In an emotionally-charged atmosphere with many interruptions by those in attendance, members of the governing body of Blanco heard a number of citizen concerns about the police department and issues with the lack of an updated signage ordinance. In the Public Comments portion of the meeting, former mayor Tina Gourley questioned why additional police officers are not hired to alleviate the long hours put in by the current four officers, who work 12-hour shifts. “I do not understand why the city continues to treat the police department like ‘red-headed stepchildren‘,” she said.
In a later conversation with Chief Willmann, he explained that officers do work 12-hour shifts; however, they work three days and then are off for two. They also get every other weekend off.
Debbie Homeier commended the police department for the work they do. She also offered to turn over signage information researched by the Visionaries in Preservation to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Pat Caulfield, acknowledging that the current signage ordinance is “too restrictive,” nevertheless expressed fear that Blanco may become “one big neon sign” if a signage ordinance is not adopted quickly. Former Planning and Zoning Commissioner Martha Herden added that developing a signage ordinance is “a hard thing, but the city is growing.” As an example, she referred to the new signal light being installed at the corner of Highway 281 and Blanco Avenue. She alluded to the requests of Blanco Luxury Suites owner Bharat Patel for a more visible sign, saying “We have a quality hotel,” which needs business.
On behalf of Keep Blanco Beautiful, Retta Martin asked the city once again for help in putting up Christmas lights. Pat Vallone praised the efforts of KBB, saying, “I am very proud of it; they do a great job. KBB has struggled for many years and is back on track for the Trail of Lights. I would like to see the city help.”
Jerry Williams reported for the Pedernales Electric Cooperative that the large concrete utility pole which caused great controversy because of its presence in the historic district, has been moved over one street; further, PEC has found money to continue working on the lines to it. He also announced that PEC is requiring more positive identification from customers seeking to open accounts. Those who cannot provide a driver’s license must pay a $150 deposit. Delinquency rates have gone down since the new policy was implemented, according to Williams. He also reminded council that the application deadline for the PEC-sponsored annual Youth Tour for high school seniors is October 25. Applications may be picked up at high schools, at PEC offices, or downloaded from the PEC website.
Resident Maria Guerrero complained about the lack of police department coverage back in August when two youths broke into cars parked on her property. After making a 911 call, she learned that there were no officers working after 2 a.m., either in Johnson City, Blanco, or with the Blanco County sheriff’s department. The fact that it took 49 minutes for an officer to get to her house, by which time the offenders were gone, she called “ridiculous. The only thing that will make me comfortable is 24-hour coverage,” she concluded. Council member and police liaison Al Turner responded that Blanco’s police department now provides 24-hour coverage by each officer working a 12-hour shift. Council member Rebecca Howerton responded, “Crime has come to Blanco. Four police officers cannot do all the work that is required of them—8 hours on patrol and 4 hours of paperwork. The theory of us not having crime after a certain time is out the window. The big-time criminals have discovered little Blanco.” Guerrero continued that she has toured the new police department quarters on Blanco Avenue, commenting, “It is sad the conditions they work in—not much equipment.”
Council member Bobbie McClung responded that the four officers who work in Johnson City “have provided adequate coverage” and that the department has “good response time 24-7.” Mayor Chuck Homan added that he has met three times with the Johnson City police officers. After sharing his information with Blanco officers, they opted to try 12-hour shifts as well. Tina Gourley asked what happens if an officer gets sick, and Homan responded that in that situation, which has recently occurred, a constable and Blanco County sheriff’s department officer stepped in. Guerrero responded, “In the future these guys need some help.”
The idea of implementing a youth curfew was discussed by council, with several residents, including Gourley and Guerrero, strongly supporting the idea. City attorney Eddy Rogers provided those in attendance with a sample ordinance, which could be customized to Blanco. According to the document provided by Rogers, curfew ordinances normally apply to youths under the ages of 17 or 18 and stipulate that youths should be in their homes by 10 or 11 p.m. during the week and midnight on Saturdays. A number of exemptions could be made, including late night jobs, athletic functions, accompaniment by a parent, and others. Pros and cons were presented, including the lowering of juvenile crime at night. Arguments against a curfew included distrust of youths for the police, the possibility of police using an ordinance to “hassle” youths, and constitutional issues such profiling youth because of their age, infringing on their right to move about, etc. Rogers said, “It makes a youth a criminal for being who he is.” He also joked, “I’m on Medicare, and everyone looks 17 to me.” Bobby McClung questioned whether there is enough crime in Blanco to justify an ordinance. Chief Willmann pointed out that the two young men who broke into Guerrero’s car were apprehended for another crime and were older than 18; hence, an ordinance wouldn’t have made any difference. Al Turner addressed the issue of police discretion, whereby an officer can approach a youth who is out late at night and just talk to him or her without making an arrest or charging him with a Class C Misdemeanor and assessing his parents with a hefty fine. McClung said, “It’s a slippery slope; we should not be hasty in imposing a curfew and fining parents $500.” Finally the item was tabled with no action. An agenda item requesting relief from an excessive water bill caused by a hose left running was also tabled.
Council authorized the mayor to grant a request by residents Steve and Chris Hall that the city abandon parts of Old River Road across Lots 1and 2 of S&C Subdivision, with the stipulation that the Halls grant the city a utility easement and pay the city $400.
Council also granted a variance to Bharat Patel for a lighted sign at the Blanco Luxury Suites. The vote was the culmination of sometimes heated discussion between Patel and members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, who recommended denying his initial request for a sign on a 60-foot pole. The variance allows him to erect a 120sf sign which is 20 feet in height, including the pole. “It doesn’t need to go back to P&Z,” said P&Z chair Dana LeBlanc. “We need to give him something; he has put in a wonderful establishment.” Bobby McClung added, “We have done Mr. Patel a disservice by being adversarial.” He did recommend, however, that the city pass an updated signage ordinance as soon as possible. In other P&Z business, LeBlanc reported that commissioners will attend the meetings of other organizations to share information. Courtney Curbow will attend Street Scaping meetings and Connie Barron will attend historical commission meetings. Members of P&Z will begin reviewing documents from the Visionaries in Preservation and the Comprehensive Master Plan in order to present a revised signage ordinance to the city. Connie Barron has agreed to serve as secretary of P&Z. P&Z presented Maria Guerrero as their recommendation to fill Diana Schwinn’s seat, and council voted to approve the recommendation.
Rebecca Howerton, speaking on behalf of the local American Legion post, asked the city to close off Pecan Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets in front of Bindseil Park for a Veteran’s Day Parade on November 13. “If they get half the floats they expect, it will be a very big parade,” she said. The parade route will come from Blanco High School down 4th Street to Elm, around the square, and back t o the school. Activities planned include chili and cobbler cooked by Dennis Moore, to be sold as a fund-raising activity for the American Legion. Council voted to close Pecan from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Fire chief David Hotz informed council that the city does not have an operational fire truck at this time, and that repairs to the current truck will cost more than the truck is worth. Insurance costs for the city will be less if the new truck has a 5-inch hose, according to Hotz, who explained that the city will have the use of a truck by the company the department has researched to build a truck, at a cost of $204,958. Council passed a resolution authorizing the fire department to proceed with the purchase of a new truck. There would be no cost to the city until the truck is complete. The truck can be financed for up to 15 years at a monthly cost of $2500. The cost of the truck would also go into next year’s budget.
Penny Thomas, executive director of the Blanco Chamber of Commerce, reported that the chamber has held its election for 2011 officers. Starting in January Liz Waller will be president; Marcie Westcott, vice-president; Debbie Homeier, secretary; and Pat Caulfield, treasurer. The chamber and the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society will each have a member on the other’s board to facilitate communication between the two entities. Thomas also reminded council of the first annual chamber golf tournament, to be held October 18 at Vaaler Creek Golf Course and the annual OBCCPS Gala October 23. Tickets are available at the courthouse. The next chamber mixer will be held October 28 at the Ranches of Brushy Top Information Center from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Blanco Market Days will be held October 23. A public meeting discussing Blanco’s Design Guidelines will be held at the Blanco Library October 25 at 6:30 p.m. Finally, the chamber’s annual banquet will be held January 22.
Police chief Milton Willmann reported that the new 12-hour shifts have covered the city “pretty adequately” but “If someone is sick, it puts a strain on us. The hours worked are pretty exorbitant; we still need some folks. We still have some cases we haven’t gotten to.” He explained that crime typically goes down when school starts but rises at the holidays with local attractions such as the Trail of Lights. More than fifty citations were issued in September, reported Willmann. “We’re just trying to keep our heads above water; we want our folks to be safe.” He expressed his appreciation for citizen involvement. “We couldn’t do it without you,” he concluded. The city received a bid of $214 for the sale of a 2000 police car. An earlier requirement for a minimum bid of $2000 for the vehicle netted no bids, according to the mayor. The council voted to accept the bid.
In Executive Session, council reviewed employee evaluations, salary, personnel retention and personnel management and job performance, also a performance review of senior police officers. In open session council voted to hire Chris Martinez to work for the water department. The performance review of Assistant Chief Carl Bragg and his subsequent firing appear here: http://www.blancocountynews.com/news/article/35682