Allegations and Innuendos Fly in Public Forum
By Will Johnson
CROCKETT – In recent weeks, Crockett City Council meetings have become a surrealistic, cheap form of entertainment and Tuesday night’s meeting kept the popcorn machines busy. Allegations and innuendos flew around the council chambers during the public forum portion of the special session and two issues were finally put to rest, at least temporarily.
The Sept. 25 meeting was opened by Crockett Mayor Joni Clonts who welcomed all of those in attendance before moving into the public forum portion of the meeting.
The first person to speak was Veronica Wheeler who said, “There is a big problem out here in Crockett, Texas. It’s a war up in here at City Hall, in the city council meetings. We come up in here and we say we are against each other”
Wheeler said she had been sitting back and observing the city council’s behavior. She added she listened to both sides of whatever story may be told and somewhere in the middle was the truth.
As she continued, Wheeler said certain people were sitting on the sideline while others were well organized and ready to engage in whatever battles came their way.
“We have to come together as a people,” she concluded.
Hattie Hamilton was next to speak and she said she was recruiting people to assist City Administrator John Angerstein in cleaning up the city.
As it stood now, Hamilton said the first thing a visitor to Crockett sees is the dirty streets in need of repair and dilapidated buildings.
“When I was in Houston, Bill White, the mayor of Houston at that time, put together a group. They were responsible for cleaning up many subdivisions. I’m trying to put together such a team. If you are interested in seeing your city clean and making progress, at the end of this meeting, give me your name and contact number. We will work together with the city administrator to try and get these things done,” Hatfield said.
Up next was Lori Davidson who called out three of the council members as poor examples of city leaders.
“As a taxpayer, I have some questions I would like to address (to) the council. You recently voted to hire a special counsel to represent you in the upcoming lawsuit involving the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC) and agreed to pay the fees of your newly appointed attorney out of the taxpayers’ money. This will cost taxpayers thousands of dollars that the city has already stated we don’t have,” Davidson said.
It has been estimated the fees paid to Houston-based attorney Carroll G. Robinson have already exceeded $25,000.
“I have done some checking on each of you,” Davidson said as she addressed the council, “and it has come to my attention that three of five distinguished council members either don’t pay taxes or, are delinquent.”
Davidson indicated Councilman Ernest Jackson had filed for bankruptcy which had paid”… well over $9,552.40 of your city taxes.
She added Councilman Darrell Jones had been “… delinquent on his taxes in the amount of $2,127.45 but also just recently paid his water bill that several months delinquent.”
Council member Marquita Beasley was also singled out by Davidson.
“Ms. Beasley, you don’t even own any property in the city of Crockett so you definitely do not pay any city taxes and possibly not even a water bill.”
“This brings up another question,” she continued. “Mr. Jackson, you recently made the statement that the City Charter super-cedes state law. Well, if you truly believe that, then Ms. Beasley, you need to resign immediately. I believe the City Charter Section 3.02 specifically states you must be a property owner to qualify to serve on the Crockett City Council.”
The property ownership clause has been repealed as part of the Jim Crow-era laws.
Following the public forum, the approval of minutes was brought up for deliberation. In two previous meetings, the council had failed to approve the minutes of Aug. 13 due to several omissions including the mayor suggesting residents of Crockett to contact the district attorney concerning the failure of the council to order an election on the CEIDC.
In regard to the CEIDC, the next item on Tuesday night’s agenda stated: “Consider and approve an agreed judgement to hold a termination election for the CEIDC at the May 4, 2019 Uniform Election Date.”
The city administrator said he received an agreement prepared by the attorney representing the city and the attorney representing Councilman Butch Calvert who has sued the city to place the CEIDC matter on the November ballot.
“I also received a breakdown of the fees that we will be responsible for,” Angerstein said.
“So, we are paying that to Mr. Calvert, the one who filed the lawsuit. We are paying his money back. That’s what we are doing,” Jones commented.
“We are the filing fee, the court costs, not the attorney fees,” Angerstein replied.
“I didn’t say attorney fees, I said Mr. Calvert’s…” Jones said.
“The total value is $368,” the city administrator said.
A motion was made seconded and approved by a 4-0 margin. Calvert abstained.
The next item of business also concerned the CEIDC and concerned approval of the FY 2019 budget. A draft of the CEIDC budget projected a total income of $1,285,000 while total expenses were projected to be $1,188,500.
“This is pretty much a flat-line budget with some slight adjustments to individual line items reflecting our expenses for the coming year. Overall, our expense are only projecting a one percent increase and we are looking at about a two percent increase in sales tax revenue, based on records we have for this past year,” CEIDC Executive Director James Gentry said.
A motion was made, seconded and approved by the council.
Once the meeting was adjourned, the three council members addressed during the public forum were all asked for their thoughts on Davidson’s remarks.
Beasley explained while it was true she didn’t own property, she lived on her parents’ land and gave them money every year to pay the taxes.
“The land is not in my name. It is in their name but I pay the taxes on it. I don’t want my name on their land because there is no guarantee that I will forever be in Crockett. We may move somewhere else in the future. There is no guarantee we will be in Crockett the rest of my life,” she said.
“It is public information,” Jackson said, “the bankruptcy that I’m in because of my failed business. We – my wife and I – used to be in the restaurant business and it failed. It went under and we had debt that was accumulated from that. Mrs. Davidson – I don’t know what her intentions were – but I understand the atmosphere of the times. But, that’s public information that anyone can have access to.”
Jones replied, “In reference to the taxes, I do owe some taxes. Mine has to do with personal and medical expenses that kind of got me in a bind, but I definitely take care of my business. I will say this, it is public information that anyone can find out but why would someone do that? Why don’t they find out what’s going on in the city government with the employees. Don’t pick and choose.”
In other matters brought before the council:
- A joint resolution between the city of Crockett and the CEIDC was approved in regard to the maintenance and use of a 72” diamond rotary mower.
- Amendments to the Fiscal Year 2018 budget were approved.
Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].