Kyle City Manager Tom Mattis, left, and Mayor Lucy Johnson, right, seated together at Johnson’s first Kyle City Council meeting as mayor Wednesday night. That seating arrangement didn’t last long. Photo by Lance Duncan.
By LANCE DUNCAN
KYLE — Freshly seated for her first meeting as mayor of Kyle, Lucy Johnson succeeded in her play to move City Manager Tom Mattis off the council dais, winning council support in a 5-2 vote.
In discussions between Johnson and Mattis leading up to Wednesday’s meeting, where Councilmembers Russ Heubner and Jaime Sanchez also debuted, the new mayor requested that the city manager remove himself from the dais. Mattis initially agreed, then told Johnson that she would have to make a motion and get the council’s support in order to make him move.
“As chair of this council, I feel it’s my job to make sure that these meetings are run in an efficient and timely manner,” Johnson said in open session Wednesday. “We are the legislative and policy-making arm of Kyle, and I think we’ve been doing a somewhat inadequate job of that.”
Johnson said she thought the council had been depending too much on Mattis, and that it would better serve the council and the public if Mattis weren’t seated next to the mayor. Johnson added she is aware that the dais was built for both the council and the city manager, but said there had been concerns about the line being blurred as to who was running the meetings.
“I feel, for several reasons, it would be best if on this dais we only had council and mayor,” Johnson said.
Councilmember David Wilson responded by expressing concerns about council meeting effectiveness.
“I think running an effective meeting is what your intent is, and I think we need to do things in that way to make this as effective as we possibly can,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that there had been the impression at times that the city manager may have prompted the mayor, with whom Mattis often held quiet conversations during meetings when Mike Gonzalez was in that position. Wilson said he thought the city manager’s comments had only been offered as assistance, but that, in his view, staff did not need to be seated on the dais to assist in meetings.
For comparison, Wilson mentioned that the city attorney used to sit on the dais with the council, but no longer does for a variety of reasons. Wilson added that Mattis’ seat in the middle of the dais was sometimes a barrier to communication, since Wilson often couldn’t see Mattis from his own seat on the end of the dais.
“This is not a city manager issue in my view,” Wilson added, underscoring his sentiment that the change should be made solely to facilitate effective meeting procedures.
Councilmember and Mayor Pro-Tem Michelle Lopez said that she appreciates the desire to run efficient meetings, but not without expressing her concern that removing staff from the dais would not “really be addressing the problem.”
Lopez said the city manager is there for advice, but the mayor sets the boundary and the tone.
“Removing (the city manager) relegates responsibility of staff to a sub-level,” Lopez said. “I think when you divide that out, I’m curious about the message that sends to our city staff.”
Councilmember Becky Selbera said that in her eight years serving on the council, she had seen situations in which Mattis sat on the side, as well as on the dais. Selbera said she benefitted from sitting next to Mattis on the dais and voted with Lopez in opposing the move.
Johnson said it would be more effective for the council as a whole to have all of Mattis’ comments on the record, rather than often being said privately to the mayor or other councilmembers. When Sanchez asked if the seating situation is comparable in Buda and San Marcos, Johnson said the city manager sits to the side in those city council meetings.
Johnson moved to reserve the dais for the city council and the mayor, and Sanchez seconded her motion.
The move suggests that Mattis could be on a short tether with the new council, which could fire Mattis with a 5-2 vote, according to the Kyle charter. In that event, the council would have to pay Mattis a six-figure buyout.
Johnson and Mattis have often disagreed on budget issues, with Johnson seeking to lower taxes and Mattis trying to increase resources for additional city services. Sanchez, who ran unsuccessfully for the Kyle City Council in 2006, is also no friend of the city manager, having fought a legal battle with the city over a piece of downtown property. Sanchez won a settlement with the city for $35,000, and the city spent $50,000 in legal fees.
Mattis also has run afoul of long-time Kyle residents who supported him when he was under siege during a recall campaign against then-Mayor James Adkins in 2003. Since that election, the old timers have come to believe Mattis has managed the city without their interests sufficiently at heart.Email | Print