“Unprofessional behavior” by the interim city manager, the mayor’s ability to vote and the potential termination of two city officials are all set for discussion by the Hearne City Council tonight, but it’s not an altogether unusual agenda for the troubled town.
The law firm representing the city since June, for example, resigned in December, recognizing that it was not able to make progress in the “controversial community.” The resignation of Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal Hyde & Zech — and the amount of money the city has paid them — is on Tuesday’s lengthy agenda along with a number of other contentious items, some of which the council has seen before.
The “unprofessionalism” of interim city manager John Naron, who has been serving in that role since May, is on the agenda, as well as his possible termination. The City Council last discussed Naron’s employment status just four months ago, and deadlocked on his dismissal after holding a lengthy performance review in open session in which he was scolded for a Facebook post criticizing council members Shirley Harris and Rodrick Jackson.
The latest strike against Naron to be discussed in open session will be an August incident in which he entered Harris’ property “after being asked to leave numerous times,” the agenda states.
Naron, who said the item was placed on the agenda for discussion by Jackson, states that at the request of Harris, who noticed her electric bill was unusually high, technicians were sent to her house and swapped out her energy meter. There were problems with the meter’s signal, Naron said, and the technicians went back to her home to fix it. Harris “basically ran them off the property,” Naron said, adamant that her meter not be changed.
The interim city manager was interviewing candidates for the chief financial officer’s job, he said, and remembers the public works director stopping by his office to let him know Harris would not let the technicians on her property. Naron sent a Hearne police officer back with the technicians so they wouldn’t “feel uncomfortable,” who Harris also “ran off,” he said.
Finally, Naron went to the councilwoman’s home himself with the police officer, finding that she had placed a lock on the meter. The police officer cut the lock to change out her meter, all while Harris recorded the incident with her cell phone camera.
“It’s a tremendous waste of time in taxpayers’ money, considering how many personnel we had to get out there throughout the day,” Naron said. “A lot of their day was wasted, including my own and of the police officer.”
Harris tells a similar story, but maintains Naron is the one who was in the wrong, and said she’s been told the rest of the council agrees with her that Naron shouldn’t have entered her property. She’s filed a criminal trespass charge against Naron with the Robertson County Sheriff’s Office, and said as soon as the council “gets rid” of the interim city manager she plans on filing a civil suit against him.
Harris said she believes she angered Naron by asking for information regarding her energy usage after noticing her electricity bill was “off the charts” for the month of July, and requested her meter be changed. Days later, Harris said she was alerted the signal for her meter “wasn’t working downtown” at City Hall, and technicians were sent to her house four times within a five-day period.
By the third day, Harris said she felt harassed and told the electricians to leave her property. They were “very nice” and left at her request, she said. When Naron came to her house, Harris told him to get out of her yard, she said.
“He called the police on me and stood there until (the officer) came back, and then he entered my property,” Harris said.
The ordeal will be hashed out during tonight’s 6 p.m. meeting, but it’s unclear what kind of action could be taken after the discussion. The council seldom is able to reach a consensus on controversial issues, with the six members often splitting their votes. This could also come up tonight in an agenda item regarding Mayor Ruben Gomez’s ability to vote — he seldom voted, usually only in the case of a tie, until more recent months.
Also on the agenda is the possible termination of Municipal Judge Hazel Embra, a former councilwoman who was appointed to that position in September 2015, and the policies and procedures for meeting formats, which were passed by ordinance in August at the recommendation of former assistant city attorney Sarah Griffin of Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal Hyde & Zech as a way to guide decorum, discussion, community participation and more.