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2010-01-14

Water board - contract awarded, attorney-contact policy defined

By Julie Whitmore

The Bandera River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) awarded the contract for renovation of its recently purchased office building at its regular quarterly meeting Thursday, Jan. 7.

In the absence of President Jim Chastain, Director Don Sloan presided over the meeting.

Contract, but no $$$?
The $69,309 contract was given to Jimmy Haverlah, of Haverlah Homes, Pipe Creek. One of three, it was apparently the lowest bid.

The method of paying for the renovation was delayed by a fragmented discussion on where the funds would come from - since the building fund had been depleted by purchase of the property.

General Manager David Jeffery said that part of the funds would come from erosion control-designated moneys. By a 5-2 vote, the board approved a “purchase order contract” form with Haverlah, with Directors Richard Connors and Lee Kneupper voting against the motion.

Director Karen Ripley and others pointed out that immediate action was required to lock in material estimates from Hevenor Lumber. Such quotes are generally only valid for 30 days, and the bids were opened on Dec. 18.

Budget details comin’
Jeffery agreed to have both the board’s bookkeeper and auditor present at the next meeting, set for Monday, Jan. 18.

Responding to several questions, Jeffery said he was unfamiliar with details of what funds were available for transfer, for unrestricted purposes, or for a “rainy day” fund, as Connors asked. Discussion differed on how much cash should be on hand for emergency situations. Estimates ranged from three months to one year. Director Jerry Sides noted that BCRAGD as a whole could always cut spending if funds ran short.

The board voted to approve the fourth quarter septic and well reports.

As of Jan. 1, Bandera County personnel will perform that function. To Sides’ question about whether the county had requested any of BCRAGD’s staff or their expertise, Jeffery replied no. Kneupper asked what impact the loss of the permitting authorities would have on revenue and staffing.

“I’ve been told for years that it pays for itself,” Sides replied, “not that it makes any difference.” Last year, the board had requested an increase in fees from $210 to $250 to cover costs; however, Bandera County Commissioners denied the request.

???, but no answers

With further regard to the budget, Kneupper asked Jeffery why he had not presented an analysis of the budget by cost of service provided - a request Kneupper made in July. After Jeffery refused to answer, Kneupper asked when he could expect to receive the requested analysis. Again, Jeffery ignored Kneupper’s query.

Later, Jeffery told the Courier that he did not intend to conduct such an analysis since he had not been ordered to do so by a vote of the board.

Additionally, no timeframe for the provisional work was presented, as had been requested in the Dec. 18 meeting.

The next Jan. 18 meeting had already been designated primarily as an executive session with attorney Mary Sahs on the proposed new rules. Kneupper raised a question about whether there would be enough time on Jan. 18 to work out details of the budget and building payments as well as parse the rules; however, once again, his question went unanswered.

Attorney-board contact
On the issue of district contact with its Austin-based attorney, Sahs, Jeffery said that she has requested a written policy statement regarding phone calls from directors, citizens, press and others. Sloan said a previous unwritten policy has been that all phone inquiries should first be directed to Chastain or Jeffery. After a motion was introduced to that effect, Connors said the policy should be a board decision.

Sahs currently charges $180 per hour, and the issue arose after she billed the BCRAGD for calls from former director James Hannah, as well as other citizens who are not now directors.

Sides said the board was billed $225 for each call, but later said Sahs’ minimum rate was $90, or one-half hour for a single call. Usually, attorneys bill in 15-minute increments or less.

Ripley asked whether Sahs had another function as a board representative to the public and the press. “What is it we hire her for?” Ripley asked. There seemed to be no general agreement on the answer, except that the board should not be billed for any call not originating from the president or general manager.
Later, Jeffery told the Courier that as general manager, he wanted Sahs to alert him about calls from citizens.

Connors introduced an amendment, seconded by Ripley, that both Chastain and Jeffery keep and provide logs of phone or written conversations with Sahs. The amended motion passed.

In other matters, the board voted to try to sell its 16-year old Suburban van, which has developed transmission problems after passing 160,000 miles. Jeffery said that without septic duties, the board appeared to be able to accomplish its work with only two vehicles.