Council library application OKs; overrides vetoes and discusses card payments

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Houston City Council members on Monday approved a request from the Texas County Library System to seek federal funds for a new building, overruled two mayor’s vetoes and decided to allow police officers to take their patrol cars.

In a unanimous vote, the board will sponsor an application to the Texas County Library Board that seeks to tap into American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) funds allocated to Missouri. The library, at a previous meeting, had told board members that it would write the grant and was prepared to administer the funds if it was successful.

Plans call for the library — if the application is approved — to be built on the upper level of the Houston Storm Shelter which is at First and Pine streets in Houston. The building, which was constructed in 2007, included the engineering to eventually add the local branch of the Texas County Library.

Missouri has received about $2.7 billion under the law which it is preparing to distribute through numerous programs. Guidelines are being developed by the state, ranging from building broadband to helping nonprofits.

Library board member Janet Fraley said she would begin work on the project immediately.

Separately, the council’s economic development committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 4) to discuss projects the city could pursue under the various phases of ARPA. Alderman Don Romines ticked off several for consideration – ranging from broadband construction to the development of a baseball quadplex to electrical upgrades. Municipalities across the state — including in south-central Missouri — are working on applications to tap into some of the funds.

VETO

In a 4-2 vote (no, Michael Weakly and Sam Kelley), members overruled an earlier mayor’s veto on a First Street paving plan and the end of a cul-de-sac on Primrose Lane next month. The offer from Willard Paving of Lebanon is approximately $170,000. Mayor Willy Walker said the council’s decision derails a planned budgeted program that allows the city to do work in-house after purchasing its own equipment and avoids the mobilization costs associated with a company traveling to Houston to do work. He suggests studying the question within the framework of the next City budget.

Alderman Kevin Stilley said the state of the city’s streets had always been a source of pride in the community and it was time to refocus on them.

In a 4-2 vote (no, Weakly and Kelley), the council overruled a mayor’s veto related to extending the search for a vacant city administrator position. Walker said the council had interviewed two qualified candidates and that a new town leader was urgently needed before a budget was developed. The mayor had previously made a nomination from one of the two prospects interviewed, but this was rejected by the council. In another previous vote, the council tied 3-3 to hire former economic development chief Rob Harrington and the mayor chose not to hire him. The mayor, under state law, appoints an administrator who is ratified by the council.

The waiver of the veto means that the board will reopen the candidacy period. Stilley told the mayor he didn’t see why he was in a rush to hire an administrator.

The final search to hire Scott Avery, Stilley said, took six months as the mayor pushed to hire City Clerk Heather Sponsler.

Walker again stressed the need for an administrator. “So this city needs an administrator and the 4-2 games have to stop,” Walker told the board.

CREDIT CARD MONITORING

A finance committee of the board will meet to recommend a policy on the review of credit card payments that allows for greater oversight by the board. He recently received copies of five months of credit card payments totaling over $76,000 and some board members said they wanted more control over spending, saying they never saw any information. Romines focused on a four-day trip taken by Avery that totaled $1,552. After the meeting, Avery said he traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of a lobbying effort to prevent extreme energy costs again like those associated with a 2021 cold snap that swirled electric meters. Avery said the city’s electrical wholesaler reimbursed the city for almost all of the costs.

OTHER TOPICS

In addition, members:

– Heard by owner Daren Medlock who was concerned about work to fix water drainage issues to help a homeowner near CW Harry and Holder Drives could be creating water issues at his storage unit business in the same neighborhood. A civil engineer had looked into the matter for Medlock and he read some of the suggestions the city could take to address it. He said he would like this addressed before a problem arises.

-Approved 6-0 allowing nine city officers to drive home their patrol car as long as it is no more than five air miles from the police department and no trips are made more than half a mile on gravel. The council hopes the move will act as an employment benefit for officers, speed up response time and inspire pride as everyone will have a personally assigned vehicle. To complete the program, the city requires an additional patrol car and has authorized the purchase of a 2019 model from Piney River Ford in Houston. The funds come from a sales tax earmarked for the police.

—Heard by Karen James, Site Director and Advisor for Drury University in Houston. She said fall classes will begin Aug. 22, additional classes begin Oct. 14, and described several certification programs that are now available.

— Adjournment in closed session.

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