By Johnnie Belle Reagan
City of Palestine is just like any other county seat in the State of Texas that the IRS and FBI have been investigating the leadership of Anderson County in the last weeks.
What makes Palestine different is the attention that it has been gaining over the past few years. After starting a needless unlawful lawsuit against a local proprietor of a lawnmower repair shop, Palestine Saw and Lawn, Jerry Laza it has been under a spotlight of sorts. Being in deficit several hundred thousand dollars because of it seems to have gotten some attention.
When the spotlight gets turned on it makes others pay closer attention to how the City is run. Wasting 100’s of thousands in tax payer money on wants rather than needs makes residents grumpy about driving over pothole filled roads and drinking nasty water. It also makes local activist buzz around and dig.
The digging has brought many issues to light. Corruption, maybe, or we can just refer to it as little missteps on the side of local municipal government. A reported 1 million dollar deficit in meeting the City’s new budget for 2018-2019 fiscal year doesn’t sit well when you spend $300,000.00 in attorney fees $200,000.00 over budget. People start to take notice. Concerned citizens start to ask questions.
One local activist uncovered some major discrepancy in the proposed budget. It might have seemed like a good idea to fudge the numbers at the time someone prepared the budget document, but might not have taken into account someone might check the math. Reporting favorable numbers is not a good idea if documents posted to the City website show something different. For instance; reporting that your budget was $201,880.00 and you only spent $197,196.00, yea you. In fact your budget was $92,300.00 and you actually over spent $104,896.00 that might be a reason to doubt all the budget numbers. This misinformed budget was passed by the Palestine City Council Monday September 24, 2018, just moving right along, business as usual.
The City suffering a 1 million dollar short fall is even more concerning to the employees of the City of Palestine who are now being asked to carry the burden of years of mismanagement by government officials. So far more than 20 city employees have been laid off to close part of the gap. Also, the remaining City employees are being asked to carry a huge burden of the cost of their health insurance to cover a large premium increase. The City had no intention of leaving any employee untouched by having the Council agrees to pass an ordinance reducing the City’s contribution to the retirement plan and cost of living increases. At the most recent City Council meeting mentioned above many retired employees signed up to voice their concerns and ill feelings about the changes. Sorry, it was already a done deal with little review or questions by the City Council. Once again showing how they are led by the City Manager and City Attorney rather than doing the extensive work that makes for good decisions.
To add to the dazed and confused inner workings of the City of Palestine there are all this pesky little non-profits. All of the non-profits relate back to a larger group Texas Area Fund Foundation with connection including the Mayor, District Attorney and other members of the local elite. Recently the City has awarded grant money to many of the non-profits that claim to fall under the umbrella of the Texas Area Fund. Come to find out that might not be the total truth. Some of the non-profits that received grant money had failed to renew their records with the State of Texas. There are countless little Texas Area Fund Foundation projects around town that go unfinished. Project like the Railroad Memorial Park that another local activist calls “Dirt Mound Park”, yes it received grant money. To everyone’s amazement went untouched until it was discovered that the City has installed a water meter and no one was paying a bill. Would it only be a concern for the “friends” of the City if the IRS sent agents down with a surprise audit? Hey, it’s just tax money why use it correctly?
Now you can see why the oversight committee ordinance was bashed, twisted and changed into something the City Manager could control rather than letting it and the members do a much needed job. With all this indiscretions why would you want someone looking over your shoulder or checking your work?
Then there are all of these other little hush hush secrets whispered around town about so called affairs caught on tape, auto accidents in the City parking lots, stints in drug rehab and missing 30,000 dollar drone (only a week, its back now). Just a regular small town soap opera played out at 504 N. Queen St. Palestine, Texas.