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2016-04-07

City stuff & stuff & stuff & more

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

(Editor’s note: This article was written at the insistence of Bandera County Courier political cartoonist, Dennis Allyn, who apparently needs more fodder for his satirical send-ups than the county can provide.)

As has been mentioned before, the Bandera County Courier no longer covers the machinations of city officials. However, current goings-ons cry out for a short recap, so, Dear Readers, here goes:
• During a special city council meeting on Thursday, March 31, an executive session was scheduled in order to begin discussing applications received for the vacant position of city administrator. According to Mayor John Hegemier, 30-plus apps had been received for the position. He added, however, “Since we didn’t post the salary, I’m sure a few of the applications will be withdrawn after they find out what we’re willing to pay.”
• One applicant, who surely must have known about the pay scale, was Mayor Pro Tem Suzanne Schauman. However, according to reliable sources, Schauman withdrew her name from contention in a huff during the special-called meeting.
Schauman offered several reasons for her decision, namely “the process was taking too long.” She may have a point there since the ex-manager Lamar Schulz was terminated from the position in December. Also, Schauman took umbrage that the applications had been allowed to leave the municipal building.
Hegemier explained that city councilmen had been encouraged to “checkout” the applications in order to peruse them at their leisure, thereby speeding up the selection process. “I don’t recall ever deciding that the applications would not leave city hall,” he said in a recent interview.
Additionally, Schauman has flat out refused to participate in the selection process with city council. “Her decision really surprised and disappointed me,” Hegemier said. He added, “If Suzanne changes her mind, I would be more than happy to have her participation and input.”
• Indeed, according to reports, for the last several weeks – months? – Schauman has been acting as a quasi city administrator cum treasure by paying bills that were woefully in arrears. Before former City Treasurer Trinity Burnes was terminated on March 17, the bills had, by all accounts, been piling up, Hegemier said. He also indicated that Schauman had volunteered to assist in the interim.
As an aside, nothing affects a governmental agency’s bond rating – and with it, the ability to secure low interest loans – than to have their accounts in arrears.
• In a 4-0 decision, with Councilman Charlotte Browning-Black abstaining, council terminated Burnes in March. As Councilman Jim Hannah put it, “Council has lost confidence in her work.’ Interestingly, both Schauman and Hannah championed Burnes when she was originally hired for the treasurer’s position. To a query about Burnes’ qualifications, Hegemier said, “She interviewed really well.”
• Former City Secretary Karen Chesler, who, along with City Inspector Mike Armstrong, was also terminated in December or thereabouts, has filed a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) regarding that termination. Investigations into the complaint are ensuring.
• And, Armstrong’s inspection duties have been subcontracted to Bureau Veritas, a global company that provides testing, inspection and certification services for municipalities, among others. At the end of 2015, the group had over 66,000 employees in more than 1,400 offices and laboratories located in 140 countries. According to the company’s website, Bureau Veritas has an office in Helotes.
• Meanwhile, in January, city officials received a notice from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which indicated the water treatment plant was in deep doo-doo. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that last bit, but read on.)
During yet another special city council meeting on Thursday, March 24, Tom Brown with Naismith Engineering proposed an “at-no-cost-to-the-city” response to deficiencies identified in the public water system.
Brown immediately reassured everyone that the problems with the water supply did not amount to those currently experienced by residents of Flint, Michigan. “While the four deficiencies outlined by the TCEQ were significant, none had to do with health and safety issues,” he said, adding. “However, if the deficiencies are not corrected in a timely manner, fines will be issued.”
Brown advised council to demonstrate to TCEQ that the city is attempting to fix the problems by taking steps to secure low interest loans – with 2 percent interest over 20 years – from the revolving fund of the Texas Water Development Fund (refer back to “bills in arrears). Schauman said that a low-interest loan could be augmented with any available grants.
Apparently, increased water usage, coupled with decreased storage and pumping capacity, has reached a critical juncture within the city.
• According to Brown, the city needs a new 30,000-gallon overhead water storage tank to increase necessary storage capacity. Several tanks are currently leaking, he said. Costs could run from $600,000 to over $1 million.
“Look at a 20-year horizon,” he advised, “so these issues don’t come back in three to five years.” Brown reiterated, “TCEQ has to know you’re working on it and not dragging your feet.”
To increase the pumping capacity of city wells, Brown recommended upgrading the pumps to allow .6 gallons of water per minute per connection into the system. However, to achieve this, the city might have to spring for drilling a new commercial well, he indicated.
Schauman made a motion – which council unanimously approved – authorizing the mayor, Brown and the public works director to develop a plan that would lead to a solution to the current water problem.