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Rhome Councilman makes heartfelt request for collaboration

Big changes could be coming to a trademark event in the city of Rhome.

The council discussed several modifications to the traditional Pioneer Days festival at its meeting last Thursday. The festival is held the fourth weekend in September.

At the request of the event committee, officials changed the event’s name to Rhome Fall Festival “to allow for more options theme-wise” and “recover reputation from past mistakes.”

Committee members said Pioneer Days could be held later, possibly coinciding with Founders Day.

The aim, they say, is to incorporate more games and activities and create more of a carnival atmosphere instead of the old western theme.

The council also considered changing the location of the event to the park.

But the biggest change may come in response to a heartfelt request from Councilman Ronnie Moore.

A lifelong Rhome resident, Moore requested the committee collaborate with other organizations in the city to put on the event.

“This thing started because my mother helped create this deal,” he said. ” … It was the fire department and the city, they all worked together. When the function started, the fire department was always there to help. Then six years ago it just … up and smoke …

“It has to change,” he continued. “Every organization in this city is important to the city, and they all ought to be asked … This city’s got to turn around and start working together. And I know everybody’s looking at me saying, ‘Ronnie Moore is saying this?’ But this coming from my heart.”

Committee members are to meet with representatives of other organizations in coming weeks. They will present a budget at the council’s next meeting.

The festival is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 26-27, with proceeds going to city parks.

IN OTHER NEWS

The council also:

  • approved a contract with American Municipal Services for fine collection. “We add 30 percent for every violation, and they collect the 30 percent,” City Secretary Ramah Burns said. “They all do work. We just put it on an Excel sheet and get it to them. Sherrie Dast [city of Reno court administrator] said they went from three or four drawers of file folders down to about a drawer … [AMS] sends us weekly reports, monthly reports and the check. They take out their 30 percent and send us the difference. They work on payment plans, vouchers, however they can with the people who owe the fines to get collected.”
  • tentatively set the Memorial Day program for 2 p.m. Saturday, May 24, at the Veterans Park. Speaker is J.D. Clark. Although Councilwoman Jo Ann Wilson said Clark won the primary election, “has no competition” and “will be the new county judge come Jan. 1,” he is in fact opposed by Democratic candidate Jim Stegall on the November ballot.
  • approved transferring $42,000 from the general fund to the water/sewer budget, where the money “more aptly belonged” – $12,000 for the water tower lease and $30,000 as reimbursement for personnel who provide maintenance work for the city. “It’s not going to raise water bills … It’s just reallocating some money,” said Councilwoman Michelle Pittman. ” … The water department works on city buildings and services the city itself, so that $30,000 will pay the water department for their service.”
  • agreed to talk with an engineer to design a restroom facility for Family Park.

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Council, citizens debate carport issue

Carports proved to be a hot topic at the Rhome City Council meeting Thursday.

Residents engaged in a heated discussion over allowing the structures in newer parts of town, like Crown Point. The current ordinance only regulates the structures in “Old Town.”

“I’ve lived in neighborhoods before where this has been an issue, adding carports,” said resident Diane Fletcher. “What it started looking like was a trailer park … Things started looking trashy … I think it’s definitely not going to make Rhome look very good. I don’t want Rhome looking like a trailer park.”

Fellow citizen Sue Isbell concurred.

“Most of the people I’ve talked to do not want carports,” she said. “We’ve lived in that neighborhood for eight years. We had zoning restrictions, and we knew that when we moved there. This has gone on for years about putting carports there. This would depreciate our property value and take away the beauty of our neighborhood.

“We take pride in our homes, and this would not be an appropriate zoning change because it truly would bring the neighborhood values down.”

Nathan Robertson spoke up for the other side.

“I’m all for carports,” he said. “There is no homeowner’s association where we live at. The carports are going to protect my cars. Have you seen the hailstorms that came to Denton and tore up all the cars?”

“We all have garages,” Isbell retorted.

When Robertson asked if her garage was clean enough to get her car in, Isbell said one is.

“OK. Mine’s not, and I have three vehicles at my house,” he said.

When Isbell suggested he get an outbuilding to store his belongings, Robertson informed her he had one and it wasn’t big enough.

“Well you know what? Have a garage sale, I guess,” she said.

Mayor Chris Moore hammered the gavel, insisting all discussion be directed at the council.

“I’ve lived here for 24 years, and I don’t think it’s going to decrease my property value,” Robertson said. ” … There’s a lot more to worry about with eyesores than carports.”

Tony Isbell said he would not be against carports that met certain requirements. Otherwise, he said, they can be “a blight.”

“A blight is a disease and a deterioration and it takes away from everybody else, and I don’t want to do this to Rhome,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to do this to Rhome.”

Citizen Jimmy Johnson stood in the crowd and labeled himself the guilty one.

“I’ve pushed and pushed and pushed and will continue to push until you kill me,” he said, ” … a carport is nothing but a property increase in value. You don’t have one. I have one. Identical houses sitting side by side. I can get more for mine than you can get for yours. I’ve got a boat, a $20,000 little sports car – all I want to do is protect it.”

Sue offered another alternative.

“When somebody has that much property, or toys, they really need a big lot,” she said. “Why would somebody move into a neighborhood like ours and accumulate all this stuff and expect the rest of the neighborhood to adjust to what they want?”

“… and make it look like a car lot,” Fletcher added.

Later in the meeting she asked the council how much research they had done on the matter.

“It’s not a simple matter,” she said. “You’re affecting a lot of your citizens one way or another. I think some more in-depth investigation of what this can do to your community [is needed].”

The council did not approve an ordinance that outlined building standards for carports, essentially permitting them.

Instead Council member Charles Pennington volunteered to conduct an impact study, and officials will consider allowing the structures on a case-by-case basis, as suggested by Council member Jo Ann Wilson.

“I am the owner of a carport, and I’d hate to beat somebody up,” she said. “Mine is attached to my home, it has brick and the roofline goes with it. It’s served a purpose for me … I’d like to see it be a special exception because it wouldn’t just apply to Crown Point. It would apply to Old Town and any other additions that we have. It would be a one-by-one exception.”

Councilwoman Michelle Pittman agreed with the idea.

“I like that idea because I think the people that really want to have the carports, that would do a good job, will go through the effort,” she said. “If we just do a blanket one we’re more likely to have people just throw stuff up.”

The city attorney chimed in, “… and end up with something that doesn’t fit … This way the council and everybody else has input.”

Councilman Pennington asked residents who opposed the idea how they felt about the special-exception system.

“I think it’s going to inhibit the growth, or even more building of subdivisions,” Tony Isbell said.

“Jo Ann Wilson has a carport; Crown Point didn’t fall apart,” Johnson retorted. “Louis has a carport; Crown Point is still there.”

“I didn’t drive by Jo Ann Wilson’s house to get to Crown Point,” Tony Isbell said.

“But did you drive by Ramah Burns’ house?” Robertson interjected. “You had to have.”

“But that’s the older Rhome, though,” Sue Isbell said. “There were no zoning restrictions when you did that.”

Mayor Moore sounded his gavel again and allowed one more comment.

“City of Saginaw – BOOM!,” Johnson proclaimed. “And they have carports everywhere.”

The council will hold another public hearing and further discuss the matter at its meeting in June.

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Rhome residents need permits for PODS

In a move to prevent PODS from becoming eyesores, Rhome residents must now obtain a permit from the city before parking temporary outside storage units in front of their homes or businesses.

If they don’t, they could face a steep fine.

At Thursday night’s regular meeting, Rhome City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring the permit for use of PODS (Portable On-Demand Storage) or a similar short-term storage device.

For a $5 fee, City Hall will issue a seven-day permit after registering with the city. If the person can show cause, they can receive a 30-day permit. Anyone requiring a permit longer than 30 days must gain approval from the city council during a regularly scheduled meeting.

Those who don’t get permits can be fined up to $500 for every day they are found in violation.

The council is also working on making changes to an ordinance covering carports. The new rules touch on setbacks and the materials used in building carports. A public hearing on the ordinance change will be held at the next regular meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. April 10 at City Hall.

In other news:

  • council will hold a hearing April 10 to adjust the budget. They plan to move $30,000 from the general fund to the water and sewer department for maintenance reimbursement. They also intend to shift $12,000 earned per year from leases on the water tower over to the water/sewer department.
  • council approved Wanda Richardson to serve as election judge during the May election and Leon Brookens to serve as alternate judge.
  • council approved spending $1,300 to repair the roof on the community center but denied allowing the senior citizens to use part of the old Rhome School for a garage sale. The council condemned the building as unsafe and had it boarded up more than a year ago.

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Rhome City Council eyes new rules for PODS

An ordinance being considered by the Rhome City Council may put a limit on the numbers of days a resident can keep PODS in their yard.

PODS – Portable On-Demand Storage units – are trailer-shaped containers typically used for moving or temporary storage. At Thursday night’s regular meeting, the council will eye an ordinance requiring residents who use PODS to get a permit from the city.

“The council has asked what we can do with these animals,” said city attorney Walt Leonard. “It’s OK to have them out for a short time, but what if someone lets it sit out for an extended period of time as a permanent storage building? You can issue a permit that is good for a certain amount of time.”

At an earlier meeting, the council had discussed making the permit good for five days, renewable one time for five more days.

Mayor Chris Moore suggested at that time that the size of the lot be considered, since the city has two PODS of its own.

The council is also slated to discuss an ordinance related to the appearance of carports. If approved, new carports would have to meet certain requirements, such as having a certain amount of brick, stone or other masonry material used.

Other items on the meeting’s agenda, which starts at 7 p.m. Thursday at Rhome City Hall located at 105 First Street, include:

  • replacing the gas light at the Veteran’s Park,
  • consulting with a concrete company,
  • using part of old Rhome school for a senior citizen garage sale fundraiser,
  • repairing the community center’s roof,
  • warrants, and
  • city department heads keeping “council up to date.”

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Firestorm over Rhome VFD service fizzles out

After months of wrangling, Rhome City Council rejected an ordinance tied to dual service on the council and fire department.

Council members decided to take no action Thursday night on a proposed ordinance that would have limited the number and voting power of volunteer firefighters who also serve on council.

The proposed ordinance would allow no more than two members of the Rhome Volunteer Fire Department to serve on council and/or as mayor. They would also have to recuse themselves from voting on items related to the fire department.

The proposed ordinance had been discussed at length in council meetings for months, and it was a topic at a council workshop held last month.

But at this week’s regular meeting council member Louis Godfrey gave a compelling argument against the measure. He said imposing such a limit could breech the voting rights of elected officials and the people who elected them into office.

“I think we need to be careful about what we are doing here,” Godfrey said. “We could get into legal trouble. We have council members talking about what other council members can or can’t vote on.

“Should we take away the right of people to vote who have been elected by people to vote for them on these issues?” he asked. “Everyone should have a right to vote on these issues. Why should you take that away?”

He added that preventing votes for anything related to fire department would basically prevent certain council members from taking any action on the budget since it includes funding for the volunteer fire department.”

“I have an issue with the voting,” added Mayor Chris Moore who also serves as assistant fire chief. “Council members were elected to vote on this stuff. It’s doesn’t benefit me or the department or anybody else, but equipment for the fire department does benefit the entire city by improving our ability to protect citizens and their property.”

City attorney Walt Leonard said it’s common to see volunteer fire departments also serve on the local council.

“You’ll see a lot of small towns where multiple members of the city council also serve on the VFD,” Leonard said.

David Wilson, former mayor and council member and former longtime member of the fire department said “it’s a bad deal.”

“I don’t like the situation down at the fire department right now by any means, but I don’t like hamstringing the council like this either,” he added.

“It’s unfortunate this has come up at all,” said council member Michelle Pittman. “I feel like you’re picking on one person, me.”

Pittman serves on the Rhome Volunteer Fire Department.

“Everyone is really tired of this,” she said. “This is tearing the town apart. … This has never been an issue before. What has changed? What has happened?”

“No one is against the fire department,” said council member Jo Ann Wilson, who has supported the ordinance. “We just want accountability to the taxpayer on where the money is going and how it’s spent.”

“Nobody on the fire department has access to any money,” Pittman said.

Current city law prevents only the fire chief from serving on the council or as mayor.

“What we have in place is fine,” Godfrey said. “I say we should forget this, and if there’s a problem in the future, we’ll address it.”

In the end, the rest of the council agreed and took no action on the proposed ordinance.

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Rhome City Council to discuss pavilion, VFD limit

It’s “old business” on the agenda, but the Rhome City Council will continue discussions on the city’s pavilion and volunteer fire dept. when it meets Thursday.

The ordinance limiting membership on the volunteer fire dept. to no more than two city council members has been the focus of controversy in recent meetings. The measure also requires those members to recuse themselves anytime the council votes on RVFD issue.

The council will set a date to move Rescue Revenue to City Hall, and consider draft ordinances on PODS and carports.

Among the new business on Thursday’s agenda are contracts with the Wise County Elections Office and Northwest Independent School District for the May 10 council elections to be held jointly.

Another contract will finance equipment for the public works department.

The council will also order a plaque to recognize major donors for Veterans’ Park, review incentive pay and the city’s depreciation schedule, and set dates for an Easter Egg Hunt, the candidate forum and chili cookoff.

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Rhome City Council looks to take over parks board, limit firefighters

After struggling to find enough members, the Rhome City Council will likely take over the duties of the Parks and Recreation Board – at least temporarily.

“Everyone (on the city council) appears to be in agreement it will go to the council,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jo Ann Wilson. “Different council members will coordinate different events, and we’ll have help from volunteers. We’ll just have to see how it works.”

The council discussed the issue in detail at a workshop held last Saturday night at city hall. Although no action could be taken during the workshop, the council expects to take action at the next council meeting.

The workshop also covered how to proceed to complete construction of a pavilion at the Rhome Family Park. So far, just the concrete foundation has been completed. Councilman Louis Godfrey was appointed to find out the best way to proceed and bring a recommendation back to the council.

The council also discussed the fate of several ordinances regarding the fire department, including one related to membership on the department and serving in city government.

“By law the fire chief can’t be the mayor,” Wilson said. “But an ordinance that the council might approve at the next meeting might limit no more than two members of the fire department can serve on the city council and mayor position.”

Currently, the mayor and one council member serve on the volunteer fire department.

“The reasoning for limiting it to two people is not a personality issue,” Wilson said. “But if a fire emergency is called out during a meeting, we need to keep enough there to have quorum.”

The proposed ordinance would also prevent council who are members of the fire department from voting on funding issues related to the department.

When asked what the council would do if a third member of the fire department was elected to the council or mayor position, Wilson said if that happened, they’d just have “to look at options at that time.”

“We’re not trying to limit volunteering,” Wilson said.

The next regular council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13.

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On call: Rhome city council to discuss fate of fire department during workshop

The right of a city council member to also volunteer as a member of the Rhome Fire Department will be discussed in detail tonight.

Rhome City Council has scheduled a workshop to discuss the fire department ordinance. Also on the agenda is the Parks and Recreation Department, who’s board is unable to reach a quorum since it’s down to one member. The workshop will also tackle the fate of the pavilion at the family park.

At a Jan. 9 meeting, several council members discussed amending a fire department ordinance. The ordinance currently allows anyone to serve on both the council and fire department so long as they are not the fire chief. Currently, Mayor Chris Moore and council member Michelle Pittman serve on the volunteer fire department.

Council member Ronnie Moore has argued that serving on both constitutes a conflict of interest. City attorney Walt Leonard said according to state law, conflict of interest only occurs if one is making 15 percent or more of their income from an entity. City council members and firefighters volunteer their time.

The workshop is scheduled to start at 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18.

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Rhome officials question service on fire department, council

On Thursday night, Rhome City Council discussed ways to change an ordinance regarding whether or not someone can volunteer for both city council and the fire department at the same time. Although no action was taken on the item, council was close to making a motion that, if passed, would have forced Mayor Chris Moore and council member Michelle Pittman to choose between serving on the council or the Rhome Volunteer Fire Department.

“It is too much a conflict of interest to help run the city and be on the fire department,” said council member Ronnie Moore.

“I’ll resign from the fire department tonight if you do this,” Moore said.

Current city law says only a fire chief can’t serve on council or as mayor. Options posed included forbidding anyone from serving on both, limiting the number of elected officials that can serve as members of the fire department and/or preventing them from voting on actions that affect the fire department.

“We’ve set a precedent where this has been OK for many, many years,” Pittman said. “I wonder why everything is different now when it’s been this way for 20 years.”

Moore has served as council member and mayor for several years all while being assistant fire department chief.

“I was on the fire department and the council for 13 years,” echoed former council member David Wilson.

The fire department has had low membership numbers for the past couple of years, which resulted in late to no response on several daytime calls. The council took some steps to increase membership, and Pittman joined as a volunteer firefighter herself last year to help bolster protection. The fire department currently has eight members.

“I don’t understand why you’d do anything that could reduce the number of firefighters,” Pittman said. “You better put fire department response on the next agenda if you pass this because we won’t have enough.”

According to Texas law, a conflict of interest only arises if an involved party receives 15 percent or more of their income from it, said city attorney Walt Leonard. In this case, neither volunteer fire department members or elected city officials earn any income for their efforts.

Council members Jo Ann Wilson, Charles Pennington and Ronnie Moore all leaned toward some kind of change to the current ordinance. But they eventually agreed to take no action and discuss it further at an upcoming workshop. No date was set for the workshop, but it’s expected to be on a Friday or Saturday night sometime in the next couple of months.

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Department up for discussion again

Once again the issue of elected officials volunteering with the fire department will be discussed when Rhome City Council meets 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.

Two agenda items are related to ordinances concerning membership on the city’s volunteer fire department.

In meetings last year, some questioned if it was a conflict of interest for someone to serve on the council and as a member of the volunteer fire department.

The only rule regarding that in the current ordinance language is that the fire chief can’t serve on the council. Rhome Mayor Chris Moore is a longtime volunteer with the fire department. Council member Michelle Pittman also volunteers.

Moore has contended there’s never been an issue with serving on the fire department and serving on the council.

Council will also revisit the first responder position. Other items include term limits, parking at the community center and the status of the pavilion at Rhome Family Park.

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First responder position shelved

The debate over the future of Rhome’s short-lived first responder position is on pause for the foreseeable future.

“I think we need to table this until we begin talking about the 2015 budget,” said council member Jo Ann Wilson. “We are tired of talking about it.”

The item was on the agenda for Thursday night’s meeting but was quickly tabled by Wilson. The motion to table was seconded by Ronnie Moore.

Mayor Chris Moore said he put the item on the agenda “because a lot of people in the community have asked me to.”

A couple of audience members aired out their opinions on the position.

Dee Romine told the council she felt the abolishment of the first responder position was more about a “personal vendetta” against Robert Pratt than it was about budgetary concerns.

But Jerry Taylor, assistant fire chief of Newark Volunteer Fire Department, spoke in support of the council’s decision.

“At some point in time the city will grow and there will have to be a paid position, but are we at that time yet?,” Taylor asked the council. “And if we do get to that point I think we either need to hire someone who will be a paid firefighter or a paramedic, not an EMT that has to clock out to fight fires.”

In September, the council voted 3-2 to approve a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, but only if the money for the EMS/first responder position – created in May – was removed. Council members Wilson, Moore and Charles Pennington voted for the measure while Michelle Pittman and Louis Godfrey voted against.

The position was held by Pratt, who also serves as the city’s fire chief. It was officially abolished at the beginning of October.

The item was on the agenda last month as well but was never discussed as the council lost its quorum just before the issue came up, after Wilson left the meeting.

PARK BOARD STUCK IN NEUTRAL

The Parks and Recreation Board is down to only one member after two resignations were accepted at Thursday night’s city council meeting.

Dawn Vestal and Debbie Stewart both submitted their resignations from the board to the city council. Board chair Terri Troxell had also turned in a resignation but retracted it prior to the council meeting.

With only one member left, the board will be unable to hold its monthly meeting.

“It is by definition now inactive because you need at least three members to have a quorum,” said city attorney Walt Leonard.

The city will continue to accept applications for the board. The council also plans to hold a workshop in January defining the structure and role of the parks and recreation board.

PAVILION ON PAUSE

The council also discussed the fate of the unfinished pavilion in the city’s family park.

The foundation for the pavilion is in place, but the city has held off on erecting the pavilion until the integrity of the concrete slab is confirmed.

After a lengthy and passionate discussion of concrete, the mayor and council leaned toward the idea of using a core sample as the cheapest way to test the slab.

SANTA’S COMING

Children can meet Santa Claus 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Community Center in Rhome. Snacks and beverages will be served along with gift giveaways.

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