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City’s new administrator, water woes

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

By a 3-1-1 vote, with lame duck Mayor Pro Tem Suzanne Schauman abstaining, Mike Garr was appointed as new administrator for the City of Bandera during a regular meeting on Thursday, April 21.
Garr was most recently employed as part-time assistant librarian, under the direction of Mayor John Hegemier, who also serves as director of the Bandera County Public Library. Garr was selected after executive session interviews of the four remaining candidates.
“He has the most current knowledge of the City of Bandera and the situation the city is in,” Councilman Jim Hannah said.
Offering another opinion, Councilman Rebeca Gibson noted, “I think this city is going in the wrong direction. We need to go far beyond hiring our neighbors and friends.”
She continued, “You’ve selected the candidate who has had the least amount of experience in municipal leadership. One candidate served 18 years as a city manager.”
Gibson also referenced a candidate who had written multi-million dollar grants for a new water system “… which is what this city needs. Mr. Garr wrote a grant for new smoke detectors.”
“Yes, and the grant was well written,” Hannah rejoined. He added, “This is a unique city and we’ve had a problem bringing leaders from out of town. It’s ridiculous to have the problems we do with finances and the county.”
He continued, “Mr. Garr knows this town and its individuals. I don’t think we can afford to take anymore chances.”
Additionally, Hegemier did not honor Gibson’s request to address the qualifications of the final four candidates for city administrator in the open session. Although Garr holds a master’s degree in public administration, he retired as a firefighter and senior fire inspector from the Farmington Hills Fire Department in Michigan in 2007.
Gibson cast the only vote against Garr’s appointment. Garr’s supervisory relationship with his wife, who serves as the city’s interim treasurer, will apparently be discussed at a later date.
In other business, council also addressed the city’s problematic and ongoing water issues.
Grant Jackson from Naismith Engineering discussed the current status of a lift station located off Highway 16 South, near the strip mall. Lift stations are used to pump wastewater or sewage from a lower to a higher elevation.
The first Naismith engineer to address council on water issues was Tom Brown on March 24. At that time, he talked about the deficiencies noted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) regarding the city’s water storage and pumping capacities. Estimated costs to fix those problems range from $600,000 to over $1 million, Brown said.
He assured council that although the water quality deficiencies outlined by the TCEQ were “significant,” none had to do with health and safety issues. Brown added, however, “If the deficiencies are not corrected in a timely manner, fines will be issued.”
Regarding other water issues, Jackson proposed to council a preliminary plan that would evaluate the lift station at the east end of the water treatment plant, which he described as “deteriorating and in bad condition with inoperable equipment.”
In addition to an evaluation and survey, the preliminary plan would include a “TV” – video – evaluation of the waste water line, as well as an assessment of the manholes, which, Brown indicated were insufficient for TCEQ criteria.
“We estimate that three additional manholes need to be installed and the lift station and equipment replaced,” he told council. “It may be possible to rehab the lift station, but it’s in bad shape,” Brown added.
If a new lift station were funded, it would be constructed alongside the current one.
Lauding the staff at Naismith, Public Works Director Roy Clayton said, “The other engineers we usually work with said, ‘Whoa, we can’t do it.’ Nobody would touch it.”
According Hegemier, Clayton contacted Naismith Engineering after the city received notice from TCEQ in January about its water problems. To this point, Naismith engineers had worked with the municipality “at no cost.”
However, Jackson estimated the proposed preliminary plan would cost $29,000. Constructing a new lift station would cost “on the low end $250,000 and go up” and each new manhole from $25,000 to $30,000.
After noting, “We have very little choice,” Hannah recommended that council engage Naismith Engineering to prepare the preliminary plan.
Opposing the idea, Gibson said, “We don’t even have the preliminary proposal in front of us. We need both an RFP (Request for Proposal) and RFP (Request for Qualifications) before voting on this.”
She added, “If we don’t include these in the application for low cost loans from the Texas Water Development Board, they might reject the city’s application. It is reckless to move forward.” Jackson had apparently failed to supply council with copies of his proposal.
As a result of Gibson’s objections, council postponed voting on approving the $29,000 preliminary plan until they had had an opportunity to actually peruse the preliminary plan.