New members sworn in; ethics, flooding discussed

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White Settlement City Council, Dec. 8, 2015

Editors Note: Due due a print error, the city council story was missing the final portion in print. It is printed in its entirety here.

by A.C. Hall

Newly elected council member Dave Mann and newly re-elected council member Steve Ott took their oath’s of office Tuesday night as the council discussed several items on the December agenda.  One thing discussed at length was ethics.  Ott requested this item be placed on the agenda as he asked if there was any interest among fellow council members to resurrect talks of implementing an ethics document to govern the council and Mayor.  Earlier this year council voted to do away with an ethics document they had been using.  Ott said this leaves the council powerless if an ethics violation occurs.
“Without an ethics policy, nothing can be done,” Ott said.
Ott stated that the old policy was too convoluted, but was looking for interest from the rest of the council in coming up with a new policy.  Council member Elzie Clements agreed that the old policy didn’t work, but spoke in favor of putting something new in place.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to setting a workshop to try to revise the ethics,” Clements said.
Newly seated council member Mann also agreed.
“I don’t know how you operate without ethics,” Mann stated.
Council voted unanimously to set a workshop early in 2016 to further discuss this issue.
The ethics situation came up again later in the meeting when council discussed a complaint against Mayor Ronald A. White.  This item was scheduled to happen in a closed door executive session, but Mayor White requested it be held in the open.  Council member Paul Moore opened the conversation, saying this issue came about due to a city employee making a complaint against Mayor White.  The complaint revolved around an email that White sent to a city employee in which Moore says the Mayor demanded the employee go write someone a ticket.
“Technically that’s not true,” Mayor White said.
Moore contended that the email was still a violation, as it went against the City Charter because Mayor White directed an employee to action.
“You cannot tell an employee to do anything,” Moore said.
Elected officials are directed by the charter not to give orders to city employees but to instead speak to their boss, City Manager Jim Ryan.  Mayor White said  the email in question was sent to Ryan, Assistant City Manager Jeff James, and to a city employee.  He said he realized sending it to the employee was a mistake.
“In hindsight I should not have sent it to him,” Mayor White said.
Mayor White said he addressed all of this in the days following the email, saying he spoke with Ryan and the employee and that this issue has already been handled.  Moore spoke again, revealing more information about the email.  The email included photos Mayor White took over his fence of a neighbor’s yard as he made a complaint against the neighbor and asked for action to be taken against that neighbor for perceived violations.
“So, what are we going to do about it?” Mayor White asked, once again stating that it had already been handled.
Ryan got involved in the discussion, saying the reason for the complaint was because the city employee felt his position could be threatened if he didn’t respond to the Mayor’s concerns expressed in the email.
“It was against our charter,” Ryan said.
As this discussion continued, Mayor White repeatedly stated that it was not an intentional mistake and that it had already been handled.
“It was an innocent mistake,” Mayor White said.
Clements stated that council needs to follow up on any complaints from city employees.  As Mayor White continued to say it was already dealt with, several on the council told him  they were not made aware that anything had been resolved.  This led to more back and forth as Mayor White questioned why they needed to be involved at all, with council members saying that when a complaint is made they need to look into it.
The most heated exchange came between Ott and Mayor White.  As council continued the discussion, Mayor White expressed his frustration with the conversation.
“What are you going to do about it?” White asked the council.  “Lesson learned.”
Ott said without an ethics policy there is nothing the council can do other than chew the Mayor out.
“Mr. Mayor, do not do anything like that again,” Ott said.  “You can’t use your position as mayor to enforce anything.”
As the lengthy discussion ended, Mayor White once again stated that he learned his lesson and won’t repeat the mistake in the future.

David Mann being sworn in to City Council.
David Mann being sworn in to City Council.

Creek erosion
Council was addressed by Assistant City Manager Jeff James about extreme erosion along the creek behind the Library.  He said the many rain events this year have had some devastating effects on the banks of Farmers Branch creek that runs behind the library.  James said the most recent heavy rains made a particularly severe impact.
“It caused an enormous amount of damage,” James said.
James said action needs to be taken to keep the banks from eroding closer and closer to the library.  He also spoke about the designation of the creek as a waterway of the United States, which heavily limits what the City can do in and around the creek.
The proposal to the council was to build a four-foot high wall along the bank of the creek by the library.  This wall would act as a retaining wall that would slow the current as it came around the bend in the creek in that area.
“It’s to hold back the erosion,” James said.  “What we’re trying to do is hold the earth in place.”
As council questioned the effectiveness of the wall, James informed them this was just the first step in the plans to combat the erosion.  He also spoke about planting more trees in the area that could help hold the soil in place.
Council unanimously approved the building of the wall at a cost of $50,000.  That money will come from leftover flood control money.
Council member Mike Arnold was not present at the meeting due to an illness.

Steve Ott being sworn in to City Council.
Steve Ott being sworn in to City Council.