By Anton Riecher
The council accepted a retirement letter from public works director Rob Flores after serving the city for 27 years.
“I will be humbly retiring from the City of Devine,” Flores said. “It has been a pleasure, honor and privilege to serve the citizens of Devine and the residents of the surrounding area. I have a lucrative business opportunity I couldn’t pass up and I am looking forward to spending time with my grandson.”
As his replacement, Pete Sanchez with the Public Works Department was promoted to the top job at the same pay as Flores. Sanchez acceptance was announced following a closed executive session of the council.
Fencing Ordinance considered
Another draft of recommendations for a fencing ordinance is expected from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission. An earlier list of recommendations got a cold reception from the council.
“If memory serves me, there was a board whose opinion was they needed to tell people how it should be,” Ritchey said. “That leads me to reject a lot of the recommendations made by said board.”
The recommendations would ban cattle pens, composite fence material, barb wire and encouraged the city to consider issuing official permits for fencing, including regulating the height of fences.
It is still in the works with the planning and zoning commission. This info was just given to the board as informational heads up ahead of the final recommendation yet to come from the commission.
$785,280 purchase for 2 generators approved
Also approved was a proposal to purchase two diesel generators from Navarro Electric for $785,280, taken from slightly over $1 million set aside in emergency funds.
Morales asks to exchange property with city
In other action, the council approved allowing the city staff to research a suggested exchange of real estate proposed by businessman Fred Morales.
“I have an option I would like to offer the city and I think it would be good for what I’m trying to do on Bluebonnet and helpful to the city at the same time,” Morales said.”
He proposed exchanging a section of land he owns that is only 21 feet wide which has an eight-inch water main and a gas line that limits its usefulness. In exchange, the city would give Morales a small piece of city owned property that juts into Morales’ property.
City Attorney Cate said he has been unable to find an easement across Morales’ property that allows for the underground lines.
“I don’t know how we got our lines in there other than somebody just said ‘Do it,’” Cate said. “It’s worth something to us to leave those lines there and not have to mess with them.”
The proposed swap calls for both pieces of property to be assessed at equal value.
Morales variance vote 5-0
In other business, the council allowed Morales a variance to place a recreational vehicle on a lot in the 900 block of Zig Zag Avenue while building a home.
As it does every year, the council rejected a change submitted by the Public Utility Commission of Texas regarding right-of-way access line rates.
“I think one reason the council says no is these changes pass through to the customer,” Cate said. “They’re going to pay one way or another.”
Beadle variance vote 4-1
Also proposed on an annual basis, the council approved a variance request made by Zachary Beadle on West Benton Avenue to be allowed to park his trucks on the city street right-of-way. A city ordinance requires that the variance be renewed every year.
The council approved the variance with Randall voting against it.
Councilwomen disagree about social media posts intentions
Repeated bouts of verbal sparring peppered the Devine City Council regular meeting between District 5 Council Member Debbie Randall calling out District 2 Council Member Angela Pichardo’s on-line statements.
Pichardo asked Randall why she was afraid and repeatedly harassing her to “exit this position? Maybe you are afraid of the answers to my questions?”
“I will continue to ask questions for the people,” Pichardo said. “I am serious about my work for the people.”
The regular meeting opened with remarks from Pichardo delivered during the Visitors/Citizens Forum with a five-minute time limit imposed by council rules.
“There were a couple of comments that were made at the last meeting pertaining to the hiring of a city manager,” Pichardo said. “We’ve had between 96 and 84 months with only eight of those months our city having an actual certified city manager in place.”
Dora Rodriguez stepped into the role of interim city administrator in June 2016 following the termination of former City Administrator Joe Ramos, and then again after John.
The statement previously made before council that applicants do not want to apply for the Devine city administrator opening because of controversy on the council “does not apply,” she said.
“I really need to see the data on that,” Pichardo said. “There have been quite a number of individuals that are interested in Devine.”
Devine needs a city administrator who is “qualified, trained and certified” with one or more years of experience.
“We are a small municipality,” Pichardo said. “We’re not San Antonio. And paying a current employee $120,000, so I think we can honor that for a new city administrator.”
Rodriguez asked to address the council immediately after Pichardo. However, since she had not filled out the appropriate form to speak at that time the mayor asked her to save her comments for the informational items at the end of the agenda.
Randall, who had signed up in advance to speak during the Visitors/Citizens Forum next took the podium.
“This morning a post was shared with me that has caused me great concern,” she said. In particular, Randall said she wondered if the statement was in part responsible for a minimal turnout for the Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 2 public meeting that proceeded the council session.
Randall took the podium again at the conclusion of the meeting as a point of personal privilege, citing several examples of statements taken from Pichardo’s social media.
“In my opinion there is one very significant reason for the lack of interest which is the negative comments on a certain social media page,” Randall said. “Here is a post, quote, we must start applying for grants and have those in charge of our tax money be certified, trained, degreed and, important, ethical, unquote.”
Another quote from social media by Randall stated that “having our taxes continuously increase for someone’s little special projects, conflict of interest and the old system ways need to end.”
Randall noted that the new city tax rate is its lowest since 1983 and is 31.8 percent less than 20 years ago. She challenged Pichardo to “show corroboration” regarding accusations of special projects.
Pichardo’s request for time to reply spelled the second time that Thompson went into a closed door huddle with City Attorney Thomas Cate to sort out details of parliamentary procedure and meeting management.
The council woman was allowed to reply to Randall’s charges but only after admonitions from Thompson and District 3 City Council Member David Espinosa.
“You can have five minutes as a personal point of privilege but I want to say this before we start,” Thompson said. “Please be aware that everything is being seen. Everything that is being said.”
Espinosa reminded the entire council that “we are elected officials.”
“Let’s conduct ourselves accordingly,” he said. “Let’s respect each other. We have to set the example for the citizens. The citizens have put us here to respect each other and strive to do better things for them.”
Pichardo began by saying that she is a “true believer” in the freedom of speech. Randall had given her “some things to think about.” However, everything stated on Pichardo’s social media is factual, she said.
“I think we need to represent our citizens,” Pichardo said. “If I have questions or I have comments to make its not derogatory.”
Rodriguez took the podium during the informational items portion of the agenda to respond to Pichardo’s comments earlier. Specifically, the response concerned a text sent by Pichardo inquiring about reported water service breakdowns in her district.
Rodriguez told the council that when she is informed by contractors about the necessity of shutting down water to a section of the city she immediately informs everyone possible by email. However, much of the city water system is not adequately mapped and sometimes the number of homes affected by a shutoff is greater than expected.
Pichardo replied that when the water service went down in District 2 not everyone received notification.
“There were some people that did and some people that didn’t,” she said. “Best practice is to make sure that everyone is covered because I’ve had several people come to me and nobody knows what was going on.”
Rodriguez stated that the text from Pichardo referenced the Texas Rangers and the Texas attorney general getting involved in the controversy. Rodriguez said that the notifications to the city council members are not dictated by city ordinance but were a matter of courtesy.
“I’m the interim city administrator,” Rodriguez said. “Again, I don’t want it. I want you all to hire somebody.”
Coleman & Horton Company’s CPA Dusty R. Routh explained to the council that the city bookkeeping had gotten a “clean opinion” from the auditor. The review of the audit report and management letter for the city submitted by auditor Coleman & Horton Company, LLP for the year to date ending Sept. 30, 2022 was presented.
Total General revenues for the year totaled $4.1 million with total expenditures coming in at $4.094 million. The total general fund showed a decrease of $59,810 for the year. That left the general fund with the ending balance of $2.292 million, Routh said.
The water and sewer fund showed $2.7 million in revenue and $2.5 million in expenditures. The water and sewer fund showed $10.6 million outstanding at the start of the year, reduced to $10.2 by the end of the year.
Total Debt still on the books: the beginning balance of the fiscal year was $1.8 million and had a balance of $1.4 million outstanding at the end of the fiscal year ($186,000 issued, $523,000 retired). Due this year is $385,000.
Total Debt in the Water & Sewer on the books = Beginning year $10.6 million outstanding and $10.2 million balance at fiscal year end. ($511,000 retired/paid out). Current year principal due $520,000.
One area of concern for auditors was money on unbudgeted expenditures approved by the council, including $125,000 on the airport and $25,000 for capital outlay. Rodriguez explained that when the council made budget amendments during the year the funds were not in the original budget.
“That was one of our comments at the end of the report, to try and work on that going forward,” Routh said.
At one point Rodriguez asked Routh to detail the procedures of the audit to deal with issues such as embezzlement. Pichardo took issue with that choice of words.
“I don’t think anyone at the table has used that,” she said. “We’re just looking for checks and balances. That’s all. Checks and balances. I think the citizens deserve transparency. We’d like to know where our tax dollars are being spent.”
Both Pichardo and District 4 Council Member Josh Ritchey asked if more could be done with future reports to make the information more accessible monthly.
“I’m looking for some more digestible data from your end to kind of help inform those decisions,” Ritchey said. “Otherwise, I’m just shooting in the dark. What sounds like a good idea might not be. I don’t want to push decisions if they are not well informed.”
On a motion by Ritchey, seconded by Randall, the council approved the report. Also, on a motion by Randall, the council approved a new contract with Coleman & Horton Company, LLP for the fiscal year ending in September 2023.
More Social Media approved
The council voted to allow emergency management to utilize social media for posting public service announcements. Social media is commonly used by the city library and animal control with not problems, Thompson said.
A request by Bruce Alexander, superintendent of East Medina County Special Utility District, for the council’s support in electing EMCSUD office manager Lauren Evans to the Texas Rural Water Association was approved. Alexander currently serves as president of TRWA.
A proposal to apply to participate in a joint Smithsonian Institute – Texas Historical Commission program to host a traveling museum visiting small Texas towns was approved.
Solar Eclipse October 2023
The council also discussed participating in emergency management preparations being made in anticipation of record crowds expected to observe solar eclipses in 2023 and 2024 from Medina and surrounding counties.
“Bandera is bracing for something like 80,000 people,” Thompson said. The eclipses will be the last visible from the United States for nearly 15 years.
For complete video coverage of the council session visit the Devine News YouTube channel at youtube/6I_PMT2wWp8.
By Anton Riecher