West conducts ‘do-over’ in city administrator vote

By TOMMY WITHERSPOON
Waco Tribune-Herald
Originally published Oct. 12, 2013

West City Council members have called a special meeting for Monday to hire a city administrator because their Oct. 1 vote did not comply with the Texas Open Meetings Act and is not valid.

The council will meet at 5 p.m. Monday at West City Hall and is expected to vote — for a second time — to hire West native Shelly Nors as West’s first city administrator.

The administrator, the city’s top position reporting to the council, will oversee 19 full-time city employees and focus on grant-writing, economic development and steering West on its path to recovery from the April 17 explosion at West Fertilizer Co.

Monday’s meeting is necessary because when city council members voted to hire Nors on Oct. 1, the council’s agenda did not contain an item to authorize that action.

Council members interviewed Nors and finalist Boyce Wilson, an emergency preparedness planner for the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, in closed sessions before the Oct. 1 regular council meeting.

When they emerged, both Mayor Tommy Muska and Mayor Pro Tem Steve Vanek said the council would take no action that night on filling the newly created position. But, without further discussion, the council voted to hire Nors at the end of the meeting despite no agenda item authorizing it.

Jim Hemphill, an Austin attorney and a board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said if a government body takes a vote on a matter that is not included on an agenda or has not been properly noticed to the public, it can be “voided.”

“If someone were to take action to void it, like file a lawsuit under the Open Meetings Act, the court would certainly void it. However, the act does give governmental entities broad discretion to do what I would call a do-over.

“If an act is voidable, and at a subsequent meeting they give proper notice and redo it, it becomes valid and is no longer voidable by law,” Hemphill said.

West City Attorney Walter M. Reaves Jr., who attended the closed interviews but left for another engagement before the city council meeting started, said he was unaware that the council was going to vote on the city administrator’s position that night.

West City Secretary Jennifer Schaffer said Monday’s meeting was called “just to make sure and double-check that everything is in order.”

The Tribune-Herald requested copies of Nors’ and Wilson’s résumés and credentials after the Oct. 1 interviews. City of West officials initially refused to release the documents. Later, officials said they would provide the materials, but as of press time Friday, they had not done so.

Nors lives near West and works at Ozark Leather, 3000 Dutton Ave., which dubs itself “The Saddle King of Texas.”

Nors declined an interview with the Tribune-Herald this week, saying she was too busy closing out matters at her current job. She already had accepted West’s job offer based off the earlier vote.

‘Beyond honored’

“I am beyond honored and excited to be chosen as the city administrator for West,” she wrote in a statement. “I am a local. I am very passionate about my community and the people in it. I am looking forward to getting started and being an advocate for the city and the citizens of West.”

Nors is a 1998 graduate of West High School and has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Texas State University.

“She has got some good management skills with her previous employer,” Muska said. “She manages about 60 people, and that is what we need, somebody good with money and with good human resource management skills. I think she fits that bill.

“A lot of people know her. She is a local. That was not the definitive reason. She is a smart cookie. She is very smart. I think we made the right decision.”

Nors will earn $50,000 a year as city administrator.

“I think she is going to be great,” Vanek said. “She is young. She is smart. She is energetic. I like that enthusiasm in somebody. What she doesn’t know, I know she is going to be a quick learner.”

Schaffer said, “She has a great attitude and she has great energy. I think she is going to fit in really well with the West citizens and the employees here. We have a unique opportunity here. We have created this position and we think the time is right to focus on economic development a little more.”