With only a handful of residents in attendance, the Village of Volente finally held its first city council meeting on Wednesday, June 5, after four months of missed regular sessions. The lack of meetings are taking a toll on the small community which was incorporated in 2003 and has some 600 residents. At this point there is talk of removing the mayor and another council member who are not showing up to the Volente City Council meetings.
Mayor Pro Tem Chris Wilder confirmed, with the exception of one special-called meeting, the Volente City Council has not met regularly since January 15. He said the scheduled regular sessions of the council didn’t occur because a quorum of members wasn’t available.
“(It was) not on account of not trying,” Wilder said about the lack of government meetings. “We just didn’t have the ability to get a quorum.”
Mayor David Springer, who won the November election with 56 percent of the vote over challenger Judy Barrick, with 44 percent of the vote, has been absent from the city for most days due to a family illness that has forced him to remain in New York since before the election, Wilder said. In fact, Springer hasn’t attended a city council meeting since the beginning of the year and neither has Council Member Place 2 Bill Connors, he said.
At the start of the May 29 session, staff attempted to FaceTime with Springer but were unable to make contact to bring him into the meeting remotely. Council approved an agenda item that acknowledged seven regular and special meetings in 2019 were forced to be cancelled due to a lack of quorum, including Jan. 22, 25; March 19, 28; April 16, 18, and 23.
Calls to Springer and Connors by Four Points News were not returned by presstime.
Mary Scherer, who moved to the village in November, said the recent events by the leadership of the community is disappointing.
“It’s just disappointing as a new resident of Volente to see two people who aren’t willing to step aside and let others who can commit to the time and investment necessary to allow them to (serve the city),” Scherer said. “That’s the frustrating part for me because we love living out here.”
A longtime resident of the Four Points area, Scherer moved to Volente after building on a lot her family purchased two years ago.
Scherer said four or five months without a city council quorum is “kind of a problem, even for our small little hamlet.”
“My impression was that we were moving to a tight-knit, small community away from a lot of the politics and distractions,” Scherer said. “People moved here (with a) common interest that things would be different. I’m sort of surprised at seeing the politics and the dysfunction. I just hope that we move past that quickly.”
Scherer isn’t the only one frustrated.
Council Member Place 1 Carroll “Missy” Thost resigned Feb. 22. In her resignation letter, Thost cited Council’s manner of conducting business as the reason for her leaving the post.
“There is a breakdown of trust between the members of Council which makes it impossible to find middle grounds or solutions much less conduct official village business and meaningful Council meetings,” Thost said in the letter. “I believe the hostile environment is primarily fueled by the chaos of a disorganized village office that has been neglected, misdirected and misguided for many years. I further feel that I cannot support the Council because of a lack of confidence in the strategy and direction that in many ways is in conflict with the Comprehensive Master Plan and my understanding of the wishes of the citizens of the Village of Volente.”
In April, Cindy Metro was appointed to the Volente City Council. It was the only action members took in the special meeting that was delayed two hours from its 6:30 p.m. scheduled start time.
Despite the interruptions, Wilder said the day-to-day functions of the government are being taken care of, with Wilder serving as Volente’s acting mayor.
“Everything is getting done, in terms of making sure all of the checks are signed, all of the business of the city is moving forward,” he said. “The thing that is missing is anything that needed to have some level of Council approval, we haven’t been able to get that done.”
Wilder said he was thankful Volente doesn’t have any internal major construction projects in the works that would require the city government to approve variance requests or issue certificates of occupancy and residential projects have not been affected by the situation.
However, Wilder said the municipality hasn’t been able to further its partnership with the Brushy Creek Regional Utility Authority, a group of cities united to treat and distribute water from the Lower Colorado River Authority. He said the BCRUA intends to add a pipeline at the bottom of Volente, with City Council needing to add “approval” and “guidance” for certain facets of the project.
On May 29, Council members unanimously approved a permit to the BCRUA for the construction of four monitoring wells in the Village’s right of way on Lime Creek Road. The permit will ensure the pipeline project isn’t having a negative effect on local groundwater by permitting agency staff to periodically measure the contents of the monitoring wells.
At the Wednesday session, Council also unanimously approved the payment of two attorney fee bills in the amount of $16,755 and $3,676 for March and April invoices, respectively, as well as appoint David McClellan to the finance committee. Nominee Steve Baker withdrew his consideration for a second finance committee position, leaving the group short on manpower.
Although some items were approved a few days ago, the lack of meetings this year is taking its toll.
“It has been very difficult for us to get anything done in terms of as a council moving forward, which is a direct disservice to our residents because we did ask for the job,” Wilder said.
Wilder said he thinks Springer and Connors should resign.
“If they’re not going to do the job, then they need to step aside and let somebody in who is willing to do the job,” Wilder said. “I think a lot of people in the village share that same sentiment.”
He said some residents have sought the advice of the Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore and Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty in an attempt to remove these officials from office and about 30-50 residents are willing to sign a petition toward that end. Wilder said he has been contacted by multiple people who have asked for their resignation.
But, if both Springer and Connors had resigned before a replacement for resigning Council Member Thost had been found in April, the situation would have “put (the village) in chaos,” forcing the municipality to have an election, which would have been very expensive and time consuming, he said.
The only city provisions pertaining to removal of a council member is that he or she must be absent for at least three city council meetings before a resolution to remove the missing member can be taken up by the remaining members, Wilder said. Since the village has not been able to support any regular meetings since January, he said that requirement remains unfulfilled.
“The council hasn’t done anything because, without a quorum, we can’t hold a meeting,” Wilder said.
The timeline for removing Springer and Connors “is to be determined” and the village will be working with its attorneys on the subject, he said. The issue wasn’t listed on the Council’s agenda last week. Wilder said the village will need to tighten up the attendance policies for future mayors and council members.
News of these events has been spreading through the city, leaving remaining Council Members Jana Nace of Place 3 and Sean Ryan of Place 4 pulling double duty to keep Volente afloat.
“I just think we need to have a productive city, and we can’t do that without adequate help and a mayor that’s present,” Nace said.
She said the city officers haven’t seen Springer since March and, to make matters worse, the former city secretary quit the position when he took office in January. Nace said she has tried to fill in at the city’s office and is currently training a temporary secretary. She said new council member Metro doesn’t yet have city council experience.
“There’s a lot of rookies in there,” she said.