Approves grant for new fire truck
ATHENS–Athens Mayor Monte Montgomery sought to dispel rumors about the council’s relationship with Athens Economic Development Corporation (EDC) at the May 28 meeting. Mayor Montgomery said he was aware of chatter on social media and he had received phone calls asking, “Why is the city taking control of the EDC?” and had been told the city is smearing the EDC.
The mayor began his discussion with the history. Councilmember Robert Gross had requested information from the EDC and the information brought back was not what he requested. The item dragged on through several meetings with the EDC feeling it wasn’t able to provide what the councilman requested. The information was finally given according to the mayor after a freedom of information act request was made.
The council also asked to review the director’s contract. Upon the review, the council discovered the director’s contract contained a one-year severance package with cause and one-month without. The financial obligation for the severance package falls on the city and thus the citizens, the mayor explained and as such, the item should have been approved by council.
The severance package had been in place with the current director and the previous one, Montgomery said, “But two wrongs don’t make a right. We voted against the severance package 4-1 in the contract.” The Mayor added that as it stands, the director has a contract between the board and her, but the city does not recognize that contract because of the obligation of the severance package.
The other issue lies with EDC board members living outside the city. The rules require not more than three members live outside the city limits. One of the members began their term living within the city and moved outside. Since Mr. Barret resigned, there is a vacancy on the board and by the numbers, this one must reside within the city limits. Montgomery brought up that per the charter, a city councilperson may be appointed to the board and to his knowledge, this had never been done.
Montgomery said that he was not aware of any communication either in print or by social media that was done by the city to smear the EDC and added, “Everything this council did was within its right. The city council is already over the EDC funds. It’s always been that way.”
The mayor also said that the council had voted that after Lisa Denton’s term ends, the next EDC Director would work for the city because of the issues of the contract.
Councilman Robert Gross said that the EDC had done a great job on retention, but he felt that money spent on marketing and salaries, with one company brought in over the last five years it may not “be the biggest bang for the buck.” Gross and Montgomery said Athens is a tough sell to businesses due to not being on a major route, etc.
Nominees for the vacant board position may be expected in the next council meeting. Councilman Ed McCain said he would like to see the city move to where all board members reside within the city, saying, “I trust the citizens of Athens to make the best decisions spending the money.” Councilwoman Toni Clay said she finds value in having a member outside the city.
The council approved the submission of a Texas Community Development Block Grant Application to the Texas Department of Agriculture for the Fire, Ambulance and Service Truck fund. Mark Traylor of Traylor and Associates whose firm has been hired to represent the city in seeking these funds, told the council the amount is $500,000 with a required match from the city of $5,000 and that this is the first year this grant has been offered.
This is the second grant the city has applied for to help update the Athens Fire Department equipment. If successful, this grant would replace Engine 3, a 1995 model in reserve right now with a four-wheel drive fire truck capable of use in rural and urban areas, giving the department better access to fires in rural setting.
In other business, council members:
• approved a proclamation making June 19 Juneteenth Emancipation Celebration Day in advance of the Annual Black Rodeo to be held the weekend of June 7-8. The Rodeo will be a two-day event this year with bounce houses for the children and an ATV ride that Friday from Disciples Crossing Church to the Henderson County Fair Park Complex where the rodeo events will take place.
• approved several zoning changes.