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Martindale eyes fiscal recovery options

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

Floundering after what some call “financial mismanagement” on the part of the former City Administrator, the City of Martindale is struggling to find solid financial footing in the face of back-to-back disasters last year.

To assist in that effort, the Martindale City Council met on Tuesday eve

ning for a workshop to discuss, in particular, the issue of hiring another City Administrator, and how a contract with such an employee should look.

“We want to make sure that the City Administrator, when we hire one, can’t run amok without the approval of Council,” Mayor Randy Bunker said, leading off the conversation which he described as a “workshop.” He assured the public that the Council did not have an intention of hiring a City Administrator at this time, but wanted to be ready for such a hire, as the time became appropriate.

Bunker cited concerns about the former City Administrator, who he said “ran through $180,000, and took $200,000 in debt” without the approval of the council. That spending, he said, left the City of Martindale vulnerable and on the brink of bankruptcy, with nothing in reserves to help the community when the back-to-back Memorial Day and Halloween floods hit.

“I think we’ve been living beyond our means the last few years,” Bunker said. “We need to make sure that we’re living within our means.”

District Two Councilmember David Aguilar noted that under the City’s original incorporation, the residents of Martindale were able to petition the Council to hold a special election to determine whether they would hire a City Administrator, but that such an action is not required to trigger the hiring process.

At present, based on the City’s financial troubles, the Council has opted not to fill the City Administrator position, and those duties are being shared by Bunker, Mayor Pro Tem Ernest Painter, and the other members of the Council.

Councilmember Lisa Shell Allan, who sat on the Council when the City originally created the Administrator position in via a 2009 ordinance, attempted several times to explain to Aguilar and the public why the decision was made to create the position; Aguilar initially repeatedly interrupted her with his concerns that the process was not legal.

“We were looking at the notion of being gobbled up by San Marcos,” she was finally able to explain. “… [we decided] we needed controlled growth, and the Council began to look at the totality of the situation. We realized that we needed someone with expertise, not only in business, but with managing a City.”

Shell Allen noted the initial rules governing the City Administrator prevented the Administrator, even with mayoral approval from spending more than $500 without the approval of Council. At some time over the years, that changed.

No one is sure when or why.

“[The former City Administrator] told me to stay out of city business,” Bunker said. “I ran for Mayor to [be a liaison] between the City Administrator and the Council, and he told me that my only job was to run these meetings.”

After some discussion about past activities, members of the public, including former Martindale Mayor Loraine Harrison, asked the Council to stop dwelling on past mistakes, and look toward the future and how to fix the problems.

“That’s something this Council has never done, and something we have to do,” Aguilar said. “Prior councils have spent money on [staff], but if you look out there, you look at the roads and you look at the drive into Downtown Martindale… We want people to come and we have the River, but why didn’t you do anything to ‘better that view?’”

Former Councilmember Les Harrison reminded Aguilar that the property fronting the San Marcos River is all private property, and that Martindale councils have always struggled with lagging finances.

“When we get right with our finances, it’s going to be easy to hire a City Administrator,” Aguilar said. “Right now, there are two subdivisions across the highway, and those are the only things that are helping this community survive.”

Turning back to the issue at hand, the potential hiring of a City Administrator, Bunker said he was grateful for the assistance of his colleagues. He did not run for Mayor to be a City Administrator, he said, and believed he could not manage the challenges, along with his business, without the assistance of the rest of the council.

“So for right now, we have people sharing this job for free,” he said. “And when the time is right, then we can come back and talk about hiring an Administrator. Right now, we can’t afford one, but when the time comes, we want to make sure that the employment contract has been updated, and we want to make sure that whoever we hire is accountable to the council.”

The council, apart from Painter, who was absent from the meeting, agreed to go forward to reviewing the existing City Administrator contract, and may address the issue of hiring as early as next fiscal year.

The Martindale City Council routinely meets at Martindale City Hall/The Martindale Library, on the first and third Tuesday of each month. They will, however, host a special Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, May 24, at 7 p.m. at Three Rivers Church (103 Main St.) to hear questions and concerns from the public about keeping the community safe, thriving and growing.


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