Kempner city staff resigns: Municipal court judge points to mayor as the source of the problem
By LYNETTE SOWELL
After weeks of contention between at least one member of the Kempner city council and the city’s mayor, three employees of the city of Kempner resigned from their positions, effective Tuesday, Sept. 10.
Kempner city council member John Wilkerson confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that city secretary Stacy Roberts, as well as the city’s assistant city secretary/municipal court clerk and the municipal court judge, tendered their resignations. This leaves only police left as the city's paid staff.
Wilkerson had high praise for how Roberts conducted herself on the job prior to her resignation and said he could not comment on specific personnel matters.
However, Wilkerson did share a copy of a letter from the city’s municipal court judge, Gene Isenhour, who stated in his letter that he was resigning with “regret.”
Wilkerson, who stated he shared the letter with permission from Isenhour, stated that all three of the employees who resigned “have been nothing but responsible, upstanding and compassionate public servants.”
Wilkerson said that at the last city council meeting, which took place on Aug. 30, Mayor Keith Harvey admitted to ordering the city secretary not to communicate with other council members and even keep information from them unless Harvey gave her permission to do so.
In his resignation letter, Isenhour also pointed to the “environment” created by Mayor Harvey. Harvey was elected to office in May, as was Wilkerson.
“I agreed to be the Judge, without compensation, in order to save this small city, with a very small revenue stream, the expense of a salary. However, the Mayor is spending money without regard and without the governing body’s approval,” Isenhour wrote.
Isenhour previously served on the council for five years and mayor for an additional nine-and-one-half years and stated in his letter further concerns regarding Harvey.
“I believe the Mayor’s approach as a one-person government will quickly lead to legal issues which can be costly to the taxpayers,” Isenhour wrote. “His approach will also take away the checks and balances for this single person’s actions and remove the citizen’s confidence in our city’s government.”
Isenhour concluded his letter by stating that if Harvey leaves office and the governing body wants Isenhour back, he would consider reappointment.
A special city council meeting has been called for Friday, Sept. 13, at 6 p.m., at the Kempner Volunteer Fire Department, located at 315 Pecan. On the agenda is the acceptance of the resignation of Roberts, Isenhour, and assistant city secretary/municipal court clerk Jami Whitehead. Also on the agenda is removing Roberts and Whitehead as signators on the city’s financial accounts and naming the mayor pro tem as the signator.
There is presently a regular city council workshop and meeting set for 6:00 and 7 p.m. Thursday, respectively, also at the Kempner Volunteer Fire Department, the same location that the meeting was held two weeks ago after a vehicle crashed into Kempner City Hall and destroyed the interior of the council chambers.
At the last council meeting, Wilkerson and Harvey clashed, as did other council members with the mayor during discussions of the city’s purchasing policy.
At that time, there was debate about the responsibility and role of the mayor and questions about where purchasing power lies. Wilkerson, along with fellow council members David Richardson and Mack Ruszkiewicz, expressed concern about items bought without council approval and made clear their desire to vote on every item prior to purchase. Some of the items in question include a shock clock, a light bar for a police vehicle, speakers and a microphone, some of which the mayor explained were to replace what had been damaged in the accident and others for the improvement of city meetings.
Harvey urged the council to familiarize themselves with the current purchasing policy as well as the recommendations made by Wilkerson to be prepared to work and vote on it in the future. Harvey said the primary issue was with single purchase items which he said is covered in the current policy.
On Monday and Tuesday, Harvey began posting photos on his social media page, of invoices to the City of Kempner for city purchases made in June 2019 for items such as toilet paper, postage stamps, street signs, police radars amounting to $2,415, city website hosting, and cell phone bill.
Of those photos, Harvey stated, “May 29, 2019 was day 1 on the job. Enclosed are documents of every dollar spent since that day for normal day to day functions and circumstances that may arise.”
He did not respond to the Leader-Press’ request on Tuesday morning for a comment or confirmation regarding the resignations of the city staff.