Kempner voters submit petition for city manager option
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Some Kempner voters who live within the Kempner city limits are signing a petition to put the decision to hire a city manager on the city’s ballot.
Anelicia Cheney-Campbell, president of a group called Citizens of Kempner, stood with her sign in the City Hall parking lot starting Saturday through Tuesday afternoon, trying to collect as many signatures as needed.
She was joined by Vance Rodgers, who stepped down from the Citizens of Kempner and plans to run for City Council Place 2.
Kempner does not currently have a city manager. Kempner’s city government consists of Mayor Keith Harvey, as well as the Kempner City Council which includes David Robertson, John Wilkerson, Mack Ruszkiewicz and Melba Vandeveer. There is also Municipal Judge Kenneth Mahoney, Associate Judge Marcus Stinson, City Secretary Monica Pena and Assistant City Secretary/Court Clerk Tracie Martin,
The petition is simply to request that the question of whether to hire a city manager be placed on a ballot and voted for by Kempner voters. After the petition is filed, Mayor Harvey has 10 days to respond.
“We haven’t gotten confirmation yet whether it will trigger a special election that has to be done within 30 days or if it will just go on May’s ballot,” Cheney-Campbell said. “May’s ballot is fine. We already have an election, we’re already paying for it, might as well just go on there, but that’s the last thing we haven’t gotten confirmation for.”
By Tuesday afternoon, Cheney-Campbell and Rodgers had collected at least 15 signatures with plans to collect a few more, surpassing the necessary number of signatures. Armed with a list of registered voters in Kempner city limits, they were able to quickly determine who was eligible to sign the petition versus not.
This petition only requires seven registered voters who live within Kempner city limits to sign- representing 20 percent of the population who voted in the last mayoral election held last May. Harvey ran unopposed and received 33 votes.
“We have that but we know it’s going to be a battle the whole way, so we’re trying to get as many as possible, just in case [Harvey] goes in and says, ‘Well, since this person registered, they’ve become a felon, so we’re going to cross that off,’” Cheney-Campbell said.
The mayor could refuse to respond or refuse to place the petition on the ballot for an upcoming election, “but then the city gets sued,” Cheney-Campbell said.
If it is allowed to be placed on the ballot and if voters do vote in favor, the Kempner City Council has 60 days to create the ordinance, get all the job duties, hire someone and get someone in the position.
“There are certain duties that the state has said ‘This is what a city manager does,’” Cheney-Campbell said. “They control the agenda; they do day-to-day operations; they’re in charge of spending.”
The city manager position could be part-time or full-time or volunteer based.
“What a city manager for Kempner looks like is totally up to the city council,” Cheney-Campbell said.
The number-one question is how will Kempner be able to pay for a city manager, Cheney-Campbell said.
Possibilities regarding the full-time or part-time status include having the city secretary act as a part-time city manager, she added.
Cheney-Campbell pointed to the mayor’s current spending on attorney fees for the city.
“As far as the cost, we can’t afford not to do this at this point, because right now the mayor has spent, in two months, just on one thing, $11,000 on lawyer fees with the city attorney,” Cheney-Campbell said. “The council budgeted $15,000 for the entire year for all professional fees…so if he continues to spend that lawyer money, we’re going to be over budget $51,000 by the end of the year. That’s a full-time city manager for the city of Kempner right there.”
In September 2019, the City Council approved a spending policy for the mayor, with a maximum limit of $5,000.
Cheney-Campbell acknowledged that city staff would have to do some “shuffling” around to fit a new employee, possibly rolling the position into a current one.
“You don’t have one person that’s like, ‘Oh, well the council said I could spend $5,000, so I’m just going to spend it on whatever I want to,” The other pro, in my opinion, of having a city manager is every two years, we have a mayoral election.”
This means that every two years, there’s the possibility of getting an inexperienced candidate. A city manager would take the responsibility and educate all incoming people.
As of now, the wait begins, after Cheney-Campbell and Rodgers delivered the petition to the Kempner City Hall Wednesday afternoon and are waiting to find out the response if the proposition will be put on the ballot for a special election, or in May. If the measure is not placed on the ballot, legal action against the city could occur.
“From our understanding, we take it to the D.A.; eventually it gets up to TML (Texas Municipal League),” Cheney-Campbell added. “TML sues the city. If the city doesn’t do anything, TML will eventually raise the insurance rates to the point where they’re so high we can’t afford to be a city. How long that takes, I don’t know.”