Letter to the Editor: Save the Italy Community Center

Nine (9) citizens attended the Italy City Council’s regular meeting on Monday, November 9, 2015 held at the Italy Community Center. Under Item 5, Closed Session the council went into Executive Session to:

  1. Deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal and all matters incident and related thereto. (Texas Government Code section 551.074) and
  2. Deliberate regarding real property (Texas Government Code section 551.072).
    (Exact text from agenda)

The wording for this closed session is ambiguous (perhaps purposely). Certainly, we assume that all council members endorsed some sort of official document regarding the relevance of their deliberation.

After one hour and three minutes, the City Council reconvened into open session. On Item 5 #1, a motion was made that no action would take place; the motion passed. Item 5 #2 was postponed until the December meeting.

After the action by the council, it leads one to wonder why Mayor Farmer, in his closing comments, announced that the Italy City Hall and Italy Police Department are TEMPORARILY relocating to the Italy Community Center until repairs can be made at its current location. Should this action have been made an agenda item – first- and voted on by the entire Italy City Council? Nothing was discussed in open session about what, if any, repairs are needed at Italy City Hall or the Italy Police Department. Inspection reports were not revealed. Since the buildings are covered by insurance, one would think that the findings of an adjuster would have been offered. An estimated time-frame for the displacement was not discussed. Nothing was said in open session and made a part of the public record. Alternatives were not considered.

The Italy Community Center is still being paid for with tax dollars under specific State of Texas rules and guidelines through the Italy Economic Development Corporation. The Italy Community Center is the regular meeting place for the outstanding Italy Opry (who – with approval from the Italy City Council – invested their personal money toward improving acoustics in the building). Visitors come from across the metroplex to enjoy the talents of these gifted musicians. Wedding receptions, family gatherings, amateur theatre productions and more have used this facility within the past few months. It was the showcase for the 2015 Italy High School Art Show and has been used for at least one other school related event. The center is booked for a variety of functions by members of the community and with the upcoming holiday season it’s relevant to know how many tax-payers will be kicked-out because employees at the Italy City Hall and Police Department need to move-in. Furthermore, the Italy Community Center serves as our official polling place. Several alternative solutions come to mind without robbing our community of this facility and using EDC dollars to finance the city’s problem.

These concerns are relevant to some, I’m certain; others couldn’t care less. With or without citizen input, the City of Italy is rapidly changing in a mostly positive manner. Our leaders, however, must know and follow proper meeting protocol as well as the laws that govern how our tax dollars are used so that our city will not be issued citations and made to pay fines by higher powers whose job it is to protect even those in the Italy community who don’t care.

Elmerine Allen Bell

Mayor Farmer’s Response:

Under Section 551.072 of the Texas Government Code, a governmental body may conduct a closed meeting to deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property if deliberation in an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the position of the governmental body in negotiations with a third person.

On Monday, November 9, 2015, the City of Italy utilized this exception to the Open Meetings Act to deliberate regarding certain real property within the City. Disclosing even the location of the property would have a detrimental impact on the City’s negotiating position in any action regarding the undisclosed property.

The location of day to day operations of the City are handled administratively by the Mayor and City staff and are not subject to a vote by the council unless otherwise required by the Italy code of ordinances or other applicable law. Temporary relocation for little or no cost to the City in order to avoid an imminent health and safety risk does not require a motion and order by the City Council. Relocating to another City-owned property, even permanently, would not require any specific Council action, other than general budget approval. Should the condition of the current City Hall require the lease or purchase of real property, action by Council would be necessary; however, all deliberations regarding the value, purchase offer, and other negotiations can and should be held in closed executive session to protect the bargaining position of the City and save tax dollars.

The condition of City Hall and the safety of the public and city staff are an important concern of the City of Italy. Likewise, any inspection reports or documents filed with the City’s insurer are subject to the Open Records Act and may be obtained from the City through the filing of an Open Records Request.