Monday, March 02, 2009

Marfa City Council 2/10/2009

Here it goes- from my notes about the meeting and the preceding Public Hearing on Feb 10th.

At 5 Pm we met for a Public Hearing regarding the proposed change of zoning from residential to C-3 for the parcel of property on HWY 67 across from the Border Patrol and in front of Felipe Cordero's mobile home park. This has been a contentious issue and has been debated for the last few months by the Planning and Zoning Commission. The P&Z Commission forwarded us a recommendation to change the designation. The vote on same eventually followed this public hearing during the 6PM regularly scheduled council meeting.

We heard from a number of citizens, for and against the change, and most brought up good questions regarding the greater question of what we, as Marfans, want Marfa to look like in the future. Some questions regarding the details of the proposed 44 room hotel project were asked and, later, during the council meeting, representatives from the owner of the property (Sammy Bhakta) responded to questions fielded both in the public hearing and during the regular meeting. No big surprises on the answers.
Other issues discussed were potential infrastructure costs (covered by city or landowner?), whether the property could automatically revert to R-1 if the hotel project is not built, and the general history of Marfa's zoning ordinance. Overall, the meeting was civil and 3 members of the Planning and Zoning Commission were in attendance and each addressed some of the questions as to how the P&Z came to vote as they did. Conspicuously absent (in my opinion) were the formerly vocal representatives of the 2 existing hotels in the city limits. Anyway, I feel progress was made on communicating the citizens' concerns to both the council and the representatives of the hotel project.

Regular meeting notes:

All members in attendance

1) Citizen Comments:
Ken Whitley got up and expressed his concerns over the recent suspension of the police chief and how it had made front page news, how communication of his offense had not been made to the public, and , generally, how the city administration should be more forthcoming with the reason(s) for such actions, especially concerning a law enforcement officer.

2) Approve Minutes: No minutes to approve- last meeting's minutes not yet available.

3) Mayor's Report:
The mayor announced an Emergency Services District (Creation) Meeting to take place during the week. The city currently shoulders the EMS burden for much of the county and is unable to bill for it. The creation of an ESD would allow for a separate taxing district and potentially reduce the tax burden to Marfa citizens. The county's discontinuation of EMS assistance funds this year has pushed the 2 EMS providers (Cities of Marfa and Presidio) to look into this option.

The Texas Regional Advisory Council awarded their JRAC award of $13,500 to the Marfa EMS dept for outstanding service. Yay!

Lastly, the new accounting system and software for the city is awaiting data conversion from the old system. Otherwise it is done. This job is currently past due, but the service provider has assured that it will be completed soon.

4) City Administrator's Report:
The Texas Water Development Board had comments regarding our sewer plant renovation project and would like us to address these comments and re-submit the project out to bid. We have to re-apply for a TCEQ extension on our sewage permit since we won't be able to re-submit bids until March.

With regard to our new generator, the pad will be poured within the next 10 days. The generator is at the manufacturer awaiting delivery to us.

The air conditioning work for the front of the AmVets building will be finished this week.

Applications to run for city office for the May election are available through March 9th at city hall (Aside- no I am not yet up for re-election).

The census bureau is looking for volunteers and paid workers. Contact city hall for more info.

The city administrator's office was burglarized several times in the past few weeks. Nothing of value taken, but papers rifled through, candy bar left on desk, other items disturbed, Locks will be changed.

5) Councilmember Comments: None

Agenda Item 8: Listen to proposal from Southwestern Equipment Co for the city to lease operate and eventually purchase our own garbage collection system.
Lease for all equipment minus spare truck: $6595.00/month

This was a non-action item. We looked at the city's cost to take back our garbage pickup so that we would not be subject to yearly increases, profit margins and the whims of Duncan Disposal, our only other option besides the even pricier Texas Disposal Systems.
This is a complex issue- one I'll address in more detail later (and if you go back in the archives, one I have addressed before) but it looks to me like Marfa will have to at least attempt to regain direct control over our costs, given the rate hikes we've seen over the last 2 years and the incredible burden it places on our citizens. I was happy to see some numbers that look reasonable, for a change.

Item 9: Old Business:

1) Zoning for Hotel Project: We listened to a presentation from Sammy Bhakta's group. Some of the details provided include
a) Marfa Inn & Suites will provide the infrastructure required for the 4" water line they will need.
b) Currently there are 2800 vehicles per day passing by the property on HWY 67.
c) The Border Patrol says they will put 42 people per day at Marfa hotels for the government's agreed upon price.
d) Marfa Inn & Suites will be ADA compliant
e) Their financing is solid, they are committed to the planned project.
f) They vow to employ local workers, during the construction period and also for regular operations.
g) They have an approximately 90 day time frame from this current date to begin construction.
h) They are willing to have a deed restriction put on the property designating any commercial zoning to be limited to a hotel (this was at Mayor Dunlap's request).
i) The estimated cost is to be $2 million (I hope they know where they're building- try 3!)
j) Sammy Bhakta originated the concept for this hotel 5-6 years ago and is a regular visitor to the area. His brother will be living on-site as the manager. Dedictaed to being a long-term part of the community.

After further discussion about landscaping, signage, parking and commerce in general the motion to grant the zoning change was made and the vote was unanimously in favor.

Item X- New Business:

Sheriff Danny Dominguez sent in former Marfa Police Sgt James Davis (now current PC sheriff deputy) to make a presentation asking for the city to pitch in over $7000 to this year's dispatching service budget. When asked to provide details that had been expressly already asked in memos from our city administrator he had abso9lutely no information. I, personally, was angry that the sheriff would send in a representative that had not been properly informed about either side of the issue other than "we need some money" and had not bothered to even answer the questions sent to him by memo before sending in Mr Davis to receive a lecture from both myself and Scott May. The bottom line (and I feel a little bad, but not much) is that I have quickly grown tired of other governmental agencies coming in and asking us for money since we now have a balanced budget and are solvent. Be it the county or the school board, I would like to see a preponderance of evidence suggesting as to why it's in our best fiscal interest to contribute monies to their separate budgets. Please no guilt trips about "the children" or one division of government shouldering all the burden. I understand both those arguments, but please be aware that anyone coming to the council asking for a favor needs to be forewarned that we are weary of unbudgeted expenses- and we do not have ANY ROOM for error with regard to our own finances. That is why we have only 100 streetlights on right now- not as many as many would like.
Anyway, on this issue, I agree that the city, since it uses the county's dispatch system, should shoulder a portion of the cost. I would like to have a presentation, in person, from the man in charge who can actually answer some simple questions regarding the efficiency and professionalism of the dispatch system we are being asked to help pay for. Since that's what I wanted, I made the motion that Sheriff Dominguez should appear himself and make a presentation with some accompanying information regarding training, quality control and the like and then we could consider adding some pro-rated funding to our budget. Motion passed with Scott May opposed.

State of Texas MAC building lease request- 5 more years- no rental increase.
This is a touchy subject- we really want the State of Texas to continue leasing the space they occupy in the MAC building, as we have no real use for it otherwise. On the other hand, no rental increase is tough to swallow as it is cheap already. We opted to propose that the rent increase to $1,182.96 per month- a 25 cent per sq ft increase. Hopefully that will be accepted and we can enter into another 5 years. We do incur expenses- fairly substantial ones occasionally regarding maintenance. Unanimous.

Next- the potential repeal of Ordinance 07-07, giving the City Administrator the power to discipline employees. Councilman Garlick brought this one to the agenda, as he is very disappointed in the treatment of Chief J.D. Wilbourn by City Administrator Jim Mustard. Specifically he is requesting that City Council be given the responsibility of hearing disciplinary cases. After some confusion it was determined, when the motion was made by Couoncilman Garlick, that this would apply to discipline of all city employees and that it would go to the Mayor, not the city council.

I could go around and around on this one, but one of the main points made as we went back and forth on this one were that, in Councilman Garcia's opinion, giving the council the power to discipline would break Texas law. Additionally, the Police Chief had the opportunity to appeal his suspension, take it to the Mayor, and then take it to council, but he did not go through that process. Thirdly, councilman May and myself didn't want to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" and re-organize a system that works properly 99% of the time. Many of us, including me, agree that the situation could have been handled with at least more documentation and a little less harshly.
Councilman Garcia went on to quote the State Law that applied here. its main points are that:
1) The Mayor is the CEO of the municipality
2) the Mayor shall perform and exercise the powers authorized
3) The Mayor has power over the conduct of subordinates
4) the Mayor has the power to delegate his authority to the city administrator.

In 2004 an organizational chart of the city powers was adopted that supports our current form of government.

Once we had been around this a few times Councilman Garlick accused Mustard of lying to Councilman Baeza about being able/unable to reprimand recycling Center/code enforcement employee John Johnson. Mustard denies the nature of the wording.

Once it's time for a motion, Rusty makes one stripping the administrator of the power and handing it back to the mayor. Vote is split 3/2- May, Garcia and Beebe against, Baeza and Garlick in favor. Motion defeated.

Before I move forward, I would like to state publicly (here on the internet) that I am neither on the Police Chief's "side" nor on the City Administrator's "side" in their dislike for one another. Frankly, after all the BS I have had to listen to from everyone who has thoughts on this mess, I can't say I actually give much of a damn anymore. Now, some might think that that would mean that any way I might vote on termination/demotion of either party might not matter to me. This is wrong. I am on nobody's team here but mine, which I believe to be the one of just the truth. No bias in either direction. so therefore to be swayed one way or the other is going to take irrefutable proof of wrongdoing by one or both parties. That means no hearsay, no "he said/ I said", none of any of that. I very well may be the only individual on council who has not made up his mind on where he stands if push comes to shove here. That, to me, makes my impartiality and potential vote in any motion regarding this matter all the more important. Bottom line- I will no longer discuss this situation with anyone- please forward any evidence you may have regarding any accusations to someone who can make a case on either side to eventually present to council- or not.

Now I'm worn out.
Last item- Monthly expenditures and revenue Report: Passed unanimously, no big surprises.

Anyone who wishes to participate in a hands-on way in city government (and also school board) is cordially invited, by me, to register to run for on of two city council positions up for re-election and also the Mayor's spot. I will say now that I plan to support the incumbents, as currently there are no other potential candidates registered as running. The deadline for filing is March 9th. Applications available at City Hall.

That's it for now- David

1 comment:

Lawrence said...

Hey David, this is great stuff. Is there an email address I could reach you at?


Lawrence Lander