CASTLE HILLS — The City Council spent a divisive and chaotic December trying to resolve ongoing disagreements concerning the city’s staffing needs.
City leaders have also been setting priorities for needed road repairs.
During two separate council meetings last month, city officials lifted a hiring freeze and approved filling the vacant finance director position. However, on Dec. 19, Fire Chief Darrell Dover — a 20-year municipal veteran, with one year as chief — stepped down to take the same job in Shavano Park.
According to reports, his resignation marked the fourth in a two-week period.
The council also approved hiring a full-time permit clerk and a full-time administrative assistant finance clerk. Those two slots were unfilled positions that had been abolished by council in a cost-cutting measure back in October.
“I did not recommend that the (permit clerk and administrative assistant finance clerk) positions to be removed in October,” said City Manager Ryan Rapelye during a special meeting Dec. 17. “I am saying as city manager, these are warranted positions, the workload is there and they need to be budgeted positions.”
The administrative assistant finance clerk is budgeted for six months at a salary of $28,604. The permit clerk is budgeted for nine months at $39,458. An agenda item to extend the assistant finance clerk position to nine months (Sept. 30, 2019) failed by a 3-2 vote, with Alderwoman Lesley Wenger and Aldermen Clyde “Skip” McCormick and Douglas Gregory voting no.
McCormick and Gregory both said they felt it was best to hire a full-time finance director before deciding whether to extend the assistant finance clerk position to nine months.
“When we have a full-time permanent finance officer — that person is best equipped to advise us on whether he or she needs an assistant to do this job, so for the time being, I see no reason to make a change to this,” McCormick said.
In the last several months, five positions in the city administration have become vacant, including the permit clerk, as well as the city administrative assistant and the contracted consultant who had served as interim finance director.
Wenger had said job cuts were necessary to supplement funding options for street and drainage improvements.
Alderwoman Amy McLin lamented what she considers poor treatment of city staff by some of her fellow council members.
“There is such a disregard for our employees and lack of consideration for the fact that turnover of employees is such a huge expense to the city that it ends up eating away the money that you want to use for these streets in the long run,” McLin said during the Dec. 17 session.
The Dec. 17 special meeting also included several heated exchanges between council members and city staff. The emotional topic of layoffs, staff resignations and hiring new employees drew emotional responses from Mayor Tim Howell, McCormick, Rapelye and Wenger.
After one such exchange, McCormick offered, “Mr. Mayor I would like to apologize for my outburst and I extend my apologies to the audience as well.”
Howell replied, “I would like to apologize, too. This is an emotional topic that is close to my heart.”
Howell also gave Wenger two “verbal utterance” warnings during the meeting for what he perceived to be talking out of turn.
“Three and you are out of here,” Howell told Wenger.
During a Dec. 11 council meeting, resident Brother William Dooling spoke in favor of ending the hiring freeze and defended Rapelye.
“(Ryan Rapelye) is the manager, you don’t tell him how to hire,” Dooling said. “The manager does not need to be micromanaged by the council.”
During the last few months, neighbors have spoken in favor of Rapelye during council sessions in which a performance review of the manager was contemplated.
The council has moved the review to February. Rapelye is the fifth city manager since 2013.
During the Dec. 11 session, the council also unanimously approved advertising for bids for the reconstruction of Antler Drive and Honeysuckle Lane as Phase III of the Street Program.
The leaders also approved authorized paying RPS Infrastructure Inc. $31,595 to proceed with design, bid and construction phase services related to which streets will receive a seal coat as part of the five-year Capital Improvements Plan-Phase 1.
The vote passed 4-1, with Wenger dissenting.
Wenger said she has spoken to residents who complained the Reclamite program — a process for restoring or preserving asphalt — undertaken by the city in 2014 was a waste of money, and seal-coating would also be throwing away funds.
“I heard from residents who complained that the Reclamite process did nothing to improve city streets,” Wenger said.