On Tuesday, January 8th the city council of Johnson City met in regular session at City Hall for the first time this year. They had a myriad of important agenda items to discuss including the appointment of a new city council person, as well as welcoming a new police officer to town.
The meeting began promptly at 6:00 with petitions from the public.
The next agenda item was to consider and take possible action to fill the vacancy on City Council. The reason for this vacancy was because councilman Bill Jung opted to turn in his resignation so that he could be a part of the new Economic Development Committee for the city.
The council welcomed anyone that was interested in serving as a city councilperson to turn in a letter of interest. The council would then read through the letters and determine who they would like to join them on the council until the upcoming city elections in May.
Three residents turned in a letter of interest. They included: Mary Salazar, Pat Dildine, and Warren Villmaire. After some discussion the top two candidates that were being considered were Salazar and Dildine.
Councilperson Wayne Pittman spoke vehemently on behalf of Pat Dildine. Dildine was the previous city secretary for 34 years. In Mr. Pittman’s opinion, she was the most qualified of the candidates to sit on the council. Councilperson Rhonda Stell agreed with him.
However, Councilperson Alyce Duncan felt differently. She believed that Mary Salazar was the better candidate. She stated that because Salazar was interested enough in the position to run for city council in the past election, that spoke volumes about her willingness to serve. Councilperson Darryl Weisenbaugh agreed with Duncan, stating that “with the growing Hispanic population in Johnson City, Mrs. Salazar would be a good choice; I’m in favor of Mary Salazar.”
The discussion continued, at times getting heated between Council members with Wayne Pittman constantly challenging the other members on their opinions.
Rhonda Stell then made a motion to vote for Pat Dildine. Pittman seconded the motion. Those in favor of the motion however were Pittman and Stell. Those opposed were Duncan and Weisenbaugh.
Alyce Duncan then made a motion to vote for Mary Salazar. Weisenbaugh seconded the motion. Those in favor of the motion however were just Duncan and Weisenbaugh. Those opposed were Pittman and Stell.
According to government procedure, in the event of a tie vote on the council, the Mayor is then allowed to break the tie.
“You’ve put me in a tough position,” Mayor Moss stated.
“I agree [with Duncan and Weisenbaugh], Mary Salazar has shown her willingness to serve by running in the last election and I’m going to vote for her [to be on the city council],” Moss said.
“And I’d like to invite anyone and everyone that’s interested in being on the city council to run in the next election in May,” he added.
Following the debate and vote, Judge Madison then swore Mary Salazar into the position of city councilperson. She will join the council until this upcoming May when City Elections take place, and the position is up for election.
The next agenda item before the council was to consider and take possible action regarding engaging the Austin based Bojorquez Law Firm to represent the city. Up until now, the current city attorney has been Pat McGowan.
Although Mrs. McGowan had not resigned as Johnson City’s attorney, City Secretary Stacy Castillo stated in an email interview that: “[The] Council and the Mayor had given her several assignments that have not yet been completed. [Both] the Mayor and I spoke with Pat and told her we felt that she did not have enough time for Johnson City. She stated that she just felt that she did not make enough money from Johnson City and therefore did not devote much time to us. She was happy that we were looking at another law firm.”
According to Castillo, the Bojorquez Law Firm only does municipal law. She stated that an ordinance and contract that McGowan had been working on for the last six weeks, had been completed by the team at Bojorquez Law in a matter of just a few days.
Senior Associate Cathy Riedel was present at the meeting to address the council.
“We understand the city’s in the market for a city attorney – we’ve probably got over a 100 years of combined experience under our belt in municipal law… we’d really love the opportunity to work with Johnson City… [the city has] a lot of charm, potential and resources – and it would be our pleasure to work with you,” Reidel stated.
The only concern with hiring the firm that any councilperson raised came from Rhonda Stell. Stell was concerned regarding the fact that the firm will charge the city travel time, to and from Austin to Johnson City.
Reidel replied, “We do charge for travel… basically – attorneys don’t have anything to sell but time and expertise…” however she did mention that the firm promises to try and “take short cuts to work by phone or email.”
Councilperson Pittman mentioned to Reidel that “we have been having a peeing contest locally… [referring to the constant contention Pittman has brought to the council between himself, the Mayor, and City Administrator David Dockery]. I’m hoping your assistance will help explain the roles of the Mayor and Council Members.”
This sparked a rise out of the Mayor who stated he was aware of his role, and that he [the Mayor] had read the Texas Municipal League handbook. Pittman challenged the Mayor on this fact and claimed that he [Pittman] read the handbook “daily.”
Reidel responded to Pittman’s statement of a “peeing contest” by informing the council that although the word “counselor” may be behind their name, that did not mean they were marriage counselors. “We’re not your policy makers… we’re here to help guide the city in any way possible,” she said.
However, “we do offer trainings for the city council that we recommend… some of those classes are offered online and we have done trainings ourselves… also, the Texas Municipal League has trainings offered online as well,” Reidel stated.
City Secretary Castillo pointed out that the law firm would not be under contract with the city as a retainer, but rather would be called to assist the city on a case by case basis.
At this point, Rhonda Stell made a motion to hire Bojorquez Law [or ‘Team Bo-jo” as Reidel jokingly stated was easier to say] to represent the city’s legal matters.
Pittman seconded this motion, and the vote passed unanimously. You can read more about the city’s new law firm on their website at www.texasmunicipallawyers.com.
The next agenda item was to consider and take possible action regarding amending Building Fee Ordinance 06-015. There was some discussion regarding this, however in the end Reidel stated that there were a few more questions she needed answered before it was ready. This item was tabled until the next meeting.
The following agenda item before the council was to consider and take possible action regarding a new contract with Bureau Veritas to be the city’s new Building Code Enforcement Official.
Reidel, who began working on this on behalf of the city before her firm was officially hired, stated that she was very close to finishing the contract, however “what I’d like to do is expand on one section of it… and with the changes I’m proposing – I don’t yet have the blessing of the third party… I can’t speak on the response time – but we’re very close [to having this finished] as well,” she said.
The council then voted to give Mayor Moss the authority to proceed with finalizing the contract with Bureau Veritas once it was ready to move forward, rather than having to wait for the next council meeting and having the council vote on it.
The following agenda item was to consider and take possible action regarding creating the position of an Ordinance Enforcement Officer. There was some confusion from council members regarding the difference between a Code Enforcement Officer and an Ordinance Enforcement Officer. Recently, the city had a contract with Pete McKinney to fulfill both duties. However, city leaders were unhappy with McKinney’s performance and terminated his contract last fall.
They were now considering hiring Bureau Veritas to serve as the Building Code Enforcement, and then hiring someone else to fulfill the duties of local Ordinance Enforcement. Councilperson Pittman felt that the city had enough financial struggles before them, that there really wasn’t a need to hire a new person to be an Ordinance Enforcement Officer.
“I truly believe that our employees have enough time available to screen and ride through the streets and make notes and listen to complaints that come by phone… we’ve got enough man power through our employees,” he stated. “I don’t think we need to spend extra money to hire another individual to do this job,” he added.
City Administrator David Dockery did not have a problem with Pittman’s suggestion; however he did state that he needed the council to provide him with “very clear direction regarding [the council’s] expectations.”
He wanted to know if the ordinance enforcement by city employees should be purely complaint driven, or if they should be ordinance compliance driven. In other words, should they only write letters to residents when a complaint was filed with the city, or should they write letters when they drove past someone’s house and noticed that it was not in compliance with the city’s ordinances.
Dockery stated that the city employees will need to be “acquainted with what the ordinances are – and then it depends on how the council wants things done… other than that it’s really nothing more than a record keeping job.. they keep track of how many times warnings are given… it’s just up to the council to decide… if it gets to the point that a citation needs to be written – we can go to the police to have that done.. but before you just give that to the staff… I need to know exactly how you want this job done.”
“If you want us to just respond to complaints we can do that… the comprehensive plan calls for strict enforcement of all the ordinances throughout the city… but we can’t do that on a complaint only basis… but in the past we have not actively done ordinance enforcement…” Dockery added.
Dockery also clarified, “any citizen can make a complaint to the city… but just because they complain, that doesn’t mean it is an ordinance violation, but it will certainly brings things to our attention. We just need to know how active [the council] wants the ordinance enforcement to be.”
Pittman stated, “We need to do this – but we need to do it with our present staff… I make a motion that we do this with in-house staff only.” Alyce Duncan seconded the motion. The vote passed unanimously.
[It should be noted that the council then moved on to the next agenda item, but they never specifically informed Mr. Dockery of the “clear direction” regarding ordinance enforcement that he asked for.]
The next few agenda items before the council involved basic housekeeping issues, such as what days would be considered city holiday’s and whether or not to allow direct deposit for city employees. The council approved a proposed list of holidays from Secretary Castillo, and agreed to allow Direct Deposit for City Employees.
There was also an update from Ben Rosenberg, with Coastal Securities regarding some Bond Refinancing. Rosenberg made a presentation to the council, and informed them that through the process of getting the city’s bonds refinanced they had to secure a credit rating.
The City of Johnson City was granted a Credit Rating of A-.
Rosenberg also informed the council that after the bonds were refinanced, the city would be receiving a refund of about $13,000. Castillo stated that this money would be earmarked for debt reduction.
David Dockery then spoke to the council about the purchase of a new forklift for the Recycle Center from the CAPCO Grant last year. He stated that after the city purchased the new forklift, they still had about $3,000 left over from the grant. “We’ve asked CAPCO if we can keep these funds to use for any other repairs at the recycle center. Right now, we’re just waiting to find out what CAPCO will decide to let us do.”
In the Mayor’s Report to the council, Mayor Moss stated he didn’t have anything to say, unless someone wanted to ask him a question. Rhonda Stell asked that the city re-dig a ditch over by her house to assist with flooding issues on her property when it rains.
Up next on the agenda was to hear a report from the Planning and Zoning Commission. Kenneth Bible read a report from P & Z and informed the council that Liz Begay resigned from the committee due to family obligations, and therefore the council needed to appoint someone new to Planning and Zoning.
Some discussion took place about possible candidates, but attorney Kathy Reidel interrupted the council and reminded them that this was not an agenda item, and should therefore be tabled until the next meeting.
Bob Peterson then presented the council with a report from the Chamber of Commerce. Peterson publicly thanked the Lights Spectacular judges for their participation and told the council that a Judge’s Dinner took place at Pecan Street Brewery. He also informed the council of the winners from this year’s decorating contest.
Afterward, Stacy Castillo provided the council with a report from the Economic Development Committee. She stated that the EDC had held their first official meeting and voted on the different positions regarding who would be the chair and vice-chair, etc. She also said the committee discussed their mission and vision statement, and would be meeting again at the end of the month.
Chief Holland then introduced the council to new Part Time Officer James Clark from Dripping Springs. Officer Clark joined the JCPD on January 1st. He also informed the council that Officer Chad Wiggins had moved from part time to full time, and would be moving to Johnson City, hopefully by the 15th of January. Afterward, he provided the council with the police department’s end of the year report for 2012.
“I wanted to thank the citizens of Johnson City, and all of the JCPD staff for a great year in 2012. Crime statistics are the lowest they have ever been. I attribute this to the local citizen’s diligence of calling the police concerning suspicious circumstances. The fast response by JCPD arriving to these calls allowed us the opportunity to spoil and/or apprehend any would be criminals. I want to also thank the Blanco County Sheriff’s office for their support in assisting the JCPD on local calls for service,” he said.
Next, City Administrator Dockery informed the council of the latest Utilities Report regarding pumping, billing, and lab reports. Last month the city had 94% accountability and all reports met or exceeded limitations.
Stacy Castillo then provided council members with a Financial Condition Report.
After this, the council approved the last meetings minutes, paid the bills, and adjourned for the evening.