Verbal conflicts abound in Italy City Council meeting


The council met in front of a full audience to discuss department reports and 15 items on the agenda.

First item of business was Mayor Hobbs declared the month of November National Hospice & Palliative Care Month (please see attached for full explanation of Proclamation).

The previous month’s council minutes, bill and earned compensatory time were approved.

The video, updated and then re-added to this article 11-29-13, 10:10pm, contains the final 10 minute video clip that was inadvertently omitted from the previous video posted here a few days ago.

Citizen Comments:

Harry Jackson told the council he was there to surrender his phone to councilman Jackson.

Elmerine Bell asked to reserve her comments until after resolution of item V. on the agenda.

Jackie Cate reminded the council of an agenda item that has been tabled for sixty days. The agenda item was to consider a fire lane behind the fire station. He said “Sixty days is a long time for someone to get a survey. When it comes to public safety we don’t have sixty days. I leave you with this—If that fire truck or that ambulance cannot get out of that fire station because of a blocked vehicle and somebody dies…that’s on YOU.”

William Dillinger stood before the council, pointed at Chief Hill and said “Last week you took an extended lunch to see your wife.” Chief Hill replied “I have no idea what you are talking about.” Dillinger said “Did you use your company vehicle?” Chief Hill replied “I sure did yes.” Dillinger said “Did you come back in it? So you used the city vehicle for personal use?” Chief Hill said “This has already been addressed by the council about my use of the city vehicle and it has been sanctioned by the city council a couple of times already.” Dillinger simply said thank you and sat down.

Joan Grabowski asked that the packet of information listing the agenda the city council uses to conduct the meeting be placed on the table for the attendees to follow along. She also questioned why changes to the city budget were listed on the agenda since the budget had already been approved last month.

End of Citizen Comments

The Italy Higher Education Corporation met just prior to the city council meeting to approve a financing agreement for the Khabele School, a private school in Austin, Texas.

It was explained by Dan Plights, an Attorney from Waco representing Khabele School and Regions Equipment Finance Corporation, the state gives every municipality $10,000,000 of tax exempt borrowing power on an annual basis.

The private schools have to go to municipalities and ask them to approve the use of all or a portion of their allocated tax exempt money so the private school can get a better interest rate due to the use of tax exempt money.

This $10,000,000 received by the city is not actual cash, but only a dollar amount to be able to borrow from a bank at a lower interest rate.

If we approve the financing agreement, Italy Higher Education Corporation receives $5,000 from Khabele School for the use of the borrowing power.

If Khabele School defaults on their payments it is not a reflection on the City of Italy or the responsibility of the City of Italy to pay the loan.

Since the Italy Higher Education Corporation does not have any plans to borrow before the end of the year and they will receive another $10,000,000 ability to borrow on January 1, 2014, the financing was approved by them and also approved by the City of Italy.

Chief Hill gave his report (click here to view report)

Dean Carrell gave his report and showed the audience a sample of sludge before filtration and a sample after. He held up two jars, one containing bottled water and one containing treatment plant water. Carrell asked the audience if they could tell the difference between the two. No one commented. Carrell was proud that there was no difference in appearance of the two samples and pointed out how the water system has greatly improved.

Teri Murdock attended the hazard mitigation plan meeting and said it is very important the city participate in these meetings in order to receive hazard assistance and grants for hazard mitigation.

The regular session began with Item I., approving the finance agreement of $2,750,000 for Khabele School in Austin, Texas.

Item J. was to approve and award a contract for professional engineering services for the 2013 TXCDBG Program. It was approved and awarded to KSA Engineering.

Item K. was to consider the building of a new stage at the community center requested by the Italy Opry to be paid for with Italy Opry funds. It was tabled until questions could be answered about handrails and other construction.

Item L. was approved to purchase an emergency siren for the City of Italy with the $5,000 received by the Italy Higher Education Corporation.

Item M. was approved to participate in the Hazard Mitigation Action Plan with Ellis County and North Central Texas Council. Jackie Cate reminded Mayor Hobbs that as a participant in the Hazard Mitigation Action Plan that certain classes must be attended by him and council members in order to be eligible to participate.

Item N. was approved to appoint the 3 people who applied for the Community Activity Committee. A complete committee is made up of 7 people so the council is awaiting 4 more appointees.

Item O. was approved to accept the resignation of Mark Stiles as president of the Economic Development Corporation.

Items P. and Q. were approved to renew the administrative services agreement between the City of Italy and the EDC.

Items R. and S. were approved to cast a vote for Directors of the Ellis Appraisal District. Tommy Hamilton was elected.

Item T. was to approve and award the bid to repair the 200,000 gallon storage tank. Cate Welding was selected for the Job.

Item U. was approved to install traffic control devices at the intersection of N. Couch St. and the Main St. split, E. Main St. and Hwy 34 intersection and E. Travis St at Couch St. for public safety and accident avoidance.

Item V. was approved to adjust the salaries of sworn and non-sworn police department employees. Chief Hill gave a presentation justifying the salary increases. Comparable cities, Ferris and Palmer are paying their sworn and non-sworn personnel considerably more than the City of Italy.

Elmerine Bell gave a presentation after the resolution of Item V. She told a story about government experimental secrets that affected a gentleman by the name of Elmer Allen. She went on to suggest that the same sort of goings on are happening right here today and are responsible for the turmoil happening in the City of Italy. [[ Click here to read her speech. ]]

Item W. was a presentation given by Steven Farmer. Farmer approached the bench and started by showing the council 5 or 6 letters from the city attorney, after requesting city tow tickets from Helms and Harris garage, saying he would have to pay $1,175.00 to receive this information. He continued to itemize the costs described in the letters from the city attorney to reproduce information through the open records act. Farmer did admit the attorney was correct in his description of costs. Farmer went on to say the state law says he doesn’t have to pay for bad filing habits of the city secretary. He said the state law requires the city to give citizens another option to the open records act by allowing the viewing of city records at city hall or a less expensive option. The city attorney failed to mention options to the open records act in his letter, which Farmer said was in violation of his rights according to the attorney general. Farmer explained every single time he has requested information, it is being directed to the city attorney and costing the citizens of Italy. Farmer feels he should get attorney billings and said “I get stone-walled every single time I turn in a request.” Farmer requested the call log between the city attorney and city secretary after the city secretary was terminated. Farmer was denied the call log due to client/attorney privilege. Farmer said “If he is representing the city he does not represent Teri Murdock which is a former employee at that time. It is a conflict of interest and unprofessional conduct.” Farmer pointed at the council and went on to say “And you guys are allowing him to do this.” Farmer said “I don’t know what he has on you guys, but as citizens, we pay him to represent the city not an employee that was terminated that day.” Farmer showed a cover page of a 22 page document submitted by him to the district attorney about the violation of the city attorney and the City of Italy.

Elmerine interrupted Farmer to support Farmers accusation of the violation of the open records act by pointing out her own frustration in obtaining information from the Ellis County DA. Then Farmer continued with “There is a law that was passed in the state of Texas September 1, 2013 and I requested text messages from all the city council members.” Farmer added “The only one I received was Bruce Utley’s.” Farmer sent text messages to each council member to see if they would reply. He received a reply from each member except Greg Richards and Dennis Perkins. They both returned his message by calling him back. Farmer claimed he was getting two different stories from the city secretary and the city attorney’s office about texting records. Farmer accused the city and the attorney of lying to him. Bell interrupted Farmer again this time to question his reasons for wanting this information. Mayor Hobbs slammed the gavel to restore order in the chambers.

The council then went into Executive Session for 40 minutes to discuss the grievances filed by Teri Murdock and Ronda Cockerham.

The regular session reconvened at about 9:10. Councilman Guthrie gave a motion to hire an investigator to investigate the grievances between Murdock and Cockerham.

Mayor Hobbs asked for comments from the council.

Councilman Guthrie said “I have sat up here for the last six months and have bit my tongue. I’m tired of this council being blamed for all the debacles that have gone on since this new administration has been taken over. I have been on this council for 20 years. I have done nothing but put forward to try to make the right decisions for this city to move forward. We have, since this administration has taken over, employees have been illegally drug tested, we have had two administrators fired without cause and these things are not done by the council. The council is coming in and cleaning it up because these things cannot be done. This administration knows this, he has been told this but he continues to do it. So, get mad all you want to but it’s not the council that is creating this problem and at this point forward I have no confidence whatsoever in this mayor to continue to lead us in any shape form or direction that this city needs to be.”

Greg Richards agreed with Guthrie but said he liked Mayor Hobbs and Mrs. Hobbs. He said the mayor wants to make improvements and changes but that Mayor Hobbs has not held any meetings with the council to talk about what direction to proceed with these improvements and changes.

Bruce Utley reiterated what Richards said and that Hobbs has taken things under his own agenda with no leadership and no communication.

Dennis Perkins was in total agreement with the previous council members. Perkins addressed Farmer and said he did not appreciate being called a liar. A verbal altercation passed between Perkins and Farmer about the cell phone texting comments from Farmer earlier.

Frank Jackson simply stated that he did not have anything against Mayor Hobbs and the only reason he asked to be on the city council was because he could not stop caring about Italy after 21 years of making decisions and caring for the city. Jackson said he never wanted to wreck Hobbs agenda, he just wanted to work with him. Jackson and Farmer also discussed the phone and texting issues.

Hobbs spoke and said he disagreed with councilman Guthrie but agreed with councilman Richards comments about himself.

After the meeting was adjourned Karen Mathiowetz proclaimed to the council that today is Veterans Day and they failed to acknowledge Veterans Day.