If I keep writing about Shoreacres City Council meetings, you folks are going to think the people that live around here are nuts. And maybe you’d be right. Or maybe a few are simply petty, mean-spirited bullies that can’t let the past go. Either way, if you aren’t interested in these types of reports, rest assured I’m working on another outlet for them and I’ll get back to big city, county, and state politics in a bit. But first, this long, long report that will surely make a few neighbors mad.
The meeting started out on a good note, with a service award being given to former Mayor Dolly Arons, and plaques being presented to Citizen of the Year Stan Krauhs and Employee of the Year, Chief David Newman.
Then there was the approval of minutes from three previous sessions. The city website is completely out of date – minutes that have been approved aren’t listed and minutes for meetings held on 4/8, 4/22, and 5/28 haven’t been approved as best I can tell. Hard to look back when the minutes aren’t there. After the minutes, Mayor Webber reported on a couple of meetings he attended, and Alderman Nancy Schnell reported on a meeting that she and Alderman Moses attended in Round Rock.
Chuck Haist said that he found resolution 2012-80 on the city website pertaining to installing speed bumps on Miramar. Mr. Haist mistakenly thought that because the resolution was on the website that it was in force and wanted to know when the speed bumps were going to be installed. The minutes for the meeting discussing it, 2/27/12, show that Agenda Item 6.2 failed because there was no second to Alderman Gerry Victor’s motion.
Connie Ramirez noted that bushes near the Yacht Club were growing over the road, creating a hazard for motorists.
Patrick Stanton had a long list of things that he thinks the Port of Houston should be doing to prepare for the cruise lines that will finally be using the cruise terminal. He sent a fax to Port of Houston Chairman Janiece Longoria asking her to create a VP of Business Development, solicit restaurateurs to build Texas themed restaurants near the site, create an ad-hoc committee to advise the new VP, and contract with a Public Information firm to coordinate local events. Mr. Stanton thinks that we should be proactive and take advantage of the increased traffic that the cruise line will bring, as well as plan for the increased traffic that is possible for our neighborhood.
Charlotte Wells talked about kids riding golf carts on Miramar and the possibility of speeding vehicles running over them. She wants speed bumps as well as prohibiting kids from driving the carts.
Leslie Duggie wanted to know if someone from outside the city was delivering something, came onto her property, and cracked the road, who would be responsible? City Administrator Stall advised her to speak with him afterwards.
Dolly Arons addressed item 8.5 on the agenda (lots more on that later). She was against the item and discussed Chief Newman’s excellent references from people that he worked with. Mayor Arons said that she thought it was a personal vendetta that was behind the agenda item.
Vickie Ellis also spoke against item 8.5 and also supported Chief Newman. She had the best quote of the night, see below.
Chuck Haist (second time) rose with some positive news, saying that the recent mowing made it look like the city had gotten a haircut.
Karen Gerany asked if she could discuss other agenda items since we were discussing agenda item 8.5. Mayor Webber told her that he hadn’t heard anyone discussing that item. She was incredulous, telling him that two people had just discussed it and that Mayor Arons specifically mentioned 8.5. Webber remained steadfast, stating that he hadn’t heard anyone discuss that item and that all he heard were generalizations. Weird.
David Jennings asked the mayor if we were going to get an opportunity later in the meeting to talk about 8.5. He told me no because it was a closed session. So I got up and talked about 8.5 and my support for the chief. But I didn’t talk about 8.5. Weird. And weird to say that in third/first person.
Patsy Thompson closed the citizen comment period by stating that the discussion for 8.5 should be open.
Some good news from Police Chief David Newman during his report. Only 2 thefts reported for the month, 92 citations issued, 5 code violations cited, 1 dead tree letter, and 4 coyote sightings. But the good news is that the chief completed the reporting requirements to join the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program and submitted the first seven months of 2013. We are now official! Let’s see, he’s been chief for 7 1/2 months and has already accomplished something his predecessor didn’t do in 15 years. Think about that when you see the nonsense below.
Item 8.1 was a formality, Item 8.2 was tabled, and then we got to hear about coyotes again. Mayor Webber put this on the agenda but didn’t have anything prepared to talk about, yet we spent an inordinate amount of time talking about. These are the types of items that make the meetings so darn long. Keep Fluffy and Muffy inside at night and let’s get on with business. Best solution was provided by Chuck Haist (I think, once again, no one identified themselves during this discussion) who said to enforce the ordinances about keeping lots cleaned up. Take away the habitat, the coyotes will move along. Item 8.4 was a formality, I’ll hop over 8.5 for now.
Item 8.6 was a resolution by Alderman Bo Bunker to implement a donation box on our water bills specifically for park improvements. Any expenditures from the fund have to be approved by council. The resolution passed unanimously. That’s for you Darlene.
Item 8.7 by Alderman Rick Moses was to consider asking the City of La Porte to give our city a bundled price on EMS, fire, first responder, dispatching, jail services, and animal control. Mayor Webber said that he already had most of the prices and would be ready to discuss them soon.
This brings us back to the item of the night.
Alderman Schnell put this on the agenda (recall the citizen comments from Arons and Ellis above):
Consideration of reassignment for the City of Shoreacres Police Chief David Newman.
What a way to top off a night you received an award for Employee of the Year! A bitter member of council tries to get you fired! Classless but that is becoming the norm for this council. I thought it couldn’t get worse than this meeting but apparently, I haven’t seen anything yet.
The City had to hire an attorney, Norman Giles (sp), to come out for this farce. I have filed a Texas Public Information Act request on the cost of this. Chief Newman had a field rep from the Texas Municipal Police Association, Leighton Guarnere, there to help if needed.
Mayor Webber adjourned the meeting at 8:04 pm to go into Executive (closed) Session. Chief Newman asked if it was his choice for it to be closed or open. Webber told him that it was and the chief chose to open the session to the public for full transparency. When you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to hide.
Schnell started by saying that TOMA had tied her hands and that this was the only way that she could get “crucial” information into the hands of the other council members. Complete and total bovine processed hay. There is nothing in the Texas Open Meetings Act that prevents a council member from giving information to other council members. Nothing at all. Everything presented at that meeting, which truth be told was nothing but alleged conversations with anonymous officers and an anonymous document, could have been given to individual council members beforehand. Then they would have at least been aware of what was on her mind.
Then she started talking about anonymous “reports” from officers that were unhappy with Chief Newman. She claimed that we are about to lose half the police force because of this. She claimed that officers were subjected to abusive language in front of the chief, with someone calling an officer “princess”. She claimed that sergeants weren’t being kept in check by the chief. She claimed that the officers had great difficulty respecting the chief as a leader. But hey, she said, he was the best patrol officer we’ve ever had, she said!
Schnell claimed that the grievance procedure listed in Ordinance 2009-30 allowed employees to file grievances with council members – it clearly does not. Here is the relevant section:
EMPLOYEES RIGHT TO APPEAL (Grievances)
(a) An employee who has a complaint concerning conditions of employment may present a grievance in writing to the Department Head. The Department Head will conduct an interview with the employee and a confidential investigation of the complaint, protecting the identity of the complaining employee, witnesses, and individual alleged to have violated the policy, to the extent possible, and make a determination regarding the grievance. In grievance complaints in which an employee may feel uncomfortable reporting to the Department Head, or if the Department Head is the person accused, the employee may file the grievance with the Mayor.
(b) If a resolution of the complaint is not reached with the Department Head, the employee may, within three (3) working days of the interview with the Department Head, request in writing that the matter be referred to the Mayor for hearing or final resolution.
Clearly, the process is designed to go to the department head and the Mayor. The ordinance should be updated to include a step at the City Administrator’s desk. The city is fortunate to have a very experienced and competent City Administrator who could handle these complaints professionally. Of course, you would need an actual complaint, right?
Which is the problem. There were no complaints. What, you ask? That’s right, no complaints at all. Ever.
Alderman Steve Jones asked that simple question:
What type of previous complaints have been brought to the chief?
City Administrator Stall said that there were none. None. Not. One. Ever.
Turns out this was all anonymous conversations that Schnell had with “someone”. Then she produced a document or documents claiming that they had been placed in her mailbox overnight and that the Texas Rangers might be here investigating! I’ve filed a Texas Public Information Act request for the document(s). During the discussion of the document(s), it turns out that no one signed them. So, some “damning” documents suddenly show up in her mailbox from an anonymous source and she is claiming publicly that the Texas Rangers are coming? Are you kidding me?
And you thought big city politics were fun.
Schnell emailed me this morning and said that after the meeting last night, formal grievances were filed. I’ve filed a Texas Public Information Act request for those grievances.
Chief Newman stood up and said that he has never had one single complaint from any officer. Not. One. He said that he routinely goes to lunch with the men and that they had a meeting on July 4th where he specifically asked them if they had any problems or suggestions for him. And told them to come to him at any time if they did. He seemed genuinely confused about where these alleged, anonymous complaints were coming from.
Smearing a good man because you are bitter you lost an election a year and a half ago and your friend was fired as police chief is not what public service is about. Grievances from employees happen every day of the week – I can’t tell you the number I had filed against me. About 1 out of a hundred have merit.
Let’s be frank. If half of the police force of Shoreacres is so spineless that they cannot talk to a guy like Chief Newman about a problem or problems, then LET THEM QUIT! What’s going to happen when they have to actually protect a citizen? Duck and cover? Schnell mentioned that Bellaire was hiring – ha, do you really think someone that doesn’t have the courage to talk to his supervisor or the Mayor about a problem in an almost zero crime area would be willing to work in that area of Harris County? Good grief.
I think that a couple of the officers are being pushed into complaining by a bitter council person (or two) in hopes of getting the old chief back – you know, the one that didn’t do anything on the administrative side for 15 years. I hope that the rest of the council and the mayor see this for what it is and put a stop to it. It is beyond embarrassing – it is a potential liability. If I were Chief Newman, I’d make certain that the official recording of that meeting is preserved in case he needs to use it in a lawsuit against the city. He can have my copy but it isn’t “official”.
I’ll take you back to the Citizen’s Comments above. Remember, I said that Vickie Ellis had the best quote of the night. She said,
If you are successful in getting rid of Chief Newman, I hope he sues the city out of existence and we become a subdivision of La Porte.
Yeah. What she said.