Concerned residents hold meeting, speak out against city manager

(From the Hardin County News)

SILSBEE - Numerous residents in Silsbee are speaking out against City Manager Bill Lewis, and say they want the city council to remove him from the position.

More than 80 concerned people, including present and former city representatives, law enforcement officers and city employees, met this past Thursday at Post Mart to voice their concerns about Lewis'proposed 2000-2001 budget, which
is calling for severe cuts in the police department budget and for a freeze in all city employees' wages.

Former City Councilman Chris Eldredge organized the meeting, which was held at Post Mart. Eldredge, who resigned his position April 11 after the council rejected a letter of no confidence he had proposed about the city manager, said he did not want the meeting to become a "gripe session," and urged residents to decide what could be done to make a change in the course of city politics.

One of the major concerns residents discussed is that Lewis' proposed budget is calling for a reduction in the number of
officers in Silsbee. Many of the residents said they feel if the police force is cut, then the crime rate will begin to increase.
They believe the reason why Silsbee has a low crime rate is that three officers are generally on duty at all times to respond
to calls.

Another complaint of the people that attended the meeting is that the reduction in health care benefits and the freeze in
pay might cause some of the experienced officers to leave the department. Right now, the police department is one of the most experienced departments in the county, according to Silsbee Police officers.

During the convenience store murder earlier this year, officers said they recognized the suspect and knew where he and his family lived. This knowledge allowed officers to apprehend and arrest the suspect on the day of the murder.

According to police officers, an inexperienced police force would have taken longer to make an arrest, because they
would not have been as familiar with the city and its residents.

People at the meeting felt that with the loss of these experienced officers, the Silsbee Police department might not be as effective.

Another concern of the people was whether the budget accurately portrayed the status of the city. According to concerned residents, they have been unable to get a current expenditure list, because city officials say they are having problems with the city's computer system.

In an interview before the public forum, Lewis said when making his proposed budget for 2000-2001, he studied the city's expenditures and reported income through the third quarter of the current fiscal year to make estimations for the expenditures and revenues for the rest of the year. He said this was a common practice when making a budget because it is impossible to know what the exact expenditures are until the end of the year.

Lewis said that he and the city secretary figured the expenditure and revenue lists both manually and by using computer data. He said the computer system is in "very bad shape," and they were not comfortable just accepting the data provided by the computer.

Lewis said he has followed the city charter by providing a budget in the allotted time of 60 days before the budget must be ratified, so the council will have enough time to make any changes. Eldredge said he does not believe Lewis used current expenditures lists to prepare the proposed budget, because no such lists have been made available to the public upon request.

During Monday's meeting, residents discussed having a recall on council members, who they feel are ignoring perceived problems in the city.

In order to have a recall, citizens must list reasons they feel the council member has been neglectful in their duties and have a representative number of registered voters sign a petition.

According to speakers at the meeting, less than 100 registered voters would have to sign a petition to start the proceedings.

Residents would have to have separate petitions and charges for each council member they proposed to recall.

Only council members can be recalled in this manner, not city employees, such as the city manager.

Residents at the meeting discussed placing pressure on the council to fire the city manager during his next evaluation, which is scheduled next month. Another forum for concerned residents will be held in the gymnasium at the First Pentecostal Church of Silsbee tomorrow at 7 p.m. The church is located just north of the Pine Plaza on Highway 92.

All citizens are invited to attend the meeting, including present city council members and city employees.

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