By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
The mystery behind the Erath County Central Appraisal District’s certificate of occupancy has sparked an assessment of compliance for the city of Stephenville’s planning and building services department.
The city council voted to have the assessment done after it was found out there were improprieties in the CAD’s certificate. It is believed the assessment was first scheduled to review around 53 certificates, but after the remainder of public information request by TheFlashToday.com was honored by the city Wednesday, it appeared a deeper audit may be needed.
The city had already honored part of the request Tuesday when it turned over the CAD’s certificate of occupancy and accompanying application. The certificate was “parchment” style and not a computer “printout” (unlike the ones handed over Wednesday), it was misdated July 16, 2013 and was not signed.
The CAD’s application did not contain the proper signatures indicating a building inspection and fire inspection had been done. The application did not have those signatures because there were no inspections.
Wednesday’s release of information was a batch printout of recently issued certificates with about three certificates per page. The only problem being the certificate with the biggest question marks was not among the batch.
That’s because the certificate was never entered into Stephenville’s “Encode System” and there is no record of it anywhere in the city’s database. The certificate’s issuance appears to have totally circumvented Stephenville’s ability to conduct an audit of certificates.
The biggest questions surrounding the matter are who issued the certificate and who failed to enter the information into the city’s database? And of course, why was it done in this manner?
A call to Angi Couch of the Erath CAD was not returned Wednesday. Couch submitted the application as part of her job. Chief Appraiser Jerry Lee is on vacation and was not available for comment.
The lack of accountability on the CAD’s certificate appears to be just the tip of the iceberg for some problems that are emerging. There is also at least one set of minutes (a recording) currently missing from a planning and zoning meeting.
There are other documents that can’t be accounted for and that has raised flags because it has the potential to put the brakes on some building projects if proper procedures were circumvented. Without an official record of what happened at a zoning meeting and other supporting information, projects could see delays as the city attempts to work through and correct problems.
The sudden alert to problems comes on the heels of the dismissal of Judy Miller, the city’s Director of Planning and Building Services. Miller was dismissed from her duties by City Administrator Pat Bridges, a move that was obviously not favored by several council members who felt they should have been consulted prior to such an abrupt change.
Bridges stuck to his guns even after numerous people spoke out on Miller’s behalf during a tense council meeting and two-hour long executive session. At that time Mayor Kenny Weldon said the council had accepted Bridges’ decision, but only with the assurance a person of equal or better service capability was brought in as a replacement.
While no one spoke out against Miller at the public meeting, there are numerous reports that a hostile work environment was starting to boil at Stephenville City Hall.
“Name calling, belittling fellow employees and an, ‘only-Judy-knew-what-she-was-doing-environment was created,’ ” said a city employee who asked to not be identified. The word “hostile” has been used concerning Miller with other towns in Texas to include Marble Falls and Granite Shoals.
An online article at the DailyTrib.com reported, “Miller came under fire at council meeting by citizens who accused her of being uncooperative, inaccessible and creating an adversarial environment among city volunteers.”
Granite Shoal current city manager Ken Nickel was promoted to his position and worked for Miller.
“We had goals to achieve and I always had a good working relationship with Judy Miller,” Nickel said.
The Erath CAD’s new building at 1195 South Loop in Stephenville has since received a new certificate of occupancy, a process that was completed Tuesday following a building inspection and an inspection by the fire marshal’s office.