The turmoil that has embroiled Ballinger for the last 16 months continued at the Jan. 6 city council meeting. The council voted 3-2 in favor of dismissing city manager Tommy Turney.
An executive session was scheduled for later in the council meeting but immediately after the Pledge of Allegiance Turney said that he wanted to go into executive session. Since the executive session was to consider discipline against him Turney was allowed to request it at the beginning of the meeting. Approximately 40 people attended the council meeting and were told to wait outside until the executive session was over.
The session lasted about 50 minutes and when everyone returned Turney had already left the council chambers. When everyone was seated councilwoman Kristi Goetz made a motion to dismiss Turney as the city manager. Each member of the council voted as follows regarding the dismissal: Goetz, for; Councilman Bob McDaniel, against; Mayor Dawni Seymore, for; Councilman Rick Morrish, for; Councilman Jason Gore, against.
Goetz detailed some of the reasons for Turney’s dismissal.
“In a nutshell, he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do,” Goetz said. She added that Turney didn’t post bids in the newspaper as required, he didn’t respond to Freedom of Information requests, rented equipment that was running the city about $8,500 per month that sat at the water plant for several months and that many of the city’s bills were behind. One key issue, according to Morrish, was an excavator that Turney had leased and then agreed to purchase that would cost the city around $135,000. Morrish said that a letter to repossess the excavator had been sent to the city by John Deere credit because the payments were 150 days behind.
“He ignored the council, he wouldn’t come to the council for approval for purchases and he made a contract with John Deere without coming to the council for approval,” Morrish said, adding that the repossession of the excavator would further damage the city’s already poor credit rating.
Another glaring failing was the city being behind almost $80,000 with the water agreement with the City of Abilene. Morrish said that Turney not making the scheduled payments put the deal in jeopardy. The deal was worked on by previous councils and is seen as ensuring that Ballinger will have water for the future, even in the event of another prolonged drought.
McDaniel supported Turney and told everyone, “When Tommy came in the city was already $600,000 in debt.” Turney was hired in August of 2018, after the budget for the 2019 fiscal year was already set and a year after the city financial resources had been depleted.
Those in attendance began commenting openly and Seymore called for order.
“We’re not going to be disrespectful and we’re not going to talk over each other,” Seymore said. The mayor added that the decision to dismiss Turney was not easy.
“We have to face facts: what is working and what is not working,” Seymore said. “We don’t keep doing the same thing if it’s not working.” She told everyone that the council needed support from the community for the good of Ballinger.
Also brought up was the recent credit card statements that were obtained by the Runnels County Register under a Freedom of Information request. The city had 20 days to respond to the request but didn’t respond for almost two months, and that was after councilman Gore stepped in to demand that the city manager’s office respond. Seymore said that the city is looking into the charges.
“We are just now noticing, seeing and recognizing these credit card abuses,” Seymore said. “We’re just now becoming aware.”
According to the city, there had been no per diem limitations on previous expenditures. City employees used credit cards for trips to steakhouses, dinners for family members while traveling and various purchases even just around Ballinger. The city’s Amazon account was used for thousands of dollars in purchases for employees who were taking advantage of the city’s tax-exempt status.
At that point the council meeting turned contentious with McDaniel addressing city attorney Pat Chesser regarding the city council agenda for the meeting. McDaniel, visibly upset and a supporter of Turney, felt that only one or two city councilmembers had input on the agenda and that it was created without full input from all councilmembers. McDaniel turned his attention to Seymore, “You were not elected on your own merits. People voted for you because they like Tommy (Turney),” McDaniel said.
Seymore said that she had thanked everyone that voted for her, which she did in at least two newspaper articles and on various television newscasts.
The arguing didn’t subside and only escalated with councilmembers trying to talk over each other. Councilman Gore was also visibly upset with the dismissal of Turney and the ensuing arguments. He stated that he resigned and then stood up and left the council meeting. A few minutes later McDaniel also said that he resigned and left the council meeting.
Chesser said that with two council members resigning at the same time, their positions could only be filled at the next general election, which will be in May. According to Chesser the resignations of Gore and McDaniel aren’t official until they submit their resignations in writing.
If they do indeed submit their resignations, this leaves bids and other city business in limbo while the remaining councilmembers decide how to move forward. The council said that they would form a committee to address the city financials. Seymore asked former councilmember Philip Arp if he’d be willing to help and he said that he would.
There will be more information regarding the council meeting in the Register next week.