Former councilman calls out ethics violation, alleges city charter violations
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Former Copperas Cove city councilman for place 7 Matthew Russell used his five minutes in citizens’ forum during Tuesday night’s Copperas Cove city council to deliver his own message: the people are watching.
“I’ve got a spur in me, and when it comes to taking care of city employees, city staff, and we are having an issue, I want to speak about it,” Russell said.
He took the council to task, stating in four months they have created an “extremely toxic environment” between themselves and the city staff, and said he believes that staff aren’t leaving due to the pay, but due to lack of leadership, and he believed more would follow or retire early for that reason.
Russell also provided documentation that current place 7 councilman, Charlie Youngs, was given a $500 civil penalty by the Texas Ethics Commission for failure to file the proper campaign finance paperwork in time.
Between the regular council meeting and executive session, Youngs stopped by the media table to confirm that, yes, he had filed the required paperwork late with the city secretary, and he had taken care of it when he became aware of it and had complied with the TEC.
According to the TEC documentation, Youngs was 147 days late filing his 30-day pre-election report, which should have been filed by October 10, 2017 but was filed on March 5, 2018, in which he disclosed $500 of political expenditures without accepting any political contributions.
Then, the eight-day pre-election report, which was due November 7, 2017, wasn’t filed until March 5, 2018, 127 days after it was due. In this report, he disclosed $700 in expenditures and did not accept any contributions.
During Russell’s words to the council, he also had his sights set on calling out other current city councilmen for alleged violations of the city charter – namely, interfering with the daily operations of city staff.
“Councilmen cannot interfere with daily operation of city staff. To do so is a clear violation of the city charter, an action clearly leading to recall or resignation,” Russell said.
He named place 6 councilman Marc Payne, alleging that “on several occasions” Payne has interfered with the daily operations of the city staff and that “the interim city manager along with a seated councilmember have pulled councilman aside, that this conduct cannot continue, but to no avail.”
Russell added Councilman Dan Yancey’s name to the mix, stating that during the selection process of an interim city manager, “on several occasions” Yancey “attempted to have the Copperas Cove HRC director put an unqualified candidate as one of the top finalists for consideration for the Copperas Cove interim city manager position.”
Russell also alleged that “when that didn’t work,” Yancey contacted the contractor hired by the city of Copperas Cove to find interim city manager candidates and “attempted to influence this organization to select his candidate as one of the top candidates for interim city manager.”
He gave a sharp warning to all council members, stating that other city councilmen and councilwomen had resigned in similar situations.
“However, I doubt any of you will do the same and will have to be recalled.”
Nearly four years ago, in March 2014, Councilman Kenn Smith resigned from his position on the Copperas Cove city council because of questions raised at that time regarding the concessions vendor at the golf course. The council at that time had approved putting the concession services out to bid, but it was alleged by the city attorney that Smith approached the city manager, asking her to pull the city’s request for bids and continue negotiating with the current vendor. At that time, Smith said he felt compelled to resign due to question of his ethics and integrity and a seed of mistrust has been planted.
On Tuesday night, Russell also suggested Mayor Frank Seffrood, whom Russell said has been “aware of these actions for some time” should take action.
“Gentlemen, the public is watching. We see and we hear what our city leaders are doing. You were voted into your office to help move the city forward.”
Also during Tuesday’s council meeting, the council voted to amend the city’s fee schedule for civic center rental rates, with full-day civic center rentals lowered to $500. The council also deleted the half-day and hourly rental fees and removed the option of a rental discount.
It also approved the interim city manager to sign a contract for the city’s electric service for Jan. 1, 2021 through Dec. 30, 2024. The resolution with L5E, Inc. will allow that company to negotiate a rate for the city which could save the city $100,000 annually for the life of the contract.
A pair of performance agreements between the Copperas Cove Economic Development Corporation and two businesses were ultimately voted down, one by the Copperas Cove EDC and the other by the Copperas Cove city council.
The CCEDC held a special meeting prior to the city council workshop, which it discussed, then voted on the two agreements, approving one of them. The council later held its own executive session and emerged to take its own vote on the one CCEDC-approved agreement. It did not pass, with a 3-4 vote, with three councilmembers voting for the agreement and four voting against.
Public Works Director Michael Cleghorn presented a professional services agreement to the council, which was approved for Walker Partners Engineers and Surveyors to complete the design, survey, along with bidding and project management services for urgent repairs to the South 19th Street stormwater drainage system, with the amount not to exceed $114,500.
The project will ultimately repair stormwater drainage along South 19th Street between the intersections of Park Street and South 15th Street, to include replacing the existing 42-inch diameter corrugated metal pipe and replacing it with reinforced concrete pipe, replacing curb and gutter on the street along with sanitary sewer laterals and long side water service lines.