Mayor, Council tension continues to flare

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The last item on Monday’s agenda made public Council concerns about the conduct of Mayor Rick Hall, raising serious questions about what may have transpired to initiate the discussion.

But Hall succeeded in having the discussion moved into closed session, and when the Council emerged, no discussion or action on the item took place.

“Well, he did some maneuvering and it was voted to go into executive session, and unfortunately what I was going to say, I just got out-maneuvered, so I really can’t say a lot about what was in executive session,” said Council member Ron Rhea after the meeting.

The agenda item was to, “Discuss and consider reports against Mayor Hall for explosive conduct, inappropriate language, intimidating conduct and for threatening behavior toward a City Council member and staff.”

No information was provided with the agenda specifying any details of a report against Hall.

When the item was read, Hall quickly tried to unilaterally table it over legal questions, in what was a tense exchange.

“I am going to table this for AG (Attorney General) opinion,” he said, referencing conversations he had by email with City Attorney Dottie Palumbo. Palumbo responded that she didn’t tell Hall he could seek an AG opinion in their previous correspondence.

But Hall repeated his intention to get an opinion from the AG and table the issue, then Council members Troy Whitehead and Rhea said he would need a motion to do so.

Hall said he didn’t need a motion, and Whitehead asked Palumbo for clarification on whether a motion was needed to move the item to executive session. She confirmed a motion was needed as a point of order.

Council Member Liz Rundzieher made the motion to move the item to executive session and Council Member Wendell McLeod seconded it, before they were joined by Council Member Liz Branigan in the vote to go into executive session.

The Council was in executive session for just over an hour, discussing both the agenda item relating to the Mayor and the evaluation of City Administrator Greg Boatright.

After the meeting, Rhea said he hoped the issues would not come up again in the future.

“I hope that all of this stuff is going to be behind us and we can move forward and work as a team,” he said.

Hall did not return multiple phone calls from The Independent prior to press time Wednesday.

Rhea has been outspoken in his frustration on how some issues have been brought by Hall to the Council.

On three different issues — talks with the school district on a School Resource Officer program, the proper procedure for approving training for Police Chief Maverick Campbell, and a recent presentation by the director of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization — Rhea has spoken up about or eluded to efforts being made to circumvent the Council.

Defining ethical conduct

The Council is considering an ethics ordinance, and is expected to vote on a final version Oct. 8.

Discussion did not specify the ordinance was in response to the unspecified issue with Hall, but the timing of the agenda item and comments from council members implied the issues were related.

The ordinance would apply to city officials, including members of the council and members of boards and commissions.
The key portion of the ordinance discussed Monday was a paragraph on respect for the legislative process.

Rhea emphasized the importance of protecting the legislative process.

“We really need to have something in here that protects the process, and not let any city official go out and make contracts and these kinds of things without the consent of the council,” he said. “The greatest protection for our citizens is the legislative process and when we violate that, we’re leaving our citizens open.”

The Council asked Palumbo to further define “legislative process” in the proposed ordinance.

“(The legislative process) has been violated, and we’ve got to stop that violation,” Rhea said.
Past friction

When Hall took office in May, the Council attempted to revisit an ordinance used in the past that addresses power and restrictions on the mayor.

On three occasions in the past upon the election of a new mayor, the council has brought forth and passed the ordinance “expressing the powers and duties of the mayor” and voted to curtail some of those.

The ordinance was voted on and passed with mayors Michelle “Mike” Murphy, Jamie Williamson and Connie Fuller.

While it was on the agenda for Hall’s first meeting in May, he asked that it be moved to after the executive session for consideration. Following an executive session lasting just over an hour, Branigan made a motion to adopt the ordinance, but the motion died for lack of a second with no discussion.

She said at that time she supported the ordinance because it had been used in the past as a way of reinforcing to a new mayor what could and could not be done without consent of the council, but added that whether it was passed or not, state law already dictated the same parameters on the mayor’s powers.

She was pretty sure when the council emerged from its executive session her motion would not pass.

“When it was done for Mayor (Michelle) Murphy it was at a different time and caused a lot of bad feelings, so that’s probably why the council chose a more conciliatory approach this time,” Branigan said.

For her part, Rundzieher, who confirmed the issue was discussed in the executive session, felt after speaking to the attorney that voting on the ordinance was not necessary.

“Whenever we have a new mayor come in, we always limit their duties, but it is not different than state law, and the attorney said we didn’t need to vote on it,” she said.

Hall said he asked for the item to be moved to after the executive session to seek clarification from the city attorney.

“I spoke with the city attorney just to get clarification of what it was and she explained there was no reason to do it because it was just reiterating what was already state law,” he said. “That’s just something they’ve always done, but it didn’t change anything, so once there was no second it was dropped.”

While it was dropped in May, it was not over, and the same ordinance appeared on the agenda July 23 with Council members Rhea and Troy Whitehead listed on the item.

This time Mayor Hall appeared determined to preempt the discussion before it got started. After reading the agenda item, he immediately voiced his opposition to the ordinance, citing then as he did this week his desire to seek legal review from the State Attorney General.

“I believe this impacts the core foundation of my duties as mayor according to Texas Government Code, and I’d like to table this to submit to the Attorney General for an opinion,” he said.

Palumbo clarified the issue then, saying that a city does not have the right to submit an issue directly to the Attorney General, adding that the mayor would have to contact a state legislator for help in doing so.

Whitehead requested the issue be taken up once again in executive session, but when the council emerged no action was taken.

“It is just for clarification, there’s nothing there that’s benign,” Rhea said after the July 23 meeting. “It’s more for clarification for us so that we know his duties and powers.”

Hall said again that night he hoped now the issue was behind the council for good.

“I’m 99.999 percent sure it is done,” Hall said. “So basically what we did is we reviewed the state statute for some clarification and everybody is okay with what the state says I can and cannot do, including myself. As far as I’m concerned it’s behind us, it’s done, it’s over with and we’re moving forward.”

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