Houston City Hall
Credit: HOUSTON HERALD FILE PHOTO

Members of the Houston City Council endorsed a Texas County Library system application Monday to seek federal funds for a new building, overrode two mayoral vetoes and decided to allow police officers to take home their patrol cars.

In an unanimous vote, the council will sponsor a Texas County Library Board application that seeks to tap American Rescue Program Act (ARPA) funds allocated to Missouri. The library, in an earlier meeting, told council members that it would write the grant and was prepared to administer monies if it was successful.

Plans call for the library — if the application is approved — to be constructed as the upper level of the Houston Storm Shelter that sits at First and Pine streets in Houston. The building, which was constructed in 2007, included engineering to eventually add the local branch of the Texas County Library.

Missouri received about $2.7 billion under the act that it is preparing to distribute under numerous programs. Guidelines are under development by the state —ranging from broadband construction to help for not-for-profits.

Library board member Janet Fraley said she would immediately begin work on the project.

Separately, the council’s economic development committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday (Aug. 4) to discuss what projects that the city could pursue under different phases of ARPA. Alderman Don Romines ticked off several to review — ranging from broadband construction to development of a baseball quadplex to electrical improvements. Municipalities throughout the state — including in south-central Missouri — are working on applications to tap some of the funds.

VETOES

On a 4-2 vote (no, Michael Weakly and Sam Kelley), members overrode an earlier mayoral veto of a plan to asphalt First Street and the end of a cul-de-sac on Primrose Lane next month. The bid from Willard Paving of Lebanon is about $170,000. Mayor Willy Walker said the council’s decision derails a planned budgeted program that allows the city to do work in-house after purchasing its own equipment and avoids mobilization costs associated with a company traveling to Houston to do the work. He suggested studying the issue as part of the city’s next budget.

Alderman Kevin Stilley said the condition of city streets had always been a source of pride in the community and it was time to refocus on them.

On a 4-2 vote (no, Weakly and Kelley), the council reversed a mayoral veto related to extending the search for a vacant city administrator post. Walker said the council had interviewed two qualified candidates and it was urgent to get a new city leader in place in advance of the development of a budget. The mayor earlier made an appointment of one of the two prospects interviewed, but it was rejected by the council. In another earlier vote, the council tied 3-3 to hire former economic development head Rob Harrington and the mayor opted not to hire him. The mayor, under state law, appoints an administrator that is ratified by the council.

The veto override means the council will open the application period up again. Stilley told the mayor he didn’t see what the hurry was to hire an administrator.

The last search before hiring Scott Avery, Stilley said, extended six months as the mayor pushed to hire City Clerk Heather Sponsler.  

Walker again emphasized the need for an administrator. “So this city needs an administrator and the 4-2 games need to stop,” Walker told the board.

CREDIT CARD OVERSIGHT

A council finance committee will meet to recommend a policy on credit card payment review  that allows more oversight by the board. It recently received copies of five months of credit card payments totaling more than $76,000 and some of the board said it wanted more oversight on the expenditures, saying they never see any information. Romines zeroed in on a four-day trip taken by Avery that totaled $1,552. After the meeting, Avery said he traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of lobbying effort to prevent extreme energy costs again like those associated with a 2021 cold snap that sent electrical meters spinning. Avery said the city’s electrical wholesaler had reimbursed the city for nearly all of the charges.

OTHER MATTERS

In other matters, members:

—Heard from property owner Daren Medlock who was concerned about work to correct water drainage issues to help one property owner near C.W. Harry and Holder Drives might create water issues at his storage unit business in the same neighborhood. A civil engineer had reviewed the matter for Medlock and he read some of the suggestions that the city might take to address it. He said he like to see it addressed before any problem occurs.

—Approved 6-0 allowing nine city officers to take home their patrol car as long as it is no farther than five air miles from the police department and no travel is done for more than a half-mile on gravel. The move, the council hopes, will act as an employment perk for officers, accelerate response time and instill pride as each will have a personally assigned vehicle. To round out the program, the city needs an additional patrol car, and it authorized purchase of a 2019 model at Piney River Ford in Houston. Funds come from a sales tax earmarked for police.

—Heard from Karen James, site director and adviser for Drury University in Houston. She reported that fall classes will begin Aug. 22, additional block classes begin Oct. 14 and outlined several certification programs that are now available.

—Adjourned into a closed session.

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