While discussing a new resolution that would establish standards for relations between the Big Spring City Council and city staff, it was revealed that the resolution was actually a way to protect city staff from Big Spring Mayor Shannon Thomason.
The proposed resolution would amend Chapter IX of the Big Spring Personnel Policy entitled “Conduct,” to add a new Section 7 entitled “Relations with Mayor and City Council,” in order to establish standards for relations between city council and staff. In it, the resolution addresses council requests for information and questions to staff, noting “Requests for information or answers to questions that may contain Unofficial Council Information that could lead to a walking quorum must be approved by the City Attorney or the City's officially authorized outside legal counsel prior to release and cannot be released if such a release would violate any law.” The resolution also prohibits council members from attending regular city staff meetings, and states that minutes are required to be kept for unofficial meetings with one or more council members and three or more city employees. It was noted that failure to have a resolution of this type could lead to a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
When Mayor Thomason questioned why this resolution would be necessary, District 5 Councilmember Camilla Strande, in the interest of transparency, revealed that the mayor had gone through the City Attorney Andrew Hagen’s emails and text messages for months, in order to observe the communication between council members and Mr. Hagen. Strande suggested that the same standard of requesting communication should apply to the rest of the councilmembers, and for everyone to be copied on the information as well as who made the request. KBest News was informed that Mr. Hagen had no knowledge that the mayor had read his emails until after the fact.
Strande stated the mayor was regularly “coming unglued” on staff members. According to Strande, Thomason practically threatened staff members at the last staff meeting a week ago.
During the meeting, she went on to state, “I’d like the record to reflect that the mayor has gone through Mr. Hagen’s emails. I need the record to reflect that he is coming unglued at staff meetings.”
She also stated that the mayor was also sending out emails with curse words in them. Strande advised that she was even copied by Thomason on an email where he cursed at an employee while telling them that they did wrong.
“This kind of behavior is unacceptable,” exclaimed Strande. “This is the reason why we’re having to discuss conduct and what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” she continued.
“Let’s quit playing here,” said Strande. “This is not because we need to protect the Open Meetings Act,” she said of the resolution. “That may or may not be an issue that we’re trying to solve. What we’re really trying to do is protect staff from the mayor threatening them and intimidating their behavior and limiting the city staff’s ability to perform their jobs, which hurts you as a citizen. You as a citizen can’t get anything done because our staff is afraid that the next thing they know, [the] mayor is going to kick them out of their office and take over!”
When the mayor questioned whose office she was referring to, Strande answered that he had taken over City Manager Todd Darden’s office. Shortly after her comment, the City Attorney interrupted them and suggested that conversation be held at a later time.
Before the meeting ended, Thomason admitted to requesting the City Attorney's emails back when District 6 Councilman Jim DePauw suggested the termination of Darden as the City Manager. He also stated that he did not kick Darden out of his office, but he did say that he swapped offices with the City Manager because of Darden’s recent injury that prevents him from getting to his office. He also admitted that he had cursed in an email. He stated that he was frustrated about not getting a straight answer from certain city staff members.
“When people lie to me, yeah, I might come unhinged a little bit, get a little upset about that. I’m human. It happens,” said Thomason.
Although he addressed most of the items that Strande had brought up, Thomason did not address the allegations of threatening staff members during the meeting.
When asked why she felt it was necessary to bring these comments during the meeting, Strande stated that she felt that the mayor, in general, behaves in an unprofessional manner.
She also alleged that the mayor had told someone that if they ever did something again, it would not be good for them and he was turning red in the face and pointing at them.
“Those sort of things are borderline threats,” said Strande. “You start to wonder, what would he do? What would he do when he doesn’t have authority to be saying those sort of things?”
Strande told KBest News that it was important for people to understand this dynamic and that the mayor is at City Hall, every day, behaving in that way.
Strande stated that the threatening behavior from the mayor had been reported to her by city staff members. She also said that she had been witness to other instances of unprofessional behavior.
“He’s called me names. I’ve been witness to plenty of things where he’s said unprofessional things to others. That’s part of what we’re trying to do by saying that there would need to be minutes if someone was going to be present at a meeting with more than one or two [council members] to try to protect staff from that kind of behavior,” said Strande.
KBest News offered Mayor Thomason an opportunity to provide a statement in regards to comments made by Strande, however, he stated that he had no comment.
Other highlights from the 7/28/2020 Big Spring City Council Meeting included:
- A brief discussion was held about a possible property agreement with West Texas Community Mediation Center. Their mission is to provide conflict management education/services and other socially necessary services to the community; as well as for at-risk youth, adults and families that have been court-ordered or referred for services by assisting and collaborating with the courts, school districts, students, parents and state agencies.
- A unanimous approval of the final reading of an ordinance amending Chapter 12 of the Code of Ordinances entitled “Miscellaneous,” to add new Sections 12-56 entitled “Removal of the Mental State Element for Offenses Punishable by a $500 Fine or Less” and Administrative Search Warrants. According to a discussion from the last council meeting, this ordinance will assist Code Enforcement in being able to issue fines for code violations. Citizens will still receive warning letters prior to being issued fines. It also allows administrative search warrants to be issued to determine the presence of a fire, health hazard, unsafe building condition or violation of any fire, health, or building regulation, statute, or ordinance.
- The first reading of a resolution asserting that the two legal memoranda on the interpretation of the Charter with regard to recall of officers are no longer subject to confidentiality, privilege, or work product immunity was approved by a 6-1 vote, with District 2 Councilman Doug Hartman voting against.
- City Secretary Donald Moore certified that the adequate number of signatures on a recall petition for District 6 Councilman Jim DePauw were obtained. He stated that DePauw ran uncontested and the Charter states that 100 signatures were needed. Moore stated that he was present and witnessed when the Howard County Election Administrator’s Office validated the signatures. He noted that 135 signatures received, and 111 signatures were determined to be valid. DePauw was officially notified of the recall.
- According to the City Charter, the Councilman has 5 days from the date of notification, 07/28/2020, to resign. If he does not resign, then the city council shall order a recall election to be held 10-20 days from the day of the expiration of the 5-day period. The Emergency Reading of an Ordinance Calling for a Special Election for the purpose of voting for or against the recall of Councilmember DePauw was withdrawn from last night’s agenda by the mayor, and noted that it would return in 5 days.
- The first reading of ordinance amending Chapter 1 of Code of Ordinances entitled “Administration,” Section 1-170 “City Council,” subsection C “Parliamentary Standard” to allow the City Attorney to participate in City Council discussions but not granting the City Attorney the right to vote was announced to be out of order by the mayor. Councilman DePauw appealed the decision of the Chair and Councilwoman Strande seconded the motion. A vote was called for to sustain the decision of the Chair and councilmembers voted against the motion, 6-1, with only Thomason voting to sustain the decision. Councilmembers then voted on the first reading of the ordinance and approved it by a 6-1 vote with Thomason voting against.
- The resolution amending Chapter IX of the Big Spring Personnel Policy entitled “Conduct,” to add a new Section 7 entitled “Relations with Mayor and City Council,” in order to establish standards for relations between City Council and staff was approved by councilmembers by a 5-2 vote with Thomason and Hartman voting against.
- An ordinance authorizing the City Manager to direct placement of traffic control signs at various uncontrolled intersections and designating a crosswalk was unanimously approved by city council.
- A motion to rezone all of Block 9, Bauer Addition, Kate Morrison School, Blk/Track 9, 4.132 acres in Big Spring, Howard County, Texas located at the NE corner of N. Aylesford St. and N.W. 7th St., from Single-Family Dwelling SF-3 to Single-Family Dwelling SF-4 did not receive a second and died on the floor.
- First reading of an ordinance adopting and enacting a new code for the City of Big Spring, Texas; providing for the repeal of certain ordinances not included therein; providing for penalty for the violation thereof; providing for the manner amending such code; providing for publication; and providing for an effective date was unanimously approved by city council.
- First reading of an ordinance amending Chapter 13 of the Big Spring Code of Ordinances entitled “Health, Safety, and Nuisances,” article 3 “Abandoned, Inoperative, or Junked Vehicles” to re-align the subject regulations with State Law and ensure due process was also unanimously approved by councilmembers.
- During Council Input, Mayor Thomason advised that the city is in the process of addressing the lack of air conditioning in the city animal shelter. It was a topic that was brought up during last night’s public comments.