Tensions run high at special meeting to discuss Voelkel/Baroody accusations

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Live blog of this morning’s council workshop.

Tempers flared on Tuesday morning during a special meeting of City Council that was scheduled to address concerns raised by Councilmembers Voelkel and Baroody about several topics related to codes, platting, and enforcement. The workshop, which lasted approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes, was held in council chambers and broadcast live on the city’s public video channels. The meeting began with reports from city staff, and was followed by questions and discussion from council members, during which time it quickly devolved into finger-pointing, accusations, and hot tempers on the part of Voelkel and Baroody, and to some degree, on the part of staff members.

Mayor Bill Blackburn officiated the meeting, and several times had to interrupt to move discussions forward when they seemed to reach an impasse, such as when Voelkel defended his family surveying business’s platting services and pushed blame onto former City Manager Todd Parton. During that exchange, City Attorney Mike Hayes reminded the council that he has spent several hours on that one issue alone, but he has not been able to make headway with the council members. Blackburn interrupted to move past this point of contention, noting that it’s an issue that has been discussed for months prior, but that likely wouldn’t be resolved today.

Voelkel raised several other issues, and repeatedly badgered staff about whether or not City Hall has “access” to Highways 16 and 27. Deputy City Manager EA Hoppe repeatedly stated that yes, City Hall does have access to the two highways. Whether or not TxDOT would permit additional driveways was another matter. Voelkel continued to question staff’s responses.

Voelkel also questioned the markings and signage for fire lanes at various properties throughout the city, including at Peterson Plaza, River Trail Cottages, and other unnamed projects. He said he just wanted all parties to be treated equally under the law.

When it was Baroody’s turn to ask questions, he initially requested to be skipped saying, “I need to compose myself.” After a short recess, Baroody began a 20-minute discussion (dominated by monologues) in which he accused staff of “making excuses” and not offering solutions. Councilperson Judy Eychner interrupted Baroody during this portion, encouraging him to move on to his questions rather than spend staff’s time on rehashing his numerous complaints. Mayor Blackburn waived Baroody’s time limit and encouraged him to ask all questions he (Baroody) felt were important.

One of Baroody’s first questions had to do with the distinction between boarding homes versus apartment complexes. Director of Development Services Drew Paxton explained the rules and the differences, as defined. Baroody continued to fire questions at Paxton and further questioned the staff’s interpretation of the ordinances. Baroody attempted to slam the door shut after he concluded that staff was wrong and he was right. Paxton and Hayes attempted to correct Baroody’s incorrect assertions, but Baroody preferred to move on to other matters rather then listen to their response to his accusations.

Baroody went on to berate the city staff for the actions of the Planning and Zoning Commission regarding variances. He accused staff of not doing a good enough job of explaining the laws to the volunteer board members. During this portion of Baroody’s monologue, Eychner and Sigerman interrupted Baroody again to find out if he had any questions for the staff, or if he was just continuing to offer his opinions once again. Baroody moved on to another topic without asking any questions of staff on this matter.

Next, Councilmember Baroody moved on to the Chamber of Commerce electronic sign issue. Baroody criticized the Kerrville Daily Times newspaper article and cast aspersions on the city’s report, accusing staff of mis-characterizing the issues regarding the sign. City Manager Mark McDaniel seemed exasperated, stating that he’d already answered these questions many times, but attempted to do so again. Baroody accused McDaniel of being “confused by the words I’m giving you.” Baroody again moved on after seeming to be dissatisfied with the explanation the McDaniel offered.

Baroody admitted that “we’re rehashing things over and over again.” He claimed that he asks questions over and over again but receives different answers every time. “We can tell the answer isn’t quite adding up. What are we supposed to do with that?” McDaniel responded that, “We’ve talked about this at length, both in person and in email. We’ve answered them again and again, and I think you’re just not satisfied with the answers… We haven’t given inconsistent answers.”

After twenty minutes of “discussion” that consisted mostly of Baroody speaking and refusing to accept the staff’s answers, Mayor Blackburn interrupted and asked for Baroody to conclude his statements if he felt he could feel satisfied in doing so. Baroody stated that he wasn’t pleased to be asked to conclude, but he would “play by your rules.” Baroody chastised staff again for failing to provide leadership within the various departments that he accused of having poor processes.

Eychner interjected, stating that Baroody was getting “personal” and that “it seems like you would like to be the manager or the code person… this bothers me very much. This is not what we are supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to be moving our city forward. We’re in the weeds, and we can’t get out of the weeds unless there’s an attitude change here. I’m sorry, but I can’t continue listening to this… you’re bashing [staff]… Let’s move on, build a bridge, and get over all of this.”

Baroody and Eychner traded barbs as Baroody continued his remarks. At one point, Eychner asked City Manager Mark McDaniel how many staff hours were consumed creating this 40-page report discussed today. McDaniel stated that it took around 150 hours to prepare.

Mayor Blackburn interrupted and offered a few brief remarks. “In my 11 months, I’ve seen staff over and over responding to charges and accusations, eating up a lot of time… There’s been a major effort to improve every department in the city… There are some that will never be satisfied with the response from the city. Never. They will argue it from now on… Let’s deal with the problems, but let’s stop re-hashing everything you disagree with. Let’s treat the staff with respect.”

Eychner thanked staff, saying that good things would come out of this process despite the pain. She asked again about the staff time and resources dedicated to the preparation of this report. McDaniel estimated that approximately $11,000 in staff labor and 150 hours were consumed to answer Voelkel and Baroody’s accusations.

“It’s about truth, and it’s about shining light on what happened. I like that you ask questions. But when you ask over and over and over again, it’s difficult,” McDaniel stated.

Sigerman had a handful of specific questions regarding the sign ordinance and permitting process. She went on to question why Baroody refused to meet with the city manager one-on-one, but Baroody would only engage through lengthy emails that seemed to never end. She concluded that the city is “losing time” and would like the city to “move on.”

Judy Eychner offered a three-part motion. The three parts included: 1.) Consultants be asked to expedite review and responses to the sign portion of the codes and bring that back to the code review committee as soon as possible; 2.) Staff be require to provide a report regarding ongoing improvements in the development and permitting processes every two months; 3.) Questions that have been asked and answered today NOT be placed on a future agenda unless done so by the mayor, council majority, or city manager.

The motion passed 3-2 with Blackburn, Sigerman, and Eychner in favor, and Voelkel and Baroody opposed. Baroody accused Eychner of trying to “shut down” himself and Voelkel, but Sigerman and Eychner denied that accusation, noting that the motion would only prevent these specific items from coming back up repeatedly unless they needed to be revisited according to others in addition to Baroody and Voelkel, such as the mayor or one other councilperson.

The meeting adjourned at 11:45 AM.