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2011-09-22

'Investigations' Have Invaded City of Bandera

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Frankly, so many investigations seem to be underway in the City of Bandera at present that it's becoming difficult to keep them straight.

For example, on Sept. 14, City of Bandera Police Department Lt. Neil McLean sent a letter to all councilmen that he had launched an investigation into the emergency city council meeting held on Sept. 7. He wrote: "This correspondence is to advise you than an investigation ... has been opened by this department.

I, Lt. Neil McLean, will be conducting the investigation and any questions or inquiries can be addressed to me. The 216th District Attorney has been aware of the investigation." Although the letter offered no explanation as to what was being investigated, McLean referenced Texas Government Code 551.045.

That section refers to "notice of emergency meeting or emergency addition to agenda." The code states that an emergency or an urgent public necessity exists only if immediate action is required of a governmental body because of an "imminent threat to public health and safety or a reasonably unforeseeable situation."

Additionally, the governmental body must clearly identify the emergency or urgent public necessity in the notice or supplemental notice.

With the required two hours notice and notifications sent to local newspapers, the Wednesday, Sept. 7, agenda was amended on the advice of municipal attorney Barbara Boulware-Wells. The new agenda item concerned putting police department personnel on paid administrative leave pending an investigation of allegations that city law enforcement officers had installed listening devices throughout the municipal building.

After heated discussions and by a 2-3 decision, the agenda item failed to pass. Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher and Councilman Binky Archer voted in favor of the agenda item with Councilmen Nancy Montgomery, Brandi Morgan and John Hegemier casting nay votes.

When asked about McLean's investigation into the emergency meeting, Schumacher said, "Information in his letter could not be substantiated and this seems to be just another attempt to bully city council. It would certainly be unique if he were allowed to investigate himself."

Adding fuel to the fire, during a WOAI newscast on Monday, Sept. 19, Eigner alluded to a complaint his department had filed with the Office of the Texas Attorney General (OAG) reporting violations of the Open Meetings Act. One report speculated the complaint centers on a lack of specificity about an item on the Thursday, Sept. 15 agenda, which read: "Review all departments, positions and personnel for reassignment of duties, restructuring and-or possible reductions in force."

A source indicated that perhaps Eigner and McLean felt the agenda item should have named the police department specifically.

However, the positions of city administrator and treasurer were also discussed during the meeting, as well as salaries for all city employees.

It also may be possible that the complaint with the OAG also concerns the Sept. 7 emergency meeting. If so, however, McLean would not be leading that investigation.

Administrators with the City of Bandera are as mystified as everyone else. "Nobody has contacted us about either investigation," said City Secretary Linda Boshek.

Boulware-Wells felt that McLean's investigation and Eigner's alleged complaint with the OAG stemmed from a violation they believed occurred during emergency meeting. "From his letter of Sept. 14, it appears that Lt. McLean has undertaken an investigation of a possible violation of the Open Meetings Act," she said in an interview on Sept. 20.

According to Boulware-Wells, the OAG does not investigate open meetings violations unless a criminal action has been proven. "Determining that would come under the purview of District Attorney Bruce Curry," she said. "I spoke with Mr. Curry about the complaint and he felt it was all just a 'misunderstanding.' He did not indicate he intended to open an investigation." Additionally, Boulware-Wells said an attorney with the AG's office explained that a proven violation of the Open Meetings Act makes any action that occurred in that meeting voidable. "The motion to place the police force on paid administrative leave did not pass, so there is no action to void," she noted.

Regardless of those taking place now, a third investigation will be initiated when council selects an appropriate computer firm to examine the contents of a hard drive downloaded from a police department computer.