- Paris Flash
- Real Estate
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Should city council members travel to conferences at taxpayers’ expense?
That was an underlying issue of the 4-3 vote by which the Paris City Council on May 23 refused to provide $7,500 of the cost to contract with a Seattle company to provide a diversity training program for the city.
District 6 councilman Edwin Pickle was making a pitch for the council to approve $7,500 as a one-eighth share, along with county commissioners, toward a $59,900 contract for a Seattle company that was selected to develop the program.
That wasn’t a big deal in itself — $7,500 out of a $25 million annual budget. The North East Texas Workforce Development Board had already committed for $15,000 and the Paris Economic Development Corporation for the final $30,000 (provided the city and county bought in).
But it’s an unbudgeted expense, and things started to unravel when District 7 councilwoman Rhonda Rogers asked where the money would come from.
“The easiest way to do it is to split it between this year and next year, and I would ask the council to step forward and make a sacrifice, and since we have spent about half of our city travel budget this year, I’d ask if we do any more traveling that it come out of our own pocket,” said Pickle, who has always paid for his expenses on trips he makes on city business.
Pickle suggested taking $3,750 out of the $7,000 travel allowance for this fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30, 2011), plus another $3,750 out of the $7,000 that presumably would be approved for council travel in the next fiscal year.
“I would disagree with that,” Rogers said.
“Each year, we have workshops for newly elected council members, usually in Austin and sometimes in the Dallas area, and I think it’s very advantageous to go to, and it would be a good idea to go. I think people should go and get educated on how to do this job,” she said.
“I don’t object to the amount. I’m not against the money. I just think we need to find somewhere else in the budget to fund it,” Rogers said.
District 1 councilman Joe McCarthy said: “I’m going to go along with Ms. Rogers. I disagree with (taking the $7,500 out of the travel allowance), because at the money I’m earning right now I can’t afford to go to the functions that we all need to attend. Y’all don’t pay me enough.”
City council members receive no pay.
Pickle, who has traveled at his own expense to different functions, said there would be enough “for half the council to use it and half the council not to use it.”
Newly elected District 5 councilman Matt Frierson asked: “Is this what it’s goping to take to get the ball rolling (on the diversity training)?”
“Yes,” Pickle replied.
“So, bottom line, we’ve got money sitting there, is it a matter of me saying I would be glad to pay for my hotel room at the conference I go to? I’d be glad to,” Frierson said. “I think this is a very, very important issue to the community, and if we’re going to do it, I’m for it.”
Rogers then picked up on District 2 councilman Jason Rogers’ reluctance to pay anything until the PEDC members or director could come before the council to explain why the contract went to Executive Diversity Services when another company was rated higher by community leaders.
“Is this going to be supported by the community, is my point,” Rhonda Rogers said.
“It came down to dollars and cents. And when you’re talking about a bid (by EDS) that was $30,000 lower than the next bid (by a company owned by Jason Rogers’ father), it was the way to go,” Pickle said.
Jason Rogers didn’t comment on the council’s travel budget except to confirm that his travel expenses had already been budgeted for a conference in Washington, D.C., that he was scheduled to leave for on Thursday (June 2).
Pickle’s motion for the council to pay $7,500 toward the diversity training program included the stipulation that the money come out of what had been budgeted for travel.
After Frierson’s second, there was only one other “aye” – by District 3 councilman John Wright. Voting “no” were McCarthy, Rhonda Rogers, Jason Rogers and newly elected District 4 councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle.
Rhonda Rogers then made a motion to table the subject until a later meeting when PEDC officials could be brought in to weigh in on the selection process.
That motion passed unanimously, although the last three hands popped up one by one, with hesitation.
“This is already a done deal, right?” Grossnickle asked.
“No, it is not,” Pickle said. Only the $15,000 put up by Workforce Solutions is a done deal. The PEDC voted to join in, he said, but only if the city and county “got some skin in the game.”
During Tony Williams’ tenure as city manager in 2005-2006, as the council was cutting employees in a cost-slashing move, the council did away with some car allowances and eliminated council travel allowance from the budget.
At the urging of acting city manager Ernie Clark, perks were added back into the budget in 2007 and retained after Kevin Carruth was hired that summer as the city manager.
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Dr. AJ Hashmi and Rhonda Rogers listen as Kenneth Kohls spoke to potential voters at an April 28 political forum in the district courtroom sponsored by the Lamar County Republicans. In the May 14, 2011, primary for the District 7 seat on the Paris City Council, Hashmi finished first with 42 percent of the votes to 35 percent for Rogers and 23 percent for Kohls. (Photo by Charles Richards, eParisExtra.com)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Early voting begins Monday in the runoff election for the District 7 seat on the Paris City Council.
Dr. AJ Hashmi and incumbent Rhonda Rogers will be the only item on the ballot. A runoff was required because no one got a majority of the votes in a three-way primary between those two and Kenneth Kohls. Hashmi got 42 percent, Rogers 35 percent and Kohls 23 percent. Earlier this week, Kohls threw his support to Hashmi.
Only registered voters in District 7 can vote, but it’s open to all of them, regardless of whether they voted in the May 14 primary.
County elections administrator Russ Towers, who again is in charge of the city election, said extended voting hours will be in place on Monday and Tuesday, the same as last month.
Registered voters of District 7 can go to the old post office in the 200 block of Lamar Avenue from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. both Monday and Tuesday. After that — on Wednesday through Friday of next week and again on Monday and Tuesday of the following week — the polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On Saturday, June 18, voters will go to Ramseur Baptist Church to vote.
Again, as last time, eParisExtra.com will have a daily report on how many have voted, beginning Monday and continuing through the end.
Hey, it appears Paris is not the only city where there is disagreement among city council members.
According to Friday’s edition of The Dallas Morning News, a Thursday meeting of the city council in Argyle, 30 miles north of Fort Worth, was called to clarify what new mayor Matt Smith can and cannot do.
In a prepared statement, mayor pro-tem Bonny Haynes said said Smith exceeded his authority by demanding various town records for review and by requesting an office at Town Hall to meet with constituents.
“By the end of this meeting, my hope is that we all understand your authority and that there is a process for everything we do, and that the council as a whole gives the policy and direction of the town, not any one of us individually,” she said.
The new mayor says in able to be an effective mayor, he needs to be able to review town documents. He says it’s also important that he be accessible to residents.
The mayor pro-tem said she was offended by Smith’s charges during his campaign that the council was “corrupt.”
The new mayor said while his predecessors may have had a more hands-off approach to the mayor’s job that’s just not his style.
Residents packed the meeting and howled and whistled as various council members clashed with the new mayor.
It was a tough crowd. They even booed when the mayor and mayor pro-tem shook hands at the end of the meeting.
The mayor pro-tem said after the meeting that the purpose of the meeting was simply to educate Smith and the public about his role, not to strip him of any powers, but she said she doesn’t believe the mayor “gets it.”
“I don’t think we moved forward. I hope we didn’t move back,” she said.
Meanwhile, a runoff election in Dallas for mayor between former police chief David Kunkle and businessman Mike Rawlings has grown testy.
In response to a question at a forum about whether Dallas needs a new city manager, Kunkle said the problem is not in the city manager’s office but on the council itself.
“The City Council typically is represented by 13 to 14 people who vote in lockstep and don’t question the traditional pro-business views on the council. If there is a member who questions, they tend to be ostracized,” Kunkle said.
The role of business in the city has become a major theme of the campaign.
Kunkle says business and government function in fundamentally different ways.
“In business, you get as much capital and resources as you can, and you direct it at a relatively small, narrow problem,” the ex-police chief says.
Government doesn’t and shouldn’t work that way, he said.
“Everybody is essentially a customer and owns the organization,” Kunkle said.
He added that government must be open and transparent, and business frequently doesn’t operate that way.
Rawlings fired back at that.
“Business is the lungs of this civic body. We bring in oxygen, dollar bills. Chief doesn’t even understand basic business principles. You take as little capital as possible and make as many people happy as you can. It worries me that we might elect a mayor that doesn’t even understand that,” Rawlings said.
Kunkle has expressed opposition to big-city incentives for corporate relocation.
Kunkle said he isn’t opposed to incentives, but that they often don’t create the jobs or benefits pledged to the city.
Rawlings said that’s why the city needs a tested businessman to get good deals vs. bad deals.
Kunkle said the city has fared better with its modest investments. He cited what he called the failure of the massive Ross Perot Jr. development at Victory Park.
Rawlings countered: “People said we shouldn’t help rich people out. Rich people are investing a lot of their capital. It was a good investment for the city of Dallas.”
Whether in Argyle … or in Dallas … or in Paris, the politics has a similar ring to it.
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Sanitation Solutions’ construction of a landfill southeast of Blossom last October continues to pay dividends to the City of Paris.
According to figures released Wednesday of the city’s landfill use for the month of May, the city owes $10,692 for the 99 loads of trash taken to the landfill in May. The bill under the city’s old contract with Waste Management would have been $20,770.20.
The city’s landfill costs are about half what they were when Waste Management had the only landfill in the area, and the city was paying $10.49 per cubic yard ($209.80 per 20-yard load).
The city requested bids on a new contract, which Sanitation Solutions won (beginning in January 2011) with a bid of $5.40 per cubic yard ($108 per load) vs. Waste Management’s new bid of $6.23 per cubic yard ($124.60 per load).
During the month of May, City of Paris garbage trucks took 99 loads of trash to the Sanitation Solutions landfill at a cost of $10,692. Under the old rate, the city would have owed $20,770.20.
The city took 91 loads to the Sanitation Solutions landfill in January, 90 in February, 132 in March, 108 in April and 99 in May. That’s an average of 104 loads a month at a savings of $101.80 per load.
That’s an average monthly savings of $10,587.20 and a projected 12-month savings of $127,046.40.
By CHARLES RICHARDS
Kenneth Kohls, who finished third in the May 14 city election for the District 7 Paris City Council race, today endorsed Dr. AJ Hashmi for the Paris cardiologist’s June 18 runoff election against incumbent Rhonda Rogers.
“After considerable thought, I have decided that Dr. AJ Hashmi would be the best person to represent our district on the city council,” Kohls said in a statement released about 9:30 a.m.
“He has the desire and the ideas to help the city and the community to become a better place. I want to ask not only my supporters but all voters in Distric t 7 to consider Dr. Hashmi when they vote in the runoff election,” Kohls added.
“Obviously this is a great encouragement to me that Mr. Kohls is supporting me, and I greatly appreciate it,” Hashmi said of the announcement.
“It is very good news. I can’t thank Mr. Kohls and his family enough for his support. It gives me great pleasure.”
He added: “Now I will continue to campaign, and the enthusiasm of my campaign will not slow down. I will continue to walk the streets and visit the residents of the community.”
Early voting begins Monday.
Hashmi received 283 votes (41.2 percent), Rogers received 242 votes (35.2 percent) and Kohls received 162 votes (23.6 percent) in the May 14 primary.
Kohls had confirmed Monday night to eParisExtra.com that both Hashmi and Rogers had asked for his support.
“I’ve been approached by both candidates, and I’m in the process of making my decision,” Kohls said Monday night, indicating he would have a statement soon.
Kohls indicated that last week’s conflict on the city council influenced his decision.
“During my campaign, I said my objective was to do what is best for the city of Paris. As I walked the neighborhoods, I heard numerous times that the council was dysfunctional, there was conflict and decisions were not being made,” Kohls said.
Last week, it was clear ”the same old problems” have not gone away, he said. “There was conflict that resulted in no action. In studying the election returns for District 7, I realized that 65 percent of the voters voted to replace the incumbent.”
Hashmi welcomed Kohls’ endorsement and said he looks forward to working with him in the future.
“I would appreciate his comments and contributions for the betterment of the city of Paris,” Hashmi said.
Kohls, 66, and his wife, Barbara Hagood Kohls, live at 3935 Brandyn Place in the Morningside Addition. He came into the race with positive name identification as the former part owner of Office Equipment Center from 1985 to 2008.
Kohls served on the Paris City Council from 1980 to 1982.
“It’s just one of those things where I enjoyed it before, and now that I’m no longer associated with the business that I used to own, I can run for City Council again,” Kohls said in early March when he threw his hat into the ring.
He said he had desired for a long time to run for the council again but was unable to because “I did business with the city, and it would have been a conflict of interest for me to be on the council.”
Early on, Kohls said: “I’m not running against Rhonda. I’m not running against Dr. Hashmi. … I’ve got a different perspective now than I did when I first ran for the council. I know a lot of people from being in business here for 25 years.”
One of Kohls’ goals, had he been elected to the council, was to help unify the council and stop the in-fighting.
“I was taught in the military, and even in the private sector, that you voiced your opinion if you believed in something, to the point of a decision. But once that decision is made, you support that decision,” Kohls said in an early interview.
“I think we’ve forgotten that sometimes. Instead of fighting everything, once a decision is made, that should be the policy, and let’s support that policy,” Kohls said.
Kohls now sits on the city’s traffic commission.
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By CHARLES RICHARDS
The same paragraph in the City of Paris’ code of ethics that prohibits councilman Edwin Pickle from doing the city’s printing business is the same one that prohibits a company owned by councilman Jason Rogers’ father from contracting with the city.
Section 2-303, “Standards of Conduct,” of Ordinance 2010-018, enacted on May 10, 2010, says:
“No city officer, employee or advisory board member, or their spouses, shall knowingly … engage in any exchange, purchase or sale of property, goods or services with the city.”
Among those that the code includes in its definition of an officer is “any member of the City Council.”
The code of ethics is clear: the city cannot do business with a city councilman who has a “substantial interest” in that business.
Jason Rogers is a member of the board of directors for “The Right Talent,” which was one of three companies seeking to provide diversity training for small businesses in Paris.
The company is owned and was founded by Jason Rogers’ father, the Rev. Kenneth Rogers, pastor of St. Paul Baptist Church in Paris. Jason Rogers contends the code of ethics does not apply because he has no financial interest in “The Right Talent” and would not benefit financially from a contract awarded to it.
Two different paragraphs in the city’s ethics code make it clear that Jason Rogers is a person with “substantial interest” in the company.
Section 171.002(2)c of the Texas Local Government Code says: “A local public official is considered to have a substantial interest … if a person related to the official in the first degree by consanguinity or affinity … has a substantial interest under this section.”
Section 573.023 and Section 573.024 of the Texas Government Code define consanguinity and affinity.
A person is related by the first degree of consanguinity to his/her parent or child. A person is related by the first degree of affinity to his/her spouse and to the spouse’s parent or child.
Edwin Pickle clearly has a substantial interest in Kwik Kopy Printing, which he owns. Under Texas law, the company would still be prohibited from doing business with the city if the company were owned by his wife, his son or his wife’s parents.
To look at the city’s ethics code (Ordinance 2010-018) in its entirety, go to the city’s website, www.paristexas.gov and click on CITY COUNCIL and then on “Code of Conduct for Council, Employees, Boards, Commissions, Committees”
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