Kyle City Manager Tom Mattis, left, on the dais with former Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez, right. The new Kyle mayor, Lucy Johnson, does not want Mattis on the dais. Photo by Lance Duncan.
By LANCE DUNCAN
KYLE — City councilmembers in Kyle are making a move to kick City Manager Tom Mattis off the dais at council meetings now that the eight-year administrator’s detractors have gained the upper hand in a February special election that changed the council’s makeup.
An item placed on Wednesday’s council agenda by new Mayor Lucy Johnson calls for “Discussion and determination of new seating arrangement on the Council Dais.”
Johnson said she has previously requested that Mattis move off of the dais without any formal action being taken. After Mattis first assented, he told her that the council would have to take official action to force him to move from his seat.
Wednesday will be the first meeting of a new council that includes Johnson as mayor, Mattis adversary Jaime Sanchez in Johnson’s old council seat and Russ Heubner in the seat vacated by Ray Bryant, who is running for Hays County commissioner in Precinct 2.
One councilmember who requested anonymity said the matter ought to go to a vote, rather than be unilaterally decided by the new mayor.
“It needs to be voted on if that’s what the mayor wants to do,” the councilmember said. “I’m interested in an effective meeting, and not interested in making the city manager look bad. I’d like to know the purpose behind it, such as how it will make meetings more effective.”
The councilmember allowed that the present arrangement with Mattis on the dais has been problematic at times, such as when Mattis would engage in private conversations with the former mayor, Mike Gonzalez, while other councilmembers had the floor.
“You’ve got to look at yourself periodically, and, obviously, Lucy has looked at this and has an opinion,” the councilmember said. “I’ve felt that way myself before, that it can be disruptive to the meetings.”
This councilmember compared the situation to the former arrangement in which the city attorney sat at the dais, which was problematic for a variety of reasons. The city attorney now sits in the audience at council meetings, and either walks to the podium to answer questions or does so from her seat.
Councilmember David Salazar, on the other hand, said it is well within the mayor’s authority to change the seating arrangements however she wants.
“I’m in 100 percent support of the mayor as the chair of the council running the meeting the way she sees fit,” he said. “That’s her prerogative.”
Salazar said that even at county commissioners courts, none of the appointed county officials sit on the dais with the commissioners and the county judge. Salazar, who has announced that he’s not running for a third term in May, added that the new mayor should be given the same respect in terms of running meetings that the previous mayor was given.
“No one challenged any changes that Mike wanted to make when he was mayor, so I don’t think it’s fair for us to challenge any decisions that Lucy would make,” Salazar said.
Mattis has sat at the dais next to the mayor since Kyle’s new city hall opened in 2006 on the site of the old Bon Ton grocery, which burned down in 2001. Before then, when the council operated out of the old city hall, the facility didn’t even have a dais, so the council and city manager sat at tables.
Mattis said his seating arrangement has never been an issue in Kyle, adding that he is unclear about what the real issue is. Whatever the issue, Mattis said, he doesn’t see how moving the city manager from the dais pertains to conducting the business of the city.
“It’s an unorthodox approach to conducting business,” Mattis said. “I’ve been a city manager for 27 years and I’ve always sat with city council as part of their team.”
Since Johnson was first elected to the council in August 2008, she and Mattis have constantly taken different sides on budget issues, with Johnson fighting for lower taxes and Mattis campaigning for resources to provide more city services.
Sanchez made an unsuccessful run for the Kyle council in 2006, while he was suing the city over a piece of downtown property that he purchased at a tax foreclosure sale in 2003. When Sanchez began fencing the property, the city, under Mattis’s management, showed him maps indicating that the property belonged to Kyle and ordered him to stop.
Sanchez sued the city and won a settlement for $35,000, arguing that the city could do no better than produce a plat from 1883 and a map from 1968, and that the city collected taxes on the property for decades before he purchased it. The city spent $50,000 in legal fees.
But the deepest concern among Mattis detractors has its origins at the beginning of his tenure. Shortly after becoming Kyle’s city manager in January 2002, Mattis asked for, and received from the council, a moratorium on residential development. Mattis supported his request with a growth management report showing that the city had approved much more residential development than its infrastructure could support.
Mattis predicted in the report that a city that had just counted 5,314 residents in the 2000 Census stood to grow to about 40,000 residents by 2010. The city has grown to about 27,000 residents, as the national housing downturn has slowed development. The city peaked at 1,220 building permits in 2004, and the number has since fallen to about one-third of that.
Despite the moratorium in 2002, the city couldn’t secure water resources fast enough to accommodate its expanding population and ended up pumping three times its permitted amount of water from the Barton Springs/Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BS/EACD) in 2002. Once the matter was politicized by the Austin water board, a group of newer Kyle residents launched a recall campaign against then-Mayor James Adkins in an attempt to get at Mattis.
In response, older Kyle residents from the center of town launched a ground campaign to defeat the recall and support Mattis. The recall failed by a margin approaching three to one.
Since then, though, old town residents with whom Johnson is aligned have grown disgruntled with Mattis, believing he has turned his back on them. The location of a new city library, a passion of some key old town residents, became especially divisive as they pushed for a downtown location while Mattis pushed for a location in the proposed “uptown” section of Plum Creek near the intersection of Kohler’s Krossing and Kyle Parkway.
The old towners prevailed, and the library is planned for a downtown location. In February, old towners prevailed again, putting Mattis’s location in question.Email | Print