open session and promptly adjourned for a 10-minute recess.
When business recommenced, Armstrong answered in the affirmative when asked if he preferred his personnel matter to be held in open session. However, Chesler wanted her portion to be discussed in a closed session. At that point, Santee noted that the related personnel matters must then, by law, be discussed in open session. However, in short order, Armstrong reconsidered his decision and the second executive session commenced.
In addition to Armstrong and Chesler's participation, City Marshall Will Dietrich was also interviewed by council. Dietrich had investigated the incident that precipitated the special council meeting. Interestingly, the incident had purportedly occurred at the end of September. Additionally, Mayor John Hegemier had supposedly been informed of both the incident and subsequent investigation only after the fact.
When council reconvened in open session, Councilman Jim Hannah read a motion he described as having been prepared by the city attorney, the gist being that council can dismiss an employee at any time and for any reason. According to the statement, Armstrong had been provided with due notice of his possible dismissal and had been heard in executive session. Additionally, council noted he had violated city policy dealing with "drugs and alcohol" and, therefore, was being terminated by city council. The vote to terminate Armstrong was unanimous. Hannah's motion had been seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Suzanne Schauman.
Chesler's fate seemed a little more nebulous. Schauman's motion that Chesler be terminated due to misconduct died for a lack of a second.
At that point, Hegemire interjected, entreating council to "reconsider the action you're about to take," in what could be considered a plea for someone to second Schauman's motion. No one did.
In response, Hannah made a motion that Chesler be placed on probation, "subject to further investigation by the county attorney 'and possible trial,' upon which time the city will make a final decision on her disposition." Hannah's motion also failed to receive a second, leading to a continuation of the "status quo."
To a query, Santee said the matter could be discussed openly as long as council refrained from mentioning anything revealed in the executive session.
Hegemire suggested a third executive session for further discussions with the attorney. Chesler was called back into the closed session.
At 7:55, Schauman emerged, shuffled through some papers and said to the by-now-dwindling crowd, "Don't get your hopes up."
However, at 8 pm, council emerged with more motions. Again Hannah resubmitted his original motion, which appeared to make short shrift of the "innocent-before-being-proved-guilty" notion. Councilman Sheila Pumphrey seconded the motion, which was defeated 2-3.
Schauman's motion that Chesler be terminated effective immediately due to misconduct in her office was seconded by Councilman Rebeca Gibson and passed 3-2 with Schauman, Gibson and Councilman Charlotte Browning-Black voting for the motion and Hannah and Pumphrey voting against it.
Municipal Clerk Janette Pieper has been sworn in as acting city secretary and Hegemier continues to serve as acting city administrator.
With council's decision, Armstrong and Chesler join a long line of "former" city employees including administrators Schulz and Mike Cardenas; marshals, James "Charlie" Hicks and Kenneth Memm; treasurers, Ernie DeWinne, Mae Vion Meier and Betty Brown; directors of public works, Cardenas and JR Higgins; utility clerk Lisa Chacon; and city secretary Linda Boshek. That's quite a turnover in the last couple of years for such a small municipality.