Alpine City Council to Vote on Firing City Attorney 9/17/13
CBS 7 News
September 17, 2013
Alpine, TX - According to Tuesday night's (6 p.m.)meeting agenda The Alpine City Council will vote to terminate the City Attorney John Armstrong.
With three yeas one nay and one absent council member, the vote of no confidence passed—asking for Armstrong’s voluntary resignation last meeting.
Armstrong says he will not resign.
"The only thing new from the last seven council members is the city attorney," said John Armstrong said.
“My debits do not equal my credits by $30.2 million dollars, that’s three years worth of your operating budget,” said Alpine’s Interim City Finance Manager Deborah Pattison in the last City Council meeting.
This was a statement released to the media by Armstrong Tuesday:
I am the current City Attorney for the City of Alpine, Texas. I was appointed by the City Council to the position starting December 1, 2012. I feel that I was selected for the appointment due to my extensive municipal experience, which extends for approximately 28 years. My disciplinary record with the State Bar of Texas is exemplary, and I have been rated as “AV” by Martindale Hubble, which is a peer review rating system for attorneys. “A” stands for highest legal ability, and “V” stands for highest level of integrity. I am a very competent municipal attorney, dedicated to serving the citizens of Alpine, with competence, clarity, and transparency.
The letter you received from Linda Heitman (hereinafter "Heitman") regarding her "investigation" on behalf of the City of Alpine of various prior accounting and employment matters contains slant, bias, and outright fabrication. It has also caused a tempest, mostly based on political agendas. This statement is my attempt to set the record straight.
Heitman was an hourly contract worker for the City of Alpine (hereinafter referred to as "City"). Her only duties were to do work assigned to her by her supervisor, Interim Finance Director Deborah Pattison (hereinafter “Pattison”). As a contract worker, Heitman was not an "investigator"; she was only responsible for performing tasks as assigned by Ms. Pattison. One of the tasks assigned to Heitman was to research and categorize past employee payroll advances, whether same were received via a special "emergency" account, a vendor payment, or through the normal payroll system of the City. Additionally, Heitman was asked to trace repayment of payroll advances, proving deposits as clearing City bank accounts. Heitman was to report her results to Pattison for forwarding to the Texas Rangers. City Council was also to be made aware of the results of the assigned task in a report Pattison was making to City Council on September 3rd.
Instead of reporting her results to Pattison as directed, Heitman on her own and with no authorization sent the results of her partially completed research to the Mayor, the City Council, the Texas Rangers, the Utility Director, and belatedly myself as City Attorney (on September 3rd). The Mayor and Council received the research results on September 2nd. Pattison only received the results on the afternoon of September 2nd, Labor Day. This occurred after Heitman deliberately kept the results of her assigned work from Pattison, even though Pattison had asked for the research results from Heitman several times prior to August 31st. In the packet containing the work product, Heitman claimed that the reason she was openly disobeying her orders and breaking the chain of command was that Pattison was keeping information potentially damaging to the City and its employees confidential.
Nothing could be further from the truth... In fact, Pattison and myself have been 100% cooperative with the Ranger investigation. Further in fact, Pattison has worked unceasingly to examine City books and reconcile accounting; a task which has greatly assisted the Ranger investigation as well as assisted the City of Alpine in getting its financial house back in order.
One of the reasons to share discovered information with the City Attorney and the Rangers is to avoid creating the appearance of a witch hunt, or selective targeting of particular individuals. By getting facts to the professional investigators as opposed to releasing said information to the public willy nilly, only that information which merits further scrutiny is utilized. Also, the City is protected from claims of slander, cover up or obstructionism. To the contrary, Heitman’s carelessly throwing out selected information to the press needlessly indicts the individuals involved in the court of public opinion, without said individuals receiving their Constitutional rights. Even though Heitman was not an employee of the City, and even though she released the information in direct contravention of her instructions to release same to her supervisor, Heitman's act could negatively implicate the City, as well as the Ranger investigation. It has most certainly damaged the Interim Finance Director's working relationship with city employees and elected officials.
For example, several of the claims of wrongdoing made by Heitman, unscreened and not given the necessary time or opportunity to be carefully examined by Pattison, are easily explained by some simple further research.
If Heitman's only transgression was carelessness, she might be excused. But her actions were directly insubordinate. As noted, her actions could subject the City to legal action. And her actions were motivated only by a selfish and improper desire to acquire personal gain and recognition at the expense of her supervisor. The fact that Heitman was woefully irresponsible and deceptive is simply inexcusable.
Heitman most likely timed her release of the information over the Labor Day weekend to not allow a proper and immediate response to her bad actions. Heitman subjected the victims of her improper release of information to scrutiny, some of which might be unjust. Heitman deprived the victims of her release of information of their Constitutional rights in the court of public opinion, and possibly in an actual court on down the road, which might inure to the disadvantage of the City. Mostly, Heitman was misguided by current city employees to allow ongoing mismanagement of public funds to continue. She deserves no accolade for what she did. She subverted the ongoing, orderly and professional investigation by State agencies into negligence in prior city operations.
Proper documentation has been provided through correct legal channels by Pattison since her work began in Alpine. The discovered documentation has been forwarded with no drama or fanfare: just the facts provided to the proper authorities with regularity and discretion.
The City of Alpine, through Interim Finance Director Deborah Pattison and myself as City Attorney, has completely and proactively cooperated with the Texas Ranger investigation, and has taken all steps to insure that information flows to the Rangers as discovered. Heitman knew that, and her lies to the contrary are a complete and thorough indictment of her character. The fact that she attempted her stunt for personal gain is even more damning.
Pattison is a professional. She has been invited into cities by municipal auditors and leaders for the purpose of implementing sound financial practices, and she has built cash reserves to appropriate and sustainable levels in the cities that she has served. Making cities financially healthy is her specialty, and she has proven her value in three prior municipal turnaround situations. If you observe Pattison being fired and/or pushed out, be forewarned that this city is systematically ridding itself of the public servants (me included) who have the credibility, the concern, and the work ethic to restore integrity and public accountability to our city.
It is a valid question to ask why certain members of the City Council (Angie Bermudez and Julian Gonzales) and the Mayor have steadily thwarted my efforts and Pattison’s efforts to comply with the Texas Ranger’s requests for information in aid of their ongoing investigation. In a functional city, one would assume that the aforementioned City Council leadership would welcome a team willing to tackle the tough issues, and would demand truth and transparency in the results. In the City of Alpine, currently, however, a polar opposite reaction and dynamic has existed. The Mayor, Bermudez and Gonzales have consistently discouraged the search for truth and transparency regarding prior governmental mismanagement. The question should be why? Why did they attempt by all means available including flimsy procedural hocus pocus to keep the former City Manager and former Finance Director (arrested for two counts of felony theft and misuse of public funds, for which he has confessed) in their positions? Particularly after they became aware for the 7th consecutive audit through the City’s Auditor that extremely serious financial mismanagement issues existed? In September 2012, for example, in the City’s TexStar resource investment account, $302,427 was available as reserve. A year later, a balance of $575 exists today - and it costs an average of $200,000 per week to operate the City.
What is their possible motivation? Are they involved? Are they engaged in an attempt to cover up their prior culpability? After all, these serious financial mismanagement issues have arisen on their watch, and during their terms. Most particularly the Mayor’s. Or are they simply embarrassed by their years of prior bad management? These questions deserve answers.
My questions are relevant, and are certainly worth asking. Blind fidelity to continued ineffective methods is not an option for the Alpine City Council at this critical juncture.
Citizens, demand answers to my questions. And more importantly, demand that City Council and the Mayor abide by the Charter and allow myself and Ms. Pattison to continue our work in assisting the Rangers in their investigation. (Alpine Charter, Section 3.10 Interference With Administration). Demand that Ms. Pattison be allowed to continue to sort through the mess that is Alpine’s past financial books and practices, without interference by Bermudez, Gonzales, and Mayor Rangra. And most importantly, do not allow Alpine to spend beyond its means under Rangra’s bad stewardship.
I love Alpine. But mostly, I love honest and transparent and accountable government. Join me and Deborah Pattison and others in this important cause. As for me, I will continue to fight for the cause of honest and righteous government, whether I am your City Attorney or not.