SINTON – The Sinton City Council took no action Tuesday night on measures to fire the city manager and city secretary, who have nearly 50 years of combined experience as city employees.
During a tumultuous meeting that included one councilman abruptly leaving while members of the audience shouted “coward” and “chicken,” the council determined it couldn’t act because notice of the meeting hadn’t been properly posted under the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Tuesday’s meeting was a flash point in what, in a close-knit community, has become a highly emotional controversy over a school wind turbine project.
The Sinton school district is trying to leverage a $974,000 federal grant to build two 155-foot turbines at the high school campus for energy savings and math and science education.
Two city boards rejected measures that would have allowed the project to proceed, prompting the district to sue the city. The suit is pending.
A group of three council members support the turbine project and have tried to move it forward, but have been advised by City Manager Jackie Knox and a law firm representing Sinton in the lawsuit that the Board of Adjustment’s decisions can’t be overruled with a simple vote of the council.
That led to Tuesday’s meeting, which became a referendum on Knox and Wood.
No one in the crowd, which spilled out of the council chambers, spoke in support of the firings. One man pointed out that the city charter stipulates only the city manager, not the council, can fire City Secretary Betty Wood, who has served 35 years with Sinton. Knox has been city manager nearly 15 years, an unusually long tenure for a Texas city manager.
The three council members supporting the firings, Linda Guzman Alaniz, Michelle Soliz and Eloy Lopez, said Knox had created an atmosphere of distrust and wasn’t communicating effectively with them.
But Councilman Bill Moore noted that the five-member council had given Knox a positive performance review in recent months, citing the city’s balanced budget, healthy reserve funds and street paving projects.
He lamented the discord that has emerged in Sinton.
“We have to get to be a team and get back to taking care of our citizens,” he said.
A group of citizens has started petitions aimed at recalling the three members who supported the firings.
Lopez, who abruptly left to the audience’s jeers, said afterward that he left because the meeting had devolved into a circus, with bouts of applause and laughter and occasional outbursts.
Despite the unanimous support for Knox and Wood by people who spoke at the meeting, Lopez contends the crowd represented only a small portion of the community, and that there is wide support for the turbine project.
The meeting itself may have been a violation of the Open Meetings Act because the agenda didn’t list the location of the meeting. It was described as an emergency meeting, and the act allows only a narrow set of subjects to be discussed in emergencies; generally they include only matters of public safety. Mayor Pete Gonzales said that’s why the council couldn’t vote.
The three council members calling for the firing may also have violated the act, one meeting attendee noted, because they submitted identical paperwork to call for the meeting and could not have done so without communicating with one another, forming a quorum. A quorum can discuss public business only in a public setting after posting notice of a meeting.
Wood said she was gratified by the support she received and was left wondering why she was targeted. The three council members haven’t commented publicly about why they sought Wood’s dismissal.
“I had calls all day today” from supporters, she said. “I didn’t get much done.” She paused, then added, “I still want to know. If I’ve done something wrong, I want to know.”
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding