Community Members Pack City Hall, Several Address Council Regarding Closed Session, City Manager
Despite an extended executive session, Sulphur Springs City Council did not act on “personnel matters specifically relating to the city manager.”
“There’s not going to be any action taken tonight, but you’ll still get a chance to speak in the public forum,” Sulphur Springs Mayor Norman Sanders said after the regular City Council meeting convened, about 20 minutes after 7 p.m. Tuesday.
“Just for clarification, there will be no action taken tonight, is that correct? This will be scheduled for a later meeting, correct?” asked City Attorney Jim McLeroy.
Sanders affirmed that to be correct, which was met with applause from many who filled the Council Room at City Hall Dec. 3.
McLeroy noted that people who’d signed up to speak regarding an action item would still have the opportunity to speak when it came to that agenda item.
One member of the audience asked if that meant those who’d signed up to speak during public forum regarding the executive session item wouldn’t be able to speak about it Tuesday night.
“Everyone by law has a chance to speak tonight if they want to, but if there’s not going to be an action item tonight you might want to come back and speak at another meeting, when there is an action item,” McLeroy clarified.
About half of the meeting was spent in public forum. The majority of comments — from at least five business professionals, community residents and leaders — regarded personnel matters concerning the city manager.
Most spoke positively on City Manager Marc Maxwell’s behalf or asked the City Council to give more consideration in decision making as well as more transparency as to why the council is considering the personnel matters related to the city manager.
Jay Julian during public forum expressed disappointed in the lack of guidance shown for the city’s “vision” during a September meeting, but offered appreciation to Maxwell for the “great vision” he showed when talking about urban sprawl during the November council meeting.
“That is very, very forward thinking for a town this size to be thinking that far head. That is a vision. That is way, way vision. That is great vision and I appreciate that,” Julian said.
He also expressed appreciation and thanks to Maxwell for the vision and forward thinking in the decision to use mechanical concrete, utilizing parts of old tires to help stabilize road.
“The other thing I want to say tonight, since we’ve tabled the number one agenda item — the results of the executive session, if you’ll go to Goggle and type in ‘How to have a city recall election in Texas’ the very first thing that comes up is the city council recall by the Texas Municipal League and it’s a .pdf document. It’s pretty easy to do. We can all go home tonight, in case we need this next month or the next month, and maybe we can refresh ourselves,” Julian concluded.
Brad Johnson, speaking on his behalf as well as his wife and Northeast Texas Farmers Co-operative, “would like to thank the city council’s full consideration of not only giving Marc Maxwell a significant pay raise” but also extending his contract by years.
Clay Walker, who has served on the City Council and Planning and Zoning commission, cited a number of city accomplishments achieved during Maxwell’s time as city manager, including a 30-inch water line, parks and a city that looks so pleasing people want to not only visit but move to Sulphur Springs.
Walker said the city was able to do those things due to the city’s leadership: the City Council, staff and Marc Maxwell. While the leadership has at time not been happy with everything, they have been able to attain incredible opportunities for the city and people of the city, including jobs good enough to keep young people from having to move elsewhere, Walker added. He cited the city taking ownership of the Luminant property as another “great opportunity” the city wouldn’t have without Maxwell.
He concluded by issuing a hope that the council puts away any animosity or personal agendas in order to get along and make the right decisions for the city city, particularly regarding Maxwell.
Lifelong city resident Tyler Law during public forum said while he was originally skeptical of the downtown revitalization effort, now, 10 years in, he thinks it to be a very amazing thing that’s driving business, growing the town. That, he said, is what drives tax revenue, generates money for street repairs. Maxwell, Law said, “is a huge part of that.”
Law suggested, if the council is considering firing Maxwell as has been rumored and speculated in the community, that they take any issues they may have to the city manager to see if he can address them first. He also asked that the specific reason for the executive session be given, especially if firing is being considered.
“To go and try to fire someone, where are the reasons? Where’s the transparency in that? If you are going to fire someone, bring some reasons to the table so we can see it. I don’t want to just go and fire him. That makes no sense,” Law said.
Ending the city manager’s employment with the city after 24 years would would have repercussions, including the need and process of hiring someone to fill the position. There’s no guaranty any one would provide long-term continuity in leadership nor be fiscally responsible, Law told the council during public forum.
“So, I just think we need to think about that. I would really like some transparency and have some additional conversations of ‘If we’re going to fire someone, why are we firing him?’ And, I’m not seeing any of that,” Law said.
“There’s supposed to be transparency. I would love to see it, and I really don’t want people to act on emotion,” Law continued. “What it really feels like we’re pushing here is emotional. We’re reacting to what the keyboard warriors on Facebook are saying and it’s pretty inaccurate a lot of the times. I haven’t really seen a valid answer, a valid reason on why we should fire the city manager. So, I would really, really like to see some transparency and a decision made that’s not emotionally driven,” Law continued.
Gary Spraggins also spoke on Maxwell’s behalf during public forum. He noted that Maxwell has remained in Sulphur Springs for 24 years, despite having lucrative offers of employment elsewhere during that time. He cited serious construction at the airport, Coleman Park, a “phenomenal” revitalized downtown and new industry along US 67 among the city’s achievements attained during Maxwell’s tenure.
Maxwell did not achieve those alone, Spraggins pointed out. Maxwell did hire Peter Karstens, “a brilliant person who found ways for us to pay for the improvements in our city,” Spraggins noted. The EDC played a large role in the new industrial growth, as did the business-friendly environment, which he said is thanks in large part to Maxwell and the City Council leadership in past years,” Spraggins told the council.
Spraggins urged the council to “be wise about it, look at all the good he’s done,” when considering the “personnel matter” regarding the city manager.
“A man told me today that if this council fires Marc Maxwell, they’ll go down in history as being the worst city council we’ve ever had. If you want to have that legacy attached to your names for the rest of your days, then you would fire Marc Maxwell, tonight or any other time. But you don’t need to do that,” Spraggins said. “Let me encourage you to consider your actions very carefully. Make sure you’re being wise in what you do. And I think what you’ve got is a good thing here; you ought to hang on to it,” Spraggins concluded.
When Tom Sellers addressed the council during public forum, he noted there’d been a lot of discussion and a lot of good points made during the meeting. He said he’s seen a lot of changse, a lot of them good, in Sulphur Springs over the years. He said he hasn’t always agreed with Maxwell, but that people are nor perfect, including city managers.
“Leadership is tough. Tough decisions have to be made. It’s not always popular,” Tom Sellers said.
He noted that Sulphur Springs is blessed with a thriving downtown area people from out-of-town visit, take pictures, do business and spend their money. A lot of other towns in East Texas aren’t as vibrant, are losing businesses and boarded up as their downtowns are declining. According to Tom Sellers, Sulphur Springs has things that are important to people and businesses: good schools, a good hospital system, and “have had and hopefully we will continue to have strong city government, stable with good continuity,” and an assertive economic development corporation. People also consider what’s going on in the town and government, when considering moving businesses and families to Sulphur Springs.
Tom Sellers asked the council to consider the big picture, choose wisely and make good decisions for all in the community and to overcome any personality issues that might arise while in discussions, working toward a solution.
“If there are personality issues, please sit down in the same room and talk through them and be adults. Get your problems out on the table. Discuss it and work for solutions. There has to be solutions other than dismissing a leader at a critical time. I believe our city and our area is destined to continue to grow and expand, and be a bright place in the future,” Tom Sellers said.
John Cooper, stated he’d affirm Tom Sellers remarks, then directly addressed Councilman Jimmy Lucas.
“My forefront for Councilman Lucas, I’m asking you tonight to resign your commission as councilman and to leave this building anytime you get ready. Sir, I feel you are a detriment to the community, I feel you are a detriment to the city council, and I’m asking you right now to resign sir,” Cooper said.
The meeting was then adjourned by the mayor without further comment or action from the city council. After the meeting, Lucas declined to comment on Cooper’s request or any of the statements made by the community during the meeting.
In fact, nearly all of the city council members declined to comment regarding either the executive session and any comments made during the meeting.
After the meeting, Councilman John Seller said only, “I’m glad that we’re taking more time.”
“I’m very appreciative for all the people who came out tonight for their support,” Maxwell said following the meeting.