By A.C. Hall
Danny Anderson was sworn in Tuesday night and took his seat on a council that Mayor Jerry Burns would later say has started “a new era.” That new era started with a lengthy agenda that looked both backwards and forwards as new member Anderson requested several items be added that dealt with issues the council has been working on in recent months.
One such issue is the recently passed code of ethics. Anderson said he was provided with a copy when he was a candidate for council, and he was not comfortable with the document.
“It caused me quite a bit of angst,” Anderson said.
He said he had many issues with the document, but started off by asking why it was brought forward in the first place. Mayor Burns said the item has been discussed for several years, and also mentioned a code of ethics that was in place in the 90’s.
Anderson stated that he was around when the old code of ethics was in place and he did not have good things to say about it.
“It was strictly used as a political battle axe to knock opponents around and to split the City,” Anderson said.
He went on to speak about the split that exists in the City.
“The City has, in my opinion, been split for long enough now, and it’s time to start healing it and bringing it back together,” Anderson said.
While Anderson did say the code of ethics contained some good stuff, he voiced his belief that it should be scrapped and a new one be worked on.
“If we’re going to do something like this, it really needs to be fine tuned,” Anderson said.
Council member Mike Arnold said they could keep the current code of ethics and just fine tune it as they go.
One specific part of the code that Anderson drew attention to was a possible sanction council members could be subject to that would see a notice put in the newspaper telling everyone about their ethics violation.
“Come on, that’s no way to act in this city,” Anderson said. “If we want to heal this city, this kind of stuff’s got to stop.”
Anderson also got into the removal of council members. He spoke about State law and the way in which it approaches removal of officials from elected office. City Attorney Warren Spencer was involved in the discussion, as he spoke about White Settlement being a home rule city, which means it’s governed by a charter and ordinances, which can sometimes vary from how the State does things.
“In a home rule municipality, the only thing we look to the State for is what we can’t do,” Spencer said. “There are examples of home rule municipalities that have placed into their body of ordinances or into their charter the authority to suspend or remove council members and they have passed muster in the courts here in Texas.”
Anderson indicated that he believed the choice of removing council members should be left up to the citizens through means such as recall instead of having what he called a “political free for all” as council members tried to remove one another.
Another way in which Anderson said the document was flawed was in what he saw as conflicts built into it. Having the City Attorney act as the investigator is one thing he saw as a conflict, as it could be awkward having the Attorney investigate council members, who are essentially his boss. Having council members appoint citizens to the Ethics Review Commission was another thing Anderson saw as a conflict, as it could further split the city. He suggested making the Ethics Commission something people are elected to, so citizens control who serve on it.
Arnold spoke again about his desire to see the current document remain in place, saying he thought it was fine to rework it but not to get rid of it completely.
A suggestion was made to pass a moratorium on the enforcement of the code of ethics until it was reworked in a manner everyone was happy with. Anderson made a motion to do that, adding in a six month time frame for the moratorium. Workshops to work on the code of ethics during that time will be held.
That motion passed 4 to 1 with Arnold against.
Farmer’s Branch flooding discussed
Another item that Anderson requested be put on the agenda was the Farmers Branch Flood Control project. He said this was so he and other newly elected council member Steve Ott could get brought up to speed on the project.
Anderson began by saying he had heard that some work was being done using easements that have expired.
“That’s setting us up for a possible lawsuit,” Anderson said.
Project Manager Jack Bell responded to this, saying that all the easements required for the project have been acquired by the City. Bell then spoke about the progress of the project in general.
Anderson brought up the original 2005 plan for the Farmers Branch project, saying it was supposed to take everyone in the city out of the 100 year flood plain and even help lower insurance rates. Bell and Arnold both mentioned that citizens voted against a bond that would have funded doing the full project which would’ve accomplished that.
“We still don’t want these people’s homes to flood,” Anderson said, referencing those who don’t live in the area where the scaled down Farmer’s Branch Flood Control project is being done.
Bell agreed with him, and the two spoke about things that could be done to help those who live along the creek in the area West of Meadow Park, since that is the border of how far the Farmers Branch Flood Control project now reaches.
The restrictive nature of working in the creek was touched upon, as it is technically classified as a waterway of the United States, which severely limits what the City can do to it. The possibility of redoing the Judd Street bridge was also brought up.
Finding the funding to do some of these things was discussed, with Bell mentioning that the chance of future help from the Corps of Engineers was very unlikely.
Anderson suggested holding a workshop where they could continue to talk about possible ways to help alleviate flooding issues in that part of the City.
Citizen magistrate named
At the request of council member Ott, the issue of citizen magistrate was on the agenda. Ott said he recently spent some time watching Judge Ritchie at the White Settlement Municpal Court and that it was an eye opening experience. “I came away from my time with the judge with the understanding that he needs some help,” Ott said.
Currently, the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem act in a capacity to help the judge. While they aren’t allowed to preside over court or hear contested cases, they may conduct arraignments, accept pleas, sign judgments and perform other tasks in the absence of the judge.
The City does have a resolution in place that allows for the appointment of a city magistrate that could perform these same duties if the judge, Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem are not available.
Mayor Burns stated that in recent years he couldn’t recall a time when the current system wasn’t sufficient. Arnold agreed, saying he didn’t see a need for appointing a citizen magistrate.
Clements argued that there was no harm in naming one, since it’s an unpaid position, asking what it would hurt to have one appointed just in case they’re ever needed.
Anderson said he had no problem with naming a citizen magistrate, so long as they made sure it was clearly set up that this was an unpaid position.
Ott made a motion to name Gunnar Rasmussen as a citizen magistrate. He and Clements spoke about how this is a role Rasmussen has performed in the past. That motion passed 3 to 2, with Arnold and councilman Gene Hatcher voting against.
Burns made mention of a July start date for Rasmussen, referring to the wording of the resolution that seems to indicate Rasmussen’s term as citizen magistrate won’t begin until that time.
Oncor updgrade nets gains for Central Park
Project Manager Bell presented the council with what he called a win/win situation. Oncor is seeking to upgrade transmission lines in the city by way of a new transformer in Central Park. After some back and forth, they settled on a place near the football field parking lot.
In return for allowing them to put up the new transformer there, Bell negotiated a deal that will see Oncor bury almost all of the remaining power lines in Central Park. This will save the City money while also helping supply more power to parts of the area including Weir SPM.
The council voted unanimously to approve this matter.
Our coverage of the January 8 council meeting will continue in next week’s Grizzly Detail.