Council approves code of ethics

By A.C. Hall

On Tuesday evening the White Settlement City Council approved a code of ethics that will govern both council members as well as individuals appointed to city boards.  This item has been discussed and then tabled at different times in recent years, but has now been approved by a vote of 4 to 1.  Council member Elzie Clements voted against the code of ethics, but gave no reason as to why he did not support it.  

Discussed in a work session last month, the code of ethics brought before the council on Tuesday has been revised to contain the items discussed at that session.

Laid out in the code of ethics is the creation of the Ethics Review Commission.  This six person board will be made up of people who reside within White Settlement and shall be appointed by the council to serve three year terms.

The City Attorney will act as investigator of possible ethics violations, and his findings will be presented to the ERC for them to rule on.  If the commission does find that wrongdoing has occurred, they have the power to put forth up to three levels of sanctions against the party guilty of the ethics violation.

Level one sees a letter of notification sent to the guilty party, and is used when the ethics violation was clearly unintentional.  Level two is a letter of admonition, to be used when the violation was minor and possibly still unintentional.

The third level of sanctions available to the ERC is a reprimand.  This will be sent to the guilty party and will also be published in the official newspapers of the City.  Level three is to be used when a violation was committed intentionally.

The fourth and fifth levels of sanctions can only be enacted by the City Council.  If the ERC believes one of these levels is necessary, a meeting of the council will be held where it will be up to a majority vote of the council if a level four or five sanction is used.

Level four is a letter of censure that is published in the official papers and added to the official records of the city.  This level is used if a serious or repeated violation has been committed intentionally or through total disregard.

The level five sanction is removal from office.  This is possible when a city official is found guilty by a court of law in any criminal matter or when an official has already received a level four sanction but commits further violations of that same nature.

There are five full pages in the code of ethics laying out prohibited behavior for city officials.  Items covered in this section discuss the acceptance of inappropriate gifts, the unauthorized use of city owned vehicles, and the impropriety of using ethnic or racial slurs.  Complaints being filed over alleged ethics violations must be filed with the City secretary within one year from the date of the alleged violation.

No timetable was given for when the council would appoint members to the ERC.  Members of the ERC will have staggered terms, with two seats expiring each year on Nov. 1.

 

SPUR 341 BEAUTIFICATION PROJECT

Before the council for approval was the funding agreement for a Spur 341 beautification project as part of a Green Ribbon grant from TXDOT.  The project will see plants and other landscaping added along 341 with a focus on the median area near the old Sam’s building.  The amount of the grant is $300,000, but it was maintenance costs that had council members worried.

Council member Mike Arnold brought up the fact that it would be up to the city to maintain the new area once it was installed. “What cost and man hours is that going to take from us?” Arnold asked.

Parks and Recreation Director Rich Tharp was on hand bringing this item to the council.  He fielded the question from Arnold, saying that the agreement calls for the city to be responsible for maintaining the area for up to five years.  That includes mowing and watering, but Tharp informed the council that Lockheed has offered the use of their water truck for watering.

When pressed for how much maintaining it would cost, Tharp said that until the actual project was designed, it was difficult to know the exact amount of work and man hours it would take to maintain it.  Tharp also said that the city is already responsible for maintaining that area of 341.

“This is going to make what we maintain anyway look prettier,” Mayor Jerry Burns said.

When asked if there was going to be any extra cost beyond maintenance, Tharp said it would only be if there is the need for any plant replacement.  He also said that Lockheed has also agreed to cover the design costs of the project.

“So our entire cost is upkeep,” Mayor Burns said, “and we upkeep it now.”

Councilman Arnold asked City Manager Linda Ryan what her feelings on this project were.

“I was kind of against it when I found out that we had to keep it up,” Ryan said.  “I was just afraid that we would end up paying more.”

She went on to say that Tharp has assured her the maintenance of it can be taken care of.  Mayor Burns seconded her thoughts about maintaining the area, saying it was a concern of his until he found out the city already maintains that area.

“I think that we need to go ahead and get this.  I believe that it would be good for our city,” council member Gene Hatcher said. “I think that the little bit of labor we’ll have to put up for it we need to do anyway for the city.”

A motion to approve the funding agreement passed unanimously.  This item will now move into the TXDOT process, and when final numbers are known on the project and a design is ready, the council will have to approve it one more time.  That’s expected to happen sometime in the first half of 2013.

 

City to donate car to WSISD

The next item of business was related to something that went on at budget time as the Crime Board considered purchasing a vehicle for the White Settlement Independent School District.  The Crime board is limited on what they can use their funds for, and Ryan said purchasing a vehicle for WSISD is something that can’t do.

The WSISD appears to still be in need of a vehicle, as once again this matter has appeared.

“A few weeks ago, the school superintendent Mr. Molinar and David Bitters approached me,” Ryan said.  “They possibly wanted to know if the city could donate a used vehicle.”

Ryan said she recalled this being done three or four years ago, and added that the city has three vehicles they are preparing to remove from service.  She said they would bring in between $2,500 and $5,000 if they were auctioned.

The City Manager said if the council wished to donate one of those three vehicles to WSISD, there had to be a valid public purpose for the donation to be allowed under the Texas Constitution.

“We have made justification in that they do back us up, and they do help us and they’re patrolling the kids in school,” Ryan said.

Ryan suggested that if the council wished to move forward with the donation it should be up to WSISD as to which of the three vehicles they want.

A motion was made to donate one of the three vehicles to WSISD.  That motion passed unanimously.

 

Public Comments

One citizen voiced concerns over the Ethics Review Commission, saying they felt it should also include a provision that causes any city official who sues the city be made responsible to reimburse the city’s legal fees if their reason for suing is discovered to be unfounded.  The citizen also voiced their belief that the ERC should monitor and enforce strict attendance requirements for council members.

Another citizen spoke in an attempt to shed light on property taxes that may be coming for people who are receiving royalties on their mineral rights.  This citizen has received a separate tax bill due to the royalty payments, and cautioned that others who are receiving royalties may also be getting a second tax bill.

The citizen said there were duplicate taxes and something called a multiple account charge related to this.  Anyone receiving royalty payments on their mineral rights may want to look into the tax implications of those payments so they can be prepared.

A meeting for 7:00 p.m. on Thursday is planned to canvas the local election votes, but it may be postponed due to Tarrant County not yet completing their post election process.  Newly elected council member Steve Ott is set to receive his certificate of election at this meeting, with his official swearing in ceremony set for the Dec. 11 council meeting.

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