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2017: The Year in Review


City Government

By Will Johnson 
Messenger Reporter

 EAST TEXAS – City government – at its best – is the closest form to a true democracy as exists, right now. There are no political affiliations on the ballot and a vote here or there really does matter.

Water, sewage, streets, police and fire are often handled by the government of the city in which you reside. Sometimes things go smooth and sometimes the road gets a little bumpy as the various mayors and city council members try to administer the operations of their respective municipalities.

In Grapeland, two new members were elected to the city council and they were given a crash course in budgeting shortly after their election.

Grapeland City Hall

The budgetary process in Grapeland became controversial when the council opted not to allocate funds for a police chief’s position nor the city library.

After several budget workshops, an executive session, a city council meeting and two public hearings, the City Council of Grapeland adopted a balanced budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 on June 15 by a vote of 4-1. Councilman Will Watson cast the dissenting vote.

And while the budget may have been balanced, decreased revenue streams, poor bond management (according to Dailey), a crumbling infrastructure and other mitigating factors forced the council to take drastic measures to keep the city afloat. All departments were affected, but the budget axe fell hardest on two areas in particular. Funding for the salary of Grapeland Police Chief Don Myers as well as funding for the Grapeland Public Library were severed from the budget.

The city’s economic future took a 180-degree turn, as the year continued, when it was announced the city and the Grapeland Economic Development Corporation had inked a deal with Darling Ingredients to locate a facility in the Grapeland area.

In addition, the location of the facility was annexed so it now falls within the city limits which will allow for Grapeland to collect tax on the new plant.

To the south of Grapeland, the city of Crockett opened the year with a stare down between the city and the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC). The stare down resulted from the lingering effects of prior CEIDC decisions and the resignation of former CEIDC Director Flint Brent.

When Brent and Executive Assistant Suzanne Steed left the CEIDC, they were given severance packages by the CEIDC board without the city council’s approval. Before all was said and done, the CEIDC board was terminated and new board members were appointed.

As the year continued, a significant turnover at City Hall occurred. Mayor Robert Meadows decided not to seek re-election and Joni Clonts was elected to fill the mayoral position.

Mayor Pro Tem Muriel Williams resigned and was replaced by Rita Rodriguez. Darrell Jones defeated incumbent Ray Bruner by one vote and Butch Calvert took over the council position vacated by Jeannie Julian.

The city administrator’s position also saw a change as Sean Hutcheson resigned his position towards the end of 2016. His position was filled initially by City Secretary Mitzi Thompson and Fire Chief John Angerstein. Angerstein was eventually appointed to the city administrator’s role while Thompson returned to her position as city secretary.

Before the year was over, the city of Crockett was faced with the problem of what to do with the former state school facility, once again. In early September of 2017, Serenity Place began the process of pulling out of Crockett and by mid-October they were gone.

The property reverted back to the city of Crockett. A deal was struck, however, between the city and Crockett ISD for the district to purchase the property. The deal is still in the works and hopes are it will be completed by the end of January 2018.

Never one to shy away from controversy, the city of Elkhart opened the year of 2017 by first deciding to evict the Elkhart Volunteer Fire Department from its former location and then rescinding the order to evict.

The relationship between the city and EVFD had been strained for quite some time but seemed to reach a boiling point in March of 2017 when the council had voted to give the EVFD 60 days to vacate their current location, and in essence, sever all ties with the EVFD in mid-May.

The EVFD matter rocked on until October when the EVFD was finally told to get out of the city building it currently occupied.

During the Oct. 17 meeting, EVFD Fire Chief Randy McCoy delivered a cautionary warning to the council and the city of Elkhart.

Elkhart City Hall

“I took the opportunity to visit with our county judge (Robert Johnston) today and we went over the agreement with the EVFD and Anderson County. He made it clear to me that the local volunteer fire department’s contract is for fire protection of the unincorporated areas of our fire district,” he said.

The matter has yet to be resolved.

The city also saw a turnover in the city administrator’s position. David Malone, now the City Superintendent of Grapeland, had been hired by the city of Elkhart to fill the same supervisory role in Elkhart.

Two months later, he was terminated. “We just decided we needed to go in a different direction than what we hired him for. That’s really about it,” Gordon said when contacted about the move.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.