Hall takes parting shot at new Mayor’s authority

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

In his final City Council meeting, outgoing Mayor Rick Hall urged the Council to take action that appeared to be aimed at curtailing the authority and latitude of the incoming Mayor to engage in outside services contracts.

“I am bringing this up because I’m not sure the Council is fully aware that professional services agreements, if there’s money that can be budgeted for it without Council approval, can be done without Council approval,” Hall said. “I urge the Council to want to see every one of those professional services agreements just to make sure, because again the Council is the one at the end of the day that is controlling the budget and controlling the services in the city.”

When asked why the measure was important now, in his last meeting – rather than something that would have been important at the beginning of his term – Hall said he wanted to make sure it did not happen in the future.

“Prior to my administration there were some done, so I’ve always brought those to the City and want to make sure we continue on the same path we’ve been on,” Hall said.

But if money is set aside in the budget for such contracts, that approval would essentially be in place, and while Hall claimed that such contracts existed without council approval prior to his time in office, there were no contracts or agreements in place that Council members were unaware of or didn’t support at that time.

Hall said all professional service agreements in place during his time as Mayor were approved by the Council. These would include September 2019 agreements with Buie and Co. for public relations work and Powell Municipal for general consulting. The primary consulting contract the City had prior to Hall’s term was with Diversified Planning for project consulting, and the Council voted not to renew that contract in May 2019, four months prior to its expiration.

He also pointed out that City staff had been added to take care of such needs, rather than using these agreements. Over his two years City staffing nearly doubled.

The budget approved by the Council in early August included nine new positions above what was approved last September. That approved budget added 18 positions to a staff that previously totaled 37. The City has 63 total positions, and a general fund budget of $5.68 million — an increase of 33 percent over the 2019 budget of $4.24 million.

Hall made the suggestion for the new ordinance, but outside of Council member Kathy Canady requesting clarification on what applied under the proposal, there was no discussion before the Council approved the measure 4-0, with Tony DeYoung absent.

Bond projects
The Council approved a resolution to get at least one project in waiting moving forward before the bonds are sold after the beginning of the year.

“This is one of the final steps before the tax bond is finalized and I think that is the second week of January,” said City Finance director Becky Wilkins. “What this resolution allows us to do is go ahead and get started on some of the projects and pay for it from the general fund, then we can be reimbursed from the bond funds in January.”

The bond funds – estimated at $2.375 million – are to cover the cost of the swim center, some renovations at City Hall and the new community center that the Council awarded the bid for in October.

The swim center project budget was set at $1.8 million, with $1.3 million from the bond funds and $500,000 from the Texas Parks and Wildlife grant. The final design has not been determined to date.

A bid was awarded to Jimmy Jacobs Construction in October for the renovation of the former County barn near the intersection of RM 1869 and Loop 332.

The Council heard estimates for the project ranging from $500,000 with potential grant funds to help cover costs in January, to a higher projection in July of $750,000 with no grant possibilities. The final approved bid was considerably higher at $858,643.

The City received four total bids, the one from Jimmy Jacobs Construction being the lowest by more than $200,000.

Visibility concerns
The City plans a traffic visibility study for three streets downtown – Grange, Myrtle and Hickman. Traffic concerns with vehicles turning off of those streets onto Loop 332 prompted the discussion of the issue and potentially eliminating some downtown street parking. With the new parking lot near Loop 332 and CR 279 the City could remove some street parking, but will study the issue further before making any changes.

Board questions
The City Council has been dealing with how best to fill vacancies and consider the structure and make up of City boards for some time, and Council member Canady suggested Monday that they hold a workshop to discuss the issue in more detail as she shared her thoughts.

Chief among her concerns was making sure that City taxpayers were the predominant voice on the various boards.

“In my opinion, City residents should be the majority make up of all the boards,” Canady said. “I think there are also some discrepancies about how many people are on some of these boards and we need to work through that.”

She also said the role of Council members on the boards, which has grown under Mayor Hall, should be curtailed.

“I feel like Council members should only act as liaisons and not voting members on these boards and commissions,” she said. “I think it is important for us to have a liaison but we should have as many citizens on the boards to make recommendations to come back to us as possible.”

Council member Gram Lankford agreed with the need to look at the issue, but said he believes there needs to be representation for those who live outside the city limits.

“Anybody who wants to have a shot at being appointed to one of these boards has a right to be looked at, to be put in front of us so we can determine what we think is best to fill the position,” Lankford said. “I understand wanting people that live inside the city limits to be the majority on these boards. The people in the ETJ don’t get to vote in our elections, but they live here and also have opinions.”

The first workshop on the boards is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 16.

“I feel as the council we need to take this time to go through our boards and commissions and the ordinances to restructure and or update them to reflect the fact that we need to be in charge of what we’re going to have to pay for,” Canady said.

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