It’s the city manager’s job to run the city, Godwin reminded council in 2012

(Editor’s Note: As the 2014 City of Paris election approaches for city council positions of districts 1, 2, 3 and 6, it seems timely to present a transcript of city manager John Godwin’s comments during a 90-minute workshop with the Paris City Council in June 2012, shortly after he came on board. Godwin told council members it’s their role to set policy and give direction, and leave the rest to him.)


City manager John Godwin

City manager John Godwin

John Godwin: Thank you. I appreciate your time. I don’t want to insult anybody’s intelligence, anybody’s level of experience, but I kind of wanted to talk about some basic things.

Hopefully, I will get some feedback from you and have two-way communication. It’s important that the manager and the council both agree on what his job is, or else it causes you frustration and it causes me to be unemployed, and I don’t want either of those things to happen. (laughter).

City manager is kind of an odd job for whatever reason. August, hopefully, will mark 26 years for me in local government, and I have still a majority of my family members that don’t know quite what a city manager is.

It is, for whatever reason, kind of an unknown position. People understand that a superintendent in the school district is the CEO of the school district and the school board is there to give policy and direction and those types of things, and adopt a budget.

It works exactly the same way in cities, but for some reason superintendents are well known and city managers are usually anonymous. I tell people I’m a city manager, and they go, “Oh, you’re like the mayor,” and I say, “No, it’s not at all like the mayor.” And they say, “Well, what do you do?” I say, “Well, I run the city,” and they say, “I thought the mayor does that,” and I said, “No, the mayor DOESN’T do that.” (Laughter)

I know you guys know this, but there are some new folks on here, too, and even some of you who have been here a while have been here only a year or two years. A lot of things that you’re used to — because it’s been that way for a whole month or for a whole year or for a whole two years on the council — isn’t necessarily the way it always is in other cities, whether that’s good or bad.

For example, I’ve never run across a city that has a fulltime judge as an employee. That’s nothing against the judge, and that doesn’t mean it’s good or bad, and I’m not suggesting you change it. But if you assume from your governing experience that every city does that – every city doesn’t do that. Every city doesn’t have a fulltime attorney even in house,  or an assistant attorney like you do.

Here, you approve everything by resolution, almost. And Kent (city attorney Kent McIlyar) prepares the resolution. I’ve seen bunches of those already just in the two meetings I’ve been to. That’s kind of unusual. It’s not completely undone, but that’s kind of unusual. I say all that just to say if there’s things that seem unusual or odd, or you wonder why it’s done that way, it may or may not be for a good reason. It may be just that’s the way it’s always been done.

As a council, you always have the right to change those kinds of things – the policy things, the processes, your own processes, your own procedures. If you want to do resolutions, do resolutions. If you don’t want to do a resolution for everything, if you want to do a minute order to save time, to save Kent time, anyway, then you can do that, too. I’m not suggesting anything; it’s just something that you can do.

It’s very important that the council set policy, you set guidelines. An example of that is, and hopefully the council knows this and agreed to it at some point in time, but I got a complaint last week or the week before last, about one of the parks not being mowed. It didn’t look good. And people don’t like to go out there because it doesn’t get mowed.

Well, the response from the staff was, “Oh, we only mow it every other week because it’s on the ‘B’ list.” Well, I don’t know, if there’s going to be an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list, that’s something that the council really ought to say “Yeah, there’s gonna be an A list and a B list because we don’t have enough money or enough energy or enough whatever it is to keep all the parks pristine.”

Now, if that’s not your policy, I need to know that. I just meant that as an example of staff should not be doing that. That’s a policy thing and staff is not supposed to make policy.

Another example is the health department. It’s my understanding that staff kind of initiated making changes with the health department. Well, the relationship with the health department is the purview of the council, not of the staff.

Now, once you tell us, “We want you to do so and so” with the health department or with the parks, or whatever it is, then it’s time for you to back off and let us do that.

The city manager is the CEO, the COO of the organization. Every employee works for the city manager. No employees work for the council except for the city manager – and the city attorney, only those two.

And, just to be clear on that, and I don’t want to beat it to death, or insult anybody – the last thing I want to do as a brand new guy is to do any of that, but it’s not a matter of the typical chain of command where you’re up here, and then it’s me, and then it’s everybody else. It’s two separate chains of command. It’s you and me, and then over here is a whole ‘nother chain of command. It’s me and everybody else.

So it’s not that they all work directly for me and indirectly for you. By law, nobody works for you except for me and the city attorney. Whereby I reserve the right if I’ve got a problem department or a concern in a department – and I’ve already done this – to go around with one of my supervisors, with his knowledge hopefully, usually, and talk to subordinates.

You don’t have the right to do that. You don’t have the authority to do that. And that’s a violation of the Charter for you to give instructions or to interfere in the operations of the city. And that’s typical of almost every city that has a home rule charter. That’s nothing unusual or odd.

Sometimes, in my job, people talk about how, “Well, it must be really hard to have seven bosses.” And my response to that is always, “I don’t have seven bosses. I only have one. It’s the city council. I don’t have seven individual bosses.”

If one council member says, “Hey, John, go jump off the roof,” my response is going to be, “Put it on the agenda and get three more votes” — because only one of you can’t tell me something to do. The reason for that is not because I’m hard-headed and don’t want to be cooperative, it’s because if one of you tells me to jump off the roof and I do it, the other six are going to say, “Well, you’re an idiot. You can’t do that.”

Also, it needs to happen in a meeting. It needs to be in a posted meeting, and it needs to be on the agenda: “Instruct the city manager to jump off the roof.” So, there’s a process. It’s a process for a reason and it’s got nothing to do with me or my preferences.

Now, little things come along. For the sake of efficiency, I hate bureaucracy, I hate mindless rules, I hate structure that has no point to it, and as you get to know me hopefully a lot better over the next few years – I’m hoping, that’s certainly my goal – you’ll realize I’m about as anti-bureaucrat as there is. I hate that stuff. I hate that mindless, “do things” for no reasons at all.

But there are reasons for that kind of structure, and it’s important that we both understand that and that we both follow that. But for little things, you know, that’s a different deal. Certainly it’s perfectly OK and it’s even encouraged from time to time that you ask for information from staff. If you want to know, “Gene Anderson, how much money did we spent on pencils last year?” ask him. That’s an information request.

If you want to know how many tickets we wrote last year, ask the police chief and he’ll tell you.

Now, I’ll instruct those staff members, when you give information to the council members, copy me on the email, or just let me know that you talked to them, so I know what’s going on, in case there’s an issue or because they tell you something wrong.

Because ultimately I’m responsible for their behavior, and their performance, and if they don’t perform then I need to know that so I can fix it. If they’re not responsive to your request, I need to know that so I can fix it. So information requests, you’re not forbidden from talking to them, you’re not forbidden from interacting with them. They’re not going to shy away from you. If they do, let me know. They’re not supposed to.

But they’re not supposed to take their instructions from you either, except for Kent and myself. And even Kent and myself, we’re only required – and that’s a poor choice, we’re only allowed to take instructions from you — when you meet as a group, and only when you vote.

So to get me to jump off a roof, you’re going to have to put it on an agenda, post it 72 hours in advance of a meeting, and at least four of you are going to have to vote to make me jump off a roof. And then I may or may not do it, and then you can have an executive session about personnel about whether you want to keep around a guy who’s going to be insubordinate about roof jumping.

Remember, as council members, people will go too far one way or another as council members. You’re still a citizen, you still have a right to have an opinion, you still have a right to say “Hey, I didn’t deserve that ticket,” or “Hey, I want to fight city hall,” or you have an opinion on this issue. You always want to try to think about what’s best for the community as a group, not just one individual.

And you’ll have people – some of your probably already have, I imagine — some people will want you to fix their single problem, and that can get you into trouble because you’re there to represent your entire district first, or however you want to put that, that’s up to you, and then also the entire community, not just one person or a friend or a neighbor.

But you don’t give up your right to speak. I’ve had council members over the years ask me like, “Well, I can’t talk during a public hearing because, you know, I’m not a citizen anymore.” Well, yeah, you are. You pay taxes, you vote, you get to talk during a public hearing unless the mayor shuts you down for some reason because you’re misbehaving. He’s the moderator of the meeting and he controls decorum and all that kind of stuff.

If you want information from a staff member, sometimes it can be quicker to just ask me and I’ll get it for you. Or ask Janice (city clerk Janice Ellis) and she can get it for you. But sometimes it’s quicker to just go straight to them, and that’s absolutely OK, and again even encouraged, I think.

I say some of this because I tend to be a hands-on manager, and it’s not because of ego or because I like to be the boss. For 15 years, I didn’t want to be a city manager, and after working for a couple of bosses I couldn’t stand I thought, OK, I’ll be the boss.

My management style is I really try to be in charge. I was hired to be the CEO and I intend to be the CEO. I do need you to give me policy direction. I do need you to tell me, “Hey, you know what? We never decided there should be an ‘A’ park and a ‘B’ park,” and if that’s the case, I need to get that fixed, because somebody decided that on their own. That’s not the staff’s responsibility, so it works both ways.

There are certain things you guys are supposed to do. If you guys are not interested in changing the relationship between the city and the health department, then it doesn’t need to change. That’s a policy thing absolutely, and the council should be doing that, not one or random staff members. I don’t know the whole story on that, but something strikes me as a little odd there just from what I’ve seen and heard just in the few weeks I’ve been here.

One of the times that you interact immediately with the staff is on council meetings, obviously, and agendas. To be blunt, there’s been some presentations in the council meetings that I’ve been to that I thought were not as thorough as they should have been.

One of my short-term goals is to improve the information you get — not a whole lot more, but I think there should be a little more detail. Some of the information you got (for Monday’s city council meeting) I had staff members add detail before it got to you.

An example of that was last night I had Shawn (city engineer Shawn Napier) to talk about grandfathering on the head shops, because I didn’t want anyone in the audience or on the council to go home thinking “OK, once we’ve passed that ordinance, they’re going to shut all those things down,” because they might be there 40 more years. It just means that they’re a legal, non-conforming use. We hope they’re not there that long, but that’s a possibility.

If you want to make a change in how agenda items are presented and the documents are given – those green sheets (in the packet that each councilman receives on Fridays before each meeting), that’s something that was invented in Paris; it’s not something that came from state law or anybody else. Some city manager once upon a time just created that form. I’ve used similar forms and I think they’re fine, but if that doesn’t meet your needs, you know, let us know.

If you want more data, or a little less data – especially for the new folks, you know, maybe you want to do this for more than two meetings and see how much you need, because at some point it becomes, “I can’t read all this stuff so don’t give me so much.” Because you don’t want inundated to where it just becomes a beating every time you get a packet.

As an example of things I’ll do differently unless y’all tell me differently tonight, is public hearings. Public hearings are open and people can speak for or against an issue, and then the staff explains it.

Well, that’s OK if you already know what the issue is about. I prefer to have the staff present what the issue is ahead of time, because what can happen is people in the audience, they see it for the first time, they don’t know what it’s about, and they get up and say I’m against this because of so-and-so. And then they sit down and staff gets up there and explain it, and they say well, I’m not against it after all. You don’t ever want to do that to your citizens, you don’t ever want to have those kinds of misunderstandings.

So I think it’s important to have staff make a presentation and show this is what it’s about, you know, in advance, before you have a public hearing. I say that just as an example of some of the things I’d like to do a little bit differently.

One of the things I want to get some feedback from you is communication between yourselves and me. I’m used to doing two things. I don’t know how “e-maily” you guys are or, but for instance, this is something that’s happened two or three times in the last week or so. I’ll get an e-mail from a staff member that says the western half of the city is on fire and there’s a flood and six tornadoes just hit.

What I’ll do, I’ll forward that e-mail to you. Because you need to know. Somebody’s liable to call you up and say hey, what do you know about that fire, or how come I don’t have water on my street. Because people call their council members, and I don’t want you to be in a position of having to say, “Well, I don’t know. Nobody’s told me a thing.”

Now, for me, the best way to do that is just to send you a group e-mail. I sent you one or two in the last couple of weeks, and I don’t know if you got them or not because I don’t know how often y’all look at those kinds of things. I got one today where there was a water line blew out. I started to send it to you, and I thought well, I’d talk to you tonight and see if that works.

If there’s other ways of getting hold of you, let me know about it, but I really want you to be able to get these kind of newsy things. Something happened, there was a bad fire, or there was a bad wreck, or a water line out. That’s one of the biggest things, if a water line. We had one the other day and they fixed it and it blew out again. They fixed it and it blew out again. We had people without water for a day or two at a time. And I want you to know that, because you may get that call and you need to be in the know.

We don’t ever want to surprise you. If you guys are getting surprised, we’re not doing our job, so let me know, if I surprise you or any of my staff people surprise you. Let me know so I can try to fix that. Because that’s something we don’t want to do.

You need to have information. I can’t always get it to you right away, but with e-mail it’s pretty easy to just send a mass e-mail to all seven of you and hopefully you’ll get it. If you don’t do e-mail, if you don’t check your e-mail but once a week or something like that, let me know and we can fax you or call you. There are different ways to do that, but I want you to get that kind of information.

The other kind of communications I’m used to doing, and I don’t want to do something that you don’t need or want, but just give you regular reports on what I’ve been up to and things that are happening in the city. I’ve done that on at least a monthly basis, and I’ve done that as often as every Friday. I don’t know if that’s the kind of the thing that would be valuable to you. And you don’t know because I’ve never sent you one. But again, I like you to know what’s going on.

Now, I don’t want you to think you’re in charge. Because I am (laughter).

But I do want you to know what’s going on, and I want you to know what I’ve been up to and who I’ve been meeting with and where I’ve been going. So I assume y’all would like that kind of thing. Is there a good frequency for me to send you that sort of thing, and finally what is the best way to send that? By e-mail, too, or when I next see you? If you have any thoughts about that, let me know.

Another thing, too, along the lines of communication is communication with the community. I don’t know how many of you look at the web site, for example – if you use the web site. I would really like to have your feedback on the web site. If you haven’t looked at it, look at it and see if you’re happy with it or not happy with it, or if there are things that you think ought to be on there that are not on there.

I don’t know if Paris has ever had a newsletter. Lot of cities have newsletters that you send to your citizens; you can stick it in the water bill. That’s a really good way to communicate with your citizens. Once upon a time, when I was young and lazy, I hated doing newsletters, but I’ve been doing them for so many years now, it’s a good tool. Again, if you don’t do it well, you’re better off not doing at all, but it’s something worth investigating. It’s a good opportunity to get information out to the people.

So many times, lack of information causes problems, for the city, for you as council members, for me as the city manager, for the staff that works for me, and you can avoid a lot of that by communicating. We’re a public entity; everything we do is the public’s business.

Some things you keep in executive session for limited periods of time, but everything we do is public. They’re paying the bills and the public has a right to know what’s going on and often needs to know what’s going on. So I would encourage us to look at opportunities for those kinds of things. It’s just a good habit to get into, because it keeps you from getting accidentally too bureaucratic and too “Well, it’s none of their business; they’re outsiders.” Well, no, they’re not. They’re the stockholders in our organization.

To give you kind of an idea how I approach city management — especially for the new ones that I didn’t interview with back in February or March — I do try to make a lot of decisions, I do not try to belabor and beat things to death. For example, we had a dead tree in a yard, and people were arguing that we (the city) can’t cut down that dead tree. Well, yes we can, just go ahead and cut it down.

I hate bureaucracy, I hate over-thinking and beating stuff to death. Now, sometimes that means I make mistakes. I told people in my last couple of jobs, if you never make mistakes, you’re not doing your job. I don’t want just sit-on-your-hands bureaucracy. A code lien came up that’s been on your agenda – you go and mow somebody’s yard, you cut down their dead tree, or you fix up the place, and you send them a bill and they don’t pay it.

Well, human nature, you want to get your money back, they owe the city that bill, and it’s not fair that the city had to pay that and not get their money back. Well, sometimes those liens get bigger and bigger and bigger, and it gets in the way of things. And sometimes it does make common sense to say, “You know what if you’ll pay 10 cents on the dollar, we’ll get rid of the lien so you can start mowing this every week instead of us going on forever.”

Historically, I’ve just made those decisions like that on my own. But this has already gone to the council level and I wouldn’t presume to do anything like that now because it’s on your agenda and you need to make some policy decisions on that. But that’s an example of things I’ll often do, and you might not even hear about it, but if it makes the city work better, act better, feel better, make our citizens happy, then I’m just going to do it and I’m going to try to empower employees to do that as well.

Now, I’ve had two different things just today, “Well, we can’t do that. We’re not supposed to do that.” I haven’t gotten mad at anybody yet, but it’s inevitable that I will because I hate that kind of answer. So I’m just telling you all that to let you know what you’re getting into with me. Because sometimes you’ll be getting mad at me, but hopefully most of the time you’ll say, “Yeah, cut that tree down and fix that thing, and do whatever.” The problem with making decisions is sometimes you’ll make the wrong decision, but I’m a real outside the box kind of a guy, and I hate rules and too much structure and so forth and so on.

I’ve got a lot of things I’m looking at, I’ve got a semi-action plan till the end of this fiscal year. That’s what – three and a half months? I’ve got a list of 50 things I want to get done by September 30.

I don’t believe in just sticking with the status quo. I don’t think I was just hired to do the status quo. That may mean some reorganization. That may mean some staff changes. Don’t be surprised at anything I might do because I’m all crazy when it comes to that sort of thing. I’m real excellence-driven. I want Paris to be an excellent city.

By that I mean the organization itself. Now, if we can have an excellent organization, that makes the city as a living place and as a working place a whole lot better, too. My goal every time I work someplace is to make it the best city in Texas.

Not to be insulting, but it’s almost a shame how many people I meet almost make apologies to me about Paris. Like, “Oh, you’re still here,” and “Why would you come to Paris?” I just cringe at that, because people in Paris need to go “This is a great place, a wonderful place to work!” And that’s what I’m going to try to help you do.

Now, obviously I can’t do that by myself. I remember reading something about I was going to be brought in here to be a community leader. With all due respect, that’s not my job. My job is to lead the 325 people that work here. Y’all are the community leaders, and my job is to support you and to help you achieve your goals and visions, which we’re going to get to eventually, I promise. But that’s such a huge mindset that I wanted to throw that out there.

I’m working for Paris and I’m all onboard for Paris. I want it to be a great place, and I think that’s absolutely doable. It’s not an easy thing to do to be a great place, but it’s absolutely doable. And like I say, I’ve already got my 50 things – you can’t see them – but I’ve got my list. Some of them are small things like cutting down a dead tree, and some of them are bigger things like reorganizing departments. Trying to improve communications. Those kinds of things.

My vision is that big vision of making Paris a great place, and helping you achieve your visions.

Charles Richards, eParisExtra

Update: Paris City Council candidate forum is at 6 p.m.Thursday

alcr logoThe Association of Lamar County Republicans will host a Paris City Council Candidate forum at 6 p.m. Thursday in the district courtroom on the second floor of the Lamar County Courthouse in Paris.

The forum comes four days before early voting begins on Monday (April 28).

Six of the eight candidates have announced they will participate, forum coordinator Jimmie Kruntorad said.

Early voting continues Monday through Friday of next week, plus Monday and Tuesday of the following week, leading up to the Saturday, May 10 election.


To help educate voters, will follow the forum with word and photo coverage of the candidate responses.


Participating will be:

  • From District 1: Incumbent Aaron Jenkins (opposed by former District 1 councilman Joe McCarthy, who has declined the invitation);
  • From District 2: Incumbent Sue Lancaster and challenger Kelly John Collins;
  • From District 3: Incument John Wright (opposed by Benny Plata, who has declined the invitation);
  • From District 6: Incumbent Cleonne Holmes Drake and challenger Edwin Pickle.

The six candidates who accepted the invitation to participate have been provided nine questions concerning the city and individual districts, Kruntorad said.

As time allows, the questions will be asked of all candidates, Kruntorad said. The candidates themselves were invited to suggest possible questions to be included in the mix.

As opposed to county, state and federal elections, city council elections are non-partisan.

Kruntorad said the Association of Lamar County Republicans is offering the forum “to promote an informed electorate through political education and involve citizens in the political process.


eParisExtra will follow the forum coverage with a separate report on candidates’ responses to other questions submitted by eParisExtra columnist/city council reporter Charles Richards to provide further insight into candidate positions on the issues.


Council terms are for two years. The City Charter allows individuals to serve up to three consecutive 2-year terms, after which they must sit out at least two years before they may serve again.

Charles Richards, eParisExtra


Open-air beer and wine garden opens in historic downtown Paris

107_Historic Downtown Paris

Bret Holbert and his wife, Sherrie, are back in the food business as proprietors of “107″ — an open air beer and wine garden at 107 Grand Ave., just off the southwest corner of the Plaza in historic downtown Paris.

107_Sherri on Opening DayThe Holberts, who for 12 years owned and operated 24th Street Cafe, took a historic building whose roof had collapsed and was slated for demolition — and turned it into something unique for Paris.

They left it without a roof — on purpose — and made it into something like Paris had never seen before, something akin to the family-atmosphere, open air beer gardens of Central and Southwest Texas.

“What a great thing to do, to salvage some of Paris’ early history and turn it into something real cool and progressive,” said Ray Trotter, who owns a gallery on the Plaza and was one of the establishment’s first customers at last week’s opening.

“I used to get my hair cut here for free in this building. It was a beauty college,” said Trotter, who was born and raised in Paris and recently returned to the city after being gone for more than 40 years. “They took something beautiful and made it more beautiful.”

Joining Trotter at a table at the grand opening were Koa Hawn and Julia Trigg Crawford.

“It’s beautiful. Somebody just told me today it was Opening Day, and I didn’t know what to expect. I’m blown away. It’s great,” said Hawn, a native of Hawaii who moved to Paris a year ago.

107_Umbrellaed Tables“I’ve been waiting for it to open for months, so I’m tickled to see the doors open,” said Crawford, who like Trotter was born and raised in Paris.

“This is my first glass of wine here. it’s great. I love the concept. When I first saw it months ago, it was raining, and I looked in and saw how this could work even in inclement weather, so it will be fun — rain or shine,” Crawford said.

Hours are from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday and 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., “or later, as needed,” on Friday and Saturday.

“Plus, we just decided to open for lunch on Saturday,” Bret said Friday. It’s a no-smoking establishment, in keeping with the new smoking ban that just went into effect city-wide for public places.

The official opening on April 11 came two days after an informal run-through two days earlier — a “soft opening” from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night “so we can get our system down.”

It was anything but soft, Bret said.

“We had a huge turnout. We were slammed. We turned out a ridiculous amount of food,” he added. “But that’s OK. That’s why you have nights like that. You work out your kinks. You find out what works good and what doesn’t, and you start to formulate a system. People are coming in for the food in addition to the wide selection of beers and wines that we have.”

Capacity is 99 people. There’s seating for 80.

In a question-and-answer interview with eParisExtra, the Holberts talked about how “107″ came about.

Question: “What gave you the idea for this?”

From left -- Ray Trotter, Sherrie Holbert, Koa Hawn, Jerrika McKee, and Julia Trigg Crawford. McKee is engaged to the Holberts' son, Colt, and is a hostess at her prospective husband's restaurant, Beau d'Arc, which is also downtown. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

From left — Ray Trotter, Sherrie Holbert, Koa Hawn, Jerrika McKee, and Julia Trigg Crawford. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)

Bret: “I’ve been looking for something to do after I retire from the fire department in November after 30 years, so Sherrie and I began to brainstorm. We knew we wanted to do something in food, but something different from 24th Street. Last summer, we took a swing down through south and central Texas — San Antonio, Comfort, Fredericksburg, places like that — and there are these little beer gardens on every corner in that part of the state. People come in, and it’s a real family atmosphere. We stopped in San Antonio, and there was this place on probably a half acre of land, a building where the bar was. It had a playground where kids could play, and families came in the afternoon and sat down under the big oak trees and relaxed and had something to eat and had something to drink if they desired. As we traveled, we kept seeing these and thought, you know, this would be a good idea. So we began to consider that.”

Q: “How did you decide on this building, which just a couple of years ago the city was putting barricades in front of to mark as unsafe?”

Bret: “We knew we wanted to do something downtown, but there wasn’t really an open spot like you would think of a garden, and so we weren’t sure if we would be able to. Well, Sherrie saw this building one day, and she said, you know, we could probably get that building for a good price, and we could gut it and put a beer garden in there. And so we began to ask around as to owned it, found out and approached that person. He said, sure, I’ll sell it. and so he did. The rest is as you see it now. It came from a building whose roof had collapsed onto the second floor — that was rotting away, and there were discussions about demolishing it — to this. Everybody seems to be excited about it. because it’s so different than anything else. That’s the word that we keep hearing — different. And we think that’s a good thing.”

Q: “So you came up with the open air idea rather than putting a new roof on it?”

107_soft openingBret: “Right. We knew we wanted open air, something that was at least similar to the open air beer gardens that we had seen down in San Antonio and Austin and Fredericksburg and places like that. We knew that we didn’t want to move inside and just have a place where you can have a beer and a burger. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We had a great living doing that for 12 years, and that’s great, but we wanted to do basically something that Paris had never seen — not in my lifetime anyway. So we came up with this concept. We understand there are going to be days where the weather is too bad to open, and we’re OK with that.”

Q: “It’s open air, but at the same time, you have umbrellas over some tables, and other parts are covered by a partial roof. So you can still stay open for business, even when it’s raining?”

Sherrie: “We preserved what the building was. We wanted everybody to see how cool a building it was. We wanted it to feel you were in a different city, like Austin or San Antonio or Fort Worth or Fredericksburg, sitting in open air. Basically, when it rains, we’ll have a day off. If it’s just a light rain, a light summer rain, it’s not a problem at all, you’ll stay completely dry. we have areas free to sit under that are dry, and three of our tables have umbrellas. The kitchen and the serving area is completely enclosed, as are the bathrooms.”

Q: “So, are you looking forward to this?”

Sherrie: “I am. I’m anxious and excited and a little nervous. We’re out of our realm here, but we’ll do it. Our soft opening went really well. It was just friends and family, people who would tell us the truth about what we needed to change. We fixed a few things. We are starting out with five employees. We are a little over-hired for the first couple of weeks until we can see. I don’t want to be short-handed. We aren’t opening until 4 in the afternoon. I’ll probably be coming in at 5, but I have hired a manager, Mindy Wilson, who will be here at 4. She’s got a lot of experience, so we’re well covered. We have two cooks who cooked for us for years and years at 24th Street — Bret’s old team back together and we’re comfortable with them.”

Q: “What are you hearing from your customers?”

Sherrie: “They love the feel. They haven’t experienced anything like this in Paris, and that was our goal. They also like that we’re preparing different products that they’ve not seen. We’ll try to do something different than everyone else is doing. It’s a casual, laid-back place. We don’t want it be a bar. The beer companies and wine companies said they would give us neon signs and all that, but we’re not going to do any of that. We want it to be more of a place where you can spend time with friends and relax. We want to have good food, but not turn into a bar-type thing.”

Bret: “The only thing alcoholic we sell is wine and beer. We don’t sell any spirits at all. I talked to some of the people who owned beer gardens that I talked about earlier. Some of them had been in the business of a full-on bar business before and chose to get out of it because they just preferred a different atmosphere. A guy in San Antonio said he had a bar for quite a few years on Sixth Street in Austin, and he said there were things going on there all of the time. I don’t want to give bars a bad name, but it’s just a different crowd and we just decided we weren’t going to sell spirits. We have a selection of beers all the way from light beers to dark beers, and then we have wine from inexpensive wines all the way up to better higher-dollar wines.”

Q: “What are the ‘different’ food offerings you are offering?”

107_cheese trayBret: “We have a selection of three tacos — pulled pork, brisket tacos, and fish tacos. We have quesadillas, garlic fries, cheese tray with fries, a selection of cheeses, and a selection of fresh fruits.

We have various sauces that we’ll drizzle on the slate that if they care to they can drag their cheese through or their sausage or something like that.

“We have pulled pork sliders –  traditional southern pulled pork sandwiches with pulled pork barbecue sauce and cole slaw. We have brisket sliders with sauteed onions and horse radish, and we have our flatbreads, which were really popular on our soft opening. We have beef fajita, which is similar to the ingredients for our regular fajita — beef fajita meat with grilled onions and bell peppers and avocadoes. And we have what has really been popular — grilled chopped sirloin,  not hamburger meat, but thinly sliced sirloin with roasted red peppers, cucumbers, artichoke hearts and a greek yogurt-based sauce. And then there’s our fish and chips, which have turned out to be the “dark horse.” They were crazy popular at our soft opening. We serve three nice filets of fish with a nice generous helping of french fries. We make our own jalapena tartar sauce in house.

“Our nachos also are real popular. We have regular nachos with  cheese and peppers, and then we have pulled pork and brisket and chicken. Our wings — we have three different wing sauces.

“We have a traditional, what you would call a buffalo sauce; a sweet chili pepper sauce; and a pepper sauce called Chef Perry sauce, a gift from chef Michael Perry at Bois d’Arc.

“And then one of our things we’re really excited about — a black and bluebell float. It’s Blue Bell vanilla ice cream, and then over that we pour Shiner Bohemian black beer. If you’ve never had it, it sounds kind of strange, but if you ever taste it, you’ll love it and you’ll have it again. It’s really, really good.

“On our kids’ menu, we have chicken strips, grilled cheese sandwiches, things like that.”

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra

Lamar County Spring Trash-Off this Saturday


Judge Superville stands in front of a pile of tires collected from last year’s Trash-Off. Photo provided by Jimmy Don Nicholson.

It’s that time of year once again! Step away from your calendar, you didn’t forget a holiday (though, just in case you did, Easter is on Sunday!). Rather, it’s time to get up, get dressed and help make Lamar County a little more beautiful. How, you may ask? This Saturday, April 19th, “Keep Paris Beautiful-Make Lamar County Shine” will once again sponsor its annual Spring Trash-Off. Everyone is invited to participate.

The event (held in the spring and fall) has been a part of Lamar County for over a decade, but many may still not be aware of its existence or even its purpose. To explain, let’s briefly go back a few years, to 1985. Seeking to combat littering on Texas roadways, the Texas Department of Transportation launched a statewide anti-litter campaign known as “Don’t mess with Texas.” This slogan has become well-known in Texas throughout the years, appearing on bumper stickers, highway signs, and even in celebrity-endorsed television ads. Since its inception, the campaign has helped to significantly reduce the amount of litter and debris on Texas roadways.

Each year, as part of this campaign, TxDOT hosts the “Don’t mess with Texas Trash-Off.” Anyone and everyone who is willing and able can participate in this program. The official date for this spring’s event was April 4th, but the dates vary across the state, depending on the individual communities.

Jimmy Don Nicholson is the Community Service Coordinator for the Adult Probation Office. According to him, each year, the office receives a letter signed by all four Lamar County judiciaries. This letter requests that all probationers ordered to perform community supervision restitution be required to report to the Trash-Off. As an incentive, they are offered double community service hours’ credit- “two for one,” Nicholson said.

Court-ordered community service workers will sign in at 7 a.m. and will work either until noon or until all of the assignments are completed in a satisfactory manner. Everyone involved will leave with a feeling of accomplishment.

“It has been my experience that probationers leave feeling that they had made a difference in the appearance of our roadsides and community trails,” Nicholson said. “This is a service that we are glad to provide for the entire county.”

“However, even though the majority of those cleaning up the roads and streets will be probationers, everyone can play their part in this cleanup event. Volunteers are still needed and very much appreciated!

“Everyone is invited to come and participate. Some civic volunteers may want to carry a group of probationers out to a roadside cleanup site and this assistance is welcomed,” Nicholson said. “Roadside cleanup locations are not limited to those being offered by [‘Keep Paris Beautiful-Make Lamar County Shine’].”

Those wishing to participate and volunteer their assistance can’t expect to sleep in. Volunteers can arrive and sign in at 7:30 a.m. at the KPB/MLCS table, in the Home Depot parking lot. Here, they will receive assignment folders and trash bags. They may be picking up trash, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have fun doing it.

“Persons should pick a trashy roadside and come to [a] gathering point and team up with a group and go have fun cleaning it up!” Nicholson said.

Naturally, safety is a top priority to everyone involved, so safety meetings for both probationers and crew members will occur prior to departure.

“Everyone is urged to bring and wear gloves and to wear long legged pants and closed-toed shoes,” Nicholson said. “Be prepared for inclement weather and follow safety instructions.”

From 8 a.m. until noon, the collected trash can be brought back to the Home Depot parking lot for disposal. Here, soft drinks, hot dogs and water will also be available to the volunteers.

“…As the volunteers come back from cleaning up their assigned roadside they can stop by the refreshment stand,” Nicholson said.

According to Nicholson, there will also be an electronic recycling event for those who wish to discard used or unwanted electronic devices that cannot be collected during the Trash-Off. This event, known as “E-Cycle,” will take place from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Red River Valley Fairgrounds.

Although there has been a slight decline in civic leadership since previous years, Nicholson does not anticipate an end in the near future.

“The civil leaders from our county know the importance of trash abatement. We will be there to help out with the event regardless,” he said. “It would really help out if more civic minded citizens would come out to help with the event. I think it’s a matter of getting the word out to the public about the event.”

So, whether you wish to help clean up the streets with the Spring Trash-Off or simply recycle your old computer or monitor, any assistance, no matter the capacity, is invaluable.

“’Keep Paris Beautiful-Make Lamar County Shine’ encourages all citizens of the county to get involved in a beautification project on the 19th and help make a difference where they live,” Nicholson said.

Keeping Paris beautiful: a reward in itself.
According to Nicholson, the timeline for the Trash-Off will be as follows:

7 a.m. – Court-ordered community service worker sign-in

7:30 a.m. – Safety meeting for probationers

7:45 a.m. – Safety meeting for crew leaders

8 a.m. – Assignment folders and trash bags are handed out to volunteers

8 a.m. to noon- Bagged and loose debris are brought back to the Home Depot and put into the collection container

Noon – Court-ordered community service workers can sign out after gaining permission to do so.


For more information about anything listed in this article, contact Jimmy Don Nicholson at 903.517.2394, Edwin Pickle at 903.785.6320 or the Lamar County Chamber of Commerce.

For more information about E-Cycle, contact Robert Talley at Paris Code Enforcement at 903.784.9219.

For more information about “Don’t mess with Texas” and its efforts statewide, visit

By Courtney McNeal, eParisExtra







Unhappy with street work, Paris City Council delays final payment to contractor

With a Louisiana company already three months overdue on a water line replacement project, the Paris City Council has decided to make the company wait another two weeks before getting the last of its money.

City manager John Godwin

City manager John Godwin

“There are several issues, and one of them is the poor quality of work by the contractor, and also the fact that they are late,” city manager John Godwin told the council Monday night.

City attorney Kent McIlyer said the city has no choice but to pay the money, which is for materials and work that was not originally called for but proved necessary as work proceeded.

“We’ve got their money, we know we owe it to them, and we’re going to have to give it to them eventually, but they were in no hurry to fix my town so I’m in no hurry to give ‘em my money,” he said.

The council agreed, voting unanimously to delay until the next meeting on April 28 to OK the $18,383.02 that McInnis Brothers Construction, Inc., of Minden, La., requested above and beyond its $1.8 million contract.

The company began the project last July and was due to finish in January. Work still continues, mostly because of a 20-inch cast iron water line that nobody has found a way to cut off.

But the council’s unhappiness with the project has more to do with the streets — especially on Church Street and East 3rd Street — that were nowhere as good after the work was done as when work started.

A local asphalt contractor was hired last week to re-do the street work.

“I’m not too sympathetic with giving them $18,000 — Because of the problems they’ve caused. Anybody who’s driven Church Street knows what I’m talking about,” District 3 councilman John Wright said.

“I feel pretty much the same way,” District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster said. “We’re still going to have to address how it looks and how to fix it, and that cost has to come from somewhere.”

Godwin said as the council proceeds on its $45 million bond issue to replace deteriorating water and sewer lines, it may need to revisit “how much of the bond money you want to use for roads and how much you want to use for actual utilities.”

Godwin reminded the council that last summer KSA Engineers — in recommending a $45 million program of work — submitted an estimate for $15 million to replace water and sewer lines and $30 million for new streets afterward.

In particular, Mayor AJ Hashmi objected at the time, saying residents were promised that $45 million would be spent on replacing old water and sewer lines. He said new streets were not necessary, and whatever was spent on them should come from other funds.

“So you’ll know what’s coming, when you take out a road, it costs a lot of money to put it back the way it was,” Godwin said.

“Now, I’m not going to say they’d look like this (on streets replaced by McInnis). This was horrible. This was unacceptable, and everybody knows that,” Godwin said.

Hashmi cut off discussion on how much money should be spent on roads, saying it was not on the agenda.

At a late penalty of $150 per day, McInnis Brothers Construction now would owe $12,600 in penalties as of Monday for its 84 days behind schedule.

McInnis asked that 57.5 of the late days be excused because of delays beyond the company’s control, such as the December ice storm.

“After reviewing the list, staff can only recommend 45 additional days be added to the contract,” city engineer Shawn Napier said.

That still leaves the company still 39 days late, which would cost the company about $6,000 in penalties. Any resulting late penalty will be deducted from the money due on the change order request, Napier said.

The major outstanding problem with the project is an old 20-inch cast iron pipe that neither the contractor nor city crews have figured out how to take out of service, Napier said.

The project is not part of the city’s infrastructure bond package. McInnis was awarded the Phase I work on water replacement work financed by a low-interest loan from the Texas Water Development Board Drinking Water State Revolving Fund in the amount of $3.4 million.

“The past few weeks have been spent trying to find a way to turn off valves or find the unmarked lines that are preventing this line from being taken out of service,” Napier said.

“We’ve gone back and even talked to 25- and 30-year employees in the water and sewer department — people working with the city back in the 70s — and they said they couldn’t kill that pipe in the 70s either,” he said.

Napier said he would like to end the contract with McInnis and use city staff to continue working on the mystery of what to do about the 20-inch water line that has proved so problematical.

“It may take us into the summer to get that done, but I don’t see a need for us to hold onto this contract,” Napier said.

McInnis was the low bidder in April 2013 on the replacement of water lines along East Third Street from Henderson Street to Sherman Street; along Church Street from Washington Street to Hearon Street: and on Deshong, Lewis and Stone streets west of Paris Regional Medical Center.

The company underbid Barney Bray Construction and Harrison Walker & Harper, both of Paris.

By Charles Richards, eParisExtra