By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
After a 10-minute executive session Tuesday night, the Hope City Board of Directors rather quickly and quietly approved another contract renewal for City Manager Catherine Cook by a vote of 5-to-1 with Mark Ross again being the lone dissenting vote as he was a year go.
The 2018 version of the vote apparently ensures job security for Cook until the year 2020. As in previous years, there was no public explanation of benchmarks or justification for contract extension announced by Mayor Steve Montgomery or any other board member.
Only Ross said, “I vote ‘No’ not because I am against Catherine, but because I don’t believe in contracts for city managers.”
The margin of the board’s vote, 5-to-1, also drew a stark contrast to last July’s special election to supplant Hope’s city manager form of government.
In July’s citywide vote, the vote percentage was 49.2-percent, For, and 50.8, Against, revealing an almost evenly divided electorate among Hope residents, but Tuesday’s city manager contract renewal by the board reflected none of that polarization.
In 2017, Montgomery admitted that the Hope City Board had never done an evaluation of the City Manager previously and that a review form needed to be developed by the Board.
Also last year, Cook’s contract called for the review to the held in private, even as she is, in her position as city manager, the most powerful person in Hope city government.
In other Hope City Board news from Tuesday night:
- The board approved revisions to the City employee manual regarding Nepotism, specifically to address instances of immediate family members working within the same departments. The board also approved a revision, which added “assistant city manager” to a list of officials who could not have immediate family working for the city, but deleted officials like finance director, city attorney, and city judge.
- In requesting the revisions, J.R. Wilson pointed to the available labor pool in a small town like Hope, and he feared that good and qualified potential employees were being eliminated, but he also conceded “sensitivity to certain political ramifications.”
- The board also approved three separate bids for the demolition of three separate condemned houses. Accepted for 1305 West 4th was a $4,500 bid from Hart Construction of Texas; accepted for 214 South Laurel was $7,350 bid from Metal Building Erector, and also accepted was a bid at 513 West Division of $10,000.
- The meeting opened with an update on the city’s rail spur repairs, where a low bidder, identified as Cleve Batte of Fouke, had not complied with registration at SAM.gov as required. Batte had done previous work for Hope, and officials described reluctance to award this latest bid to the firm. After consulting with Rob Graham, the board went ahead an awarded the “dirt work bid” to Batte for $542,500 as concerns were exposed about further delaying the work.
- The “track work” portion of the bid was awarded to Ameritrack for $799,035. Cook said that nearly all of the rail spur bids were from companies and firms that had done business with the city before.