Even though this column is on the Opinion page, I’ve never been comfortable expressing opinions about subjects I cover on the news pages. I’ve always been more of a “just the facts, ma’am” reporter and feel a little self-indulgent or presumptuous foisting my opinion upon others. I prefer to use this column to write about what’s going on behind the scenes and make observations rather than form opinions.
This week I’m going to make an exception.
Anyone who attends Glen Rose City Council and city board meetings regularly can see it – the city badly needs an organization man or woman. The job title is city administrator.
Now let me just say right off that the city staff does a great job. The people at Town Hall wear many hats. A few do the work of many.
But Glen Rose is a city in transition from a small town with the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality to a larger town with more and more going on and more people moving in from Dallas, Fort Worth and other big cities.
A lot of towns, both large and small, have city administrators or city managers. Here’s what Granbury has to say about its city manager, Harold Sandel, and his job description:
“The city manager’s office is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the city and management of all the various departments. His philosophy is quality for future growth, strong emphasis on tourism, excellent customer service, conservative financial management, efficient and effective delivery of municipal services, protecting health, safety and welfare, enforcement of codes, ordinances and laws, providing parks and recreation facilities, building and maintaining infrastructure, and ensuring city staff will improve services and increase productivity. This office provides the Mayor and City Council with recommendations on current and future issues through timely, complete information.”
I’ve noticed a certain casualness of operation in Glen Rose’s city government that is perfectly understandable. People know each other well and they work well together. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
First, there seems to be a lot of confusion about posting meetings in compliance with state laws on open meetings and about the circumstances under which a public body can go into “executive session,” which means a meeting closed to the public.
Open meetings must be posted 72 hours in advance. That means a notice is taped or tacked up or otherwise publicly displayed so people know about the meeting. If there’s enough time, it’s published in the local newspaper.
Executive sessions were designed to be an occasional rather than a regular occurrence. According to the Texas Open Meetings Act, there are seven reasons to close a meeting – discussions involving purchase or lease of real property, security measures, receipt of gifts, consultation with attorney, personnel matters, economic development and homeland security matters. The governing body must identify which issues will be discussed in executive sessions and cite the time and applicable exception. All final actions, decisions or votes must be made in an opening meeting.
The Open Meetings Act’s definition of economic development-related issues to be discussed in executive session is very specific. It “allows a governmental body to conduct a closed session to deliberate commercial or financial information that the governmental body has received from a business prospect.”
The state Attorney General’s handbook on economic development goes on to say on page 233 that “in order to hold a closed session under this exception, the business prospect must be one that the governmental body is seeking to have locate, stay or expand near the governmental body’s territory. In addition, the business prospect must be one which the governmental body is conducting economic development associations.”
I have never seen a City Council go into so many executive sessions as the one in Glen Rose does. I’ve also been told what goes on in some of them – such as discussing signage recommended by the Glen Rose/Somervell County Networking Group. I don’t understand why this topic would be discussed in a closed meeting. It certainly doesn’t seem to fall under the Attorney General’s description of “executive development.”
Some citizens have protested. The council hasn’t gone into executive session after its last two meetings.
Other people told me they were unhappy that the council decided to meet one Saturday at Oakdale Park to look at progress on the skating rink and make decisions about the ceiling and interior colors. While the public posting was within the 72 hours required, it was too late to be published in the Reporter, the newspaper of record. As a result, some folks who really wanted to attend didn’t hear about it in time.
Moreover, some city boards, such as planning and zoning, don’t seem to know that they aren’t supposed to go ahead and hold a meeting that’s not posted, as happened recently.
A city administrator could work with the city attorney and city departments to make sure everyone understands the law regarding open meetings and open records.
Second, while elected officials certainly have every right and responsibility to put items on meeting agendas, a city administrator could help by working with the different departments and finding out what things need to be brought to the council’s or a board’s attention. The members would make the decisions, but the administrator would be the one to present complete information and well-researched options to the council and city board members.
That would go a long way towards ending the confusion often seen at meetings where some documentation or report or other supporting material isn’t available and members can’t make informed decisions or have to delay them.
Third, although the city has a Comprehensive Plan to help it guide growth and plan for the future, other plans – for Oakdale Park, for the River Walk and for other projects – seem to get lost in the shuffle.
Hence, some of the frustration expressed about Oakdale Park at this week’s 4-B Tax Advisory Board meeting and about RV spaces. Who’s got the plan? What plan? And, on the RV spaces, what’s city stuff and what’s county stuff? These questions arise week after week.
Follow the money
Fourth, a city administrator can help keep track of the budget and plan ahead. This weekend the council is meeting to discuss the current fiscal year budget, what’s left and what’s left to do. This is something the city administrator could monitor constantly and keep the council updated about budget trends.
Most council members seem to think hiring a city administrator is a good idea. The city has been advertising the job and has received dozens of applications. Larry Shaw, who heads up a panel sorting through and assessing the applications, told the council recently that there are some strong candidates.
Let’s hope that the council moves expeditiously to find a good city administrator. The timing seems right to help make Glen Rose ready for the changes that are inevitably going to come.
But that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?