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This picture, taken from atop the old Sears Building next door, shows the gaping hole left in the top of the Grand Theatre building in downtown Paris after a clogged drain caused the roof to collapse last November. The city filed an insurance claim, but it was denied and litigation continues. (City of Paris photo)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
The Paris City Council has decided that the historic Grand Theater — whose history dates back a hundred years — “is something downtown deserves.”
The council agreed last week to come up with the estimated $69,000 it will take – along with funds from Leadership Lamar County and other donations – to replace the roof, repair the building’s damaged marquee, and turn the building over to a not-for-profit group.
Recently, Mayor AJ Hashmi and District 3 councilman John Wright questioned whether the city should continue to pour money into a building that didn’t even have a road map for what it would be used for.
Wright said no one had explained what the Grand would be used for after it was restored.
The mayor asked District 5 councilman Matt Frierson to research the issue and report back to the council, which he did.
At the end of a 30-minute presentation, Frierson had one question for city manager John Godwin.
“When can we start. Do we have to wait until the next budget?” Frierson asked.
“No, I think you can start right now,” the city manager replied.
“I like your answer,” Frierson said.
Godwin will present his proposed 2012-2013 budget to the council on Wednesday.
The city has already spent $100,000 on electrical work on the theater sign, initial façade work, asbestos abatement and roof repair.
“There is a picture of the roof that was replaced but unfortunately collapsed. It’s quite a big hole,” Frierson said.
Frierson said the Grand has too much historical significance to Paris to destroy.
“And if you demolish the building, what have you really done for the integrity of downtown? Consider the enormous hole. What have you opened yourself up to as to the development of downtown? What are you going to do when you drive by and you just can’t see the end of it?” Frierson asked.
When he finished his presentation, District 6 councilwoman Cleonne Drake said:
“I’m not for tearing it down. Whether it’s the city taking it over, or non-profit, or whomever, I think it needs to be kept. The longer we wait, the more damage being done inside because of this huge hole in the roof.”
City engineer Shawn Napier said the hole in the roof is large, “but parts of it are kind of secured off.”
District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster said: “Well, I’m just totally opposed to tearing it down. We should see if we could find partners to work with. In the past, there were people that would have done that, and I am sure we can find some now.”
Wright said: “I think any responsible property owner, using good judgment, would want to keep his property in the dry. I think we should get it in the dry and decide what we’re going to do with it.”
District 1 councilman Aaron Jenkins said: “Just depends on what it would look like. I went to that theater in the 80s, and I would like to see what it would look like.”
Dr. Richard Grossnickle, who represents District 4, commended Frierson on his report, and on the help given by Napier, main street coordinator Cheri Bedford, and architect Paul Denney.
Grossnickle wondered what the best use of the Grand would be, given that the Paris Community Theater already has “a pretty good facility, although they probably could use a bigger and better one if one could be provided.”
Frierson said he didn’t foresee any competition between Paris Community Theater and the Grand, “but certainly for those events that would be of larger scale … just knowing you have that availability and that option, I think those two facilities would work hand in hand very well.”
Perhaps the Paris Municipal Band could present concerts in the Grand, Grossnickle said.
Napier said the Grand still has a few rows of theater seats that haven’t been abated, but noted that pigeons have made the Grand home for most of the years from 2000 to 2009.
Hashmi said he agrees it makes no sense to tearing down the Grand.
“My second thought is on a long-term basis, I completely agree it should not be the city but somebody else maintaining it, and it should be a not-for-profit organization,” the mayor said.
“It should be for the citizens and residents, whatever they want to do,” Hashmi said.
“I don’t know what its purpose would be, but you know, let the purpose be decided by the people who take it, with the thought that if they are going to take it, try to make it as close as they can to what it once was.”
He added: “I also think $69,000 might not sound like a lot, but you know, there are roads to be repaired, there is infrastructure to be done, so one must be cautious in spending money.”
Then the mayor added: “But my thoughts are, we do all sorts of galas in the city. I think we could certainly do a gala to lower the $69,000 to a lower amount of money. I have no objections if the city ends up spending to begin with, but I think we should do something to reimburse the city for whatever we possibly can.”
Everyone is interested in getting the Grand restored at the earliest and at the cheapest possible cost, Hashmi said.
“I’ll take the liberty of offering my services to arrange a gala to recover some of this cost. I’ll arrange something or another — a big event,” the mayor said.
Frierson said the city had three options:
1. Tear down the building, at an estimated cost of $200,000, which would include remaining asbestos abatement; engineering for demolition; potential damage to adjoining structures; removal of debris; and the intangible cost of a gaping “hole” in downtown.
2. Renovation by the city. Estimates from other facilities around Texas for complete renovation would exceed $750,000.
3. Stabilization of the facility at a cost to the city of about $69,000, thanks to the willingness of the Leadership Lamar County class to make $42,000 available for the effort. Then the building could be turned over to a not-for-profit group of citizens interested in rehabilitating the facility and maintaining it.
“The total time line, if everything goes the right way, whether it’s operated by the city or, in my mind a more ideal fit — partnering with a not-for-profit organization — we could complete that transition by the end of 2013,” Frierson said.
It would be up to the city how it paid for the project, Frierson added, whether by taking money out of reserves, passing a bond issue, or recovering money from the insurance claim that is still under litigation.
“Or, you can make it what it was always intended to be, which is a community project. We have been approached by one group that is very interested in being a non-profit and restoring it to what it once was.”
Frierson said he never personally believed in tearing down the Grand.
The Grand “is something downtown deserves. It deserves to be what it once was. This could mean so much to what is out there, as far as the development and future of downtown,” Frierson said.
“Everybody drives by and sees the wood-covered front, and the barrels, and the sign is mostly covered, and it’s not what we had all hoped it to be,” he added.
The Grand has sat vacant for three decades, and many people who pass by the theater have no idea how big it is.
“It’s amazing how big the facility actually is. It’s an enormous L-shape building,” Frierson said.
From the ticket booth, a long sloped-entry hallway runs south to north, to a twin-cinema theater located in a big, red building on the south half of the block. At the rear of the theater, an exit door opens onto Northeast First Street.
Built in 1912, when automobiles were in their infancy, the Grand attracted thousands of people, who rode special trains into Paris for touring Vaudeville and stage shows.
The theater burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1916 that destroyed downtown Paris.
Within nine months, a new theater — the most modern, up-to-date in all of Texas, opened at the present location. Every new feature of theater architecture was incorporated.
An ample stage was equipped with every requirement needed to present the largest stage attractions on the road.
In 1937, the Grand was completely remodeled, turning the theater into the most modern, up-to-date theater in Texas, with seating for 850. No expense was spared in making the new Grand Theater one of the most modern, most comfortable and most beautiful theaters in Northeast Texas, The only portion of the building that was not renovated or reconstructed were the original side walls and roof of the old building.
The front was constructed of white stucco decorated with orange, red and maroon porcelain strips. It had a conventional marquee that was trimmed in porcelain and extended over the sidewalk the entire width of the front.
Resting on the marquee was a battleship prow type of attraction board carrying channels for the metal letters used to display current attractions at the theatre.
Directly above it and resting against the front of the building was a huge vertical electric sign spelling the word “GRAND” vertically in individual letters. This special textile sign was modernistic in design and was done in metal and porcelain with the color scheme of maroon, orange and red. It was outlined entirely in neon light.
The inner lobby was reached through a set of rust-colored doors paneled in plate glass with a white metal base strip and hardware of the same color.
The walls on each side of the inner lobby contained glass panel frames of a harmonizing color that carried coming attraction posters.
A mezzanine promenade was reached by stairs at the right front of the foyer. Circular mirrors for decorative purposes, deep cushioned settees and refrigerated drink foundations for the convenience of patrons were found on both the lower floor and mezzanine promenades.
Ladies powder compartments and men’s smokers were located at one end of the mezzanine promenade while the new offices of the manager were located at the opposite end.
The theater was complete with refrigeration, the newest RCA sound, acoustical treatment, and indirect lighting.
The new seats were the special floating comfort streamline-type supplied by the International Seating Corporation. They had special cord upholstery trimmed in light tan with blue-gray standards. This light tan trim enabled patrons to easily spot vacant seats in the subdued lighting of the auditorium. They were staggered for perfect visibility and were comfortably spaced.
The auditorium had an orchestra pit, and the stage was fully equipped for the presentation of stage shows. The dressing rooms were repainted and refurbished in anticipation of live shows.
In 1979, Cineplex Corporation, a theater chain with home offices in Marshall, Texas, purchased the Grand Theater. The Grand was then “twinned” in 1980. The balcony was closed off in order to produce a theater upstairs and down. The downstairs theater retained the approximately 400 seats that were originally in the building. The balcony theater retained only 250 seats.
The lobby was modernized, and the ceiling in the downstairs theater was lowered to improve hearing.
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The rubber turtles float toward the finish line. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)
Kenneth Webb hands over a turtle so someone can look up the number and link it with whoever sponsored it in the race.
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Thousands of green rubber turtles were released Saturday during the Johnny Stallings Memorial Great Paris Turtle Float – an annual fund raiser benefitting the Boys & Girls Club of the Red River Valley.
Each turtle had a number on its bottom, and club officials had a notebook with the names of the person who had bought that particular number.
Winner of the $3,000 first prize was Clay Ambach. Second place and $2,000 went to David Blanton, and third place and $1,000 went to Dick Amis.
Ten $50 “quick pick” winners – the next 10 turtles plucked out of the water at the finish line – were Jerry Bassett, Robbie Morrow, John Wright, Pinky Wilson, Billie Lou Duncan, Mason White, Bruce Hood, Gary Pirtle, Coleman Lewis and Gordon Hogue.
Turtles could be sponsored for $10 each, or a “herd” of 11 for $100, and many of the supporters of the Boys & Girls club bought several herds.
The race honors the memory of Johnny Stallings, who died on Aug. 2, 2008, at the age of 46, from congenital heart disease. He was the son of Gene and Ruth Ann Stallings of Paris.
Johnny was known for his smile and his positive outlook on life. He never forgot the name of anyone he was introduced to, and he showed everyone he met, and even those he didn’t, that someone with Down syndrome or a disability could make a difference.
Both Johnny and his father are members of the Hall of Fame of the Boys & Girls Club of the Red River Valley.
At noon Saturday, on the east side of the Red River Valley Fairgrounds, the turtles were dumped into the south end of a stretch of concrete culvert that was cordoned off for the race.
An air gun was used to help speed the turtles along their journey 200 feet to the north, where officials waited to pull out the first ones to arrive.
Each turtle had a number on its bottom side. At a table underneath a tent nearby, club officials waited with a book containing the names of the people who sponsored turtles in the race.
Henry Shaw, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club, announced the winners.
“We want to thank everyone for coming out to support this. See you again next year,” Shaw said.
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By CHARLES RICHARDS
I dropped by the Paris High School field house this morning and found defensive coordinator Terry Anderson at work.
Because of tonight’s 6:45 p.m. scrimmage with Henderson at Wildcat Stadium, everybody else (except for athletic department secretary Nancy Morgan) had the morning off.
Head coach Barry Bowman’s Wildcats have six returning starters on offense and four returning starters on offense from last year’s squad, which went 9-1 through the regular season before falling in bi-district, 55-17, to Henderson, which advanced to the Class 3A state semifinals before bowing out.
“Coach Bowman, as soon as that playoff game got over with last year, he wanted to scrimmage Henderson, because he knew they weren’t 55-17 better than us. We played badly,” Anderson said.
“Henderson is supposed to be better than they were last year, so it’s going to be a heck of a scrimmage,” Anderson said.
So the Wildcats are jumping right into the flames with their first scrimmage of the season, following two weeks of two-a-days.
“If you want to be a good team, you’ve got to beat good people,” Anderson said.
There’s a different feel this season from a year ago, which was Bowman’s first season with the Wildcats after three seasons at Daingerfield, where he led that team to three straight state championships.
“You look back at where the offense was at this time last year,” Anderson said. “The offense and defense was all new to both the coaches and the kids, and this year we’re so much farther along.”
“Plus, we’ve done practice different. We’ve completely platooned. There’s one, maybe two kids going both ways. Keandre Robinson is the only true crossover we have right now,” he said.
MaxPreps’ Power Ranking has Paris High School at No. 23 among Texas’ Class 3A teams, with a power ranking of 33.3.
The rankings of the other teams in the Wildcats’ district are Atlanta at No. 33 (power ranking of 28.0); Pittsburg at No. 39 (power ranking of 26.5), Liberty-Eylau at No. 45 (power ranking of 25.4), Pleasant Grove at No. 101 (power ranking of 8.0), and North Lamar at No. 103 (power ranking of 7.8).
MaxPreps ranks Henderson at No. 6 among the state’s 3A teams with a power ranking of 49.9. Two of the Wildcats’ non-conference opponents also are ranked high in 3A – Melissa No. 8 with a power ranking of 47.7 and Argyle No. 12 with a power ranking of 42.7.
The Wildcats’ varsity coaching staff has two new faces this season – Rayce (RAY’-cee) Guess and Herb Smith.
They replace Dallas Robertson, who has gone to Athens High School as head baseball coach there, and Rick Porter, now at S&S Consolidated.
Guess comes to Paris High School from Denison, with previous coaching experience at Leonard and Bells. He also was an assistant coach with the Wildcats back in the 90s. Smith was a coach last year at Bogata Rivercrest.
Bowman is coaching the quarterbacks, offensive coordinator Martin Bryant the offensive line, Ryan Hood and Jeremy Beshirs the receivers, and Lonnie Norton the tight ends.
On the defensive side of the ball, Anderson, Smith and Tony Grosso are coaching the linebackers, Augie Berend the defensive line, and Michael Johnson and Guess the secondary.
There are 35 seniors, 12 juniors and 2 sophomores on the 49-member Wildcat varsity for the Henderson scrimmage.
The two sophomores are wide receiver Kadarius Scott and linebacker Jordan Williams.
Gone are the Wildcats’ two leading playmakers from a year ago – quarterback Corban Taylor and wide receiver Tavairus Williams. But the two leading running backs, seniors Quay Scott and Khalid Williams, are back. So are senior receivers Keandre Robinson and Corbin Cary and junior receiver Kenny Mason.
Led by senior linebacker Jamal Black. senior defensive end Sed Ellis, and senior linebacker Raheem Palmore, the Wildcats’ defense can be expected to shine this fall.
Listed at quarterback are seniors Dakota Smith, who is also the team’s punter, and Dakota Flippen, who was at Chisum last season.
Andrew Dunn, a starter at offensive tackle last season, is on offense this season, at tight end.
|1||Smith, Dakota||Senior||P, QB|
|QB’s: Barry Bowman|
|Receivers: Jeremy Beshirs, Ryan Hood|
|Off. Line: Offensive Coordinator Martin Bryant|
|Tight Ends: Lonnie Norton|
|Def. Line: Augie Berend|
|Inside LB: Defensive Coordinator Terry Anderson|
|Linebackers: Tony Grosso|
|Outside LB: Herb Smith|
|Secondary: Michael Johnson, Rayce Guess|
|15||Sanders, Dominick||Senior||D B|
Former city employees, many with 20 to 40 years of service, went before the Paris City Council on Monday night, asking that the council restore annual Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA) that were eliminated four years ago. On the front row, from left, are former city attorney Terry K. Haynes, Tommy Haynes, former police chief Charles Whitley, and Maralene Rose. Rising from the second row to make her way to the podium is Deanna Manning, former water billing secretary. (eParisExtra photo by Charles Richards)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Retired employees of the City of Paris made a plea for more money at Monday’s meeting of the Paris City Council meeting to ask that the council reinstate Cost-Of-Living Adjustments (COLA) for them.
Wednesday, at 5 p.m., in a special meeting of the council, city manager John Godwin will formally present his budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
He has indicated there will be more money for the infrastructure, streets, city clean-up and demolition of dilapidated houses, but has not addressed the issue of benefits — for either current or retired personnel.
Maralene Rose, who said she worked 40 years in the city’s finance department, prefaced her comments during citizens’ forum at the start of Monday’s council meeting by asking: “Would all the retirees who are here stand at this time, please?”
Council members’ heads pivoted to the left as retirees rose from three rows of seats. At Ms. Rose’s nod, they sat again.
“We are here respectively asking for the reinstatement of Cost-Of-Living Adjustments for the retirees under the Texas Municipal Retirement System,” she said.
“Prior to 2005, the COLA was automatic each year. And then the city adopted the one-time COLA from 2005 to 2008. The COLA was discontinued in 2008,” she continued.
“Two years ago, the city contribution rate for the current employees of the Texas Municipal Retirement System was decreased more than 35 percent, and still there was no consideration at that time for reinstating the COLA,” Ms. Rose said.
Because of the savings to the city, “we, the retirees, feel we have contributed to the purchase of a fire truck, to the downtown sidewalk project, and to the expansion of the Trail de Paris, she said.
“While being overlooked, we are paying water and sewer charges that have been increased three times during this period. Please do the right thing and reinstate the Cost-Of-Living Adjustment for TMRS retirees in this upcoming budget,” she concluded.
And then, in turn, nine others got up and walked to the podium to add an exclamation point.
“Charles Whitley (former police chief). I worked for the city 29 years. Retired in 1990. Living on a fixed income is very difficult.”
“Tommy Haynes, I retired in March 2004. No one has received a COLA since 2008.”
“Terry K. Haynes (former city attorney). Employed in the city legal department for more than 30 years.”
“Deanna Manning. Employed 29 ½ years in the water billing office.”
“Stephen Holmes. Retired from 26 years at the police department. A lot of us dedicated our lives to the city. Our health insurance got cut. Would like you to at least reinstate the COLA?”
“Marlene Hutchings. Worked for the city for 25 years in the water billing office. Everything has gone up, and I think we deserve a raise.”
“Wanda Tharp. I worked 23 years in the water billing office.”
“James Wright. I retired in 1997, worked at the water treatment plant for 23 years. We did our best to keep clean, clear drinking water for the city. Things have gone up. Costs have skyrocketed over the last 15 years.”
“Joe Julian. I spent 30 years in the police department. Restore the COLA, please.”
Mayor AJ Hashmi has asked Godwin to schedule several council workshops on the budget.
At least one public hearing will be required for public input to Godwin’s initial proposal, and one or more additional public hearings — publicized ahead of time — must follow if changes are made.
By charter, the council must adopt the budget by Sept. 27, or the manager‘s initial recommendations will automatically become the budget.
County commissioners on Monday signaled they will raise taxes by 8 percent in their 2012-2013 budget. That’s the maximum without triggering an election at which voters could roll back the rate.
Godwin said last week he will not propose an increase in city taxes. Because significant long-term debt was paid off recently, he said, there will be room to provide a number of new services without raising the city tax rate, he said.
But members of the council have been saying they not only want no increase, but would like the tax rate reduced in each of the next several years, without a loss in essential city services.
That could happen, they say, by improved efficiency and productivity and by a more optimistic approach to expected revenues and expenditures.
Historically, budget officers tend to over-estimate expenses and under-estimate revenues to assure ending the year in the black. That has led to reserves of more than $20 million in the City of Paris coffers.
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By CHARLES RICHARDS
Earlier this week, Ranger Abbott got what he has been seeking for more than two years – a hearing before the Paris City Council to ask that he be allowed to expand a mobile home and travel trailer park he owns about one-fourth mile west of Loop 286 off U.S. Highway 82.
In 2008, he became interested in buying the 7.7-acre property at 125 41st St. SW from Barney Bray. At the time, he was 28 and still single. He lived in an apartment, and the biggest thing he’d ever bought had been his car.
“I saw the opportunity to make an investment. I saw an opportunity to make an improvement, and I saw a business opportunity. It was the biggest investment I had ever looked at in my entire life,” Abbott told the council Monday night.
Prior to its annexation into the city, about 60 percent of the property was used as a mobile home and travel trailer park. The rest, which was heavily wooded, was vacant.
Abbott envisioned expanding the mobile home park by clearing away the trees and buying 20 more mobile homes to be located in the unused 40 percent of the tract.
The property was zoned commercial when it was annexed, but the tract had been given non-conforming use status as long as it continued to be used as a mobile home park.
Abbott said he went to then-city manager Kevin Carruth in the spring of 2008 with his plan to buy the property and expand the mobile home park to encompass the full 7.7 acres.
“I asked for his help in trying to resolve some of our concerns, so we could move forward, or not. If we couldn’t get it resolved, then we weren’t going to move forward,” he said.
After several weeks of conferring with other city officials, Carruth wrote him, saying that “as long as the property continues to be used as a mobile home park, the non-conforming use will be allowed.”
And so, upon Carruth’s assurances, said Abbott’s attorney, Mark How of Dallas, Abbott “bought the property, which was in some disrepair, and basically cleaned it up.”
Abbott hauled out three mobile homes that had burned, and in short, he increased the property from an eyesore that was valued at about $39,000 at that time, and the property is now on the tax rolls for well over $100,000, the attorney said.
In the spring of 2010, Abbott sent a preliminary plat to the city’s department of community development, detailing the proposed locations of roadways, driveways, trailer pads and utilities.
Abbott said he received a letter dated May 20, 2010, informing him that the non-conforming use zoning was good only for the part of the tract that was already being used as a mobile home park.
If he wanted to expand the mobile home park, the letter said, he would have to get the property rezoned to single family dwelling.
On July 22, 2010, raising claims of breach of contract, regulatory taking without just compensation, violations of due process and the equial protection clause and the Texas Tort Claims Act, Abbott sued the city in 62nd State District Court in Lamar County.
Visiting State District Judge John McClellan Marshall of Dallas ruled in Abbott’s favor, but in November 2011, the 6th state court of appeals in Texarkana overturned the trial court’s judgment and dismissed Abbott’s claims.
How told the council the appellate court did not say Abbott was wrong, “they just said he was too early” because he should have first exhausted all the administrative remedies available to him by by appealing the rejection of his building permit to the city’s Board of Adjustment.
“Shame on us for not knowing,” How told the council. No one advised Abbott that the Board of Adjustment was an avenue of appeal. Instead, How said, Abbott tried to take his complaint to the city council – twice. Abbott asked Carruth on June 21, 2010, and again on July 1, 2010, for a spot on the council agenda, and Carruth turned him down both times.
As a result of the appeals court ruling, Abbott started all over two months ago and went back to the City of Paris’ community development department.
On June 19, Abbott submitted an application to extend his property’s non-conforming use for the full 7.7 acres on his property. Assistant building official Jeanna Scott refused to file it, saying it had to be submitted on a city promulgated form.
On June 25, 2012, Abbott attempted to file with community development officials an appeal to the Board of Adjustment the city’s denial of his application six days earlier.
Scott refused to file the appeal, the attorney said. Shawn Napier, the city’s director of engineering for planning and development, also told Abbott he would not be allowed to appeal to the Board of Adjustment, the attorney said.
“I question by what authority do Scott and Napier have the power to summarily, and without consultation with the appointed board members, deny the right to even file an appeal to the Board of Adjustment. Should not the board decide the issue?” How said.
“I think if we have to file this lawsuit again, somebody is going to have to answer to the district judge, and someone is eventually going to have to answer to the Court of Appeals and explain why it is that the city told the court of appeals that we have administrative remedies with the Board of Adjustment, and they wouldn’t even file it when we made the application,” How told the council.
“Mr. Abbott has incurred substantial sums of money” as a consequence of relying upon Carruth’s assurance in 2008 that he could proceed with his plans to acquire and develop the mobile home park. This young man has taken a pretty good financial hit,” How told the council. “He has paid over $100,000 in attorney fees trying to get this thing resolved, he bought 20 mobile homes – you probably saw a bunch of them parked out by the county dirt air strip off U.S. 82,” the attorney said.
“He basically had to buy them, transport them, which is not inexpensive when you’re dealing with big mobile homes. Then he ended up storing them – more money. He ended up liquidating them – more money. And basically, he right now has 40 percent of his land that he cannot use. More important, he has basically lost about $300,000 in rental income, dating back to then.”
Abbott thanked the council for allowing him on the agenda.
“We have tried many times to get here, and it’s kind of a big relief to get here,” he said.
He asked if anyone on the council had any questions, but Mayor AJ Hashmi cut him off, saying the agenda item was posted only as a presentation from Abbott to the council.
Hashmi said later that because of the lawsuit, the city attorney had advised the council not to make any comment.
Abbott said he has been asked, “Why do you want to do business with these people? Why do you keep trying?’
“I want to do it because I now see hope,” he said. “I see a city manager who appears is trying to get things straight. I see a mayor who cares about things. I see a new city council. And I pray that you do the right thing, and let’s settle this. Let’s put this behind us and move on.”
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