Mayor Willy Walker appointed Sam Kelley, a former member of the Houston board of education, to fill a Ward I council position recently vacated.
Kelley was sworn in at a special meeting of the council on Monday night. He replaces Joe Honeycutt, who moved from the ward.
The council handled several matters in its regular session.
Members heard that a fiber-to-the-home internet system has undergone testing and service extended to a pilot area that includes around Oak Hill Drive and generally east of the downtown business area. A ceremony to officially launch it is Wednesday afternoon at the downtown business district. The city will soon be reaching out to its utility customers with information.
The council also approved specialized equipment that will allow it to expand to 1,024 customers unless direct line connections are made to some customers, such as the Texas County 911 office. The cost was $13,477. Through its electrical system, the city serves about 1,250 customers.
City Administrator Scott Avery said the city already had an inquiry concerning a data center locating in the community because of the availability of 1 gig service.
In other matters, members:
•Recognized former Police Chief Tim Ceplina’s service to the community. He recently retired and was presented his service pistol by Walker. Members thanked him for his service to the community as a police officer and later running the department.
•Heard from Karen James, community relations manager for the local Drury University site, who outlined an emergency management program scholarship that might benefit firefighters and reported that Drury will hold its first seated summer class. She also highlighted plans for the fall.
•Approved the development of business plan under a MoDOT program for the Houston Memorial Airport. The city’s portion of the cost through a grant program is estimated at $7,500 — or 10 percent. The study will look at possible aviation-related businesses that could be attracted.
•Received an update following a FAA request to trim some trees south of airport on the historic Tweed property. The city is consulting with several parties before taking any action — including Houston native Dan Christie, an arborist, and the U.S. Forest Service, along potentially others.
•Approved a request that allows CASA to provide alcohol at a fund-raiser it plans at the Houston Municipal Golf Course. (5-1, with alderwoman Sheila Walker voting no).
•Entered into a settlement agreement with its insurance carrier following a March 2020 hail storm. Several structures and vehicles were affected. Contracts for roof work at city hall and an industrial building on Spruce Street were handled directly between the insurance company and the contractor, Cambridge Wilson & Company, Avery reported.
•Continue discussions on the city’s role in Missouri’s statewide automation project involving municipal courts. The city has three options: Have Associate Judge Doug Gaston oversee municipal court, move the operation to associate circuit court or continue to operate the existing courts system at city hall with its judge, Conway Hawn.
City Attorney Brad Eidson recommended keeping the existing system in place, purchasing the required computer and software, and retaining some local control over the municipal court’s operation.
Walker and Avery said they were inclined to have the municipal court operated by the judicial system at the Texas County Justice Center. A change of location from city hall to the storm shelter on First Street was discussed as a more accommodating venue.
In this region, Eidson said he knew of one town — Ava — that opted to transfer its transactions to associate court.
A decision is expected June 21.
•Closed out a FEMA grant that allowed for improvements at Coyle Creek in Emmett Kelly Park, work on a Main Street bridge and other attention on the Brushy Creek leg of the Village Trail. As part of the agreement, the city is required to pay back about $23,301, which was less than had been feared.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT POSITION
The replacement of former economic development head Rob Harrington was discussed. On the table is hiring a new director as outlined by its ordinances or developing a new job description that might also include duties such as economic development, outreach in the community and other city responsibilities.
Walker and Avery said Houston was only one of two fourth-class cities in the state to have a full-time economic developer. Walker said the city’s industrial development authority members are focused and doing a good job. Aldermen Stilley and Ross Richardson each expressed concerns about a reduced focus on economic development. Stilley said recent progress in the community — such as the development of the Piney River Technical Center — was a direct result of the focus provided by Harrington.
The council will continue its discussions, as well as look at a need for additional help in the parks department.
•Took no action on an electrical rate study available through its power buying group. The cost was not to exceed $17,800.
•Heard that about 60 percent of its 137,280 feet of city sewer system has been studied through video by a contractor. One troublespot identified is about a mile of line along Highway 17 that might be targeted with a special liner to reduce inflow into the sewer system — which remains a goal for the city.
•Learned that phase one of an automatic reading system has been completed. It includes 251 electrical meters and 119 water meters that send readings wirelessly to city hall for billing. Connections and disconnections can be handled remotely, too. Phase two will begin.
•Heard an update on the opening of the municipal swimming pool and sidewalk improvements near U.S. 63 and First Street, as well as on King Street near the Houston Elementary School, where a parking lot also will be constructed. The work might be completed this week — if weather allows.
•Learned that the city has advanced to another grant review stage in its efforts to construct a bridge from the Brushy Creek portion of the walking trail to a leg that runs east of the justice center and westwardly.
•Heard the city will receive about $420,000 from the federal American Rescue Act. Half will come soon, and the other portion in a year. The uses are very narrow, reported Avery. They include broadband work, sewer improvements and HVAC projects that might halt the coronavirus. Texas County is in line to receive nearly $5 million.
•Discussed the city’s policy on mowing rights-of-way. Alderwoman Walker reported she had received inquiries from citizens about the lack of mowing and the unkept appearance. The mayor said city was following its ordinances and the only change was that the city was now using the guidance currently on the books.
•Heard a new 25-foot flag pole will soon be erected at Pine Lawn Cemetery to replace one that is damaged.
•Adjourned into a closed session to discuss personnel.