On Friday evening, Big Spring City Council members met in a Special Session. Topics on the agenda included the final reading of an ordinance to postpone the May 2, 2020 General Election to November 3, 2020, and to reconsider the Mayor’s veto in regards to a final reading of a resolution authorizing and approving a project and loan in the amount of up to $6 million to finance infrastructure and road improvements to the Big Spring Airpark.
Councilmembers had shown concern during the previous meeting in March about holding the General Election to elect city councilmembers for Districts 1 and 3 during a pandemic. During the debate on whether or not to postpone the General Election, Mayor Shannon Thomason stated that doing so would violate the City Charter. Councilmembers received input on the legality and validity of postponing the election from City Attorney Andrew Hagan, and also questioned Howard County Elections Administrator Jodi Duck on the concerns of continuing with the election. Overall, the final reading of the ordinance passed with a 5-1 vote with Mayor Thomason voting against; District 2 Councilman Doug Hartman was not present for the meeting.
During reconsideration of the Mayor’s Veto on approving the loan and project for improvements to the Big Spring Airpark, the five points of concern from the Mayor were addressed. Thomason still advised that he had concerns on the fiscal stability of the city and sales tax base that, if affected, would affect the EDC. Ultimately, the council passed the resolution approving the project and the loan amount by a 5-1 vote with Mayor Thomason voting against.
During the open session of the meeting, a personnel issue with City Manager Todd Darden was also addressed. Terry McDaniel, District 3, questioned Darden on a purchase made at a local hardware store and about a reimbursement request he recently submitted. McDaniel questioned if the hardware store purchase was made on the City’s credit card and if it was for the city or for personal use, and why he submitted the reimbursement request on a hotel stay that he never checked into.
Darden addressed the questions, stating that he paid for weedkiller from the hardware store with his own money and didn’t ask for reimbursement from the city. He also advised that all travel plans for educational purposes had been cancelled for city employees and cancellation of his room was forgotten. He noted that it was error that the request was submitted and he would pay the $152 on his own.
It was also pointed out that the Mayor approves the City Manager’s vouchers and documents that he signs. Mayor Thomason admitted to signing off on the voucher and stated that it happened the day after the City Council issued the declaration of disaster and noted that there were a lot of changes going on with regards to personnel policy and training events and travel. When asked if he was just as guilty of the infraction on the reimbursement request, Mayor Thomason stated that he probably was.
Councilman Jim DePauw, District 6, advised that he didn’t feel that Darden is a strong City Manager at this time because he’s allowing the Mayor to change Big Spring from a City Manager-City Council form of government to a Mayor-Council form of government. DePauw stated that it seemed, to him, that the Mayor was running the city at this time.
Darden addressed some miscommunication issues on PSAs and advised that corrections were made to ensure that councilmembers are on the notifications list for anything that he does on COVID-19 issues.
McDonald advised Darden that she appreciated that he was able to handle any issues that she brings to his attention.
DePauw asked Darden if the Mayor’s constant presence at City Hall impedes how he’s able to do his job and conduct his staff to do things. Darden advised that the Mayor is welcomed to City Hall anytime he wants, and noted that Councilmembers are welcomed as well. He also stated that the Mayor was not a hindrance.
Mayor Thomason asked Darden if he felt like he was being micromanaged by him, to which Darden advised that he did not feel that way and assured the Mayor that he was not a hindrance.
At the end, Darden advised Councilmembers that the city works as a team and that’s why he wanted to have his personnel issue in open session with others present for the discussion.