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Ken Hawkins had a lot to say Monday.
In the late afternoon the Willow Park Mayor addressed his decision to remove citizen comments from the agenda of city council meetings, but by Monday evening had come up with a solution to give what he called the correct procedure.
For the past two months, March and April, Hawkins used his mayoral power to remove the citizen comment portion of the city council agenda. The reason, he said, was because citizens were not addressing current agenda items.
“It’s been our habit in the past to have an open forum where they can talk about anything, but as it turns out that is an improper procedure,” Hawkins said Monday afternoon. “But in the case of citizens’ presentations, it came to my attention that the proper use of that agenda item is to allow citizens to speak to the specific agenda.
“As the mayor, I conduct the meetings according to Robert’s Rule of Order and we have an open government as much as we can have.”
Willow Park City Administrator Candy Scott confirmed Hawkins’ action.
“From my understanding, that’s not an item that has to be placed on an agenda,” she said. “He asked me to remove it until further notice and that’s what we did. The mayor does have the prerogative to remove that.”
Scott has been city administrator since October 2009 and has worked for the city for 10 years.
“As long as I’ve been here (it) always has been non the agenda,” she said.
Legally, Hawkins can remove the citizen comment portion of the city council agenda. However, Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the mayor’s decision needs to be consistent. Something Hawkins can’t do, according to Elkins, is have the item on the agenda whenever he feels.
“It has to be one way or the other, as long as everyone is treated equally, it’s not really addressed under the law,” Elkins said. “If he’s inconsistent...he and the city are probably subject to potential legal action for (unfair) treatment.
“You can’t use public comment as a cheering section as a cheering section, for example.”
But by Monday evening Hawkins had made a few changes.
In an e-mail sent to city leaders, which he also sent to The Community News, Hawkins said, “The city has NOT been conducting its Open Meetings correctly.”
The mayor included new procedures and urged the leaders, which is a combination of city officials and city councilmen, to forward his statement in hopes that it will explain the correct procedures.
“To correct this oversight, I have improved the Citizen Presentation Form which will be used at all subsequent meetings to clarify the proper procedures for the citizens,” Hawkins said in his e-mail. “I also have created a second procedure by which citizens MAY address the Council on unrelated matters.
“By completing this form, and discussing their intended comments with me prior to the Council Meeting. If I determine the matter is relevant, then as the presiding officer of that meeting, I have the discretion to allow such comments. However, unless it is relevant, factual, and important, I will likely not open the discussion ad on infinitum.”
City council candidate Cindy Neverdousky does not agree with Hawkins decision. She calls the mayor’s actions “totally wrong.”
“Aren’t we representatives of the people that are speaking,” Neverdousky said. “It is our job...to sit and listen, and then we act appropriately.”
Hawkins does have an offer on the table though.
“Anybody can call me and talk to me about any subject at anytime,” he said. “I’ll buy them coffee.”
The mayor can be reached by his personal telephone, 817-919-7337.
“Our city is growing, and must become more professional, more organized, and better prepared in how it conducts its business,” Hawkins said in his e-mail. “This corrective step was taken in that spirit.”