Harris Named Tenaha City Manager; Citizens Express Dismay Over Process

May 15, 2018 - Long-time city Alderman and Mayor Pro-Tem of Tenaha, Natalie Harris, was recently appointed to the position of City Manager for the City of Tenaha on Monday, April 30, 2018 during a regularly scheduled meeting at 4pm.

At the onset of the meeting, several community members took the opportunity to speak about items on the agenda up for consideration by the council. 

Florence Adams, Tenaha resident, described her respect for transparency in government, especially at the local level. She questioned the council on the urgency to create and fill the position of City Manager which was the subject of a special called meeting on April 2 and for which applications were only accepted until April 23, providing only a 14-day window.

"The only place I've been able to find it, is inside the city office, which means that there's no access to that on the weekends or after 4pm," said Adams.

She questioned why the notice for the position was not provided on all media locations where the agenda is normally available. 

"It almost smacks of being hid from the public in general, and then I have to ask myself, 'for what purpose?' and then how are we going to pay for this should it pass?" said Adams. "Is it being pushed through so quickly, because of the upcoming election, and it seems to be. Having it done this way may have sweet thunder as far as the legality's concerned, but I don't think it's ethical."

Adams stated the wording of the job posted by the city removes all financial responsibility and all personnel decisions from the city council.

"That means it's only going to be controlled by one person, and that would be the city manager," said Adams. "If you vote to fill this position, you have effectively invalidated the office of mayor, and rendered the city council mostly ineffective."

Adams said she has spoken with several people in the community, and not any of them were in favor of the city manager position.

Vickie Dorsey, Tenaha resident, shared her displeasure with the idea of a city manager in Tenaha. She feels Tenaha is not big enough to merit Tenaha having a city manager.

"The buildings are all run down. I was in the Whistle Stop [Restaurant] for years, and there was numerous things that we needed to do, but you can't restore an old dilapidated building. And that's the way most of them are around here. I think that we would be throwing our money right out the door when we need it for other things," said Dorsey.

Marie Crawford, Tenaha resident, addressed the decision of the city to change the regular meeting time of 5:15pm to 4pm on the fly didn't provide ample time to constituents who may have wanted to be present for the meeting. 

"If you have to change it, you need to change it to say 7 o'clock in the evening in order to allow everybody who have jobs to be able to get here, and to speak if they wish to speak," said Crawford.

Crawford had additional concerns regarding the city manager position, and she stated her position mirrored that of Adams and Dorsey.

"At one time I was vehemently against a city manager's position simply because the way a General Law, Class B, city was set up is your city administrator should have been the city secretary," said Crawford. "That was the one constant that people in our size town have with a mayor likely to be changed every two years, with the bulk of the council likely to be changed every two years."

Mrs. Vickery and I reached out to Mr. Bradshaw and he did get back with us, might say not in a timely manner since we just got it today, but there are two ways to do the city managers job," said Crawford.

She went on to explain one of the options provided to the city would be to have an election to appoint a city manager and the other is to approve an ordinance through the city council. However it's accomplished, Crawford feels it's necessary for there to be a concise and detailed job description for the appointee, and the supervision of that individual should not be removed from the council.

"The way our class b city is, the mayor is to operate as a figurehead. The council sets the policies and the mayor is then given the responsibility of seeing to those policies being carried out," said Crawford.

Crawford described some cities determining it necessary to delegate administrative responsibilities to a single individual; however, she stated she doesn't feel that is the proper way for Tenaha to handle such powers.

During the brief time a city manager has been discussed by the council, Crawford said she hasn't seen an amended budget to cover the additional expense of a city manager. In doing research on the subject, Crawford stated some colleges offer a master's degree for someone in the position of a city manager. 

Crawford mentioned, as an example, the University of North Texas offers an Administrative Degree and in order to achieve this degree an individual must have a bachelor's degree, which includes the requirement of at least 15 hours of public administration, emergency administration and planning experience, political science hours, management, economics, sociology, analytical and or other social sciences to qualify for the master's degree in public administration.

"I prefer that we do not wind up in another court case. Chapters 25 and 23 of the Local Government Code leave a lot open to interpretation and I believe the Attorney General has made some rulings on that respect and we might need to investigate that a little further," said Crawford.

The council went into Executive Session at 4:55pm and returned at 6:48pm to make a public decision regarding a city manager.

A motion carried to hire Natalie Harris as city manager at $18 an hour. 

It was determined by the council to leave the mayor compensation as is at $100 a month. A motion then carried to that affect, leaving it as is at $100.

During the council comment portion of the meeting, Harris contributed her thoughts.

"I do want to thank the council for the opportunity, I thank you. The past few months that I've been in this position, I've worked really hard, I've worked doggone hard, because I love my city," said Harris.

She continued by stating she could be at home taking care of her mother's medical needs; however, she is instead at the city working. 

"I don't think people really understand how bad our infrastructure was and there's still some things we need to do, and it's easy to sit from the outside looking in making judgment and I think that's what a lot of people have made," said Harris. "I'm kind of disappointed in how hard people work to say we're doing things illegally, wrong or what have you, and that's okay. People have their right to their feelings, their thoughts, but if anybody has any questions we have a city attorney, and I did not make a move without the city attorney."

Crawford addressed the council once more at the end of the meeting regarding comments made by Harris.

"I'm hearing that some of what we said has been misconstrued. What we were trying to say, there were two ways to go about this, one way would be put it before the entire town. The other way was the way the council chose to do it. That is your right as the elected members of our town," said Crawford. "I think that you don't realize that the people that are here will support you 100% now that you have gone that way. I see the same people come time and time again to the meetings, because I'm here most of the time and there's not a single individual that is sitting here that has not said to me at one time or another that you are doing a fine job Natalie."

The meeting was adjourned at 7:12pm

During the beginning of the Tenaha City Council meeting, two of the town's citizens spoke in praise of the city and the Tenaha Police Department officers on May 7, 2018.

Dan Miller, a resident for a little over 10 years, since late 2014. Miller stated he recently needed help from the city and he was helped instantly in regaining possession of his house. He said he is so glad Tenaha has a police department. In the couple of times he has had contact with them he said they have been, "super nice." Miller said he is proud of the police department and what they’ve done.

Florence Adams, Tenaha resident, addressed the council, shared she hopes the town just keeps getting better. She just asks the current aldermen on the council consider the newly elected members. Adams also asked for a decision regarding the contract for city manager.

The council considered the process for obtaining overtime in the Public Works Department. 

Stacy Cranford, Director of Public Works, explained the way employees in Public Works have typically been paid overtime for the past four to five years. He said they have been eligible through the city for up to two hours of overtime per day if they take the "on-call" phone home with them.

The employees are then on a weekly rotation, taking turns being on call for that week. Recently there had been some issues involving disgruntled employees relating to their overtime being cut, and one of the three employees in Public Works has sought employment elsewhere.

Cranford recommended the city maintain the policy already in place for overtime, because otherwise the city may have to seek work from an outside contractor to fill the need during on-call hours.

Employees on call were to receive two hours worth of on-call pay per day for the entire week. Where Cranford explained there was some confusion on the part of at least one employee is, as an example, if he were called out three times on the weekend he would charge three times, rather than just the two additional times he was called out because he already had been compensated for the first call if it covered two hours. Cranford confirmed with TML, the city has to compensate the employee for their time on call.

Stephanie Marie Glenn, Alderman, stated the two hour compensation was not previously given to employees and she didn't know who started the compensation. 

"To change that you go all the way back and you pay them, because if that's the case, the city owes them for all the other weeks that they've been on call. So, you're going to be going back, to all the way in last year," said Glenn. "If you're going to do it right, oh no, if you're going to do it right, do it right, because they have not been getting paid two hours Monday through Friday."

Cranford said he has worked 14 years with the city and employees there hasn't been a time have not been compensated for being on call. He explained, regardless of what is agreed to at the meeting, they have to abide by policy in the employee handbook.

Natalie Harris, Mayor Pro-Tem, said she looked back in the old pay records and found the employees were not receiving the 14 hours they were meant to get.

"I do know some months ago that the board did say that the only overtime that they would get would be the I think it was five hours, maybe four or five hours, for that weekend. However, if we're saying that we want them to work, to be on call and get paid for that, then we need to put something in place that states that, because we don't have anything that states they will get the two hours," said Harris.

Cliff Lloyd, Alderman, said if the employees are getting two hours a day all week, then the employees would need to take a day off to make up the difference.

Cranford explained with two employees if they take the time off no one will be there to work.

"We got Stacy," said Lloyd. "The last time I know, back in the meeting when we was in closed session, I probably shouldn't even be saying that but it was come out that if we would have any calls we could call Stacy."

Cranford clarified he didn't mention anything about that, because whatever is in executive session isn't supposed to be discussed in an open forum.

"There's probably a lot we shouldn't do, but we do," said Lloyd.

Cranford said the only time he knew there was a problem with employees receiving any pay was when the council cut their overtime and they all showed up for a council meeting.

A motion carried to table the discussion on overtime until the next meeting.

The meeting then went into executive session at 5:37pm. The meeting returned to open session at 6:11pm.

Grey reported from the executive session, officers Sgt. Joey Hudnall, and Officer Johnathan Newton each were awarded a raise of 50 cents each, which brought them to $17 an hour. Jessica Jones, City Secretary, was also increased 50 cents an hour to $16.50.

A motion carried approving the raises for all three employees.

Glenn then addressed discussion over the City Manager position agreement which was had during executive session. According to Glenn, the agreement would be effective May 30, 2018 between the City of Tenaha, Texas a Texas Municipal Corporation and Natalie Harris.

The subject and conditions of the agreement allow for the city to retains the authority to terminate the agreement upon the unanimous votes of the governing body of five council members. The city manager retains the right to voluntarily resign at any time. The salary set for the city manager is $34,560 in equal installments.

A motion carried by the council to approve the agreement for the city manager.

The meeting was adjourned at 6:26pm.

Agenda items approved during the April 30 meeting include:
1. March 26, 2018 meetings.
2. March 2018 Financials.
3. Ordinance concerning Dangerous Dogs.
4. Axel & Rode, LLP Public Accountants for Audits for 2015, 2016 and 2017 for $12,000 each.
5. 2018 Telecommunications Right of Way Access Line Rates of Residential $1.68; Non residential $3.80; Point-to-point $5.74. 
6. Purchase 497 RG3 meters financed for seven years.
7. TML Member Service Fee of $563.
8. Hire Natalie Harris as city manager at $18 an hour. 
9. Mayor’s compensation to stay as is.

Agenda items approved during the May 7 meeting:
1. Application of Southwestern Electric Power Company.
2. Officers Sgt. Joey Hudnall, and Officer Johnathan Newton each awarded 50 cent raise each, at $17 an hour. Jessica Jones, City Secretary, increased 50 cents an hour to $16.50.
3. City Manager employment contract agreement.
4. Adjournment.

Agenda items tabled during the meeting:
1. Process for Obtaining Overtime Public Works.