Lytle discusses 80 foot sign, showing IHOP as proposed tenant near I-35

On April 11th, the Lytle City Council was held at 6:30pm. Starting with the pledge of allegiance, the meeting included a discussion on street names and the history behind the street name that the city recently removed/replaced.

They also discussed the hiring of a temporary City Administrator and expressed potential concerns about the height of a sign set to be placed off of I-35. All council members were present including City Mayor Ruben Gonzalez, and Alderman Joseph Morrow, Sam Cortez, David Emery, Jerry Stone, and Charles Cate.

Matt Dear appointed temporary Lytle City Administrator.

Zoning Commissions Recommendations

The meeting kicked off with a consideration to act upon the zoning commission recommendations for Saddle Ridge Estates and Dunford Plat. According to City secretary Josie Campa, both plats had already been approved last week but needed to be revisited by the council.

“They had been done approving the area but they had to go back and approve it again because just about the time that they had gotten ready for the final approval they acquired another piece of property,” Campa said. “There’s a house back there. So they had to go back and get another plat.”

This need to reapprove the added plat was approved by the council as they moved on to discuss and possibly approve the street names for Saddle Ridge Estates. Scanning the list of names Campa pointed to one of the streets to be named, Huckleberry, and shared with the council that one house on the street had already been bought and is already being occupied.

“And out of 21 houses of on that street, 19 of them have already been sold,” Campa said.

Employment Status of John Cortez

Approving the list of names, Lieutenant/Assistant Fire Marshal Matthew Dear stood up and before the council to lead the discussion on the employment status of Officer John Cortez on behalf of the Chief of Police, Richard L. Price.
“Officer Cortez completed his six-month probationary period and the chief is asking that he be moved or taken off probation and given the customary dollar an hour raise.”

Seeing as the PD was happy with this hire and willing to move forward with Cortez’ employment, the council approved their request.

Adoption of Ordinance Approving Re-Zoning

Next, after assurance from the City Attorney, Tom Cate, that everything was legally sound and in writing, the council quickly and unanimously approved the adoption of the ordinance approving the re-zoning of the 40.4-acre tract of Lytle Farms Property. With the plans of being used for commercial purposes and the development of multiple commercial pads alongside a 99-Lot Duplex development, Lytle Farms Property is located along FM 2790 East.

Request for Height Variance Revisited

The request for a height variance from Intersection-Victory Signs for a gas station sign off of the IH 35 and FM 3175 was revisited next with the request for a sketch and a confirmation of the exact height of the sign as requested last week. The sign was confirmed to be for a developing IHOP and requested to be 80 feet tall.

Still, some council members had some concerns about how the sign would affect those living in the surrounding areas.

“You know my concern is that you have this tower, this towering sign out there on the interstate that is going to be like a lighthouse for truckers but how is that going to affect people in the neighborhoods?” Alderman Charles Cate said. “The last thing I want to see in my backyard is giant sign in the middle of the night.”

Alderman Cate continued, guessing that if they approved this 80-foot sign it would become the tallest thing in Lytle City, overshadowing what currently held that record also adding that from the way the road was shaped and the direction a driver would have to come from to see it, a greater height wouldn’t be necessary.

“To my best guesstimate the tallest thing we have in the city now is the American flag at the car wash which is about 60 feet tall,” Cate Said. “And I have a, you know, I have an issue with anything being taller than the American flag as well. So I mean if they want to come and talk to us I’d prefer if they were here and put their sign at 59 feet because I drove that route today coming north on 35. As soon as you get to the rest area, you’ll be able to see that sign. You won’t be able to see it any sooner than that whether it’s 80 feet or not. I mean, it’d probably have to be 120 feet to see it further south than that…”

Alderman Cate then added that he thought it would be best to hold off on moving forward until an Intersection-Victory Sign representative could come and meet with them in person.

“I’d also like for us, the council, to talk to the people in nearby neighborhoods and see,” Alderman Cate said. “I think Park place is your district now Sam, I’d talk to those folks out there and see how they feel about a giant sign.”

Agreeing with this sentiment the council moved to have the item tabled until further notice.

Easy Street

The City recently re-renamed Easy Street to Ruiz-Foster Way, in honor of two local coaches. Recently, however, the City was contacted by a member of the Gene Smith family.

“I received a call from him and he had expressed how disappointed his family was about us changing that name,” Campa said.

The street was named Easy Street and the grandson of the man who named it had reached out in hopes of being able to get them from the city now that they were no longer needed, fearing they’d be thrown away along with the importance they held to the Smith family.

“I told him that I wasn’t at liberty to give city property away but that if he’d send me an email I would get it on the agenda for the council, so he did that, so you’ve got it in front of you,” Campa said.

Following up behind Campa, Lytle City Mayor Ruben Gonzalez chimed in with a written letter from another Smith Family member. Sharing the story that made the signs and street name so significant to their family with the court, he read her words out loud.

“‘Good afternoon mayor,’” Mayor Gonzalez read. “’I’m writing to you to tell you the heartbreak of finding out about the renaming of Easy Street. I am the daughter of Gene and Bob ‘Bobby’ Smith….My dad Gene was a World War II and Korean War veteran. He was hospitalized in Kerrville for several years as a result of the war, contracting malaria and TB among other ailments.”

She shared that they elected to perform an experimental cure on Mr. Smith by removing 2/3 of his right lung and he was eventually released from the hospital.

“He spent every furlough driving to Lytle to build a house…. with his own hands and my uncle’s help. This history occurred during the late 1950s and early 1960s and after the house was built enough to live in, he moved his family from Kerrville to our new home in Lytle. …Gene then got a job in San Antonio as a night watchman to support his family. He spent his days going to college to be certified as a veteran service officer. He remained a service officer for Atascosa County until his death in 1973. He fought hard for all his clients and took the job personally, his life was completely invested in this job, family, and community. They both loved living in Lytle it was a wonderful place to raise a family, back then it was a small, moral, and close-knit community. Both of my parents embraced the community and were committed to Lytle. The house he built was on a dead end dirt road, no schools except the school that housed grades 1 through 12, two blocks away from our home. So when asked what he would like the dead end dirt road to be named, he said Easy Street, because his life had been so hard before moving … back in those days you might remember that the term Easy Street meant life was easy without struggles. He had such a great sense of humor. While his life was one of the many struggles, he embraced every moment.”

The letter then went on to say how this letter was only a small glimpse into his life and how relieved the writer is to know that Gene Smith’s history could still be saved through these signs.

According to the City Attorney, street signs cannot be given away if they have a nominal value. Meaning for the Smith family to receive them legally they would need to pay what they’re worth, amounting to around two dollar apiece for each of the four street signs.

So after further discussion and unanimous approval from the council, Alderman Cate volunteered to donate the eight dollars to the Smith family so they didn’t have to pay.

Lytle-Somerset Street Speed Limits and Humps Update

Next, Dear gave the council an update on the Lytle-Somerset Street speed limits and speed humps.

“I brought back some information from the July 2021 meeting,” Dear said. “At that meeting we discussed doing several items and in the minutes it showed that the council decided to table any speed humps at the time until after the 25 mile an hour signs were put in to see what that did.”

Dear continued on to explain to the council that during the time when this item was first tabled, putting in speed humps in that area would arguably cost around $11,000 and that prices for a similar project have no doubt increased since.

“At the time we did this survey, I also believe it was showing that it wasn’t necessarily a speed issue as it was just a sheer traffic volume issue,” Dear said. “So putting the speed humps in, it may be more of something to deter traffic from going down that road and force them away or just make it more inconvenient. But it would also make it inconvenient for the residents having to run above those speed humps every day too.”

Dear says that instead of just going straight into purchasing speed humps, that it may be a better plan to grab a speed trailer, place it in the area and gather a month’s worth of data so that they can come back and potentially make a more informed decision on how to handle the traffic issues on Lytle-Somerset Street.

“Again, I don’t believe it’s a speed issue,” Dear said. “It’s more of a traffic volume issue….it’s a main thoroughfare for people to get to HEB.”

After confirming with the council, they approved to have a speed trailer moved into the area to gather data over the next 30 days, with plans to move forward next meeting once the cost for speed humps was also officially confirmed.

Update on Coming Elections and City Secretary Complaint

An update on upcoming elections was held next with Campa heading the discussion.

“Well we got our election supplies in,” Campa said. “We’ve gotten the ballots back from our inner civic; I proofed them and returned them. You’ve got something later on coming up on the machine and the accessories and training and all that.”

The city says the upcoming elections will be using paper ballots for voting as the city is still waiting on the Secretary of State to approve their new election machine and hasn’t heard an answer back just yet.

“We are going to have to light a fire under them,” Campa said. “We should tell them time is of the essence. I’m sure the secretary of state’s office is bogged down with stuff too at the moment, but we’ll keep an eye on them. But we’re moving right along and we’re two weeks from early voting…”

This elections update was immediately followed up by an update given by City Attorney, Tom Cate, on a complaint filed against City secretary.

“The lawyer representing the complainant, they finally called my office today and I was able to talk to the lawyer,” Cate said. “They said he’d get back to me before the end of the day but he did not. So that’s all I’ve got for you guys.”

City agrees to deny AEP increases

Moving on the council addressed the action of adopting a resolution finding that AEP Texas Inc’s application to amend it’s distribution cost recovery factors to increase distribution rates within the city should be denied. Campa again headed the discussion, further clarifying the situation with the council.

“We got some paperwork from the attorneys that usually handle these AEP cases for the cities and they’re asking if they (AEP) send a resolution they’re asking us to deny it,” Campa said. “AEP is always trying something on how to go up on their rates but we fight them every year. So I’m sure they would be a lot more expensive if these people didn’t watch out for us.”

Approving the denial of any resolution for an increase in distribution rates received from the AEP, the council moved to their next item.

Approval to Hire Temporary City Administrator

Mayor Gonzalez opened the discussion, asking the council to consider and act upon hiring a temporary City Administrator for six months.

“I’ve asked for us to go ahead and put that on the agenda,” Mayor Gonzalez said. “We all recall last year during the budget review and everything that we took the time to go in and identify positions that we were going to go ahead and forecast out and fill. We are at the six-month point taking a look at this. So I wanted to go ahead and look at bringing in a City Administrator for 6-months as a way of helping us out.”

The Mayor further explained that he’s hoping that filling this position now will help the council by having someone onboard who will be able to monitor, coordinate and finalize documents for them. The person chosen for this position will also look at the city’s contracts to make sure the council is following up on agreements and other things they may have promised to take care of in previous meetings.

“I do want to go ahead and put a name forward for the council to take into consideration,” Mayor Gonzalez said. “I talked to the department head and asked Matthew Dear if he was willing to go ahead and do this. So I’d like to go ahead and put Matt here up for an opportunity to kind of help us out right now especially with all the things that are going on. I think we already assigned work to him, I know he’s been doing things off to the side for us without officially being recognized whether it be the PLC for our grant or putting some sort of agreement together, doing follow up on purchasing stuff that we absolutely needed on there. So it’s a perfect opportunity for us to now go ahead and to do this.”

Mayor Gonzalez said he believes it’s crucial the council to take the time to find somebody to help them.

“There is flexibility in being able to use Matt,” Mayor Gonzalez said. “With him having the experience being internal already, already having an idea on how to work with the folks that he’s going to need to work with and understanding the priority items that we actually have, I think it would be a good choice for us to go ahead and give him a chance to go ahead and do that for six months.”

Following the Mayor’s suggestion for him to take the City Administrator position, Dear stepped up for the council one again and explained how he planned on dealing with this position, pay, and his current job with the PD.

“It’d be May 19th before anything could happen,” Dear said. “For six months my salary with the PD or whatever was left for the year would just freeze and the Chief would be able to use that for over-time to help fill in the gaps as needed.”

Dear says at the end of the six months he’d be able to figure out whether or not he enjoyed working in the position, or not, and the freeze on his income with the PD, rather than leaving entirely, would give him a chance to return and resume his duties with them if that were the case.

Alderman David Emery then chimed in to speak on Dear’s potential salary if he were to take the temporary position.

“We had allocated $55,000, I believe, plus taxes and stuff for this position,” Alderman Emery said. “It would be the $55,000 over the next 6 months.”

Emery said that the salary had originally been set with the intention of someone fresh out of school to take the position, leaving both Alderman Emery and Alderman Charles Cate worried on whether or not the city would have enough to pay Dear properly overall.

“The city is not getting any smaller, so the temporary position? I don’t agree with,” Alderman Cate said. “I think if we’re gonna go ahead and go down this route of hiring a City Administrator, it needs to be a full time thing. You know I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, in five years we’re gonna have 10,000 people, so why are we saying temporary? I mean if in six months Matt says he doesn’t like it? Then okay, then he can go back to the PD. But we’re gonna need to have this full-time position moving forward for the next 100 years, so I don’t agree with this whole temporary six-month thing…and if Matt turns around and does a great job? I’m also worried about not properly paying people what they’re worth.”

Ultimately Dear was approved to the position, with all voting except for Alderman Cate who abstained.

Appointment of Election Judge and Adoption of Standalone Election Machine
Next the council approved the appointment of Margie Ellis as the Election Judge for 2022’s coming elections.

“Margie Ellis has done our elections in the last few years,” Campa said. “Even overseeing the Atascosa County ones. She was our Election Judge for early voting and she is agreeing to do it again. I used to be able to do it, but I think it’s for the council to decide now.”

The council then quickly approved a contract for the obtainment of a standalone election machine; its accessories and training for $7,824.

Hiring of Kennel-Tech Approval

Lastly, Animal Control Officer Santiago Morantez, stood up to discuss the potential hiring of a part-time Kennel Tech, Anna Rodriguez, of Lacoste.
The position will be paid at $11 an hour and the council unanimously approved the hiring of a Kennel-Tech.