Tension builds in city hall

The called city council meeting on October 21, 2013 was to discuss actions regarding the recent termination of Italy’s City Secretary/Administrator Teri Murdock.

Council chambers was thick with people and tension in the air. The names of 6 citizens were called to make comments. Phyllis Hogan, William Dillinger and Shayna Miller gave their speaking time to Steven Farmer. Tom Little asked to speak after the closed session. Victor Correa was the first to speak.

Correa approached the podium and started by pointing out the recent salary increases given to three city employees. Correa adamantly stated “Italy is a town of only 1500 people and we are paying almost $200K per year just for three people. This is ridiculous. Our Mayor is trying to do something and these council members are tying his hands. He can’t do nothing but give raises to their buddies and pay for stuff we don’t need.”

Correa pointed at all of the council members and said “Some of you shouldn’t be on this council.” Correa pointing at Rodney Guthrie said “This gentleman over here should resign.” Correa was clearly frustrated at the attitudes of a couple of city council members at a recent council meeting where he reminded the audience how irate they became by describing them as outrageous. Correa asked them to resign.

Steven Farmer approached the podium and told the room “We are here to talk about an action taken against Ms. Murdock, that is pretty much the reason we are all here.” Farmer asked who was present from the Italy Neotribune. Farmer requested the Italy Neotribune reporter to post the entire meeting on YouTube as he has a few attorneys out of Dallas who would like to view the videos.

Farmer turned to the city attorney and asked if the mayor is allowed to poll the city council members during a closed session. The city attorney replied that he is not at liberty to discuss what is talked about in executive sessions. Farmer said “I’m not asking you to talk about executive session, I am asking you about the law. Is polling allowed in executive session, yes or no?” The attorney replied “I am not your lawyer so I cannot answer that.”

After the attorney’s comment Farmer said “Problem number one is the city attorney doesn’t care about the citizens.” The attorney tried to rebut but Farmer stopped him and said “Well I am going to go ahead and continue since you are not my attorney and you are wasting my time.”

Farmer turned to the city handbook and read a section stating the City of Italy is an at will employer and therefore is allowed to fire an employee for no reason. He said “This is a city ordinance and we should be able to follow it.” He went on to read, the final authority of personnel management rests with the mayor.

Farmer asked Councilman Jackson “Have you ever fired anyone as mayor?” Councilman Jackson replied “No, not a department head, no.” Farmer turned to the audience and asked “Italy’s ex-Police Chief, Shayna Miller are you here?” Miller replied, “Yes.” Farmer asked Miller “Who terminated you?” Miller replied “Frank Jackson when he was mayor.” Jackson denied the accusation saying the council terminated Miller. “I am glad you said that” said Farmer. Farmer recalled “You did terminate her, she appealed, and you guys sat in an executive session and you said no one is going home until it is unanimous and she is terminated.” Jackson again denied the statement. Farmer asked Jackson if he submits a signed statement or affidavit about what was said in the executive session regarding Miller’s termination would Jackson still deny it, and Jackson said “Yes.”

Farmer told the council they are appointed by citizens. Farmer said “If you guys bicker and fight and all this hostility between department heads and the mayor, city council against the mayor, the mayor against city council, you guys are not doing us justice.”

Farmer then asked for the resignation of the police chief and all of the city council members with the exception of Mayor Hobbs. Farmer handed each one of them an envelope with their letter of resignation. The police chief immediately tossed his back at Farmer.

Farmer turned to Chief Hill and told him this was not personal and reminded everyone he was in favor of the chief receiving a raise because he puts his life on the line for the citizens of Italy, but that he should not have complained about Mayor Hobbs asking for his resignation in public and then in turn ask for Mayor Hobbs’ resignation at a council meeting. Farmer said “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” “You are the police chief, lead by example,” Farmer added.

Farmer let everyone know he is speaking with the district attorney because there MAY be illegal activity going on in the city. Farmer is submitting documentation to the district attorney in order to get to the bottom of it.

Farmer believes the citizens are being treated like “crap” and he wants it to come to an end now. He received an applause.

The council adjourned to executive session for over an hour to discuss actions regarding the termination of the City Secretary/Administrator.

Mayor Hobbs reconvened to open session and Councilman Perkins announced the reinstatement of Teri Murdock to the position of City Secretary/Administrator.

Mayor Hobbs asked Tom Little if he had any comments and Little declined to make any comments at this time.