Mayor defends right to seek budget records

By SHELLY WILKISON

Mayor Jamie Williamson, who two weeks ago was accused by council members of disrupting city government by overloading  staff members with requests for documents, read a lengthy prepared statement Monday defending her actions.

“The documents I requested were within my official capacity as mayor,” she said, citing Attorney General’s Opinions and referencing state law. “These were not for my own purposes.”

At the Council’s regular meeting  March 10, Mayor Pro Tem Connie Fuller said the Mayor had submitted to City Hall 40 requests for documents from Jan. 24 to March 2 that required 75 hours of staff time to produce for a total cost to taxpayers of $1,125 in employee wages.

Referencing city ordinances and state law, Mrs. Fuller said Mrs. Williamson overstepped her power as Mayor by requesting documents that were being used not for official purposes, but instead to criticize the staff in public meetings.

Mayor Williamson said she is concerned about financial record keeping, particularly how various expenses are categorized. She said if items are not categorized correctly, the Council will have a difficult time during the budget process understanding true expenses and budgeted items.

After the meeting, the Mayor told The Independent that she felt compelled to prepare a statement and present it Monday after Mrs. Fuller

asked for an explanation two weeks earler. Mrs. Williamson said she was “caught off guard by the whole discussion. I had no idea what was going to be discussed.”

The Mayor addressed each accusation made by Mrs. Fuller refuting the claim that she had made 40 requests for documents.

“I only made seven requests that did include multiple documents. There were multiple correspondence (with the City Secretary) for reminders of missing documents,” she said, adding that it should not have required 75 hours of staff time.

“The hours that staff spent gathering and creating documents needs to be discussed with those that gathered the information and created documents and ask why it took from a few days to 40 days to an hour and a half and why are they spending any time to create documents to fulfill a request or sending documents not even requested,” she wrote in her statement, which was provided to the newspaper.

She cited Attorney General’s opinions that she said gave her the authority to request budget information.

Specifically, she cited AG Opinion No. JC-0544: “The mayor is expressly authorized to require other city officers to provide necessary information to him and may also delegate to city employees nondiscretionary ministerial and administrative tasks necessary to carry out his statutory duties as budget officer.”

There was no discussion after the Mayor read her statement. Instead the meeting was immediately adjourned.

Earlier in the meeting, Councilmember Vicki Brewer, who along with the Mayor has questioned how the expenses are being reported, volunteered to work with city staff one day per week to correct problems. Mrs. Brewer said she is a financial manager for a local company and is qualified to help.

Mrs. Fuller said she was opposed to the idea, reminding the Council that some months ago a financial advisor said elected officials should not be involved in the day-to-day financial bookkeeping or business of the city.

“That is highly unprofessional and the liability it creates for the City is not good,” Mrs. Fuller said.

Senior City Planner Amber Lewis said she is working with Teri Moore, who has a contract with the City for bookkeeping services, to correct some of the categorizing problems.

Councilmember Wendell McLeod  made a motion that the Council take no action on the item, suggesting that staff was already working on the task. His motion was modified on the suggestion of Mrs. Fuller, who added that the staff and Ms. Moore be allowed to continue working on the project.

The Council voted 4-1 with Mrs. Brewer voting no.

In other finance matters, the Council unanimously adopted an ordinance that provides a $3,000 tax exemption for residential property of city residents who are over age 65 or disabled.

Councilmember Liz Rundzieher said the exemption and tax rate freeze will effect about 80 properties and cost the City about $4,000 in tax revenue per year.

“On a $200,000 property, you’re looking at about $15 at the most,” added City Manager Greg Boatright.

In other business Monday, the Council approved an Engagement Letter between the City and Belt Harris Pechacek, LLLP, for the City’s annual external audit at a cost of $25,000.

Boatright said three proposals were submitted in response to a request for proposals. Prices for the service ranged from $25,000 to $52,000.

The City has utilized the service of a local firm for the past few years, but the Council sought a change  in 2014.

Mrs. Brewer, who voted no, said a new auditor was being retained because “Mr. McLeod felt that $12,000 (being paid to the current firm) was too high.”

Boatright said that there were problems with last year’s audit report that have only recently been corrected.

Also this week, the Council unanimously approved:

-  Continuation of Coverage for employee health insurance through the Texas Municipal League.

- Updates to an official zoning map for the City.

- Budget amendments to reflect the transfer of funds from water and wastewater funds to help pay for the audit of those funds.