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.
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.
The White Settlement City Council discussed some changes in the board application process at their meeting last week. City Secretary Amy Arnold stated that most on the council have voiced their displeasure with the current procedures in place for appointing board members.
Council member Elzie Clements began the conversation on this issue.
“We as a council have let the board members down,” Clements said. “We just appoint them and throw them out there.”
Clements suggested an interview process that would allow the council to meet potential board members and explain to them what their duties on the board would be.
“I want to make sure they know what they’re getting into when they accept a board nomination,” Clements said.
As the discussions continued, it was stated that in the past board members have been appointed who some on the council had never even met. Most seemed in favor of some sort of face to face meeting between potential board members, especially those who haven’t been on boards before.
The main item that was communicated to city staff for now was to work on the board applications. The current board application is a single application that contains only a small amount of information about each board. Staff will begin work on adding more information to the application that will make it more clear what each board does and what will be expected of members of the boards.
High Point Academy request
High Point Academy, a new charter school in White Settlement, addressed the council seeking Mayor White’s signature on some financing documents. High Point was seeking to get financing through the EB5 program that allows foreign investors to invest in local projects. A representative from High Point stated that they are a free public school that currently has 461 students enrolled in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. They also have a waiting list of 150 students. The school will be starting their first high school class next year as they look to expand up to around 800 students in the coming years. High Point plans to do some expansion to support this growth. Representatives explained that financing through the EB5 program would save them money and allow them to keep investing in the school instead of paying more money to a bank.
In order to be eligible for the EB5 funding, the areas around the school have to meet certain requirements. One requirement that was stated in the letter was that it needed to be signed by the Mayor of a city of a population of 20,000 or more. The other regarded high unemployment numbers in areas around the school.
Council member Steve Ott spoke about this, pointing out that White Settlement doesn’t meet the population requirement laid out in High Point’s financing letter. He also contested that information he gathered didn’t support the same unemployment numbers that High Point Academy was using. “The data doesn’t match,” Ott said.
A representative from High Point contended that their numbers come from the government. Mayor White asked that this be shown in writing.
These discussions continued but both Ott and Mayor White continued to state that they felt the City can’t sign the letter because White Settlement doesn’t meet the requirements listed in the letter. City Attorney Warren Spencer echoed this, saying if the requirements aren’t met then the Mayor shouldn’t sign the letter.
Mayor White ended the discussion by telling the representatives of High Point that he feels like he can’t sign the letter. High Point stated that they may need to take the letter elsewhere and were beginning to understand that perhaps White Settlement wasn’t the proper place to seek a signature. They asked that their request for a signature be withdrawn.
New Mayor Pro Tem
Each year after the elections the council considers who to name as Mayor Pro Tem. This council member runs meetings and acts on behalf of the Mayor if the Mayor isn’t available. Current Mayor Pro Tem Steve Ott nominated Elzie Clements as the new Mayor Pro Tem. That motion passed unanimously. Clements took the oath of office and will serve the next year as Mayor Pro Tem.
Deputy City Marshal introduced
Melvin Wilson was recognized by council as he’s become the new Deputy City Marshal of White Settlement. Wilson recently graduated from the Police Academy was given a plaque of special recognition as he now holds certifications in arson investigation, fire fighter, and peace officer.
Council member Mike Arnold was not present at the meeting due to an illness.