Council clears air concerning city manager

If communication is key for any business to succeed ‘and do it well and with dignity and the strength to withstand the elements’then surely that method could apply for city business, as well. Stemming from Brady Mayor James Stewart’s idea to open the lines of communication related to the city, Wednesday’s city council meeting was just that’a wealth of communication between not only members of the council but also area citizens in attendance. On the agenda for executive session was to discuss personnel matters concering City Manager Merle Taylor. The topic of communication came to the forefront when Taylor elected to have the “evaluation” in open session. The item was placed on the agenda because a number of council members have expressed concerns (both theirs and those of their constituents) to Stewart regarding proper procedure and complaints directed at them on behalf of Taylor’s performance. In his discussion with the citizens and council, Taylor first reiterated the duties and responsibilities of the city manager, adding that while his job can present hurdles on a day-to-day basis, he thoroughly loves his job and is committed to serving the City of Brady to the best of his ability. With four of the five council members addressing Taylor, Councilman Billy Patterson spoke up first to set the record straight that the item placed on the agenda for executive session was never intended as an evaluation of performance. “There are just some things that we never get a chance to talk about,” Patterson said. In reiterating the communication aspect of conducting business, Taylor informed council members that, in the event they have questions about the day-to-day operations of the city, they are more than welcome to visit with him at City Hall. “By all means, you can come visit with me anytime,” Taylor said. Stewart explained that he put the item on the agenda because a councilman approached him with concerns about the way things were being handled. “I don’t want tight lips,” he told the council Wednesday morning. “This point in time’right here, right now’is to clear the air. This is not going to be a witch hunt. “We, as a council, are here to provide guidance for our city manager. We’re making an extraordinary effort to implement change in this community. I know we are all working diligently to improving where we are. We’re trying to improve communication, and improve our ability to assist Merle in doing his job’without animosity and people working hand-in-hand in solving problems. “We need to move forward and let water go under the bridge. This is about Merle and what he is doing for this city. If you (the council) feel that there is something that he is not doing properly, let him know and it can be fixed. You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it’s broken.” In a number of concerns expressed by Patterson, he requested that the city’s department supervisor evaluations be made available to the council in the future. Those supervisors who report directly to the city manager are the EMS supervisor, fire chief, police chief, city secretary and municipal judge. “We’re here today to fix the lines of communication,” Stewart added. “Merle has a lot on his plate, and with the history of this council, we need to change the way we do things and the way we, as a council, interact with the city manager. By doing that, it will allow him to do a better job.” Councilwoman Linda Lott expressed a few concerns of her own, but not before pointing out that her comments were in no way intended to reflect negativity. “It’s been almost a year for me (serving on the council), and I’m still learning something new every day,” “I’d like to see the manager follow up when citizens make a complaint,” she said. Council members Rey Garza, Patterson, Mary Bradshaw and Ms. Lott have all experienced personal phone calls of complaint’whether it be about termination of employment, pot holes, problems with utility lines or lack of action on the city manager’s behalf. “People know they can come to me,” said Bradshaw. “I get all this positive stuff, but when they bring me something negative, I try to turn it around into something positive. I think it’s all how you act when people approach you.” “As far as Merle’s performance, he is doing exactly what he is supposed to be doing,” Stewart said. “He is handling the day-to-day business of the city, and these decisions are not easy.” Taylor did note that no terminations or dismissals have occurred without the city attorney’s recommendation, but when an employee chooses to resign, “that’s a different story,” he said. City Asst. Attorney Matt de Ferranti told the council, “Overall, the line between setting policy and implementing policy can become a very thin line, but it’s one that you have to continue to follow. If you want a policy changed, then you need to change the charter. Trust is such a crucial issue, but it is important where there are legal issues that are relevant.” In another recommendation, Patterson told the group how he would like to see a citizen-friendly policy where people who come into City Hall are treated with respect. “I’d like the citizens to feel welcome, and I don’t think that always happens,” he said. As the discussion came to an end, Councilwoman Lott included that the council needed to try and assist the city manager as much as possible so that he can do his job to the best of his ability. “I am encouraged by what I have seen from Taylor in my three months as mayor,” Stewart said. “He has a wealth of information. The man knows facts about what’s happening and the history of the city. “From what I’ve seen, he has the best for the City of Brady at heart. I do appreciate him for what he is doing, and I hope that this discussion will allow us to move forward. I hope this meeting will allow us to close a chapter in a book and start on a new one. I challenge you all personally and individually to do this.” Prior to the council opening the item for discussion, a number of community members spoke on behalf of Taylor and his dedication and service to the Brady community. “There are a lot of us who work with Merle every day who feel very strongly about what he’s doing for the City of Brady,” said Mike Trollinger. He cares about this community, but he has to make hard decisions every day. We need to work together to make this community what it needs to be and continue to march and work together to try and make this community better for the citizens of Brady.” When the issue concerning the city manager was over, the council then moved the executive session into private quarters to discuss legal issues regarding a pending lawsuit filed by former City of Brady employee Johnny Bailey. A short 20 minutes later, the group returned to council chambers and opened the meeting back into regular session. No action was taken during executive session. Animal control gets lengthy discussion, tabled In an ordinance item that has the majority of Brady residents awaiting an outcome, the council voted for the second time to table the issue concerning provisions regulating breeders of animals and requiring licensing of cats and dogs to include other animal control regulations. “I believe the ordinance that you had in your packets last time was much shorter,” de Ferranti told the council. “In discussion, what I found out was that the city previously updated its animal control ordinance. I made a few changes and there were a limited number of differences than what was technically on the books last time. “I did address the specific concerns that you mentioned last time in updating the technical version you have on file. In response to a previous concern expressed by Ralph Copenhaver and both his and his wife’s love for rescuing animals, de Ferranti noted that there is an exception laid out in the proposed ordinance for new litters and kennels. Earlier in the meeting, under citizens comments, Copenhaver explained how he has been rescuing animals for a number of years. He questioned whether homes that serve as shelters would have to register every animal taken in for adoption. Brady Lake area resident Sue Steelhammer, a self- professed avid animal lover, asked that the council consider having a countywide shelter. She has been called numerous times to take in abandoned or sick animals. “Please take this into consideration,” she asked the council. ” We really do need something here. Not only for those in poor living conditions but for what else is out there. We really need to help these animals.” In the second ordinance issue addressed by de Ferranti, he explained that after four months of age, every cat and dog would need to be licensed. “That’s a big step that you should be aware of in implementation,” he said. “That section addresses how you would acquire a license for each animal so that the city won’t have problems or concerns about rabies or other related issues. He added that inspections are a policy concern that the council will need to decide whether or not they want the animal control officer to assume as a regular duty. He did add that the section needs to be worded to reflect that it pertains only to breeders. “We have an animal control issue, and we don’t have enforcement methods,” said Stewart. “We’re not doing this to make money. We’re doing it to find a solution to a problem. “We don’t want another rabies outbreak around here. If it happens, there will be a mad rush on rabies vaccines. This is not the animals’ fault, but it is the owners’ responsibility to comply with the rules. “By having this ordinance, when an animal is not vaccinated and registered as outlined in the ordinance, it gives the city the authority to seize the animal until the matter is resolved. It’s one step we can take to solve the problem. Copenhaver questioned whether area veterinarians would even vaccinate an animal less than six months of age and mentioned that particular portion of the ordinance be changed to reflect registration of animals six months of age. One of the benefits of having animals tagged is the information it could provide. Planned in the process of vaccination and registration, color coded tags will also be available to let people know if a dog has been determined “dangerous” by a previous incident. Moving on, de Ferranti explained that the exotic animal issue is addressed in the proposed ordinance as well, but technically, they were already outlined in the city’s adopted animal code. Where securing an animal in a front yard of a property is concerned, de Ferranti said, “I did provide some provisions for the animal control officer to make a judgement call,” adding that some areas don’t have a back yard at all and the legal concerns of that would not be in the city’s best interest. For those who do have more than three dogs and cats in total, they would have to apply for a permit to be considered as a breeder. “If you have more than three, then you would be subject to the breeders portion of the ordinance,” he said. Again, Copenhaver posed a question to the council and its attorney asking what an animal owner will be required to do if they have five animals all of which are spayed/neutered. Obviously, they can’t be classified as a breeder. “The way it is worded, the animal control officer would have discretion to allow that,” de Ferranti explained. Copenhaver also suggested that because dogs and cats are two different animals, perhaps they be addressed in separate ordinances. “You may choose to have different regulations with respect to cats and dogs,” the city attorney stated. “Currently, it is drafted where you require a tag for both.” The problem many people have expressed is the difficulty of keeping tags on cats. “This city is dealing with an animal control issue, and if for some reason a cat is picked up the public can be made aware of what’s going on,” said Stewart. “If you know you’re cat is going to lose the tag, keep it where it’s available upon request.” The question of a leash law was posed to the council, to which Stewart responded, “We don’t want to pass this ordiance haphazardly. Our primary concern is that people have to maintain control of their dog.” Taylor stated that Sec. 2.125 of the ordinance already in place calls for animals to be leashed when not otherwise contained. In considering the option of limiting the leash portion of the ordinance to a specific area of town (such as the downtown area, part, etc..) Stewart stated, “This should be an all or nothing deal. We can’t make exceptions.” Ultimately, the animal control officer will have the discretion under the new ordinance to make the decision about leashing concerns. Special circumstances may apply when, for example, someone is throwing a ball at the park with their dog, but a leash is in their possession. The suggestion was made that the leash portion of the ordinance be reworded to state that the animal must be under owner control when not on a leash. Because there were enough issues left for discussion, the council voted to table the item until the next meeting. “I think there needs to be public discussion prior to the reading which would formalize the ordinance,” Stewart said. “I don’t have a problem delaying it an extra meeting to approve the first reading.” One of the issues also brought to the attention of the council was the amount of the registration fee proposed in the ordinance. Preliminary discussion, according to the council, has focused around a $2 charge for pets that are spayed or neutered and $5 for those who are not. Taylor also reiterated the fact that there would be an initial registration period of several months that animals could be registered free of charge. Prior to acting on any city business, Heart of Texas Memorial Hospital administrator Tim Jones approached the council during citizens comments with concerns about the soon-to-be lack of hospital transfer capabilities. In addressing the group, he spoke highly of the attempts to find a common ground between the three entities involved’the City of Brady, McCulloch County and the hospital. The hospital was officially notified late Tuesday that Guardian EMS would no longer provide transfer services effective May 2. Explaining the situation the hospital is now facing, Jones told the council, “Eight or nine months ago, due to personnel reasons, the hospital was notified that the city/county Emergency Medical Service (EMS) would no longer be able to provide transfers from the hospital. There simply was not enough staff to conduct both the emergency calls and transfer of patients. In a pinch, the hospital brought Guardian EMS on board on what was expected then to be a short- term basis. According to Jones, Guardian EMS made the announcement Tuesday that it would be terminating services with the hospital May 2 due to the low volume of transfers. “That measure (to hire Guardian EMS) was needed at the time,” Jones added. “We knew they were not the best long-term solution.” That said, Jones wanted to let the city council know the obstacle the hospital is now faced with and how it affects not only the hospital as a business, but all citizens who may one day require a transfer. “It could be me, you or one of our family members lying up there in the hospital in need of transfer and it won’t be there,” he said. “Along with Stewart’s theme of ‘opening the line of communication,’ we feel there is a solution for the hospital to work with the city and county.” Jones added that several ideas were tossed around in a special meeting Tuesday which saw representatives from the city, county and hospital joining forces to discuss viable options that involved the hospital’s participation in providing complete EMS service to the county. “We have to do something,” Jones reiterated. “Quite frankly, it’s a matter of life and death. We have to get folks out of the hospital. It’s our jobs to take care of sick folks once they get to us. I’m being as open and honest as I possibly can, but first and foremost, we need to be able to transfer patients out of that hospital. “The worst case scenario would be for us to go out and buy our own ambulance. I think there is at least a plan A, B and B-minus before we get to that point. The smarter solution would be to somehow come to terms with the city and county. I’d much rather see us utilize our local resources. I think there is some “wiggle room” with what we already have.” In answering Councilman Billy Patterson’s question about the number of monthly transfers, Jones reported that it varies from 10 to 20 per month, depending on the season. The total number of transfers made over the past 12-month period was 162. In closing his address to the council, Jones thanked the panel and the citizens in attendance for allowing him to bring forth his concerns and asked that the issue be brought back for consideration at the next meeting as an agenda item for formal discussion. Because it was presented in citizen’s comments and was not formally on the agenda, no action was taken; however, members of the council expressed equal concerns and stated that’through continued communication with all parties involved-‘they, too, hoped a solution could be met. Michele Derrick, local businesswoman and member of the Heart of Texas Memorial Hospital Board of Directors, also addressed the council and made reference to Tuesday night’s meeting (between the hospital, county and city) which she viewed to be highly productive. She told the council that it was the first time that all three parties have been together in the same room to try and find a solution. “Merle Taylor represented you (the council) well at the meeting,” she said. “He means well, and I was very pleased to have someone walk down that road with me.” In closing her comments to the council, she thanked both Taylor and Stewart for taking the time to work with the hospital and open the lines of communication. In other business, the council reviewed a list of recommendations provided by the City of Brady Planning and Zoning Committee for the term previously held by the late Wayne Rawlings. After a brief discussion, the council voted unanimously to appoint Sam McAnally to the board. Also under citizen’s comments, Danny Neal, president of the Brady Kiwanis Club, thanked the City of Brady for its cleanup efforts, especially with the tire removal campaign. “We recognize that this happened many, many months ago and it will be an evolving and ongoing process,” he said. “The Kiwanis Club, through the recycling of aluminum, has seen a lot of improvement taking cans off the street and turning trash into cash.” In his comments to the city, Neal added that the Kiwanis Club wanted to support the ‘tireless’ effort of the City of Brady and make a $300 donation to help with future cleanup efforts. As the second reading of an ordinance to add a penalty fee for late payments on hotel/motel occupancy tax, the item was unanimously approved. A $50 fee per quarter will be applied on all late hotel/motel occupancy tax payments. The ordinance to cancel the May 12 election was approved on the second and final reading. With two seats on the council unopposed, there was no need to conduct the election, therefore, it was cancelled. With Wednesday’s meeting surpassing two hours in length, Taylor gave a quick report to the council which touched on discussions of possible animal shelters, an oak wilt information meeting he attended last week and forthcoming meetings with the Texas Department of Transportation and Wal- Mart concerning a deceleration lane to be added at the entrance of the new Supercenter. According to Taylor, an agreement still has to be met between the city and Wal-Mart for any reimbursement. Also, a tentative ground-breaking date has been set for June 7 at 4 p.m. Stewart added that the April 14 “Clean-up the Ditches Day,” led by Brady High School, is gaining momentum. Also, a $1,000 check has been received from a private citizen for sponsorship of a roll-off dumpster. “I would encourage you (the council) to volunteer your time on one or two of the clean-up events,” he said. “The April 20 and 21 clean-up it is going to be a very large effort. The good thing is that this is only month one. The focus of May’s clean-up will be on brush, leaves and limbs.We’re going to try and narrow the scope and work on those items for the month of May.” As the final measure of communication during Wednesday’s meeting, Councilman Garza made a challenge to the mayor and city council to sponsor one of the dumpsters out of their own pockets. All were in agreement that the gesture would speak well for the council’s dedication and commitment to improving the overall appeal of Brady.

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