NEWS HEADLINES

Councilman apologizes to citizens

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, March 24, 2012

Councilman Mark Allen apologized to Runaway Bay citizens Tuesday night for voting in favor of accepting the resignation of police Chief Drew Paschall.

Allen said he was one of two council members who wanted to keep the chief, and at the end of a five-hour meeting in February, he was manipulated into changing his vote.

“At the city council’s meeting Feb. 22, we went into executive session to discuss the evaluations of our police chief and our city administrator,” he said. “This meeting lasted about five hours. The majority of the council wanted the police chief to resign, and they were willing to pay the balance of his contracted salary package to see this accomplished. The vote was deadlocked at three to accept the resignation against two to keep the police chief.

“In the last five to 10 minutes of the meeting, I was manipulated into changing my vote for the sake of the appearance of unity on the city council,” Allen continued. “I agreed to vote with the majority and also make and read the motion to accept the police chief’s resignation. The motion I read was prepared by the city’s attorney.

“I want to apologize to the citizens of Runaway Bay. The city cannot afford this kind of waste of taxpayer’s money. I regret voting for that action.”

The citywide hiring freeze was “postponed indefinitely” after a motion by Councilwoman Bettye Parker. The move will allow the council to replace Officer Mike Jones, who resigned a few weeks before Paschall.

In the public forum, citizen Anita Bernardo questioned the effects of another recent controversial decision – firing City Administrator Greg Leveling.

Leveling was dismissed March 16 after a three-hour closed council session. Because a settlement was not reached, the city will honor its contract with Leveling, said the city’s attorney, Meredith Ladd.

“You’ve made it real clear that we do not have the money in the budget to buy equipment for the police department or for the city works department,” Bernardo said. “But somehow in a vote to dismiss our city administrator and our police chief, we’re supposed to cover part of their salary because they’re being paid not to come to work.

“I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay a higher water bill or more taxes,” she continued. “And it may be in the budget to cover their salary, but to replace them or to give someone else that responsibility and give them a raise isn’t in the budget.

“I sent an email to every council member and the mayor last Friday (and) did not receive one response. All I want to know is how much it’s going to cost us. What’s the bottom line?” she asked.

“From the vote you made, what is the city’s financial responsibility to dismiss the administrator and police chief?” Bernardo continued. “What’s it going to cost us out-of-pocket to cover your decision?”

Because the comments were made during the public forum portion of the agenda, the council could not discuss or take action on the comments.

According to Ladd, the council agreed to pay 12 months of the remaining 22 in Paschall’s contract. His annual salary was $57,688.

Two years remain on Leveling’s contract. His initial base salary was $60,244.

According to his contract, because his employment was involuntarily terminated within the first two years, Leveling will receive a lump-sum cash payment equal to the remainder of his unpaid salary.

In addition, Leveling is entitled to all life, health, dental and disability insurance and all other city-provided benefits at the city’s expense for 12 months or until similar coverage is provided by a subsequent employer.

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The council tabled action on an agreement with Merrick Bank for electronic transaction systems to accept credit and debit card payments for court fees, utility bills and setting up deposits.

Currently, customers can make online payments through a third party that charges them a transaction fee. Their payments are then entered into the system manually.

Merrick Bank is integrated with the city’s software, City Secretary Oneta Berghoefer said.

According to Berghoefer, there would be an initial $499 expense for equipment, a .31 percent transaction fee and 65-cent charge, per swipe.

“That’s a lot,” Councilman Berry White said. “I motion we table this a month to see what other rates are out there. I know of some cheaper rates.”

In other news, the council:

  • postponed action on 2009 North Central Texas Council of Governments codes governing building construction to allow the city additional time for research;
  • renewed its contract with Coy Campbell for mowing services; and
  • named Carolyn Rhea and Hope Binkley to the planning and zoning commission.

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